Christians and the Death Penalty: Are We Hypocrites?
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Lynn Holt, the senior partner in CBS' Monday night drama, Family Law, has been asked to fight for clemency on behalf of a young man who's been sentenced to death for killing high school students in a shooting rampage. The convicted murderer shows no remorse and relishes discussing the last desperate moments of his victims' short lives. Lynn believes his crimes are unforgivable but she doesn't believe he should be executed. She meets with her partners to announce the firm will take the case. They ask why. She responds:
"I was raised a Christian. I remember Jesus talking about forgiving your enemies and not judging others. I don't recall the part where he said we should gas people and inject them with poison. I could have just skimmed, but somehow I thought we were supposed to leave retribution to His Dad. So I get a little peeved when all the good Christians get together with the so-called liberal politicians I helped elect and suggest that we should butcher people. It makes me feel like one of us is a hypocrite."1

Her dialogue is met with guilty silence. Her partners, some of them self-described Christians, do not refute the implication that a Christian who believes in God's love for the unlovable while condoning the God-given right for a civil government to execute a guilty criminal, is a pious fraud.

I strongly disagree with Lynn's (mis)understanding of the scriptures. She probably did "just skim," for she has missed the whole point. While Jesus addressed the individual's attitude towards others, He never condemned capital punishment for the guilty--and He had ample opportunity. In fact, He willingly submitted to his own unjust execution. Later, the apostle Paul would say, "if I have committed a crime deserving of the death penalty then I will not fight it. But I have not and so I appeal to Caesar. (Acts 25: 11)" In Romans 13: 1-5, Paul states that government officials are ordained of God and empowered to execute the guilty: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (Romans 13:4)"

The prerogative of capital punishment was established in Genesis 9:6, developed in the Mosaic law and reaffirmed in the New Testament. God is a perfectly holy God who demands perfect justice. Every human being--past, present, and future--has been sentenced to eternal death. There is no clemency; the sentence must be served. For the believing Christian, the penalty has already been paid in full and we are free because of God's grace and sacrificial love.

Officially, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (see refernces below) as well as other major denominations, affirm that Christ did not abolish the death sentence. Capital punishment is an act carried out by civil government, not by private citizens. It is motivated not by malice or hatred, but by justice. Church members are not obligated to support capital punishment, but those who do are not in violation of the spirit of Christ's teachings.

Lynn, like so many believers and nonbelievers alike, is confused about Jesus' command to "Judge not lest ye be judged." The world appeals to that statement by saying that nobody ever has the right to say that anything they do is wrong. For a judge in a courtroom to declare an accused person guilty of a crime is not judgmental. For a Christian to recognize sinful behavior in another Christian or non-Christian as sinful is not judgmental. When Jesus was confronted with the adulterous woman, He didn't say she wasn't guilty. He did not endorse or encourage Her sin, but gently corrected her and told her to sin no more.

As for Lynn's statement that Jesus said we are to forgive our enemies, we must remember that forgiveness is always conditioned upon repentance. Judges do not grant clemancy to the guilty, but may show mercy to the truly repentant. God is not obligated to forgive the unrepentant sinner. What Jesus said was that we are required to love (which, by the way is an action, not a feeling) our enemies, as God has love us. Once an enemy seeks forgiveness, they are not longer our enemy.

A final note: the dialogue in the February 19, 2001 episode of Family Law is pure fiction. The character and storyline were created by Hollywood script writers for our entertainment. But that script reflects a grievous misrepresentation of the teachings of Christ. Although I agree with the state's right to implement capital punishment, my point is to defend the integrity of scripture. The Bible exhorts us to be mature in our understanding and if Christians are going to make an impact in our culture, we have to come to the depth of understanding that provides maturity for leadership.

1. Episode 46. Clemency.

2. Catholic Encyclopedia: Capital Punishment.

3. LCMS FAQ-Death Penalty.

posted by K. Geffert | 10:07 AM


Blogger NM said...

In Luke CH 23 v34 Jesus aid' "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

In the above verse Jesus asks for their forgivness not because they had repented but precisly because "they do not know what they are doing"

We can safely assume if they "do not know what they were doing" they wouldn't be seeking repentance.

I believe we are to forgive others likewise and for the same reason.
It is a sinful world we live in and we often sin because we are blinded from the truth and the true horror and sadness of what we are doing.

What do you think?

12:20 PM, March 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that all sins are forgiven if that person asks God into his heart.
I will come back to this article later.
With some (KJV Bible Verses)

6:40 AM, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous Jeff Foster said...

"I strongly disagree with Lynn's (mis)understanding of the scriptures. She probably did "just skim," for she has missed the whole point. While Jesus addressed the individual's attitude towards others, He never condemned capital punishment for the guilty--and He had ample opportunity. In fact, He willingly submitted to his own unjust execution."

For you to say that she's mis-interpreted the scriptures is righteous arrogance. She has another interpretation than yours perhaps, but you don't have an edition of the bible with God's Teacher notes, so you don't possibly have absolute knowledge of what the "Correct" interpretation is.

I think you're the one missing the whole point. Jesus is God's expression of unconditional love and forgiveness (though he did slip once according to modern translations, such as the KJV, but that's another topic). Jesus did not willingly submit to execution because he supported the death penalty, he submitted because it was God's will for him to be executed and save the world from sin.

Using your same argument, Jesus supported homosexuality because he had ample opportunity to condemn them, yet he didn't.

I believe the death penalty is ethical because we’ve all made agreements to act in a certain way or face the consequences, but I don’t support it because I don’t feel we have the right to take someone else’s life. Additionally, we’ve made mistakes because we are humans and our system is not perfect, if we kill one innocent person, then the state becomes the murderer, and since we are all members of the state, we bear that responsibility.

-Jeff Foster

11:24 AM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has pointed out K. Geffert's glaring omission of the first part of the story of the adulterous woman from John 8. The part where Jesus says in verse 7, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." The scribes and Pharisees that brought her before him left one by one. In verse 10 seeing the woman now standing alone before him he asks her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" Verse 11: she replies to Jesus, "No one, sir" "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

It seems detrimental to K. Geffert's argument to use this section of scripture. How unfortunate to ignore the entire point of this story.

Do you still think Jesus was silent on the issue of capital punisment?

11:53 AM, April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Ellie said...

I have struggled a lot with this issue because I have heard so much with both sides.
My question to this entry though is that you stated the murderer doesn't need to be forgiven unless he is repentent. However, what about those on death row who are repentant of their actions? Should they still be put to death?

IT might be argued either way (an eye for an eye etc. Those without sin cast the first stone), but when it gets right down to it, I get a sick feeling in my stomach at the thought of taking someone elses life, regardless of the wrong they have committed.

8:57 PM, April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Ellie said...

I have struggled a lot with this issue because I have heard so much with both sides.
My question to this entry though is that you stated the murderer doesn't need to be forgiven unless he is repentent. However, what about those on death row who are repentant of their actions? Should they still be put to death?

IT might be argued either way (an eye for an eye etc. Those without sin cast the first stone), but when it gets right down to it, I get a sick feeling in my stomach at the thought of taking someone elses life, regardless of the wrong they have committed.

8:57 PM, April 26, 2006  
Anonymous Ann said...

Interesting comments re death penalty, forgiveness, eye for an eye,etc. I am reading many opinions and scriptures taken out of context, but no one has addressed exactly what God said. When establishing the legal system for the Jewish people via Noah in Genesis 9:6, God says, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." This is definitely capital punishment. Provisions were made via the cities of refuge for accidental deaths.

Even the Commandment "not to kill", often misinterpreted, needs to be studied from the original Greek, a masterful language, for the real meaning.

Speaking as a student of the Word, may I suggest we all study the scriptures beyond surface opinions. There are great riches discovered by digging beneath the obvious.

When Jesus said on the Cross that "...they know not what they do.", we need to look at the bigger picture. These folks truly did not know they were crucifying their/our Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world. Their action affected both Heaven and the world thereafter.

As for those on death row, who are repentant, only God truly knows the sincerity and truthfulness of the heart. Forgiveness and salvation does not mean freedom from punishment. David, who grossly sinned and then repented, is a great example with the four-fold punishment he called forth being suffered by himself – after repentence.

Many stories are told about death row inmates, who received Christ, and have gone to death with freedom and great peace. That's the way we all should die...and die we must. It's a "home-going", one I am excited about – so should all Christians – to spend eternity with our Lord. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for the that love Him. {I Cor.2:9} Wow!

9:05 PM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger NM said...

Ann, I think you, like everyone else who has added a comment, has worthwhile points to contribute. I especially find valid your points about forgiveness and salvation not always freeing us from the consequences of our sins.

However regarding what you wrote about "looking at the bigger picture"
I hold by what I previously wrote. If you consider I have taken Luke 23:34 ("Father, forgive them ...) out of context I disagree. What are you saying? Because their sins were especially bad Jesus asked for their forgiveness?

Lets move on from that verse to Acts 7:60 where Stephen fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Here we have another new testament case of someone (Stephen) asking for forgivness for people who are still in the act of killing him. I hold that we are expected to forgive others their trespasses against us as we are forgiven by God.

With regards to your reference to the old testemant ... I can't let this pass; You say we need to study it in the "original Greek, a masterful language, for the real meaning." As a "student of the word" (and I encourage that) I'm sure that was just a typo and you know that all you refer to comes from a language that is commonly refered to as Ancient Hebrew not Greek. It's the books of the new testament that are written in the Greek.

Personally I'm not reading this in the original Hebrew or Greek. With the many experts who collaborated on the NIV (and other reputable versions, between them and with the help of the holy spirit I trust the understanding given to me which I believe is readely available to everyone (even without great learning) who seeks the truth.


10:46 AM, May 16, 2006  
Anonymous Hagios said...

IF you are studying the Commandments in Greek, you're in the wrong language. Try Hebrew. The commandment in question states: "You shall do no murder." It does not even touch on corporate judgment, but individual responsibility. Individuals are permitted to take life in certain controlled instances (war,self defense, familial defense and defense of the weak and helpless.) Notice if you will that Moses is NEVER castigated by God for killing the Egyptian. Why not. Because the Hebrew slave was helpless against the armed Egyptian.

The penalty for murder is clearly death. Society (Gen 9:6 is a societal reference) is to cleanse itself by removing the evil judicially. By permitting the evil to remain, society brings judgment upon itself. Should the responsible party show fruit worthy of repentence, the society may choose to mitigate the sentence, not out of misguided application of an obscure principle, but rather as the anointed representative of the Living and True God.

3:36 PM, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So. . . .you think Jesus would prefer that the state execute someone rather than allowing them to live a while longer and repent? You are so locked into the Republican party platform (or more likely a "conservative" upbringing) that you are privileging human law over God's law. You're right, God does demand perfect justice. The State is absolutely incapable of administering such justice. Before Illinois issued a moratorium on capital punishment, they found staggering percentages of innocent were being executed. Is that really what you think Jesus would do? What God wants? Don't make legalistic arguments about "civil" vs. "religious" to escape your culpability. If you support public policy that upholds the death penalty, then you are complicit in the deaths of innocent people. It's that simple.

12:28 AM, August 21, 2006  
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12:16 PM, September 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate Biblical arguments, but not as an excuse not to think rationally, fairly and in balance. I tire soooooooo much of people saying What does God's word say?? to the exclusion of other kinds of thinking. I realize it can go tooo far the other way, without looking at the Bible, but all I know is, I feel much more comfortable around a human who doesn't have to escape into the Bible solely to reach a conclusion. And let us be a bit humble and realize we do not for sure know what God thinks-as I recently read, there must so some sincere tolerance of other viewpoints if religion is going to be a positive factor in the world. Let's get real people, and I think God wants us to be real in the best sense of the word-we don't know for sure what God thinks. So have some tolerance for other points of view, and try to understand someone's point of view other than your own. God knows we need it.

9:45 PM, October 17, 2006  
Anonymous Igor said...

I find it very interesting that every time someone seeks to justify violence, they quote from the Old Testament. Every time one of our televangelists chooses to put his foot where his mouth is, he is quoting from what was written before Jesus.

Why was it necessary for Jesus to come to Earth and sacrifice himself?!?

I suggest it was because the lesson of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible, as handed down to Moses, was being ignored. It was not given to us in order to establish Law--we are perfectly capable of doing so ourselves, and indeed that's about all we do. It was to create a social environment wherein we could exist in harmony with each other. But then lawyers got hold of it and reduced it to such minutia that the message became impossible to see. Forest and trees, forest and trees.

So Christ had to come and tell us plainly, that what God desires is "mercy, and not sacrifice" and that what we should hold as a beacon to guide us is Love, not Law.

The answer, then, is simple. A villain can choose to reform at any point--but not if we kill him.

9:56 PM, October 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think she's right. You don't teach someone a lesson by doing what they just did. That's not very smart!

8:00 AM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Jake said...

You misunderstand why Jesus came if you think it was because we "misunderstood" the Old Testament. If he just came to be a teacher then he wouldn't have had to die. But he in fact did HAVE to die. He said himself that he would have to suffer and die and the reason for that wasn't to teach us something, it was for the same reason we allow and condone capitol punishment...consequences. There are consequences for OUR sin and either we can suffer death for them or we can accept Jesus' death. The legal realm is parallel to the spiritual in this case. There are consequences for our actions and death is a reasonable consequence for some actions whether you or I think so or not. God himself decided this when he originally laid down specific consequences for specific crimes. He even went so far as to tell us to "show no pity" (Deut 19) because he knew sometimes we would be moved to have compassion without observing the necessity of justice. say it isn't smart to take a life for a life? Read the same chapter I refrenced above because it says exactly the opposite and it came from God. So, either God's guidance "isn't very smart" or we need to reevaluate our positions on crucial issues such as this.

6:41 PM, January 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that this is a load ov rubbish !!! haha!!! From Lara in Broch xmwax

9:33 AM, January 15, 2007  
Anonymous Igor said...


I believe that Jesus had to die because that was part of the lesson. He is an exemplar--a perfect leader who leads, and teaches, by example, rather than persuasion, intimidation or position. That's why he washed feet, to reinforce the idea that we should be humble in everything we do. It's also why he had to allow himself be crucified--because to resist would be hipocritical, as he'd been teaching everyone not to resist.

You don't think Jesus came to teach, but to suffer God's punishment in our stead? That's just sadistic--and say what you will, but if it'd be sadistic for me to make my child suffer the punishment for crimes he didn't commit, that it'd be just as sadistic of God to do it. What's the lesson? That God loves us so much he would be willing to torture his own child? How much easier would it have been to send a legion of angels to every city on Earth and announce, "Behold! I, your Lord God, am exending you this offer: I'll overlook your sins up to now if you shape up?" Or, even, "...if you believe that this, here, is my true Son." Quick, easy, effective, and doesn't make us question the relationship between Them.

Drama aside, how do you reconcile the idea of "show no pity" with just about everything Jesus taught? Notice, by the way, that you quoted from the Old Testament, like I said originally. When they were about to stone the adulteress, why didn't he say "good, I see you're following the Law, so stone her already"?

9:29 PM, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I tend to understand biblical texts as not being anti-death penalty, I think it's more important to debate the death penalty in its context in the United States. It's sad to me that of all the posts, both pro and anti death penalty, no one cared to talk about all of the evidence of the mis-application of the death penalty in this country, the fact that it affects one race to an extent that should horrify us as Christians, the fact that numerous exposees have shown us that many people on death row were never given a fair trial, as well as the fact that the Innocence Project has helped to exonerate many prisoners on death row (and that's only the ones whose cases they could afford to take on), the fact that our "justice" system doesn't afford the same access to justice to poor people as it does to rich people. I assure you, a good lawyer is everything, and most people who find themselves facing the death penalty, do not have the money to pay for a good lawyer.

So...fascinating discussion on whether the death penalty is sanctioned in the Bible. Now how about Christians actually getting the facts and finding out whether the administration of the death penalty in this country has anything to do with its administration in the Bible. Shouldn't we as Christians be the first to be concerned? Why is it that we leave these issues to so-called liberals? Why wouldn't Christians be the first to be alarmed by death row statistics? I ask these questions because I honestly don't get it.

I believe we're saved by grace alone (read Romans or Ephesians), but I also believe that our God is a God of true justice (read Amos) and he will hold us accountable.

4:21 PM, March 01, 2007  
Blogger jbarbosa said...

I LOVE THE DISCUSSION!!!! I have been looking for a virtual church of sorts and I am happy to have found this site.

11:20 PM, March 09, 2007  
Anonymous Ron Tucker said...

The death penalty has always been a part of the Jewish culture from which Jesus came. However ill-advise we think it, as it pertains to scripture, it is not only sanctioned but encourage for certain transgressions. I would take caution to sanction it in view of the continued failings of our criminal justice system. We reqularly convict the innocent.

7:46 PM, May 08, 2007  
Anonymous Richard said...

Is it possible to forgive the person and not forgive their transgression yet there are those who believe there can be a seperation. I quite frankly am of the disposition that even if you could seperate one from the other what good would it do so far as capital punishment is concerned?

4:22 PM, June 21, 2007  
Blogger David Ben-Ariel said...

Yeshua said He upheld the Law and the Prophets, but clearly showed exceptions to the rule can be made by the proper officials, depending on attitude. He must have discerned the woman's repentant attitude and willingness to go and sin no more or He wouldn't have wasted His breath of life in commanding her to make the most of this new lease on life.

Mind you, God hasn't called off His plans of mass execution for unrepentant sinners in the Lake of Fire, but presently gives us all plenty of opportunities to save ourselves and turn from our ways and receive His forgiveness, His pardon and power to go and sin no more in attitude and increasingly in action, so help us God.

Should Christians Judge?

God's One Government Has Two Branches!

Separation of Church and State? Says Who?

Onward Christian Soldiers!

4:33 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger David Ben-Ariel said...


Jesus did condemn the practice of homosexuality when He stated for the public record that He upheld the Law and the Prophets.

God and the Gays: To Be or Not to Be (Part 1)

4:40 PM, July 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a great place but i missed church today because my sister had a new born baby but he ran out of diapers

7:25 PM, July 15, 2007  
Anonymous lazer epilasyon said...

lazer epilasyon

10:11 AM, May 15, 2009  
Anonymous rejim said...

death sentence is just nothing because the christians are killing millions in iraq, afghanistan just as they did in vietnam and japan. for what? for the sake of oil and regional power! not any divine cause..

10:15 AM, May 02, 2010  

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