The Death Penalty: God’s Timeless Standard For The Nations? -- By: Bruce W. Ballard

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:3 (Sep 2000)
Article: The Death Penalty: God’s Timeless Standard For The Nations?
Author: Bruce W. Ballard


The Death Penalty:
God’s Timeless Standard For The Nations?

Bruce W. Ballarda

How dare those who subscribe to the Bible attempt to force their morality on others! How often we hear this confused and tired saw. Yet there are ample reasons, both from Scripture and historical example, not to try to legislate every element of Biblical religion. As I know of none that deny this, it will not be argued here. On the other hand, it is quite clear in both OT and NT that God will judge every individual and nation. Those falling too far short of God’s requirement may see their earthly lives brought to a sudden end either directly through supernatural means or through divinely mandated human agents. The goal here will be to determine how far the mandate extends to human agents today. While the question of the mandate is a perennial one for those subscribing to Biblical teaching, contemporary American social problems highlight the question for us in a distinctive way. But three initial qualifications are necessary.

First, while it is true that sin can attract divinely ordained corporeal death, the converse statement, that those who meet an early death must have been particularly wicked, is rejected in Scripture. Examplars of faith (e.g. OT prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen) and Christ’s explicit teaching (Luke 13:1–5) show this. Second, the fact that divinely ordained capital punishment came upon those who committed certain offenses described below does not imply that other sins cannot attract such direct judgment (cf. Acts 5:1–10 on deceitful contribution, 1 Cor 11:27–30 on abuse of communion). Third, we cannot conclude that God will not forbear to directly destroy, in this life, those who commit the offenses that brought judgment in the cases discussed below.

In summary, then, the Biblically-informed argument here will be that: (a) there is a transhistorical transcultural standard of right to which God holds every individual and people; (b) sufficient violation of that standard merits the penalty of corporeal death; and, consequently, (c) the death penalty against such violation remains valid in contemporary societies. I will also sketch something of the nature of the standard as understood in Scripture, particularly from the OT. The topic is clearly of more than academic import. If the argument holds, then those who subscribe to the Bible ought to, in addition to evangelization and other works of charity and justice, pray and work that the standard may hold sway in their societies. To uphold the standard is to meet important requirements of divine justice an...

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