By Kyle Butt, M.A.
Twelve minutes and 45 seconds into Dan Barker’s opening statement in our Darwin Day debate on February 12, 2009, he claimed that the God of the Bible cannot exist because the Bible presents contradictory information about God’s acceptance of human sacrifice. Barker said: “Does He [God—KB] accept human sacrifice? In some verses, ‘Yes,’ in some verses, ‘No.’ Remember the thing about when [sic] Abraham; He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac” (Butt and Barker, 2009).
This brief statement is the only one that he gave as “evidence” of this alleged Bible contradiction. In our debate he did not cite any verses that he believes show this contradiction. But in chapter 13 of his book godless, he made the same claim and listed several verses. On page 240, he quoted Deuteronomy 12:31: “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.” Barker then quoted Genesis 22:2: “And he [God—KB] said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (KJV). Dan does not offer any comments on these two verses, other than to list them as contradictory.
On close inspection, however, it becomes evident that these two verses cannot be contradictory. From the biblical narrative in Genesis 22, it is clear that God never intended to allow Abraham to kill his son. When Abraham got to the top of the appointed mountain, before he killed his son, God stopped him and showed him a ram caught in a thicket that was provided as a sacrifice instead of Isaac. God knew that He would stop Abraham before the sacrifice (see Lyons, 2009), and thus, never planned to accept a human sacrifice in this instance. If Isaac was never sacrificed, due to God’s intervention, then it cannot be claimed that God accepted human sacrifice on this occasion. In fact, since God stepped in and commanded Abraham not to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22:12), Abraham would have been sinning if he had continued with the sacrifice. It is impossible to claim that God accepted the human sacrifice of Isaac when the Bible specifically states that He prevented it. [NOTE: At this point in the discussion, Barker generally changes the argument, and demands that it was immoral for Abraham to follow God’s commands. That allegation will be dealt with in a future article. It is important to stay focused on Barker’s original allegation of contradiction before moving on to refute his allegation that God is immoral.]
In addition to the incident with Isaac, Barker cited Exodus 22:29 as an example of God accepting human sacrifice. In godless, he quoted this verse on page 240: “For thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors; the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.” With all due respect to Barker, either he has intentionally misled the reader by citing this verse, or he is unaware of its true meaning. Based on his background of Bible study and his claims of biblical knowledge, the former, unfortunately, seems to be the case.
Exodus 22:29 was never intended to mean that the Israelites were supposed to sacrifice their firstborn sons to God. In fact, Exodus 13:13 says, “And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” What did it mean to redeem the firstborn son? It meant that the Israelites were to give to the Lord five skekels of silver when the firstborn son was one month old (see Numbers 18:16). What was the purpose of redeeming the firstborn son? Moses explained that it was a memorial of the process by which God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 13:14-15). It is inexcusably poor scholarship for any person who has read the book of Exodus to make such an uninformed statement as to demand that Exodus 22:29 speaks of human sacrifice. We should remember, however, that Barker has admitted his belief that honesty is not always the best tactic for dealing with Christianity or the Bible (Butt, 2003).
As further “evidence” of a Bible contradiction in regard to human sacrifice, Barker cited the story of Jephthah that is found in Judges 11:30-39. In that biblical narrative, Jephthah made a vow to God that, if God would give him victory against his enemies, then Jephthah would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house upon his return. Jephthah defeated his enemies and his only daughter was the first thing that greeted him. Jephthah was very sorry for his vow, but the text says that he “carried out his vow with her which he had vowed” (Judges 11:39).
In regard to Jephthah’s vow, there are several insurmountable problems with presenting this as an example of God accepting human sacrifice. First, there is considerable evidence that the girl was not killed, she simply was dedicated to the Lord, remained unmarried, and had no children (for a more thorough discussion of Jephthah’s vow, see Miller, 2003). Second, there is no indication that God approved of Jephthah’s vow. If Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal burnt offering, he disobeyed God’s instructions in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). The Jephthah incident cannot be used to show that God either asked for human sacrifice, or approved of it.
Furthermore, Barker cited 2 Samuel 21:8-14 as an example of God accepting human sacrifice. Barker quoted those verses as follows: “But the king [David] took the two sons of Rizpah…and the five sons of Michal…and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest… And after that God was intreated for the land” (2008, pp. 240-241). Again, this narrative offers no proof that God ever accepted human sacrifice. Was it the case that God sometimes demanded that sinful people who deserved capital punishment be put to death for their sins? Yes, it was (see Miller, 2002). Could it be, then, that the descendants of Saul were guilty of offenses that deserved the death penalty? Yes.
Notice that the text indicates that the ones who were hanged were “men” (2 Samuel 21:6), who would have been old enough to be responsible for their moral decisions. Furthermore, notice that the text indicates that Saul’s “house” or “household” was a bloodthirsty house (2 Samuel 21:1), apparently implying that many of his relatives were involved in his murderous plots. In 2 Samuel 16:5-14, the Bible introduces a wicked man named Shimei who was “from the family of the house of Saul” (2 Samuel 16:5). And Saul’s wickedness is documented throughout the book of 1 Samuel. Could it be that Saul’s descendants who were hanged had followed in the wicked paths of many from the “house of Saul” and deserved the death penalty? Yes. Thus, it is once again impossible to use this passage to “prove” that God accepted human sacrifice.
"THE DEATH OF CHRIST
Finally, Barker alleges that the sacrifice of Christ provides an example of God accepting human sacrifice. He cited Hebrews 10:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 5:7 as evidence. Once more, Barker is guilty of egregious textual manipulation and dishonesty. Did God approve of the sinful actions of those who killed Jesus? Absolutely not. In fact, Peter explained that those who killed Jesus had done so with “lawless hands” (Acts 2:23). He further explained that they had to repent of their sins or they would be lost forever (Acts 2:38). While God used the sinful actions of Jesus’ murderers to bring about His purposes (Acts 3:17-19), He never condoned those actions. Those who murdered Jesus violated God’s law; they did not accomplish their dastardly deeds at God’s request, nor with His approval.
Barker is well aware of this truth. In fact, he has spoken in other places about Christ’s atoning sacrifice. In his book Losing Faith in Faith, Barker stated:
Christians do know how to think; but they don’t start deep enough. A thoughtful conclusion is the synthesis of antecedent presuppositions or conclusions. The propitiatory nature of Christ’s sacrificial atonement, for example, is very logical. Logical, that is, if you first accept the existence of sin, the fall of humankind, the wrath of God and divine judgment. If you don’t buy the premises, then, of course, the conclusion cannot be logical (1992, p. 60).
Barker, of course, does not “buy the premises,” but his denial of them does not make them any less logical or true. And if they are true, then he acknowledges that the sacrifice of Christ, although perpetrated by sinful men acting against God’s will, fits logically into the scheme of redemption.
God has never accepted human sacrifice. The examples that Barker has listed fail completely to manifest a contradiction in the Bible concerning God’s policy toward the practice. Barker’s lack of knowledge, or his intentional dishonesty, is evident throughout his discussion of the biblical view of human sacrifice. Since no contradiction exists, the accusation of a Bible contradiction is unfounded, and cannot be used against the Bible or the existence of God. Let us all be gravely reminded that those who twist the Scriptures, and force them to seemingly say what they do not say, do so at their own eternal peril (2 Peter 3:16).
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation).
Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “What ‘We All Know’ About a Lie,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1839.
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Lyons, Eric (2009), “Does God Really Know Everything?”, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/607.
Miller, Dave (2002), “Capital Punishment and the Bible,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1974.
Miller, Dave (2003), “Jephthah’s Daughter,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2320.
Does God REALLY Know Everything?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Numerous passages of Scripture clearly teach that God is omniscient. The psalmist declared that God “knows the secrets of the heart” (44:21) that His eyes “are in every place” (15:3), and that “His understanding is infinite” (147:5). Of Jehovah, the psalmist also wrote:
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there (139:1-4,6-8).
The New Testament reemphasizes this truth: “God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:20, emp. added). Not only does He know the past and the present, but the future as well (Acts 15:18; cf. Isaiah 46:10). According to the Bible, there is nothing outside of the awareness of God.
Atheist Dan Barker, however, alleged in his February 12, 2009 debate with Kyle Butt that the Bible paints a contradictory picture of God and His knowledge. Whereas some scriptures indicate that God knows the future, supposedly, the God of the Bible cannot exist because other passages reportedly teach that God does not know the future. Twelve minutes and 54 seconds into his first speech, Barker exclaimed:
Look what God said after he stopped it [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac—EL]. He said: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for I know now, I now know, that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld thy son.” I know now? I thought God knew everything. The Bible says God knows the future but here He is saying, “I didn’t even know.” The Bible even says that God searches and understands all the imaginations of the heart. The God of the Bible knows the future. The God of the Bible does not know the future (2009).
Is Barker correct? Does the Bible paint a contradictory picture of God’s knowledge? Do some passages testify to the omniscience of God, while others indicate that He is finite in His understanding?
The kind of language found in Genesis 22:12 actually is present throughout Scripture. As early as Genesis chapter three, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” (3:9). In Genesis four, He asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (4:9). The book of Job reveals that at the beginning of God’s first speech to Job, God asked the patriarch, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4, emp. added). Are we to assume questions like these or statements like those found in Genesis 22:12 and 18:21 (“I will know”) imply a lack of knowledge on God’s part?
First, one must acknowledge that questions often are asked and statements frequently are made for a variety of reasons. Are we really to assume that the Creator of heaven and Earth was ignorant of Adam’s whereabouts when He asked him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)? Are we to believe that God did not know where Job was when He made the world (Job 38:4)? Certainly not! What father, having seen his son dent a car door, would imply ignorance by asking, “Who did that?” Obviously, the father did not ask the question to obtain information, but to see if the son would admit to something the father knew all along. On occasion, Jesus used questions or made statements for the same purpose. When He questioned the Pharisees’ disciples and the Herodians regarding whose inscription was on a particular coin, it clearly was not because He did not know (Matthew 22:15-22). Likewise, when Jesus asked the multitude that thronged Him, “Who touched Me?” (Luke 8:45), it was not because the woman who touched Him was hidden from Him (Luke 8:47). Jesus knew the woman who was made well by touching His garment before she confessed to touching Him (Mark 5:32). His question was intended to bring attention to her great faith and His great power (Mark 5:34). In no way are the questions God asks or the statements He makes an indication of Him being less than omniscient.
Second, the term “know” (Hebrew yada, Greek ginosko) or one of its derivatives (i.e., knew, known, etc.) is used in Scripture in a variety of ways. Several times it is used in reference to a man and woman having sexual intercourse (Genesis 4:1,17,25; Judges 11:39; 19:25). Jesus used the term to refer to His regard for His sheep (i.e., people—John 10:27). In contrast to the way of the wicked that will perish, the psalmist wrote that God “knows” (i.e., approves, takes delight in, etc.) the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6). Paul used the term “know” in Ephesians 3:19 in the sense of knowing “experimentally what intellectually is beyond our powers of knowing”—the love of Christ (Jamieson, 1997). The fact is, like so many words in Scripture (and in modern times) the word “know” has a variety of meanings. What’s more, neither Dan Barker nor any Bible critic can prove that the term “know” in Genesis 22:12 directly contradicts God’s omniscience.
Third, the Bible’s usage of phrases such as “now I know” (Genesis 22:12) or “I will know” (Genesis 18:21) in reference to God actually are for the benefit of man. Throughout the Bible, human actions (such as “learning”) frequently are attributed to God for the purpose of helping us better understand His infinity. When Jehovah “came down to see the city and the tower” built at Babel (Genesis 11:5), it was not for the purpose of gaining knowledge. Anthropomorphic expressions such as these are not meant to suggest that God is not always fully aware of everything. Rather, as in the case of Babel, such wording was used to show that He was “officially and judicially taking the situation under direct observation and consideration” (Morris, 1976, p. 272). Almighty God visited Sodom and Gomorrah likely “for appearance’ sake, that men might know directly that God had actually seen the full situation before He acted in judgment” (p. 342). “These cities were to be made ensamples to all future ages of God’s severity, and therefore ample proof given that the judgment was neither rash nor excessive (Ezek 18:23; Jer 18:7)” [Jamieson, 1997]. Similarly, in the case of God testing Abraham regarding Isaac, although God already knew what Abraham would choose to do, there still was a reason to allow Abraham the opportunity to actually show his great faith and know that God indeed had witnessed (in real time and not just in His foreknowledge), Abraham’s actions. God came “to know” of Abraham’s faith by actual experiment. The meaning of the phrase, “now I know” (Genesis 22:12), therefore, “is not that God had, by the events of this probation, obtained information regarding Abraham's character that He did not previously possess; but that these qualities had been made apparent, had been developed by outward acts” (Jamieson, 1997).
Similar to how God instructs man to pray and make “known” to Him our petitions for our benefit (Philippians 4:6), even though He actually already knows of our prayers and needs before they are voiced (Matthew 6:8), for our profit the all-knowing God sometimes is spoken of in accommodative language as acquiring knowledge.
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Morris, Henry M. (1976), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
What We All Know About a Lie
By Kyle Butt, M.A.
One of the most fundamental problems with an atheistic philosophy is that it can concoct no standard from which to derive ethical judgments. About the best atheism can do is say that the majority should rule, or each situation should be decided “on its own merits” (situationalism). In Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith, he attempts to show that the Bible, based on the moral standard of God, is not a truly moral book, and that only atheism provides moral answers to life’s toughest questions.
As an example of the Bible’s “incompetence” in the area of ethics, Barker cites the ninth commandment—Do not bear false witness—which is repeated in the New Testament (Mark 10:19), as inadequate because it fails to admit “the possibility of ethical dilemmas” (1992, p. 345). According to Dan Barker, there are some instances in which lies are “considered virtuous.” He further stated, “We all know that it is sometimes necessary to tell a lie in order to protect someone from harm” (p. 345, emp. added). Barker gives a scenario about a woman who is being hunted by her abusive husband, and he concluded: “I would consider it a moral act to lie to the man.”
Barker, then, finds it a moral practice to lie if he thinks that such a lie will keep a person from harm. What is one of the things that Barker thinks is most harmful? Listen to his statement:
Religion is a powerful thing. Few can resist its charms and few can truly break its embrace. It is a siren who entices the wandering traveler with songs of love and desire and, once successful, turns a mind into stone. It is a Venus fly trap. Its attraction is like that of drugs to an addict who, whishing to be free and happy, becomes trapped and miserable (p. 51).
From this statement, one can see that Dan Barker places religion at the top of his “most harmful” list. On page 233 of his book, he declared: “Religious morality is dangerous.” On page 286, he said that certain religious people are “abusing their children” by teaching them things like “evolution is a Satanic lie.”
Putting Mr. Barker’s statements together in logical form: (1) he considers it moral to lie in order to “protect someone from harm;” (2) he considers religion to be harmful; (3) then it must follow that Mr. Barker would lie in order to dissuade a person from believing in God or religion.
If Mr. Barker is willing to lie, it seems to me that one should be leery about what he presents as “fact” in his writings about religion.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith In Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
By Dave Miller, Ph.D
In Judges 11, Jephthah vowed to God that if he were victorious in battle, he would give to God whoever came through the doors of his house upon his return from battle. The term used in 11:31 is ‘olah, the normal Hebrew word for a burnt offering or sacrifice (used 286 times in the Old Testament). Did Jephthah intend to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice? Are the ethics of God and the Bible shown to be substandard by this incident?
In the first place, if, in fact, Jephthah offered a human sacrifice, he did something that was strictly forbidden by Mosaic law and that is repugnant to God (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). It would be a bit bizarre for Jephthah to think that he could elicit God’s favor in battle by promising to offer Him a human sacrifice, that is, to do something that was in direct violation of the will of God. Such a proposal would be equivalent to a person requesting God’s blessing and assistance by offering to rape women or rob banks. God certainly would not approve of such an offer—though He may go ahead and assist the individual (11:32). God allows people to make wrong choices, even while He works out His own higher will in the midst of their illicit actions. He can even use such people to achieve a higher good (consider, as one example, Judas). When Israel clamored for a king—in direct opposition to God’s will—He nevertheless allowed them to proceed with their intentions, and even lent His assistance in the selection (1 Samuel 8:7,18-19; 10:19; 12:19; Psalm 106:14-15; Hosea 13:11; Acts 13:21).
Second, if Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, no indication is given in the text that God actually approved of the action. The Bible records many illicit actions carried out by numerous individuals throughout history, without an accompanying word of condemnation by the inspired writer. We must not assume that silence is evidence of divine approval. Even the commendation of Jephthah’s faith in the New Testament does not offer a blanket endorsement to everything Jephthah did during his lifetime. It merely commended the faith that he demonstrated when he risked going to war. Similarly, the Bible commends the faith of Samson, and Rahab the prostitute, without implying that their behavior was always in harmony with God’s will. Abraham manifested an incredible level of faith on several occasions, and is commended for such (Romans 4:20-21). Yet he clearly sinned on more than one occasion (Genesis 12:13; 16:4; 20:2ff.).
Third, Jephthah’s action may best be understood by recognizing that he was using ‘olah in a figurative sense. We use the term “sacrifice” in a similar fashion when we say, “I’ll sacrifice a few dollars for that charity.” Jephthah was offering to sacrifice a member of his extended household to permanent, religious service associated with the Tabernacle. The Bible indicates that such non-priestly service was available, particularly to women who chose to so dedicate themselves (e.g., Exodus 38:8). [Sadly, Eli’s sons were guilty of taking sexual liberties with them (1 Samuel 2:22).] Even in the first century, Anna must have been one woman who had dedicated herself to the Lord’s service, since she “did not depart from the temple” (Luke 2:37).
Several contextual indicators support this conclusion. First, the two-month period of mourning that Jephthah granted to his daughter was not for the purpose of grieving over her impending loss of life, but over the fact that she would never be able to marry. She bewailed her virginity (bethulim)—not her death (11:37). Second, the text goes out of its way to state that Jephthah had no other children: “[S]he was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter” (11:34). For his daughter to be consigned to perpetual celibacy meant the extinction of Jephthah’s family line—an extremely serious and tragic matter to an Israelite (cf. Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1ff.). Third, the sacrifice is treated as unfortunate—again, not because of any concern over her death, but because she would not become a mother. After stating that Jephthah “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed,” the inspired writer immediately adds, “and knew no man” (11:39). This statement would be a completely superfluous and callous remark if she had been put to death. Fourth, the declaration of Jephthah’s own sorrow (11:35) follows immediately after we are informed that he had no other children (11:34). Jephthah was not upset because his daughter would die a virgin. He was upset because she would live and remain a virgin.
Hannah made a similar sacrifice when she turned her son over to the priestly direction of Eli for the rest of his life (1 Samuel 1:11). How many are willing to make such sacrifices? Actually, however, these tremendous acts of devotion were no greater than that which God requires of all Christians: to offer ourselves as spiritual burnt-offerings in service to God (Romans 12:1).
Capital Punishment & the Bible
By Dave Miller, Ph.D
The Bible is the written Word of God. Within its pages, we find the wisdom of God. We find what is best for the human race—how God intends for life to be conducted. What is God’s view of capital punishment? Both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament address this subject.
OLD TESTAMENT TEACHING
Very early in human history, God decreed that murderers were to forfeit their own lives: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he the man” (Genesis 9:6). This standard continued into the Mosaic period (cf. Numbers 35:33). As a matter of fact, the law God gave to Moses to regulate the Israelite nation made provision for at least sixteen capital crimes. In sixteen instances, the death penalty was to be invoked. The first four may be categorized as pertaining to civil matters.
1. Under the law of Moses, the death penalty was required in cases of premeditated murder (Exodus 21:12-14,22-23; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:16-21). This regulation even included the situation in which two men might be fighting and, in the process, cause the death of an innocent bystander or her unborn infant. It did not include accidental homicide, which we call “manslaughter.”
2. Kidnapping was a capital crime under the Old Testament (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). One movie, which was based on an actual incident, depicted the kidnapping of a seven-year-old boy as he was walking home from school. The man who stole him kept him for some seven years, putting the child through emotional and sexual abuse, before the boy, at age fifteen, was finally returned to his parents. He was a different child, and never again would be the same. God would not tolerate such a thing in the Old Testament, and much of the same would be stopped in America if such crimes were taken more seriously.
3. A person could be put to death for striking or cursing his parents (Exodus 21:15,17; Leviticus 20:9). Jesus alluded to this point in Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10.
4. Incorrigible rebelliousness was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 17:12). For example, a stubborn, disobedient, rebellious son who would not submit to parents or civil authorities was to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
The next six capital crimes can be identified as more specifically pertaining to religious matters.
5. Sacrificing to false gods was a capital crime in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:20).
6. Violating the Sabbath brought the death penalty (Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36).
7. Blasphemy, or cursing God, warranted the death penalty (Leviticus 24:10-16,23).
8. The false prophet, specifically one who tried to entice the people to idolatry, was to be executed (Deuteronomy 13:1-11), as were the people who were so influenced (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).
9. Human sacrifice was a capital crime (Leviticus 20:2). The Israelites were tempted to offer their children to false pagan deities, like Molech. But such was despicable to God.
10. Divination, or the dabbling in the magical arts, was a capital crime. Consequently, under Mosaic law, witches, sorcerers, wizards, mediums, charmers, soothsayers, diviners, spiritists, and enchanters were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:26,31; 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
The next six crimes pertain to sexual matters.
11. Adultery was punishable by death under the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:10-21; Deuteronomy 22:22). Can you imagine what would happen in our own country if adultery brought the death penalty? Most of Hollywood would be wiped out, as well as a sizeable portion of the rest of our population!
12. Bestiality, i.e., having sexual relations with an animal, was punishable by death (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:15-16).
13. Incest was a capital offense in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:6-17; 20:11-12,14).
14. Homosexuality was a capital crime (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13).
15. Premarital sex brought the death penalty (Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:20-21).
16. Rape of an engaged or married woman was a capital crime in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). Again, imagine what would happen in this country if rape brought the death penalty! Much of the unconscionable treatment of women now taking place would be terminated.
Capital punishment was written into God’s will for the Jewish nation in the Old Testament. The death penalty was a viable form of punishment for at least sixteen separate offenses. Some people have misunderstood one of the Ten Commandments which says, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). They have assumed that the law forbade taking human life under any circumstances. But God required the death penalty for some sixteen crimes. Therefore, the commandment would have been better translated, “You shall not murder.” In other words, the command was a prohibition against an individual taking the law into his own hands and exercising personal vengeance. But God wanted the execution of law breakers to be carried out by duly constituted legal authorities.
NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING
Moving to the New Testament, which reveals God’s will this side of the cross, the matter of capital punishment is treated virtually the same. The New Testament clearly teaches that capital punishment is God’s will for human civilization. Consider, for example, Romans 13:1-4.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
This passage clearly affirms that the state—civil government—has the God-ordained responsibility to keep law and order, and to protect its citizens against evildoers. The word “sword” in this passage refers to capital punishment. God wants duly constituted civil authority to invoke the death penalty upon citizens who commit crimes worthy of death.
For about the last thirty years, Americans have actually witnessed a breakdown on the part of judicial and law enforcement system. In most cases, the government has failed to “bear the sword.” Instead, the prison system has been overrun with incorrigible criminals. Premature parole and early release has become commonplace in order to make room for the increasing number of lawbreakers.
The apostle Paul, himself, articulated the correct attitude when he stood before Porcius Festus and defended his actions by stating, “If I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying” (Acts 25:11). Paul was acknowledging that the state properly possesses the power of life and death in the administration of civil justice.
Peter held the same position as that of Paul. He enjoined obedience to the government that has been sent by God “for the punishment of evildoers” (1 Peter 2:14; cf. Titus 3:1). Jesus implied the propriety of capital punishment when He told the Parable of the Pounds. Those who rebelled against the king were to be brought and executed in his presence (Luke 19:27). Compare that parable with the one He told about the wicked husbandmen in Luke 20:15-16 in which He indicated that the owner of the vineyard would return and destroy the husbandmen.
Those who oppose capital punishment raise a variety of objections to its legitimacy. For example, someone might raise the question: “Did not Jesus teach that we should turn the other cheek?” Yes, He did, in Matthew 5:39. But in that context, He was impressing upon the Jews their need not to engage in personal vendettas. The same point is stressed in Romans 12:14-21. Paul said, “Repay no one evil for evil” and “do not avenge yourselves.” In other words, Christians are not to take the law into their own hands and engage in vengeful retaliation. God insists that vengeance belongs to Him.
Notice, however, that Romans 13 picks right up where Romans 12 leaves off and shows how God takes vengeance. He employs civil government as the instrumentality for imposing the death penalty. So, individual citizens are not to engage in vigilante tactics. God wants the legal authorities to punish criminals, and thereby protect the rest of society.
A second objection to capital punishment pertains to the woman taken in adultery. “Did not Jesus exonerate her and leave her uncondemned?” Surely the story about the woman taken in adultery in John 8 has been misused and misapplied more than almost any other Scripture. Yet a careful study of this passage yields complete harmony with the principle of capital punishment. At least four extenuating circumstances necessitated Jesus leaving the woman uncondemned:
First, Mosaic regulation stated that a person could be executed only if there were two or more witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was insufficient to evoke the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). The woman was reportedly caught in the very act, but nothing is said of the identity of the witnesses. There may have been only one.
Second, even if there were two or more witnesses present to verify the woman’s sin, the Old Testament was equally explicit concerning the fact that both the woman and the man were to be executed (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man on this occasion? Obviously, this was a trumped up situation that did not fit the Mosaic preconditions for invoking capital punishment. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go.
A third point to take into consideration is the precise meaning of the phrase “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). If this statement is taken as a blanket prohibition against capital punishment, then this passage flatly contradicts Romans 13. Instead, what Jesus was getting at was what Paul meant when he said, “you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Jesus knew that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing of which they were willing to condemn her. He was able to prick them in regard to their guilt by causing them to realize that He knew they were guilty of the very same thing. The Old Law made clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). Jesus was striking directly at the fact that the woman’s accusers were ineligible to fulfill this role.
Fourth, capital punishment would have had to have been levied by a duly constituted court of law. This mob was actually engaging in an illegal action—vigilantism. Jesus, though the Son of God, would not have interfered in the responsibility of the appropriate judicial authorities to handle the situation. Remember that, on another occasion when one of two brothers approached Jesus out of a crowd and asked Him to settle a probate dispute, Jesus responded: “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). So the effort by this mob in John 8 to ensnare Jesus was without legal justification.
Jesus actually handled the situation appropriately, in keeping with legal protocol of both Old Testament law as well as Roman civil law. The woman clearly violated God’s law, and deserved the death penalty. But the necessary prerequisites for pronouncing the execution sentence were lacking—which is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Since the legal stipulations that were needed to establish her guilt were not in place, He would not override the law and condemn her. Jesus’ action on this occasion in no way discredits the legitimacy of capital punishment.
A third objection that has been raised in an effort to challenge the propriety of capital punishment is the insistence by some that the death penalty serves no useful purpose—especially when it comes to deterring other criminals from their course of action. Opponents insist, “capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime.” This kind of humanistic, uninformed thinking has held sway for some 30+ years. It might be believable if it were not for the inspired Word of God informing to the contrary.
Even if capital punishment did not serve as a deterrent, it still would serve at least one other worthwhile purpose: the elimination from society of those elements that persist in destructive behavior. The Bible teaches that some people can be hardened into a sinful, wicked condition. They have become so cold, cruel, and mean that even the threat of death does not phase them. Paul referred to those whose consciences had been “seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). Some people are so hardened that they are described as “past feeling” and completely given over to wickedness (Ephesians 4:19). God invoked the death penalty upon an entire generation because their wickedness was “great in the earth” and “every imagination of the thoughts of [their] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
So the human heart and mind can become so alienated from right, good, and truth that a person can be unreachable, incorrigible, and irretrievable. The death penalty would spare law-abiding citizens any further perpetration of death and suffering by those who engage in such repetitive actions. How horrible and senseless it is that so many Americans have had to suffer terribly at the hands of criminals who already have been found guilty of previous crimes, but who were permitted to go free and repeat their criminal behavior!
So even if capital punishment was not a deterrent, it is still a necessary option in society. It holds in check the growth and spread of hardened criminals. A careful study is warranted of the expression “so you shall put away the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21; 1 Corinthians 5:13).
But the Bible clearly teaches that the application of penal punishment, including the death penalty, is, in fact, a deterrent. For example, God wanted the death penalty imposed upon any individual, including one’s relative, who attempted secretly to entice others into idolatry. Such a person was to be stoned to death in the presence of the entire nation with this resulting effect: “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (Deuteronomy 13:11).
Another instance of this rationale is seen in the pronouncement of death upon the incorrigible rebel: “And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 17:13). The principle is stated again when the Jews were instructed to take a rebellious and stubborn son and stone him to death with the effect that “all Israel shall hear and fear” (Deuteronomy 21:21).
This same perspective is illustrated even in the New Testament. Paul emphasized that elders in the church who sinned were to be rebuked publicly “that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). Ananias and Sapphira, a Christian couple in the early church, were divinely executed in Acts 5, and in the very next verse Luke wrote: “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11). These passages prove that a direct link exists between punishment and execution on the one hand, and the caution that it instills in others on the other hand.
The Bible teaches the corollary of this principle as well. Where there is inadequate, insufficient and delayed punishment, crime and violence increase. Notice Ecclesiastes 8:11—“Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” This very phenomenon is occurring even now in America.
The court system is clogged and backed up to the point that many cases do not come to trial for literally years. Criminals who have been shown to be guilty of multiple murders and other heinous crimes are given light sentences, while those who deserve far less are given exorbitant sentences. A mockery of the justice system has resulted. Such circumstances, according to the Bible, only serve to encourage more lawlessness. The overall citizenry cannot help but grow lax in their own attitudes. This principle is evident in the biblical expression, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
If the Bible is to be believed, capital punishment is, indeed, a deterrent to criminal behavior. The elimination of hardened criminals is necessary if societies are to survive. The liberal, humanistic values that have held sway in America for the last 40 years are taking their toll, and getting back to God’s view of things is the only hope if the nation is to survive.
A fourth quibble that someone might raise is that capital punishment appears to be a rather extreme step to take since it is as cruel, barbaric, and violent as the action committed by the criminal himself. Is it not the case that capital punishment is resorting to the same kind of behavior as the criminal? May capital punishment be viewed as a vindictive retaliation? The biblical response to this question is seen in the oft’-repeated phrases: “his blood be upon him” (Leviticus 20:9,13,27; Deuteronomy 19:10; Ezekiel 18:13; 33:5) and “his blood be upon his own head” (Joshua 2:19; 2 Samuel 1:16; Ezekiel 33:4; Acts 18:6).
Those who carry out the death sentence are, in reality, neutral third parties. They are merely carrying out the will of God in dispensing justice. The criminal is simply receiving what he brought upon himself—his “just desserts.” The expression “his blood be upon him” indicates that God assigns responsibility for the execution to the one being executed. It’s like we tell small children: “If you put your hand in the fire, you’re going to get burned.” There are consequences to our actions. If we do not want to be executed, we should not commit any act that merits death. If we do commit such an act, we have earned the death penalty, and we deserve to get what we have earned. The one who metes out the punishment is not to be blamed or considered responsible for the execution of the guilty.
Rather than oppose those who promote capital punishment, painting them as insensitive ogres or uncaring, callous, uncivilized barbarians, effort would be better spent focusing upon the barbaric behavior of the criminals who rape, plunder, and pillage. It is their behavior that should be kept in mind. Tears and compassion ought to center on the innocent victims and their families. Lethal injection of a wicked evildoer hardly can match the violent, inhuman suffering and death experienced by the innocent victims of crime. They continue to suffer, while the perpetrator carries on for many years, many trials, and many appeals before justice is served—if it ever is. The God of the Bible is incensed and outraged at such circumstances. The time has come to start listening to Him as He speaks through His inspired Word.