On Capital Punishment
The biggest problem with argumentation about capital punishment is that policies are made and changed on the basis of mere argumentation while the issue impresses serious people as so grave, involving as it does the taking of human life, that if there is any room for reasonable dispute not only the presumption, but also the conclusion as well, must fall on the side of abolition.
The problem is compounded because there are no New Testament prescriptions of the death penalty, assumed as just under the Old Testament Law, but militated against by the mercy of God in Christ—e.g., in the pericope adulterae in John 8 (whether or not it is a part of the original gospel). There are perfectly cogent and decidedly Christian arguments for both sides. Nor does tradition help us much, for the tradition does not appear to contain a fully considered magisterial consensus. Once again, human lives hang in the balance while exegesis and theology refuse to come firmly to our aid. Capital punishment is only one of many issues like this, and full advantage is taken of the fact by those who keep our streets full of murderers in the name of justice and charity.
I do not think that we were left without explicit scriptural guidance under the New Covenant on such matters without the full knowledge and intent of God. We are free to decide—we must decide—what to do ourselves, and we will be judged in accordance with the decisions we make. We must, as free men, probe the mind of God, and we are invited, indeed required, to do so. This is where I would begin consideration of this and every similar matter.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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