Is Capital Punishment Inconsistent with Forgiveness? – LIVE Q&A on June 20, 2024

Is Capital Punishment Inconsistent with Forgiveness? - LIVE Q&A on June 20, 2024

Is Capital Punishment Inconsistent with Forgiveness?

Capital punishment is clearly seen in the Old Testament:

  • In Cain’s fear that he would be killed after he killed Able (Genesis 4:13-15).
  • In the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9:5-6).
  • In the commands of the Old Testament (Numbers 35:30-31), which made a clear distinction between manslaughter and murder, and that required two or three independent eyewitnesses to establish the guilt of a murderer.
  • In the provision of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35, Joshua 20)
  • In the expectation of the New Testament (Romans 13:3-4)

A person can be thoroughly “pro-life” while both condemning abortion and allowing capital punishment. The distinction is basic: innocence and guilt. The innocent should be spared, and the guilty should be punished. This, according to Romans 13:1-7, is the basic role of government.

The law has at least three purposes, and these apply to the crime of murder and the penalty of capital punishment (where there has truly been murder in the first degree, and where there are independent witnesses to prove it):

  • Pursuing individual justice
  • Teaching the culture right and wrong
  • Preventing or discouraging sinful behavior

All this doesn’t violate the principle of forgiveness. A person may be forgiven before God, and still face their earthly punishment or consequences. In theory,

  • One who has been truly irresponsible with their money may be forgiven, but still has to deal with bankruptcy.
  • A kidnapper may be forgiven, yet still remain in prison.
  • A murderer may be forgiven, yet still should be put to death.

Significant Objections to Capital Punishment Today

  • “It gives too much power to the government” – true, but perhaps not disqualifying.
  • “Capital punishment is unfairly applied” – if this is true, then it needs to be fixed.
  • “The modern system of capital punishment in nations like the US is broken” – true, and very concerning.


  • Yes, a person can be forgiven – and still appropriately, justly, punished
  • There is a big difference between the innocent (abortion) and the guilty (capital punishment).
  1. By man his blood shall be shed means because life is valuable; when murder is committed the death penalty is in order.
  2. In its original languages, the Bible makes a distinction between killingand murder. Not all killing is murder because there are cases where there is just cause for killing (self-defense, capital punishment with due process of law, killing in a just war). There are other instances where killing is accidental. This is killing, but not murder.

iii. The Bible also consistently teaches that the punishment of the guilty is the role of human government (Romans 13:1-4) to restrain man’s depravity. It also teaches that the guilt of unpunished murder defiles a land (Numbers 35:31-34). As Luther said, “God establishes government and gives it the sword to hold wantonness in check, lest violence and other sins proceed without limit” (cited in Boice).

Genesis 9:5-6

Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

Numbers 35:30-31

Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.

Romans 13:3-4

  1. (3-4) The job of government: to punish and deter evildoers.

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.

  1. Do what is good, and you will have praise: Paul’s idea is that Christians should be the best citizens of all. Even though they are loyal to God before they are loyal to the state, Christians are good citizens because they are honest, give no trouble to the state, pay their taxes, and – most importantly – pray for the state and the rulers.
  2. He is God’s minister: Paul describes government officials as God’s minister. They have a ministry in the plan and administration of God, just as much as church leaders do.
  3. If the state’s rulers are God’s minister (servant), they should remember that they are only servants, and not gods themselves.
  4. An avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil: It is through the just punishment of evil that government serves its function in God’s plan of holding man’s sinful tendencies in check. When a government fails to do this consistently, it opens itself up to God’s judgment and correction.
  5. He does not bear the sword in vainThe sword is a reference to capital punishment. In the Roman Empire, criminals were typically executed by beheading with a sword (crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the lowest classes). Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has no doubt that the state has the legitimate authority to execute criminals.

How should we be expecting God’s voice? Is it loud (Psalm 29) or quiet (1 Kings 19)?

In Psalm 29 it says that the voice of the Lord shakes deserts and breaks cedar trees. In First Kings 19, we hear that the voice of the Lord was a still, small voice. How should we be expecting God’s voice?

I don’t think anybody should expect to hear an audible voice from God. However, God does have a voice, and God is capable of speaking in an audible voice. God did speak in an audible voice on several occasions in Scripture, but not enough to make anybody think that it’s a normative practice. I get nervous when people act as if God speaks to them in an audible voice, or when they’re absolutely sure about what God is saying. God did speak the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel from Mount Sinai. God did speak from heaven at the baptism of Jesus, saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” God did speak audibly from heaven at the Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!”

So, when we discuss hearing from God, we’re not talking about hearing the audible voice of God. Instead, we’re talking about God communicating to us on some level. Maybe what you’re asking is, “Should we expect God to communicate to us in a dramatic way, or should we expect God to communicate to us in a subtle way?”

Here’s what we should expect. We should expect God to communicate to us in and through His Word. I do believe that God can and sometimes does speak to people outside of His revealed word, the Bible. I believe that when the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner, He’s communicating to that sinner about their sin and their need to repent. So that’s communication on some level. Is an audible voice? Almost certainly not. But is it communication? On some level, yes. Should we expect that to be dramatic? Or should we expect it to be quiet like the still, small voice of 1 Kings 19? I don’t think we should burden ourselves with such expectations.

If you want to hear a word from God, open your Bible. God always, consistently, faithfully, trustworthily speaks in His Word. Now, if you believe that God has communicated to you outside of His word, let me say a few things. First, you need to be careful with that. You shouldn’t be overly confident in your ability to hear what the Lord would communicate to you. God is perfect. He can only communicate one way: perfectly. But I’m not perfect and you’re not perfect. We can only hear God or receive God’s communication in an imperfect way. So don’t be overconfident in your ability to receive what God may communicate to you. It’s possible to add or take away from or misapply what God communicates to you. I’ve seen it more than once where God is communicating to a person about their own sin and they think it applies to other people, because they don’t want to deal with their own sin.

Does God give us peace about the direction we should take in life?

I would say that’s mostly true. I wouldn’t say that a subjective feeling of peace is an absolute marker for knowing the will of God. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. So, it’s not an absolute marker of truth. But for the most part, what the Bible says in Colossians 3 is to let the peace of God rule in your heart. The grammatical idea there is to allow God’s peace to make the judgments or be an umpire in your life.

I would say that it’s mostly true that we can understand the will of God in our life by a sense of peace about directions to take in life. But again, not always. There have been some things in my life about which I’ve been filled with a lot of anxiety, but I knew they were the will of God. So we can’t go back to the idea that if it’s the will of God, it’s always going to feel great. That’s not what we’re asking for.

How can Christians be sure we make it to the end?

How can Christians make sure that we make it to the end (Matthew 24:9-13), especially in light of the Great Apostasy warning for the last days?

Matthew 24:9-13 – Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

We do this by being faithful to Jesus today. I can’t be faithful to Jesus five years from now, because I don’t exist five years from now. All I have is this present moment. So instead of worrying about whether I will be faithful to Jesus in five years, I can just focus on being faithful to Jesus today, and then do that again tomorrow and the day after that. If I remain faithful to Jesus today, I acknowledge that it’s not by my own strength; it’s His keeping work in me. Yet there is something of my own will or volition involved. I want to continue to follow Jesus and be faithful to Jesus. As long as I do that today, then I’m going to be faithful in the long haul. God helping us, we can do that. We don’t have to worry about it so far off in the future, but we can be faithful to Him today.

CS Lewis wrote about this concept in The Screwtape Letters. Satan’s strategy against believers is to get them to either live in the past or in the future. But what Satan doesn’t want believers to do is to live in the present moment. We’re worried about what we did in the past, or we’re worried about how we might serve God in the future. Listen, the answer to both the past and the future is found right now in the present, by remaining faithful to Jesus in the present moment.

Are the wrath and love of God two sides of the same coin?

No, I would not say that the love and wrath of God are two sides of the same coin. I would say that the wrath and the mercy of God are two sides of the same coin. Both of them are related to justice, mercy being the excusing of justice, and wrath being the execution of justice. Love is in a different category of its own. The love of God is something very special. The Bible tells us that God is love.

How can believers avoid being deceived by the devil?

I think the best thing believers can do to avoid the deception of the devil is to be educated in and familiar with the Word of God. Read the Word of God, memorize the Word of God, and understand the word of God. I had a friend who used to work for a bank. He told me that when training in new bank tellers, they wouldn’t train them to recognize counterfeit bills by showing them counterfeit bills. Instead, they would train them to recognize counterfeit bills by making them super familiar with what the real money was like. Once they became really familiar with what real money was like, when a counterfeit bill came across their counter, they knew that it was counterfeit.

The same principle applies for us in truth and deception. We don’t need to feel like we have to educate ourselves about every deception that’s out there. If a person is interested in that, they can do it. But the most important thing is for a person to be into the Word of God. Be focused on the Word of God and be receiving from the Word of God. That’s how we can know what is genuine, and how we’re going to be protected against deception and things that are false.

What does it mean that God disciplines us (Hebrews 12)?

Hebrews 12:10-11 ESV – For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

God works in individual lives in many different ways. There’s no way that I can comprehensively answer all the different ways that God might discipline a believer, so I’ll give just one example. God might discipline a believer by allowing adverse circumstances to come into their life, circumstances that would humble them, get their attention, and compel them to turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, I need Your help. I need to come into right relationship with You again.”

In that example, those adverse circumstances are not to punish the believer to make them pay for their sin. All the payment required by any sin a believer commits – past, present, or future – was accomplished at the cross. So, it’s not to pay for the sin, but it could be to get their attention. It could be to wake them up. It could be to put them in such adversity that they feel like they have to seek the Lord. It happens very often that when everything’s fine, we don’t seek the Lord very intensely, but when adversity comes, we seek God very desperately. So, sometimes God may allow adversity to come into our life as a correction. That is merely one way that God might correct a believer. There may be other ways as well, but that’s just one example.