God is clear. Capital punishment is to be used for certain offenses. This is a simple fact from the Bible. There are, however, a few things to remember to keep this in perspective.
Capital punishment was only used when there were at least two credible witnesses.
Capital punishment was only to be meted out by the leaders. No one was to ‘take the law into their own hands.’
The witnesses were often required to be the ones to throw the first stones.
According to Jewish history, capital punishment was rarely actually used. I realize that many think this is not so as we see talk of stoning often in the “new testament.” That was actually quite rare, and having a crowd rise up and try to stone someone was actually against the law. Keep that in mind when reading about Yeshua (Jesus) and the times a crowd wanted to kill him.
Speaking of Yeshua, the incident where the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to him and asked, “…in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” John 8:1-11; (ESV). Most of us know Yeshua’s reply of, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7 (ESV). At first glance it seems that Yeshua is saying that capital punishment isn’t the right way to go. But is he?
First, did you note that only the woman was brought before Yeshua? If she was ‘caught in the act’ as the passage states, where was the man? The law states that both should be stoned (see Deuteronomy 20:10). An interesting trap was being set for Yeshua. If he answered, “then stone her”, he wouldn’t be following the law, so the Pharisees would accuse him thus. If he answered “don’t stone her,” they could also accuse him of not following the law. He could of also called them out in regards to the guilty man and the lack of trial, but instead he went to the core of the issue.
He called them out on their misuse of God’s law! He attacked their legalism, and what better attack then to point out that there is no way to be good enough in a legalistic framework.
A sure sign of legalism is the misuse of the Law of God for your own benefit, or for control and putting others down.
Yeshua was highlighting grace over legalism, not commenting on capital punishment nor on the Law itself.
As a last comment on capital punishment, I find it interesting to read about those condemned who have been waiting for some time. Many ask for the sentence to be carried out! Why? Because the jail system, keeping them locked up for years, is a cruel method of punishment in my opinion. It can destroy a person’s mind and their dignity as a human.
God’s way called for swift carrying out of the punishment, leaving no time for the society to treat the criminal as an animal or for society as a whole to start relegating even those accused of crimes as monsters.
Personally, I’d rather we do things God’s way and retain the value and dignity of human life. Any human life. What do you think?