Christianity 201

August 31, 2011

Christians and Capital Punishment

A couple of days ago I mentioned that if you’re really processing your faith at the “201” level, you’re going to have to have a “take” on certain issues that some might consider peripheral. I think the example was creation science. But what about something like capital punishment? Again, the tendency is to say, “Look, Paul, you started this blog to avoid getting into the kind of issues you deal with at Thinking Out Loud. This space is supposedly reserved for Christ-centered Bible exposition and discussion.”

Absolutely right. But Christ needs to inform all areas of our life and thoughts. Better yet, Christ will inform just about any subject that comes up for discussion. So with that in mind, let’s look at Christ in the case of a justice issue  taking place concurrent with His earthly ministry, and see how He responded. This is from Woodland Hills pastor Greg Boyd at Christus Victor Ministries where it appeared under the title, Sinful Accusers and Capital Punishment.

 

May 4th, 2011

The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-4; where was the guilty man?). They wanted to see how this increasingly popular, would-be Messiah, might respond. Their motive, of course, was to entrap Jesus (vs. 6). The law explicitly commanded that adulterers had be stoned to death (Lev 20:20; Deut 22:22). If Jesus agreed with this and had the lady stoned, it would likely get him in trouble with Roman authorities, for they alone had the right to try and carry out capital punishment. If Jesus disagreed with this, however, it would set him in explicit opposition with the Torah and justify the Jewish court trying him as a false teacher.

Displaying his signature genius, Jesus found a way to affirm the Torah in principle while undermining it in practice. “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said (vs. 7). In agreement with the Torah, Jesus affirmed that sinners like this woman deserve to be executed. Yet, he added, only a sinless person would be justified in carrying out this sentence. Since none of the woman’s accusers were sinless, they ended up dropping their stones and walking away.

Since all people are sinners, it seems to me that Jesus’ teaching in this episode applies not just to this particular accused sinner and to this group of sinful accusers, but to all accused sinners and to all sinful accusers. And if you think it through consistently, this entails that none of the Old Testament’s commands to carry out capital punishment should ever be acted on! Indeed, for followers of Jesus, it entails that no command to carry out capital punishment should ever be obeyed, regardless of where it is found or who it comes from.

The command itself may be just, but unless you are without sin, you’re not  justified putting it into practice.

Think about it, and have a blessed day!

~Greg Boyd