Q: Why do we New Testament Christians, who live under Christ’s command to ‘love one another,’ still support capital punishment?”
A: It is in the spirit of love that capital punishment is implemented. There is an erroneous assumption that love for a person who has been found guilty of murder means eradicating the natural consequences he or she should suffer for the committed crime. In point of fact true love for a person is to do things God’s way. We are to pray that those who are on death row may be touched by our Law/Gospel messages and led to repentance even in the hour, minutes, and seconds before the current hits the chair.
Hidden behind this question, however, is one that looms larger: Can we be certain that God has declared capital punishment to be in force, not only in Old Testament times as shown by Genesis 9:6, but also in New Testament times?
It can be demonstrated that capital punishment was even part of natural law prior to God formally establishing it as a world penal code in the post-Flood era. When Cain spoke to the Lord, following exposure of his guilt in the slaying of his brother, his guilty conscience reasoned: “I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14). The Lord responded by placing a mark on Cain “so that no one who found him would kill him.” This is an indication that “he who takes the sword shall perish with the sword” was in natural man’s thinking already at Cain’s time.
More pointedly, we find in the “government chapter” of the New Testament (Romans 13) a reiteration of capital punishment being divinely assigned to the domain of the God-ordained governing authorities. The Apostle Paul writes: “For he (government) is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (v. 4). There can be no dispute that “bearing the sword” meant using even decapitation in cases where intentional taking of human life was clearly manifested.
Doing things God’s way is always displaying true love. Fellow Christians who have been wronged by the perpetrator ought to demand full justice be carried out even while their prayers are offered for the crirninal’s soul. There, of course, is no place for vengeance, for that is to be left to the Lord (Rom. 12:19). Governments which legislate capital punishment, in accordance with God’s prescription for the State, benefit not only victimized families seeking proper justice but society as a whole.