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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






15 October 2005

Killing and the Death Penalty


Q: The Bible says that the penalty for sin is death, but it also says don’t kill. How is this?

A: You’re not the first Christian to ask this question. Along with others, I’ve wrestled with this myself and have consulted those wiser than I (including Martin Luther, who wrote a great essay to Christians who were soldiers). The short answer is that as individuals we are commanded not to kill. However, as Paul reminds us, the government has the sword, and the right to exact earthly punishment on God’s behalf (Romans 13:1-7).

If a government abuses this authority, those responsible must answer for their sins. But God does allow (and in places commands) death for certain crimes and doesn’t forbid Christians from taking up arms to fight for their nation or to defend their own families. We are not allowed, by God or by government, to exact revenge ourselves on our own behalf. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. (Hebrews 10:30)” Eternal punishment is only in His hand. Earthly punishment likewise is in His hand, though veiled in the flesh of earthly rulers and laws.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the penalty for sin is death, not in this life but in the inability of the unrepentant sinner to enter into the fullness of God's Kingdom. Romans 13:1-7 does not say that the earthly punishment must be death.

In fact, the death penalty (and any other human-inflicted death) are to be avoided precisely because they deny the sinner's opportunity to repent. If God wants the sinner to repent, perhaps you should let Him choose the time and place of the sinner's death and not presume to stand in His stead.

Jesus preaches humility and the ultimate arrogance, thus the ultimate anti-humility, is to be so confident that you are doing God's work that you feel you can take someone else's life.

16 October, 2005 07:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe his point is that God *has* appointed people to stand "in his stead" for the administration of justice. In the same way the farmer's vocation is to give people food in the stead of God himself handing it down from heaven. Each of our vocations are a mask of God's work in our midst for the benefit of our neighbor. And though Romans 13 does not say punishment must always be death-- and of course it isn't!-- it most definitely does allow for the government to wield "the sword."

16 October, 2005 13:16  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Note: I deleted a comment, not because the writer disagreed with me (which he did quite strongly) but because he concluded his post with language that I and a number of readers find offensive.

wps+

18 October, 2005 00:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

However, Romans 13 does address the power and authority God has given the government to act righteously and justly. The issue God allows, and even commands at times, for authorities to exact punishment of death when warrented within the Old Testament for certain crimes should also be taken into account.

God Himself established the bounderies for what constitutes a right and wrong government through His word through the Law. That doesn't mean all nations obey or go by His standards. There are many that obviously don't. And when a corrupt system is in place when innocent persons are put to death, the practice should be stopped and corrected or simply halted altogether IMO. Otherwise there indeed is the breaking of the 5th commandment.

Even so, the taking of a human life is a very serious responsibility for governments and it must be done with extreme prudance. As it was already stated, once a person is dead...there is no more time alotted for the possibility of being brought to faith in Christ, by God's grace working through the Gospel. Yet, that is true of everyone. Prisoners who are on death row simply are aware of the time set apart for them if it instead doesn't some sooner.

I'm wondering if the use of "the wages of sin is death" should be used in conjuction when speaking of the death penalty though. The verse speaks of the Law, then adds the Gospel. The verse ends with; "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Using the first part if the verse places confusion between the two kingdoms Christians belong too on this earth. The first part of the verse speaks of sin and it's ultimate outcome on all of us, certainly not just those who commit crimes and are judged by human civil law to be put to death. The second part of the verse speaks of redemption through Christ.

In short, it would be a distortion to apply Romans 6:23 it to human civil laws when it is not speaking of human civil laws. It is speaking to the kingdom of God which rules through the Gospel proclaimed by all true believers within Jesus Christ.

It's always wise to be careful when speaking of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. While the two reside on this earth, they're not the same and they each serve a radically differnt purpose. And each effects human lives differntly. While an inmate on death row may still need to pay the price for breaking human law (kingdom of this world), there is no reason why there is offered no forgiveness for all sins and eternal life by God's grace, through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord (kingdom of God, presented within the Gospel).

18 October, 2005 01:27  

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