As a juror, how should a Christian consider capital punishment?
The basic idea behind capital punishment is that it is the government that is imposing the punishment on individuals in society that have failed to respect the laws of our society. However, the term ” capital punishment ” has come to refer to a sentence and ultimate execution of death to the guilty individual. Does a Christian have the authority to sentence someone to death?
Before we further answer this question, let’s look at it from a different perspective. Does the government have the authority from God to sentence someone to death? The answer to that question is a most definite, “Yes.” In Romans 13:1-4 we read, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” The phrase “he beareth not the sword in vain” implies that God has authorized the government to use the sword as a means of punishment to those that do wrong. A sword is not an instrument of punishment with which you want to come into contact. Both edges are usually sharp and it is designed to seriously incapacitate and or kill one’s enemy. The implication is that if God allows the government to use the sword for the purpose of incapacitation or death, then the government has the right to punish evil doers by means of death. Peter also makes some significant statements along this line in 1 Peter 2:13, 14. We read, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” This passage says that individual rulers in the government are sent by God for the punishment of evil doers. So not only does the government as a whole have a right to punish evil doers, but individuals within the government have the right to punish evil doers. Is this punishment merely up to the sentence of death or does it include the sentence of death?
There are some additional principles under the Old Covenant that may help us understand this concept a little better. First of all we read in Exodus 21:23-25 “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” The principle that God is trying to get across in this passage is that the punishment should fit the crime. In other words, you wouldn’t put a person to death for purposely stepping on someone’s toes. At the same time you wouldn’t just slap someone on the wrist for murdering their fellow man. The punishment for the crime committed must be equivalent, at least in physical response, to the crime itself. In the times of the New Testament, the Jewish people had basically turned this passage of scripture into a justification for revenge. This is not what was originally intended by the thoughts that were presented in the Mosaic Law. Jesus, however, in refutation of the Rabinnical traditions, quotes their use of it as a justification for revenge and then refutes the idea that the man of God is to harbor thoughts of revenge in his heart. We read in Matthew 5:38,39 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Don’t lash out in revenge against someone who would do you wrong. This is the attitude that the Christian should have as well. It is not our place to go seeking revenge against everyone who has done us wrong or wrought evil against us in our life. Paul also writes in Romans 12:19 “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Now, we can answer the question as stated above. First, the Christian when serving on a Jury is acting as an officer for the government and on the government’s behalf. The Bible clearly teaches that such an officer can and must exercise punishment upon those who do wrong. Second, when punishment is exercised it should fit the crime that was committed. It should not merely be a slap on the wrist. So if the crime involved death, then the punishment should involve death as well. Third, as an individual, the Christian, though acting as an officer of the government, has no right to harbor thoughts of revenge in his or her heart. Based upon these three things, therefore, the Christian is authorized by God to sentence a person to death when acting as part of the function of the government (i.e. in a jury) provided that the Christian does not harbor any thoughts of revenge in their heart for the person sentenced. In other words, it is not the Christian’s individual desperate desire for this person to be put to death, but because this person has committed a crime, then justice demands that he/she answer for this crime in a just way. This is how a Christian, as a juror, should consider capital punishment. As always, if there resides in the heart of the individual unwillingness due to conscience sake not to participate in the sentencing of an individual to death, then the Christian should abstain (Romans 14:23). However, let the Christian voice this thought prior to the jury selection process so that a just and fair result may prevail.