Capital Punishment & the Bible

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

August 17, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Capital punishment has long been discouraged in Israel from the beginning of the modern state in 1948.  It is not forbidden, but it is reserved for the most heinous crimes such as those perpetrated in the holocaust during the Second Word War.  However, this has given the Israelis a major headache in the face of Palestinian terrorists who crowd Israeli prisons even though convicted of multiple murders.

The agreement to release prisoners in order to get the present negotiations going between Israel and the Palestinian authority has caused considerable unrest among the families who lost loved ones during terrorist attacks carried out by the prisoners to be released this week.  These 26 prisoners will be welcomed as heroes by President Mohammed Abbas at his residence in Ramallah.  They will be given financial rewards and may even have parks and streets named after them.  Another three batches of murders are scheduled to be released over the next nine months of the negotiations.

At the same time Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules in Gaza, is about to execute by hanging several Palestinians who are accused of spying for Israel and other offenses.  These are fellow Moslems who obviously are in some kind of opposition to the reigning regime.  Amnesty International is urging them not to carry out the sentences which will follow the Moslem festival of Id al-Fitr.

Capital punishment is ordained in the Bible beginning in Genesis 9:6.  The passage reads, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”  There is a string of biblical texts that affirm this prescription, both in the Hebrew Scripture and in the Greek Scriptures.  The rational is not vengeance.  Neither is it necessarily justice, at least at the human level.  The reason is that the destruction of the divine image of God in mankind is an attack on God himself.

Capital punishment is prescribed in the Torah for a number of crimes other than murder, and murder is what the Genesis text is speaking of, as well as the text of the “Ten Commandments.”  The legal code has no bearing on killing in general.

We might also note that in the legal codes of the Torah, the case law of the Bible, capital punishment is allowed but not prescribed.  Cases are put in the hands of judges who have discretionary powers.

It has been the rule rather than the exception that released terrorists have gone back to their terrorist activities upon being set free.  The concern of Jewish families is not merely personal but a fear for others who might become victims of future terror.

It is very obvious that the Moslem world is operating under a very different ethic than the Jewish world.   The taking of human life even as the consequence of a careful and just judicial procedure is a tragedy.  However, in the case of terrorism, we might save many lives by carrying out a more severe application of capital punishment.   A dead terrorist can kill no more, nor can those who idolize killers plead for his release from prison.   I am not trying to make a case for vengeance, but I do sympathize with those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who do not want these killers back in circulation.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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