Genesis 9:6,11-13 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image…11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Romans 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer
As our society continues to purposefully withdraw itself from Biblical principles and embrace worldly thinking, we will individually, as well as corporately, be confronted with issues that are biblical, anti-biblical, and extra-biblical. Some of those issues are gay marriage (which we covered earlier), the death penalty, universal health care, welfare, immigration, social security and a host of other topics.
As a Christian it is your responsibility to challenge and wrestle with the issues and balance it with what you believe the Scriptures say. When you look at the already complex societal concerns and others that are coming it isn’t always as easy and as simple as “WWJD”.
I hope over the next several weeks to look at the trends in society and examine them in the light of the Scriptures in their proper cultural context; and extract out of those passages principles to provide guidance and understanding for us today.
The first issue to look at (for no particular reason other than I wanted to write about it) is the death penalty. In Genesis 9 we see God, as punishment, allowed a flood of great magnitude that covered a large portion, if not the entire, earth (local or universal flood is not the issue here) because of the increased sin of mankind both numerically and in its depravity.
As they are finishing their cruise, most likely of the Mediterranean Sea, they find land and debark from the ship. God speaks from heaven blessing them and telling them that they are to fulfill the Dominion Mandate issued to Adam and Eve. He immediately moves into a detailed account on how He plans for mankind to limit the sin of murder both numerically and in its depravity. God institutes the Death Penalty when He tells Noah if a man “sheds the blood” or murders another man he forfeits his own life.
This would seem to be pretty straightforward and, to be honest, it is. However, many people would argue that this is Old Testament or that it is “Law”, or in the New Testament Jesus is all about grace. I wholeheartedly agree that Jesus is all about grace! We are saved by grace and grace alone. Yet this Covenant is given before the Law is given to Moses; and further, God’s sign of this covenant is still evident in the sky to this day.
Paul, in his brilliant letter to the Romans, brings up several interesting truths. Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to live a life of holiness, not rebellion, within the context of government. He continues on to tell them that if they do what is righteous they have no need to fear judgment from the government.
There are two comments of importance to the idea of the death penalty. The first reference is found Romans 13:4 with a reference to God giving the Government the “sword” (to execute law breakers) and the second reference is the seldom mentioned “avenger”. The word “avenger” in this passage is a reference back to the Old Testament customs of limiting the amount of bloodshed through the punishment of the death penalty.
When it comes to a biblical understanding of the death penalty, there are two things that should inform our opinion. The first thing would be that God directly commanded the death penalty as a part of the covenant with Noah, before the law; and secondly, it is re-enforced in the New Testament.
This should be enough to put this issue to rest for anyone who heeds the Scripture. But unfortunately, as the culture slides further and further away from Biblical literacy and Biblical obedience, it seems to have no more weight than the local weather station telling you the forecast for the next three days.
Image: Thanksgiving After Leaving Noah’s Ark; Domenico Morelli (1823–1901); courtesy of Dorotheum; public domain