The Death of Justice


by Charl van Wyk

South Africa has the highest rate of murder per capita in the world. "In South Africa in 1992 the murder rate was 98 per 100 000 people... In the United States in 1991, the murder rate was 10 per 1000 000." Signposts Vol 14 No 1 1995. Haiti has the world's second highest rate at 22 per 100 000. The murder rate for the first eight months of 1994 in Kwazulu-Natal was 145 per 100 000 and the PWV area had an average of 60.24 per 100 000. The violence and total disregard for human life is also displayed in the determination to legalise abortion on demand.

Statistics published by the SA Instutute of Race Relations show that the murder rate per year doubled in the five years from 1988 to 1992 (to 23 237 people murdered). Since the death penalty was suspended on 4 February 1990, and thousands of murderes, rapists and other violent criminals were released from prison, over 100 000 people have been murdered.

The vital question that Christians must ask is:"What does the Bible say?"

Due to man's sinfulness, coupled with the present lawlessness in our society, crimes will increase because the criminals think that they can escape without punishment. "When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong." Ecclesiastes 8:11. If people do not fear God, and respect His laws then they will not respect human life which God has made in His image.


Soon after the flood, speaking to Noah, over 800 years before the Law was given to Moses, God prohibited the murder of human beings. "And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man." Genesis 9:5-6

Later God gave another reason for commanding the death penalty: to cleanse the land. "Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made of the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." Numbers 35:33

Leviticus 24:17,22: "If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death...You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God."
The sentence was mandatory with no appeal to a higher court.

Consider this: God tells us that the way to stop murder in a land is to require the blood of the murderer.

Many might regard this as cruel and argue that God is Love and Mercy, but we must remember that He is also Just. All of these attributes demand that the innocent be protected.

God's justice and fairness is evident in that He decreed that anyone who accidently killed another should not be put to death, but should flee to a city set apart for refuge (Numbers 35:9-15).

His justice is also seen in His requirement that more than one witness should give testimony before the murderer was sentenced to death (Numbers 35:30). A person could not be executed on the basis of rumours or lies.

We need to, at this stage, distinguish between killing, and murder. Killing is the taking of life, murder is the taking of innocent life, thus all killing is not murder. The sixth commandment given to Moses by God is "You shall not murder" Exodus 20:13 Many try to use this verse against the institution of capital punishment. However, in the same book, of Exodus, God requires the execution of murderers.

Moses understodd the difference. When he came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, including "You shall not muder", he found the people worshipping the golden calf. In Exodus 32:26-28 we read that the Lord God of Israel commanded the idolaters to be put to death by the sword. So the same God who said, "You shall not murder" commanded killing to execute divine judgement on those who had turned to idolatry.

A father has been given the responsiblity for providing for his family including the need for security and protection (1 Tim 5:8) thus self-defense is a legitimate use of force. At night, in the dark, there is no way to determine an intruder's intentions. Therefore the Bible states that: "If a thief is caught breaking in and struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed." Exodus 22:2 There are definitely times when shedding the blood of the guilty is justified.

Under God's Law given to Moses the following violations, among others, required a mandatory death penalty: (1) Murder (Ex 21:12-14; Num 35:31) This also applied to the life of a pre-born child (Ex 21:22-23) confirming the value the Lord places on human life in the womb. (2) Rape - when circumstances confirmed that the woman was powerless to prevent it (Deut 22:25-27) (3) Kidnapping (Ex 21:16).


At the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the death penalty was not abolished. The civil authorities are appointed as God's agents of wrath to administer justice, to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty.

Paul recognised the institution of the death penalty when he said, "If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die," Acts 25:11

Jesus Christ endorsed the death penalty when speaking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Mark 7:6-13. Jesus was confirming what Moses has said: "Honour your father and mother," and "Anyone who curses his father and mother must be put to death."

In Romans 13:1-4 we read what is expected of a godly government. "...But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword of nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Swords are not used for corporal punishment, they are instruments of death to be used by God-ordained authorities.

As we have ignored the Word of God in this area, we have witnessed the greatest crime wave in the history of our nation. Major crimes are committed by repeat offenders and by those out on bail or warnings. Being soft on criminals is a hard way to live. The real purpose of God's divine laws are to protect. In our nation where the innocent sleep in fear, isn't it time that we get back to meeting out justice as God commanded? Let's pressurise our authorities to be wise enough to listen to the eternal Judge of the universe.

Many times opponents of the death penalty will raise the question of the persistently rebellious child. Surely you don't expect parents to hand their adult children over to be executed? Or what about adultery? Are you advocating that everyone caught in adultery be executed? This sort of argument often results in the Christian back peddling and muttering; "well, no..." and the unbeliever taunting him with: "if not for that case why for the other? Then you don't believe the Bible."

This is a very complex issue, which I will attempt to simplify and clarify. For a full discussion read "Victim's Rights" by Gary North (Institute for Christian Economics, Tx, USA, 1990) especially Chapter 2. In Biblical Law the victim against whom the crime was committed had the right firstly to decide whether to prosecute. Then if the criminal was convicted, the victim could specify the sentence given to him on condition that it did not exceed the maximum sentence stipulated in the Bible. This meant the victim could show mercy. Every sin is a crime, firstly against God and secondly, against a victim. In the case where there is not an earthly victim, capable of bringing charges (eg:murder) then the State has been delegated by God to serve justice. So the actual victim may show mercy, but the State may not. Many times the phrase "surely he shall die" or "dying, he shall die" is used. This phrase is called a "Pleonasm", according to Biblical scholars. If, in the instance where this phrase is used, there is no earthly victim who can show mercy then the State is obligated to impose the death penalty. Gary North states "This leads me to a general principle: When the State becomes the prosecuting agent of case laws where this pleonasm occurs, it must enforce the death penalty on conviction. There are no exceptions."

So the phrase "surely he shall die" identifies "crimes that are the highest on God's list of abominations. The normal penalty for these crimes is death; anything less than this which the victim specifies is a manifestation of great mercy...Biblical Law is designed to protect the victim." Gary North.

In some cases where the State lawfully prosecutes someone, the death penalty is the presribed maximum sentence but it is not a mandatory sentence. However, where the pleonasm is used such as in muder, God requires a mandatory death penalty - this ensures that the criminal is delivered to God's court to be judged by Him. In these instances there is no identifiable or surviving human or institutional victim.

Gary North states that there are Biblically five punishments for criminal behanviour. These include flogging, economic restitution, and execution. "The goals of these penalties include: 1) upholding God's interests by enforcing His Law (civil worship); 2) penalizing criminal behaviour, sometimes by removing the criminal from this world (vengeance); 3) warning all people of the eternal judgement to come (evangelism); 4) protecting civil order (deterrence); and 5) protecting the interests of victims (justice). Ultimately, all these goals can be summarised in one phrase:upholding God's covenant." Examples of the mandatory death penalty include: Ex 21:12; 22:19; 31:14,15; Lev 20:2,13,15,16,27; 24:16,17; Num 35:16-18, 20-21, 31.

The Bible is consistent in the view that the death penalty is necessary to deter those who would consider murder and to ensure justice. "The death penalty has only one purpose: it is pronoun ced to ensure that the perpetrator of the crime never does it again: It is infallible." John Liversidge in a letter to the Sunday Tribune 13/11/94.

Source: What about the Death Penalty: A G Hobbs.

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