September 21, 2011

What Does the Bible Say About the Death Penalty?

Troy Davis is in his jail cell down in Georgia. His execution is set to take place tonight. Only Troy and God know whether or not he murdered Mark MacPhail.

I began to wonder what the Bible says about the death penalty.

The first mention of the appropriate punishment for a murder is in Genesis 4:11-15.
"And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;...a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." (KJV)
Adam and Eve's sons were Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd. Each brought the best that they had had produced as a sacrifice to God. God accepted Abel's sacrifice of meat but rejected Cain's grain offering. Cain's resultant disappointment turned to anger; he killed his brother. God cursed Cain for the murder and sent him to wander the earth. God also put a mark on Cain's body so that nobody who saw him would be motivated to kill him. If anyone killed Cain for the murder of his brother, that person would be very severely punished. Here, banishment and exile is the penalty for murder; capital punishment is specifically prohibited.

The first mention of capital punishment as a penalty for murder is in Genesis 9:6:
"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (KJV)
This passage regards the killing of a human as an offense against God because humans were made in the image of God, both male and female. Unlike the previous passage which required that the murderer be merely exiled, this verse required the murderer to be killed.

I imagine that proponents on either side of the death penalty question can find comfort in the Bible.

Rethabile Masilo (see photo) reached inside of his soul and created this poem for Troy Davis:

(for Troy Davis)

Over the outer wall
a sun will rise, lighting
the same things it lights
whether or not another war
has been sparked, or
a market dried up and dead,
the same sun that sometimes
appears to linger above
a plot of land on which
his mother grows beans,
collards, in soil smeared with
blood, cleared with toil.
It’ll be so early one might
mistake it for a hanging night
On white picket fence
at an unearthly hour
on the morning of this last day,
a cock crows to tell the dead man
it’s time to go, while, somewhere
in the country, a postman
slides letters into mailboxes
whose arms, too, hang loosely
at the sides. A dog runs after
his jeep to the end of the street,
slinks back home dragging its tail.
A day Jehovah won’t forget
that easily. A day nobody
is waiting for nor thinks should
materialise. A last day for a man
through whose skin, milling
with melanocytes, past whose
layers of vein and into
whose lumen a needle will
enter and leave its message.
© Rethabile Masilo


Rethabile said...

"Only Troy and God know whether or not he murdered Mark MacPhail."

Troy says he didn't do it. And God will take care of it with the murderer. Why kill Troy?

SjP said...

Must admit that I never thought about the Cain and Abel story in reference to the death penalty - but, it certainly does present a compelling argument against it. On the otherhand so does the other verse you cited. But, I suggest the cruicifixion of the innocent and the theif told in the Gospels might provide the best Biblical agrument against it.

Certainly, the cruicifixion of our Lord who sinned not is proof that even though one might be "proven guilty" does not mean the verdict was right. With respect to the repentent and unrepentent theives who were also cruicified that day, there is no indication that the punishment was just for the crimes committed.

Got me thinking on this one Villager! Never thought about the death penalty in the Biblical sense before. Interesting indeed and soul-searching.

I invite you and other Villagers to join me today for The Angels Keep Watching.

Unknown said...

Rethabile - You hit the nail on the head with your comment. I hope you're OK with me sharing your poem...

Sojourner - Rethabile's poem inspired me to create this post. You bring up some good points in your comment. At the end of the day I don't think that God endorses the idea of "the state" killing prisoners. I think that the "Thou shalt not kill" probably trumps all other arguments...

Rethabile said...

I thank you for sharing the poem, brother.

Revvy Rev said...

Our judgment is faulty. Only God's judgment is pure and unerring. Troy's life has already been taken away. No one should die where there are ominous questions regarding guilt and/or flimsy evidence.

Hagar's Daughter said...

Thanks for sharing Rethabile's poem. I'm not a supporter of the death penalty. One of the reasons is that persons are put to death without credible evidence or eye witnesses, etc. There are just too many ways that things can and do go wrong and those who are in position of authority can abuse their authority.

My prayers to the family that lost their loved one and to Troy and his family.

Unknown said...

Revvy Rev - This is first time that I've seen your village voice. I hope you find reasons to come back often. I agree with your assessment. Only God knows for sure...

Hagar's Daughter - You are the first to say what should have been said earlier ... the family of the police office that died (MacPhail) deserves and needs our prayers as well...

isabella mori said...

thank you for the poem, rethabile, and thank you for posting it, villager.

the story of cain and abel is so very full of teaching.

in my mind, nothing about the death penalty makes sense to me. revenge is the only reason why the death penalty exists, and where has revenge ever gotten us?

Unknown said...

Isabella - First, please accept my welcome to this blog. I appreciate you taking time to share your village voice with us!

Second, I agree with you ... death penalty is nothing but revenge ... and if we use it we better be damn sure that the person deserves it. That simply isn't the case with Troy Davis (IMHO)...