I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, February 27, 2010


On yesterday’s broadcast of Walk in the Word (which can be heard here), James McDonald, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, was continuing his series on what the Bible says about capital punishment.

McDonald has come down on the right conclusion: capital punishment is affirmed and prescribed by God in his Word. Many of McDonald’s lesser conclusions were correct. And his cursory answers to common objections were as sharp as they were salient.

Nevertheless, he came to the topic of capital punishment serving as a deterrent and the government’s teleological use of it for that end and said that such was both “immoral” and “unbiblical.” With his stylistic admixture of “Dude” and affirmative “Way!,” in response to an anticipated “No way!” from listeners, I found this statement perfectly incredible.

McDonald, in his sweeping survey of the biblical data concerning this issue, must have simply overlooked the number of cases that flatly contradict his ideas about the deterring and distractive purpose of capital punishment on the larger social matrix. Before stating his negative answer to this question, McDonald first cited multiple studies that found that capital punishment has a decisive psychological effect on every strata of society, serving to dissuade others from crimes liable to execution. Practically speaking, then, whether or not McDonald believes this effect is moral and/or biblical, it is a fact.

But is it really unbiblical? Once this answer is established, then it would be redundant to attach further moral judgments on the issue, since the Bible is the authoritative basis for morality. So, is it...?

We needn’t go beyond the book of Deuteronomy to determine that McDonald is plainly mistaken at this point. There is in Deuteronomy a refrain that presents us with the Divine two-fold purpose for the execution of evildoers: 1) “So you shall purge the evil person from your midst,” and 2) “All Israel shall hear and fear and never again do...” crimes of similar nature. Let’s consider four crystal instances from Deuteronomy.

1. Deut 13:5, 11: “So you shall purge the evil from your midst...And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.”

2. Deut 17:12—13: “So you shall purge the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again.”

3. Deut 19:19—20: “So you shall purge the evil person from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and never again commit any such evil among you.”

4. Deut 21:21: “So you shall purge the evil from you midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

In each of these cases, justice is meted out on the perpetrator, which McDonald rightly deems “biblical,” and the Lord intends the consequential effect of the event serving as a deterrent to the rest of society, who “hears and fears,” which McDonald considers “unbiblical.” However, “Clearly punishment—especially capital punishment—is a deterrent to crime” (Earl Kalland, “Deuteronomy” in EBC).

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