Dr. Richard Land

How biblical is it to be pro-life and support the death penalty? Excruciatingly So

February 1, 2012

​It's excruciatingly biblical to be both pro-life and pro-death penalty.

It's excruciatingly biblical to be both pro-life and pro-death penalty. The Bible clearly reveals that life begins at conception (Ps. 51:5; Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139:13-16) and also clearly teaches that capital punishment is one of the options available to the civil magistrate in punishing evildoers (Rom. 13:1-7).

That the Bible teaches the sacredness of human life and that life begins at conception are the reasons the Jews, alone among the civilizations of the Mediterranean Basin, did not practice abortion and infanticide routinely. It is also why the Didache, the first post-apostolic teaching of the Christian faith, condemned abortion in the strongest language possible.

It is also clear from the apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans that the civil magistrate "does not carry the sword for no reason" (Rom. 13:4, HCSB). The word sword, as pointed out by 19th-century scholar Charles Hodge and others, refers to the sword employed to execute Roman citizens found guilty of capital crimes. Consequently, most Christians who take biblical authority seriously in most eras have concluded that capital punishment is one biblically sanctioned option available to the civil magistrate to punish evildoers.

This is excruciating because Western governments have too often applied capital punishment inequitably and unjustly.Historically, one is far more likely to be executed in the United States if a person of color rather than white, a man rather than a woman, or poor rather than wealthy. While governments have made substantial progress in addressing those inequities, it is still clear that the best protection against being executed in the United States is to be wealthy enough to hire the best defense attorneys to plead your case. The O. J. Simpson case is illustrative: Most people believe a guilty man got away with two murders.

How does one resolve this dilemma we confront as contemporary Christians? For this Christian, it is imperative for me to "speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death," as stated in the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement.

It is also imperative that I support capital punishment precisely because human life is sacred and God mandated to Noah that he would "require the life of each man's brother for a man's life" precisely because "God made man in his image" (Gen. 9:5-6, HCSB). Life is sacred, and when men wantonly take other men's lives, they have transgressed a divine prerogative and forfeit their own right to life.

It is also imperative that I, as a Christian and a citizen, be as committed to the just application of capital punishment as I am to the retention of capital punishment as an option to punish evil.

By Richard Land

Originally Published in Christianity Today. David Gushee and Glen Stassen contributed differing perspectives in the same article.