Recently abolishment of the death penalty was debated in Wyoming. Usually the debate fractures along the opposing ideas of deterrence and the dignity of man. Those who favor capital punishment argue it is a deterrence, and those opposed argue it fails to respect the dignity of man.
State Senator Lynn Hutchings a republican from Cheyenne gave an unorthodox reason for maintaining the death penalty in Wyoming, the crucifixion of Christ, “The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty.”
While Christianity is squarely founded on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, in this instance the absence of proper biblical hermeneutics has led to a misapprehension and subsequent misapplication of the text. Lynn Hutchings may be a state senator but she is no theologian.
Capital punishment is addressed much earlier in the Scriptures and was in fact established to ensure justice and the dignity of man, and not as a deterrence.
Christians believe man’s dignity arises from the fact that man was created in the image of God, Genesis 1:26-27. That image has been marred by the fall, but is indelibly innate in every human being.
There came a time in the history of man that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. This is an accurate description of a society completely corrupted by the absence of law and order. It was this cultural climate that precipitated the flood.
Emerging from the ark Noah and his family were tasked with repopulating the earth and restoring the civilization that had succumbed to anarchy. To do that God gave mankind its first law, “Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man,” Genesis 9:6.
If mankind were to survive as a civilized society, it would only be possible established on a sense of right and wrong founded on the principle of justice. So the Father took the most serious of human offenses, murder, to lay a foundation of justice from which all other lesser offenses could be patterned (a just penalty commensurate to the offense).
God’s reasoning is when a man takes another man’s life without justification; he is destroying the image of God in another person needlessly, and justly forfeits the right to continue bearing that image himself. And He tasked mankind with the prosecution of justice, “by man his blood shall be shed.”
God initiated capital punishment as a just penalty when a man murders the dignity of another. That is clear from the wording of Genesis 6:9. God did not institute the death penalty as a deterrent; He did so to establish societal justice. If society forsakes the practice of justice we may find ourselves sliding down a very slippery slope to the precipice of anarchy. Nothing so inclines people to take the law into their own hands as a legal system that refuses to administer justice.