I sometimes hear from well-meaning people in the pro-life movement that the death penalty is a pro-life issue and should be opposed as such. While these individuals are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they lack a clear understanding of some fundamental differences between the death penalty and abortion. We will set out these differences as well as the Biblical understanding of the difference.
From a Biblical perspective, abortion is murder. There is simply no other way to understand the taking of a human life without just cause. And yes, it’s human. We’ve written numerous other articles discussing this so we will not belabor it here but it is an important one to remember. Human life has value because it is made in the image of God.
It is this very argument then that some pro-lifers take and spin to oppose capital punishment. They argue that, because all human lives have intrinsic value, that capital punishment is wrong. The argument is good as far as it goes. However, it neglects some key details. The first is that capital punishment was instituted by God. Both Genesis 9:6 and later passages in the Law make it clear God Himself ordained the death penalty for certain crimes. Now some might argue we are not under the Mosaic law and that is a fair argument, were it not for Genesis 9:6 explicitly instituted the death penalty for murder. Since that is not part of the Law, it cannot have been superseded with the Law.
It is also important to note that there is a fundamental principle underlying this argument. All human life has value, but the choices we make have consequences. In other words, the death penalty is not the arbitrary end of someone’s life for no reason. Instead, there are carefully prescribed rules involved, and in each case, the execution is a direct result of the choices of the person being executed. Conversely, with abortion, the child is executed for existing. He has committed no crime, broken no law. He simply exists and his mother does not want him. That is all that is required for abortion. The two are diametrically different.
Obviously under American law, and most of the world, this has been completely upended. It is very hard to execute a felon in America, no matter how deserving and no matter how heinous their crime. However, in many states, abortion is pretty easy to get, sometimes even available over the counter. We have flipped the intended order on its head. The guilty cannot be punished but the innocent are slain.
Now some might argue that the Bible actually prescribes abortion in some instances. Fortunately, they’re wrong. Troy Lacey and Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis recently published an excellent article debunking the Numbers 5 argument. Rather than plagiarize their arguments, I invite you to go read their article, then come back and finish mine. There can be no doubt that the Bible is not describing abortion in Numbers 5.
Some might argue that capital punishment occasionally condemns an innocent man to death and thus should not be allowed. I agree that any innocent death is one too many but should we outlaw cars because occasionally one catches fire and kills an innocent person? Should we outlaw shelving because once in a while it falls on an innocent person and kills them? Of course not! I acknowledge that the legal system is not perfect, but justice must be served. When someone is convicted in a fair trial by a jury of their peers of a crime worthy of death, they should receive it.
Why have some pro-life advocates latched on to the death penalty as a pro-life issue? I suspect many of them are just not well informed Biblically. We know that Biblical illiteracy is rampant even among most churches, and many pro-life advocates are not Christians. It is hardly surprising that they do not have a Biblical understanding of these issues.
What I find particularly disturbing is how many members of the pro-life movement are more than happy to call for the abolition of the death penalty…but not abortion. I hear all the time, mostly from the bigger pro-life groups, that we need more abortion restrictions. but very rarely do I hear that abortion must be abolished. I find this paradoxical and ridiculous. The death penalty is already highly regulated and very rarely used. Yet some pro-lifers (notably Abby Johnson), want it completely abolished. Yet abortion is barely regulated at all, and the few regulations that exist are often ignored for political expediency, and people (again, Abby Johnson is a great example) are calling for more regulations, not abolition. Abortion is a far greater injustice than putting a wicked criminal to death, but we want to abolish the latter and regulate the former. That is mind-boggling. The death penalty is not a pro-life issue. We need to think Biblically to properly understand the difference between capital punishment and abortion. The two are not remotely the same.
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There are more than 40 “death-penalty” sins in the Old Testament. The purpose of these was to get rid of evil in the land: 9 references to this in Deuteronomy. Our culture seems to think that evil should be protected, housed, clothed, fed and otherwise taken care of. In addition, there are even some cases where animals who caused death or injury were themselves put to death.