Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Sunday, January 25, 2015


            We, the comrades of Unit 1012: The VFFDP, are well aware that many “Christians” opposed to the death penalty, often used the John 7:52 to 8:11 from the Bible to as a propaganda technique to proof that Jesus Christ does not support the death penalty. These four articles, by Pastor Mark H. Creech, Kerby Anderson and Andrew Tallman and David Anderson prove them all wrong.

The Death Penalty and the Woman Caught in Adultery
By Rev. Mark H. Creech , Christian Post Columnist
April 12, 2013|8:47 am

Last week lawmakers in the North Carolina Senate took steps to restore the death penalty in our state. North Carolina hasn't conducted an execution since 2006 due to legal challenges meant to create a de-facto moratorium.

Sen. Thom Goolsby, the primary sponsor of SB 306 – Capital Punishment/Amendments, the bill which passed the Senate on Thursday, rightly argued, "We have a moral obligation to ensure death-row criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable finally face justice. Victims' families have suffered far too long. It's time to stop the legal wrangling and bring them the peace and closure they deserve."

Goolsby stated the case quite eloquently, I believe. Yes, North Carolina has a moral obligation to proceed with executions.

Despite the fact that death-row inmates receive super due process of law that accounts for an average of 12 years of appeals, and that there exists no solid evidence of even one innocent nationwide being executed in over a hundred years, anti-death penalty advocates have had the upper-hand in the Tar Heel state. Unfortunately, many of those who have led the charge against capital punishment have been people of faith. But quite frankly, I believe their contentions have wrongly focused on the supposed rights of criminals and not the injury of victims. Moreover, they demonstrate a poor handling of biblical exegesis, claiming the practice is immoral and rooted in revenge.

Recently, in support of Goolsby's proposed legislation, I argued the primary purpose of the death penalty has never been about revenge, but instead about retribution. William H. Baker in On Capital Punishment has rightly noted:

"Retribution is properly a satisfaction or, according to the ancient figure of justice and her scales, a restoration of a disturbed equilibrium. As such it is a proper, legitimate and moral concept. Scripture makes a clear line of distinction between this doctrine and feelings of personal hatred by forbidding such feelings and the actions to which they lead. Capital punishment as a form of retribution is a dictate of the moral nature, which demands that there should be a just portion between the offense and the penalty." [1]

When I hear clergy argue against the death penalty I question if they understand that retribution is the primary purpose of the law, not rehabilitation, not even deterrence to criminal acts. The purpose of the law is to exact a penalty proper to the crime. A just God requires a broken order in the Universe be restored. Even Christ's death for the sinner was based on the need for retributive justice to satisfy the legal demands of a Holy God, whose law requires, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Christ affirmed retributive justice by His own death on the cross. For the Bible declares, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). The concept of retribution is a bedrock principle necessary to understanding justice.

Yet people like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove with People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, argue that when the question of capital punishment was put to Jesus regarding the woman caught in adultery, which was at that time a capital crime, Jesus repudiated it, saying, "Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone." Wilson-Hartgrove adds that Jesus clarified in that moment that "[n]o one had the moral authority to condemn a fellow human being to death." [2]

This is a good example of the poor kind of biblical exegesis about which I was writing earlier. There is nothing in this text that advocates Jesus was condemning the death penalty. In fact, we should understand that no one had a deeper respect for the law than Jesus. He kept both the spirit and the letter of it. And even when it appeared to some he was not scrupulously keeping the law, it always turned out that Jesus was correcting an improper interpretation of it. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, the scribes and Pharisees were not correctly applying all of the Law of Moses. The law required in such cases that more than one witness was necessary to invoke the death penalty (Deut. 17:6; 19:15), but the text provides no certainty as to the identity of the witness or witnesses. There may have been only one witness, thereby making the execution illegal. The law also required both the man and the woman be executed (Deut. 22:22). Yet the man was never brought forward. Therefore, obedience to the law in this instance would require releasing the woman.
Still, what of Jesus' words about "casting the first stone"? I think Paul Miller of Apologetics Press best answers that question, when he writes:

 "Consequently, in the context under consideration, Jesus knew that the woman's accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her. (It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the man with whom the woman had committed adultery was in league with the accusing crowd.) Jesus was able to prick them with their guilt by causing them to realize that He knew that they, too, were guilty. The old law made clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stone (Deut. 17:7). The death penalty could not be invoked legally if the witnesses were unavailable or unqualified. Jesus was striking directly at the fact that the witnesses were ineligible to fulfill this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. They were intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own sexual indiscretions." [3]

Moreover, the entire episode was simply a trap these religious leaders had set for Jesus. Their very objective was to get Jesus to repudiate the Law of Moses in some way so they could argue he was a false prophet. If Jesus had renounced the death penalty in this situation, he would have fallen into the trap these conspirators had set from him. Instead, however, he turned the trap on them and revealed the wickedness, the coldness, and the hypocrisy of their own hearts.

Later Jesus would ask the woman, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?" (Jn. 8:10). In other words, where are the witnesses necessary to condemn you for your crime? When the woman said there were none, Jesus responded saying, "neither do I condemn thee" (Jn. 8:11), which was not some blanket or comprehensive unwillingness to judge or condemn a serious act of law breaking, but an acknowledgement that technically, legally, there were no witnesses to establish her guilt and thereby pass sentence.

"Go and sin no more" (Jn. 8:11), Jesus admonished the woman. Miller accurately writes concerning this statement, "Jesus was declaring the fact that the woman managed to slip out from under judicial condemnation on the basis of one or more legal technicalities. But He said (to use modern-day vernacular), 'You had better stop it! You were fortunate this time, but you must cease your sinful behavior!'" [4]

There is plenty in this text to make the case against the sin of self-righteously accusing or condemning others of something for which we ourselves are presently guilty. However, there is nothing in this text that rightly asserts Jesus was repudiating the death penalty. To argue this way from the story of the woman caught in adultery, sadly, is to create a pre-text that essentially implies no person has the right to judge anyone for anything. Because everyone is guilty of some sin or crime, therefore, no one has any moral authority to discipline – to punish – to levy jail time – to impose a fine, etc. This, of course, would be absurd; nevertheless, this is exactly where the argument logically ends.

Currently, there are over one hundred family members whose loved one was dreadfully murdered by an inmate on death row in North Carolina. While the family members of death row inmates get to visit them in prison, the family members of the victims will never get to see their loved one again. While family members of the victims may forgive the person who killed their loved one, the person who was killed never gets an opportunity to forgive. What's fair, compassionate, or loving about such circumstances? Indeed, a "disturbed equilibrium" in the Universe needs to be made right.

God required the death penalty in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis 9:6. Jesus affirmed retributive justice by his own death on the cross. And the apostle Paul declared government "bears the sword" as "the minister of God" for good and is an "avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:4).

Justice has been delayed too long. The death penalty is right – it's moral – it should resume.

[1] William H. Baker, On Capital Punishment (Moody Press 1985). Pgs. 81, 82
[2] Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan "Jesus, at Least, Opposed the Death Penalty," 27, March, 2013, http://www.pfadp.org/component/content/article/19-news/662-jesus-at-least-opposed-the-death-penalty
[3] Miller, Dave "The Adulterous Woman," Apologetic Press, 2003, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1277
[4] Ibid

Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.

Religious Objection 8: What about the woman caught in adultery?

In John 8:1-11, the Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery to see if He will authorize her execution. After He famously says, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” they all depart, and Jesus sends the woman on her way, saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more.” Of all passages in the Bible, this one most clearly shows that Jesus opposed capital punishment.

First, we should note that this passage is textually dubious. The best manuscripts don’t include it, and both its placement and style controvert its authenticity. Even so, the Christian community has long considered this an iconic story of Jesus’s mercy. So, to merely throw it out would be inappropriate. Besides, it may well be a legitimate story, just not one included in the John autoscript. Hence, an interpretation would be more helpful than a dismissal.

The trouble is that most people wildly misunderstand this story. The Pharisees’ only reason for bringing this woman to Jesus was to put Him in a dilemma. On the one hand, He couldn’t call for her execution since Roman law prohibited anyone other than a Roman court from doing this. The Pharisees proved they knew this when they later brought Jesus to Pilate rather than killing Him themselves. On the other hand, He couldn’t oppose her execution because this would have proven He was a false prophet for contradicting God’s Law. The passage even explains this in verse 6, “they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him.”

So, the Pharisees wanted to make Jesus a heretic for opposing capital punishment, but He evaded their trap. The tremendous irony is that now, two thousand years later, people who claim to love Jesus teach that He was precisely the heretic His enemies wanted to paint Him as. If Jesus was in fact repudiating capital punishment in this story, then He was neither the Divine Son of God nor even a true prophet. As I’m apparently more reluctant than others to embrace this conclusion, I can’t interpret Jesus as rejecting the Old Testament here. Had He been, His enemies would have left jubilant rather than ashamed. There are many theories on the meaning of this story, but the one thing we must not do is use it to say Jesus overturned God’s Word as His enemies intended.

In your commentary on capital punishment you completely miss the point of John 8:1-11. This passage is a condemnation of capital punishment and the hypocrisy that is inherent in it. You say, "Since He did teach that a stone be thrown (John 8:7), this is not an abolition of the death penalty." Jesus knew that none of them were without sin, just as none of us are without sin. Jesus knew that his answer would lead to no stones being thrown, just as he intends for us (today) to not throw stones. An example of "throwing stones" today, is sitting on a jury and sentencing someone to death (since we don't stone criminals today). You seem to think this passage is in the Bible simply to illustrate Jesus' craftiness at conflict avoidance.
Thank you for writing about my radio program on capital punishment. Although I taped that radio program back in 1992, it amazes me that I still receive e-mails about the transcript posted on the Probe website.

I believe this is the first time I have received a response to my passing comment on John 8. When you are doing a radio program with a set time limit, words are at a premium. So I welcome the opportunity to elaborate on my very short comment in the midst of a week of radio programs devoted to the issue of capital punishment.

First, I should point out that this passage in John 8 is a disputed text. There are very few disputed texts in the New Testament. This is one of them. The passage is not found in any of the important Greek texts. So I think it would be fair to say that most Bible scholars do not believe it was in the original.

Whether you believe it was or was not in the original, I think you would have to admit that it is a disputed text. And a basic principle of biblical exegesis is to never build a doctrine on a disputed text. In other words, I wouldn't use this passage in John 8 to argue for or against capital punishment.

Second, I only mentioned the passage in passing because there are a number of opponents of capital punishment who have tried to use this biblical passage to argue against capital punishment. It does not. In fact, you can make the point (as I did) that it argues just the opposite.

Third, I am not the first person to point out that Jesus did not set aside capital punishment in this passage since "He did teach that a stone be thrown." In one of his early books on ethics, Dr. Charles Ryrie makes a similar point. He argued that since Jesus said a stone should be thrown, he was not forbidding the Old Testament practice of capital punishment. Dr. Ryrie is the author of the Ryrie Study Bible and former professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. I think it is safe to say that Dr. Ryrie knows more about New Testament theology and exegesis than both of us combined.

Finally, the Pharisees were indeed trying to trap Jesus between the Roman law and the Mosaic law. If Jesus said that they should stone her, He would break the Roman law. If He refused to allow them to stone her, He would break the Mosaic law. I don't believe that the passage is (to use your words) about "Jesus' craftiness at conflict avoidance." But I do believe it shows His response to a deliberate trap set by His enemies.
This passage does not forbid capital punishment, despite what some opponents might try to make it say. Since it is a disputed passage in the Bible, I would not base a doctrine on it anyway. But even if you accept its authenticity, the passage doesn't teach what you say it does.

Kerby Anderson
Probe Ministries 

It was a death penalty that became the instrument God used to reconcile the world (the execution of Christ) to himself. And it was a death penalty that led a converted criminal to the paradise (the thief on the cross, Luke 23:32f). This tells us that God can use everything in this existence, evil as well as good, for his purpose. In the first case an innocent man was executed, but this did not stop God’s plan. On the contrary. It was all a part of God’s plan. In the other case it was a guilty man who was executed, but this did not hinder God’s plan either.

Christian enemies of the death penalty often refer to this scripture about the woman who committed adultery that some wanted to stone to death, but whom Jesus set free. But that Jesus did not here attack the capital punishment as such is obvious by many reasons:

First, it was not an unconditional freedom that Jesus gave the adulteress. The event – whether it happened or not – ends with the words: "Go now and leave your life of sin." There is a serious warning implied here, a threat even: Do not do that again!

Secondly: Jesus’ mission on earth was not that of a judge. Jesus would have committed a mistake if he had sentenced the woman to death. In John 3:17 it says: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world." Compare with John 12:47.

Thirdly: It is mainly through the governing authorities that God imposes the death penalty. And it is not the authorities that Jesus is representing at this time. It is only himself as the forgiving Saviour. Therefore the event is not an example of how a legal state is supposed to act. Jesus himself never put on the robes of the authority and he never walked around and sentenced people to different punishments. If he had dressed in the judge’s robe right there and then he would have had to, in the name of justice, also sentence the others to death. But to sentence sinners to death was not part of Jesus’ mission on earth.

Forth: If Jesus had imposed the death penalty it would have been, in the eyes of the Roman authority, equal to a rebellion since Rome only allowed the capital punishment to be carried out within their own judicial system. The Jews did not have the right to pronounce the death penalty. In other words, the scribes and the Pharisees tried to set Jesus up. If Jesus had said "stone her", he would have been arrested by the Romans.

Fifth: It is not possible to use the principle "If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone" (v.7) within the judicial system. Since neither judge nor juror is without guilt, trials in themselves would become impossible and no sentences could be imposed. The principle is a good rule to live by, but Jesus did not intend for his words in this context to be included in the judicial system.

In other words, the answer given by Jesus does not have any legal character or application. It concerns everyday morality between people. And this is often the case in the gospels. Jesus’ teaching and message is, as a rule, aimed at people and their everyday lives, not an establishing or denouncing of judicial legal systems. And when someone, as here, tries to force Jesus to make a statement concerning a certain legal question, Jesus refuses to answer and instead quietly writes in the sand and then he gives a moral sermon to the Pharisees and the woman.

Besides, the Christian teaching has always been that it is not until the final day that Christ will judge the people. On that day, according to the Bible, all adulterers and other "sinners" will receive their just punishment, 1 Cor 6:9-10. Here on earth the courts are the ones who give the verdicts. On the day of judgement God and Jesus will be the ones who brings the verdict. That role, that mission, was not the one Jesus had when he walked on the earth and therefore he said: "Neither do I condemn you" (8:11). If he had sentenced the woman he would have anticipated the final judgement. But the approximately three years that Jesus publicly worked here on earth was a time of mercy and love, not a time of judgement. The Christian faith would have been shaken to its core if Jesus publicly had legally judged that woman. But Jesus did not let himself get caught by the temptation to judge – the woman was let go. But one day she will also stand before Jesus.

All of this means that we can not refer to this text if we wish to have an answer concerning Jesus’ attitude towards the issue of the death penalty.

And here, finally, is a quote from the nun Helen Prejean. She is a well known abolitionist, but despite that she has courage and insight enough to write in this way about this Bible passage:

"It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7)- the Mosaic Law prescribed death - should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment." From the book Dead Man Walking.

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