Death Penalty: Vengeance or Punishment?

An Essay By Lucy Anne // 12/19/2015

In the past month, terrorists have shot teenagers jumping to the beat of a rock concert in Paris, killed customers in a bar, slaughtered families in Syria...the list goes on. As more violence occurs each day, the world’s immediate reaction is to capture the murderer and punish him. That very act, however, is shrouded in controversy. Is it moral to punish people with death? Does the methods of execution matter? From the time of the Israelites, executions have come in many forms--the Roman crucifixions, the guillotines, Nazi gas chambers, and today’s lethal injections or electric chairs. But no matter the method, people debate about the morality, fairness, and effectiveness of the death penalty.

When questioning morality, some search the Bible for guidance. Some believe that the death penalty does not follow Christ’s teachings, while others believe it models the Old Testament laws. Individuals against the death penalty might repeat Jesus’ words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (NIV, Matthew 5:38-39). Using this verse, they might argue that Christians should not kill criminals because Jesus commanded all to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (NIV, Matthew 5:44) as well as to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV, John 15:13). On the other hand, others might refer to the Old Testament laws on death punishment. For example, with this verse--“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (NIV, Exodus 21:24), some might say that the death penalty is simply a necessary act of justice. In addition, they might continue to quote verses that God commanded that the sinner punished with death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (ESV, Genesis 9:6). Advocators of the death penalty use these verses to show that every action has consequences -- including deadly penalties. But above all, that God demands justice and fairness.

But is the death penalty fair? Some say that it is not. Times published a study that alerted the world “that almost four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions...meaning around 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in America are not guilty” (Drehle). Also, due to limited human discernment, judges will not always know for sure if one is guilty or not. Depending on their race or financial situation, the lives of the accused depend on how well their lawyer defends them. Also, when the Yale University School of Law studied death sentences, they found that “African-American defendants receive death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white” (Death Penalty Facts). In contrast, others ask, “What about the other ninety-six percent criminals who truly are guilty?” The death penalty would ensure that criminals could not murder again. Without the death penalty, it would not be fair for the American public’s safety.

Not only is the fairness of the death penalty questioned--many argue if the death penalty deters crime. Statistics support both sides. “FBI data shows that fourteen states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicides at or below the national rate” (Death Penalty Facts). In addition, “a 2009 survey of criminologists revealed that over eighty-eight percent believed that the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder” (Death). In 2012, the National Research Council concluded no research on the effectiveness of the death penalty is reliable. They urged individuals not to judge the effects of the death penalty in order to determine the morality of the death penalty. (Death Penalty Info). But other research completely contradicts these. Before the National Research Council revealed their discovery, in 2003, Washington Post “found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. [The conductor of the survey said,] "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) what am I going to do, hide them?" (Tannier).

That humble reporter who chose to reveal his discoveries--even though they contradicted his opinions--is a good example to all. In the same way, when debating about the morality, fairness, and effectiveness of the death penalty, I hope I will be humble as well. Both sides have strong arguments, but I believe that the death penalty is not the only answer to punish and deter criminals. Although there must be punishment, sometimes the death penalty can be an act of revenge. Perhaps we should “leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord” (NIV, Romans 12:19). As for fairness, judges may be prejudiced and incorrect in their decision, causing innocent to die. Actually, recently, Washington Post corrected its article that said that the death penalty deters crime, reporting the NRC’s findings (Tannier). It seems as if there will never be a black-and-white answer, but as Victor Hugo wrote, “You say 'society must exact vengeance, and society must punish'. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God” (Quotes).

Works Cited
Drehle, David. “More Innocent People on Death Row Than Estimated: Study”. Times.
Times, 28 April, 2014. Web. 3 December 2015
"The Execution of Joseph Wood." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Hyden, Marc. "What Did The Founding Fathers Think Of The Death Penalty?"
Daily Caller. Daily Caller, 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
"Thomas Jefferson Letter to Edmund Pendleton, August 26, 1776."Revolutionary War
and Beyond. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
"Amnesty International USA." Amnesty International USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.
Tannier, Robert. "Studies Say Death Penalty Deters Crime." Washington Post. The
Washington Post, 11 June 2007. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
"Quotes About Death Penalty." (38 Quotes). N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Johnson, Kevin. "Study Says No Evidence That Death Penalty Deters Crime." Washington
Post. The Washington Post, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.
"What's New." DPIC. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
"U.S. Death Penalty Facts." Amnesty International USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
"Top 10 Arguments for the Death Penalty." Akorracom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments:
ESV. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. Print.
Brennan, William J. "Death Penalty." ProConorg Headlines. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

Comments

I was just thinking about

I was just thinking about this issue the other day. I believe that there are times when the death penalty is good and right. There are some cases that should be given the death penalty instead of just spending the rest of their life in jail. Or at least they should be given a choice between the two.
My personal belief is that serial killers and men with multiple rape charges should be given the death penalty. That would cut back on a lot of crime in this world. This is a rather personal subject to me.
I think that if you look at the story of the crucifixion you'll see that Jesus didn't free the two thieves but forgave the one and promised that on that very day He would see him in paradise.

Damaris Ann | Sat, 12/19/2015

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭55:8-9‬

I agree with you that there

I agree with you that there are times when the death penalty is right. But then how do we find the balance between not judging a person/ sending them to their death (do not be judged lest you be judged - and the verses I pointed out the essay) and yet the bible says: "For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."
And I guess saying that brings up the whole question on whether Christians should be in the government or not.
Edit: reading my comment, I felt like I sounded like I was arguing you or asking you the answers, but no...just some thoughts going around my mind now and while I wrote this essay.

Lucy Anne | Sat, 12/19/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Good points. I understand

Good points. I understand what you are saying. You didn't sound arguminative at all. :)

Damaris Ann | Sun, 12/20/2015

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭55:8-9‬

You definitely discussed a

You definitely discussed a lot of aspects to this debate . . . another one I'd point out is that we, as Christians, are supposed to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to keep others from harm, and God has given the right to judge to those in authority:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."

- Proverbs 31:8-9

King Lemuel (who speaks in that passage) can be assumed to have been saved - at least he was when he wrote this portion of the Scriptures! - and yet it was his job to judge and protect others. I think the death penalty for murderers and rapists is a part of protecting others in society, whether or not they have committed those crimes multiple times or not. Another verse that adds complexity to if/how Christians should judge others is John 7:24, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment."

The main objection to my argument, however, is your point that some who get the death penalty are actually falsely condemned, and that some members of society may be more likely to be falsely condemned than others. Protecting them is definitely another aspect of defending the innocent. But I'm not sure how to answer that problem.

Thanks for your essay! It was well-researched, thought-provoking and very balanced, respectful analysis of this issue.

Hannah D. | Mon, 12/21/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

Thank you, Hannah! :) I

Thank you, Hannah! :) I really enjoyed reading your opinion and verses. How do you know King Lemuel wrote that specific proverb? I don't know anything about the authors of the proverbs...that would be neat to know. Thought it was all by King Solomon?
Talk to you soon!

Lucy Anne | Mon, 12/21/2015

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Proverbs 31:1 - "The words of

Proverbs 31:1 - "The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him:"

Most of the Proverbs seem to be Solomon's, but there are some that have different authors as well. For example the first half of the verse Proverbs 30:1 - "The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the oracle."

Talk to you soon, and Merry Christmas! : )

Hannah D. | Mon, 12/21/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

(actually, looking over the

(actually, looking over the following verses, it seems that Lemuel's mother wrote that passage; Lemuel is simply repeating what his mother taught him. so I guess it'd be more accurate to say that King Lemuel's mom wrote those verses.)

Hannah D. | Mon, 12/21/2015

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton

Hannah: To respond to the

Hannah: To respond to the argument against the point you brought up:

"The main objection to my argument, however, is your point that some who get the death penalty are actually falsely condemned, and that some members of society may be more likely to be falsely condemned than others. Protecting them is definitely another aspect of defending the innocent. But I'm not sure how to answer that problem."

This is one of the most commonly brought up arguments against most issues. The thing is, it's also one of the most illegitimate arguments brought up against any issue. Why? Because it isn't an argument against the issue at all. To say that because someone handles the issue wrongly does not mean the issue itself is wrong. Otherwise I could argue the immorality of guns because someone used one to murder. Or that it's immoral to drive a car because people die by cars. A wrong or immoral use of something (the death penalty) does not mean that something itself (the death penalty) is wrong.

So, the fact that the death penalty is not always applied justly can be used as an argument for a reform in the way the justice system works, but it cannot be used as an argument against the just use of the death penalty (if a just use exits).

Megan:

This was a very interesting read. When addressing this issue, I find most people confuse and fog up this issue. The problem arises from viewing this issue from a utilitarian perspective. It doesn't matter whether or not the death penalty is effective at deterring crime, what matters is whether the death penalty is a just and righteous act or an unjust and immoral act.

I must admit that I was confused when you, at the end, declared that the issue was not black and white. You implied that you were not totally against the death penalty. The reason I was confused was that I wasn't sure how you reconciled that with your pacifistic beliefs. Then I figured out when you questioned whether Christians should be involved in government. Of course, we've discussed that issue before, and you know my thoughts on it. :) I am curious whether you think it's alright for non-Christians to be involved in government and to carry out the death penalty (when it is justly carried out).

Ok, last thing. You said that this issue was not black and white. I would be very careful with saying that. I, personally, would never say that about any moral issue. The answer is either yes or no. It either glorifies God or it doesn't. It can sometimes be difficult for us to discern moral issues, but saying it's not black and white, in this day and age, implies there are multiple valid positions or it's more up to personal opinion. I wish you had actually discussed your opinion more in this essay, but I guess you are still trying to understand it maybe. I've just been thinking on this issue every since I started philosophizing, which was at a very young age. :P

Arthur | Tue, 12/22/2015

"My greatest wish for my writing is that it would point you to the Savior."

A few grammar notes

A few grammar notes first:
"Does the methods" - either use "do" or make methods singular.

"the Roman crucifixions, the guillotines, Nazi gas chambers, and today’s lethal injections or electric chairs." - a personal preference here, but the first 2 use "the" and the second two do not - I would make that consistent.

Theoretical notes:
- I once listened to a conference message about the death penalty in the OT and how it could be just/loving. The speaker concluded that it was because it showed how serious those crimes were, so that no one would mess around with things that would lead to the death penalty.
- I think to a lesser degree the above is shown in Japan. I don't know what their death penalty laws are, but people always comment on how safe Japan is and I think one of the big reasons for this is that you don't want to mess with their laws because of how strictly applied they are and how well-trained their police are (they have training in 4+ martial arts and have to have black belts in 1-2 of them!).
- I am pro-death penalty though am unsure about what the circumstances that would warrant it are, and as you pointed out, there is much error in the system currently that needs fixing. But like Arthur pointed out, the flaws of how the death penalty is applied shouldn't change the conviction of it being moral or not.
- Another comment on Arthur's comment - I would agree that it's not a grey area, but I think the application of it is a very grey area. We can say there are times when it is just, but exactly what those times are and how we protect the accused but innocent is very, very complicated.

Kyleigh | Tue, 12/29/2015

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