The Boston Marathon Bombing and Capital Punishment: A Biblical Perspective

The issue of capital punishment is being once again considered nationally on the heels of the sentence handed to convicted Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. On April 15, 2013 Dzhokhar and his older brother Tamerlin (killed in the process of being hunted down) planted two home made bombs constructed from pressure cookers near the finish line of the Boston marathon. The two Chechen brothers committed the act in the name of Islam for the purpose of repaying America for her part in killing Muslims in numerous military campaigns. The detonated bombs resulted in 3 deaths and over 200 hundred injuries, many serious including loss of limbs. The brothers fled and Dzhokhar was apprehended hiding in a boat. The trial was fairly air tight, the brothers were filmed planing the bombs, they shot at police in the ensuing chase/hunt. The surviving brother has not claimed innocent. The jury and judge got both the trial and the sentencing right. Dzhokhar will be put to death, pending the long appeal process.

 

Did a man who is both a born again Christ follower AND a pastor just claim that the death penalty is the right call for justice? That is correct, Dzhokhar should be put to death, but maybe not for the reason that you might think.

 

Capital punishment is grounded firmly within Scripture. In Genesis, God prescribes the proper penalty for the taking of life, as the taking of the life of the one who committed the crime (Genesis 9:6- Keep in mind this first reference predates the covenant community that God makes with Abram and ratifies with Moses).

 

God would then confirm/reinforce this in Exodus 21 in the Lex Talionis (law of retribution). God gives the people a template for justice. If someone knocks out your tooth, they must give up a tooth. Likewise if someone causes you to lose an eye, they are to lose their eye. NOTICE, the point of this law isn’t to show how to get vengeance, it is to restrain. If someone does knock out one of your teeth (which happens frequently), you cannot cut their leg off, or remove their arm. The payment must be in like kind. This then turns to the issue of life. When someone takes a life, the only payment equal isn’t a body part, or financial recompense (for what can equal a life in value?) but it must be that person’s life. 

The point isn’t simply about payback or vengeance, for God alone is the one who gets vengeance -Duet 32:35. The point is justice, pure and simple. God values and demands justice.

The point isn’t simply about payback or vengeance, for God alone is the one who gets vengeance -Duet 32:35. The point is justice, pure and simple. God values and demands justice. When someone takes a life, they must forfeit their own. God holds that to be true. The best illustration of that is the cross. God shows the sincere nature of justice with death, that of His Son. 

 

Some will argue that the NT is against this principle. They would argue that Jesus taught specifically against this in the Sermon on the Mount when He argued to “turn the other cheek”. However, this does not nullify the principle. Jesus in those instances was talking about personal injustices, where we have been personally harmed, insulted by the action of another that would not require the law to be invoked. 

 

Paul himself reinforces the life for a life principle in Romans 13 where he writes:

 

4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil

 

This is a reference to the OT principle of Lex Talionis. Paul does not nullify capital punishment, but reminds his audience that God’s justice is still in force, and that God’s just nature has not diminished. 

 

Last week when Dzhokhar was sentenced to death, S.E Cupp who is a conservative journalist/ commentary wrote a piece that was published in the New York Daily News coming out against the death penalty:

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/cupp-case-giving-dzhokhar-death-penalty-article-1.2192167

 

In her article, she makes a couple of points I can agree with on principle, namely that capital punishment has been used to put innocent people to death, the thing is was designed to punish. However, in the case of Dzhokhar, this simply isn’t the case. However, I want to address her underlying assumption about conservatives and their view of life:

 

“Finally, I also wonder if conservatives in particular have fully thought out their robust defense of capital punishment. For a group that values the sanctity of human life, as I do, it strikes me as the exact opposite position we should take.”

 

Cupp is wrong in this assumption. Capital punishment does not in any way diminish human life. We do not put people to death because they are “animals” or “less than human”.  A person’s actions never disqualify them from human dignity or value. In fact, capital punishment does the opposite: namely it elevates our view of human life. If a person maliciously takes the life of another person, they cannot pay for that life with money, or time. No amount of jail time can pay the debt that they owe God and society. It is undoubtedly true that they may be forgiven both by God and society and even the families affected, but justice is due. What we do in our society (in a thousand ways ) by giving very light sentences for murder is show that we do not view life as sacred, nor invaluable. We treat it profanely. 

 

As contrary as this might sound, my biblical convictions cause me to support a very robust, but narrow view of capital punishment. And this conviction likewise drives me to hold a concealed carry permit, which I exercise almost daily. This is because life is sacred, and there is nothing of equal value. 

 

 

 

 

Posted on May 17, 2015 .