Q. I have been dealing with non-believers who are calling me a hypocrite and unmerciful for being a supporter of capital punishment. They keep quoting the “cast the first stone” verse and misconstruing it to mean that Christians are to be pacifists when it comes to evil. I tried to explain to them about the covenant God made with Noah, but it was like trying to feed meat to an infant. Any suggestions on how I can deal with non-believers piously lecturing me on capital punishment?
A. The key word in your question is “non-believers”. In first Corinthians Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.(1 cor 2:14) Recognize that when you’re discussing Biblical things with a non-believer and the context is not of them seeking to know God, but of denying Him, your struggle is not against flesh and blood. The enemy is using the non-believer to cause you to question your own beliefs.
In Genesis 9:5-6 the concept of capital punishment was introduced. But I don’t believe it was ever intended for a godless government to administer it. Originally it was the victim’s next of kin who exacted the penalty with an an appeal process to prevent abuse. You can see the problem that comes up when God is left out of the equation in the case of Jesus. Two legally established but Godless national governments agreed together to execute the Creator of the Universe.
Today in the US, whether a person accused of a capital crime is executed or not depends more on his wealth than his guilt or innocence. An innocent poor person is much more likely to be executed than a wealthy guilty one. We can only fight for reform and depend on God’s promise that He’ll hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
It’s a sign of our evil times, but it doesn’t negate the fact that God ordained capital punishment, a non-believer’s misuse of Scripture not withstanding. (According to that application of the “cast the first stone” passage, no one could ever be convicted of anything and we’d live in a condition of total anarchy.)
In the passage where Jesus spoke those words (John 8:1-11) He was responding to a trap laid for Him by the Pharisees. The real issue was not the punishment of the woman (where was the equally guilty man by the way?) but whether they could trap Jesus into making a false statement and so condemn His teaching. By saying what He did, He agreed with the law but exposed their unjust administration of it.
Such is the case today. The law may be just, but often its administration is not.