Steve the Builder on Capital Punishment – Part 2

Steve the Builder

Steve the Builder

In the second part of the series Steve discusses the Flood as the dividing line in human history in regard to the meaning of death, fear and capital punishment. Did the Mosaic Law abrogate the covenant with Noah? What do the atheist and the Christian have in common in regard to capital punishment?

Steve writes:

I’ve already received quite a bit of listener feedback (for and against) and I’ve not even gotten into the meat of the issue. So before I begin, let me say this IS a work in progress. I am already revising future podcasts and adding more material based on comments I’ve received, so it is kind of taking on a life of its own. Depending on how it goes I may go through all my material and then do a Q and A and response to comments podcast at the end of the series.

The other thing I need to say is, I am not past changing my mind on this topic even though I’ve wrestled with it for years. I’m too old and have changed my thinking too many times on too many important issues to be absolutely sure I have it all nailed down.

Let the discussions continue!

Listen to the podcast:


  1. I think it is important for Orthodox Christians to consider the argument put forth by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical The Gospel of Life..

    Given the advances and organization of our society, the death penalty is unneccessary.

    In other words, Supermax prisons and places like Guatananamo Bay do their jobs very well.

    Avery Dulles -of blessed memory- also has a truly wide ranging article on Capital punishment at Its worth a read.

  2. Steve Robinson :

    Thank you for the link. I’ve downloaded the articles and skimmed them. My initial reaction is that they don’t deal adequately with the Noahic convenant and the concept of retribution and punishment which seems to have fallen into disrepute or seem to be an embarrassment among modern Christians. I will deal with those topics in the upcoming podcasts. Restraint is not the only rationale for capital punishment and neither is deterrent nor retribution. It seems that those opposed isolate them and thus create a straw man that is easily demolished by “gospel rhetoric” that does not hold up either in reality nor Biblically or patristically.

    More to come, stay tuned!
    Thanks for the comment,

  3. I believe in Law and Order. More cops, I believe, are the best deterent. I also, like you, believe that the police, and even private citizens, should do everything in their power to stop any violent crime they see being committed.

    I believe in the “rehab” model of justice rather than the “retributive” one. I mean, the system should be geared towards making better citizens out of criminals, and not just punishing them. This doesn’t mean being soft, however. For me, it means,tougher prisons with more work-programs, for instance.

    For the irredeemable psychopaths, there should be separate prisons. Just lock them in a cell for life. Literally. You don’t get out for exercise. you don’t get out for anything. You just stay, wait, and die.

    But I don’t believe in capital punishment. Not on principle, but for pragmatic reasons. like a previous commenter, I don’t believe the state such as it is now will administer it justly. In fact this has already proven to be the case (disproportionate number of minorities, and some DNA-proven innocents, on death-row). At least, if someone is locked in a dungeon for 20 years, he can be released and compensated if he turns out to be innocent. You can’t release a dead person.

    Nevertheless, your bringing up the Noahic covenant brings up some interesting questions.

    First of all, if God changed His mind once about this (compare Gen.4:15 with Gen.9:6) can’t He change it again? Also, shouldn’t the “whosoever sheddeth man’s blood . . .” include those judges and executioners who send innocent people to the gallows?

    Also, the OT includes other laws which specify how and when capital punishment should be used.

    First, it should be used for religious offences (Ex.22:18; Ex.22:20; Lev.24:16). I know St. Theodore disagreed with the Bible on this one, but as a previous commenter said, saints can be wrong.

    Next, it should be used on those who kidnap someone and sell him into slavery (Ex.21:16), and for homosexuals (Lev.20:13). All the Byzantines did on that last one, was to change the punishment from death to castration.

    Adultery is a special case. The OT declares it a capital offence (Lev.20:10). Christ recinded that law (Jn.8:3-7). But in Byzantium, it was brought back, at least for a while.

    Finally, it should be applied to: Women who aren’t virgins on the night of their wedding (Dt.22:13-22); virgins who cheat on their fiances (Dt.22:23-24); and disobedient children (Ex.21:17; Lev.20:9). It can’t be argued that these laws no longer apply because Christ fullfilled the law. The laws He fullfilled were religious observances like Passover and the Sabbath.

    So my questions are: Which, if any, of these laws do we bring back with capital punishment, and why (or why not)? And, which part of the government do we entrust to decide that for us?

  4. I should clarify my statement, “Just lock them in a cell for life. Literally. You don’t get out for exercise. you don’t get out for anything. You just stay, wait, and die,” in the above comment.

    I do not mean it in a vindictive way–“throw’em in a dirty dungeon”–but in keeping with the idea of rehabilitation. Their prisons will basically be mental-hospitals for the criminally insane. They would be given clean cells and clean clothes, and properly fed. The point of the relentless confinement would be to create a “hermit-like” environment, in which they could contemplate what they did, and, hopefully, at least begin to repent before they die. Repentance is the core of what I mean by “rehabilitation”.

    In this, I am simply following the tradition of the Church as a hospital which cures our passions.

    The more “reasonable” criminals would be treated like monks, in prisons which would behave like monasteries. That is, their life would be one of imposed order, discipline, and work–with the aim of turning them into good, productive citizens. There would be little to no “free time”.

    The sexual deviants and psychopaths would be locked in their cells in the “hospital-prisons” in a kind of hermit-like existence until death. It would be a kind of “slow-motion death-penalty”, with a chance for compensation should the detainee turn out to be innocent.

    I don’t know if the prison-system actually works this way now, but that’s how I think it should work.

  5. George, your plan is so appealing, why not use it for schools? Why not advise all families to work that way? Why not the state, as a whole? The Murdstone state [‘firmness, Clara, firmness’], an evil stepfather, a school of rigor. Have you read Lakoff on the subject? Or George MacDonald on punishment generally?

    wait – sexual deviants? you want to lock up people who have variant sexual desires?that particular fantasy rather breaks the frame, doesn’t it?

  6. Steve Robinson :

    Hi George, You bring up a lot of issues that I’m actually going to deal with in the future podcasts. I’m not calling for a restoration of Mosaic law as the universal legal system for the world because I believe its laws had a specific purpose FOR ISRAEL, however the Noahic covenant pre-dates Moses and has never been abrogated. The NT writers, nor Christ Himself ever suggest that the state no longer has the right or resposibility to execute evildoers. Jesus tells Pilate his authority to condemn Him to death comes from above, St. Paul tells Festus he has the power to condemn him to death justly, etc. The category of “shedding man’s blood” obviously does not extend to just retribution by civil authority in either testament. To try to make them categorically equal (like abortion and capital punishment) is to ignore the more fundamental Christian theological definitions of life, death, evil, justice and innocence which define these issues. Much more to come, stay tuned! Thanks for the comments.

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