posted on Nov, 28 2003 @ 09:06 PM
All systems of criminal justice, both ancient as well as modern, contain in themselves certain aspects of the principle of retribution as the basis
for punishing the premeditated, violent taking of the life of another. The Old Testament expresses this idea in the phrase an eye for an eye, a tooth
for a tooth (Leviticus 24:20).
From this Old Testament principle we arrive at the inescapable conclusion expressed in the book of Exodus: He that smiteth a man, so that he die,
shall be surely put to death (Exodus 21:12).
The early Church, however, was opposed to the death penalty and based its opposition on the teaching of Jesus Christ. This teaching is expressed with
the utmost clarity in the words of the Savior:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say into you, That ye resist not evil . . . .love your
enemies, bless them that curse you (Matthew 5:38-39, 44).
A little later, during the time of persecution, Christian apologists developed the teaching of Jesus against retribution. Early Christian writers
raised arguments not only on the grounds of self-defense, but also because they wished to transfigure the pagan world through the Gospel of Christ.
Early Christian authors considered the death penalty a violation of the commandment Thou shalt not kill.
In this matter, Lactantius, a writer of the Western Church who lived in the third century, wrote--
For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against
the Commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men . . . . a just man (ought not) accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes
no difference whether you put a man to death by word or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.
Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception God willed to be a sacred animal (Institutes VI, XX, 15).
When Christians were themselves persecuted by the state, they could not conceivably hold governmental offices and oppose the death penalty through
legislation. The problem of the death penalty acutely confronted Christians only after the Emperor Constantine the Great stopped the persecutions and
made Christianity the state religion.
Christians began to occupy government posts as legislators, judges, and preservers of the social order. They began to act according to the principles
of the words of the Apostle Paul:
He is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister
of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (Romans 13:4).
hope that helps!