Let me begin by affirming that I believe capital punishment is authorized by God today.
Of course, I realize that to affirm something is different than proving it, and we'll get to that in due time. Admittedly, I also realize that many have an alternative view on this subject and some are very emotional about punishing anyone for anything. There are times in our culture where sympathy seems greater for the one guilty of some terrible crime than for the victims. This is not right! The wise will keep Proverbs 18:5 in mind - "It is not good to show partiality to the wicked, or to overthrow the righteous in judgment." Additionally, consider some wisdom from Proverbs 28:4,5 - "Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them. Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully" and also Proverbs 24:25 - "But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them." Clearly, there is such a thing as justice, and we can understand it--even if we're not 100% perfect in our implementation of it.
Some argue that everything should be made "legal" to reduce crime and, implicitly, the need for punishment. For example, they want legislators to rewrite the laws to legalize prostitution, drug use, euthanasia, etc. Honestly, I don't see that as anything more than a "technical" solution. It doesn't reduce crime (from God's perspective), it just redefines it in society. Legalizing crime encourages behavior that God says is wrong and even excuses it socially. Ecclesiastes 8:11 teaches - "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." When punishment is delayed or even removed (through "legalization" strategies), men are encouraged to do evil (as defined by God). Is it not the case that the number of abortions increased after the practice was deemed "legal" in the USA? According to the Center for Disease Control, the numbers rose every year for nearly the first decade after Roe v. Wade. Legalizing behavior encourages it, and this certainly does not please God when the behavior being legalized is immoral.
Where did the notion of capital punishment come from? I believe it is fair to say that God originated the concept of capital punishment in the Garden of Eden. He told Adam and Eve that when they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was certain that they would die. In the time of Noah, God used the flood as a means of capital punishment for all the wicked on Earth except the eight souls in the ark. When Israel was in Egypt, God slew the firstborn of all who were not covered by the blood on the doorposts and the lintel.
In 2013, Americans are divided on this subject. A recent Gallup poll showed 63% of Americans were in favor of "the death penalty for a person convicted of murder." Currently, 32 of our 50 states still allow the death penalty. Since 1976, there have been over 1300 executions in the USA (with over 500 of those occurring in Texas). We realize, of course, that the popularity (or lack thereof) of any practice does not determine its ethical correctness. Furthermore, it is understood that to credit God as originating capital punishment does not prove its validity today.
Over the next few lessons, we will explore what both the Old & New Testaments teach on this subject and deal with some common objections that are leveraged against the practice.