Capital Punishment has been forever abolished in Australia by the recent passing of The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill. Even though no Australian State or Territory has the death penalty, this law ensures none can ever reintroduce it. As a Christian I fully support this move by the Australian Parliament – even though some parts of the Bible endorse the use of the death penalty especially for first-degree murder (see Genesis 9:6; 6:5,6; Exodus 21:12-29; Romans 13:1-4).
Sexual sins also commanded the use of the death penalty under the Old Testament law (Leviticus 20:10) and stubborn and rebellious children who would not receive correction could be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18ff). In summary, the Bible gives human government authority to resist evil in the world by means of the Capital Punishment. But just because something is permissible does not mean it is beneficial or constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23). Today the death penalty is mostly used by governments to eliminate their political opponents – including many Christians.
Obviously God did not see it as beneficial to take Cain’s life even though he had murdered his brother (Genesis 4:10-16). Jesus didn’t see it as constructive to allow the Jewish religious leaders to stone the adulterous woman to death – even though the Law permitted such action (John 8:1-11)
There are many reasons why Capital Punishment is not the best course of action: Some criminals cannot be reformed because they are mentally ill, brain damaged or mentally retarded. Is it right to take their life because of a handicap? The death penalty does not act as a deterrent – it is incorrect to think that those who commit heinous crimes rationally think through their actions before committing them. Capital punishment is not a more cost-effective option than prison. In fact it is cheaper to keep someone in jail for the rest of their life than to have them on death row.
The Bible sanctions the use of Capital Punishment but also gives the civil authorities the freedom to exercise it or not. On this basis I agree with the Australian Government passing legislation that outlaws Capital Punishment in Australia forever. In the light of this I also believe that Australia needs tougher sentencing including life sentences that mean life without the possibility of parole. Our judicial system is often far too soft on hard criminals, and the media are guilty of glorifying them as seen on the Underbelly TV series and the recent media glorification of Carl Williams.
There are times when it is right to lock someone up and throw away the key, but Jesus made it very clear that “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” was a law that belonged to another era and not to the age of grace.