What Is the Bible’s View?
The Sacredness of Life
IN OUR modern times life is viewed as very cheap. Nuclear bombs and warheads and even crueler implements of destruction are designed to kill thousands en masse. Murderers often go free or receive only light sentences. Such men are thus loosed on the public again, only to repeat their crimes. How does God regard this lack of respect for life?
God’s own Son said to his disciples: “Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31) So highly does God regard the lives of all persons that he gave his Son as a sacrifice, that everyone might have opportunity to get everlasting life.—John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6.
Sanctity of Life Emphasized in God’s Law
In his law governing the ancient nation of Israel, God showed the high valuation he places on life. This law instructed the judges to take great care to establish guilt or innocence and to render justice. (Deut. 19:15; 16:19, 20) But for one convicted of murder there was only one penalty: “You must take no ransom for the soul of a murderer who is deserving to die, for without fail he should be put to death. . . . For the land there may be no atonement respecting the blood that has been spilled upon it except by the blood of the one spilling it.”—Num. 35:31-33.
Persons having knowledge that constituted evidence were required to come forth to testify, on pain of a curse being publicly uttered against them. (Lev. 5:1) Witnesses testifying against a man on a charge involving capital punishment had to be the first to hurl stones in executing him. (Deut. 17:6, 7) It would take a truly hardened person to testify falsely and then kill the person wrongly convicted. Extremely thought provoking was the law that one found testifying falsely would receive the punishment that he was trying to bring upon the accused man. These requirements certainly served as deterrents to false, hasty or careless testimony.—Deut. 19:16-20.
Accidental Killing Brought Bloodguilt
Even in the case of accidental manslaying the sacredness of life was strongly impressed. For example, a man might be cutting wood when his axhead flew off and hit another person, killing him. The accidental manslayer then had to flee immediately to the nearest of the cities of refuge that God had mercifully designated. (Deut. 19:4-7; Num. 35:6, 11) He received sanctuary there until he could be returned to the jurisdiction where the accident occurred. A trial was held. If the incident was found to be truly an accident, the man would be conducted to the city of refuge, where he was to stay until the death of the high priest who was serving at the time. This, of course, might be years, or even a lifetime.—Num. 35:12, 22-25.
Further stressing the need to have the greatest consideration for life was the law regarding the “avenger of blood.” This person was the nearest-of-kin to the slain person. He may have recognized the occurrence as a mere accident. However, the manslayer might dally, delaying his flight or, after reaching the city of refuge, might someday get outside its boundaries, perhaps returning to his home. Such actions would reveal that he was not really concerned over having caused a man’s death, or about the bloodguilt that he had incurred. In such a case, the “avenger of blood” was obligated to put the manslayer to death. So, on the part of both the accidental manslayer and the “avenger of blood” respect for the sanctity of life was to overshadow any personal desires or feelings. The arrangement of cities of refuge also precluded blood feuds or personal revenge killings. It brought peaceable relations between God and the nation.—Num. 35:26-29; Josh. 20:2-6.
Unsolved Murders Not Ignored
Today an unsolved murder is considered to be the business only of the police and the courts. Not so under the Mosaic law. Responsibility fell upon the entire city. The law read:
In case someone is found slain on the ground . . . and it has not become known who struck him fatally, your older men and your judges must also go out and measure to the cities that are all around the slain one; and it must prove to be the city nearest to the slain one. . . . and the older men of that city must lead [a] young cow down to a torrent valley . . . and they must break the neck of the young cow there in the torrent valley.
“. . . Then all the older men of that city who are nearest to the slain one should wash their hands over the young cow, the neck of which was broken . . . and they must answer and say, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, neither did our eyes see it shed. Do not set it to the account of your people Israel.’ . . . And the bloodguilt must not be set to their account.”—Deut 21:1-9.
Thus, no murder went unaccounted for. The cow was not slaughtered as an atonement sacrifice, with some of its blood being put on the altar. The cow was killed by breaking its neck, in effect taking the murderer’s place, not to remove bloodguilt from the murderer, but from that city upon which bloodguilt would otherwise lie. Of course, if the murderer should later be found and his guilt proved, he would be executed.
Is Capital Punishment Just?
Some persons may consider society as having advanced by eliminating capital punishment. But, in considering the law that God gave to Israel, it becomes obvious that, rather than being too severe, capital punishment for murder really reflected God’s high regard for life, not just in general, but on a personal basis. We must keep in mind that the Mosaic law was from the Sovereign of the universe. Certainly God had man’s interests in mind when he incorporated that feature into Israel’s law.
But, actually, capital punishment originated more than 850 years prior to the Law covenant. After the flood, God spoke to Noah, saying: “Your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed.” (Gen. 9:5, 6) This law, then, is applicable to all mankind, for all people now on earth spring from Noah’s family.
Under this law the legally constituted authority could rightly execute the deliberate murderer. Is this the Christian view? Yes, for Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote to Christians concerning world governments: “Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? . . . if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it [the authority] bears the sword [of execution]; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.”—Rom. 13:3, 4; compare Acts 25:10, 11.
Is There Any Hope for Murderers?
A man who has committed murder is deserving of death. He must answer to God as well as to the State. Can he get forgiveness from God? Yes, by putting his reliance by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and becoming a wholehearted, dedicated servant of God. (Acts 10:43) If he does so, he may still die (and justly so) at the hands of the State, but he has a sure hope of resurrection. He will have a better start on the way to life in a paradise earth during Christ’s thousand-year reign.—Acts 17:31.
As to those who have committed serious sins such as murder and who have not accepted Christ’s atoning sacrifice before their death, their judgment is in the hands of Jesus Christ. As God’s appointed Judge he knows who could benefit from a resurrection, with opportunity to get onto the way toward everlasting life. (John 2:24, 25; 5:30) When he was on earth, Jesus said: “Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come.” (Matt. 12:31, 32) These words show that even the case of a murderer is not hopeless if he repents and takes advantage of God’s provision through Christ.—Luke 24:47.
Christ gave the apostle John a vision of the resurrection, which John describes as follows: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades [gravedom] gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds.”—Rev. 20:11-13.
The deeds according to which these resurrected ones will be judged are not their past deeds done before their death. If so, murderers, for example, would immediately go back into death, nullifying the purpose of their resurrection. Rather, their judgment will be based on their deeds in a world of righteousness—whether they are willing to be obedient and law-abiding and to make progress in establishing a good relationship with God. (Isa. 26:9) If they are incorrigible, their course of action will prove that they do not want to live by right standards, and so they will die the “second death.”—Rev. 20:14, 15.
Consequently, God has made clear that he counts life as sacred and highly valuable. He desires that all men come to a knowledge of the truth that leads to eternal life. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) Though men have committed all kinds of sins, some more serious than others, they can exercise faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. They can make over their personalities, to receive the gift of everlasting life under his Kingdom rule.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Eph. 4:20-24.