The Church and the World Commentary: “A Just Reward in the Petit Murder Case”

The recent horrendous murder of the Petit family in Connecticut has resulted in a death sentence. This is a due reward for the brutal murderer, Steven Hayes. It is a due reward for this man based not only on the actions of the Connecticut jurors, but based on the Bible.

Much has been written about the death penalty and many Christians have disagreements over it. The issues relate to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, which is certainly a possibility for this murderer if he will turn to Christ in genuine repentance. And it is a possibility, that in time and with compassionate understanding for the process of forgiveness, for even the victim of this unfathomable tragedy, Mr. Petit. Yet Christ’s forgiveness does not negate the human government and justice which God Himself established. Some argue that the death penalty is not Christian because the sixth commandment says that we must not kill. The truth is that there are several Hebrew words for killing: including one for slaughtering an animal, one for killing in general, and one for murder. The word that God used was murder. The old Book of Common Prayer got it right when it translated it, “Thou shalt do no murder.” So the death penalty is not in conflict with the Ten Commandments.

Others argue that the death penalty is a product of Mosaic Law which is now overturned by the fact that there is no theocracy, or that the Gospel has fulfilled the Old Testament laws by emphasizing God’s justice. While both of those statements have validity with much Old Testament law, they have nothing to do with human government carrying out the death penalty for premeditated murder. The truth is that God established the death penalty before Moses. In fact, the death penalty is given to human government based on the Noahic Covenant. The Bible records that after Noah and his wife and sons and their wives were safely delivered from the flood, God began to make covenants and give directions for human life and for human government. In Genesis 9:5, 6, the Lord declared:

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow-man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image’ (English Standard Version).

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13, teaches on the role of God and Government and the believer. In that passage, St. Paul calls human government a “minister” to carry out God’s justice and laws. Indeed, the Bible says that human government has been granted the sword to punish evil (Romans 13:4).

So justice will be done in this horrible case of unbridled human sin. Indeed, it will be God’s justice that will be done in that death penalty.  It only remains now to pray that the Lord Himself will bring healing to Mr. Petit and that Mr. Hayes will seek God’s mercy in Jesus Christ before he meets Him face to face.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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