The Washington Post reported on March1, 2005 that “The Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders yesterday, ruling 5 to 4 that it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death for a crime he or she committed while younger than 18.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
The case that provoked this ruling concerned almost 18 year old Christopher Simmons who broke into the home of Shirley Crook, kidnapped and bound her with duct tape and threw her off the railroad trestle into the Meramec River in Missouri where she drown. Police easily apprehended Simmons who had bragged about the murder to his friends at school. Simmons had convinced friends to help him assuring them they would get away with this robbery and murder because they were minors. Simmons confessed and even produced the videotaped reenactment of the murder at the crime scene. A lower court recommended capital punishment, but Simmons appealed.
Even Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, not an advocate of capital punishment, disagreed with the majority opinion because Simmons’ murder was “deliberate, wanton, and cruel.”
One of the platforms for Kennedy’s decision was the findings of modern psychology that 18 years lack maturity to be responsible for murder. Kennedy quoted psychologist Eric Erickson. In other words, the modern culture of psychology not only outweighs jurisprudence, but Biblical mandates.
Roy Zuck in chapter three “Bridging the Cultural Gap” of hisBasic Bible Interpretation gives four important principles for “determining which cultural practices and situations, commands, and precepts in the Bible are transferable to our culture and which ones are nontransferable.” In this post, I will discuss the first.
1. Some situations, commands, or principles are repeatable, continuous, or not revoked, and/or pertain to moral and theological subjects, and/or are repeated elsewhere in Scripture, and therefore are permanent and transferable to us.
An example of this first principle is capital punishment which was first commanded by God in Genesis 9:6. Later in the Pentateuch specific capital crimes (such as adultery in Leviticus 20:10) and examples (Achan in Joshua 7) are stated that call for death. So this principle is repeated. Plus “the reason given in that verse (Genesis 9:6) is that man is made in God’s image.” There is therefore a clear moral and theological issue with this principle. Every modern day murder victim is person made in the image of God.
Capital punishment is a transcultural principle for all cultures and should be part of every human government. Human government has the authority to take life according to Romans 13:4: ”he bears not the sword in vain.” Human government doesn’t use the flat side of the sword to smack criminals on the wrest. The sword takes the life of murderers. What was ordained by God in Genesis 9 is still in force today. No matter what activist justices legislate from the bench, God’s Word must be interpreted independent of modern culture.