Q: #359. The Bible says to kill homosexuals / adulterers. Why aren't Christians doing this today?
A: This question is sometimes asked to condemn Bible believing Christians as hypocrites because Christians teach that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, yet they don’t practice what the Bible says about killing homosexuals (Lev 20:13). In addition, Christians should be killing adulterers (Lev 20:10)(Deut 22:22), kidnappers (Ex 21:16)(Deut 24:7), mediums (Lev 20:27), idolaters (Ex 22:20)(Deut 13:6-10), disobedient children (Deut 21:18-21)(Ex 21:15,17), and several more groups of sinners. So, why aren’t we obeying the Bible regarding this? It is a fair question. How do we answer?
Christian scholars answer this question in several different ways, but let me share what I feel is the best answer. We need to begin by understanding that when the “law” was given, it was given to the Israelites, God’s chosen people.
When Israel was given the law, it was governed or ruled DIRECTLY by God. The word given to this type of rule is a “theocracy.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives us a good definition of a theocracy. It is “a word first used by Josephus to denote that the Jews were under the direct government of God himself. The nation was in all things subject to the will of their invisible King. All the people were the servants of Jehovah, who ruled over their public and private affairs, communicating to them his will through the medium of the prophets. They were the subjects of a heavenly, not of an earthly, king. They were Jehovah’s own subjects, ruled directly by him (comp. 1 Sam. 8:6-9).”
In other words, when God gave the “law” to Israel, it was a “theocratic” government. As a part of the law, God gave punishments that were to be carried out by His people for those who broke His laws (sometimes called “civil law” or “judicial law”). Among these punishments was death for murderers, homosexuals, adulterers, idolaters, etc…
However, the “theocratic” government did not last. The people of Israel did not wish to be ruled directly by God, and instead asked to be led by a king like the Pagan nations around them (1 Sam Ch. 8). God granted Israel’s request, and gave them a king named Saul (1 Sam Ch. 9). Thus, a new form of government was instituted called a “monarchy” (led by a king).
When the “theocratic” government ended, the punishments associated with the “law” mostly faded away. The Bible is filled with examples of this. For instance, David was a murderer and adulterer and he was not killed (2 Sam Ch. 11). Solomon was an idolater at the end of his life and he died a natural death (1 Kin Ch. 11). In fact, most of the kings of Israel and Judah, as well as the Israelites, committed idolatry over and over and were not killed for it.
When we get to the New Testament, the Roman government is ruling the land, and God gave His people (which now included Gentiles) several new commandments in relation to government. He told them (and this applies to us today) that they were to obey the government and the laws of the land they were in (Rom 13:1-7)(1 Pet 2:13-14)(Titus 3:1). They were also reminded that no one is in power that God has not placed there (Rom 13:1-2)(Jn 19:11)(Dan 2:21). We see all through the New Testament, God’s people obeying their government. For example, Jesus told us to pay taxes (Mt 17:24-27)(Mt 22:18-21)(Mk 12:13-17)(Lk 20:20-26). He also submitted to the capital punishment of that time, death on a cross. Paul, and nearly all of the disciples were beaten, imprisoned, and killed by the government.
In relation to our question, it needs to be understood that Biblical sins such as homosexuality, adultery, being a medium, and a few others are not against the law in the United States and most other countries. Obviously then, there also is no governmental punishment associated with committing these acts. Because we, as Christians are told to obey the laws of the land, and these Biblical sins are not against the laws of the land, we must not go against our government, nor take the law into our own hands.
This does NOT mean, however, that we condone or accept things the Bible calls sin. We are called to stand against sins like abortion, homosexuality, homosexual marriage, idolatry, etc … BUT, we are NOT called today to punish those who commit these sins. Instead, we are to love (Mt 19:19)(Mt 22:39)(1 Cor 16:14)(1 Jn 4:7-8) and pray for them (1 Tim 2:1), and leave punishment to the government. God has given this authority to the government, saying in (Rom 13:4) that government is: “… a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Also see: Acts 25:11, Lk 19:27)
We are also told in (1 Tim 2:1-3) to pray for our leaders and government: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; (2) For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (3) For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;”
I should add that there are those who believe that the “death penalty” for sins in the Old Testament was rarely carried out because God would not allow punishment or death for sins (crimes) unless at least 2-3 people witnessed the sin being committed (Deut 17:6)(Num 35:30)(Deut 19:15)(2 Cor 13:1)(Mt 18:16). Obviously, this would likely be rare (i.e. catching someone in the act of adultery).