Previously, we saw how capital punishment is compatible with love, honors God’s sovereignty over life, and encourages the condemned to repent and be saved. Now, let’s finish our discussion by looking at three biblical counter-examples to execution.
In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve’s two sons bring their offerings to God. God accepts Abel’s and rejects Cain’s. In his anger, Cain strikes and kills his brother. God discovers Cain’s violence and banishes him for life while also protecting him with some sort of divine mark. Doesn’t this show that even God does not favor executing murderers?
One way to explain Cain’s survival is that the law against murder wasn’t given by God for another 1,600 years after Noah’s flood. Even the Old Testament wasn’t written by Moses for another 900 years after that. But this response fails since there is the punishment of banishing. If it wasn’t a crime because the law hadn’t been given yet, there would have been no punishment at all. Also, Cain clearly expected to be punished by God and men. Thus, his severe but non-capital banishment demands explanation, and the only biblically plausible answer is that this wasn’t murder.
Nothing in the text indicates that Cain intended Abel’s death. Not only are there hundreds of ways to strike a man and kill him unintentionally, but it’s even possible, as the first homicide in history, that Cain didn’t even understand the consequences of his assault. Furthermore, even if Cain did intend to kill Abel in a moment of rage, it’s not clear this would legally qualify as pre-meditated. God’s penal system distinguishes negligent homicide from murder. Thus, one might say we know it wasn’t murder precisely because God merely banished him.
In 2 Samuel 11, King David sees Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop near the palace, commands her to be brought to him, commits adultery with her, discovers she is pregnant, fails to trick her husband into sleeping with her to cover the pregnancy, and then has him killed through a complex military conspiracy. How does God respond? He sends Nathan the prophet to chastise David, who repents for his crimes and goes on living, but God condemns the bastard child to death.