So we ask ourselves at this point whether there is any agency in the New Testament era that has the right to carry out God’s sentence upon such criminals. Romans 13:1-4 (cf. Prov. 21:15) answers the question; Paul definitely places the right of punishment, even capital punishment, in the hands of the civil magistrate (an avenger who brings God’s wrath upon one who practices evil). The civil leader “does not bear the sword in vain”; this reference cannot possibly be restricted to lesser forms of punishment but expressly authorises the most extreme penalty: death. The “sword” properly symobilizes the death penalty (cf. for what the “sword” represents: Matt. 25:52; Acts 12:2; Rev. 13:10; Ulpian, Digest 1.18.6; Tacitus, Hist. 3.68; Dio Cassius 42.27). Therefore, civil magistrates today are under obligation to execute all those who commit capital crimes as defined by God’s authoritative law. Paul’s word in Romans 13 is sufficient to demonstrate to us that the magistrate does have the obligation and authorisation to inflict the death penalty upon certain violators of God’s law.
My two cents
Why can’t there be more exegesis like this around? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it explained so solidly as this. It’s very different from the spineless and watery Christianity that seems to be popular among believers at this time.
I like the particular attention paid to the bearing of the sword in the exegesis. At the moment, I’m also reading the writings of a particular denomination who would try to water down that reference to the sword to a generic and diluted version of criminal redress. Maybe I should stick with Bahnsen.
Bahnsen, G.L. (1979). Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 1st. ed. Nutley: Craig Press, p. 442