CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Does God Approve of the Death Penalty?

The issue of the capital punishment is one that is controversial, even among people claiming to be Christians. We can debate the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, but that is really not the issue to those who see the Bible as their standard. Nor is the issue the possibility of an innocent man being put to death. The only issue that matters is whether or not God, in the scriptures, authorizes capital punishment.  The administration of the death penalty for certain crimes goes back to the very beginning of human history. In the early chapters of Genesis is found the following:

 Genesis 9:5-6

“Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning…Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”

Later, in Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments were given to the nation of Israel along with more information about how they were to be understood. In the very next chapter (21) was given God’s penalty for anyone who violated His commands. That penalty was death!

 Exodus 21:12, 16

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.”

“He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”

Murder and kidnapping are just two of the crimes that are mentioned in this chapter that God said warranted the death of the guilty party. That command “Thou shalt not kill” clearly had reference to the unlawful taking of human life. There are many people today who are confused as to what position to take with regard to the death penalty. They don’t understand how a Christian could support such a law since the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shalt not kill”. It is confusing to some that God would say in Exodus 20 that man must not kill another person, and then in the very next chapter say that the death penalty is to be administered to anyone who violates that command. God’s reasoning, though, is obvious. It is designed to show man how precious human life is in the eyes of the Almighty God. And that man should place a high value on human life as well. Anyone who values another man’s life so low as to take it from him is to be put to death himself. It is interesting that when Jesus quoted the sixth commandment in Matthew 19:18, he said, “thou shalt do no murder. Murder is the unlawful taking of life, whereas the death penalty is a lawful taking of life. This principle is also found the New Testament:

Revelation 13:10

“…he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.”

Romans 13:1-4

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities… For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

The statement, “he does not bear the sword in vain”, is a reference to the sword that was used by the government to administer the death penalty. Paul declared that this was a God-given duty of the government to help provide a peaceful atmosphere for the citizens.

 There is no question then that the Bible clearly teaches that the death penalty is authorized.  When looking at the passages in the New Testament that authorize the death penalty, one will find that no list is given detailing what crimes might warrant such punishment under civil law. That decision is left up to the civil authorities and law-making bodies.

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