Some Biblical Thoughts On The Death Penalty

by Douglas Hoff


Capital punishment is a hotly debated topic today.  People on both sides of the issue have strong convictions about the rightness of their view.  This article will address the death penalty by considering what God says about it.  Those claiming to be Christians should honor the Bible’s teaching on this important topic.

God’s will is always best for mankind (Deuteronomy 6:24).  Admittedly, some disagree.  The death row inmate, his family and friends may view execution as cruel and unusual punishment.  However, it is essential that crime is justly punished.  When crime goes unchecked, society plunges into lawlessness (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

A rational discussion of capital punishment requires distinguishing between the various acts of killing.  Intent and authority have a bearing on the moral issues involved with killing.  Murder is unauthorized and intentional killing. Manslaughter is the unauthorized yet unintentional taking of life.  Capital punishment is intentional and authorized killing.

When one carries out the death sentence he is not committing murder.  All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder.  Some may be confused on this point since older translations of the Bible state, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Newer translations give the true sense of Exodus 20:13 as “You shall not murder.” Even the old King James translation shows this is the original intent of the Sixth Commandment by giving Jesus’ answer as “Thou shalt do no murder” (Matthew 19:18).

It is important to point out that under the Old Covenant if an Israelite accidentally killed a person he could flee to city of refuge.  The matter was to be investigated and if it was proven to be manslaughter and not murder, the manslayer was not to be put to death (Deuteronomy 19:3-6).

The reader may well ask where the authority to execute criminals comes from.  It is rooted in God as the greatest authority in the universe.  He is the great lawgiver and judge of all the earth (Isaiah 33:22; Genesis 18:25).  All authority resides in God (Romans 13:1).  When God commands man to act he is authorized to perform that specified action.  Shortly after Noah left the ark God told him, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for

the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6).  It is because each person is made in the image of God that life is of inestimable value.  Thus, to unjustly deprive another human being of life means the murderer has forfeited his right to life.

God commanded mankind to execute the murderer.  It was not stated as an option that man could reject.  Failing to execute the murderer is failing to obey God’s will.  This law has not been repealed.

Under the New Covenant human government is not only authorized to execute those worthy of death but also has the obligation to carry out justice for the victim’s sake (Romans 13:3, 4).  Paul describes governmental officials as serving God when they execute the evildoer.  Bearing the sword certainly implies the power of death.  Therefore, the executioner is an authorized agent doing God’s work.

Failing to execute a murderer is unjust.  What is one’s most cherished possession if not life itself?  Unjustly depriving one of his life requires punishment.  Letting the murderer live says his life is of more value than the victim’s.  However, all men are created in the image of God.  Thus, each life is equally precious.  Letting a person ‘get away with murder” says some life is unimportant.

Failing to execute the murderer also disparages the monstrous nature of the sin.  It is a stab at the justice of God.  Our society is guilty of calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).  We allow innocent unborn children to be murdered in abortion clinics but spare the lives of convicted murderers.  It is indeed a sad day when those in government fail to uphold justice and are even applauded for doing so.