What does God say about the death penalty

Many Christians are against the death penalty because

1. Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-39,

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

2.  Jesus taught us to forgive in Matthew 6:15,

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

3. Jesus said to not judge lest you be judged in Matthew 7:1,

Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

4. Paul taught believers in Rom. 12:14-19,

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, butassociate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, Iwill repay,” says the Lord.

5. People have a hard time believing that God, who is love, can suggest people should kill people who murder.

But lets take a look at the death penalty in scripture.

First, we must realize that spiritual death was the penalty for sin in the garden of Eden – Genesis 2:16–17 (this has never been abrogated, but was met with the death of Christ for those who believe and accept Him as Lord and Savior – 1 Corinthians 15:3).

Then God forbade the physical death penalty because of Cain’s complaint – Gen. 4:13-15.

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

Then without the death penalty, sin reigned in all the earth Gen. 6:12-13.

12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

Then the physical death penalty was implemented  after the flood – Gen. 9:6.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.

All of what I written about before this point was before the Law of Moses was given.

The Law reiterated that people who murder shall be killed Lev. 24:17-22,

17 ‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. 18 The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. 19 If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall beinflicted on him. 21 Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. 22 There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.’”

The death penalty was not optional Num. 35:31-33.

31 Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.33 So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.

So at this point, people are usually willing to accept that in the Old Testament God commanded the death penalty. But they claim that the New Testament rejects it.

First we have to realize that God was not saying to not judge between right and wrong or whether someone has done something they should not, but to not be a judgemental hypocrite (as can be seen in Matthew 7:1-5, see Should Christians Judge?).

Second, we must recognize that that God has forgiven adulteresses before and did not have them killed, ie. Gomer’s wife in Hosea 3:1,

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

Yet, God still demanded people obey the Law, as we see in Hosea 4:6

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children

Third, we must realize that forgiveness is what an individual must do, but this does not remove the consequences of one’s actions – ie, if you break the law, the government will still prosecute. This is not an individual judgement of whether someone is good or bad, but a decision made upon whether one is guilty of breaking the law – these are entirely different things. Neither is prosecuting someone and being on a trial jury taking revenge – it is fulfilling part of the purpose of government (which we shall see below).

Now as to whether Jesus was against the death penalty, we can see that Jesus supported the death penalty in Mat. 15:3-4

And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’

and in Mark 7:8-11

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you isCorban (that is to say, given to God),’

Now some will say that was Jesus recognizing what God had said in the Old Testament and it is not in effect for us today. But  capital punishment is reiterated elsewhere in the New Testament:

In Rev. 13:10, the apostle John wrote,

10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is theperseverance and the faith of the saints.

In 1 Tim. 1:8-9, the apostle Paul wrote,

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers

In Romans 13:1-5, we see at least part of the purpose and role of government, which is to bring wrath with the sword upon the one who does evil.

 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it 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. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Paul supported capital punishment in Acts 25:11,

11 If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.

Some will ask, “Why does capital punishment not work in the USA?” God has an answer to that as well, in Eccl. 8:11,

11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.

We have to find ways to implement accurate trials and execute punishment rapidly, rather than allow innocent people to be convicted and to allow years to pass while multiple appeals go through. Additionally, life sentences can never be executed quickly. So the length of time it takes for criminals to be punished works against the idea that punishment is a deterrent.

Our personal behavior must be one of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. But this is not the role of Government. Government must protect its people by punishing those who would not follow its laws. In this country, people on juries must ascertain the gilt or innocence of someone on trial.  God has said, in both the Old Testament (before the Law was given and in the Law itself) and in the New Testament, the punishment for murder is to be death.

5 Responses

  1. Great point at the end on personal vs. govt roles.

  2. I can understand the goverment role that they can give the death Penalty to someone who has murdered my daughter. But what does one do if they find themselves in a situation where some mad stalking boyfriend of my daughter who has finished with him because of his behavour. who thinks if i can’t have her nobody else will have her. Then comes after her with a weopon Knife and wants to try and kill her.

    Am i supposed to stand by and let it happen. Or should i interviene risking my own life and even use leathal force resulting in his daeth if need be ?

    • I dont know if you are asking a hypothetical or not. If its real, I suggest you let the police handle the problem.

      But even so, I thought I would look at what the Bible teaches…

      The old Testament is explicit about defending self and family.
      Nehemiah 4:14-18

      14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” 15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.

      The old Testament is explicit about defending property and self and family when a thief breaks in.
      Exodus 22:2-3

      2 “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3 But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

      Jesus told his disciples to purchase a sword to carry in Luke 22:35-26.

      35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.

      This is implicit consent to allowing the disciples to defend themselves. But notice that Jesus told Peter to not use the sword for defending Jesus, as the scripture had to be fulfilled:

      Matthew 26:51-56

      51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”

      We are also are not to be violent just for violence sake. As we’ve seen, those who live by the sword will die by it.
      God hates those who love violence.
      Psalm 11:5

      5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
      And the one who loves violence His soul hates.

      Neither are we to take vengeance.
      Romans 12:19

      Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

      I can’t find evidence of defending your family in the New Testament. But I think the ideas from the Old Testament apply. But do not forget that Jesus said it was ok to have the weapon, implying self-defense, he also said those who live by the sword will die by it. Again, the role of government is to frighten evil doers and to practice wrath against those who do evil (Romans 13:4). Because of that, I’d do everything possible to let the people God put into place to handle such a situation do what they were called to do.

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