Bible Q & A Page
> We would like to better understand how the bible views capital punishment.
The question before us is this: Does the Bible (and therefore, God - 2 Tim.
3:16-17) give government the right to execute criminals? The simple and
straightforward Bible answer to this question is, "yes." Let me elaborate from
the word of God.
The first mention of such a thing is found in Genesis 9:5-6: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man."
The stated reason for God demanding the blood of the person who sheds blood (murders) is that man has been made in the image of God. In this man is unique among God's creation (Gen. 1:26-27). So, the uniqueness of human life is to be honored by mankind. The punishment for not doing so, as ordained by God, is "capital punishment."
How is this reconciled with the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exo. 20:13)? The answer is not difficult nor strained: This commandment forbids murder ("You shall not murder," New King James Version). This is consistent with Gen. 9:6, which gives the punishment God imposed for murder ("shedding man's blood").
Please notice that the law of Moses, which contained the commandment not to kill (murder) in Exodus 20, also authorized the nation of Israel to execute the murderer in Exodus 21: "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death." (Exo. 21:12-14) Indeed, this law ordered the death penalty for a variety of crimes, both civil and spiritual:
-Striking parents, Exo. 21:15
-Kidnapping, Exo. 21:16
-Cursing parents, Exo. 21:17; Lev. 20:9
-Failure to confine wild animal that kills someone, Exo. 21:28-29
-Idolatry, Exo. 22:20; Lev. 20:1-2
-Working on the Sabbath, Exo. 35:2
-Adultery, Lev. 20:10
-Incest, Lev. 20:11-12
-Homosexuality, Lev. 20:13
-Bestiality, Lev. 20:15-16
-Mediums, necromancers, Lev. 20:27
-False prophets, Deut. 13:9; 18:20
-Rebellion against divine authority, Deut. 17:12-13
-Rebellion against parental authority, Deut. 21:20-21
The law of Moses was truly an "eye for an eye" system of justice (Exo. 21:23-25). But, this punishment was executed after the facts of the crime were verified (Deut. 17:1-7).
When Israel honored human life and revered God, naturally, murder declined and with it the use of the death penalty.
Jesus came teaching us that to even hate our brother is to be a murderer and that every sin produces spiritual death (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 Jno. 3:15; Rom. 6:23).
Civil government has been ordained by God to protect the innocent and punish the criminals within society (Rom. 13:1-6). He (the governing authority) "does not bear the sword in vain" (Rom. 13:4). That is, civil government has the right to execute God's wrath upon the evil-doer. The "sword" of which this verse speaks was the executioner's sword. The apostle Paul said
on one occasion that if he had done anything worthy of death then he would willingly die (Acts 25:11). So, his very words show that he agreed with the concept of the death penalty.
We can safely say that God has given civil government the authority to execute criminals as a just punishment for one's crime and to serve as a deterrent against future crimes. (On capital punishment as a deterrent, see Deut. 13:11; 17:13; Rom. 13:5.)
The individual does not have the right to take another person's life (Rom. 13:9). But God give government the authority to execute His vengeance against evil (Rom. 12:19). (Romans 12:17-13:8 makes a striking contrast between the individual's role and the government's role in executing God's vengeance or punishment against evil-doers.)
I hope this brief, Biblical analysis of capital punishment will help you as your study God's word on the matter.