God Bible and The Death Penalty: Capital Punishment

Capital punishment…

What does God actually say???

Many people with kind compassionate hearts are appalled at the concept of capital punishment.  The idea that we as a government would take the life of someone that has committed a heinous crime is in conceivable to then and they think it is against God’s law or against the will of God somehow.  I often hear the arguments like
• as the person is alive, they have an opportunity to repent
• It is not our place to kill a person. The is to be left to God
• The ten commandments say “Thou shall not kill”

These are common thoughts and common misconceptions so let’s try to sort these issues out.

First, let’s talk a look at what God has said about the topic in the Bible.  If you do not believe that the Bible is God’s word and authoritative, then we have all kinds of other issues to discuss…

Ok, Way back in the book of Genesis before the Ten Commandments were written, after Noah and his family get off the ark, we read that God was already aware of the corruption of “MAN” and the need to manage that corruption.

So in Genesis 9:4-6 we read

4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

 6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man,
       by man shall his blood be shed;
       for in the image of God
       has God made man.

So this is pretty clear, very early in the history of God’s interaction with man… Life if important, we were made in the Image of God and if you murder someone, your life must be taken (by those in authority).

Remember, this is way before God outlined the Law in the Ten Commandments.

God was not concerned with the murderer repenting, of course he wants people to repent but the crime is so serious, there must be a swift consequence.

Many will argue that this is Old Testament time when the people were almost animals so the rules of the game are different.  I assure you, the nature of man is the same now as it was in the Old Testament time.  Man has not changed and God has not changed.  I point you to the bloody history of the 20th century, Stalin and the gulags in Russian, Hitler and the death camps in Germany, Pol Pot and the killing fields of Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Bagdad, the Japanese as the Raped and murdered in Nan King China it goes on and on. The nature of man is the same, we are VERY fallen.

But I thought the Ten Commandments says though shall not kill???

Yes, many people think that, but they are in error.  Let’s go do some research to see what in really says…
First of all, where in the Bible do we find the Ten Commandments??

In  Exodus 20 We see the first list of the Ten Commandments. 

And very 13 we read
“You shall not murder”

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh it says you shall not murder.  Is there a difference between kill and murder?
Of curse there is.
If a burglar breaks into your house and steals stuff in your house then goes from room to room ending the life of everyone in the house, then that is murder.  If the home owner would wrestle the weapon away from the burglar and the burglar gets injured and dies, that is not murder.  That would be killing the burglar.
If a solider is in a battle, shooting at the enemy, that is not murder, that is killing.  There is a huge difference…  And yes, God condoned killing all over in the Bible.   I recommend that you do a research project on the life of King David.

Ok so in Exodus 20 God says do not Murder, I get it…

Also, it is important to remember, that these Ten Commandments are commandments for personal behavior and morality.  They are not commandants for how a government is supposed to run to keep order in a society.  Those rules are different and God sets those up in a different place.

Ok, in Deuteronomy 5 we see the same commandments again.

There has been controversy over the years about the translation of the word Kill or Murder in these commandments..
Wiki has a great discussion of it here.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments#Killing_or_murder  and I think it is summed up best here
The Old Testament's examples of killings sanctioned by God are often cited in defense of the view that "murder" is a more accurate translation. Additionally, the Hebrew word for "kill" is הרג (harog), while the Hebrew word for "murder" is רצח (retzach), which is found in the Ten Commandments לא תרצח (lo tirtzach). In the fullness of the Old Testament Exodus 20:13 is abundantly evidenced as prohibiting unjust killing, rather than a universal injunction against all killing, as retzach is never used in reference to the slaying of animals, nor the taking of life in war, while its most frequent use is in reference to involuntary manslaughter and secondarily for murderers.
But the more important point I think is that the Bible goes on to tell us what we are to do (again as a government) with a murderer.

In Exodos 21  we read
12 "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
This is pretty clear…

In Leviticus 24 we read

17 “If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.”

Again this is pretty clear…

God sets up these rules as a way to set up a just society that honors Him.  So it is indeed the place of government to but to death a murder.

But what about the concept of as along as a person is alive he could repent of his sin and come to God.. While of course that may be true and God can do all things, there is nothing like knowing you will be dying tomorrow to focus the mind on the things of eternity and to help you make the decision to repent or not.  You must make the decision at that point. It is very clear. So actually it is God’s grace to have this option to help people do decide.  If they do not get right with their God at that point, there is not reason to expect that they will ever do it.

So clearly it is obvious God has set up capital punishment for a just sociality to use.  The only remaining question is should we still be using capital punishment today?

So we need to ask has God said anything to change the rules for capital punishment?
The answer is no there is no place in scripture that says were should not longer do that.
Also, Jesus did not make any comments about capital punishment for the criminals on his right and left.  And he was willing to take the punishment on himself also, with no comment about society’s use of the punishment.  I think God’s silence on the topic speaks volumes.  The punishment is still valid and still in force today.

Of course there can be questions on the valid use of it.  Are the people really guilty of the crime?  I would say that in order to use capital punishment there can be no doubt of the guilt.  That is an issue of how do you actually work out the justice system, but the correct way to do it is not to ban capital punishment, it is to put safeguards in place…

I think the arguments are pretty convincing, God commanded us to use capital punishment to run a just society and nothing has change that would cause us to stop using it.

Check out these two must read resources on the topic. 


Christian Ethics: Options and Issues

Readings in Christian Ethics, vol. 2: Issues and Applications


About waynem

As a Minnesota based photographer and artist I have been greatly influenced by the Upper Midwest. I focus my skills and energies on portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, architectural and fine art work. My best work comes from images first painted in my mind. I mull over a prospective image for weeks or months, seeing it from different angles and perspectives, then finally deciding what to capture. The result is images that deeply touch people's emotions and powerfully evoke memories and dreams. My images are used commercially by companies and organizations ranging from Financial Services firms, mom and pop Ice Cream shops and The Basilica of St Mary to communicate their shared vision and values. Book and magazine publishers have featured my images on their covers. My photographs also grace and enhance the decor of many fine homes.
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2 Responses to God Bible and The Death Penalty: Capital Punishment

  1. daniel says:

    Wow, I have to commend you, you are very good at interpreting the scriptures.
    Maybe we can get you to interpret some of these “Sayings of the Wise” from the South American Spanish speaking culture into the Northeastern United States culture, or vise versa. We can’t find anyone who knows how. Everytime we do it, it’s always the same. “No, no the word is not interpreting correctly and you just don’t have a good enough grasp on our culture to understand the correct meaning!” (you had to grow up with it, either side says)
    And that’s today’s culture in the modern versions of the languages.
    You have managed to go back thousands of years and do this. Not even Sirach could do that! (He’s in the Catholic Bible)
    But seriously, doesn’t the Bible also state that there must be two witnesses to a murder? i think you mistakenly left that part out.
    Do you think that people should be given the death penalty based on DNA evidence or crime scene evidence or even on the evidence of one witness? Does that not fly in the face of Scripture?
    Also, if the death penalty is the function of government, should the decision not be left to government officials rather than to individuals who go around trying to persuade people that government officials are wrong?
    Have you been the victim of a Capital crime? (meaning, have you had a wife, son or daughter murdered?)
    I have, and I believe people who have no understanding of these matters (such as individuals who have never raised children, but can tell you all about how to raise a teenager)should stay out of these matters.
    A good thing about understanding the Scriptures is that we can use the information we have obtained to take a good honest look at ourselves.
    We might find the best thing we can do is show mercy to others, at every opportunity. Even those who did not show mercy.

  2. Wayne M says:

    I was raised Catholic and I am very familiar with Sirach thank you very much.
    I went to Catholic grade school and Catholic college, I am steeped in Catholic Teaching and Tradition… But thanks for your concern… ;-DD
    If I left out the part about the 2 witnesses.. that is only because I left out the rest of the Bible also.
    I was a bit short on time. I did not have eternity to post this. I am fine with the two witnesses part.. I have no problem with that at all.. that is why I would argue for any death penalty case has to be proved beyond all doubt. But believe it or not, there are cases like that where the person is not put to death.
    “Do you think that people should be given the death penalty based on DNA evidence or crime scene evidence or even on the evidence of one witness? Does that not fly in the face of Scripture?”
    All evidence should be brought in and no, this does not fly in the face of scripture…
    “Also, if the death penalty is the function of government, should the decision not be left to government officials rather than to individuals who go around trying to persuade people that government officials are wrong?”
    In America, the people are the government and we are responsible hold our officials accountable… How do you think slavery came to an end.. Private individuals influencing government.. First in Europe and then in America.. (See the Abolitionist movement and the history of the great awakenings and the history of William Wilberforce http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ei=ZXrSScWoE4P3nQeJnbnRBQ&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=william+wilberforce&spell=1 )
    “Have you been the victim of a Capital crime? (meaning, have you had a wife, son or daughter murdered?)”
    I am sorry for your loss, but this is like asking “Can a government official like a president or senator who had never been in the military lead a country into war?” of course the answer is yes.. Note Abraham Lincoln and many others.
    Correct policy does not matter if a person has experienced a crime. Correct policy is correct policy.
    “We might find the best thing we can do is show mercy to others, at every opportunity, Even those who did not show mercy.”
    I would completely agree, but personal mercy is very different from government policy.

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