Does God Support the Death Penalty?

      Is the death penalty inhumane? Is it a just form of punishment? Is it effective? Should Christians support something like the death penalty? What does God say about the death penalty? Well, we shall answer these questions by going to the ultimate authority, God's Word, the Bible.

In the time of Noah and the great flood, God spoke and said,

"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed;" - Genesis 9:6

And at the time when God was giving His law to Moses and His people, He said these things:

"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death." - Exodus 21:12

"And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." - Exodus 21:15

"He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be
put to death." Exodus 21:16

"If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." - Exodus 21:22-24

"Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death." - Numbers 35:31

"So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it." - Numbers 35:33

God also tells us what happens when there is no swift death penalty for capital crimes:

"Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." - Ecclesiastes 8:11

God shows his anger when He speaks and says,

"And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?" - Ezekiel 13:19

      Then we run into a problem. The sixth commandment, You shall not kill, right? Wrong! The sixth commandment reads, "You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). There is a difference between kill and murder. One can accidentally kill someone, that is unintentional. But you cannot accidentally murder someone, think about it.

New Testament Support for the Death Penalty

Should We Judge?

      So now, a lot of people would say, "But that was the Old Testament, things changed when Jesus came...He said turn the other cheek...He also said do not judge." Well, He did say those things, but if you take them out of context the meaning can be completely changed. And that is what happened. Jesus Himself told us that He did not come to abolish or change the Law, but to fulfill the Law.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commadments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:17-19

Do we not have to judge to give someone the death penalty? Didn't Jesus say in Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged."
Yes, He did. But remember what I said earlier about taking things out of context? It changes the meaning. So what do we see if we look at the whole picture of what Jesus was saying
in Matthew 7?

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:1-5

      So, by looking at the whole picture, we see that Jesus was speaking to the hypocrite. For example, If I steal, and I see someone else stealing, I cannot judge them for stealing. I would be a hypocrite! First, I myself must stop stealing before I could judge and help the other person. That is called judging fairly. That is what Jesus is calling us to do in this passage.

Paul also speaks of judging:

"Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgements concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?" - 1 Corinthians 6:2-5

The following section on judging comes from The Word in Life Study Bible, page 1638.

      What was Jesus calling for when He ordered His followers to "judge not" (Matt. 7:1)? Did He want us to close our eyes to error and evil? Did He intend that managers forgo critical performance reviews of their employees? Or that news editors and art critics pull their punches? Or that juries refrain from judgement? Should we decline any assessment of others, since none of us is perfect?
      No, those would all be misapplications of Jesus' teaching. In the first place, He was not commanding blind acceptance, but grace toward others. Since all of us are sinners, we need to stop bothering with the failings of others and start attending to serious issues of our own (7:3-5). His words here extend His earlier expose of hypocrisy (6:1-18). Don't blame or put down others while excusing or exalting yourself, Jesus was saying.
      Is there room, then, to assess others, especially when we know we are not perfect? Yes, but only in Jesus' way: with empathy and fairness (7:12), and with a readiness to freely and fully forgive (6:12, 14). When we are called upon to correct others, we should act like a good doctor whose purpose is to bring healing-not like an enemy who attacks.

Scripture gives clear guidelines to believers in cases where judgements need to be rendered. See Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; and Gal. 6:1-5.

      Well, now that we know we should judge fairly and not hypocritically, we need to look and see what the New Testament says about the death penalty.

Jesus said, "For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'" - Matthew 15:4

And as Jesus hung on the cross, one of the criminals mocked Him.

"But the other, answering, rebuked him (the other criminal) saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.'" - Luke 23:40-41

      In that passage of scripture the criminal says that they, meaning himself and the other criminal, are being justly punished, being put to death for their crimes. And when you look at the apostle Paul in the book of Acts, he says,

"For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar." - Acts 25:11

      For God established the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), and it is to them the responsibility of putting those to death who commit capital crimes.

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 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." - Romans 13:3-4

And finally, it is stated in the book of Revelation,

"He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." - Revelation 13:9-10

      Well, there you have it. Old and New Testament support for the death penalty. God does support it. If you have any doubts, just pick up your Bible. It's all right there for you to read.

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