By capital punishment we are referring to the death penalty for various crimes against humanity. Some believers think that it breaks the sixth commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), while others state that the punishment is ordained by God so therefore we cannot violate the commandment. Those who reject capital punishment are quick to quote Matthew 5:38-39, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”, but the context of the text is personal rather than state administered punishment for crime. The fact is, it does not matter what we think on the subject but what the Bible actually teaches.
The character of God
Before we can discuss the topic of capital punishment we must see what Scripture say about the character of God. Christians on both sides of the argument rightly believe that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that He loved man so much that He sent “His only begotten Son” to die on the cross so that we might be saved (John 3:16). But for God to be love personified, He has to be equally just, righteous, holy and able to abide by His own word. God has to deal with the sin of man and his ultimate punishment is Hell. Is God being unloving for sending unrepentant sinners into a lost eternity. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). For instance, those who rebelled against God by marrying Moabite women and worshipped false gods and in one day 24,000 people died of a plague that was sent as a punishment (Numbers 25). The death penalty originated in the mind of God as a deterrent against murder and other serious crimes. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). As we look at other aspects of this subject we will find that the Scriptures do indeed promote the idea of capital punishment.
Capital punishment as revealed in the Bible
Once again, it must be stated that we are not interested in what theologians of any persuasion write on this issue, what matters most is what the Bible plainly says.
The verse that we are debating here is Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill”, which obviously means that murder is a sin against both God and man. Shall we leave it there and teach that taking the life of another person is murder in every case? Some do precisely this and ignore what Exodus 21:12 says. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death”. In fact the death penalty was require for other crimes too, such as; striking your parent (Exodus 21:15), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), cursing your parent (Exodus 21:17), witchcraft (Exodus 22:18), bestiality (Exodus 22:19), and worshipping false gods (Exodus 22:20). We see then that this punishment for violating God’s commands was not considered to be murder. Let us not forget that though God dealt with some instances Himself, He largely left the carrying out of the sentence to the leaders of the nation.
It is often argued that this was only the case under Old Testament law but that the New Testament supersedes it. Is this notion not making a God out to be changeable and possibly double-minded? This cannot be, for with Him there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). He declares, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). Therefore it is man’s opinions that have changed rather than God’s truth. Let us see if the New Testament speaks of capital punishment.
The apostle Paul teaches that civil governments, including the magistrates and judges, exist by the will and authority of God, and that they have the right to mete out punishment. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing”(Romans 13:1-6). Surely the word “sword” refers to the death penalty for serious crimes against others, for the executioner brings “wrath” upon the evildoer. Far from changing the law of the Old Testament, the New actually confirms it. “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10). Paul adds in Romans 7:12 that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good”.
Where is the justice in our legal system today? People kill others and spend a few years in prison. The government has thrown out the Bible and thus reject the best way to deal with such evil crimes. Some claim that capital punishment does not deter crime, but that is just the liberal nonsense of a doer-gooder worldview. God set the punishment as a deterrent, so it is obvious that it would cause criminals to think twice before taking someone’s life. Prison is not the best place for murderers, in fact God promises to bless the nation that puts all such criminals to death. “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee” (Deuteronomy 19:11-13). Let’s face it, wicked people know that they can get away with their crimes today, and if they are caught, they can plead insanity. Solomon was certainly correct when he wrote, “Because 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).