Does the Bible support capital punishment?

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Does the Bible support the death penalty and capital punishment?

Quick-read this article:
The Bible says God was the one who instituted the death penalty for serious crime. He has never revoked it.

The Bible has never revoked the death penalty

A former governor of New York State said that when he brought back capital punishment to his State, serious crime dropped. Yet Amnesty International says the death penalty is no deterrent to crime.

To families of those who receive a death sentence, the punishment can seem unbearably harsh. This is especially so when governments of countries with strict laws against drugs, for instance, decide to sentence a young person to death for carrying marijuana or heroin into the country. (Australia's Schapelle Corby was convicted of drug-smuggling in Indonesia in 2004, and although she escaped the death penalty, her sentence of 20 years seemed unjust to her family and to most Australians.)

What should Christians believe about capital punishment?

Does God support the death penalty or reject it? What does the Bible say? Would it be better to ban the death penalty and replace it with a jail sentence for life?

The Old Testament civil laws imposed the death penalty (capital punishment) for:

  • murder (Exodus 21:12)
  • adultery (Leviticus 20:10)
  • rape (Deuteronomy 22:25–26)
  • homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13)
  • kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
  • bestiality (Exodus 22:19)
  • witchcraft (Exodus 22:18)
  • being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1–10)
  • prostitution (Deuteronomy 22:24).

The first death penalty

God was the first to set up the death penalty. After the worldwide Flood of Noah's time, God put safeguards in place against human violence. Of prime importance was the death penalty: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6).

If a human or an animal killed a human, the killer was to be put to death (Genesis 9:5). This was because of the sacredness of human life. God created humans in His image, so murdering another human meant you would forfeit your own life.

Interestingly, God has never revoked the death penalty. Jesus said He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). And the Apostle Paul preached about the government's right to invoke capital punishment on evildoers (Romans 13:1-5).

What about wrong convictions?

What if an innocent person is wrongly sentenced to death?

Well, there is no more famous case of an innocent person's being condemned to death than when God's own Son, Jesus Christ, endured an unjust trial on trumped-up charges, suffered, and died on a wooden cross. Yet God did not intervene. The need for justice is so strong that it seems He is willing to put up with an occasional wrong conviction rather than remove the death penalty.

But God is also merciful. He often shows charity and mercy when the death penalty is due. David committed murder, yet God did not take his life. In John chapter 8 we read that the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, and asked Him whether she should be stoned to death, as the Law of Moses required. Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” They all left.

God allows governments to impose the death penalty. We should all be aware that if we do wrong in a country that allows the death penalty, we must be ready for the punishment.

Those who say the death penalty isn't a deterrent to crime miss the point. The penalty is not chiefly to deter others, but to punish and remove from society the one who would perpetrate such serious crimes.

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