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Is the Death Penalty Scriptural?

Today’s Question: My question is about the death penalty. Does the Bible say one way or another if capital punishment is right or wrong? I know that it was okay in the Old Testament, but then Jesus stopped people from stoning the adulteress. I would really like to know the biblical stance on this issue.

Bible Answer: According to the Bible the death penalty was instituted after the flood, during Noah's time.

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. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. (Gen 9:5-6)

Before the flood, you might recall that Cain killed his brother, yet God protected him from someone else killing him. Cain was fearful that others will revenge his brother's murder. He exclaimed:

Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." But the LORD said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. (Gen 4:14-15)

It's clear that the death penalty did not originate until after the flood. After the flood God instituted human government, and it is the government’s job to keep justice. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, is the Law’s way of describing justice.

Jesus came on the scene and told us to turn the other cheek. Jesus taught us that personal vengeance rarely accomplishes justice. His words should not be construed to mean that government has been abolished. He is simply making sure we don’t act in the place of government. I believe the government still should follow the law God laid down to Noah. We are all offspring of Noah, thus we should continue to follow what He instructed to do, and that includes the death penalty.

It is true that Jesus stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery. But we should remember that adultery does not deserve the death penalty. Adultery is a terrible sin, but it is not the same as murder.

Capital punishment should only be instituted for murderers, and no one else. Manslaughter is not the same as murder. Accidental killing should not be punished with death. In the Old Testament God instructed Israel to, "Select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly" (Num 35:11-12).

Clearly manslaughter was not punishable by the Law as far as the death penalty was concerned. The person still had to stand trial before the assembly.

There are two reasons for capital punishment: justice and deterrence. Our common sense of justice tells us that capital punishment is just. If someone takes the life of another, then they need to be prepared to give their life. That’s fair!

I also believe capital punishment will deter people from murder, but, only if it is instituted fairly and swiftly. I am disappointed in the amount of minorities who are executed. It is not fair when minorities are more likely to be executed than non-minorities. Those injustices need to be worked out if Americans and other societies are going to embrace capital punishment.

Another thought: due process needs to be swifter and yet maintain fairness. People should not be on death row for 10 to 15 years before getting what they deserve. Most murderers rarely fear capital punishment because they are unlikely to be put to death, and they know it. For capital punishment to work, the government must make it clear to all the likely consequences of murder. Right now, most murderers don’t fear capital punishment.


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