What Does the Bible Say About the Death Penalty?
The Scriptures appear to be quite stern about capital punishment. But in practice, what was Jesus’ attitude? And for that matter, what did Almighty God really say … and do?
BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
Does the Bible really demand death for a wide variety of offenses? Well, yes and no.
“Old Testament law commanded the death penalty for various acts,” note the theologians at Got Questions?
God was the first to set up the death penalty, agrees the conservative website Creation Tips.
However, most people are convinced that Jesus opposed capital punishment, notes author David Reagan. “In the eyes of both proponents and opponents of the death penalty, the case is closed. Jesus would be against it. But, I must protest. Most theologians, as usual, are wrong. Jesus did support the death penalty and He left a hearty biblical record proving the point. Jesus has been so remade by the modern world into a mix of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Tiny Tim that they cannot see the Jesus clearly portrayed in the Bible. Let us look at the record.”
Indeed, the scriptures list quite a number of capital offenses, concede the Got Questions? Theologians: “murder (Exodus 21:12), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), bestiality (Exodus 22:19), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5), prostitution and rape (Deuteronomy 22:24), and several other crimes. However, God often showed mercy when the death penalty was due. David committed adultery and murder, yet God did not demand his life be taken (2 Samuel 11:1-5,14-17;2 Samuel 12:13). Ultimately, every sin we commit should result in the death penalty because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Thankfully, God demonstrates His love for us in not condemning us (Romans 5:8).”
But then there’s the matter of “what did Jesus do?”
“When the Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in the act of adultery to Jesus,” continues Got Questions? “and asked Him if she should be stoned, Jesus replied, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). This should not be used to indicate that Jesus rejected capital punishment in all instances. Jesus was simply exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees wanted to trick Jesus into breaking the Old Testament law; they did not truly care about the woman being stoned (where was the man who was caught in adultery?) God is the One who instituted capital punishment: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).
“Jesus would support capital punishment in some instances. Jesus also demonstrated grace when capital punishment was due (John 8:1-11). The apostle Paul definitely recognized the power of the government to institute capital punishment where appropriate (Romans 13:1-7).
“Consider this,” argues Reagan: “The Mosaic Law very strongly supported the death penalty and Jesus never once disobeyed the law or taught against it. He said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’ (Matthew 5:17). The law made numerous provisions for the death penalty. Jesus