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?

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“After the worldwide Flood of Noah’s time,” write Creation Tips, “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,” answer the Creation Tips folks, “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.

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“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.

“How should a Christian view the death penalty?” ask the Got Questions theologians. “First, we must remember that God has instituted capital punishment in His Word; therefore, it would be presumptuous of us to think that we could institute a higher standard. God has the highest standard of any being; He is perfect. This standard applies not only to us but to Himself. Therefore, He loves to an infinite degree, and He has mercy to an infinite degree. We also see that He has wrath to an infinite degree, and it is all maintained in a perfect balance.

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