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Is Capital Punishment Lawful?
Bible study on capital punishment.

There is much debate over the ethical implementation of capital punishment in society. Many people question the worthiness of punishing violent criminals with death, and whether capital punishment deters crime.

God Instituted Capital Punishment
At the time of the flood, man had become very wicked. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them'" (Gen. 6:5-7).

As a result, God killed everyone except Noah and his family, because of man's violent behavior (Gen. 6:13).

After the flood, God instituted capital punishment, commanding, "surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of every man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:5-6).

Solution to Violence in Society
Capital punishment is the solution God instituted to punish people for capital crimes, keeping man from reverting back to the violent and sinful decline that occurred in the days of Noah.

From a Biblical perspective, societies that punish capital crimes with death can successfully control crime. But if they don't, violence thrives.

Mosaic Law
Capital punishment was commanded by God under the Law of Moses.

After giving Israel the Ten Commandments, God commanded that a man who killed another man with premeditation, was to be punished by death, even if he had fled to one of the cities of refuge (Gen. 21:12-14). Other crimes punished with death included striking a parent, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, adultery, fornication, rape, kidnaping, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and idolatry.

Law of Christ
What does the Bible say about capital punishment in the law of Christ, which we live under today (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2)?

Paul outlines numerous aspects of the civil government:

"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing" (Rom. 13:1-6).

There are several interesting points in Romans 13 pertaining to capital punishment:

  • Civil governments are God's ministers and servants. They are established, and exist, by God.
  • Whoever resists civil authority opposes the ordinance of God. He brings wrath upon himself, and will receive condemnation (cf. 1 Pet. 2:14).
  • Civil governments bear the sword as God's ministers. They do not bear it for nothing --- God intends for them to use it.

As God's avenger to bring wrath on evil men, civil authorities must punish crime. Capital punishment is one of the punishments at their disposal.

Jesus and Capital Punishment
Jesus did not condemn the Romans for administering capital punishment. Rather, He used a metaphor from capital punishment to teach commitment. He says, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24).

The fact that Jesus uses the cross to illustrate His disciples' commitment, shows He was not opposed to capital punishment. If capital punishment was a sin, it could not illustrate our walk with Christ.

Paul and Capital Punishment
In Acts 25:11, upon the occasion of Paul making his defense before Festus, he declared "for if I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying."

Paul's attitude toward capital punishment is that it is God's "sword" to bring vengeance upon evil. He didn't object to capital punishment, and was willing to pay the penalty of death if he committed anything worthy of death.

God instituted capital punishment after the flood. It was lawful during the Patriarchal and Mosaic Dispensations, and it is lawful under the law of Christ.

It is God's solution for controlling society, and keeping man from reverting back to the violent decline that occurred in the days of Noah.