SHOULD CHRISTIANS SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“What is the biblical position that a believer should take in regards to capital punishment (the death sentence)?”
Thanks for contacting me, my friend. I am sure many, many people have the same question. The death sentence is a very sensitive topic, an extremely emotionally-charged issue, concerning both those for it and those against it. Hopefully, we can ignore the emotions that cloud our judgment. Emotions are deceptive. We need an objective standard, the written Word of God, on which to rest our faith/trust. Let us look at the plain testimony of the Holy Bible. After all, the Creator has already spoken quite expressly on the subject. We just need searching eyes, listening ears, and, most importantly, believing hearts.
“THOU SHALT NOT KILL?”
When people object to the death penalty, they quote one of the few verses they know. The sixth of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). This verse, like all others, has a context. We do not grab a verse and run with it without analyzing the context. As it has been so aptly stated, “A verse without a context makes one a conman!”
“Thou shall not kill” involves an individual taking another’s life (“thou” is first-person singular, as our “old, hard-to-read” King James so precisely uses it). Capital punishment, however, refers to a legal authority (government) taking a person’s life. If “thou shall not kill” prohibited all taking of life, then why did the LORD God Himself tell Moses and Israel to stone to death the man who collected sticks on the Sabbath day (Numbers 15:32-36)?
See, beloved, the government taking the life of a guilty person is not infringing upon the Sixth Commandment. The Sixth Commandment is broken when one person takes the life of another without a decree from the local government (apart from self-defense, of course). Many times throughout the Mosaic Law we find the death penalty attached to certain offences (striking father or mother, Exodus 21:15; kidnapping, Exodus 21:16; witchcraft, Exodus 22:18; bestiality, Exodus 22:19; et cetera). These are not instances of murder; these are God’s direct instructions to Israel for her to take the lives of individuals who broke specific divine laws. There was no room for argument.
NOAH, HUMAN GOVERNMENT, AND THE “DEATH PENALTY”
Many, many, many centuries before the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, there lived Noah. On this side of the Great Flood, having just exited the Ark, Noah and his sons are instructed of God in Genesis chapter 9:
“ And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.  But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.  And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
God told Noah, beginning in the new world, that anyone who took the life of another person, man (acting with governmental authority) was to take that murderer’s life. Note that this was not just anyone going out and taking vengeance on whomever he wanted. It is a governmental official issuing the decree and carrying it out. Please make sure that you understand that.
Remember, Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis chapter 4. This was most definitely murder. Cain was evil and Abel was righteous. God allowed Cain to live (Genesis 4:13-15). Centuries later, just before the Great Flood, the opening verses of Genesis chapter 6 tell us that great evil and violence had covered the earth. In order to slow down Satan’s policy of evil, after the Flood, God instituted the death penalty with Noah. That death penalty for murderers is still with us today, as the Apostle Paul commented in the book of Romans. It is a direct ordinance of God, and nothing in the Bible ever rescinded this law. Even the dispensational change does not affect the death penalty.
When describing the grace believer’s relationship to his form of government, our Apostle Paul wrote in the thirteenth chapter of Romans: “ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:  For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”
Paul is commenting on Genesis chapter 9, what we read earlier. God’s design in government is to make criminals fearful. It is to hinder Satan’s policy of evil from reaching a crescendo. Those who are operating under Satan’s control, particularly murderers (“the evil” of verse 3), should be punished. Verse 4 says, “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
How does the government not bear the sword in vain? It has the sword for a reason. It will not only wield the sword but also use the sword! “The higher powers… a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” This “wrath” is a reference to capital punishment (decapitation/beheading). Without capital punishment, there is no deterrent for murderers. A government that cannot enforce its laws is useless. It must have military might to keep order in society. If we do not have order, mayhem will result, and we will mimic Cain and those of Noah’s day, those who caused great violence and bloodshed.
God Himself in the Bible told Noah and Israel to put people to death for certain infractions. Once they were proven in court to be guilty of particular crimes—especially murder—their lives were to be taken by governmental orders. God was very strict about it. Someone may say that that was the “Old Testament” and that has no relevance to us. Yet, when commenting about our Dispensation of Grace, the Apostle Paul carried over that principle of capital punishment. In Romans chapter 13, Paul wrote that the government does not bear the sword in vain. No doubt the death penalty—when carried out swiftly and without decades of appeals—is a sure deterrent to prevent other murderers from acting. That fact of capital punishment makes criminals afraid. Unfortunately, here in the United States and other countries, the death penalty is pushed aside due to emotions. We do not want to hurt people’s feelings, we do not want to be “inhumane,” we want to make sure the criminals are more comfortable than the victims’ families, and so on.
Someone may say, “Oh, but I cannot support the death penalty. What if we execute an innocent man or woman?” Beloved, remember, God knew this was a possibility, and yet, He still gave the commandment. If the murderer has been convicted beyond reasonable doubt, if there is enough evidence to support his or her guilt, then the Bible is clear that that person’s life should be taken. I would rather follow the Bible and make a mistake than make the mistake of ignoring the Bible!
It is a very sad reality that that there is very little justice in this world, particularly involving a swift death sentence. There are many convicted murderers on our streets and sidewalks all around the world, and it is so unfortunate that government has failed the public in this regard. They can keep on taking innocent lives but no government is willing to take their guilty ones.
Nevertheless, dear readers, we can rest assured that the God of the Bible never sleeps. The guilty lost who escape the death penalty in this life, wake up to face “God’s eternal death penalty” in the next! Justice will be served eventually, with or without human legal intervention.
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