What About Capital Punishment?

(cc) Krystn Palmer Photography - Flickr

(cc) Krystn Palmer Photography - Flickr

[PART 3 OF 6]

What are the implications of this concept of “the sanctity of human life”?

Does that mean that capital punishment is wrong?

Is it wrong for a government to take the life of one of its citizens in punishment for crime?

Consider this: If the biblically valid concept of “the sanctity of human life” prohibited capital punishment, then it would condemn God Himself. You will recall that the Sixth Commandment states, “You Shall Not Murder” (Exodus 20:13). Now look at the very next chapter, Exodus 21, verses 12-17.

He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die. And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

So, God, who said, “You shall not murder”, also commanded that the punishment for murder in the Nation of Israel would be capital punishment! Why? Because man is created in God’s image. Murder, therefore, is an attack on the very image of God (Genesis 9:6).

God, who said, “You shall not murder”, instructed the Nation of Israel to inflict capital punishment on anyone found guilty of kidnapping, striking his parents, or cursing his parents.

Other sins punishable by death included

Bestiality (Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 20:15-16),
Profaning the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15),
Adultery (Leviticus 20:10-14),
Homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), and
Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).

Not only did God believe in capital punishment, He invented it!

But what about modern-day governments? Do they have the authority to inflict capital punishment?

The Apostle Paul addresses the role of government, and the Christian’s responsibility to it, in Romans 13:1-7.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Paul says that governments are God-ordained institutions. Does that mean that God approved of Saddam Hussein and the way he treated the citizens of Iraq? NO! Saddam Hussein was a corrupt man who abused the power of government to unjustly punish those who got in the way of his own personal pursuits. Saddam Hussein will stand before God Almighty and be held accountable for his abuse of power.

There have been numerous other examples throughout history of ruthless dictators who abused the power of government and unjustly mistreated or even killed innocent citizens. They will be held accountable by God for their actions. That does not invalidate the God-ordained nature of government itself, however.

The general principle of Romans 13:1-7 is this:

Governments are instituted and ordained by God.

People who are good, law-abiding citizens have no reason to fear government.

People who do evil should fear the government, because the government is God’s tool to execute punishment on evil-doers.

So, according to Romans 13, governments are ordained by God and have the authority and even the responsibility to punish evil-doers.

When we consider that God commanded capital punishment to be carried out by the Nation of Israel, and when we consider the God-given responsibility of government to punish evil-doers, it is clear that capital punishment, when properly administered, is in keeping with God’s will for government, and is not a violation of the sanctity of human life.
Paul O'Rear Signature

This is Part 3 in a 6-part series entitled “The Sanctity of Life”.
Part 1: “The Sanctity of Human Life
Part 2: “Is Human Life Holy?
Part 3: “What About Capital Punishment?”
Part 4: “I Wanna Be a Policeman
Part 5: “Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines
Part 6: “Abortion

Next: “I Wanna Be a Policeman

Photo Credit:

  1. Old Sparky by Krystn Palmer Photography (Flickr), Creative Commons License

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