What does the Bible say about the death penalty? Does the Bible support capital punishment (lethal injection, electric chair, firing squad, etc)? Should Christians support the idea of putting prisoners to death? Doesn’t the Bible say that “Thou shalt not kill?” Isn’t the death penalty just the same as murder?
Short answer: The Bible not only supports the death penalty 100%, it also suggests that a government that does NOT execute criminals is a wicked government that is failing to do its job! As Christians, our job is not to “think” about what we think is right or wrong regarding the death penalty. Our job is to get into God’s Word and see what He says about the topic.
God’s ways are above our ways, and His thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). His Word is very clear on this matter: We should put vile criminals to death. Let’s examine what the Bible says about the death penalty (capital punishment):
What the Bible Says About the Death Penalty
First, God instituted the death penalty, and God puts people to death all the time. Consider how God put the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah to death with fire and brimstone. God killed everyone in a massive flood during Noah’s day. In the New Testament, God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. God clearly puts people to death, and as our Maker, that’s His right. He gives life, and He takes life.
However, God also permits the death penalty in the context of government action. The Old Testament law clearly called for the death penalty for various crimes or sinful behavior, including sexual sins, cursing or striking a parent, stealing, murdering someone, breaking the sabbath, prostitution, and more.
Here is a brief sample of these passages:
Exodus 21:12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
Exodus 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
Exodus 21:16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
Exodus 22:19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
Exodus 31:15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
Leviticus 20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Leviticus 20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.
Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.
As we can see, God clearly supported the death penalty within the theocracy of Israel for many different types of crimes. God knew that sin would run rampant, so He devised a way to remove wicked individuals from society. This should be enough to convince anyone that God supports the death penalty.
Here is a video presentation of this article:
The New Testament Supports the Death Penalty, Too
The New Testament also clearly teaches that God has ordained the institution of government for the purpose of chastising (or even killing) harmful individuals in society. Consider this passages below, where the Apostle Paul tells us to obey government authority:
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. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6; emphasis mine)
In this passage, Paul tells us that we should obey the governing authorities, because they are ordained by God. Why did God ordain that governments should rule? One reason is to punish those who do evil. I love what Paul says: If you do that which is evil, you ought to be VERY afraid. Why? Because the minister of God (aka government official) does not bear his sword in vain (ie, he’ll use it to kill you!).
Any government that fails to draw its sword and punish those who do wicked crimes is disobeying God. I don’t care how many “feel good” psychologists tell us that capital punishment is wrong. I don’t care how many “liberals” tell us that we should only put criminals in prison for horrible crimes like murder or pedophilia (and not kill them). The God who created heaven and earth begs to differ!
In fact, the Old Testament tells us that when a government drags its feet to put vile criminals to death, it actually increases evil in society:
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
This is exactly what life is like in society today. There is no fear among people anymore. You can go out and molest children, murder people, steal, and more. What’s the worst that will happen to you in most states? You’ll be placed in a new home with bars while being fed three square meals a day, enjoying conjugal visits, using weights to get big and strong, and reading books to help you become a more educated criminal!
That way, if you’re ever released, you can do even more harm as a brilliant bodybuilding criminal—all at the taxpayer’s expense!
Furthermore, isn’t it sad that the same individuals who are so against killing wicked individuals, are also generally the same people who tell us that we should kill little babies in the womb (aka “women’s rights” or “pro choice”). How backwards they have it! Woe to them who say such things. They characterize the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ (Isaiah 5:20).
The Bible Forbids Personal Vengeance
Although God has clearly ordained the death penalty, it’s important to note that we do not have permission to take personal vengeance on a person. In other words, we should never take the law into our own hands and kill someone on our own authority to “pay them back.”
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Instead, we should allow the proper authorities to punish criminals and enact the death penalty. When we kill someone by our own authority, we’ve committed murder:
“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).
The passage above is why so many people get confused on this issue of the death penalty. God is not against war (he commanded war many times). God is not against capital punishment (as I’ve shown above, he clearly ordains it). However, God is against personally taking a life in an act of murder.
Genesis 9:6 should clear up both issues, for God clearly says that shedding a man’s blood is murder, yet murderers should be put to death (it’s the death penalty and “thou shalt not kill” rolled into one verse):
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6).
It is no sin whatsoever for a police officer to kill a vile criminal in a shootout. It is no sin for a man in the military to kill someone during war. It is no sin for a government official to put a criminal in the electric chair and fire it up. However, it is a sin to murder or kill someone on our own authority.
Simply stated, you can kill someone without murdering them, but you cannot murder someone physically without killing them. Murder is a wicked sin against God. Killing people via the death penalty is a God-ordained method of punishing criminals, but personal vengeance is not.
Cases Where Personal Killing Is Okay
Even though we are commanded to abstain from killing someone on our own authority (outside of government action), there are some exceptions in the scriptures:
The scriptures clearly show us that we are entitled to defend our own lives, or the lives of our loved ones. In the case of someone breaking in at night, killing them did not result in the death penalty in the Bible. Furthermore, Jesus actually called His own disciples to get swords so that they could protect themselves:
“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him” (Exodus 22:2).
“Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
In some cases, a person can be killed accidentally. God did not call for the death penalty in the case of an accidental death, but the person involved did have to stand trial and perhaps be moved to a city of refuge:
But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm: Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments” (Numbers 35:22-24).
Did Jesus Teach Us to Love and Forgive?
Unfortunately, some people will suggest that the death penalty was “Old Testament law” and that we are under a “New Covenant.” These same people argue that we should never put vile criminals to death, and that we should “love” people and put criminals in prison for rehabilitation purposes. Not all criminals deserve the death penalty, that much is true. However, crimes of murder, pedophilia, and other such wickedness clearly deserves death.
Anti-death penalty advocates will cite the case of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Although the Old Testament called for death by stoning, Jesus let the woman go and told her to “sin no more.”
However, Jesus could not rightfully execute the woman for two reasons:
- The Jews were no longer under their own theocratic government like they were in the Old Testament. They had to abide by Roman law.
- The Old Testament law referenced by the Pharisees said that BOTH the man AND the woman were to be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:22). They only brought the woman caught in adultery, not the man.
Therefore, Jesus didn’t kill woman in adultery for those reasons. It wasn’t because Jesus is against the death penalty.
Furthermore, when Jesus said that we should love our enemies, or that we should “turn the other cheek,” He was reiterating exactly what I’ve said in this article: We don’t take personal vengeance. It has nothing to do with the death penalty, which God ordains.
Remember this: Jesus will come back with a sword, and He will set up His kingdom on earth. He will also throw people into the Lake of Fire for eternity. Vengeance is His, and he will pay back the evil done.
Jesus is loving and merciful and forgiving (to those who believe on Him for forgiveness), but He’s also full of wrath and vengeance to the unrepentant individuals.
Conclusion: The Bible Supports the Death Penalty
The Bible clearly supports the death penalty in the Old Testament and New Testament. God is the one who ordained and commanded the death penalty to be carried out in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Paul teaches us that God has ordained governments for the purposes of punishing evil in the same way. Governments who keep their sword of judgment in its sheath only act to increase evil, regardless of how some will suggest that it is good for society.
Christians are free to kill when employed by and/or authorized by a government agency to do so (ie, military, police, SWAT team, etc.). However, Christians should never kill anyone on their own personal authority. We may reasonably defend ourselves against threats to our lives. We may also sometimes accidentally take life in an accident of some kind. But never should we kill on our own authority.