Concerning the Death Penalty

A Controversy

The death penalty is a perennial topic of controversy in the world today, as has been such a topic for some time. Individual States in America vacillate between instituting and removing the practice with various election cycles (such a proposition to remove the practice in the State of California was put before voters this year).

As with any moral issue, for the Christian, the question of the “rightness” of a practice such as the death penalty has little to do with personal opinion or preference. This is an issue on which the Bible has clear teaching. However, some Christians are not aware of how this teaching is presented.

What Does the Bible Say?

For many, the idea of the death penalty in the Bible is connected with the Law of Moses, which included several prohibitions against sinful practices which, if committed, would lead to execution by stoning. These practices include such things as: murder, witchcraft, divination, blasphemy, idolatry, and rebellion. Some assume then that this was the first example of such a practice, and was necessarily brutal because of the nature of the Law of Moses in relation to God’s people Israel.

The reality is that the Law of Moses is not the first command of God in regard to the death penalty in the Bible. God first presents the subject in Genesis 9 to Noah, after the Great Flood: “Surely I require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from 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” (5, 6; NASU).

These words were spoken not to a specific people of God, but one of the sole survivors of the entire human race, establishing an overall standard for everyone in the world. That murder would be punished by death is plainly stated here; the Law of Moses only included more prohibitions. Later, in the Christian Age, Paul warned Christians that the State (authority) “…does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God…” (Rom. 13:4). This again reaffirmed the right of the government to enact a death penalty.

Arguments of Men

Of course some argue as to the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, or appeal to killing on moral grounds. These arguments are irrelevant really, as God has commanded. But it is interesting to consider a world without the death penalty. Such a world once existed, and it had to be destroyed with a Flood!

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