What does scripture say about the death penalty?
After the Genesis flood, God instituted the death penalty or what we call capital punishment. Before the flood the human race was vegetarian. But after the flood, God told Noah that both the animals and the plants were food for mankind. There was no penalty for taking the life of an animal, but it was a different situation if a human took the life of another human. The reason God gives is that mankind was created in His image.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man. (NASB) Genesis 9:6
God did not provide guidelines for capital punishment until He gave us the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue. Contrary to what many people believe, God gave different conditions which required the death penalty.
|Conditions for the Death Penalty||Passage|
|If they killed craftily . . . death was required.||Ex. 21:14|
|. . . struck him with an iron object||Num. 35:16|
|. . . struck him with a stone||Num. 35:17|
|. . . struck him with a wood object||Num. 35:18|
|. . . pushed him because of hatred||Num. 35:20|
|. . . struck him with anger||Num. 35:21|
|If they did not lie in wait for him . . . stand trial.||Ex. 21:13 Num. 35:12|
|. . . struck him unintentionally||Num. 35:22-25|
This principle is also repeated in the New Testament but without the details (Romans 13:1-7).
What It Does Not Mean
Some have quoted the Ten Commandments as proof that the Bible does not support the death penalty. Others have used the death penalty to declare that the Bible contradicts itself.
YOU SHALL NOT MURDER (NASB) Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; Romans 13:9
The King James Version reads, “You shall not kill.” But this does not give the correct meaning of the Greek text. The meaning of the English word “kill” refers to the idea of simply causing something to die. Most of us think nothing of “killing” an insect or a snake. That is not the sense of the Greek word used in Romans 13:9 which is a reference back to Exodus and Deuteronomy.
When Romans 13:9 quotes the Old Testament, it uses a unique Greek word, PHOVEUS, which means “to murder” and not “kill.” God made it clear the death penalty is required when a person takes the life of another intentionally out of anger, hatred and craftily. That is murder!
Capital punishment is obedience to God! To do otherwise is disobedience to Him. This is not anger, malice, or hated. It is obedience to God’s original command found in Genesis 9:6.