What does the Bible say about the death penalty?

The other day I thought to myself, “I haven’t published a blog in awhile that was controversial.” And then I decided to write on capital punishment.

No, I’m kidding. But the thought did occur in my mind that writing on this would be interesting. Though this is a controverisal topic, my intention is not for it to be so.

Truly, I submit this post with as much humility as I can, knowing that this topic is a tertiary issue and there can be disagreement on it.

With that said: I do firmly believe God instituted the death penalty.

The Chris Watts Case

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I watched the American Murder: The Family Next Door, a documentary over Chris Watts. By the end of the documentary, I wanted to throw the remote at the TV–I was that angry. I was angry because of what Watts did to his wife and two little girls, merely because he was too afraid about being confronted with his adultery.

Watts was sentenced to 25 to life. To many, that might be justice. However, it still left me infuriated because I simply don’t believe that is justice. Chris Watts murdered his wife and two daughters–he should receive the punishment of death for his murderous actions.

It’s not simply about the taxpayer. It’s about him taking three lives. He took lives; his life should be taken in return. However, let’s try to look at this example from a biblical perspective.

What does the Bible teach on capital punishment?

What the Bible Says

Let’s start in Genesis 9, shall we? Genesis 9:6 says that ““Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (ESV). By this clear statement, we can definitively say that God instituted the death penalty. It was His idea. But it’s important to understand the why here.

The last part of the verse says “…for God made man in his own image.” God created the death penalty because the imago Dei is sacred. When you murder somebody, you are murdering a person made in God’s image. He takes it that serious.

We see more about the death penalty in Exodus. “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies,” Exodus 21:12 says, “shall be put to death” (ESV). If you take a life then your life will be taken. It’s truly that simple.

“The death penalty is explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in His own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God,” Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life” (link).

The New Testament even chimes in as well. We are told by the Apostle Paul that the government “does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4).

The Bible is very clear on capital punishment.

Opportunity to Repent?

Christians often say, “Don’t you want people to have the opportunity to repent in prison instead of just killing them?” There are a couple responses to that.

First, even with the death penalty, you may have to wait years for the execution to take place. So there’s your “extra” time. Even after sentencing, criminals have more than enough time.

Second, and more importantly, the person has had their whole life to repent and believe (Mark 1:15); what makes us believe that they might do it after their sentencing?

Sure, we want people to have the opportunity to repent. They have that opportunity until the day they die, and then will face God.

Death Penalty in a Sin-Stained World

There’s a big problem with all of this, though. Since we live in a world full of sin, there will be instances where somebody is executed by the government wrongly. This is an unfortunate reality of the world in which we live. Though the death penalty is biblical, in my opinion, society at-large doesn’t carry it out perfectly.

Again, in his article at TableTalk entitled “Our Grounds for Supporting Capital Punishment,” Mohler states:

I believe that Christians should hope, pray, and strive for a society in which the death penalty, rightly and rarely applied, would make moral sense.

Amen. Rightly and rarely applied but still makes moral sense.

Discuss with Charity

I am not a guru in this discussion and I don’t pretend to be. Of course, I have an opinion and I believe I’m right. But there are also faithful Christians on the other side of this issue that say the death penalty is wrong.

I understand that this can be a controversial debate but it needs to be discussed with love, specifically among well-meaning Christians. Discuss and debate to the glory of God.

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