Is Capital Punishment Biblical?
Capital punishment has always been an arguable issue and for good reason.
The Old Testament clearly calls for the death penalty on many occasions,
whereas; many of the teachings of Jesus and others in the New testament readily
denounce it. Therefore, both advocates ands opponents of capital punishment
have Biblical references to support their beliefs.
Opponents use the creation story to show that all are created in God’s
image. Genesis 1:27a states that God created man in his image.1 God, thus,
has the power to give and take away life as he chooses. All men are to preserve
life to the best of their ability. M. Margaret Falls says that we cannot treat
people as mere instruments to personal survival, success or fulfillment.2
Advocates will also utilize Genesis 1:27 to prove that because man is
created in God’s image, man must preserve as many lives as possible, Therefore,
the death of one, who has murdered many, will spare the useless and countless
deaths of others. God’s command to preserve life seems much more important here
than the preservation of criminals.
Capital punishment is never used legitimately in the New Testament.
Jesus’ constant preaching of love and forgiveness shows his contempt for the
harming of others. One example of love is found in John 15:17 This is my
command: Love each other. An example of forgiveness is Matthew 6:14 For if
you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also
Jesus practiced what he preached by not condemning guilty persons. In
John 8:1-11, Jesus did not let the people stone a woman that is caught in
adultery. Jesus is known for giving people second chances. Opponents of the
death penalty think that everyone should learn from Jesus and give others a
second chance, because the execution of a criminal cannot be justified by the
good which their death may do for the rest of society.
As stated before, capital punishment was commanded by God of the people
in the Old Testament. Exodus 21:14 states that if a man schemes and kills
another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
Levitical 24:17 and 24b essentially say the same thing to the effect that
whoever kills a man must be put to death. And lastly, Exodus 21:23 commands
that if there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life.
Genesis 9:5b-6 is the simplest statement mandating society to punish
their fellow beings for murder3: And from each man, too, I will demand an
accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by
man shall his blood be shed for in the image of God has God made man.
Advocates stress that these verses are not a suggestion, but instead a command
that is not to be questioned – God demands, therfore, one should obey. The
murderer must suffer for his actions because murder is denying the image of God
in the harmed individual. To murder a man is equivalent to murdering God since
man is created by him and in his image. The murderer, thus, did violence to God
Jesus, in a sense, rewrites the Old Testament by his lesson found in
“You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye,
and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an
Evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn him the other also. And if someone wants to sue
you and take you tunic, let him have you cloak as well.
If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two
miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn
away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
“You have heard that it was said, `Love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These are commands, set forth by Jesus, to be taken literally and obeyed.
Again, M. Margaret Falls argues against capital punishment. She
believes that man must value in each individual his distinctively human capacity
for moral understanding – the ability to assess situations rationally, to make
judgments. She thinks that by isolating the criminal from the community,
society makes it clear that the person’s behavior will not be tolerated and
insists that the wrong doer assess his action. Punishment of this kind
demonstrates a respect for the individual.4Incarceration and rehabilitation
are also two