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Capital Punishment

Pastor Rick Rogers

Key Verse: Genesis 9:6


A.    In the Old Testament (not an exhaustive listing)

1.  Genesis 9:5-6 introduces capital punishment by the LORD God. Note

a.  The execution of the death penalty, 9:6a
b.  The explanation of the death penalty, 9:6b

Note that the life of man is to be protected, whether from animals (9:5a) or other men (9:5b). Life is a direct from God (2:7-9), was divinely imparted (2:7), and divinely maintained (2:9). The importance of the life of man, made in Gods image, emphasizes the importance of protecting that life! Some would argue that capital punishment for a murderer "cheapens" human dignity. In reality, it accentuates human dignity! When one person murders another, he is murdering one made in Gods image. Some would argue this is a form of "Deicide" along with "homicide." Life is so valuable, that if you dare break the command of God regarding the sanctity of life, your own life would be required. This is the essence of Gen. 9:6.

2.  Exodus 21:12-14 commands capital punishment for premeditated murder.

3.  Exodus 21:22-23 commands capital punishment for harming a pregnant woman or her unborn baby.

Note that there are other instances that God commanded capital punishment in the Scriptures, such as kidnapping (Exo. 21:16), adultery (Lev. 20:10), cursing father or mother (Lev. 21:17), offering human sacrifices (Lev. 20:2), rape (Deut. 22:23-27), and even rebellion in a son (Deut. 21:18-21) among many other examples. We would argue today that murder seems to be the crime which would demand capital punishment, and perhaps even in the Old Testament. Kaiser states, "Only for the first crime, premeditated murder, was there a ransom or a substitute payment unacceptable (Num. 35:31) but presumably all other capital crimes could be committed as the judges determined. The death penalty marks the seriousness of these errors."1 Though this may be arguable, there has been no documentation that any rebellious son was stoned in the ancient writings that have been found. David was not put to death for adultery (2 Sam. 11:4, though he certainly should have been for murder!), nor was Solomon for worshipping Molech, which likely included child sacrifices (Lev. 20:2, 1 Kings 11:7). Thus I would at least argue that not all of the capital crimes listed demanded death. The crime of "murder," the Heb. radzah, however, had no exceptions.

B.    In the New Testament

1.  Romans 13:3-5, which defines the purposes of government

a.  to protect the good,
b.  to punish evil-doers, v. 4 The bearing of the sword seems to validate that capital punishment was still the command. Though there are some that would argue that the sword is merely a symbol of authority, there is no scriptural warrant for that interpretation. He bears the sword for a purpose!

2.  Acts 25:10-11 teaches that:

a.  some crimes are worthy of death, v. 11
b.  the government has the right to issue the punishment, v. 10
c.  the guilty have no right to protest the death penalty, 11

3.  John 19:11, Jesus Christ illustrates that:

a.  He did not oppose capital punishment in His case
b.  He did not oppose capital punishment in His teaching
c.    He never said that the government has no right to exercise capital punishment


A.    Social Argument: "Capital punishment does not restrain crime."
Response: It does deter crime! It prevents the murderer from committing other crimes, and deters other criminals. Studies have shown that every execution of a convicted murderer deters 156 murderers.2

B.    Penal Argument: "Capital punishment does not rehabilitate the criminal."
Response: Capital punishment is not designed to be rehabilitative, but retributive. There is a difference between chastisement and justice.

C.    Moral Argument: "Capital punishment does not reflect love."
Response: God is not only love, but light, love, life, truth, and just. Love does not automatically dissolve wrong-doing. Love may be geared toward the greater good the people that will not be victimized by the perpetrator in the future.

D.    Pacifist Argument: "Capital punishment does not rectify evil. Two wrongs dont make a right."
Response: Governments are appointed to be Gods instruments of justice. Crime demands punishment at all levels. What God calls right we must not call wrong. And again, it is retributive, not corrective.

E.    Spiritual Argument: "Capital punishment could snatch sinners out of heaven before salvation. Our efforts should be on salvation, not condemnation."
Response: There is plenty of time for repentance between sentencing and execution. There is not proof that more time will cause man to be saved. A most important fact to remember GOD IS SOVEREIGN!!

Summary: Kaiser summarizes it well, "It was because humans are made in the image of God that capital punishment for first degree murder became a perpetual obligation. To kill a person was tantamount to killing God in effigy. That murderers life was owed to God, not to society "3

It is important to see that capital punishment for the crime of murder was commanded in Genesis 9, is practiced in the Old Testament, maintained in the New Testament, and was never rescinded. Thus, it is still compelling! It is also important to note that all human life taking was not wrong e. g. besides capital punishment, wars may be justified (Gen. 14, Josh. 6), as is self defense (Exo. 22:2, Luke 22:36).

End Notes:
[1] Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 92.
[2] Study: Executions as a Deterrant, the Des Moines Tribune, Nov. 30, 1976.
[3] Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 91.  

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