On what basis can we decide whether captial punishment is good or bad? Our best legal minds differ. In the present discussion each person becomes his own standard. But there is a higher authority in matters of right and wrong. The Bible can help us to reach a conclusion based on principles rather than mere opinion.


Long ago God expressed His will in this matter: "Whosoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:6). Respect for life requires that life be required for life. We live in a society that does not respect life. It is possible to commit murder and remain in prison for only a few years. Armed robbery may carry an equal, or greater, sentence. Consequently, the criminal will frequently murder any witnesses in order to increase his chances of escape. This is a terrible miscarriage of justice as well as the ultimate disrespect for life. Yet we see endless pleas made in behalf of the murderer based on the misguided notion that the death penalty shows disregard for life and represents cruel and unusual punishment.


God gave a law through Moses to the Israelites. It was a strict, but balanced, system which held life in great reverence. So esteemed are its concepts that much of our legal system in the past has been influenced by it. But in recent years our courts have been influenced by those who consider themselves more enlightened.

Although God did not intend that we live under the law of Moses, it does reveal to us the mind of God in the matter of the death penalty.


The law given through Moses to the Israelites includes the command, "You shall not kill" (Exodus 20:13). The word translated "kill" means "murder." The law of Moses prohibited murder and authorized the civil authorities to take the life of the murderer (Leviticus 24:17).

It should be noted that the law of Moses contained several safeguards to protect against injustice. Perjury was not taken lightly. One of the ten commandments forbad the bearing of false witness (Exodus 20:16). Also, the accused must have been observed in the act by two or more witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). The death penalty was not invoked in instances of circumstantial evidence. These principles preserved justice with respect for life for fifteen hundred years among those who kept the law of Moses.


It is widely believed that the law of Moses was a vengeful law. The statement, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24) is often misunderstood. It did not justify vengeance. It prohibited vengeance by protecting the accused from receiving punishment worse than the crime. For example: If a neighbor knocked out your tooth, the law prohibited you from burning his house.


The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44 does not suggest that forgiveness would prohibit the death penalty. Jesus was teaching concerning the abuse of the law of Moses by those who added the instruction to hate. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. (The religious teachers had added, "and hate your enemy.") But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." The instruction of Jesus is a correction of a false teaching. It does not conflict with the use of the death penalty when justly used by civil government.

The followers of Jesus realize that murder is wrong and look to civil government to punish the murderer. "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." (Romans 13:1-4) This results in an orderly society by putting fear into the heart of the one who has no respect for life.

The apostle Paul knew the mind of Christ. He said, while making his own defense, "If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die..." (Acts 25:11). This apostle of Jesus did not protest the death penalty. He accepted it as just in instances where crime justified death. Jesus warned that civil government would take the life of the murderer when He said, "Put your sword back unto its place; for all who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).


The death penalty is a deterrent because a murderer put to death will never murder again. Some convicted murderers repeat their heinous crimes again and again while in prison serving life sentences. Others escape from prison and murder again before they are apprehended.


A society cannot long endure without respect for life. If crime is allowed to increase unchecked, it will unravel the very fabric of our society. Even a brief look at history will demonstrate this. Will we fail to learn the lessons of history? If so, we are doomed to repeat them.  Go to Index.

Published 1983 by Robert L. Schales. This data file may be copied for personal use only. All copies must contain this notice. This file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, nor included in products for sale. 

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