Part of the covenant God gave to Noah was the institution of capital punishment (the death penalty) as the penalty for murder. This provision is in harmony with the Biblical concept of the Sanctity of Human Life–life is sacred. Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man. The reason God specified the death penalty for murder is that man is created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27). Since the death penalty is an issue in our society, it's worthwhile for us to consider the arguments for and against it in light of God's word.
We'll see that capital punishment is God's idea, but it is not being applied appropriately. It's the teach ing position of Heritage Bible Radio that capital punish ment is proper, but that in its current use in the United States of America, it needs considerable reform in its application in order to be like what God commanded.
Arguments Against The Death Penalty
1. Capital punishment is inhumane, unloving and vengeful. The spirit of love and forgiveness should prevail rather than the idea of punishment. Jesus said we should not resist him who is evil (Matthew 5:39) and that we should love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). The reasoning is that it's better to forgive an offender and help him through rehabilitation and therapy.
We respond by pointing out that the two passages cited have nothing to do with civil penalties for crime. In that context Jesus was addressing the issue of per sonal revenge.
2. Capital punishment does not deter crime. A study done of the years 1949-1958 in the United States found that capital punishment increased during those ten years, and so did the percent age of repeaters of serious crimes. The study concluded that punishment of crime is not a deterrent to crime.
We respond that the conclusion the study drew from the evidence is flawed. In the section below on arguments for capital punishment, you will see strong evidence that it is indeed a deterrent.
3. Capital punishment is expensive. Vast amounts of money are spent on appeals and on deciding if the offender is mentally ill or well enough to be re sponsible for the crime.
We respond that "mental illness" is never specified in God's word as an excuse for criminal behavior or for immunity from justice. In the Bible, even animals that kill people were to be killed. Beyond that, the cost of confinement, therapy and rehabilitation are even higher than the costs of the legal process surrounding the death penalty.
4. Capital punishment is distasteful for those who put the criminals to death. Many people regard capital punishment as revolting and barbaric. Some argue that it violates the sixth commandment ("you shall not kill").
We respond that the sixth commandment uses a Hebrew word which means "murder." The better translations indicate that understanding in Exodus 20:13. In the Bible, God prescribed three methods for capital punishment: stoning, the sword, and burning. Obviously God does not consider this a valid argument against the death penalty.
5. Capital punishment cheapens human life. It is not in accord with civilized living.
We respond that this reasoning is perfectly opposite the truth. It puts the highest possible premium on life to demand the highest possible penalty for taking a life. Capital punishment underscores the sanctity of human life.
6. Capital punishment should be abolished because of the possibility of executing an innocent person if the judicial decision is wrong. A miscarriage of justice could bring a horrible tragedy.
We respond by acknowledging the risk of a wrong decision. But it would be a systematic and rampant miscarriage of justice to tolerate murder and ignore God's law in the name of trying to prevent a possible occasional miscarriage of justice.
7. Capital punishment is inferior to a life sentence as a penalty. A life sentence protects society, is not irrevocable (as death is), and it allows for the possibility of a meaningful life for the criminal even if confined. Therefore capital punishment is (at best) a second best option.
We respond that this reasoning ignores two important things: The purpose of civil punishments is to punish and deter crime, not to provide a "meaningful life" for those who murder; God is the One who instituted capital punishment, so it is not our prerogative to second guess Him.
8. Capital punishment was only for the Old Testament era. The death penalty is not commanded in the New Testament.
We respond that it's true the New Testa ment does not specifically prescribe the death penalty. But it also does not modify what the Old Testament says about it, nor does it revoke what the Old Testament says. The New Testament does indeed support civil government using deadly force (Romans 13:4). Also, the New Testament contains an example of capital punishment enforced directly by God (Acts 5:1-10).
Arguments In Favor Of The Death Penalty
1. Scripture teaches capital punishment. God was the One who instituted it. To reject the death penalty is therefore to reject the authority of the word of God.
2. Capital punishment does deter crime. The only reason it can be argued that it does not deter crime is that it is not carried out appropriately. God's version of capital punishment is always exercised swiftly and visibly, so that people saw the horrors of the taking of a life.
Capital punishment does not deter all crime, but it obviously prevents the repetition of the most serious crimes. The Bible makes it clear that one of the reasons for dealing strongly with sin is to deter further sin. In Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, it says "And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things" (Acts 5:11). When people see thorough and quick justice, they recognize God is serious about obedience to His word.
Speaking about the death penalty being enforced against those who teach God's people to worship idols, Deuteronomy 13:11 says: "Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you." In three other cases in which God required the death penalty in Israel, He said: Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again (Deuteronomy 17:13), "And the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you (Deuteronomy 19:20), and Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear (Deuteronomy 21:21). If the death penalty does not deter crime, the problem is with man's implementation of the penalty, not with God's design of it.
3. Capital punishment protects society. Other lives are endangered when an unrepentant guilty person is allowed to go free. No one who has received the death penalty has ever victimized another person.
4. It can be argued that capital punishment is more humane. While this point does not prove whether it is Biblical or not, it is a matter which should be considered in our society's debate over the issue. A life sentence can be more awful than death. God's pattern of justice always involves swiftness and fair ness. Once a penalty has been paid, no further retribution is required. To prolong punishment for many years is cruel.
The problem with capital punishment in our society is not with the death penalty itself. The problem lies with man's mishandling of the standards revealed by God. When any form of punishment (even short of the death penalty) is not sure, swift and fair, it is a problem. Whenever we as Christians are involved in deciding justice, we should be on the side of the kind of justice God authors – that which is swift and appropriate.
We also acknowledge that some Christians of various doctrinal persuasions oppose the death penalty. We at Heritage Bible Radio do not regard one’s position on the death penalty as an issue of primary doctrine. Therefore your position on the death penalty is not an obstacle to our potential for fellowship.