The Death Penalty at the Heart of God

The death penalty is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

What Does the Bible Say About the Death Penalty? Since 2001, search engines like Google have typically ranked our BEL article as number one out of millions for the words: God death penalty. Since 2002, Justice Antonin Scalia's related article at First Things ranked in the top 10 for nearly a decade but never beat out this article which appears over at TheologyOnline.com.

Question: Do any New Testament personalities or books support execution?
Answer
: As shown directly in the verses below, Jesus, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, Revelation, and an angel all give strong support for the death penalty.

God and the Death PenaltyThose who oppose the death penalty on moral grounds often intimidate good people into shying away from support for execution. Many Christians claim society should forgive criminals and instruct them to "go and sin no more." Ideas have consequences and the popularity of this idea parallels a huge sustained crime epidemic...

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The death penalty was not a maximum penalty, nor was it optional. As the Lord said:

  • 'Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death... So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.' Num. 35:31-33

Did God change this law in the New Testament? Consider that Jesus supports the death penalty in Matthew and Mark, and so does John in Revelation, and Paul in Acts and Romans, as does the book of Hebrews.

Jesus Supports Capital Punishment

Jesus affirmed the Mosaic Law even to the keeping of the "least of these commandments" (Mat. 5:17-19). He blasted the Pharisees for giving their own ideas precedence over God's commands:

  • "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying... `He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say..." Mat. 15:3-4
  • "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men..." [Jesus] said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother; and 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say..." Mark 7:8-11

Jesus reaffirmed the capital statutes of God's law. Not only the murderer (Rev. 13:10; 1 Tim. 1:8-9; Rom. 13:4), but even the one who curses a parent must be put to death (Ex. 21:17 and Lev. 20:9) just as God commanded. God's commands to execute the one who strikes or curses a parent are the death penalty statutes that liberal Christians are the most embarrassed over. However, Christ was not at all embarrassed over His Fathers commands. Jesus repeated these commands without caveat or reservation.

Laying aside the commands of God has its consequences. In America, murder has become the number one cause of death among young black males, and suicide is the number three cause of death among all teenagers. There is a death penalty when children disrespect their parents. If Jesus' telling of God's command is ignored, countless children will die terrible deaths at the hands of other children and by their own hands. On the other hand, if God's command were enforced, rather than ridiculed, the shedding of innocent blood would virtually disappear in our land. God's wisdom would save thousands of children. man's wisdom destroys them.

While Jesus was on the cross the Romans inflicted the death penalty on the two criminals2 next to Him. Christ said nothing in their defense, or against their crucifixions. One of those two mocked Christ. In response, the other criminal (whom Jesus would immediately declare righteous, Luke 23:43) said of their punishments, "we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). What did this forgiven criminal, this newly justified man, say about the death penalty? Bottom line: the criminals were getting their just punishment. The dying criminal knew the truth, as he said, "we indeed" are "justly" punished.

Paul Supports Capital Punishment

The Apostle Paul did not object to the death penalty. He knew his rights as a Roman citizen and defended them. Yet while on trial, he volunteered the following endorsement of capital punishment to Porcius Festus, Governor in Caesarea:

  • "For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar." Acts 25:11
  • Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!" Acts 25:12

Vengeance is inherently good. God said, "Vengeance is Mine." Individuals, however, are not to avenge themselves, but are to allow God to avenge in His way:

  • Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Rom. 12:19 (see also Lev. 19:18)

While Paul instructs people not to seek their own revenge, but to "give place to wrath." Paul then explains that the proper channel for wrath is the "governing authorities." The government is the "place" for wrath and vengeance:

  • Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities... For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Rom. 13:1, 3

Godly rulers are a terror to evil doers. Note that God's two witnesses in Revelation "tormented those who dwell on the earth" (Rev. 11:10).
God through Paul specifically commands earthly governments to execute criminals with the sword:

  • For [the governing authority] is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Rom. 13:4

A sword is not used for scourging but for killing.

Paul instructs believers to "not avenge" themselves, "but rather give place to wrath." Governments are the place for wrath for they are "God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath." Individuals have one role, governments have another. Individuals do not avenge themselves, the government does. Believers forgive3, governments execute. So, if the governing authorities are to obey God, they must not bear the sword in vain but execute wrath on the criminal, for they are God's minister to avenge and bring terror on him who practices evil. Thus God commanded execution in large part to meet out vengeance against capital criminals.

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Today's Resource: Check out the Government Department at our KGOV store or just call 1-888-8Enyart (836-9278). You just migh love our classic God's Criminal Justice System seminar and our videos, God and the Death Penalty, Live from Las Vegas, and Bob on Drugs. And then there's our powerhouse Focus on the Strategy trilogy on how to fix America's failed Christian political strategy.

* 1020 A.D. Proclamation: Separately, this post-show update gives a glimpse into the middle ages. From Wikipedia:

From King Cnut the Great to his earl Thorkell the Tall and the English people.

OriginalTranslation
¶ Cnut cyning gret his arcebiscopas and his leod-biscopas and Þurcyl eorl and ealle his eorlas and ealne his þeodscype, twelfhynde and twyhynde, gehadode and læwede, on Englalande freondlice.¶ Cnut, king, greets his archbishops and his lede'(people's)'-bishops and Thorkell, earl, and all his earls and all his peopleship, greater (having a 1200 shilling weregild) and lesser (200 shilling weregild), hooded(ordained to priesthood) and lewd(lay), in England friendly.
And ic cyðe eow, þæt ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende to godes gerihtum and to rihtre woroldlage.And I kithe(make known/couth to) you, that I will be [a] hold(civilised) lord and unswiking(uncheating) to God's rights(laws) and to [the] rights(laws) worldly.