Summary: The Death Penalty- What Does The Bible Say About It?
The Death Penalty - What does the Bible say about it?
This study of the Old and New Testaments is dedicated to those who feel in their heart that the death penalty cannot be right, yet feel confused by quotes from the Bible that are misused to justify and support it. May the reader of this article be open to the true direction and context of the scriptures on this life and death matter. The Apostle Peter warned that scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation. It was written in the Holy Spirit and can only be understood in that same Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Let’s first look at the quotations that are generally taken from the Old Testament to defend capital punishment. Some are very well known:
"For your life blood I will surely require a reckoning, of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." (Given to Noah after the flood)
"When men strive together and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and ... If any harm follows then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
"He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death... He who kills a man shall be put to death...When a man causes disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has disfigured a man so shall he be disfigured. You shall have one law for the sojourner and the native for I am the Lord your God."
"If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death....Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of the murderer, who is guilty of death; but he shall be put to death."
"Your eye shall not pity; it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
"But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of the city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge this evil from Israel."
"If a man is found stealing one of his brethren, the people of Israel, and treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you."
Now the first question to Christians should be how does all this relate to Jesus? In a certain way it would be enough for a Christian to say that Jesus taught a different way and that Jesus was given the authority by God to give us new teachings.
Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-20
"The Lord your God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brethren. Him you shall heed..."
"And the Lord said to me...I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he will speak in my name, I myself will require it of him."
"Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers...for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Many such quotes from Moses and the other prophets show that they knew old law would make way for something better. So what did Jesus teach on the topic of the death penalty?
Here is his teaching on the well known and often quoted "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" passages:
"You have heard that it was said ’and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also..."
This was spoken during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. God gave Moses his law on the top of a mountain. The Gospel writer Matthew felt it important to point out that these new teachings of Jesus came again from the top of a mountain.