Some Christians are for and some are against capital punishment. However what does the Bible have to say about it?

  • 7
    You mean besides all the commands to carry it out? – The Preacher Aug 31 '11 at 2:21
  • 2
    @The Preacher - I'm keen to know where these commands are and how we are to interpret them. – Tom Duckering Aug 31 '11 at 8:34
  • I'm afraid this question is both too broad and against current site guidelines. Ref. "Biblical basis" vs "what the Bible says about a subject" – fгedsbend Mar 4 '15 at 20:04
  • @fredsbend - sorry, it's not clear, are you asking for it to be reworded? The meta ref would imply that changing it to be "What's the biblical basis for capital punishment?" would be acceptable. Besides putting it on hold after 3.5 years seems not to make much difference. – Tom Duckering Mar 5 '15 at 20:57
  • @TomDuckering Well, that would work. There's also presumably an argument against capital punishment. The site is a living thing. Hence, content is living and changes. – fгedsbend Mar 5 '15 at 21:19

There are a host of references to capital punishment in the Bible - the first of which is in Genesis shortly after the Flood in Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.

Christ did not condemn the Roman soldiers for executing the thieves who were crucified with Him.

Paul does not deny the government the right to execute him if he has done something worthy of death in Acts 25:11a:

"If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die"

Excluding specific commands regarding what was worthy of death to the nation of Israel under God's special covenant, it would seem that the Bible takes a neutral-to-positive view of the death penalty: the Noahic covenant was made with only 8 people on the planet - the forebears of all of modern humanity. As with Adamic covenants, since the it was made to the federal representative(s) of humanity, it still applies today - especially in light of the end of the covenant (Genesis 9:12ff):

God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations"

  • 1
    I would only add that Christians with a highly biblical worldview might support the notion of capital punishment in principle, but have varying views on the practical aspects of it. – Patrick Szalapski Aug 31 '11 at 2:36
  • 2
    Oh, I'd also mention that Genesis 9:6 seems to be the first case of God delegating his authority to an earthly government of men, which Paul explicitly explains further in Romans 13. – Patrick Szalapski Aug 31 '11 at 2:38
  • 1
    Genesis 9:12: "the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations" – Maksym Gontar Sep 23 '11 at 6:06
  • @Maximus - Genesis 9:12 has nothing to do with what God had said about shedding the blood of a man who had already shed another man's blood. That section (on life and blood) stops at verse 7. In the next verse (verse 8) a new section starts, in which God starts speaking about establishing His covenant, in which He promises that no flesh will ever be judged by the flood again. The words "for perpetual generations" refer to this covenant, they have nothing to do with the capital-punishment-related words in Gen. 9:6, which were spoken before God mentioned the covenant. – brilliant Jan 11 '12 at 18:22
  • 1
    For Paul, I would probably have mentioned Romans 13:4 ("For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.", NIV). The sword is a tool of capital punishment. (I had previous upvoted Patrick Szalapski mentioning Romans 13, but this specific verse seems especially relevant.) – Paul A. Clayton Aug 11 '14 at 23:02

In John 7:53-8:11, a crowd of men who are about to stone an adulteress to death, fulfilling the Law of Moses, are stopped when Jesus condemns them by asking for the one without sin to go ahead and cast the first stone.

Additionally, Matt. 7:1-2 states:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Also taking into account that New Testament teaches that the Law of Moses is no longer binding (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15), it seems very clear to me that the Bible opposes death penalty.

Edit 1: H3br3wHamm3r81 makes a good point that many biblical scholars question the authenticity of the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11). He gives more details in the answer to the question, Is it a sin or forbidden to follow any of the parts of the Law of Moses?.

  • 1
    Regarding the stoning of the adulteress: Jesus made the bold assertion that even looking at someone with lust is adultery. Perhaps Jesus was appealing to the fact that in some way, all of these men had likely committed adultery themselves in some fashion and thus were equally guilty as the woman. If so, I don't see this as specifically opposing the practice of capital punishment itself, but rather opposition to passing judgement upon someone - especially when the judging party is itself guilty of the same crime. – user3353 Nov 12 '12 at 10:15
  • I would only add that a good many scholars reject the authenticity of the "Pericope Adulterae." Therefore, I would not consider it as the basis of an argument. – user900 Nov 13 '12 at 18:56
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81: Thanks. I added the link to your elaboration of that point at the bottom of my question. – user1331 Nov 14 '12 at 18:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.