Christians go to great lengths to get the government to outlaw abortion--something that I personally would support. Though I see support from Christianity against abortion almost as unwavering, the support of death row inmates right to live seems to be a more contentious issue.

So my question is if Christianity holds human life to have intrinsic human value should this not apply to the death row inmate as well as the unborn baby?

  • Comments were heading off topic. Should be another question or head to chat.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 13:38
  • I know this is an aging question, but since it floated up for other reasons can we get a few tweaks on it so it is more clearly about extant Christianity rather than using "shouldn't we" as the main hook?
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 16:31
  • Related: What sort of Christians are proponents of just war?
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 16:33

4 Answers 4


While many Christians are against the death penalty, there is also biblical sanction for it. Genesis 9:6 commands the killing of those who commit murder-

He who sheds a man's blood, by man shall shall his blood be shed.

For many fundamentalists, such a clear case for the death penalty means that the death penalty should thus be supported.

The key question, however, is whether this is to Noah or for all time.

The Catholic Church in particular has done a great job of cultivating a "culture of life" within the church, and has thus found this scripture to be primarily about the sanctity of the life taken. Stances against abortion and euthanasia are harmonized with the death penalty, reflecting what Catholics declare us the nature of God- the creator and sustainer of life. Governments are thus authorized, but not compelled to take action. (And, in any case, the death penalty is usually restricted to certain kinds if murder now)

  • 2
    Not that the Catholic Church appears to have a whole lot of say over the morality that goes in to laws any more, but as far as I know the death penalty is only permissible in cases where it would be impossible to protect society from the person involved. I remember Sam Brownback quoted the Catechism on this pretty much verbatim when asked at a primary debate back in 2007, I thought that was pretty awesome.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 13:47
  • But what about when (I don't have the exact line of scripture memorized, but I assume you probably do) the bible (NT) says, "turn the other cheek," and "vengence is mine sayeth the Lord?" Also, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 16:52
  • 1
    @user1477388 In those verses God teaches how individuals should behave. This is not a teaching on how governments must operate. The difference is very significant.
    – Narnian
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 17:16
  • @Narnian I am not sure I understand the difference between individuals being forbidden to commit murder, but governments (which are comprised of individuals; i.e. Presidents, Cheifs of Staff, etc.) are allowed to commit murder? Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 17:56
  • 2
    Because God delegates his authority to governments to carry out actions for the civil order. Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 18:00

I suppose it is emphatic “no”. This is because we cannot bring moral equivalency between abortion and the death penalty. Both these issues are circumstantially different to each other. One is about an innocent baby’s life being taken in the womb and other a convicted murderer being executed. A baby in the womb has committed no crime.

It is inhuman not to protect the life of an innocent baby in the womb, and also it is necessary that the perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes should be executed. Being pro-life does not necessitate being anti-death in all circumstances. If one person murders another person, the just penalty is to end the life of the murderer. This actually upholds the value of life. Anyone who violates life in premeditated murder should be put to death – proclaiming clear support for the value of life.

It is entirely consistent to believe that the life of an innocent baby in the womb should be protected while believing that the perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes should be executed.

However, the death penalty should be, and in most cases is, employed only with the most evil of crimes. Some courts of law award this penalty in cases which are categorised as rarest of the rare.


God not only allows for the death penalty, but specifically prescribes it--and it is not because life is not sacred, but because it is.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6 ESV

Specifically, if someone murders another, his crime is so heinous that God declares he has forfeited his own life. The emphasis is on the sanctity of the life he took--not on the life of the taker. He has sinned against God in doing so, and it is God who requires the penalty be paid. It is important to note that this law precedes the Law of Moses and is thus not part of that covenant. It is, therefore, fully applicable today.

Secondly, in the law of Moses, God also prescribes the death penalty for rape. Again, it is such a heinous, horrible, despicable offense against the sanctity of the life of the woman, that God punishes the crime severely. It is, again, that God holds the life of the victim as sacred that He requires the forfeiture of the life of the perpetrator. This law is within the Law of Moses which was part of God's covenant with the Jews, so this could be seen as a pattern to follow rather than a prescription to institute in any nation.

Thus, there is no contradiction in supporting capital punishment while being against abortion. Both positions recognize the sanctity of life. The Pro-Life position recognizes that the life of the innocent child begins at conception and deems that no one has the right to end this life.

Capital Punishment recognizes the sanctity of the life of the victim and sees that taking the life of an innocent person is such a grave offense, that the highest of penalties is required. From a biblical perspective, rape could legitimately be seen as rising to the same level of gravity and requiring the same penalty.

As a note, the American justice system is set up on the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A minor offense is punished by a restriction of one's pursuit of happiness--some of their money is forfeited. A graver offense is punished by a restriction of one's liberty--they spend time behind bars, lose their driver's license, or something like that. The gravest offenses may be punished with the taking of the criminal's life.

So, there are inalienable rights with which each individual is endowed by God. However, a person may forfeit those rights to varying degrees.

Therefore, a Christian can justifiably be in favor of the death penalty because life is sacred.


In Romans 13:4, Paul says:

But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he [government] beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

The government is thinking of the good of its population when executing capital punishment. This is supported with statistics as well: About 71 lives are saved for the execution of every murderer during the year (I read this in a paper--the source was Kirchgässner, Gebhard. Econometric Estimates of Deterrence of the Death Penalty: Facts or Ideology?, p. 448).

Capital punishment actually saves lives--the way God intended.

  • 1
    Hi Peter, welcome to Christianity.SE. That's a very interesting idea, but it doesn't actually represent a Christian perspective. We look for doctrinal answers to questions here, whereas yours appears to be derived more from a political and economic perspective. As such, it's off-topic for Christianity.SE. Please have a look at our FAQ (there's a link at the top) to clarify what we look for in questions and answers here. Would you mind either editing your answer to present a doctrinal perspective of some sort or deleting it? Thanks, and again welcome to our community.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 22:39
  • Is that better? Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 22:52
  • That's an improvement, though it would be better still if you provided a chapter and verse, and preferably a link. (You can find multiple Bible editions online at www.biblegateway.com, for example. It's commonly used for citations here.)
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 22:57
  • 3
    I looked up the cited paper. It actually argues that the asserted figure (from a WSJ article) is not supported by the evidence. Moreover, the author acknowledges that even if it were true, there would still be substantial moral questions to answer.
    – James T
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 1:49

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