Question:

Dear Minister,

I read today in an article on your site that you approve of capital punishment. It is my opinion that capital punishment and the biblical teaching of loving and forgiving one's enemies are not compatible. I am, however, willing to change my views upon sufficient evidence from the Bible.

Kindly explain further. Should a Christian support capital punishment? Also, if it's right to do so, then can one also work as an executioner in all clear conscience? What about the cases of wrongly convicted persons? Also, what if the guilty party refuses to repent, should they be sent to hell; yet, they may have repented had they had more time?


Answer:

The difficulty I have with your opinion is that it ultimately leads to a conclusion that the Bible contradicts itself.

The Bible claims to be the very words of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17). For this reason, it is not for man to decide what he thinks God meant to say, but to understand and accept what God has said. "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21).

Therefore, to say that one part of the Bible contradicts another would be saying it did not come from the one God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Any apparent contradiction is more reasonably understood as a misunderstanding on man's part. "Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: "That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged"" (Romans 3:4).

So let's see what God actually said about capital punishment.

When Noah got off the ark, God made a covenant with mankind and the world. One of the terms was: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:5-6). Your points all focused on sympathy for the killer, but where is the respect and honor for the person who was killed? God said that we should respect the life that He gave us, so that when a person decides to take another person's life, that he forfeits his own.

When we get to the law of Moses, we find over thirty categories of crimes that carried a death penalty. In addition to purposeful murder the following all carried a death penalty:

  • Striking a parent (Exodus 21:15)
  • Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
  • Witchcraft (Exodus 22:18)
  • Sabbath breaking (Exodus 31:14)
  • Adultery (Leviticus 20:10)
  • Incest (Leviticus 20:11)
  • Homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13)
  • Bestiality (Leviticus 20:15)
  • Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14)
  • Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25)

In the case of murder, God points out that the killing of a person pollutes the land. "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. Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel" (Numbers 35:33-34). Notice that to not enforce the death penalty in a purposeful murder case resulted in the ruin of the country.

These weren't individual decisions. Cases had to be tried in courts and the death penalty could not be enforced unless there were at least two independent witnesses to the crime. When a death penalty was sentenced, then the witnesses were required to be the first to throw stones that would eventually result in the person's death.

In the New Testament, this requirement that it has to be tried in courts (by the government) is further enforced by this statement: "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil" (Romans 13:1-4). Swords are clearly instruments of death. Governments have the authority from God to carry out death penalties to punish evil.

Therefore, Christians must support capital punishment because it is what God commanded. Not everyone is able to work every job. Many people would not enjoy being an executioner for a government, but there is nothing wrong with the people who do decide to take on this task.

Making sure that only the truly guilty are executed is the responsibility of the government. I'm sure mistakes have been made -- people are people after all. However, infrequent mistakes is not an excuse to consistently disobey God's command. We should work hard to make sure mistakes are not made while doing what is necessary to uphold justice for the victims.

Whether someone killed because of a capital offense is sent to hell is a decision of God, not you or I. We are not in any position to tell God what to do. "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" (Romans 11:34). God has clearly stated that murderers along with many other sins will be eternally punished. "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelations 21:8).

The argument that perhaps given infinite time, a person might repent is an empty one. Frequently in the news a mass murder is killed in the midst of a rampage. Such death is warranted because it prevents the death of additional innocent victims. It is foolish to say that the person killing the murderer should not do so because he is taking away the murderer's opportunity to repent. Again, what is being done is claiming that the murderer's life is more valuable than his victims. I do hope all sinners repent of their sins, but the simple fact is that life is not eternal and no one is guaranteed to live another moment. The time to repent is now and if a person doesn't use the opportunities that he has, then his neglect is his own responsibility.

Jeffrey,

Thank you for the thorough explanation given. It does prove, I admit, that God does approve of capital punishment in the case of willful murder.

Regards