How can a government execute the death penalty when we are told not to take vengeance?


Hello Jeffrey,

I have a question about the practice of capital punishment. I was having a discussion with my mom about the matter and we came to the understanding that capital punishment is not lawful in God's eyes. What confused me was in verse 4 it says "he does not bear the sword in vain;" however, I'm not sure if this would necessarily constitute capital punishment.

In the last verse of Romans 12, it says "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." If the government established is a nation that goes contrary to God's laws, then that government is not instituted by God since they are not abiding by God's laws.

In Romans 12:19-21 God states "Vengeance is mine, I will repay;" therefore, a man cannot judge or condemn a person to death because he has no right to. I understand that it was done in the Old Testament but under no circumstances can a man decide to take a person's life such as in capital punishment.

Say a man was given the death penalty. That man can decide to repent of his sins and ask for forgiveness and he will receive it. In this circumstance, the government does not care if he repented and executes the penalty anyways. As with God, if this person truly repented and received Christ, then this person shall be saved. God always has the final word and not man. I hope I wrote this clear enough.


Quoting Jewish tradition, Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'" (Matthew 5:38). The mistake that the Jews had made was quoting a law that dealt with how a judge in a court case decided sentencing to a criminal and applied it to the individual. It doesn't work because in court the judge is supposed to be impartial to the case. An person who was wronged is very partial.

You did the opposite. You took a passage addressed to individuals (Romans 12:17-21) and tried applying it to a government. People are not to take personal vengeance. They must leave the righting of wrongs to God. But what you are overlooking is that one way God takes vengeance on wrong doers is through the governments that He established. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. ... For he 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" (Romans 13:1-2, 4). Notice that this passage immediately follows the statement about God handles vengeance of wrong. Swords are used for killing; therefore, governments have the God-given right to execute the evil.

Governments do not take their own vengeance, they are merely enforcing the authority granted to them by God. Albert Barnes once wrote, "When a magistrate inflicts punishment on the guilty, it is to be regarded as the act of God taking vengeance on him; and on this principle alone is it right for a judge to condemn a man to death. It is not because one man has by nature the right over the life of another, or because society has any right collectively which it does not as individuals; but because God gave life, and because He has chosen to take it away when a crime is committed, by the appointment of magistrates, and not by coming forth Himself visibly to execute the laws." It is God who told mankind, "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). Pay careful attention to this command. Man is required to execute the judgment of God against a man who has committed murder. This is a part of the covenant God made with the world after the flood -- the covenant attested to by the rainbows in our skies.

This does not mean that individuals cannot judge or make a decision that what someone has done is wrong. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). What they are not allowed to do is get back at someone who has wrong them. "Repay no one evil for evil" (Romans 12:17).

It is true that some governments are evil. After all, the government in control at the time Paul wrote was the Roman government which was corrupt and persecuted Christians. Yet, that government was allowed to function, even though evil, because God had a long term purpose in mind. "By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth" (Proverbs 8:15-16). There are times when God allows a bad ruler to take control of a country to punish that country. But even in its corruption the Roman government still kept a measure of law and order in its borders.

When a government is evil, we are commanded to not follow it into evil. But at the same time, where its laws are not against God's, we are commanded to still follow the government.

If a government wrongly kills a man, God still knows. "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them"" (Revelation 14:13). From a Christian's viewpoint, being wrongly killed only means going home early.