Capital Punishment and The Bible

By Roger Marshall*

Shall mortal man be more just than God?
Shall a man be more pure than his maker? (Job 4: 17).

The ongoing objections to capital punishment and calls for its abolition, coming from several influential quarters in this country and abroad, on the grounds that capital punishment is inhumane and a violation of human rights, raises a fundamental question: can human beings really be more humane than the creator of human life Himself?

It was God (not man) who instituted the death penalty for murder. Genesis chapter nine verses four to five reads: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

It should be noted that capital punishment for murder was ordained in the days of mankind’s ancient progenitor Noah (whose family, as we probably all know, repopulated the earth after the great flood) thousands of years before the unique Mosaic Covenant that was established specifically between God and the Jews. That covenant enunciated other sins that were dealt with as crimes for which the death penalty was also applicable. Those crimes included things such as kidnapping, cursing one’s father or mother, bestiality, idolatry, breaking the Sabbath, adultery, homosexuality, incest, blasphemy etc.

Some time ago during a “Down to Brass Tacks” radio programme the moderator, Mr. David Ellis, cited those other violations of Old Testament law and their accompanying death penalties apparently to lay a charge of inconsistency at the feet of those persons who persistently cite the Bible for the maintenance of capital punishment while on the other hand they ignore the other crimes that also carried that sentence under the Mosaic Covenant. He seemed to suggest that since such persons no longer demand the death penalty for those other Old Testament crimes then their demand for the death penalty for murder would appear to be unjustified. He also seemed to propose the notion held by some in Christendom that the Old Testament doctrine of capital punishment was nullified by the advent of the New Testament with its emphasis on “love and forgiveness.”

While Mr. Ellis’s line of argument may seem reasonable at first glance, the person who is willing to probe the Bible further will find that, although many of the peculiar ordinances of the Mosaic/Siniatic Covenant and their accompanying death penalties (if violated) were superseded by the advent of Jesus Christ (who ushered in the New Testament/Covenant through suffering the ultimate death penalty for all our sins), the universal judicial system of human governance ordained by God back in the days of Noah that included the death penalty for murder, is still applicable even under the New Testament/Covenant.

Jesus himself affirmed this fact when he told Peter (who almost killed a man involved in Jesus’ arrest): “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”(Matt.26: 52). In this statement Jesus was reaffirming God’s command in Exodus 21: 12 that says, this in itself was a reaffirmation of God’s command to Noah “…Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

The point is God never changed this ordinance. God ordained the death penalty for murder before the Mosaic Covenant, it was also a part of the much harsher Mosaic Covenant itself, and it is still applicable today even under the New Covenant of grace through Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reiterated this fact in Romans 13: 1-4.

It is interesting to note that in Judaism, while the Jews recognise themselves as the “people of the covenant”(i.e. the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants) they believe that non-Jews are accountable to God on the basis of the seven commandments given by God to Noah as recorded in Genesis chapter nine, one of which as noted before is the death penalty for murder.

Of course my own line of argument may seem like poppy cock to many in our secular Western world who do not adhere to the Biblical account of human origins but rather embrace the Darwinian/naturalistic evolutionary worldview (which sadly has also penetrated the Church). However, if life is just an accident without purpose and man is only an animal (as the naturalists say) involved in the age-old battle of survival of the fittest then no life (either that of the victim or the criminal) can truly be regarded as a “sacred thing”(as one opponent to capital punishment recently put it) so why the objections to the death penalty? Could it be that the godless philosophy of evolutionary naturalism has so impacted Western culture that even the law itself has now been geared to make sure that the fittest (in this case cold blooded murderers) do survive? That is something to think about.

We need to get back to the Biblical view of origins and purpose that informs us that man is not an animal but rather is created in the image of God. If this is truly the case then God ordained capital punishment for murder should not be abolished.

*Roger Marshall is executive director of Project PROBE Ministries a Barbadian Christian apologetics organisation.