Is capital punishment biblical?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
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Christians who believe in capital punishment and those who do not both use the Bible to buttress their beliefs. So, what does the Bible really teach regarding capital punishment?

To begin with, it should be noted that in the very first book of the Bible God clearly communicates his position with respect to capital punishment: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). It is instructive to note that this passage not only predates the Mosaic Law, but it demands universal adherence to the sanctity of life.

Furthermore, in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19 the Bible reaffirms God’s perspective on capital punishment by underscoring the principle of “life for life.” To murder a person who is made in the image of God is not only to show contempt for the apex of God’s creation but also to show contempt for the Creator himself. Thus, while capital punishment may be reprehensible from a secular perspective, it is basic to a biblical worldview.

Finally, capital punishment is implicitly validated in the New Testament. Jesus acknowledged the legitimacy of capital punishment before Pilate (John 19:11), as did the apostle Paul before the Roman governor Festus (Acts 25:11). Not only so, but one of the thieves crucified with Christ had the candor to confess, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41). Moreover, Romans 13 implies that the failure of the governing authorities to apply the “sword”—the Roman symbol for capital punishment—exalts evil and eradicates equity.

In short, God instituted capital punishment in the earliest stages of human civilization before the Mosaic Law, and capital punishment is never abrogated by Jesus or the apostles. Thus, capital punishment appears to be an enduring moral principle undergirding the sanctity of life.

For further study,see Hank Hanegraaff “Karla Faye Tucker and Capital Punishment,” available from CRI at www.equip.org; See also J. Daryl Charles,“Sentiments as Social Justice:The Ethics of Capital Punishment,” CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, Spring/Summer 1994.


“And from each man too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Genesis 9:5–6

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