For a more extensive analysis of Romans 13, which I will be covering today, I recommend you read older posts which can be found HERE and HERE. In todays blog post I am going to cover the topic of Capital Punishment. To do that, I am going to ask and answer the following question:
Does the Bible teach that it is permissible for Human Government to enforce civil law with the death penalty?
Though this issue is hotly debated in western society today, Biblically it’s really not that complicated at all. The Bible is very clear here and won’t take long to present. I anticipate this blog post will actually be kinda short.
The first verse that I want to bring up is a command in the book of Genesis given from God to Noah. At the time it was issued to him Noah was everything that passed for a government on planet Earth. Among other things, this is what we see:
Well, that’s pretty straight-forward, not only did God command Noah to enforce a death penalty, but he also made it clear that mankind is supposed to enact this punishment upon itself. The only reason specifically cited here is homicide, but as I understand it, the way law was written in ancient Judaism was as general principles rather than a list of every possible scenario.
Something worth pointing out is that chronologically this law was given before Moses. Thus it would not work to assert that it has since been abrogated like the Old Covenant has been. While compelling this point isn’t necessary though as the New Covenant also teaches the need for a death penalty.
There are some pretty obvious conclusions one can rightly come to from the above text. First of all, unless you’re going to assert that the sword in verse 4 is for back scratching then the death penalty is certainly on the table. Second, notice that the individual and the government are not regarded as the same. Each have a different purpose in creation. One of the purposes of Governments is to bear this sword and we are commanded in scripture to submit to that. Notice this other statement in the text:
“For he is the minister of God to thee for good”
Scripture is not condemning the use of the sword but is instead calling it a good thing. There is no getting around this, the death penalty is totally Biblical. It is my assessment that this answers my above question in the affirmative.
Things that I would say are more open for debate is when and how the sword should be used by government. There are Biblical principles that certainly apply here and can be of use to Civil leaders but the scripture doesn’t box them in.
Wait! Wait! Wait!…. Doesn’t Matthew teach that we are to turn the other cheek?
Yes the Bible does say that we are to turn the other cheek that’s totally true. What does that mean though? First of all go and read it for yourself HERE, there is no civil context whatsoever. Secondly, would you call the police because someone slapped your cheek? Really??
The scripture here is talking about disrespect and insults not about homicide. Maybe it is our first world frailties that blind us to this all so often but the fact is that nothing in this chapter or those around it are teaching about the role or authority of Government.
I would say that according to scripture the government can and should enforce the law with the death penalty. Which laws are to receive that level of punishment is more open to debate, but I would start with Genesis 9:6 and confess that murder is certainly worthy of the death penalty. I would not support it though for speeding or failing to return a Library Book.
My final remark is this, when the Government fails to enforce the death penalty it is not the Church’s fault. This shouldn’t trouble our consciences in the slightest. It is the governments job and it is her that must answer to Christ in this respect.