by Richard Mansel, assistant editor
The Greek word for “sword” in Romans 13:4 refers to the “sword worn by the superior magistrates of the provinces, to whom belonged the right of capital punishment.”/1
When the flood destroyed all of humanity, save Noah and his family, the remnants of humankind exited the ark and received instruction for how they were to live. God presents a principle that turns our minds back to Genesis 1:26-27, where God made humankind in his own image.
God tells Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6, NKJV).
We never stop being made in the image of God and Jehovah never stops valuing human life. This universal principle stated in Genesis 9:6 is of vital importance when we study capital punishment in the New Testament./2
“It is a fact that in no other instance of biblical jurisprudence is there a penalty inflicted giving for its reason that man is created in the image of God.”/3
The Ten Commandments say, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The King James Version says, “kill,” and many people have been confused because of this translation. However, the word means murder, not simply killing.
In the Old Testament, God enumerated twelve crimes punishable by death./3 However, today, we no longer live under the Old Testament (Hebrews 8-9). Therefore, the various crimes punishable by death under the old system no longer apply.
People mock proponents of capital punishment today with the fact that rebellious children were stoned to death in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Their ignorance of covenants damages their ability to see the truth of Scripture. Before the Law of Moses was given by God, Genesis 9:6 had already spoken clearly about capital punishment for murder.
When faced with capital punishment, Paul said, “”For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11).
Capital punishment is designed to deter crime and protect the innocent and lawful citizen. Civil authorities are to keep the criminals from the innocent or civilization crumbles. Anarchy is the result of a lack of law and order. It will not prevent all murders, because of the nature of sinful hearts. However, deterrence reduces the number of murders by bringing “terror” into the hearts of men (1 Timothy 1:8-10; Isaiah 26:9-10; Hebrews 12:3-11; Proverbs 19:19).
In the absence of swift justice, we see a general decline in respect for the law in our society. Accordingly, the innocent suffer.
“Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life. And it is this same atrophy of moral fibre [sic] that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation if that sanctity merits.” /5
2/ The methods, racial disparities and all of the issues related to how capital punishment is practiced in the United States is outside of the scope of this brief article.
3/ Paul T. Butler, What the Bible Says About Civil Government (Joplin: College Press, 1990), 181.
4/ J.K. Grider and G.L. Knapp, “Punish,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:1052-1053.
5/ Butler, 185.