Christianity and the Death Penalty?

The death penalty is a popular topic today as well as a politically heated debate. There are two arguments for the death penalty, those who are for the death penalty and those who are opposed to the death penalty.

Believers are divided on this ethical topic as some believe the death penalty is permitted; whereas others believe it is never permitted. There are weighty arguments on each side of the coin as each individual Christian has to make their own decision about the death penalty.

The Argument for the Death Penalty
There are multiple arguments in support of the death penalty; however, the most popular argument is “The death penalty is an effective deterrent.” In other words, the death penalty prevents the criminal from committing any future harm.

Right now, in 2021, the death penalty is legal in 27 states of America, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

All of the current criminals in limbo on death row have all been found guilty of murder. More specifically, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Death sentences may only be imposed for crimes in which a victim is killed, but state legislatures can determine what specific circumstances make a murder eligible for a death sentence.”

Thus, the death penalty is only enacted if murder was involved. In the past, the crime of rape would be found worthy of the death penalty; however, in the 21st century, rape is no longer seen as a crime deserving death. As of 2021, the only crime guilty of receiving the death penalty is murder.

Was the Death Penalty Used in the Bible?
The Old Testament does show evidence for capital punishment. The punishment of death was not only for murder (Exodus 21:12), but also for rape (Deuteronomy 22:24), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), and bestiality (Exodus 22:19). False prophets were also condemned to death.

That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Does this mean that when a believer sees any of these things occur, the criminal should be killed? Even though each of these crimes was punishable by death, God extended mercy to each individual as shown in the case of David.

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God did not order that David be killed. Instead, God showered David with mercy. David confessed his sin to God and expressed his need for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13).

Believers today should extend mercy and kindness just as God did to David; however, believers must also be aware that there are consequences for sin even though God forgives the sin. God is merciful, loving, and forgiving, but He is also righteous, holy, and perfect (1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:9). Sin cannot coexist with God as sin separates us from God.

The Argument Against the Death Penalty
As stated by the FIACAT Representation to the United Nations, “The death penalty does not respect the right to life.” In addition to this main reason, other arguments include that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, it is built upon a faulty governmental system, it does not truly protect society, and it does not give the opportunity for the criminal to repent.

Concerning the last reason, if a person is sentenced to death, they would never have time to accept Jesus into their lives. There are numerous ministries today focused on helping prisoners come to know Jesus across the world. Prison ministries emphasize forgiveness and redemption to the prisoners as all people can be saved.

A person is only given forgiveness because of placing faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even if a person’s past is filled with sin, God can still forgive them and redeem them. Nothing is too unforgivable for God if the person comes before God in genuine remorse. Paul was a persecutor of the faith, he strongly opposed the apostles’ message, and he was even a murderer.

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison (Acts 8:1-3).

In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul states, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

In the same way, God can redeem the lives of criminals, prisoners, and murderers today.

A Hard and Complicated Situation
Each Christian has to choose whether or not they believe in the death penalty. There are strong reasons for each side of the argument. In the Old Testament, there were times when the death penalty needed to be enacted and it was carried out.

Even though capital punishment is a reality in the present world today, believers need to approach the subject with wisdom. Galatians 6:6-7 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

God does not desire anyone to die; however, there are consequences for our sins. God can forgive any sin, but the government and authority figures have created their own human system for justice. It is fully possible for criminals, prisoners, and murderers to place faith in Jesus and receive forgiveness.

As Christians, we need to study the Bible and come to our own findings on the death penalty. Praying for God’s guidance, direction, and wisdom will help believers make good decisions for all areas of life, including taking a stance on the arguments of capital punishment. God promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).


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18 thoughts on “Christianity and the Death Penalty?

  1. A worthy article. I don’t understand the “death penalty gives no time for repentance” part, however. Most criminals on death row are there for long years and visited by many chaplains. Your other reasons pro and con are valid and your Biblical support is good. I believe in the death penalty but even justice cannot be served because almost always a guilty life is exchanged for the innocent one. Only Jesus’ innocent life could atone for another life. What love our Savior had that he gave his life for the sinner. I enjoy your thoughtful arguments when I have time to read them since they are generally a bit long. Puts me over into the heavy thinking which I somewhat avoid now days. 😀 Blessing dear for your work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do we have to wait for a murderer to kill many people before killing him or her? The aim of the death penalty to prevent a murderer from killing again, and to possibly deter others. To allow a murderer to kill again means failure of law enforcement! Those ones subsequently killed by him or her would still be alive if he/she had received the death penalty the first time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The assumption is that they’ve been caught, tried and found guilty for the first murder. They shouldn’t be released into society again to prevent further tragedy. God was the first person to institute capital punishment for murder, and the reasons he gave for that are still valid today. The Noahic covenant under which murder was made a capital punishment offence is still operational today, just like the Abrahamic covenant.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well they normally aren’t released back into society. They get life in prison. The Bible says a life for a life. I agree with that. Just have to sell that to a liberal blue state like the one I live in. And there is sometimes a case where the convicted person didn’t commit the crime.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t have a problem if a state or government decides to abolish the death penalty for sentimental reasons, just like they’ve redefined marriage to include same-sex unions. However, people being sentimental about capital punishment in established cases of murder does not make it immoral, for the highest moral being has given approval to it. Christians who defend the death penalty, where it’s operational, are simply aligning with God’s word.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Genesis 9:5 I will demand blood for life. I will demand the life of any animal that kills a person, and I will demand the life of anyone who takes another person’s life.

    Genesis 9:6 “Whoever kills a human being
    will be killed by a human being,
    because God made humans
    in his own image.

    Romans 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

    Romans 13:4 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.

    Revelation 13:10 He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The death penalty was instituted by God even before the Mosaic law for murder, and it remains binding to this day. There should be no sentiment about it as there should be no sentiment about enforcing any word of God. You and I can and should forgive a murderer but the law of the land (governments) should not not. God forgives sin but governments are to punish crimes, and God requires murderers to be punished with the death penalty. Whether or not it deters others from committing murder is immaterial. God can still forgive the murderer , if he repents, but God still orders for his execution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. I don’t think humans should feel ashamed for their compassion for the executed prisoner…but as Dennis Prager points out in his book “Genesis: The Rational Bible,” there’s a strong argument that executing the murderer is actually a greater display of compassion for humans and society in general. Not only to preserve the sanctity of human life, but to provide justice. Even if the surviving loved ones of the victim forgave the killer, what about the friends? Must everyone who remotely knew the victim sign off on forgiveness for the killer to escape capital punishment? if such precedence were to take place, then it’s possible that only the wealthy would be able to get away with murder by paying off people to sign off.

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  4. I worked as a Christian volunteer and clergy for 28 years, in maximum security prisons. Without repentance, we can forgive and should do so for the inmates. Our job was to build a safe place within the prison walls, whereby the inmates could meet to study the Bible for understanding and learn about God. For many, this was the first time they had ever been exposed to people coming out of the “free world,” to help them in their daily walk with Christ. As you may know, there are many negative groups in prisons, but for those we worked with, it was the safest place within the walls. I came to make many friends, some of which would one day be executed. The individuals asked very serous questions and were looking for very serious answers. For those who might one day make parole or be released, we worked with them on how to return to the world that they left behind, for it had changed. All of this was and still is done with Christ’s love. We never asked what they did or how long they were there, as it might put us in a position of judgment, and that seat does not belong to us. True love, “Agape Love,” is love that seeks the very best for others and not looking for anything in return. It is a free gift, which all of us in the free world have already been given. It is one thing to say that because they are in prison, that they cannot be forgiven; it is another thing to treat them as if they are forgiven even though they have committed a crime. Not all are convicted wrongly, as most will tell you they were convicted because of something they did. As Christians we are not to hold our Christian love from anyone. I could go on, but I hope this makes sense to you and others, for far too many times we find ourselves sitting in God’s judgment seat and this is nevere a good idea. Blessings.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed reading this. However, I might have somewhat of a different take on the matter being discussed. ( I believe ) the Church is a completely different place and, completely seperate from this world. As members of the Church ( born again believers ), we are ambassadors in this world and, in a great sense have no true say in how this world decides to carry out any part of its dealings with the citizen of this world.
    There was a time when here, in the United Stares of America we were blessed in that our government was based on the concepts of God’s word. That was a true blessing to the Church. However, we must remember the true focus of the mind and heart of Christ. That focus is to win as many people of this world to Christ as possible.
    When we publiclty alien ourselves with any issuse then we can become enemies of the people on the other side of the issue; creating a situation where our witness for Christ will not be heard. For instance: in the little town I live in a few years ago we voted on ( liquor by the drink ). That was a very hot issue. There were many Church members that took dogmatic stands against it. Even if the stand they took was correct; can you see how they shut to door to their ability to be a true witness for Jesus Christ?
    In my mind, the Church has a responsibility to goveren itself, to cause its own members to live up to the expectations of God the Father. We can count on the fact that as time moves foward; the world is going to become more and more corrupt. In that case, that means that the Church should become more and mord like Jesus Christ that we might be a light for him in this world
    In ( 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ) we see where the Apostle Paul tells the Church to pray for the ( destruction of the flesh ) that the soul might be saved.
    I believe we, as members of the body of Christ, we have forgotten our place in this world and, become to involved in this world. ( I believe ) we have fallen in love with the flesh and look at ( our flesh ) as more important that actually seeking to do God’s will as led by his Spirit.
    In the very next chapter ( 1 Corinthians 6 ) he makes the point that we, one day will judge the world, yet we can’t even make wise dicisions concerning our own people, expecting the world to do that for us.
    ( I believe ) we value our life and the lives of others fat to highly. We place our desire to live on this earth far above any will that God might have for our lives here.
    When does God see a life as worth living? The truth of the matter is; most people are already dead in his eyes; they are dead while they live. Our Churches needs to get back to the true search, the convicting power of ther Holy Spirit, ther only one that brings about true life in Christ.
    Far too often; we strain at knats, and swallow camels!
    Marshall Clayton
    2 Timothy 1:7

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am against the death penalty; Here in Virginia we finally convinced our leaders that the death penalty for murder was also murder. God is Love and we must respect that God also loves his children who commit crimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. I think the struggle we have is the brokenness of the system in handing down justice. And so I think before we can talk about the value (or not value) of capital punishment we FIRST need to talk about the disparity of INjustice that happens because of skin color, financial wealth, and other inequalities. I think we need to open up our minds and reflect on the fact that if we declare the value of “life” then we cannot just say “life matters” and yet only apply it to the unborn child. We have a broken system here in the States – and in my humble opinion we need to address THAT before we can address THIS. But in truth – it’s going to be broken until Christ returns…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great analysis. Even if the death penalty is morally just, we still have to ask whether it accomplishes justice in our setting. Right now, it’s more expensive to put someone to death, the lengthy appeals process eats up years or even decades of the courts’ time, and every time someone is put to death, there are protests and outpourings of public sympathy for a criminal convicted of horrible acts. What does that do to victims’ families and friends to not only have those old wounds opened, but to see people sympathizing with the criminal rather than their loved ones? Today, a death sentence carries with it years of public attention and sympathy, and that is not justice. The best way to keep the worst of criminals out of the public eye, prevent them from harming the public, and give victims’ families closure seems to me to be by putting them in prison for life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I spent 27 years in the Kairos Prison Ministry in Texas, working primarily in Maximum Security prisons. Our goal was to take the love of Jesus Christ inside the prisons and build Christian communities in the dark recesses. We spent three days working with the “brothers in while” to offer what the negative groups (the various gangs) did not offer, a positive place to meet and share Christ with each other. Then we would come back the next weekend for a follow-up, allowing the brothers in white the opportunity to lead the program on their own. From that point on, every volunteer would commit to coming back at least once a month, as we promise not to just spend a few days and them leave for 4 or 5 years. Many of us would come back every week, as they had to have at least two of us from the outside, in order to meet and share their walks with Christ that week. There are a few who changed their lives and made parole, and never returned, but we kept up with them as well, making sure they had a church family to take them in and help them get settled on the outside and had mentoring to keep them on their walk. On the issue at hand, the Bible is clear on the issue and though I have worked at the death house as a volunteer chaplain, and I have been with them as they neared death and made the walk with them. Still, they were guilty of the crime they committed and knew where they were going after death. They can and if repentant, should be forgiven, but this does not exonerate them of their actions. I have been with guys that were scary at first, but when they accepted Christ they were easy to be with and to hold them accountable for their actions each day inside the walls. I write letters to many of these men regularly, but know that they are there because of the violent offenses they admitted to me in confession. I don’t make the rules, but they know that I love them with the love of Jesus Christ, and that is all I can do. It is what all of us should do.

    Liked by 1 person

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