What is your position on the death penalty?


We find in the ninth chapter of the book of Genesis that, following the great flood by which God wiped out all existing mankind, save Noah and his family, God made a covenant with Noah. In that covenant, God emphasized the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 9:5-6 reads: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning… from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”

Later, after God had brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, He instructed the leaders of the nation of Israel that capital punishment was to be carried out for a variety of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, adultery and rape (Exodus 21:12, 16, and Deuteronomy 22:13-27). Moses was also commanded to put to death anyone who cursed their father or mother (Leviticus 20:9).

God’s people in New Testament times acknowledged the authority of civil governments to carry out the death penalty. In Acts 25:11, Paul at his trial before Festus gave recognition to the death penalty when he said: “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying….”

Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-5: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 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. 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. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

1 Peter 2:13 also emphasizes: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”

Christ Himself acknowledged that Pilate’s authority to crucify and to release Him was “given” him “from above” (John 19:11)–but He also stressed that Pilate’s actions towards Him were a miscarriage of divine and even human justice. Once again this shows that God has given permission to human rulers to carry out capital punishment, but since God is not ruling this world, there is no guarantee that the execution of those convicted of crimes is fair and just and in accordance with God’s and even man’s laws.

Man is not born with spiritual discernment, and therefore, errors in judgment can, and have been made, and guilt wrongly established. In theory, modern justice is carried out under the premise that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and in many jurisdictions, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she committed the offense. If there is reasonable doubt, the person must be acquitted. In practice, due to news coverage ahead of a trial and because of other factors, the accused is oftentimes presumed guilty and is called upon to prove his innocence.

Capital punishment in the United Kingdom was abandoned in 1998, the last hanging taking place in 1964, prior to capital punishment being abolished for murder in 1969. There were several unsuccessful attempts to reinstate capital punishment for killing police officers. Capital punishment in America is still somewhat active in a number of States, although some have repealed the death penalty. In other countries the execution of criminals by their governments is still much in effect including beheadings, firing squads, stoning and hanging.

Even though God permits civil rulers to execute convicted criminals, this does not mean that the true Church of God should get involved in the political debate of the pros and cons of capital punishment. Regarding the woman caught in the act of adultery–a capital sin under God’s law, and for which Moses had been commanded by God that both the adulterer and the adulteress should be stoned (John 8:5; Leviticus 20:10)–Christ refused to condemn the woman. Although not condoning the sin, He recognized the hypocrisy of those who demanded the death penalty (for instance, they only presented the woman caught in the very act of adultery, but not the man), but He advised the woman “to sin no more,” and the woman’s life was spared (John 8:10-11).

Even in Old Testament times, judicial safeguards were built into God’s law to provide for the rights of the accused in order to prevent injustices, i.e. guilt had to be firmly established; circumstantial evidence was not sufficient, and at least two witnesses were required to establish guilt. False witnesses were themselves subject to death. Difficult cases could be sent, on appeal, for judicial review. Once rightly convicted, however–and since the nation of Israel was at that time a theocracy, God would see to it that no innocent person would be wrongly convicted—the death penalty was mandatory, and it was swift and sure. By contrast, today’s punishment in a number of cases is slow and unsure and often subject to long-winded and sometimes even mandatory appeals. In these cases the administration of justice is seen to be lax, ineffective and devoid of what victims perceive as adequate justice and appropriate sentences.

Eventually, following Christ’s Return, the administration of justice, including capital punishment, will be rendered by God’s saints as Kings, Priests and Judges. It will be meted out fairly and equitably.

In the meantime, God’s Church is to have no part in administering man’s “justice” and the death penalty, and Church members are not to serve as judges or jurors. The following quote is from a position paper by the Global Church of God in a special edition, dated February 1999: “…if the State is not fulfilling its obligations, it is not up to the individual to take to himself the State’s authority which was conferred by God Himself. It is not for the individual to ‘execute wrath on him who practices evil.’ For Christians this is even more so as we are not to be the ruling executives, legislators or judges of the civil government. Paul explained this in 2 Corinthians 3. Though the administration of ‘the letter’ which kills (v6) is from God—and a civil authority that administers it is even ‘God’s minister’ of this particular function (Romans 13:4)—true Christians are to administer only ‘life’ through the administration of the Spirit.”

Lead Writers: Bill Koeneke and Norbert Link

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