Capital Punishment Within A Christian Worldview


God entrusted to fallible, fallen, unsaved humans the responsibility of exercising justice (Deut. 1:16-17). He established the principles by which humans were to judge justly:

  1. No favoritism or partiality (Lev. 19:15).
  2. No allegation may be accepted without a minimum of two witnesses (Deut. 17:6).
  3. When the appropriate number of witnesses are present, and the allegations are found to be true, the judges must pass an equitable sentence upon the criminal, i.e., the punishment is to be equal to the crime (Exod. 21:24-25; Lev. 24:19-21; Deut. 19:21).
  4. The judges are to be present when the punishment is meted out so that they are fully aware of the effects of the punishment (Deut. 25:1-3).
  5. The witnesses, in the case of capital punishment by stoning, are to be involved in carrying out the punishment (Deut. 17:3-6). This means that if witnesses have colluded and falsely accused someone, they become guilty of murder and, when discovered, will receive the same death penalty that they wrongly had inflicted upon another (Deut. 19:15-19).
  6. Execution by stoning was to be done publically with the participation of the public (Deut. 17:7). This reinforced the seriousness of the crime and served as a deterrent to future criminal activity.
  7. Prior to the establishment of the Mosaic Covenant and the creation of the nation of Israel, God established capital punishment as the appropriate sentence for intentional manslaughter in time of peace (Gen. 9:6)
  8. Within the context of the Israelite nation, God established that the following crimes were to be punished with the death penalty:
    1. Intentional manslaughter in time of peace (Lev. 24:21; Num. 35:30-33). The Numbers passage is important because God says no amount of money may be accepted as reparation for murder. Only by the blood of the murderer being shed can a land be purged from the guilt of murder.
    2. The owner of an animal that kills another man, if the owner knew the animal was likely to kill and did not take precaution to keep the animal away from people (Exod. 21:29). In this case, the owner may ransom his life with money if it is demanded of him (Exod. 21:30).
    3. Kidnappers (Exod. 21:16)
    4. Those involved in witchcraft (Exod. 22:18)
    5. Those who are involved in homosexual behavior (Lev. 20:13) or beastiality (Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16)
    6. If a man marries a woman and her mother, they are all to be burned with fire (Lev. 20:14)
    7. Whoever blasphemes God’s name (Lev. 24:16).
    8. Whoever curses his father or mother (Lev. 20:9) or strikes his father of mother (Exod. 21:15).
    9. Those who commit adultery (Lev. 20:10), including the rape of or consensual sex with an engaged woman.
    10. Those who commit incest (non-rape) are both killed (Lev. 20:11-12)
    11. A non-Levite who gets near the tabernacle during its setup (Num. 1:51).
    12. A prophet or dreamer of dreams who entices God’s people to serve other Gods (Deut. 13:3), as well as any person or group of persons who depart from God and serve other gods (Deut. 13:5ff)
    13. A stubborn, rebellious son who is a glutton and a drunkard (Deut 21:18-21). It appears that after a person was stoned to death, they were hung on a tree as a warning against committing such crime. They were allowed to hang only until sundown (Deut. 21:22).

Since God is always just, God’s establishment of capital punishment for the above crimes means that it is an appropriate (equitable) punishment for the seriousness of these crimes. If the death penalty seems too severe for these crimes, that tells us that we do not view these crimes the way God does. Since God specifies that certain crimes are to be punished by stoning, others by burning, and others by hanging, none of these forms of capital punishment should be regarded as inhumane or failing to reflect a godly compassion.

The fact that God imparted responsibility to exercise capital punishment to fallible, fallen, unsaved humans tells us that the possibility, even likelihood, of injustice being done, was not a sufficient cause from God’s perspective to forbid capital punishment. It should not, therefore, be a sufficient grounds for us to oppose it.

When we value human life more than God values it, we are idolaters because we are essentially saying we know the real value of things better than God does.

Since we are not part of the nation of Israel, we as individuals do not have the freedom to enact capital punishment. However, to the extent that we can influence the laws of our land, we should seek to influence our laws to punish as capital crimes those sins that God deems worthy of capital punishment.


Woman taken in adultery. Assuming that this story is actually part of the text (and there are serious questions about its authenticity), Jesus told the witnesses to stone her. He passed judgment that she was worthy of death. However, he also added a condition that exposed the hypocrisy of her accusers: “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus is not establishing a requirement that only those without sin can be involved in the judgment of others. If so, that would invalidate all forms of civil courts by non-Christians, but God said that those in authority in civil government are appointed by God (regardless of their personal spiritual status) and they do not “bear the sword in vain,” implying that they legitimately wield the sword (a tool of death) in the punishment of evil doers (Rom. 13:1-6).

1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Some of the Corinthians were formerly adulterers and homosexuals, but God washed, justified, and sanctified them. Does this show that God no longer considers these capital crimes? No. Rather it shows that these sins are not unforgiveable. Capital punishment in the OT did not preclude the possibility of repentance and forgiveness prior to being killed. Repentance, however, is not a reason to commute a death penalty for those who, according to God, deserve it. The reason the Corinthians weren’t killed for their adultery and homosexuality is because they were not living in Israel under God’s government. They were living under Roman law which did not reflect God’s perspective on these issues. We too live under laws which do not reflect God’s perspective on these issues, but as followers of Jesus, the one who gave the Mosaic Law to Israel, we must view all of life from His perspective.



Originally posted at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).