Rev. Thomas Tyree, Jr., Pastor, Grace Bible Church of Costa Mesa, California
Copyright © 1995-2014 Rev. Thomas Tyree, Jr., All Rights Reserved
Capital punishment is defined as the penalty of death for the commission of a crime. It is the maximum penalty under the laws of divine establishment. To be valid, the accused must be convicted by the laws of evidence of a capital crime where at least two witnesses must swear under oath that it did indeed happen. One witness is not enough for a conviction as in Numbers 35:30. When the evidence indicates that the crime was indeed committed by the accused, the criminal is executed. This form of punishment serves as a deterrent to those contemplating a similar act.
Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. (Numbers 35:30)
The doctrine of capital punishment is authorized by the Word of God. It has been authorized throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. Capital punishment started in the first dispensation of the Gentiles and applies in every dispensation of human history. It will even be practiced by Jesus Christ in the Millennium. Although there will be very little crime then, people with old sin natures will commit murder and so will be executed by a perfect judge.
Capital Punishment is a Legitimate Function of Government
The use of capital punishment by establishment authority gives man the right to try cases, determine guilt (not innocence), and punish the guilty including capital punishment for capital crime. In the Old Testament, Jesus Christ ruled and capital punishment was perfectly executed. Jesus Christ ruled with a form of government called a Theocracy where God is the absolute ruler.
The most fundamental principle of human government is the possession of a common law and a common language, but not necessarily a common race. Therefore, all trials should be conducted in that common language and be related to the laws of that land. In its simplest form, the divine institution of government demands a police officer on the corner, a judge on the bench, plus capital punishment to put teeth into the law.
Capital Punishment Provides an Orderly Society
The principle of law for orderly living is a Biblical principle. A lawless society is a degenerate society. Revenge and vigilantism cannot be allowed to continue without punishment. If a decadent government does not enforce capital punishment, crime will greatly increase in the nation, just as it has in the United States. If the nation does not control crime, then God administers capital punishment through permitting wars and violence of various types. God permits this because of the lack of law and order. This is an example of the permissive will of God in bringing punishment to a nation for failing to follow the Laws of Divine Establishment.
Capital Punishment Is Authorized by the Word of God
The New Testament
The New Testament background for capital punishment can be found in Romans 13:4-5. These verses tell us that God's authorization of capital punishment began in the dispensation of the Gentiles, applies in our dispensation of the Church Age, and will apply to every future dispensation.
For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)
The phrase to "do you good" means to stay inside the law, be civilized, pay your taxes, and fulfill your responsibility to government. This passage says to avoid civil disobedience. Avoid civil disobedience and unlawful violence, and you will be protected by the client nation, the laws of divine establishment, and by the plan of God for your life. The purpose of "good" is the protection of your freedom, privacy, property, and your life. "Wrong" here is civil disobedience, criminal activity, the use of violence to solve problems, and murder. "Punishment" is the sign of capital punishment. The "wrongdoer" refers to those who use unlawful violence such as criminals, terrorists, gangsters, warlords, mercenaries, paramilitary organizations, and religious fanatics.
In the New Testament, capital crimes include homicide, kidnapping, being a traitor to ones country, and being a false witness in a capital crime case. In Matthew 26:52, our Lord rebuked Peter for cutting off the police officer's ear. This means that criminals who kill must die by violence. This refers to unlawful uses of violence by criminals, by terrorists, by paramilitary organizations, by mercenaries, and by religious fanatics. Those who draw the sword will die by the sword, either through capital punishment or the inevitable result of God's law. Those who live by violence will die by violence.
"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)
The Old Testament
Capital punishment has been authorized from the time of the first murder to the present. Capital punishment is the only way crime can be controlled as indicated in Genesis 9:5-6. The phrase "Image of God" means you have a soul with a conscience, mentality, volition, norms and standards. This principle of capital punishment is an absolute truth, not a relative truth. This passage states the judicial modus operandi resulting in the establishment of guilt and the administration of capital punishment. Being created in the image of God means that man has a soul and is a rational creature. It means man has self-consciousness patterned after God's self-consciousness who said, "I am who I am" in Exodus 3:14. It means man has moral reasoning power to say, "I ought to do the right thing," and self determination to say, "I will do the right thing." So man is created in a pattern image of God, not in an exact image. All of these soul characteristics are violated by murder. Ignorance and insanity are no excuse before the law or before God. Volition is always the issue, not whether a person is sane or insane.
And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. (Genesis 9:5-6)
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14)
Leviticus 24:17 illustrates that if a man takes the life of another person, he is to be executed. Exodus 21:12 tells us that once a criminal is proven guilty by the authorized government, he must be executed.
"'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. (Leviticus 24:17)
"Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:12)
Old Testament Offenses Calling for Capital Punishment
Homicide or first degree murder was punishable by death in the Old Testament according to Numbers 35:16-18, Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:17, and Numbers 35:29-34.
If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. (Numbers 35:16-18)
Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. (Exodus 21:12-14)
If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. (Leviticus 24:17)
"'These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live. Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death. Do not accept a ransom for anyone who has fled to a city of refuge and so allow him to go back and live on his own land before the death of the high priest. Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.'" (Numbers 35:29-34)
False Witnessing in Capital Cases
If convicted of providing false testimony or lying under oath in a capital court case, the punishment was capital punishment according to Deuteronomy 19:16-21.
If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)
Idolatry is making a physical or material image or form an object of worship where the image or idol represents reality or is considered divine. In the Old Testament, idolatry was considered a capital offence. In Leviticus 20:1-5, idolatry involving child sacrifice was a capital offence. In Deuteronomy 13:2-18 and Deuteronomy 17:2-7, idolatry involved worship of other gods and false prophets that lead believers away from God.
The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech. (Leviticus 20:1-5)
and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt. None of those condemned things shall be found in your hands, so that the LORD will turn from his fierce anger; he will show you mercy, have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, because you obey the LORD your God, keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes. (Deuteronomy 13:2-18)
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)
Sexual Acts of Incest, Homosexuality, and Bestiality
Incest, homosexuality, and bestiality were all capital offenses in the Old Testament. God considered them to be perversions and destructive behavior for the nation of Israel as stated clearly in Exodus 22;19 and Leviticus 20:11-17.
"Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. (Exodus 22:19)
If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you. If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal. If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They must be cut off before the eyes of their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible. (Leviticus 20:11-17)
Abducting Persons for Slavery
Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. (Exodus 21:16)
If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 24:7)
Rape was also considered a capital offense in the Old Testament per Deuteronomy 22:23-27.
If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death--the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you. But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her. (Deuteronomy 22:23-27)
Adultery was grounds for capital punishment in the Old Testament as stated in Leviticus 20:10-12 and Deuteronomy 22:22.
If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:10-12)
If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Sexual Relations Outside of Marriage
Sexual relations outside of marriage was grounds for capital punishment under specific circumstances in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 deals with sex before marriage where the woman's husband has challenged whether she was a virgin before marriage. If she or her family could not show proof of her virginity, she was stoned to death. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 deals with a man and woman caught having sex where the woman (a virgin) had been promised in marriage and did not cry out for help. Conviction lead to capital punishment for both. Leviticus 21:9 involved a priest's daughter becoming a prostitute which was a capital offense in the Old Testament.
If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)
If a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire. (Leviticus 21:9)
Profaning the Sabbath
The Nation of Israel was commanded by God to strictly observe the Sabbath as a sign of their covenant with God. Disobedience by performing any work was a capital offense as in Exodus 31:12-15 and Numbers 15:32-36.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy."'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. (Exodus 31:12-15)
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Blasphemy was grounds for capital punishment in the Old Testament as stated in Leviticus 24:14-16 and 1 Kings 21:13.
Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death. (Leviticus 24:14-16)
Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, "Naboth has cursed both God and the king." So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. (1 Kings 21:13)
Cursing or Striking Your Parents
Cursing or striking one's parents was grounds for capital punishment in the Old Testament as stated in Exodus 21:17 and Exodus 21:15 respectively.
Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)
Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death. (Exodus 21:15)
Demon possession was a cause for capital punishment in the Old testament according to Deuteronomy 18:20, 1 Samuel 28:3, 1 Samuel 28:9, Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." (Deuteronomy 18:20)
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. (1 Samuel 28:3)
But the woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?" (1 Samuel 28:9)
"Do not allow a sorceress to live. (Exodus 22:18)
A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:27)
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
Four Situations Where Man Has the Right to Take a Human Life
The first three situations fall into those whereby agents of government are authorized by written law to take the life of others under very specific situations and for very specific reasons. The first is to carry out justice by a legitimate government following a trial and conviction by the laws of evidence for homicide. This is called capital punishment. The second situation involves police officers and is for use within the nation only to control crime and civil unrest. The third is in times of war where it is the Biblically correct function of the military establishment - internally for revolution and externally for nations considered enemies. These legitimate situations where the bible authorizes the taking of human life can be found in Exodus 20:13, Joshua 6:21, Joshua 8:24, and Romans 13:1-7. The forth situation involves individuals and is taking a life in order to defend ones self against another attempting to steal your property or to injure you where you feel your life is in danger. This also applies to those you are responsible for such as parents for their children and brothers for sisters and visa versa. Self defense is described in Joshua 6:21 and Joshua 8:24.
You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)
They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it--men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6:21)
When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the desert where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. (Joshua 8:24)
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)
Capital Punishment in the Roman Empire
Within the Roman Empire, two forms of capital punishment were used - crucifixion for those who were not Roman citizens and decapitation for Roman citizens. The machaira was the sword used to carry out capital punishment for Roman citizens. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was an example of capital punishment carried out under Roman Law where a conviction had never been reached.
For members of the aristocracy, following the trial, they would be told that they had been found guilty and were sentenced to death. They were then allowed to sit in a tub of hot water and commit suicide by cut their own wrists.
Capital Punishment Related to Animals
People have the right to slaughter certain animals as stated in Genesis 9:3-4. However, Genesis 9:5 indicates that capital punishment extends to animals who murder humans as well as to humans who kill humans. Exodus 21:28 illustrates an example of capital punishment of animals without any punishment to their human owners because he was not responsible. Exodus 21:29 illustrates an example of capital punishment where the animal owner was warned and did not confine the animal. Because the animal killed a human, the owner is also put to death.
Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. (Genesis 9:3-4)
And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. (Genesis 9:5)
If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. (Exodus 21:28)
If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. (Exodus 21:29)