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#97 - What scriptural support is there for capital punishment?

by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
1 - Life for life? 2 - Civil authorities' sword 3 - Other resources


Question #97



What scriptures support capital punishment? I remember a few years ago there was a lesson in the "Standard Lesson Commentary" that explained this. I no longer have that lesson. Response #97, Part 1 - Life for life, eye for eye?




Arguably the first biblical teaching regarding capital punishment is Gen 9:5-6, in the context of the story of Noah. The ESV provides a somewhat literal, word-for-word translation of these verses, which in Hebrew is awkwardly constructed and is not explicit in its meaning:

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

The TEV's phrase-by-phrase translation of these verses attempts to clarify the meaning somewhat:

If anyone takes human life, he will be punished. I will punish with death any animal that takes a human life. Human beings were made like God, so whoever murders one of them will be killed by someone else.

Exodus 21:22-25, which is part of the Mosaic law, is frequently cited as the most explicit biblical justification for capital punishment. It states states:

Other infractions of Mosaic laws specifying capital punishment include the following:

Had King David submitted to the required punishments for his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba (2Sa 11:2-5) and his orchestrated murder of Uriah (2Sa 11:14-17), David would have faced capital punishment.


In the Sermon on the Mount [SM], in Mat 5:38-42, Jesus answers Exo 21:22-25 as follows:

A few verses earlier, in Mat 5:21,22, referring to Exo 20:13, Lev 24:17, and Deu 17:8.9, Jesus had said that one would be brought to judgment not only for murder but even for being angry with others.

W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann (The Anchor Bible: Matthew, Garden City, NY: 1971, page 61) write:

Eduard Schweizer (The Good News According to Matthew, translated by David E. Green, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975, page 118) comments:

In Hans Dieter Betz's very detailed and exhaustive commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Hermeneia: Sermon on the Mount, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995, pages 219), he comments on Mat 5:21,22:

The Gospel of John, John 1:17, sheds light on the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount's teachings regarding being "liable to judgment" for murder or anger when it tells us:

Regarding the "eye for eye" issue in Mat 5:38,39, Betz (Ibid., pages 283-286) further comments:

GB Caird (Saint Luke, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963, page 103-105) comments on the parallel text in Luke 6:27-38) as follows: Response #97, Part 2 - Civil authorities wear the sword as "God's servants to execute wrath"?


A New Testament passage sometimes cited as justification for capital punishment is in Paul's letter to the Romans, Rom 13:3,4. The entire Bible paragraph reads as follows:

The TEV translation of those verses is as follows:

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990, page 864) provides insightful commentary on Rom 13:1-5:

Early Christian history authority Martin Hengel (Victory over Violence: Jesus and the Revolutionists, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973, 49-50) wrote:

Mary Baker Eddy (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1896, page 11) writes in her article "Love Your Enemies:"

The last word on this subject comes from Paul, whose words to the Romans (Rom 13:1-5) that were quoted above were immediately preceded by the following words (Rom 12:14-21):

As Christians consider the issue of capital punishment, it would be good to ponder Jesus' and Paul's teachings, as cited above, especially when praying, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mat 6:12, NRSV), or as the TEV translates, "Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us." Mark recorded Jesus' teaching this way, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mar 11:25, NRSV)


To see other discussions of the texts and genuine history regarding capital punishment at:

"Capital punishment" (response to Larry King Live discussion) at

"Capital punishment" (web article on what the earliest Christians did not do & discouraged) at

To further explore the subject of Christian forgiveness in the context of the Lord's Prayer, browse

To see an examples of dealing with similar issues, you can also browse and

To explore online articles on "Overcoming violence," browse


Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer