Is It Ever Right to Kill a Person?

By Donnie V. Rader

The execution of Robert Cole, the first in Tennessee in several years, has resurrected the debate about capital punishment in our state. The opponents of the death penalty (usually those on the left, “liberals,” religiously and politically) cry that we must respect human life. Ironically, respect for human life argues for capital punishment and not against it.

Sadly, there are those who are “Bible believers” who oppose the death penalty. Some would argue that being Christians, we ought to forgive the offender.

What should the Christian’s view be? Does the Bible say anything to approve of execution? If so, how can “killing” a person be right?

God’s Covenant With Noah

Following the flood, God made a covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:1-17). Included in that covenant, God said:

Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and 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 (vv. 5-6).

From this text we learn that those who murder should die by the hand of fellow man. The reason: man is made in the image of God.

The Law Of Moses

Under the law that God gave through Moses the sentence of death was carried out for certain sins.

  • The murderer was to be put death. Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. Morever you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death (Num. 35:30-31).
  • The one who offered his descendants to Molech was to be put to death (Lev. 20:1-5). This idolater was to be stoned to death. Furthermore, any who would “hide their eyes” from the offender so that “they do not kill him” he too was to be “cut off from his people” (die).
  • The one who consulted mediums and familiar spirits was to be put to death (Lev. 20:6-8, 27).
  • The one who cursed father and mother was to be stoned to death (Lev. 20:9).
  • The one who committed adultery was to be put to death (Lev. 20:10). In fact, both the adulterer and the adulteress were to die.
  • The one guilty of incest was to die (Lev. 20:11-12, 17, 19, 20, 27).
  • Homosexuals were to be put to death (Lev. 20:13).
  • The polygamist was to be put to death (Lev. 20:14).
  • The one guilty of bestiality was to be put to death (Lev. 20:15-16).
  • If a man laid with a woman during her impurity he was to be killed (Lev. 20:18).

This did not violate the command to not kill. For the same law that forbade killing (Exod. 20) also pronounced the death penalty.

Capital Punishment In Action

As Joshua led God’s people into the promised land they were defeated at Ai because Achan had taken from the accursed things when Jericho fell (Joshua 6:17-19; 7:1). When Achan was identified and confessed, Joshua and the people stoned him and his family and then burned them (Joshua 7:22-26).

In The New Testament

1. When the apostle Paul was before Festus he stated that he was willing to die if he had done anything worthy of death:

For if I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying . . . (Acts 25:11).
Paul acknowledges two things: (1) There are crimes that are worthy of death. (2) He did not object to dying. These indicate that the apostle Paul approved of capital punishment.

2. Civil government is to punish the evildoer. Peter said that the government was for the “punishment of evildoers” (1 Pet. 2:13-17). Paul stated that civil authority is a “minister of God” for “good” and it does not “bear the sword” in vain (Rom. 13:4). If it doesn’t bear the sword in vain, the sword is to be used.


Biblical evidence shows God not only approves, but wants capital punishment to be enforced. Does it do good? Without a doubt! The guilty doesn’t commit the crime again. It is a deterrent to others. If the sentence would be carried out quickly, rather than twenty years later, it would be even more effective.

Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil (Ecc. 8:11).

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 15  p22  August 3, 2000