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Does The Bible Teach Capital Punishment?

John MacArthur

Quoting John MacArthur:

God did design capital punishment. No question about it. People say, “Does the Bible teach capital punishment?” Well, of course: it teaches it all over the place. In Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.” Because of the sanctity of man, because he is created in the image of God, God instituted a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc.

Murder is a crime against God in whose image man is made—it defiles God—so capital punishment is required. If you read through the Old Testament law, you’ll find there was capital punishment required for many sins. For example, sex sins required capital punishment.

I’ll tell you another one: you read Exodus 21:15-17 and you’ll find that capital punishment was enacted against those children who were disobedient to their parents. Capital punishment.

In Exodus 21:16, kidnapping. You know something interesting? In those periods of time in the Mosaic era, do you know who the executioner was when there was a sex crime or when there was a murder or when there was a dishonor to the parents or when there was a kidnapping or any of these crimes that were capital offenses? The agent of vengeance who carried out the death penalty was the able-bodied male most nearly related to the victim. You know what that did? Boy, that really made society conscience of it! — We say today, “Capital punishment isn’t a deterrent.” Of course not! Nobody’s involved in it. It happens somewhere in the corner somewhere, in a private little deal with nobody there, when nobody knows, and we don’t understand the agony of it.

But then it was very public. It was a family matter. It was right out there and people lived with the consequences of facing what sin brought and what crime brought, and believe me, it came as a deterrent. God had four purposes, I believe, in punishment in the Old Testament…four purposes.

1. Number one: retribution. Make him pay. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This taught people God’s way; He requires payment.

2. The second thing was not only retribution, but deterrence. I believe that God had these punishments in order to deter men from committing crimes. The punishments were very public, very obvious, very open, very out-there because that made it very apparent what the consequences were.

3. Thirdly, I think these punishments were for protection. Retribution, deterrence, and protection. Because if you would isolate or remove an offender, you protected the community, right? That’s why we have prisons: to lock up people that can’t live in society without hurting other people.

4. And fourthly, I think God’s purpose in these kinds of punishment was purification. He wanted to keep Israel pure so He wanted to remove the evil people.

For these reasons, God instituted capital punishment. There were three methods in the Old Testament: stoning, with the sword, burning. Stoning was used for those morally guilty, the swords were used for those who committed murder, and some even were burned. There was an interesting incident there in Leviticus 20:14: “If a man take his wife and her mother, it is wickedness; they shall be burned with fire.” Sexual sin there…burned with fire. Leviticus 21:9: “The daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father, she shall be burned with fire.”

Does the Bible teach capital punishment? Yes. And I believe that if it was still done in a biblical fashion today, we’d have a lot less crime than we have now.

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