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How Should Christians Respond to the Death Penalty?

Each Christian has to choose whether or not they believe in the death penalty. We must remember that God’s justice is not our justice, and just as we are a fallen world so too are our systems and the reasons they exist.

  • Vivian Bricker Contributing Writer
  • 2021 20 Sep
Gavel in a court room

The death penalty is a popular topic today as well as a politically heated debate. There are two arguments for the death penalty, those who are for the death penalty and those who are opposed to the death penalty.

Believers are divided on this ethical topic as some believe the death penalty is permitted; whereas others believe it is never permitted. There are weighty arguments on each side of the coin as each individual Christian has to make their own decision about the death penalty.

The Argument for the Death Penalty

There are multiple arguments in support of the death penalty; however, the most popular argument is “The death penalty is an effective deterrent.” In other words, the death penalty prevents the criminal from committing any future harm.

Right now, in 2021, the death penalty is legal in 27 states of America, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

All of the current criminals in limbo on death row have all been found guilty of murder. More specifically, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Death sentences may only be imposed for crimes in which a victim is killed, but state legislatures can determine what specific circumstances make a murder eligible for a death sentence.”

Thus, the death penalty is only enacted if murder was involved. In the past, the crime of rape would be found worthy of the death penalty; however, in the 21st century, rape is no longer seen as a crime deserving death. As of 2021, the only crime guilty of receiving the death penalty is murder.

Was the Death Penalty Used in the Bible?

The Old Testament does show evidence for capital punishment. The punishment of death was not only for murder (Exodus 21:12), but also for rape (Deuteronomy 22:24), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), and bestiality (Exodus 22:19). False prophets were also condemned to death.

That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Does this mean that when a believer sees any of these things occur, the criminal should be killed? Even though each of these crimes was punishable by death, God extended mercy to each individual as shown in the case of David.

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God did not order that David be killed. Instead, God showered David with mercy. David confessed his sin to God and expressed his need for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13).

Believers today should extend mercy and kindness just as God did to David; however, believers must also be aware that there are consequences for sin even though God forgives the sin. God is merciful, loving, and forgiving, but He is also righteous, holy, and perfect (1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:9). Sin cannot coexist with God as sin separates us from God.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).

The Argument Against the Death Penalty

As stated by the FIACAT Representation to the United Nations, “The death penalty does not respect the right to life.” In addition to this main reason, other arguments include that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, it is built upon a faulty governmental system, it does not truly protect society, and it does not give the opportunity for the criminal to repent.

Concerning the last reason, if a person is sentenced to death, they would never have time to accept Jesus into their lives. There are numerous ministries today focused on helping prisoners come to know Jesus across the world. Prison ministries emphasize forgiveness and redemption to the prisoners as all people can be saved.

A person is only given forgiveness because of placing faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even if a person’s past is filled with sin, God can still forgive them and redeem them. Nothing is too unforgivable for God if the person comes before God in genuine remorse. Paul was a persecutor of the faith, he strongly opposed the apostles’ message, and he was even a murderer.

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison (Acts 8:1-3). 

In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul states, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

In the same way, God can redeem the lives of criminals, prisoners, and murderers today.

A Hard and Complicated Situation

Each Christian has to choose whether or not they believe in the death penalty. There are strong reasons for each side of the argument. In the Old Testament, there were times when the death penalty needed to be enacted and it was carried out.

Even though capital punishment is a reality in the present world today, believers need to approach the subject with wisdom. Galatians 6:6-7 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

God does not desire anyone to die; however, there are consequences for our sins. God can forgive any sin, but the government and authority figures have created their own human system for justice. It is fully possible for criminals, prisoners, and murderers to place faith in Jesus and receive forgiveness.

As Christians, we need to study the Bible and come to our own findings on the death penalty. Praying for God’s guidance, direction, and wisdom will help believers make good decisions for all areas of life, including taking a stance on the arguments of capital punishment. God promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).

For further reading:

Who Is to Blame for Jesus' Death?

What Does it Mean ‘The Wages of Sin Is Death’?

What Does it Mean That the ‘Gift of God Is Eternal Life’?

Do We Strive for God’s Justice or Our Own?

Will Justice Roll Down Like a River?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AlessandroPhoto


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.