Capital punishment

Capital punishment is the death penalty. It is illegal in the UK.

It was abolished for the crime of murder in 1965. It was then abolished for all crimes in 1998. In 2004 the UK agreed not to restore the death penalty for as long as it is part of the European Convention on Human Rights (an international treaty to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe).

In those countries where it is legal,capital punishment aims to protect society, deter others from committing crime and compensate the victims of the crime (this is known as reparation).

Christian arguments in favour of capital punishment

Some Christians argue that capital punishment helps to maintain order and protection in society. They would say this because:

  • The Bible sets down the death penalty for some crimes, so it must be acceptable to God. This is often seen as retribution.
  • The Church of England has not repealed the statement in Article 37 of its Thirty Nine Articles which says, “The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences.”
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas argued that peace in society was more important than reforming the sinner. He reflects the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that the protection of the whole of society is more important than the individual.

Christian arguments against capital punishment

Some Christians would argue that capital punishment can never be justified. They would say this because:

  • They believe Jesus Christ came to Earth to reform sinners, as he did with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.
  • Jesus amended the Old Testament teaching on retribution in Matthew 5:38-39 when he said, “You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
  • Christians believe in the sanctity of life – this means that life is holy and belongs to God, therefore only God has the power to take life. In Romans 12:17-19 it states, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody … Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to revenge; I will repay, says the Lord.'”