What the Bible says about capital punishment

Old Testament teaching supports the death penalty and lists 36 capital offences. These include idolatry, magic and blasphemy. Murder is the ultimate capital offence:

Man was made like God, so whoever murders a man will be killed by his fellow-man.Exodus 21:23

The Old Testament also permits limited revenge:

The punishment shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.Exodus 21:23

Some would argue that the commandment “Do not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13) supports capital punishment as it affirms the seriousness of the crime of murder. However, others may argue that this commandment is against all taking of human life, whether by a murderer or by the state giving a punishment.

In the New Testament, Jesus called on his followers to adhere to an even higher standard than that demanded by the Old Testament. The laws about revenge were there to stop disputes getting out of hand, rather than make revenge seem acceptable.

Jesus says it is better not to take revenge at all:

But now I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.Matthew 5:39

The idea of not taking revenge continues in the New Testament with the letters of Paul, when he writes:

Ask God to bless those who persecute you.Romans 12:14

However, Paul does say that the state has a right to carry out punishment on God’s behalf against wrong-doers:

Everyone must obey the state authorities, because no authority exists without God’s permission. Romans 13:1