Just for Catholics

Capital Punishment

Question: I am confused on the issue of capital punishment. Is it okay to kill a murderer, or should we just allow the Lord to take care of those who kill?

Answer: It should not be difficult to solve this controversial ethical problem when we examine it the light of Scripture.

God commands us: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). What punishment should be given to the man who breaks this commandment? Should we allow the Lord to take care of the murderer? Do civil authorities have the right to execute capital punishment? If so, who gives them that solemn authority? Wouldn't they be guilty of breaking the sixth commandment when they administer the death penalty?

That capital punishment is not illegal or immoral (as some argue) is clearly seen from the Bible. In the same Book of Exodus where God gave the commandment against murder, He Himself prescribed the capital punishment for several offences, including murder: "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:12).

The unlawful killing of another person is a crime because it is a violation of the Law of God. Even so, the judicial execution of a murderer is not a crime because it is commanded by the Law of God. 

An important Bible text is Genesis 9:6 because it applies to all people at all times: "Whoever sheds manís blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man." Just as desecration to a nation's flag represents an attack on the nation itself, so a violent assault on man represents an attack on God because man is created in His image. That is why God punishes murder by death.

Note also that God requires humans to execute this judgement. He says: "by man shall his blood be shed." God authorizes civil government to execute judgement in His name. Speaking of civil rulers, the apostle Paul writes: "For he is Godís minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is Godís minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:4).

It is the God-given duty of civil authorities to ensure that justice is done. The Lord Jesus also acknowledged this authority when the Roman governor, Pilate, told Him that he had the power to crucify Him. Jesus answered: "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). Though human judges sometimes abuse this power, as Pilate did in Jesus' trial, yet it is still true that they have the authority to condemn criminals to death, and Jesus affirms that this power is given to them by God.

I would add one important point. We have all broken God's Law. We all deserve the death penalty, and indeed, the Bible teaches that those who die in their sins will be punished in Hell, which is the "second death." However, there is Good News for us sinners and law-breakers who repents. God's wisdom found a way to show mercy and free sinners from condemnation without ignoring justice. Jesus, His immaculate Son, took upon Himself the sins of His people and suffered the death penalty in their place on the cross of Calvary. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). Amazing love!

I sincerely hope that you see Jesus as the substitute who died for your sins. Are you trusting in Him to free you from guilt and condemnation?

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A