Does Sacred Scripture Teach that Capital Punishment is Acceptable?

Capital Punishment according to the Authority of Scripture

Genesis 9:1, 5-6
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, … “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”

That last part “for God mand man in his own image.” seems to indicate the the death penalty is required in some cases because of the dignity of the person who was murdered, who was created in the image of God. Its almost like murdering man equals murdering God.

Also there are these:

Exodus 21:12-14, 22-25
Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did no lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfullyl attacks another to kill him treacherously, you shall take him from my alter, that he may die…

When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him and he shall pay as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for flie, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Lev 24:17, 19-20
He who kills a man shall be put to death… when a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbour, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured.

Deut 19:11-13
But if any man hates his neighbor, and lies in wait for him, and attacks him, and wounds him mortally so that he dies, and the man flees into one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Isreal, so that it may be well with you.

God bless,
Ut

Also in the New Testament, Paul seems to accept capital punishment in his statement to Festus “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.” (Acts 25:11)

And it seems that Paul has in mind the death penalty in Romans 13:1-4

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority exccept from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Whould you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for his is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.

God bless,
Ut

I was under the impression that the Church’s stance on this was not for Capital Punishment.

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Hi JoeVig,

I’m asking about Sacred Scripture at the moment. Although I may start another thread to clarify church teaching on the subject.

God bless,
Ut

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Ok, gottcha. Sorry. In tht case i would agree with Scripture of course.

The problem with quoting Old Testament passages to support a view is that most O.T. instructions are today ignored and said to be part of the Old Covenant not applicable to Christians.

Hi KevinK,

I suppose that would be true for the Leviticus, Exodus, and Deuteronomy quotes, but the one from Genesis 9 seems pretty foundational to me. It even justifies the death penalty in relation to the idea of the image of God. What the Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy quotes seem to imply is a working out of that initial blanket principle in Genesis 9 such that not just everyone who happens to be involved in the death of another gets the death penalty.

But I do agree that Scripture alone is note the only basis for creating rules in the church. We should also look at what Tradition has to say on the topic, the church fathers, former Popes, and the current magisterium.

God bless,
Ut

Seems the current Pope is against it whatever the other sources say:

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2017 / 10:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an Oct. 11 speech to members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis said the topic of the death penalty should have “a more adequate and coherent space” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
This topic “cannot be reduced to a mere memory of a historic teaching” without taking into account the works and teachings of recent popes, he said, adding that it must also consider the “mutual awareness of the Christian people, who refuse a consensual attitude toward a penalty which seriously undermines human dignity.”
“It must be strongly confirmed that condemning a person to the death penalty is an inhumane measure that humiliates, in any way it is pursued, human dignity.”

Hi KevinK,

I agree, but this seems to be a little ironic since Genesis 9 seems to require the death penalty on account of human dignity (e.g. being created in the image and likeness of God)…

I will be interested in seeing how this topic will be addressed in the Catechism if the Pope changes the current passage.

God bless,
Ut

I would say no death penalty, although I am conservative. Thou shall not kill has no disclaimer after it. Two wrongs don’t make a right. If a murderer is caught, they can be punished in humane ways such as labor. There have been so many innocent people condemned to death that this fact alone should end the practice We are not God and judges are not either. All people can be redeemed or if not redeemed separated from society

Scripture DOES provide support for capital punishment, both Old and New Testaments.

It is pretty much based on Scripture that the Catholic Church has historically upheld the morality of capital punishment as a form of justifiable homicide. In other words, it’s not an intrinsic evil.

In fact, the historic catechisms have stated that capital punishment justly administered is not in violation against the command to kill, but is rather “in paramount obedience” to that command, by redressing the wrong.

You are also correct in that it is precisely because of the dignity of both the victim and the offender that the offender can give his life in redress for the offense committed.

The morality of capital punishment, even if one is to hold that on prudential reasons it should not be applied, is part of the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium, and as such, falls under an infallible teaching. It cannot be changed. Even if this Pope or some other will make the attempt, he will be prevented from doing so.

To affirm the inherent morality of capital punishment is not to say that one cannot state that applying it today is imprudent. It is contrary to faith to call capital punishment inherently evil, like abortion and euthanasia. It is perfectly fine to say applying it in this day and age is a really bad idea.

Catechism of the Council of Trent:
"Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. "

I think the New Testament is quite clear in how God views capital punishment when Jesus spares the woman taken in adultery. He does not contradict Old Testament law by saying not to kill her, but rather says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” evoking sympathy. Capital punishment is only to be used when necessary. Since we are all sinners capable of redemption as the woman taken in adultery was, it is best to show mercy when it doesn’t put more lives in danger.

The Catechism also teaches this. 2267 says, "If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

This is no different from what Pope Francis has said regarding capital punishment.

Hi kinghenry17,

If I remember correctly, I believe the actual Greek/Hebrew in the commandment, thou shalt not kill, is actually closer to something like “Thou shall not Murder.” And in any event, the church still teaches that there is such a thing as a just war, so it can’t mean that killing is outlawed outright.

I tend to agree with you that in this age, the death penalty should not be practiced or should be as rare as possible. But who knows what the future holds. There may come a time when the death penalty becomes necessary again. I wouldn’t want to condemn all past generations and future generations who, out of necessity (maybe), need to have recourse to this.

God bless,
Ut

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I tend to agree with you porthos11. I don’t think it makes any sense to say that Capital punishment is intrinsically wrong. That calls into question too much of scripture and tradition for me to be comfortable with.

@Mavzylor, Amen to your post. It is a good summary of what is already stated in the Catechism. I only bring this up with regard to Pope Francis’ recent statements that seem to indicate that he want to make Capital Punishment something that is intrinsically wrong. That concerns me.

God bless,
Ut

As it should. However, as I said, it won’t happen, as his infallibility will prevent it. This is not to say he can’t make a mess out of it with a non-infallible pronouncement but still carries sufficient weight because of a Latin-titled document. Such an action won’t fall under the protection of infallibility, and a future pope can infallibly clean up that mess, but a mess it will be.

The current teaching on the morality (not the prudence) on capital punishment is infallible because although it hasn’t been proclaimed ex cathedra, it is part of the ordinary Magisterium, and what lots of Catholics don’t really realize is that the Ordinary Magisterium is also infallible, not just the extraordinary (i.e. ex cathedra).

Pope John Paul II’s exhortations are very well balanced between the doctrinal and the prudent, and I think that should stand.

Yes you are correct. It is thou shall not murder. But if we imagine what Jesus would say about it, we would think that it would be to rehabilitate the murderer. A just war is defending yourself which is always acceptable. I don’t think Catholics need to be against the death penalty but I hate to see even one man murdered who is innocent and it happens a lot

Was this meant for another thread?

I know the OT references but apart fron Annanis and Saphira I am not aware of any NT mention and I’m not sure that I would call that Capital Punishment.

Capital. Capitol is a building.

But yes, the NT supports it and the Church has always taught it as moral.

The word “sword” is typically a synonym for the lethal force inflicted by legitimate civil authority. This is taught in Romans 13:3-4, and it clearly states that this power is an agency of God’s authority.

Annanias and Sapphira is not a passage in support of capital punishment.

And again, to be clear. I am not advocating that states must pass capital punishment statutes. I’m Canadian, and Canada, for example has no capital punishment laws. You will not see me picketing in the streets demanding its return. But in the same breath, I will oppose anyone who states that “capital punishment is inherently immoral.”

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