Capital Punishment

Text: Romans 13:3-4

This lesson is a response to a letter that was received in which the author argued that churches should not teach about capital punishment. It addresses his objections and explains what the Bible teaches about capital punishment.

Objections to Teaching About Capital Punishment

#1 – It Unnecessarily Drives People Away

  • The fact that an issue “drives people away” does not necessarily mean we should not discuss it – sometimes the truth will drive people away (John 6:60,68)
  • Truth is often unpopular (Galatians 4:16) – we must speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), not see what is popular/unpopular

#2 – It Violates a Brother’s Conscience

  • We are certainly to avoid violating a brother’s conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13) – but this has to do with engaging in practices that are matters of liberty (1 Corinthians 8:4,9)
  • Teaching truth should not violate anyone’s conscience unless they do not love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10)

#3 – It Gets the Church Involved in Politics

  • It is not the place of the church to get involved in politics – it is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36)
  • But not every issue that is debated by politicians is wholly political & therefore off-limits – ex: abortion
  • We must speak the truth of God’s word on every topic (Acts 20:27) – even if it is a topic that is seen as political

So What Does the Bible Say About Capital Punishment?

Bearing the Sword

  • God gave civil authorities the role of bearing the sword & executing wrath (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14)
  • The sword symbolizes the use of force – also an instrument of death
  • To execute simply means to carry out – but carry out what? … wrath

Are Certain Crimes Worthy of Death?

  • Many crimes were punishable by death under the Old Law (Exodus 21:12-17, 22-25, 28-29; 22:2-3, 18-19; Leviticus 20:10-12, 27; Numbers 15:32-36) – remember that the law is holy (Romans 7:12)
  • Paul understood that civil authorities had the right to put one to death who was worthy of such punishment (Acts 25:11)
  • The Bible teaches that murderers are to be put to death (Genesis 9:6) – this was not part of the Old Law that was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14); it applies as long as man is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

A Matter of Conscience?

  • What if this violates one’s conscience? … teaching the truth has nothing to do with this
  • The only matter of conscience is whether or not Christians can participate

What About the Hope of Converting the Criminal?

  • Some Christians argue against capital punishment because the execution ends any chance that the murderer might hear the gospel and obey it
  • God desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) & takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) – yet God commanded capital punishment for certain crimes under the Old Law; God is not inconsistent
  • Actions have consequences – committing murder may hasten one’s death
  • While it is sad to see one die in his sin, it does not change God’s word


  • A government that punishes evildoers is a minister of God (Romans 13:4)
  • A government that punishes the righteous is a minister of Satan (Revelation 2:10)
  • Regardless of what our rulers think, we must obey God (Acts 5:29)

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