This article has multiple issues. Please help talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages)or discuss these issues on the
Capital punishment in the Bible refers to instances in the Bible where death is called for as a punishment and also instances where it is proscribed or prohibited. Perhaps the strongest case against capital punishment can be made from John 8, where Jesus seems to say that capital punishment should not be carried out contrary to Mosaic law. There are however far more verses that command and condone capital punishment, and examples of it being carried out, especially in the Old Testament. Sins that were punishable by death include: homicide, striking one's parents, kidnapping, cursing one's parents, witchcraft and divination, bestiality, worshiping other gods, violating the Sabbath, child sacrifice, adultery, incest, and male homosexual intercourse (there is no biblical legal punishment for lesbians).
While the Bible very clearly condones and commands capital punishment, there are verses that can be interpreted as being against capital punishment. For example, when Cain murdered Abel, God sentenced him to wandering as a fugitive rather than to death, and even issued a warning against killing Cain. A similar sentiment is suggested in Proverbs 28:17. We see from 2 Samuel 14:1-11 that kings would grant clemency in extenuating circumstances. In that case, the one who had killed was an only child, and the king allowed him to remain alive under house arrest. We find that the prophets, repeatedly beseech the masses to repent so that God will not destroy them. Additionally, there are numerous verses that condemn revenge, judging, anger and hatred, as well as those that promote peace harmony, forgiveness and acceptance.
Hiers (2004 & 2009) shows that the laws related to capital punishment shifted over time with old laws being abandoned, and new laws taking their place; however, he points out that some later laws seem to mitigate the severity of earlier ones. He further quotes quotes Glen Stassen who argues that even in biblical times, capital punishment was "gradually, if not progressively" being abandoned, pointing out that capital punishment is rarely found in the Prophets and the Writings. Paul Onyango cites Carol Meyers argues that treatment of adulteresses in Ezekiel 16 and 23 is far more progressive than that of other ancient near eastern cultures of the time, due to its avoidance/rejection of capital punishment.
Perhaps the strongest case against capital punishment can be made from John 8, where Jesus seems to say that capital punishment should not be carried out contrary to Mosaic law. In John 8, the Pharisees challenge Jesus by presenting a woman who they say committed adultery. They point out that the law of Moses clearly states that such a woman ought be stoned, and challenge Jesus to give his opinion as to what should be done. Jesus famously states "let he who is without sin throw the first stone." Effectively saying that capital punishment should not be carried out, without directly contradicting the law of Moses.
While these examples may show that there was at least some opposition to capital punishment and decline in usage, there can be no doubt that there are far more numerous verses that command and condone capital punishment, and examples of it being carried out.
The Bible states that for the death penalty to be carried out, at least two witnesses were required. (According to Rabbinic tradition, there were numerous other conditions/requirements (such as a warning) that made it difficult to get a conviction.)
Homicide (excluding negligent homicide), to strike/attack/smite one's parents, kidnapping cursing one's parents, witchcraft and divination, bestiality worshiping other gods, violating the Sabbath child sacrifice, adultery, incest, and male homosexual intercourse (there is no biblical legal punishment for lesbians). The daughter of a Kohen who defiles herself through harlotry, blaspheme (of the Tetragrammaton name of God), a non-Levite "encroaching" on the Levite task of setting up or taking down the Tabernacle, a non-Kohen carrying out priestly duties, promoting the worship of other gods (if an entire town is swayed by such people, the entire town is to be put to death and destroyed), defiantly refusing to accept a court's ruling, maliciously giving false testimony accusing another person of having committed a capital offence, rebellion against parents, If a man marries a girl and claims that she is not a virgin, the girl's parents should produce evidence of her virginity. If it is found that she was not a virgin, she is stoned to death for fornicating while still under her father's authority, intercourse with an engaged/betrothed virgin girl (if she could have cried out for help and did not, she is killed as well).
Not all instances capital punishment were necessarily to be carried out by humans. There are numerous instances where God issues a warning that getting too close to unholy things will result in death. For example, numerous warnings against non-levites/Kohanim getting too close to holy things related to Tabernacle/Temple,
The most common method mentioned is by stoning, followed by burning, and then by sword (once). There is a verse that mentions hanging; however, it isn't clear whether this is a separate method of killing, or something done with the body after it was dead. The verse goes on to command that the body is not to be left up overnight, but rather must be buried that day, since an impaled or hung body was offensive to God.
In the Genesis creation narrative (Book of Genesis 2:17), God tells Adam "But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die." According to the Talmud, this verse is a death penalty.
In Genesis 38:24-26, when Judah is told that Tamar (his former daughter-in-law) had become a harlot and was pregnant, he sentences her to death by burning. However, she proves that he (Judah) is the father, and (apparently) the ruling is reversed.
During the period that the Israelites wandered the wilderness, examples include: A man was stoned for gathering wood on Sabbath, while another was stoned for blasphemy. In the rebellion of Korah, the ground opened up swallowing Korah, other leaders, and their families; and a heavenly fire consumed another 250 followers. The next day, all the Israelites railed against Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths, and God sent a plague that killed another 14,700.
During the period of Kings, examples include: Elijah captured and "slaughtered" the prophets of Baal. King Asa and the tribes who followed him made a covenant to worship God and "whoever would not worship the LORD God of Israel would be put to death." King Ahab eliminated Naboth (to get his land) by getting false witnesses to testify that Naboth had blasphemed God and the King. In the uprising against Athaliah when Jehoash was appointed king of Judah, Mattan, the priest of Baal was killed.
The Sermon on the Mount rejects "an eye for an eye" and thus, implicitly, retributive justice, which has been argued to include capital punishment. Whether supportive or not, commentators establish the relevance of the Sermon to considerations of capital punishment, for example Augustine, who cites it in his analysis supporting capital punishment as carried out by duly constituted authority. In 2018 the Roman Catholic catechism changed to repudiate capital punishment in any circumstances, and the Vatican website explicitly references the Sermon on the Mount in justification for this.
Jesus is sentenced to death and dies on a cross in all four Gospels.
In Acts 5:1-11, Saint Peter spoke words of judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God (Ananias) and testing the Spirit (Sapphira), after which each of them fell dead. Deuteronomy 6:16 forbids testing the Lord.
John Chrysostom, in Homily 12 on Acts, says that no one was forced to give anything to the apostles, that Ananias and Sapphira had committed sacrilege by keeping the money they had promised to give, that Peter did not correct Ananias because he would not have accepted correction, that Peter had questioned Sapphira to give her the chance to repent, and that Ananias and Sapphire were justly punished.
In Romans 13:3-4, Saint Paul says, regarding obedience to authority: "But if you do evil, be afraid, for [authority] does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer." Pastor Steven Cornell cites this verse as an instance of civil justice and support for the death penalty.
Walter Harrelson in The Ten Commandments and Human Rights says "[t]here can be no question... of our sixth commandment's having the initial meaning that human life is never, under any circumstances, to be taken by another human being or by the appointed authorities in Israel."
Richard Hiers (2004 & 2009) writes:
In summary, biblical law gave expression to a highly positive evaluation of human life, and affirmed the bodily and moral integrity of persons individually, in families, and as an ordered and just society. Those whose conduct violated laws that served these interests might, therefore, be subject to the death penalty. Biblical law was particularly concerned lest innocent persons be wrongly executed. Moreover, only those who had recklessly or intentionally committed capital offenses were to be put to death. Numerous due process procedures were designed to effectuate these concerns. And those who sat in judgment were strongly admonished to do so impartially, according equal protection of the laws, whether the accused were rich or poor, native born or foreigners.