Does the Bible say that the government has the power to execute criminals?


I would like to ask what the Bible say about the government executing prisoners…


Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Numbers 35:30-33 says, “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.”

In the Old Testament, the Bible clearly teaches capital punishment (the death penalty) for certain crimes. But some have asked about today. What does the New Testament teach?

The Jewish people in Jesus’ day certainly believed that government had the power to put criminals to death. John 19:1-7 says, “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and BY OUR LAW HE OUGHT TO DIE, because he made himself the Son of God.”

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned, he readily acknowledged that the government had the power to put criminals to death. Acts 25:10,11 says, “Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For IF I BE AN OFFENDER, OR HAVE COMMITTED ANY THING WORTHY OF DEATH, I REFUSE NOT TO DIE: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.”

If anything could be proven that Paul was worthy of the death penalty, Paul said that he was not going to try and get out of it. That is quite different today than those who get saved in jail, and then try and appeal their death sentence. They cry and plead for their lives to be spared because they are now saved, and have a changed life. But they are a different caliber than the apostle Paul. If he had committed a crime worthy of death, then he refused not to die. Even many religious leaders today in the Right To Life movement, taking an unscriptural stand against the death penalty. They need to read their Bibles.

Romans 13:1-4 says, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

This passage is not talking about the government’s power to chastise or physically punish criminals (short of death). The government does have that power. Deuteronomy 25:1-3 says, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”

Romans 13 is not talking about a whipping. Of the government it says, “he beareth not THE SWORD in vain.” You do NOT just PHYSICALLY CHASTISE someone with the sword. You KILL with a sword. The government bears not THE SWORD in vain. They bear the sword, and are given authority to kill criminals with it, when the case so warrants.

Even the language of Romans 13 is the same as in the Old Testament in relation to capital punishment. Notice Deuteronomy 19:11-13. “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of THE AVENGER OF BLOOD, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.”

Now notice the same terminology used in Romans 13:4. “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, A REVENGER TO EXECUTE WRATH upon him that doeth evil.”

So the answer is definitely “Yes, the government does have the authority to put criminals to death.” But even in the states that do have capital punishment, it is often not followed scripturally. Take a recent instance in Texas. The reporters were reporting that a person was going to be executed there, and there was only one eye witness of his crime. They mentioned how many people on death row have been found to be innocent. Sometimes the case is mistaken identity. An eyewitness thought that the person was the one who committed the crime, but was simply mistaken.

That is a possible, and terrible thing, that a person could be mistakenly put to death for a crime that he/she did not commit. The Bible has a safeguard to prevent that. Numbers 35:30 says, “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” Deuteronomy 17:6,7 says, “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.”

According to the Bible, there must be at least two witnesses, before the death penalty can be used as punishment for a crime.