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RE:QUEST

A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith

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Christian Teachings About the Death Penalty

All Christians believe that punishment is important, however, they have different opinions about the death penalty. This is because of how they interpret the Bible and Church teachings.

Teachings FOR the Death Penalty

A number of Bible verses teach that it is acceptable to use the death penalty for certain crimes, for example:

  • 'Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.' Genesis 9:6. Because created humans, making them in his image, it is a serious enough crime to warrant the death penalty.
  • 'Whoever hits someone and kills him is to be put to death. But if it was an accident and he did not mean to kill him, he can escape to a place which I will choose for you, and there he will be safe.' Exodus 21:12-13
  • ' an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth...' Exodus 21:24 shows that if someone commits takes a life, then their life should be taken.
  • Paul taught, 'Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God's permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God.' Romans 13:1. This means that Christians must obey the laws in their country, even if it includes the death penalty.
  • Jesus didn't explicitly teach that the death penalty was wrong.
  • The Christian Church traditionally used the death penalty in medieval times,

Teachings AGAINST the Death Penalty

Other teachings in the Bible lead some Christians to believe that the death penalty is unacceptable, for example:

  • All the teachings around the sanctity of life lead some to believe that it is wrong to take anyone's life regardless of the circumstances. Life is precious; only God should take it.
  • The Ten Commandments state, 'You shall not murder.' Exodus 20:13. Taking a life is wrong, no matter who does it.
  • Jesus also taught that people should not seek revenge. He said, 'You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.' Matthew 5:38–39
  • 'You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies. But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' Matthew 5:43-44. Jesus told his followers to love and forgive others. The death penalty is the complete opposite of this teaching.
  • Many Christian Churches are against the death penalty and have released statements to support their view. For example, the Catholic Church has called for the abolition of the death penalty, stating, 'Today we state clearly that “the death penalty is inadmissible” and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.'  ENCYCLICAL LETTER, Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis, 'On Fraternity and Social Friendship,' 263: 2020.