The Teachings of Jesus And the Death Penalty

The Teachings of Jesus And the Death Penalty
  • The Old Testament passages teach that “the punishment should fit the crime.” Several sections of the law of Moses (first five books of the OT) talk about how punishment should be delivered in equal measure.
  • However, the teachings of Jesus instruct Christians to show mercy to those who have done wrong. Evil should not be repaid with evil.
  • Jesus teaches that Christians should pray for their enemies rather than execute them. It’s hard to believe that Jesus would be in favor of the death penalty.

Would Jesus Christ agree with the death penalty? If you read the Old Testament, you might think so. However, in the New Testament, Jesus speaks very differently about punishments outlined in the Old Testament. Jesus appears to be giving us a new set of laws.

Let’s explore passages of laws from the Old Testament, as well as, compare them to comments by Jesus found in the New Testament.

Old Testament personal injury laws

Let’s explore two passages from the book of Exodus:

“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” – Exodus 21:12 (KJV)

“And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” – Exodus 21:23-24 (KJV)

Simply put, these passages say that the punishment should fit the crime and should be delivered in equal measure.

We find the similar decorations of laws in Leviticus:

“And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” – Leviticus 24:17-21 (KJV)

We also find similar laws of justice in Deuteronomy:

“And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” – Deuteronomy 19:21 (KJV)

What did Jesus say about crime and punishment?

Jesus said we should show mercy to those who do evil. As you will see, essentially, Jesus says we should not repay evil with evil.

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” – Matthew 5:21-22

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:38-39

JESUS SAID TO PRAY FOR OUR ENEMIES

Jesus advises us to be “bigger” and do better than those who do wrong. Anyone can be nice to someone who is nice to them. However, it takes true strength to show mercy and compassion towards those who wrong us or do evil.

“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” – Luke 6:28

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; – Matthew 5:43-44

THOSE WHO SHOW MERCY WILL BE REWARDED

Jesus said that those who show mercy, will reflect God’s qualities, and will be rewarded for doing so. Jesus said this is an example of true perfection and righteousness.

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:44-48

So what would Jesus think of the death penalty?

The apostle Peter, based on what he learned from Jesus’ teachings said:

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” – 1 Peter 3:9

Based on the above passages, it’s fair to believe that Jesus would have been against the death penalty. It would be repaying evil with evil. Jesus, instead, would have us show mercy and not repeat the evils of wrongdoers. In this light, it would also cause us to rethink many of the laws of punishment found in the Old Testament, such as stoning and other punishments that seem to have become obsolete given the teachings of Jesus.

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