God's View on the Death Penalty

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Part Two - Is the Death Penalty for Today?

Recently, some animal rights activists have used Exodus 20:13, "thou shalt not kill" as an argument against the killing of animals. Likewise this verse has also been used to argue against the death penalty and fighting in wars. An examination of the word "kill" in its original context shows that both of these applications do not hold up to the teaching of God’s word.

First of all, let us note with the Hebrew word “tirtsaach” which we translate “kill” in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:13) has only one meaning in the Hebrew. The word always means “murder” and is never used of killing in battle or the killing of animals. This clearly brought out in many of the new English versions such as the NKJV and NASV.

In light of this fact than we can not use Exodus 20:13 as an argument against the killing of animals. It only refers to the murdering of human beings. To further substantiate this position let it be noted that in the Old Testament animals are killed many times with God’s approval. God told Abraham to kill

“a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon" (Gen 15:9) in order to establish an everlasting covenant with him and his descendents. Likewise thousands of animals were killed each year under the Mosaic law as sacrifices for sin. In Genesis 9:3 as Noah came off the ark God told him that all living things would now be a source of food and clothing for man and this included animals. Even Jesus participated to the catch of fish, distribution, and the eating of meat.

The reason that there has been a recent outcry against the killing of animals is due to the rejection of the Biblical order and design of Creation. Those who seek to stop the killing of animals such as PETA believe that all animals are the product of evolution and that includes humans as well. Since, in their thinking humans are a part of the animal kingdom, then to take the life of an animal is no different than to take the life of a human being. 

What they do not recognize is that animals are not the product of evolution but are the directly creation of God on the on the 5th and 6th day of creation. Likewise God directly created man and then elevated him over all the animals by giving man His image. It is this image of God that makes such a difference between the killing of animals and the killing of men. Therefore when one kills a man, he is striking out against the One whose image man was created in. It is for this reason God does not take that lightly the taking of human life (Gen. 9:5-6).

Though God has approved of man taking the life of an animal, He does not give man the permission to kill animals for any reason. Man was given the dominion or rule over the animal kingdom. If he kills an animal should be a good reason such as the need of food, clothing, the protection human life or the thinning out of animal populations to prevent disease and starvation. Likewise, man is held responsible for not killing animal life to the point that that species becomes extinct. He is also commissioned by God to never treat animals in a cruel manner thus any method used to kill animals should be as quick and as painless as possible.

Secondly, let us take note that God did not mean that the taking of human life is always wrong. God in Gen. 9:5-6 gave to humanity the responsibility of putting to death anyone who murders another individual. Likewise in the Old Testament, God calls for the death penalty for a number of sins (see chart below). God also condones killing in battle and commands Israel to go into battle and to kill all their enemies. In the New Testament, he calls for Christians to be obedient to their governments (Rom. 13:1-7) which would include military service as well. It is recorded that our Lord had interaction with some Gentile soldiers and never once called upon them to leave their military service. 

There is one other reason that God permits the taking of another life and that is in self-defense. With our understanding then of God’s limitation of taking human life, then we must accept that the taking of human life for all other reasons is viewed as serious sin. Thus the taking of human life in an abortion or the ending of life prematurely through physician assisted suicide would be considered a form of murder. Human life is so precious in God’s eyes that He came to earth to save as many would receive Him as their Savior. Is Jesus Christ your Savior?