Question: Do earthly governments have the right to exercise capital punishment in the case of murderers?
Answer: Genesis 9: 6 reads: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Although not a command, this verse seems to support the thought that God would approve of execution in the case of murderers, however, a number of considerations should be kept in mind.
The Scriptures only support capital punishment in the case of premeditated (“presumptuously”) murder, sometimes referred to as “first degree murder,” but if the murder was unpremeditated, such as in the case of manslaughter, God provided a way to escape death (Exodus 21: 12-14) (Leviticus 24: 17) (Numbers 35: 10-34) (Deuteronomy 19: 1-13) (Joshua 20). He knew that these regulations would tend to keep life sacred and lessen murder, so that bloodshed would not pollute the land (Numbers 35: 24).
It is encouraging to see that today, among many, a humane, constructive and merciful spirit seeks to uplift and rehabilitate those committing crimes rather than to destroy them. (Prisons should be geared to rehabilitating inmates, in sharp contrast with the treatment often given to them in the darker past, and even now in many instances.) However, for many reasons, sentences for murderers are now often too light, pardons are frequently given and paroles are generally granted too soon.
Any society which permits the taking of human life by the judicial process takes on a great responsibility. No murderer should be executed unless admitting or being clearly proven guilty of killing with premeditated, willful, malicious intent (Unfortunately, in a number of cases individuals have been put to death in which it was later proven that they were innocent.) Additionally, capital punishment should be administered as humanely as possible, for God strictly prohibited torture in Israel.
It is comforting to know that, by capital punishment, society does not send criminals into eternal torment (as some have supposed), but they merely hasten (for the good of all) the death penalty that is still upon the world. Hopefully, many criminals in their Judgment Day, when conditions will be much more favorable for reformation of character, will repent, reform and gain eternal life.