The Bible, primarily the Old Testament is a strong advocate of punishment via the death penalty. In fact, it suggests that God actually created the death penalty.
Christians who support the death penalty often do so on the ground that the state acts not on its own authority but as the agent of God, who does have legal power over life and death. This argument is articulated by St Augustine, who wrote:
The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorises killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time.
Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.
And what were the most common means of carrying out the death penalty?
Well, stoning to death seems to be the overwhelmingly popular method, followed by burning and with a sword.
So let’s look at the various offences that the Bible condemns by advocating the death penalty:
- Being a sorceress / Witchcraft
Exodus 22:18 – You must not allow a sorceress to live.
- Interacting with the spirit world
Leviticus 20:27 – A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—their bloodguilt shall be upon them.
- Defying one’s parents
Deuteronomy 21:18-21:21 – If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him,
his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community.
They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.”
Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst: all Israel will hear and be afraid.
- Striking a parent
Exodus 21:15 – He who strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.
- Cursing a parent
Exodus 21:17 – He who insults his father or his mother shall be put to death.
Leviticus 20:9 – If anyone insults his father or his mother, he shall be put to death; he has insulted his father and his mother—his bloodguilt is upon him.
- Working on the seventh day of the week (Sabbath)
Exodus 31:15 – Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.
Exodus 35:2 – On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.
Exodus 21:12 – He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death.
Exodus 21:20-21:21 – When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod, and he dies there and then, he must be avenged.
But if he survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, since he is the other’s property.
Exodus 21:16 – He who kidnaps a man—whether he has sold him or is still holding him—shall be put to death.
Deuteronomy 24:7 – If a man is found to have kidnapped a fellow Israelite, enslaving him or selling him, that kidnapper shall die; thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.
Leviticus 20:10 – If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
Deuteronomy 22:22 – If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them—the man and the woman with whom he lay—shall die. Thus you will sweep away evil from Israel.
Leviticus 20:15-20:16 – If a man has carnal relations with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast.
If a woman approaches any beast to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death—their bloodguilt is upon them.
Exodus 22:18 – Whoever lies with a beast shall be put to death.
- Sex with one’s mother
Leviticus 20:11 – If a man lies with his father’s wife, it is the nakedness of his father that he has uncovered; the two shall be put to death—their bloodguilt is upon them.
- Sex with one’s daughter-in-law
Leviticus 20:12 – If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed incest—their bloodguilt is upon them.
- Male homosexuality
Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—their bloodguilt is upon them.
Note – there is no punishment mentioned in the Bible for female homosexuality
- Pre-marital sex (by a woman)
Deuteronomy 22:20-22:21 – If the charge proves true, the girl was found not to have been a virgin,
then the girl shall be brought out to the entrance of her father’s house, and the men of her town shall stone her to death; for she did a shameful thing in Israel, committing fornication while under her father’s authority. Thus you will sweep away evil from your midst.
- Sex with an engaged virgin
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 – In the case of a virgin who is engaged to a man—if a man comes upon her in town and lies with her,
you shall take the two of them out to the gate of that town and stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry for help in the town, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. Thus you will sweep away evil from your midst.
Leviticus 24:14-24:16 – Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him.
And to the Israelite people speak thus: Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt;
if he also pronounces the name LORD, he shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him; stranger or citizen, if he has thus pronounced the Name, he shall be put to death.
- Worshipping another God
Deuteronomy 17:2-17:5 – If there is found among you, in one of the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who has affronted the LORD your God and transgressed His covenant—
turning to the worship of other gods and bowing down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, something I never commanded—
and you have been informed or have learned of it, then you shall make a thorough inquiry. If it is true, the fact is established, that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in Israel,
you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to the public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death.
- Prostitution by the daughter of a priest
Leviticus 21:9 – When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry, it is her father whom she defiles; she shall be put to the fire.
- Providing false testimony
Deuteronomy 19:16-19:19 – If a man appears against another to testify maliciously and gives false testimony against him,
the two parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests or magistrates in authority at the time,
and the magistrates shall make a thorough investigation. If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow,
you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst;
- A non-Kohen performing priestly duties
Numbers 3:10 – You shall assign the Levites to Aaron and to his sons: they are formally assigned to him from among the Israelites.
Numbers 3:38 – Those who were to camp before the Tabernacle, in front—before the Tent of Meeting, on the east—were Moses and Aaron and his sons, attending to the duties of the sanctuary, as a duty on behalf of the Israelites; and any outsider who encroached was to be put to death.
- Defying a court ruling
Deuteronomy 17:12 – Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there the LORD your God, or the magistrate, that man shall die. Thus you will sweep out evil from Israel.
- Child sacrifice
Leviticus 20:2 – Say further to the Israelite people: Anyone among the Israelites, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones.