Q : The Scriptures : Do they support capital punishment for today?
A : Yes!
Genesis 9:6 " Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed : for in the image of God made he man".
Romans 13 : 3-4 "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain : for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil". Authorized Version 1611
Martin Luther's comments on these verses
In this passage [Genesis 9:6] , however, the Lord establishes a new law and wants murders to be killed by men. This was something that had not been customary in the world until now, for God had reserved all judgment to Himself. It was for this reason that He himself finally exacted punishment from the wicked world by means of the Flood when He saw the world was daily becoming more and more corrupt. Here however God shares His power with man and grants him power over life and death among men, provided that the person is guilty of shedding blood. Whoever does not have the right to kill human beings and yet kills a human being, him God makes liable not only to His own judgment but also to the human sword. Therefore if such a person is killed, even though he is killed by the human sword, he is nevertheless correctly said to have been killed by God. If it were not for this command of God, it would be just as unlawful to kill a murderer now as it was before the Flood.
Here we have the source from which stem all civil law and the law of nations........In this connection the following difference must be maintained between the authority of God and that of human beings: even if the world should be unable to bring a charge against us and we should be guiltless before the world, God still has the power to kill us. For sin, with which we were born, makes us all guilty before God. But human beings have the power to kill only when we are guilty before the world and when the crime has been established. For this reason courts have been established and a definite method of procedure has been prescribed. Thus a crime may be investigated and proved before the death sentence is imposed......
This text is outstanding and worthy of note; for here God establishes government and gives it the sword, to hold wantonness in check, lest violence and other sins proceed without limit. If God had not conferred this divine power on men, what sort of life do you suppose we would be living? Because He foresaw that there would always be a great abundance of evil men, He established this outward remedy, which the world had not had thus far, in order that wantonness might not increase beyond measure. With this hedge, these walls, God has given protection for our life and possessions.
John Calvin's comment on these verses
It is written, 'Men of blood do not live out their days ' (Ps. lv.25). And we see some die in highways, some in stews, and many in wars. Therefore, however magistrates may connive at the crime, God sends executioners from other quarters, who shall render unto sanguinary men for their reward. God so threatens and denounces vengeance against murder, that he even arms the magistrate with the sword for the avenging of slaughter, in order that the blood of men may not be shed with impunity.
For the greater confirmation of the above doctrine, God declares that He is not thus solicitous respecting human life rashly, and for no purpose. Men are indeed unworthy of God's care, if respect be only to themselves ; but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person. Thus although they have have nothing of their own by which they obtain the favor of God, He looks upon His own gifts in them, and is thereby excited to love and care for them. This doctrine, however, is to be carefully observed, that no one be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds we should be much more reluctant to inflict injuries.
N.B. See Appendix A for a discussion on how man bears God's image
Q : How is the sixth commandment " thou shalt not kill" to be interpreted in regard to state executions ?
A : The Reformed understanding of the interpretation of scripture is that the scripture itself is the only interpreter of scripture. Thus the sixth commandment must be interpreted in the light of Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13 : 3-4. Thus the state is authorized to take the life of a murderer - after trial.
N.B. See Appendix C for a discussion on the sixth commandment
Q : Are there not some who are executed by mistake?
A : Yes, but if trials are conducted with due care the numbers should be very small. Such events should be seen as "acts of God".
Q : The Old Testament requires the death penalty for a number of things, for example, adultery. Should not these things still be punished with death?
A : The establishment of the Christian Church (consisting of Christian Jews and Gentiles) meant that the ceremonial and civil laws, including those regulating the death penalty for crimes other than murder in the Old Testament Church [the Israelites] could be abolished*. The scriptures lending support for capital punishment for murderers, e.g Genesis 9:6** & Romans 13. 3-4, clearly apply to all peoples for all remaining time, as does the moral law [the 10 commandments].
*See Ephesians 2 : 11-16.
The Israelite civil law is still a useful guide in many instances - as it pertains to the moral law
** Genesis 9:6 is associated with the Noaharic covenant, predating the Israelite Church & made with creation & Noah as the representative of all peoples.
Q : Why did not king David, in his arranging of the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, receive the death penalty? [ see 2 Samuel 11 ].
A : God, in this instance only, overruled via the prophet Nathan [ see 2 Samuel 12 ]. However, David and his family suffered greatly as a result of his crime.