Question: Whether to enforce the death penalty continues to be a controversial subject, not only among non-Christians but among Christians as well. Should a Christian president or attorney general uphold the death penalty?
Response: The death penalty very clearly was established by God from the beginning (subsequent to Cain): “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast…and at the hand of man…will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis:9:5-6). “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death…; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” (Exodus:21:12-14). “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus:24:17). “So shall ye not pollute the land wherein ye are: for the blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it” (Numbers:35:30-33). “Thine eye shall not pity [a murderer], but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee” (Deuteronomy:19:11-13).
It is true that the above were directives given specifically to Israel. Yet the Ten Commandments (except for keeping the Sabbath), which were given to Israel, have been written by God in every human conscience (Romans:2:14-15). “Thou shalt not commit murder” is one of these commandments. That fact would indicate that the death penalty for murder should be upheld today by those governing in human affairs, who are supposed to be “the minister[s] of God…to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans:13:4). Even godless rulers are held responsible by God to execute His justice, as Romans 13 makes very clear.
Christians, however, are not part of this world but have been chosen out of the world (John 15, 17; 1 John 2, etc.). They are under the law of Christ as to their individual conduct and the affairs of the church. As to their civil duties, however, they are under the law of the land in which they live and are subject to “Caesar,” as Jesus himself declared: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s” (Matthew:22:21, etc.).
Whether a true Christian should even aspire to the office of President is a question that each must answer before God in his own conscience. How much compromise must be entered into even to get to that office can only be imagined. Thereafter, the compromise can only get worse in working with the ungodly, in receiving and being friendly with godless rulers, as well as in attempting to apply righteousness to a populace that wants anything but to obey God and His laws.