Capital Punishment and the Noahic Covenant

The State of Tennessee has scheduled three executions between now and August of 2018. Furthermore, the authorities have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court for permission to schedule eight more executions between now and June of 2018. They would like to carry out the additional eight executions because their lethal drugs are about to expire.

Let that reasoning sink in for a minute.I am opposed to the death penalty for several reasons. In preparation to protest the upcoming executions I thought it would be good for me to explain why I oppose capital punishment. The main reason for my opposition is because I believe it contradicts the totality of what the Scripture’s teach. I did not always feel this way. In the past, I would tell you that why I am uncomfortable with capital punishment, and why I do not think we should do it quickly, and it should always break our hearts when someone is legally executed, capital punishment was biblical because it was part of the Noahic Covenant and predates the Law of Moses. Furthermore, while the Law of Moses sanctioned capital punishment for several offenses, Noah’s covenant only called for executions for murder. Thus, biblically, capital punishment is still justified when one person takes another person’s life.

Here is what God said to Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6).

Seems pretty straightforward. Right? That is, until you put it in context. In context, the covenant is about reproduction and the freedom to eat any type of fish, plant, or animal. With one exception. In Genesis 9:4, God said to Noah, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it…” Blood symbolized life and ultimately pointed to the Jesus’ sacrifice. Not eating bloody meat also showed the sacredness of ALL life. This restriction would include not eating raw fish, as well as a steak cooked rare. So, the only two prohibitions in the Noahic Covenant was not to eat sushi, and not to commit murder. If the death penalty is still active based on this covenant, so is the prohibition against most Chinese restaurants and Outback Steakhouses! You can’t pick and choose here because both predate the Law of Moses. They are both still in effect today or neither one is still applicable today. I believe the latter to be true.

In reality (as well as in a proper hermeneutic), the Noahic Covenant is not a separate covenant from the Law of Moses. In reality, the Law of Moses is an extension of the Noahic Covenant. God did not do away with one because of the other. God, in His sovereignty, revealed one and then, in His timing, revealed the other that was built on the first. Thus, the covenant with Noah is part of the Law of Moses, not separate from it. After all, are not the first five books of the Old Testament, in their entirety, considered the Books of the Law?

Some will argue, Yes, but remember, there were two categories of God’s Law. There were civil laws and moral laws. In Christ, the New Covenant of grace, we are no longer held to civil laws, but are still held to moral laws.

Really? Where does God say there are two categories to His laws? And if there are, an argument could be made that capital punishment was part of the civil law, not the moral law. Indeed, “Thou shalt not murder,” is a moral law. But the State executing someone for murder is a civil code, not a moral code. If it’s moral, then God Himself is immoral because He let Cain, and King David, and Saul, off the hook for their murders. Furthermore, the prohibition against rape and adultery are both moral, and the Law of Moses required capital punishment for both. Yet, no one is arguing we should execute people for those crimes. Although up through the 1960s our country did execute black men who raped white women. Following the logic of civil laws verses moral laws, the death penalty (as a punishment) would be part of the civil law.

Again, some might argue, Yes, but remember, any Old Testament Law that is reiterated in the New Testament is still valid today, and Paul said the State had the right to execute someone (see Romans 13:1-7).

Really? The State has the right to execute someone for anything the State decides to execute them for? If you believe that, then don’t get upset about places like Iran and North Korea, where executions regularly take place for all kinds of reasons, including converting to Christianity from Islam. After all, that is their right because “The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).

Based on the reasoning above, one can only include the death penalty violates the totality of Scripture because Jesus spoke against it!

One day a group of lawyers brought a woman to Jesus who had been accused, and found guilty, of adultery. A moral crime punishable by death. Instead of executing her, Jesus wrote something in the dirt, and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). I think Jesus was saying, “Look, under certain circumstances, the Law of Moses did allow capital punishment. But we, as sinful people, are incapable of carrying it out in a just way. So we should not carry it out at all. I have come to fulfill the Law of Moses and offer another, better way of living life and pursing justice.” Furthermore, as a society, our goal should always be restorative justice, not simply retributive justice. Thus, Jesus said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

Here is the bottom line: Most arguments I hear from people who support the death penalty come from a place of vengeance, not justice. They say…

“If they did….to my child…”


“We should do to them what they did to the person…”




About Pastor Kevin

I am a husband, father, pastor, teacher, scuba diver, reader, bike rider, that order.
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