Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Origin Of The Death Penalty - Genesis 9:5-7 Bible Commentary

Murder has been wrong since the beginning of creation.

When Cain murdered his brother Abel,
murdering was wrong. (Genesis 4:8)

When violence filled the entire pre-flood world,
murdering was wrong. (Genesis 6:11)

When the flood was finally over
God made clear to Noah that
murdering was still wrong.

However, it was not until after the Flood that Scripture explicitly states (for the first time) what penalty should be imposed upon murderers. God said to Noah:
Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed
(Genesis 9:5-6)
Murder is such a disgusting sin that most unconverted people even recognize it as a crime. When one person murders another person, most people naturally conclude that the murderer deserves to be punished. According to Scripture, the punishment that a murderer deserves is death. Why does a murderer deserve death? Genesis 9:6-7 provides an answer. God said to Noah:
For in the image of God
He made man.
As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.
(Genesis 9:6-7)
At creation, man was given a certain purpose: to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Whenever anyone murders another person, they are going directly against this purpose.

People are also made in the image of God, which means that all people have inherent worth. People are not animals; people have souls. They have thoughts and emotions. Therefore, if you kill another person, you have taken away the life of something higher than a mere creature. You have taken the life of a being made in the image of God!

The penalty that should be imposed upon any person who murders another person is death. For anyone who might question the "legality" giving a person the death penalty for murdering, God (once and for all) settled the issue in Genesis 9:6, Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.

Related Posts:
God's Covenant With Noah: Fulfilled - Genesis 9:8-11
How Man's Diet Changed After The Flood - Genesis 9:3-4
Cain and Abel: Murder - Genesis 4:8
The Pre-Flood World: Filled With Violence - Genesis 6:11-13


  1. Did Jesus not come to fulfill the law though? And did he not preach to turn the other check, as well as to love one another? And what about those crimes which are not murder but for which one can still get the death penalty?

  2. Yes, Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law (but not to abolish it) in Matthew 5:17. However, can the contents of Genesis 9:5-7 truly be called "law"? Romans 5:13-14 implies that no law was given to man until Moses. And if that is the case, it would seem that Genesis 9:5-7 would fall into a different category.

    Whatever is the case, the beginning of Romans 13 must be take into account. There Paul makes clear that the government is instituted by God (verse 1)-- and that it does not bear the sword in vain (verse 4). Governments, throughout history, have generally punished murderers (typically with death, and in recent times, with less serious penalties). However, I would argue from this passage that a government is certainly permitted by God to impose the death penalty on those who murder.

    Can mercy be shown in certain instances? Of course (after all, God showed David mercy). But for the majority of history, Christians have not been those in control of government-- and so Christians have not had much direct control over such issues.

    What Christians should do (in order to best follow the Scriptures) when they are the majority in a governing body is am enormous subject to explore. It is a subject that would require several posts to unpack.

    As for Jesus' words in Matthew 5 about turning the other cheek, some have argued that such teaching is speaking only of matters concerning personal retaliation and that the teaching does not apply to governmental judicial systems (this would seem to be the case from Romans 13). There are those, of course, who disagree-- and they would probably fall under the general label of pacifists.

  3. If God instituted death penalty then why did He create the fifth commandment?