I've heard it quoted in favor of the death penalty, in Genesis 9:5-6 God said to Noah and his sons:

5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.


Exodus 21:12 “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.

However, in Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus says:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

As well as in Romans 12:19

19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Does scripture contradict itself in regard to the death penalty?

  • The death penalty was introduced because it was necessary to do so. There being no confession from Cain, and no earthly witness, he was protected from retribution. But Lamech, who admitted his guilt, claimed seven times the protection that Cain had received. Thus, after judgment and flood, a new era was begun and capital punishment was enforced for the sake and the safety of the public from wanton murder.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 4 at 1:59
  • That Gen passage wasn't intended as a codification of laws, but an explanation of consequences. This would be like saying "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword" (Matt 26:52) is an argument for the death penalty for soldiers.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 4 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


Your quotations are talking about different situations.

The Old Testament references are about the way that society should respond to cases of murder.

The New Testament references are about the way that individuals should respond to injuries received that fall short of murder.

  • 1
    That is actually pretty simple when you think about it in that way. Which I did not.
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 4 at 0:33
  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 4 at 1:15

While up voting Stephen Disraeli’s answer, I simply add this much:

Jesus’ response to the Old Testament commandment on “murder” is given in Matthew 5:21-26. I quote only a part of it, here:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (not that you have something against him), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:21-24).

Was Jesus tightening the Commandment on murder or loosening it?

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