Day 122: The Sixth Commandment, part 3 - "Capital Punishment"

Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill [b]."

Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto [e].

[e] Acts 16:28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here.
Genesis 9:6
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

Westminster Larger Catechism
Q.136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves [c], or of others [d], except in case of
• public justice [e],
• lawful war [f], or
• necessary defence [g];
the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life [h]; sinful anger [i], hatred [k], envy [l], desire of revenge [m]; all excessive passions [n], distracting cares [o]; immoderate use of meat, drink [p], labor [q], and recreations [r]; provoking
words [s], oppression [t], quarreling [v], striking, wounding [w], and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any [x].

The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves [c],

[c] Acts 16:28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.


or of others [d],

[d] Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

except in case of public justice [e],

Capital Punishment

[e] Numbers 35:31 Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. Ver.33 So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed [kaphar] of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.

Deuteronomy 21


  1. I understand that Christ's blood is the answer to the atonement issue, but what I don't understand is how criminals should be handled in New Covenant times. For instance, how is this situation supposed to be handled: There is a child molester who will not repent and who keeps committing the same crime over and over?

  2. Great question! I would start with Exodus 21:28ff., here in a modern translation:

    If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned. The meat cannot be eaten but the owner of the ox is in the clear. But if the ox has a history of goring and the owner knew it and did nothing to guard against it, then if the ox kills a man or a woman, the ox is to be stoned and the owner given the death penalty. If a ransom is agreed upon instead of death, he must pay it in full as a redemption for his life.

    The first question is to establish guilt. You can't just accuse someone of being a molester. The process in Matthew 18:15ff. must be followed. "Tell it to the church" means Church-Courts to establish guilt or innocence.

    Once the guilt of the molester is clearly established, the next question is one of "jurisdiction": who owns this goring ox? Who has responsibility for this child molester? The first answer would be his father. Another way to ask this question is to make it more practical and less abstract and hypothetical: how do you know about this child molester's existence? Is he your son? Then you have jurisdiction and it is your responsibility under the law of the goring ox to make sure it doesn't happen again. Is the molester your employee? Then you should tell his father. If you can't do this, then arguably you have jurisdiction and responsibility. Knowledge brings responsibility. Maybe the molester is a tenant in the apartment building you own. You certainly have a duty to other tenants.

    Knowledge brings the first level of jurisdiction, and the law of the goring ox applies.

    There are costs involved in keeping an ox from goring someone. Fences, electronic collars, or whatever it takes. If you know about a child molester, you need to take action until you can clearly establish jurisdiction, which establishes who needs to bear the costs of monitoring this goring ox.

    In a free market in a Christian culture, "Goring Ox Protection Services" will be established to help those with jurisdiction take responsibility for their ox or molester. This may take the form of insurance: you pay a monthly premium, and if you have a goring ox, your Service will take on the responsibility of making sure it doesn't happen again. The Service may require that you belong to a church that has competent courts and doesn't convict innocent people. If a molester covered by your service molests again, not only does the service lose customers when word gets out, but they have to pay out a monetary judgment to the victim. Under secular civil governments such as ours, victims are seldom if ever compensated, even if the perpetrator pays a fine to the State.

    If the person with jurisdiction doesn't have such insurance, representatives for such agencies would contact those who should have jurisdiction over the criminal, probably immediately after the trial court passes judgment, advertising their services, competing against other agencies on the basis of security (preventing recidivism) and cost.

    People who refuse to subscribe or take responsibility for their goring ox would be black-listed by credit agencies.

    Non-profit organizations would be formed to raise money to pay for such Goring Ox Services on behalf of those who have jurisdiction over potential criminals but can't afford to subscribe to their services.

    Of course, we have no way of being able to predict exactly how this situation would be taken care of. This is just a suggestion. It all depends on how seriously society takes God's Law.

  3. Thanks for your response Kevin. That's a good, detailed answer. Applying the principle from the old testament passage into our time makes sense.

    Are there any crimes in the New Covenant age that would warrant a criminal to be put to death by those who had jurisdiction over the criminal?

  4. The purpose of putting a criminal to death in the Old Covenant age was not solely to put him to death: it was to shed his blood to make atonement and cleanse the land in a way that could not be done with the usual animal sacrifices.

    In the New Covenant age, the only blood that can make atonement is that of Christ. Shedding the criminal's blood would serve no Biblical purpose. Killing the criminal without even shedding his blood (e.g., lethal injection) is senseless vengeance.

    In cases of capital crimes which have victims, the perpetrator should be made a bondservant of the victim's family, making some degree of restitution for the rest of his life.