The Death Penalty in the Old Testament

Originally posted 6/15/2009.

1. A lot of unbelievers cringe when they read stories in the Old Testament of God killing people and giving His elect the authority to kill people. Dozens of passages of this sort can be adduced, but the principle you must remember is that people can, by divine command, justly kill any man, whether he is guilty or innocent of personal sins (like many children [Gen 7:21-23; 19:24-25; Nu 16:31-33; Ps 135:10] whose deaths are recounted in the Old Testament).{1} For “the Lord killeth and maketh alive” [1 Ki 2:6], having sentenced all men [Rom 5:18], whether they be guilty or innocent (like St. Isaac [Gen 22:2]) of personal sins, to the death of nature [Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22] on account of original sin [Ps 51:5; Rom 5:19],{2} the concupiscence and privation of original justice with which we are conceived as a result of the disobedience of our first parent Adam.

2. Thus no one can, on the basis of these episodes in the Old Testament, argue against the truth that God “hath commanded no man to do wickedly” [Sir 15:21]. While reasons can be given for the various modes of punishment in the Old Testament (e.g., why the judicial precepts imposed the death penalty for certain sins, and why certain groups of people were killed in acts of war),{3} it is enough to point out that, necessarily, “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth” [Ps 24:10], and, “The judgments of the Lord are true, justified in themselves” [Ps 18:10].

3. God worked numerous signs, so that it was obvious to all that His beloved children, like St. Moses, the greatest of prophets [Dt 34:10-11], were not murderers, but were dealing out just punishments with divine authority. This is different from the case of the murderous and perverted false prophet Muhammad,{4} who, according to unequivocal statements from the internally contradictory and uninspired Quran,{5} was powerless to work miracles [Sura 6:109-112; 17:92-97; 18:10; 29:49-50] and therefore failed to give justification for any of his killings, which must be described as extrajudicial, unlike those in the Old Testament.

Notes & References
{1} The children I furnish as examples were the ones consumed by the worldwide flood in which “the water was fifteen cubits higher than the mountains which it covered” [Gen 7:20]; the children of homosexuals who died when “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven” [Gen 19:24]; the sons and daughters of the political rebels Dathan and Abiram [Nu 16:12-14] and the religious rebel Korah [Nu 16:1-3]; and the firstborn of Egypt when the tyrant Pharaoh obstinately resisted the Lord on ten occasions despite warnings and punishments of a clearly miraculous nature. According to St. Thomas Aquinas [Summa Theologica II-II, q. 108, art. 4, ad 1] children were killed as well because (1) they were “the temporal goods of” the parents, (2) they would imitate their parents in sin and commit sins with even “greater daring,” and (3) God wants to make people horrified of sin. Aquinas says in the same place that sometimes God temporally (not spiritually) punishes a man “for the sin of another” in order to signify that we are united as fellow members of mankind and should be concerned about the sins of another and how they wreak havoc on the community. Back then, especially, lenience with sins in a society so close to chaos could lead to the self-destruction of the society, as apologist J.P. Holding often points out in his Tekton Apologetics Ministry writings on the Ancient Near East historical context in controversies about the severity of punishments in the Old Testament.
{2} St. Thomas Aquinas (Doctor & Prince of Theologians), Summa Theologica I-II, q. 94, art. 5, ad 2.
{3} We already saw some reasons, given by St. Thomas, for why children were killed together with their parents. The Old Testament judicial precepts did not prescribe punishments based solely on the “gravity of a fault,” according to Aquinas, who gives the following additional reasons in Summa Theologica I-II, q. 105, art. 2., ad 9: “the greatness of the sin” (whether it is involuntary, from ignorance, from pride=“deliberate choice or malice,” or “from stubbornness or obstinacy”), “a habitual sin” that is often not cured without “severe punishments,” “a great desire for or a great pleasure in the sin,” and “the facility of a sin and of concealing it;” severe punishments would deter others from committing such sins.
{4} a. Muhammad falsely claimed that Noah’s son was drowned [Sura 11:42-43 Hud], God has no only-begotten Son [Sura 112:1-3 Al-Ikhlaas], Jesus was not crucified [Sura 4:157 An-Nisaa], there were no Johns before St. John the Baptist [Sura 19:7 Maryam], the Golden Calf mooed [Sura 20:88 Taa-Haa], Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s wife [Sura 28:9 Al-Qasas], Christians think Mary is one of the Trinity [Sura 5:116 Al-Maaida], the Blessed Virgin Mary was the daughter of Imran [Sura 66:12 At-Tahrim], that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the sister of St. Aaron [Sura 19:28 Maryam], and that the saints literally drink wine in Paradise [Sura 83:22-28 Al-Mutaffifin]. See “Quranic Errancy, Pt. 2.” The Banana Republican. 29 Jan. 2009. 15 June 2009 <>.
b. Muhammad repeatedly had sex with his nine-year-old wife Aisha [Sahih Al-Bukhari 6:298; 47:755; Sahih Muslim 3309,3311], sanctioned pedophilia [Sura 65:4 At-Talaaq; Sahih Al-Bukhari 59:382], arranged for the rape of women in front of their husbands [Abu Dawud 2150], encouraged the rape of other female captives [Sahih Al-Bukhari 34:432] and raped some himself [Sahih Muslim 4345]. He both committed and formally taught wanton sexual immorality.
{5} The Quran indisputably contradicts itself on such issues as: whether Christians and Jews will be saved, whether Allah forgives shirk, whether people question each other in Paradise, and what food there is in Hell. See “Quranic Errancy, Pt. 1,” The Banana Republican. 28 Jan. 2009. 15 June 2009 <>.

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