Is the Death Penalty Appropriate Since Man Is Made in "God's Image"?
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
Recently a reporter from a major international newspaper came to ICR to research a story on the influence of creation thinking on society. At his request, I guided him through the ICR museum. His interest was perked at the display on abortion, which showed the marvelous design of the unborn baby and how abortion is based on an evolutionary concept. I commented that the main logical support for the anti-abortion position of Bible believers is that humans are created in the image of God, and the hamming or destruction of that image makes a statement about one's attitude toward God. Thus each human, even yet unborn ones are of great VALUE, and human life is to be protected.
His response? He saw for the first time where Christians are coming from on the issue and could not fault the logic. "But," he said, "your position would be much stronger if you also refused to support the death penalty. After all, even a murderer is still in God's image."
It is easy to make the quick retort that we should protect the innocent and condemn the guilty, but his charge deserves careful consideration. On what authority do Christians, and especially creationist Christians who insist that man was created in God's image, support the death penalty for anyone created in the image of God?
As you might imagine, the primary support comes from Genesis. God, Himself, the Creator of mankind, issued the death penalty on murderers. "At the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man" (Genesis 9:5,6), God commanded Noah as he disembarked and entered the new world. This has been understood down through the centuries as the ordaining by God of human government in general and the death penalty in particular.
Thus, the justification for the death penalty contains at least two lines of argument: First, the murderer of a human being deserves the death penalty. Second, such an act is a flagrantly blasphemous act, for it destroys the very image of God!
When God provided the Mosaic Law for the people of Israel, the death penalty was restated: "Ye shall take no satisfaction [i.e., gift or recompense] for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death" (Numbers 35:31), although with due process of law (vv.25-34). This was the intention of the framers of the U.S. Bill of Rights when they enacted the 8th Amendment.
Furthermore, "blood … defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it" (v.33). The country, which allows and protects murderers, is defiled, and society will suffer. However, the death penalty, properly administered, serves as a warning and deterrent to others. "The man that will do [things deserving the death penalty] presumptuously … that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously" (Deuteronomy 17:12,13).
Thus, we see that the wise Creator, the one who created man in His image, has sanctioned the death penalty to preserve life and godliness. His original creation was sinless and deathless, but sin distorts everything. Now, living as we do in a sin-filled and cursed world, we should follow His guidelines to effectively deal with willful destroyers of mankind.
But there will come a day when the death penalty will not be needed, for there will be no more death or sin at all (Revelation 21:4, 27). The Creator will restore Creation to its original purity, and we will dwell forever with Him.
* Dr. John Morris is the President of ICR.