On Death Penalty, Should Christians Side with Jesus or Paul?


By Preston Sprinkle and Jonathan Merritt After a botched execution in Oklahoma left an inmate writhing for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack last week, Christian leaders began making their cases both for and against the death penalty. As with any time Christians debate political issues, it felt a bit like Ping-Pong—except opponents in this game swing Bibles instead of paddles.

Pro-death penalty believers grounded their position in the Old Testament’s call for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder. Christians who oppose the death penalty countered with Jesus’ teachings on peacemaking and his acquittal of the adulterous woman.

“But what about Romans 13?,” some protested, referring to the Apostle Paul’s remarks that the government does not “bear the sword in vain.”

So who should we side with--Jesus or Paul?

For Christians who believe the Spirit of Jesus inspired Paul to write Romans 13, the answer is both. But how then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between loving our enemies (Jesus) and killing them (Paul)? The answer, it turns out, requires a bit of digging into Paul’s letter to the Romans.