Asia-Pacific International University (AIU)
The Abolishment of Capital Punishment:
Genesis 9:6 and the Covenant of God’s Authority and Omniscience
presented in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the Course
RELT483 Directed Reading in Religious Studies
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................... 1
Statement of the Problem ............................................................................ 2
Purpose of the Study .................................................................................... 2
Significance of the Study .............................................................................. 3
Delimitations of the Study ............................................................................ 3
Methodology ................................................................................................. 4
CHAPTER 2: DEATH PENALTY AND MAN’S AUTHORITY IN WESTERN
HISTORY ............................................................................................................................ 5
CHAPTER 3: EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 9:6 ................................................................... 12
How to Read the Text................................................................................. 12
The Historical Context ............................................................................... 14
The Authenticity of Genesis and the Flood ....................................... 14
The Literary Context ................................................................................. 17
Chiastic Structure of the Covenant (Gen. 8:15-9:17) ......................... 18
Evaluation of the Structure ............................................................... 19
Textual Studies ........................................................................................... 21
Grammatical and Lexical Studies ............................................................. 23
CHAPTER 4: BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES ........................................ 26
Genesis 9:6 and the Covenant of God’s Authority.................................... 26
The Subsequent Covenants ............................................................... 31
The Eventuality of Judgment in God’s Omniscience ................................ 34
The Authority of the Saints ............................................................... 36
Death Penalty: More Suitable for the Old Covenant ................................ 38
NT Texts Used for Capital Punishment ............................................. 38
Principles of God’s Justice in the New Covenant .............................. 41
Differences between Ancient Israelite and Modern Courts ................ 45
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION .......................................................................................... 51
Bibliography ...................................................................................................................... 55
Genesis 9:6 states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood
be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (ESV) The verse can be found from
the context where God is declaring the covenant between Him and the post-Flood
world, which means, as it is widely argued, that this text is universal and can be
applied for today. However, how should it be applied? And, before that, what did it
mean for Noah’s day? Is the verse a law text, or a poetic discourse? Does it convey a
prophecy concerning the state of the world after the Flood, or does it talk about the
last judgment? Who is this man ( אָד ָ ם ), who has the authority to retribute the
bloodshed? Or is there another way to read and translate the text?
Many people think that Genesis 9:6 establishes capital punishment. This verse
is considered to be of the most important verses on which the death penalty is
founded. In opposition, many Christians and non-Christians think that this verse does
not hold enough information for legitimization of death penalty, and that death
penalty is a cruel way of punishment.
A person who murders another human being does deserve to die. Justice is
not cruelty. However, the question is, who has the authority to take life? The
universal Noachian covenant is built around God’s mercy and justice according to His
authority and omniscience. When the text is applied for today, the testimony of the
whole Bible in the light of the new and eternal covenant needs to be taken into
consideration. When this is done, the Bible teaches that capital punishment was
sufficient for the old covenant theocracy of the nation of Israel, but it is not necessary
for the current time.
Statement of the Problem
This paper argues that (1) European history shows the illegitimate lifting up of
man’s authority as omniscient, which continued the old covenant legacy of death
penalty; (2) Genesis 9:6 is a part of the universal Noachian covenant, which is
established on Jesus Christ’s, not man’s, mercy, justice, omniscience, and authority to
save or destroy life; (3) Genesis 9:6 can be translated in a way that does not specify
who executes the judgment of shedding blood; (4) Genesis 9:6 in the universal
Noachian covenant can be related to the eternal covenant, which is the new covenant,
when, in turn, the ancient Israelite theocracy was part of the old covenant, and only
the new covenant and the universal principles of the old covenant are applicable for
today; (5) Matthew 26:52 repeats the universal meaning of Genesis 9:6, which is that
God will punish killers and murderers eventually; (6) Jesus assigns His forensic
power for the saints to judge the wicked only after the second coming of Him; (7)
Genesis 9:6 includes the possibility to apply its content temporarily to the old
covenant, as happened in the ancient Israelite theocracy; however, the old covenantal
interpretation of Genesis 9:6 and the capital punishment are not applicable for modern
governments, because (8) death penalty was more suitable for the old covenant and
for the Old Testament (OT) theocracy than for today’s societies.
Purpose of the Study
This study intends to look at the issue from a Christian perspective. The
purpose of this paper is not to show how governments should establish their criminal
justice system, but to find out, if possible, what Genesis 9:6 means, and defend the
finding with the rest of the Bible’s teaching about the issue, which can give ethical
principles for Christian thinking. The Bible’s view about the topic is crucial for
Christians, who found their beliefs and practices on the Word of God. However,
Christians can live in both a state with and without capital punishment, because they
are or should be law abiding citizens. As a matter of fact, this research argues that the
Bible does not directly say how modern states should legislate their laws. However,
the paper does argue that the Bible does not teach that the old covenant capital
punishment is valid for today.
Significance of the Study
As Genesis 9:6 is held as a very prominent text for death penalty, this paper
aims to show that it is not a decisive text for capital punishment. Moreover, our view
of theology and ethics in the new covenant, including the view about God’s justice in
relation to societies, effects our view of the character of God, and our thinking and
Delimitations of the Study
This research concentrates mainly on Genesis 9:6, and its context, and on the
evidence for the need of omniscience for the authority to take life. The theology of
death penalty is looked from the perspective of the new covenant, because we are
living in the time of the new covenant. The history of death penalty is limited to only
the main points that are related to the legitimacy of capital punishment during the new
covenant. Thus, the examples are mainly from the Christian eras, and regard the
wrong idea of man’s authority.
Even though the paper discusses about Genesis 9:6 and its context, the study
also crosses other important Bible passages related to the topic in the Biblical and
Theological Studies chapter, but does not do thorough exegesis on them, because
Genesis 9:6 is the center of the study.
The paper does not cover the jurisprudential issues of, for example, whether
capital punishment has or has not a significant deterrent effect, which one is better
imprisonment or death penalty, or whether punishment or rehabilitation is the purpose
of justice. These questions are very important, but they are out of the scope of this
study. However, this research offers a theologically and ethically better deterrent and
prevention for crimes than death penalty, which is God’s justice and mercy.
The paper comments only very briefly on the issue of whether it is better to
take the life of a murderer because he or she can murder again in or out of prison, or
to not to take a human life. The jurisprudential, ethical and social justice issue of
whether ethnicity has an effect on the verdicts of courts or not, is not discussed in this
research, because it is not close to the exegetical and theological approach of this
paper. Lastly, the question whether death penalty is or is not the answer for the
victim’s relatives’ and friends’ need for justice, is not covered because of its need for
a thorough and spacy research.
This research uses the Historical-Grammatical method of exegesis and
interpretation. Mainly, the paper strives to investigate Genesis 9:6 textually,
contextually, grammatically, lexically, biblically, and theologically.
DEATH PENALTY AND MAN’S AUTHORITY IN WESTERN HISTORY
Before going into the discussion about Genesis 9:6, it helps to have a brief
glance of how the acceptance of capital punishment came into Christian thinking
historically, some developments of thinking about the issue in history, and what is the
current state of the world regarding the use of death penalty as a punishment.
Moreover, the section emphasizes the point that capital punishment came along with
the lifting up of man’s, not God’s, authority in the history of the western world.
Death penalty in ancient Israel will be discussed further below because of its roots in
Capital punishment was the “norm” of the entire ancient history of
civilizations before Christ. The Code of Hammurabi decreed death penalty for 25
and, for example, the ancient Persia had very cruel death
Jesus Christ, himself, was sentenced to death on a Roman cross.
Even though the Apostles wrote about ethics and morals (e.g. Gal. 5:22-26; 1
Thess. 4; 1 Tim. 1:8-11; 2 Peter 2:9-22; 1 John 1:6; 5:2), they did not precisely
discuss about death penalty, or any governmental morals per se, because their mission
was not political but spiritual (e.g. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:40-47; 4:29-31 13:5; 15:7-
. John Jefferson Davis, Evangelical Ethics: Issues facing the Church Today,
2nd ed. (Phillisburg, NJ: P & R, 1993), 176.
. James A. Inciardi, Criminal Justice, 7th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill,
2005), 442; Dan. 6:7.
29; 18:5-6; Rom. 1:1-16; 1 Cor. 1:17-31; 2 Cor. 10; Gal 1:16; Eph. 3:8-13; Phil. 1:12;
Col. 1:24-28; 1 Tim. 2:5-7; 1 Peter 4:1-6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-7
After the time of the Apostles, the mainline Christian church started to mingle
with the state and politics. For example, Cyprian the church father was the first one
who understood the office of bishop and its functions parallel with Roman proconsul
or governmental actions.
Eventually, Christianity became the state religion of the
Roman Empire, and, it led the Christians to adopt the death penalty, as well. Richard
The process by which the empire became officially Christian may be said to
have been completed in the course of the reign of Theodosius I (379-95). A
cluster of events and decisions mark this: the defeat of an avowedly pagan
military group, the issue of legislation formally banning pagan worship, the
removal of the Altar of Victory from the senate house in Rome, the
destruction of the temple of the god Serapis at Alexandria. Some of the
markers are uncomfortable portents: the first execution of a heretic (the
Spaniard, Priscillian, in 385), and a rising tide of Christian anti-Semitism.
As Fletcher mentioned, Anno Domini 385, Priscillian, bishop of Ávila (340 –
385) was the first one, who was sentenced to death because of paganism.
contemporary theologian of Priscillian, Ambrose (340 – 397), bishop of Milan, even
though opposed Priscillian’s conduct, “believed capital punishment to be
. Acts 20:20 suggests that Paul taught everything needful for salvation during
his mission; thus, we can suggest that in Acts and Paul’s canonical letters, we have all
the needed teachings from him.
. Torben Christensen and Sven Göransson, Kirkkohistoria 1: Evankeliumista
paavin jumalanvaltioon (Tapiola, Finland: Weilin+Göös, 1975), 112.
. Richard Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe: From Paganism to
Christianity 371-1386AD (London, UK: Fontana Press, 1998), 38-39.
. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson (Bosa Roca, KS:
Taylor & Francis, 2013), 950.
inappropriate at best and usually unequivocally evil.”
And, another coeval, Martin of
Tours, “saw in the affair a deep perversion of both Christian faith and civil justice.”
However, another contemporary, Augustine (354 –430), infused capital
punishment into his “Christian” city of God.
This happened, because this sect of the
early Christians illegitimately infused the old covenant theocracy aspect into the new
Death penalty continued, and during the Middle Ages, capital
punishment was usual. The Papacy excommunicated the heretics of its own
definition, and handed them to the state to be punished. For example, the Fourth
Lateran Council (1215) stated, “We condemn all heretics, whatever names they may
go under… Let those condemned [of heresy] be handed over to the secular authorities
. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 950.
. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 950.
. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo), The City of God 1.21. Genesis 9:6 is also
used to defend the so called just war theory. While Augustine formulated this theory,
he established the use of capital punishment based on the same argument that killing
is not always wrong. Augustine, The City of God 1.21; The Edge of Life: Human
Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics, ed. Christopher Kaczor, (Los Angeles, CA:
Springer Science & Business Media, 2006), 134. See Ville Suutarinen, “Christian
Nonresistance: Investigating the Meaning of Luke 22:35-38,” ResearchGate, accessed
February 16, 2019,
. The union of church and state is not legitimate, because the old covenant
way of earthly kingdom of God is not in force anymore; and, especially a union of
church and state which regulates what people can or cannot believe, is illegitimate,
because every individual has a liberty of conscience (1 Cor. 10:29; Gal. 3:11; Gen.
2:15-17, 22; 3:16-19; Josh. 24:15; Matt. 18:12-14). See Ville Suutarinen, “Exploring
the Grievances of the Union of Church and State,” ResearchGate, accessed February
he_Union_of_Church_and_State. The reasons why the old covenant is done away
with, are discussed below in this research paper.
present, or to their bailiffs, for due punishment.”
Gregory IX “established the
Inquisition as a papal tribunal appointed to suppress heresy through procedures
established in the canon law: inquisitio haereticae pravitatis.”
Eventually, the pope
was kept as omniscient, because the canon law gave him the authority to define who
is a heretic and who is not, and who can be condemned to death and who cannot.
is interesting that the pre-Protestant group, Waldenses, which was persecuted and
slaughtered by the Papacy during the Middle Ages, was against death penalty.
Not all of the popes were supporters of death penalty. “Pope Leo I (fifth
century) and Pope Nicholas I (ninth century) spoke against the involvement of the
church in capital punishment.”
Recently, the Catholic Church stated to abolish
. Fourth Lateran Council: 1215, 3, Papal Encyclicals Online, accessed
February 18, 2019, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum12-2.htm#3.
. Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 15, Indian to Jeffers (New York, NY:
Americana, 1975), 192.
. For example, Petrus de Ancharano, who, made the commentary for the
renewed Canon Law by Pope Gregory IX, stated, “The Pope is crowned with a triple
crown, as king of heaven and of earth and of the lower regions [infernorum]… The
Pope can modify divine law, since his power is not of man, but of God, and he acts in
the place of God upon earth, with the fullest power of binding and loosing his sheep.”
Lucius Ferraris “Papa,” art. 2, Prompta Bibliotheca (Venetiis [Venice]: Caspa Storti
1772), vol. 6, 26, 29, as trans. in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students’ Source Book,
rev. ed., vol. 9, Commentary Reference Series (Washington, DC: Review and Herald,
. The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics, 135.
. Davis, 176.
death penalty from its system of beliefs.
However, it seems that according to its
dogmas, the Catholic Church needs not to follow this belief.
Capital punishment continued as a normal punishment during the modern age
in both Catholic and Protestant Europe and in the colonized America. “Under the
criminal codes for the New Haven colony enacted in 1642 and 1650, for example, a
total of 11 offenses—some of which do not even appear as misdemeanors in
contemporary statutes—called for the death sentence.”
Because of Reformation,
Enlightenment, and studies on the Bible by religious leaders and founders of
American colonies, religious liberty broke through, which gave an equal value to
. The church made a change in its catechism, which states, “Consequently,
the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible
because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works
with determination for its abolition worldwide.” New revision of number 2267 of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty – Rescriptum “ex Audentia
SS.mi”, 02.08.2018, Summary of Bulletin, Holy See Press Office, accessed February
. This argument can be defended by two points. (1) The Catholic Church
believes that it is the only true visible body of Christ on earth, and Vatican II did not
change this dogma of the church. Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain
Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
accessed February 21, 2019,
c_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html#_ftn7. This means that the Papacy still
believes in heresy outside of it. Thus, it can condemn of heresy, and leave the actual
judgment and execution of judgment to the state, to which it has a union, as it did in
the Middle Ages. (2) The Roman Catholic Church’s actual infallible dogmas, as they
believe them to be, are defined only by ecumenical councils under the headship of
pope, and by pope’s ex cathedra speech, which only have “undeniably definitive
authority.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Infallibility,” accessed February
21, 2019, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm#IIIC. Thus, the change to
catechism in the issue of death penalty is not infallible teaching, according to the
Catholic Church’s encyclopedia.
. Inciardi, 44.
This led to other legal rights and social liberties,
which led to the
ideal of minimizing cruelty toward other human beings because of their value as
individual persons created by God.
This ideal was expressed in the Eighth
Amendment of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Little by little, almost all of the
Western countries abolished death penalty.
In spite of the possible hint towards abolishment of death penalty in the US
Constitution, many US states have held on to capital punishment. The fresh report
(2018) from Amnesty International informs that “[o]f the 57 member states of the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, only Belarus and the USA
carried out executions.”
However, today, death penalty is mainly practiced in the Middle East. From
that region, “[j]ust four countries were responsible for 84% of all recorded executions
in 2017 [in the world].”
In the same year, “Amnesty International recorded
. Suutarinen, ”Exploring the Grievances of the Union of Church and State,”
4, 8; Nicholas Miller, “Theology and Disestablishment in Colonial America: Insights
from a Quaker, a Puritan, and a Baptist,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society
19, no. 1-2 (2008), 157, accessed February 21, 2019,
. Charles Miles Snow, Religious Liberty in America (Washington, DC:
Review & Herald, 1913), 11.
. However, this paper does not claim that justice is cruelty, because those
who murder another person, do deserve death. Nevertheless, the question is, who has
the authority to execute a person. For this question, this research ought to bring
. The Constitution, The White House, accessed February 21, 2019,
. Death Sentences and Executions 2017: Amnesty International Global
Report (London, UK: Amnesty International, 2018), 7, accessed February 20, 2019,
. Ibid., 5.
executions in 23 countries, the same number as in 2016.”
International polls and
studies show that support for death penalty has been declining through the 21st
century, even though some countries like Peru, Brazil, and South Africa favor
instituting death penalty (in 2006 and 2007).
In summary of history, death penalty was adapted—illegitimately, as will be
shown—into the early Church from the old covenant, and, after the ancient times and
the Dark Ages, death penalty was so deeply attached to “normal” thinking about
justice in governmental authority, that it started to be “less normal” after the
Reformation’s lifting up of the Bible’s teaching,
the development of liberties, and
the idea of minimizing cruelty in societies.
However, the debate about death penalty continues. For example, Evangelical
Christians are divided in their stand about this issue.
What does the Bible say about
the topic? As mentioned, Genesis 9:6 is considered to be of the most important verses
on which the death penalty is founded. In the following chapters, we shall intend to
dig deeper into the text and its context. What does the text express and what does it
. Ibid., 6.
. International Polls and Studies, Death Penalty Information Center,
accessed February 24, 2019, https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/international-polls-and-
. Interestingly, the Protestants believed, and true Protestants believe today,
that the Bible, not man’s infallible institutions or church councils, was and is the
highest authority in defining belief, truth, and practice.
. Capital Punishment, National Association of Evangelicals (2015),
accessed February 24, 2019, https://www.nae.net/capital-punishment-2/.
EXEGESIS OF GENESIS 9:6
How to Read the Text
The verse (Gen. 9:6) reads in WTT:
שֹׁפֵ)֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖
) כִּ ֚
י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱAהִ ֔ים עָשָׂ֖
Codex Muggah and Codex Hillel have a variant reading for שֹׁ פ ֵ ) ֙ , as they have Niphal
imperfect (יִשָּׁפֵ) ).
However, this change does not necessarily affect the meaning of
the verse. It makes the first part of the first clause passive in the following way:
”When man’s blood is shed…” Moreover, in Codex Muggah and Codex Zanbugi
בְּצ ֶ ֣לֶם appears to be לֶם בְּצֵ ,
which also does not change the meaning. The Samaritan
Pentateuch is identical in its consonant writing with WTT.
The Targum of Onkelos has additional text, which talks about a situation of
shedding the blood among witnesses, when the killer can be judged to death.
Nevertheless, this is a later adding to the original Hebrew text because of the textual
evidence of the majority of texts. In turn, LXX reads, ὁ ἐκχέων αἷµα ἀνθρώπου ἀντὶ
. Masoretic Text according to Leningrad Codex. The Holy Scriptures:
Hebrew & English (Great Britain: The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures,
. Samaritan Pentateuch (SMP), BibleWorks, v.10.
. Targumim (Aramaic Old Testament) (Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon)
(TAR) (n.p.: Hebrew Union College), BibleWorks, v.10.
τοῦ αἵµατος αὐτοῦ ἐκχυθήσεται ὅτι ἐν εἰκόνι θεοῦ ἐποίησα τὸν ἄνθρωπον.
of the verse can be translated as follows, “Whoever pours out man’s blood, in return,
his blood will be poured out.” Or it can be translated, “(in exchange) for that man,”
his blood will be shed. This reading is supported by NEB, which states that “for that
man his blood shall be shed.” The Hebrew text can also be read “against that man,”
or “on account of that man.” The lexical evidence for this will be discussed in the
Grammatical and Lexical Studies section (pp. 23-25).
This paper offers the following translation for Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds
blood of a man, on account of that man, his blood will be shed; for God made man in
His own image.” For the comparison of the Hebrew text and the translation, see the
הָאָד ָ ֽם׃
בְּצ ֶ ֣לֶם
שֹׁ פ ֵ ) ֙
Obviously, the translation stands also on contextual, grammatical, lexical, and
theological pillars. These pillars will be discussed from now on.
. Alfred Rahlfs, Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentum iuxta LXX
interpretes edidit Alfred Rahlfs (LXT) (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1935),
. Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old
Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990),
The Historical Context
The Authenticity of Genesis and the Flood
The text at hand is set at the time right after the Flood. In this way, we are
talking about the first moments of postdiluvian world. While building heavily on the
Anglican Archbishop James Ussher’s work, Floyd Nolen Jones states that Noah’s
Flood happened in 2348 BC.
In order for the text to be universal, and applicable for all people at all times, it
must be established that the speech was really given to Noah from God. In order to
establish this, Moses needs to be viewed as a trustworthy author of Genesis, and the
book needs to be viewed as trustworthy.
The main historical source for the time of the OT, including Genesis, is the
OT itself. The book itself does not mention its author, but according to tradition,
Moses is the writer of Genesis,
and the whole Pentateuch. Moses was perfectly
capable to write this ancient document. He grew up in the court of Pharaoh, and had
the best education of the time. Even Semitic slaves could write on the walls of
turquoise mines in Serabit el-Khadim at the time of Moses, because their writings
have been found.
Single authorship of Genesis can be argued by the tablets of generations that
occur systematically through the book (2:4; 5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 36:1).
. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament (Green Forest,
AR: Master Books, 1993), 6, 25.
. Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed.
(Chicago, IL: Moody, 1964), 179.
. Herbert Wolf, An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch (Chicago,
IL: Moody, 1991), 52.
. Archer, 181.
Moreover, the fact that the genealogy of people that are not from the God-chosen
lineage, are consistently listed before the genealogy of the ones with the true faith.
Additionally, the literary structure of the whole Pentateuch refers to a careful work of
one author of the five books of Moses.
Of course, some editing of the Pentateuch
might have happened after the time of Moses,
but there is no evidence that the
editing would have changed the meaning of the text. In fact, the possible editing
consisted of adding geographical or historical details.
Most importantly, Jesus indicated Moses as the writer of Pentateuch (Mark
12:26; Luke 24:44; John 5:46; 7:23). Moses as the writer of the law is found
elsewhere in the Bible, as well (e.g. Josh. 1:7-8; 1 Kings 2:3; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 8:17;
Acts 26:22; Rom. 10:5; 2 Cor. 3:15).
The documentary theory lacks evidence for their “supposed documents” of
different writers of the Pentateuch.
Instead of using the documentary theory, and
the presupposition that the Bible, at least with some of its content, cannot be
historically true, Harrison advises of using “a proper methodology,” with “a careful
examination of the Hebrew text in the light of what is now known about the divergent
. Archer, 181.
. Richard M. Davidson, “The Eschatological Literary Structure of the Old
Testament,” in Creation, Life, and Hope: Essays in Honor of Jacques B. Doukhan, ed.
Jiří Moskala (Berrien Springs, MI: Old Testament Department, Seventh-day
Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 2000), 349-366.
. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old testament (Grand Rapids, MI:
William B. Eerdmans, 1969), 538; Wolf, 58-60.
. Wolf, 58-60.
. Harrison, 501.
streams of life in the ancient Near East from at least the third millennium B.C.”
More and more evidences from archeology, all the way from the findings of William
F. Albright, and ancient texts, show the historical accuracy, and the authenticity, of
Interestingly, we have many ancient stories with the same descriptions and
even details about one or more humans who only survived a great ancient flood in
some kind of ark or boat.
For example, the Gilgamesh epic and the Atrahasis epic
are two of them.
Parallels are found also from the folktales of China, India,
Indonesia, Ceylon, Burma, Australasia, Polynesia, lands of Eskimos, North American
Indians, Peru, Chile, Europe, Egypt, and Africa.
It is known that sixty-eight
different peoples have similar flood stories.
The Flood was universal, not local. Richard M. Davidson gives many
evidence for global flood: (1) All the major themes in Genesis 1-11 are universal
(Creation, Fall, plan of redemption, etc.); (2) similarly to Adam, who was a father of
pre-Flood humanity, Noah was the father of post-Flood humanity; (3) the command to
“be fruitful and multiply” is given to both Adam and Noah; (4) the rainbow sign,
given as a mark that the Flood will not happen again, suggests a universal covenant
. Harrison, 532.
. Harrison, 532; Archer, 165-176.
. Norman R. Gulley, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, Creation, Christ,
Salvation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2012), 385.
. Archer, 210-211; Wolf, 105.
. Fredrick A. Filby, The Flood Reconsidered: A Review of the Evidences of
Geology, Archaeology, Ancient Literature and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1970), 37-58.
. Gulley, 385.
sign; (5) if the Flood would have been local, God would break His promise every time
a local flood occurs; (6) animals from every kind needed to be taken into the ark; (7)
if the Flood would have been a local one, Noah and his family could have just
escaped to a another region; (8) all the mountains were covered by water; (9) the
Flood lasted for a long time (over a year), which makes more sense with a global
Flood; (10) the NT passages suggest a global flood (Matt. 24:39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter
2:5; Hebr. 11:7); (11) and the typology tells that similarly the whole world will once
be destroyed by fire, this time (2 Peter 3:6-7).
Without going to the vast material needed for the scientific discussion about
the Flood, this paper simply states that it stands for the science that has its
presuppositions in the Bible, and not in uniformitarianism and evolutionary theory.
The Literary Context
We can find the verse from the middle of the literary genre of narrative (“the
story of Noah and the Flood” [Gen. 6:9-9:29]). The historical context of Genesis 9:6
is closely related to its literary context, because the book of Genesis is a historical
book. The circumstances have changed from the antediluvian times. Animals will
now fear people (9:2). Right after God instructs that some animals can now be eaten
(v. 3), he continues that blood should not be eaten (v. 4), and blood should not be shed
. Richard M. Davidson, ”Was the Flood Global?” in Gerhard Pfandl, ed.,
Interpreting Scripture: Biblical Research Institute Studies, vol. 2 (Silver Spring, MD:
Biblical Research Institute, 2010), 142-143.
. See John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The
Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961); Harold G. Coffin, Robert H. Brown, and
L. James Gibson, Origin by Design, rev. ed. (Hagerstown. MD: Review and Herald,
2005); Gulley, 377-384.
God makes a covenant with Noah, who is the representative of the new
humanity. In Genesis 9:8-17, God sets the rainbow as a sign for the covenant. We
can conclude that 9:1-7 is closely attached to 9:8-17, and part of the same covenant,
from the following points: (1) Noah and his family were the only human beings on the
planet; (2) in both 9:1 and 9:8, God speaks to Noah and his sons; and (3) in both units,
God discusses about the whole humanity and the whole animal kingdom in general
(vv. 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17).
David A. Dorsey sees Genesis 6:9-9:29 as one unit, and Genesis 9:1-7 as a
subunit, which he names “God’s instruction to Noah in light of His renewal of life on
Dorsey also sees 8:15-22 and 9:8-17 as subunits before and after 9:1-7.
This paper argues that 9:1-7 is closely attached to these two subunits, and together
these three form the covenant discourse that God gives to Noah. This is supported by
the chiastic structure of the units.
Chiastic Structure of the Covenant (Gen. 8:15-9:17)
On the basis of Dorsey’s structure, this paper establishes a chiastic structure
for the subunits as follows:
A—God speaks to Noah only, and says to go with his family and take the animals (all
flesh [ בָּשָׂר ]) (lead and tend them) and bring them out of the ark to be fruitful and
multiply (vv. 15-19)
B—Noah offers burnt sacrifices of clean animals (reference to dietary laws, as
well); God consumes the blood sacrifice (v. 20)
. David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A
Commentary on Genesis—Malachi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 52.
. Dorsey, 52.
[C—Blood sacrifice (substitutionary blood) as the base of the
B’—Covenant of mercy, God will not execute judgment by water; poetic
discourse (vv. 21-22)
A—God says to be fruitful and multiply (9:1) and gives the animal kingdom into the
hand of Noah and his family (v. 2)
B—God orders the diet without blood; man should not consume (eat) blood
[C—Requirement of blood (justice) as the base of the covenant]
B’—Covenant of justice, God judges shedding of blood; poetic discourse (vv.
A’—God says to be fruitful and multiply (v. 7); God speaks to Noah and his sons (v.
B—God establishes the covenant (vv. 9-11)
[C—The covenant of mercy and justice]
B’—God establishes the sign of the covenant (the rainbow) (vv. 12-16)
A—God speaks to Noah only, and says that the covenant is with all flesh ( בָּשָׂר ) (v.
Evaluation of the Structure
The structure has references to the covenant made with Adam and Eve. In the
structure, A and A’ refer to Genesis 1:26, 28, where God gives to Adam and Eve
dominion over the earth and animal kingdom. Additionally, B refers to Genesis 1:29,
where the diet is given to the first human beings on earth. The question how B’ is
related to B, and how the covenants, the blood sacrifice, and the concept of the image
of God are related to B and B’, will be discussed in the Biblical and Theological
Studies part (Chapter 4) of this research paper.
As we see from the structure, verses five and six form a pair. Verse six
repeats the idea of verse five, and also adds some details to it, thus, being
recapitulative. Verse five reads, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require;
at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of
every man's brother will I require the life of man.” (Gen. 9:5, KJV)
B-sections of the first two units have references to universal health laws, as
well, but the main emphasis must be the center role of blood in the covenant, which
was established with the first people on earth, already (Gen. 3:21; 4:4). It is
interesting that in Genesis 4:10 God states that Abel’s blood is crying (revenge) from
the ground, similarly as after the centering of blood in Genesis 9:3-4, comes the
commandment that blood should not be spilled (vv. 5-6). In fact, the burnt offering
(עֹ ל ָה ) established the whole covenant of Noah (Gen. 8:20-21).
In the center of the second subunit of the covenant (9:3-6) are two things: an
exception to killing (human beings are given the right to kill for food), the special
protection from eating blood, and the judgment for blood-shedding. In other words,
blood is given an important emphasis in the two first subunits of the covenant, even
though the first unit (8:15-9:2) concentrates more on mercy, and the second unit (9:1-
8) emphasizes justice more.
The third section (9:8-17) is the only unit that uses the word “covenant”
(בְּר ִית ) (seven times), and it unites the first two sections under one covenant and under
one sign of the covenant (the rainbow). The overlapping of the subunits is another
sign for the unity of them. Interestingly however, the last unit emphasizes only God’s
mercy, not His justice, even though, as stated, the word “covenant” there wraps both
“sub-covenants” around one covenant. Nevertheless, in this way, justice is at the
center of the whole covenant, surrounded by the mercy of God. In either way, or in
both ways, both justice and mercy go together and are equal attributes of God (Exod.
Even though [C]-sections give a little hint of what is coming in this research,
in this chapter of the paper it is enough to know that Genesis 9:6 is a part of a bigger
picture, which is tightly connected to God’s covenants, God’s mercy and grace, God’s
righteousness, God’s justice, and God’s omniscience in the light of the whole plan of
salvation. [C]-sections are explained in the chapter of theological studies.
Genesis 9:6 has three clauses, and כִּ ֚
י marks the movement from the first to the
second clause. The first clause has a clear chiastic structure according to scholars.
Verse six is different from the previous verses. Other verses’ object is in the
second person, but verse six seems to be a general statement, since its object is in the
third person. It looks like verse six is a separate, poetic discourse from the rest of the
pericope (9:1-7), as Wenham states, as well.
Gosnell thinks that it is meant to
instruct all readers.
Gæbelein argues that v. 6 “is to be understood as a comment of
. Hamilton, 311.
. Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, Genesis 1-15,
eds., David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 193.
. Peter W. Gosnell, The Ethical Vision of the Bible: Learning Good from
Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2014, 47.
the narrator and not the words of God speaking to Noah,” because of the third person
Whether the passage would be from the narrator or a direct speech from God,
it would still be God’s word. Moreover, because of the chiastic structure of Genesis
8:15-9:17, and because of the close resemblance between verses 5 and 6, verse six
belongs tightly into the context, which has been shown to be the covenant.
The more important question is the following: Is the verse a law or a poetic
passage? Gosnell asserts that in the verse “we have the establishment of the first law
in the Bible, a law presented to Noah and his family.”
If the verse would be a legal
statement, according to the context of the universal Flood, it would be an apodictic
law, a universal law, like the ten commandments. Moreover, in WTT the verse
begins with participle, which can be put into the form: “whoever does this or that…,”
which is a characteristic of apodictic law.
Wenham states that the verse is a
“concise poetic formulation of the principle of talion (whether is legal or proverbial is
However, as said, the verse is a part of the covenant, which is a
. Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, Genesis-
Numbers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 94.
. Gosnell, 47.
. Ekkehardt Müller, “Guidelines for the Interpretation of Scripture,” in
Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach, ed. George W. Reid (Silver Spring,
MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2006), 132 f7; Roy E. Gane, Old Testament Law for
Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker,
. Wenham, 193.
. Talion means “retaliation”; and the “eye for an eye” law (Exod. 21:24;
Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) is called lex talionis.
legal contract between God and humanity. Moreover, the structure suggests that it is
a parallel poetic discourse with Genesis 8:22.
The context of the universal Flood and rainbow suggests that the covenant is
universal. Even though Noah and his family were the only family on earth at that
time, and thus represented the whole humanity, it seems that when verse 6 is making a
general statement, it “hacks on stone” that God has an unchanging justice for all ages.
As mentioned, the reason why the third clause of verse six has the reference to
man being God’s image, will be discussed further below.
As a conclusion, we can say that verse six is an emphasizing, poetic part of
God’s universal and legal covenant’s “justice section”.
Grammatical and Lexical Studies
As stated, this paper offers the following translation for Genesis 9:6:
“Whoever sheds blood of a man, on account of that man, his blood will be shed; for
God made man in His own image.”
Who is this man ( הָאָד ָ ם ), on who’s account the blood is revenged? The noun
has a definite article ה in the first clause, and ב in the second clause, so it stands for
“man” or “a man”. Moreover, הָאָד ָ ם exists in the third clause, as well, and there the
meaning of it is clearly “man” in general. Also, when we look at the usage of הָאָד ָ ם in
the immediate context (v. 5), the meaning of it is apparently “man” in general. הָאָד ָ ם
in Genesis 8:21 has the same meaning. As we explore the context of the whole OT,
we can notice that in most cases of both ה and ב prefixes, the meaning is “man” in
general, or sometimes “a man”.
The immediate context defines the meaning. Verse five, the parallel verse of
verse six, makes it obvious that we are talking about any situation when a man (or any
man) sheds the blood of his brother. Thus, we can conclude that in verse six, the
meaning of הָאָד ָ ם and בָּֽאָדָ֖
ם is “a man” (any man), who’s blood is shed by anyone.
The shedding of blood is always done by an individual, and every killed
human being is an individual. Thus, LXX has a legitimate use of בָּֽאָדָ֖
ם, because it
can be read in this paper’s way, or “(in exchange) for that man.”
This reading is
supported by NEB, which states that “for that man his blood shall be shed.” Hamilton
states that this rendering is unusual, which, according to him, is a weakness for this
interpretation. And, he thinks that in this way the verse would be a tautology of verse
However, repetition is a well-known literary feature in the Bible.
with the LXX’s reading, verse six still brings something new into the picture, because
it explains how God requires the blood out of the hand of the one who has shed blood,
and what is the reckoning: God takes life for life. And, it adds why God keeps justice:
man was created as God’s image. Additionally, verse five uses the word “require”
(דרשׁ ), which is used in a legal sense. “God himself assumes the role of the blood-
avenger or recompense (cf. Ps. 9:13; 2 Ch. 24:22, where the expression is
In this way, verse six recapitulates verse five.
The Hebrew text can also be read “against that man,” or “on account of that
man”, as was stated. This becomes clear when we see that in addition to its meanings
of, for example, “by,” “in,” and “with,” the preposition ב can mean “against” or
. Hamilton, 315.
. Hamilton, 315.
. Müller, “Guidelines for the Interpretation of Scripture,” 121.
. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Theological
Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 297.
In Genesis 18:28 Abraham asks from God if He will destroy Sodom
“on account of five” ( בַּחֲמִשָּׁ֖
ה) righteous men. In 2 Samuel 3:27, it states, “and there
he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his
brother” ( בְּדַ֖
ל) (NASB); and, 2 Samuel 14:7 states, “Hand over the one who
struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he
killed.” “For the life ( בְּנ ֶ ֤פֶשׁ ) of his brother” can be expressed “on account of his
brother’s life” or “on account of his brother”. And, Jonah 1:14 asserts, “O LORD, do
not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us”
(NASB). Again, “on account of this man’s life” ( בְּנֶ ֙פֶשׁ֙ הָאִ ֣ישׁ ) has the same meaning
as “on account of this man.” Here we can see parallel usage with Genesis 9:6 with
the same meaning of retribution on account of a person.
. Francis Brown, with S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and
English Lexicon of the Old Testament With an Appendix Containing the Biblical
Aramaic, based on the lexicon of William Gesenius (1952), s.v. “ב”.
. Ibid. Even though not ”on account of” a person as such, ב can be found
with a similar meaning of ”reckoning” by putting it ”on account of” someone’s
iniquity (Lev. 26:39; Ezek. 18:17), people’s sins (Num. 16:26), nations’ wickedness
(Deut. 9:4, 5), individual’s sin (Deut. 24:16), and one’s substitutionary suffering (Isa.
BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES
Genesis 9:6 and the Covenant of God’s Authority
From the exegetical studies, we saw that the Bible is historically trustworthy,
and that God established a real covenant with the human race. Moreover, God made a
covenant with the animal kingdom, as well, since He made the covenant with all flesh
(8:17, 21; 9:10-17). However, as can be seen from the chiastic structure, the covenant
has different sections for different purposes, and in the covenant of justice (9:5-6),
which includes the surrounding verses (1-7), God gives special directions and
promises to human beings; thus, 9:1-7 can also be called “God’s special covenant
with man”. The special value of the life of man comes clear from this unit. Animals
can be eaten (vv. 3-4),
but the shedding of blood of man, even by animals, will be
retaliated (vv. 5-6). The question is, then, who has the authority to retaliate the
The answer to the question can be found from the text itself, from the context,
and from the overall theology of the Bible. Firstly, the covenant of mercy (vv. 21-22)
is all about what God will not do even though man deserves it. Similarly, the parallel
. Evidently, only the clean animals may be eaten, because the separation
between clean and unclean animals was already in force (Gen. 8:20). Moreover, 8:20,
where God “consumes” clean animals, is the parallel verse with 9:3-4. Thus, God
wants human beings to “consume” only clean animals, as well. The separation of
clean and unclean animals was for the sacrificial system during the old covenant, and
the separation was and is for the health of man during both the old covenant and the
new covenant. Since the covenant with Noah is a universal one, the health laws are
also universal. According to their principle of health, which is to be found elsewhere
in the Bible as well, not eating flesh of animals in general can prevent many diseases
and health problems. Ville Suutarinen, “’Unclean’ in Romans 14:14, and Its
(Non)relation to Universal Health Laws,” ResearchGate, accessed March 27, 2019,
verses in the covenant of justice (vv. 5-6) discuss about what God will do for making
sure that justice happens. Enns says, “Noah mediated God’s covenant to all
humanity. It is also an unconditional covenant inasmuch as no conditions are
attached to the covenant. God indicated it was something He would do (Gen. 6:18;
Secondly, the covenant of mercy and the covenant of justice are both deeply
rooted into God’s authority to save and destroy life. This is so, “because the life of
every creature is its blood,” (Lev. 17:14) and Jesus Christ shed His blood for the
foundation of the covenant. Noah offered a burnt offering, which was a type for
Christ’s substitutionary death. It was different from other offerings, because it was a
sweet savour offering for the Lord; it was offered for acceptance; it was the offering
of life; and it was wholly burnt.
This is the base of the universal covenant.
Moreover, the prohibition for eating blood has an important spiritual and
sacrificial/substitutionary meaning. It is connected with the burnt offering. Jukes
Here, then, is the first thought presented to us in the Burnt-offering: God finds
food, that is, satisfaction, in the offering. In other oblations we have Christ as
the faithful Israelite, by His offering feeding and satisfying the priest….
This means that we cannot accept righteousness by ourselves (“consume blood”) and
make ourselves righteous. Only God accepts (“consumes”) the sacrificial blood of
. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press,
1989), 47, emphasis added.
. Andrew Jukes, The Law of the Offerings (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel,
. Jukes, 57.
Christ as our salvation in the heavenly sanctuary, which is called justification.
ourselves, we can only accept the already-by-God-accepted righteousness of Christ
through Christ as our only salvation. Perhaps, by giving the prohibition for eating or
drinking blood, God wanted to protect the future generations from idolatry and wrong
understandings about spiritual and soteriological things, which included beliefs that
drinking blood gave spiritual powers, or connected to them.
Additionally, it is interesting that eating blood (as undrained in meat) is
depicted as one of the offences because of which God himself sets His face against
the breaker of the law, and whom He “cuts off” among the people (Lev. 7:27; 17:10,
14). Cutting off from the people was an additional penalty for death penalty, which
. On the cross, God delivered the general and legal justification, which
means that Jesus carried the sins of the world, shed His blood, and died because of the
sin and sins of the world (Rom. 3:24; 5:1, 9; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). After this, Jesus arose
from the dead and ascended to heaven, where He continued and continues His salvific
work for humanity. In addition to Golgotha, justification means the legal act which
God does in the heavenly sanctuary for those individuals who want to receive
salvation and justification by faith (Isa. 6:5-7; Zech. 3:1-5; Rom. 4:25; Hebr. 2:16;
4:14-16; 5:1-6; 6:19-20; 7:25; 8:1, 2, 12; 9:14; 1. John 2:1-2). He does it in a way that
He approves a repentant sinner when he or she believes that the life and death of Jesus
is imputed (counted for) his or her sins and sinful being. This is called justification by
. For example, the ancient Greeks believed that “by drinking the warm fresh
blood of sacrificial victims could they be revived to activity.” W. Carleton Wood,
“The Religion of Canaan From the Earliest Times to the Hebrew Conquest,” Journal
of Biblical Literature 35, no. 3–4 (1916), 123, accessed April 8, 2019,
https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/jbl/1916_001.pdf. And, during the sacrificial rites of
the Amorites, “[b]lood may once have been drunk for this infusion of the divine life
resident in the animal; but later, at any rate, it became taboo because of its great
sanctity.” Ibid., 43. Moreover, Wood writes, “On the eve of battle, warriors, by eating
the sacrifice and drinking the blood of some strong animal, would seek to be
possessed by the god of strength or of anger.” Ibid., 81, footnote reference omitted.
Additionally, African people, for example, have tradition of drinking blood. Olowola
states, “African priests and people participate in drinking blood.” Cornelius Olowola,
“Sacrifice in African Tradition and in Biblical Perspective,” Africa Journal of
Evangelical Theology 10, no. 1 (1991), 4, accessed April 8, 2019,
meant that the person was denied a place among the people of God in the afterlife,
“which could happen if his line of descendants would cease.”
This point even more
universalizes the Noachian covenant, and suggests that Genesis 9:6 can be applied to
God’s final judgment. In Genesis 9:5, God says three times that He will require the
shed blood from the hand of men and beasts (Gen. 9:5; cf. Deut. 32:39).
Thirdly, even though we would use the usual reading, it still does not specify
who this “man” ( אָד ָ ם ) is, who has the authority to execute judgment. In the chiastic
structure of Genesis 9:1-7, we saw that B’ (vv. 5-6) includes the reference to Genesis
1:26-28, where God created man and woman in His image, gave to them dominion
over the earth and all the animals, and stated that they should be fruitful and multiply.
The question for us is, to whom belongs the dominion on earth? Who is the true
image of God? We must remember that Jesus is called the Son of Man (e.g. Matt.
16:13). Who can take the place of the covenantal Head? Are not all the covenants of
the Bible from Jesus, and, eventually, fulfilling in Jesus? He is the new Adam, the
Head of new creation and new covenant, through whom the inheritance of eternal life
is only possible (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Eph. 1:18; 2:18-22). He is the
ultimate image of God. He has the authority to tend and command animals (Matt.
Luke 5:4-7) and even the powers of nature (Mark 4:39). He is the ultimate
Man, who has the authority to shed blood (condemn to death) (Rom. 8:34; 2 Cor. 4:4;
Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 5; 14:10, 14; 19:11-21), because
when incarnated, He was the only one who has kept the law of God perfectly (Heb.
4:15; 7:26-28). This is why, when the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus to
. Gane, 96.
. As God the Father takes care of the animals, so does God the Son (John
judgment, Christ said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a
stone at her.” (John 8:7) (More discussion about this story’s contribution to the death
penalty debate is to be found below.)
We have seen that Jesus Christ is the center of the covenant with Noah and the
human race. Moreover, even the rainbow, as the sign of peace, points to Jesus, the
Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6), and this is why the rainbow is the sign of the covenant. A
rainbow-like glow is around God’s throne in heaven (Ezek. 1:28; Rev 4:3), and Christ
sits on the right side of the Father (Ps. 110:1; Luke 22:69). The throne of God is the
throne of mercy and justice, because the ark of the covenant symbolized it; the ark
had the mercy seat covering it, and the ten commandments were inside of it (Exod.
25:10-22). In Christ, mercy and justice are in perfect harmony (Ps. 85:10; 89:14;
John 1:14). He is the Shekinah glory between the cherubs; He is The Word of God,
who “communes” with humanity (Exod. 25:22, KJV; John 1:1-4, 14); He is the Light
of the world (John 1:4), and the Fountain of the living water (John 4:13-14). Ellen
As the bow in the cloud is formed by the union of the sunlight and the shower,
so the rainbow encircling the throne represents the combined power of mercy
and justice. It is not justice alone that is to be maintained; for this would
eclipse the glory of the rainbow of promise above the throne; man could see
only the penalty of the law. Were there no justice, no penalty, there would be
no stability to the government of God.
In this way, the rainbow symbolizes God’s mercy and justice, and Jesus Christ.
Noachian covenant’s last unit’s center (the B-, B’- and [C]-sections: vv. 9-16) is
. Ellen G. White, “Let the Trumpet Give a Certain Sound,” The Review and
Herald, December 13, 1892.
. White states,
Christ’s death proved God’s administration and government to be without a
flaw. Satan’s charge in regard to the conflicting attributes of justice and mercy
was forever settled beyond question. Every voice in heaven and out of heaven
will one day testify to the justice, mercy, and exalted attributes of God. It was
concentrated on Christ, and it emphasizes that Jesus is the covenant. He is the Seed,
promised to Noah and his family, and universally to all humanity (v. 9).
He is the
Ark of salvation to the new earth, where even the animals can live in peace and
harmony (v. 10; cf. Isa. 65:17, 25). He is Yahweh (John 8:58; 1 Cor. 10:4).
Revelation 5:6 states that Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), has seven eyes, which
is a symbolic way of saying that He is omniscient. The covenant of justice with Noah
and the human race is established on Christ’s mercy, omniscience and justice, not on
man’s mercy, omniscience and justice.
However, God did pass some of His authority, the authority of man as the
image of God, to humanity by His subsequent covenants. What was the authority,
and has it been passed to modern man, as well? In order to understand the scope of
this authority, let us look at similarities and differences of some of the covenants,
because the covenants define the relationship between God’s and man’s authority.
After God founded the covenant with the “new human race” of Noah’s
descendants, he established subsequent covenants with Abraham and Moses. Finally,
He brought the new covenant in Jesus, which can be called the eternal covenant (e.g.
Gen. 9:16; 17:19; Exod. 31:16-17; Ps. 119:144, 152, 160; Ps. 136; Jer. 32:40),
because it is founded on God’s eternal law (Ps. 119:89, 142, 160), Christ’s infinite
in order that the heavenly universe might see the conditions of the covenant of
redemption that Christ bore the penalty in behalf of the human race. (Ellen G.
White, Manuscript 128, 1897)
Moreover, she writes, “Justice demands that sin be not merely pardoned, but the death
penalty must be executed. God, in the gift of His only begotten Son, met both these
requirements. By dying in man’s stead, Christ exhausted the penalty and provided a
pardon.” Ellen G. White, Manuscript 50, 1900.
. ”Seed” ( זֶרַע ) is masculine singular in Genesis 9:9.
righteousness (Ps. 119:142; Hebr. 7:26-28),
eternal mercy (Jer. 33:11) and eternal
life (Hebr. 9:14),
which can be called “the eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:6). The new
covenant differs from the covenants with Abraham and Moses in a way that the latter
include the founding of a theocratical rulership and system of justice on earth only for
Israel (Ps. 147:19-20; Hebr. 7:11, 12, 18; 8:9-12),
even though they included aspects
of the eternal covenant, as well (Gen. 15; Exod. 33:18-23; 34:6-7;
Matt. 5:18). As
the sanctuary service was an earthly pattern of what is in heaven (Exod. 25:9), so the
ten commandments were an earthly pattern of what is in heaven.
Both of them are
. Christ’s righteousness is both eternal and infinite. Jesus has always existed
(e.g. John 1:1-3; Hebr. 1), and His righteousness is qualitatively infinite in a way that
it is perfect, holy, and godly in God’s pattern, reality, and being.
. It is true that the word “eternal” or “everlasting” in the OT is translated
from the Hebrew word עוֹל ָ ם , and in the NT from the Greek word αἰώνιος, which both
can also mean a restricted time span, if we look at the different contexts of the word.
However, the contexts given here are talking about eternal subjects. For example,
Isaac in Genesis 17:19 is a type of Christ, because he was typologically offered as a
sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-19); and, the ten commandments were separated from the Mosaic
ordinances, as the decalogue was in the ark of the covenant but the ordinances were
placed next to the ark (Deut. 31:26; 2 Chron. 5:10).
. Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary issues & Options, 2nd ed.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), 213.
. In both of the texts (Gen. 15:17, and Exod. 34:6), God “passes by” ( עבר ),
with the covering of His saving righteousness (Gen. 15:9, 17; Exod. 33:22), and, thus,
accepts the covenant that is based on His righteousness and justice, which He
proclaims (Gen. 15:6, 14, 18; Exod. 34:6-11).
. It is prominent that the ten commandments were the law according to
which Israel was ultimately judged, because, as was mentioned, it was placed in the
ark of the covenant, and because the ten commandments were the law which
appointed sin that needed reconciliation through the blood which was sprinkled on the
ark of the covenant (on the mercy seat) (Lev. 16:15). As this was the earthly pattern,
we can suggest that the heavenly reality is similar. Moreover, the NT gives evidence
for that the ten commandments are in force in the heavenly temple, and the Decalogue
is closely connected with the last days’ time of judgment, the antitypical Yom Kippur
(the Day of Atonement) (e.g. Hebr. 7:23-9:28; 12:24; Rev. 11:18-19; 14:7; 15:3-5).
Johannes Kovar asserts,
The text of Rev 12:17 is embedded in the context of chapters 12-14. This
section of Revelation is introduced by the initial vision found in Rev 11:15-19
objective realities in heaven, and thus in force for humanity during the new covenant
(Hebr. 8:1-2; Matt. 5:18; Rom. 7:12; 8:7; Rev. 14:12), but not in a theocratic manner,
as in the old covenant time. Both of them become personal for a human being
through God’s personal work by the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:31; 7:7-14;
According to the Apostles, the plans and kingdom promises of the OT (e.g.
Isa. 27:6; Zech. 9:10; Ezek. 37:22-25) were fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:32-34).
principles of many laws are applicable for today, but the punishments, for example,
need to be re-evaluated for the current time, and they can legitimately be abolished or
changed. It is significant that, when some people of the church of Corinth were
committing adultery, “Paul told the church of Corinth to have the adulterer
excommunicated, not to have him executed” (1 Cor. 5:6-13).
We can state that the old covenant stands for the ritualistic, sacrificial and
communal laws, that had something to do with the state of Israel (and later Judah) for
that particular time in that particular place and with the distinction as a nation, and the
and concludes with another heavenly vision in Rev 15:1-8, both related to the
heavenly temple. The first one references the ark of the covenant located
inside the most holy place (Rev 11:19). The second one is about the “temple
of the tabernacle [tent] of the testimony in heaven” (Rev 15:5). The phrase
“tent of testimony” was used in the Old Testament to designate the sanctuary
as the place where the Ten Commandments were located. In other words, the
term “testimony” referred to the Decalogue as the covenant law.
Commentators have recognized that Rev 15:5, “the testimony” designates the
law of God, the Ten Commandments. (Johannes Kovar, “The Remnant and
God’s Commandments: Revelation 12:17,” in Toward a Theology of the
Remnant, ed. Ángel Manuel Rodríguez [Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research
Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2009],117)
. According to Paul, the new covenant would last until the end of time,
because there would be controversy between the true gospel and the false gospel until
the end (2 Thess. 2:1-10; cf. John 17:20).
. Geisler, 209.
laws that were marks of inheritance of the sonship and daughtership of God during
the OT times. These laws are abolished, because there is no more Jew or Gentile, but
everyone who believes in Jesus is a part of the universal family of God and inherits
the eternal life (Eph. 2:19-22; 3:6; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Peter 2:5; Gal. 3:28; John 4:4-42;
10:16; Luke 9:51-56; 23:45; Matt. 15:21-28; 21:43). In this way, the universal and
eternal covenant has always been, but the old covenant was a temporary covenant. In
Ephesians 2:15, Paul states that the cross of Christ ended the old covenant’s
“commandments contained in ordinances.” “Ordinances” (δόγµα) means “the rules
and requirements of the law of Moses;… carrying a suggestion of severity and of
However, the universal principles of the laws are applicable
The Eventuality of Judgment in God’s Omniscience
The execution of death penalty is in God’s authority in the OT. Even though
the NT does not directly discuss about the issue of death penalty by the state, the
principle of death being in God’s authority alone, is in the NT (Mark 9:1; 13:12; Luke
2:26; 12:20; John 4:47; 12:33; Rev. 6:8). Since God is all-knowing (2 Peter 1:2) and
all-powerful (Hebr. 1:3), both death and judgment are in His hands.
. Joseph Henry Thayer, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian
Gottlob Wilke, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm's
Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti (New York: American Book Co, 1889), s.v. “δόγµα.”
. Gane, 177; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and
Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity
Press, 1996), 114.
. The author of this paper states,
Even when Ananias and Sapphira died in front of Peter and members of the
congregation (Acts 5:1-11), it was not Peter who took their lives; he did not
touch them, not even by his words (by “commanding them to die,” or
something like that). But, it was God who took their lives, because Ananias
and Sapphira tried to deceive the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Peter only knew
destroyed the old world by the Flood, He will once destroy the current world by fire
(2 Peter 3:6-7).
As became clear, Jesus Christ has the authority to condemn to death. This is
why, even though John’s Revelation states that blood of the killed saints is screaming
revenge (Rev. 6:10), God does not encourage Christians to retaliate their shed blood
in the Revelation or in any other book of the NT. One of the most important
messages of the book of the Apocalypse is that God has the wisdom to judge, and He
will execute the judgment (e.g. 6:11, 15, 16; 11:18; 15:4; 16:4-7).
Only God has the authority to use literal sword, and to execute lethal
judgment. It is prominent that the only verses in the New Testament where
the word “sword” [ῥοµφαία or µάχαιρα] is used, which are related to lethal
execution, are the descriptions of the final judgment in the end of the world,
where God will use physical force in the execution of the judgment to the
wicked (Rev 19:15, 21). Additionally, Jesus said that only God will execute
this act according to His judgment (Matt. 13:24-30), which, even though it is a
just action because the wicked do not want to be saved, and they would
continue their immoral rebellion even after understanding God’s love and
salvation (Rev 20:7-9), is still a “strange act” (Isa 28:21) for His loving and
This stands for another evidence for that the message of Genesis 9:6 is the eventuality
of God’s judgment for blood-shedding and violence, whether the judgment happens
before or during the final judgment or in both. Repeating the universal meaning of
Genesis 9:6, Jesus states, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the
sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) The last judgment has always been the
ultimate judgment, which God’s children have waited in the midst of suffering and
beforehand that God would withdraw His spirit from these persons. Peter was
a prophet, because prophets are the ones who hear God’s plans before they
have happened (Amos 3:7). (Suutarinen, “Christian Nonresistance:
Investigating the Meaning of Luke 22:35-38,” 28)
. Suutarinen, “Christian Nonresistance: Investigating the Meaning of Luke
injustice of this world (Hebr. 10:30-38). Even in the ancient times, Job was looking
forward to the last judgment, and states, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and
that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth… Be ye afraid of the sword: for
wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.”
(Job. 19:25, 29, KJV) Here, Job, obviously, connects the wrath of the Lord by His
sword to the last day of judgment.
The Authority of the Saints
However, has Jesus assigned His forensic power, especially the one that has to
do with death penalty, to His followers? The Bible states that yes, but not yet. The
Bible says, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world
will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not
know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1
Cor. 6:2-3, NKJV)
and “if we endure, we will also reign with him [God]. If we
disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Tim. 2:12, NIV).
The Scriptures makes it
clear that the saved will rule after the second coming of Jesus and the eschatological
resurrection (Rev. 20-21). Even though the saints will judge the wicked, the Bible
does not say that they will execute the judgment on them, but the Scripture states that
“fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Rev. 20:9, NASB).
. Note that Paul uses future tenses for “judge” (κρινοῦσιν, κρινοῦµεν),
which means that the judging will happen in the future. Even though Paul states that
the saints are competent for judging things in this life, as well, the judging of the
whole world, meaning the rulership of the whole world, will come later, as the text
. Here, again, Paul uses future tense for “reign” (συµβασιλεύσοµεν).
Jesus did give the authority to “bind” and “loose” to the body of Christ (Matt.
16:19; 18:18), which means church discipline.
Nevertheless, as stated, Paul did not
have the adulterer executed, but he put him under church discipline (1 Cor. 5:5-13).
This is consistent with Jesus’ pardon for the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), who,
according to the law of Moses, should have been stoned to death (Deut. 22:22).
. Ranko Stefanovic, “Did Jesus Give the Church the Authority to Forgive
Sins?” in Gerhard Pfandl, ed., Interpreting Scripture Bible Questions and Answers:
Biblical Research Institute Studies, vol. 2 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research
Institute, 2010), 277-279.
. It is true that Deuteronomy 22:22-24 states that both man and woman who
were guilty for adultery needed to be stoned, which can be one reason that Jesus did
not approve death penalty for the adulterous woman alone in John 8:1-11, as Davis
points out, even though he says that it is the only reason. Davis, 181-182.
Nevertheless, seven arguments for that Jesus rather abolished capital punishment in
John 8:1-11 are offered as follows. (1) It would be reasonable that if the other party
(the man or the woman) manages to escape, the caught party would still be executed,
and thus the woman in this story could nevertheless be stoned. Even though it is an
apocryphal book, this kind of possible scenario is depicted in the story of Susanna and
the elders (vv. 36-40). The New English Bible Apocrypha (Great Britain: Oxford
University Press, 1970), 268. Even though the elders are lying, “[i]n deference of their
position, the assembly believes them and condemns Susanna to death, in accordance
with Deut. 22.22. Bernard S. Jackson, Studies in the Semiotics of Biblical Law.
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 314 (Sheffield,
England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 53. (2) If Jesus would approve death
penalty in this case, He would approve it for adultery, which, as even many capital
punishment supporters think, is not sufficient for modern justice systems and not even
for the eye-for-an-eye thinking (which Jesus abolished).
(3) The “court” that Jesus established, when He asked for the innocent to
throw the stones, more probably means the general guiltiness and sinfulness of the
crowd than the involvement of the whole crowd in the precise sin of adultery with this
specific woman. (4) Obviously, the main contribution of John 8:1-11 is Christ’s purity
and righteousness against the hypocritical self-righteousness of His accusers, and the
mercy of Christ for sinners. (5) Jesus came to implement the new and eternal
covenant, the new spiritual Israel in His righteousness, without theocracy. The rest of
the NT speaks for the invalidity of theocracy, which included death penalty by God’s
authority, for the new covenant, as this paper argues. (6) The rest of the NT does not
contain passages that would stand for capital punishment, as will be shown below. (7)
The main argument of this paper, which is that Genesis 9:6 does not authorize
universal death penalty for the implementation of men, stands as one evidence for this
paper’s argument on John 8:1-11.
story of adulterous woman speaks for the argument that death penalty is not suitable
for the new covenant era. Following, we will examine more arguments for this claim.
Death Penalty: More Suitable for the Old Covenant
Christ did not give the church an authority to kill or to send to be executed.
However, does the state have an authority to take life? This is a more complicated
issue, and it must be stated again that Christians can live in both a state with and
without capital punishment, because they are or should be law abiding citizens. The
Bible simply does not directly say how modern states should legislate their laws.
However, this research aims to show that, according to the Bible, death penalty is not
necessary for today’s societies.
NT Texts Used for Capital Punishment
Norman Geisler introduces different views on capital punishment in his book
Christian Ethics. In the book he shows that John 19:10-11, where Jesus lets himself
to be executed, and Acts 25:11, where Paul is willing to receive death penalty if he is
found guilty for treason, are used as evidences against the claim that the cross
abolished capital punishment.
Moreover, Geisler also notices Romans 13:4, where
Paul writes that the government’s sword executes the wrath of God upon the
criminals, as an argument for death penalty.
In order to answer for the claims, firstly, NT does not include a statement that
would establish the argument for capital punishment. NT does not speak against
. Geisler, 203, 215, 216.
. Ibid. Moreover, Roy E. Gane holds Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:1-7 as
evidences for the legitimacy of capital punishment for modern states. Gane, 332.
death penalty per se, either. Both Jesus and Paul were willing to obey the secular
laws of the government (Matt. 17:25-27). The mission of Jesus and the Apostles was
not to change laws of the land. Jesus’ mission was to bring salvation to everyone, and
to justify those who are willing to be saved by Him, and the Apostles’ mission was to
proclaim the gospel about Jesus. This is the background for John 19:10-11; Acts
25:11, and Romans 13:4. Issues of jurisprudence, let alone political issues, simply
were not included into the direct agenda of the NT church (John 18:36), because these
issues include legislation, which is not for the church, for the reason that it involves
the danger of passing liberty of conscience-violating laws, and, because, as has been
stated, the old covenant theocracy is finished.
Most importantly, the gospel was and
is proclaimed for individuals in order for their hearts to be changed (Matt. 13).
this way, the gospel does have an effect on society and laws, if the individuals live
and talk the Christian principles without advocating laws that are against the
principles and/or break the liberty of conscience.
Secondly, even though the passage of Romans refers to those authorities that
used also death penalty as a punishment, it does not specify the crimes which need
retribution, and it does not specify any penalties for the offenders.
It states that the
. Suutarinen, ”Exploring the Grievances of the Union of Church and State.”
. This paper has the same mission as the NT church: Its goal is not to try to
change the laws of governments—obviously, because it is an academic paper, not a
bill—but to have an effect on the consciences of individuals. Perhaps, as a
consequence, some lawmaker thinks that the arguments of this paper are enlightening
. F. Godet points out that the Greek word for “sword” (µάχαιρα) in verse
four stands for the kind of sword that the Roman superior magistrates, who had the
authority to implement capital punishment, used. Davis, 182. However, death penalty
was not the only punishment that the magistrates inflicted. There were lighter
punishments, as beatings and warnings, as well (Luke 23:22; Acts 16:22-24; 22:24).
The text states that the execution of wrath is against “evil” in general (e.g. NKJV,
NASB). Obviously, capital punishment was not the punishment for every evil deed
government is “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (KJV). The
concept of wrath in the Bible does not always stand for death penalty, but it can mean
different kinds of penalties without death.
Romans 13:1-4 is discussing about the
principle of justice that is seen in the human beings’ need and attribute (as an image
of God) to have order. The fact that Paul was ready to die by the government, and
follow the laws of the land, does not mean that he advocated capital punishment. This
is why, Romans 13:4 does not necessarily include capital punishment. Paul is saying
against the government. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the
New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1963), 26-28. Moreover, jailers used the
same kind of sword (µάχαιρα), as well (Acts 16:27). BibleWorks, v. 10. Thus,
“sword” means the authority to punish in general. This is the universal meaning of the
passage, when applied for today.
. The Hebrew verb זַעַם for “to be in wrath” or “to address angrily” can
also mean “to scold.” Oskar Grether and Johannes Fichtner, Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament, vol. 5, Gerhard Kittel, ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), s.v. “ὀργή,” 393. “Wrath” of God is depicted with the
effect of total destruction, but also as bringing penalties such as “drought and famine,
plague and pestilence, high mortality and deliverance up to enemies, Nu. 11:1, 10, 33;
12:9; 17:11; 1 S. 6:19; 2 S. 24 etc.” Fichtner, Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament, vol. 5, s.v. “ὀργή,” 400. Romans 13:4 has the word ὀργή for “wrath,” and
LXX translates “wrath” as ὀργή in many of the previous OT verses. LXT. Fichtner
continues that God’s wrath against individuals can happen by “[s]ickness, persecution
by personal enemies, the threat of premature death, the sense of remoteness from
God.” Fichtner, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 5, s.v. “ὀργή,”
401. God’s anger did not always come in straight, “deadly blows” (capital
punishment), but with “moderated wrath,” during a long time (Isa. 54:8-10). Ibid.,
405. Moreover, longsuffering was often mixed with Yahwe’s wrath. “He warns and
admonishes Israel to turn before His wrath involves complete destruction.” Ibid.
There is even “a time of wrath which must run its course before the time of grace can
dawn” as a concept in the Bible (e.g. Isa. 26:20; Dan. 8:19; 11:36). Ibid. All of these
verses include ὀργή in the LXX. LXT.
This time of wrath has a parallel with the seven last plagues in the NT. It is
true that in some cases the wrath of the Lord ceases only when the guilty are put to
death (Num. 25:1-5). However, now, again, we come to the question, who has the
right to put someone to death? Additionally, as was shown, this is only one way of
God’s wrath; He does not destroy people in every case. The moderated wrath during a
long time can be applied as a prison sentence during the modern time.
that Christians are not anarchists but civil citizens (Rom. 13:5-9). However, there are
more elements in the image-of-God concept and reality, which will be discussed next.
Principles of God’s Justice in the New Covenant
We have seen that the principle behind Genesis 9:6 is God’s justice. While
arguing for death penalty, Hard Sayings of the Bible states, “[T]he major argument for
capital punishment still rests in the image-of-God argument given in Genesis 9:6.”
Nevertheless, as the covenant with Noah shows, the main aspect of the image-of-God
concept in Genesis 9:6 is not that man can retribute the shed blood because he is
God’s image, but the main point of the text is that human being is God’s image
because he is valuable to God. Human being is so valuable to God that Jesus Christ
shed His precious blood for him or her. This is the reason that God cares about
justice for humanity, and it is one of the principles of God’s justice of the universal,
eternal, and new covenant.
It is true that as God’s image, humanity should value and implement justice on
earth. When God established the covenant with Noah, He left the possibility of the
old covenant to work temporarily within the universal covenant. However, the
translation of this paper (and of LXX) shows that God does not specify how He will
shed the blood of the guilty ones for shedding blood. Even if we use the usual
translation, which reads that “by man, his blood will be shed,” it does not specify who
the “man” is.
As has been stated, this paper argues that only God has the ultimate
. Kaiser, et al., 116.
. Ellen White used the popular translation for Genesis 9:6. She wrote,
How carefully God protects the rights of men! He has attached a penalty to
willful murder. 'Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed'
(Genesis 9:6). If one murderer were permitted to go unpunished, he would by
his evil influence and cruel violence subvert others. This would result in a
condition of things similar to that which existed before the flood. God must
authority and omniscience to take life. This does not mean that God would not have
given, and would not give, the right to take life to some people in some
punish murderers. He gives life, and He will take life, if that life becomes a
terror and a menace. Mercy shown to a willful murderer is cruelty to his
fellow men. If a willful murderer thinks that he will find protection by fleeing
to the altar of God, he may find that he will be forced from that altar and be
slain. But if a man takes life unintentionally, then God declares that He will
provide a place of refuge to which he can flee. (Ellen G. White, Manuscript
This was a whole paragraph (no. 44) from her.
What does she mean? Let us see the context. The text is found from the
context where Mrs. White discusses about the statutes of ancient Israel (beginning
from para. 40). Before this section she wrote about the ten commandments and their
application for modern time. In the content of the three paragraphs before the text, she
writes about the alleviating of the conditions of slaves by the statutes given to the
state of Israel during the old covenant time; and, in the last paragraph before the text
she talks against the modern slavery while discussing about the importance of the
modern liberty of conscience. Thus, she seems to use the modern right for the liberty
of conscience as a bridge to the next subject of capital punishment. After the text, she
writes about the old covenant ordinances, with some applications from the principles
of the law to the modern time.
We can see that the context and the text are mainly discussing about the time
of the Israelite state, when there is a possibility that she is referring to the application
of Genesis 9:6 for the state of the old covenant. This can be defended by the discussed
paragraph, itself, and by the next paragraph, which states,
He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.’ Thus
God expressed His mind in regard to rebellious children. He made it a capital
crime for children to curse or to smite their parents. And He will punish the
parents, if they do not govern and control their children. How many children
are lost to all virtue! How many are abandoned to vice and iniquity! How
many abuse their own parents! (White, Manuscript 126, 1901)
In this paragraph she uses past and present tense interchangeably, as well as in the
discussed paragraph. In the discussed paragraph, she most probably discusses only
about the time of ancient Israel, because she does not make a clear application to
modern time, and because she continues with the notion about taking a willful
murderer from the altar of God, and about the safe-cities for unwilful killers. Thus,
she seems to emphasize the wisdom of God when He established just laws for the
time of Israel, because she compares the punishments for willful and unwilful killing.
Moreover, she states the argument of this paper: “God must punish murderers.”
Another place, where she utilizes the popular reading, has a clear context in
the time of the state of Israel. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain
View, CA: Pacific Press, 1958), 516.
As a conclusion, it is legitimate to use the usual translation in the context of
the old covenant, as Ellen White did.
circumstances. Obviously, during the old covenant, God established death penalty for
the nation of Israel through Moses. God gave the authority to execute capital
punishment for crimes such as kidnapping and selling a person (Exod 21:16), adultery
(Lev 20:10), incest (Lev 20:11), and idolatry (Deut 13:1–5).
Is there an authority to kill during the new covenant? As stated, Romans 13:4
establishes God’s providence for humanity to keep law and order in societies. When
the verse does not necessarily speak about capital punishment, it, at least, talks about
the state’s authority to punish evil doers. Thus, when applied for today, there can
occur a situation when the police are left with no other choice but to take life of a
violent criminal who would kill someone if not stopped immediately. However, this
kind of life-taking is more like an accidental killing. Consciously intended taking of
life by the government during the new covenant time is a different matter than
The old covenant ordinances were advanced for the time of their giving.
Nevertheless, eventually, it was time to move to the new covenant era. Jesus stated
that he came to abolish the “eye for an eye” thinking in social relationships of His
followers (Matt. 5:38-48). Jesus was not discussing about laws of state, because the
theocracy was and is done away with. This is why, the passage cannot directly guide
legislation. However, up to a point, the Sermon on the Mount can give some indirect
. The OT laws were holistic in nature, and was planned for character
development into holiness (Exod. 19:6; Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2, 18, 34; 20:26; Deut.
6:5). They valued individual life and responsibility (Deut. 5:6; Exod. 20:2; 21:31).
Even the slaves were kept as individuals, because Exodus 20:2 addresses every
individual. Gane, 84. Everyone was responsible for his or her own actions (Deut.
24:16), but, for example, the Law of Hammurabi stated that if a built house by a
constructer collapses on a son of the householder, the constructer’s son has to be
killed. Gane, 131. Moreover, “OT laws provides a major advance in jurisprudence by
consistently treating an individual as innocent unless found to be guilty through an
authorized procedure, as in United States law.” Gane, 132.
principles for the philosophy of laws. Perhaps, this is why Motyer states, “Durham
rightly approves of calling it [the abolishment of eye-for-an-eye thinking] ‘an
important advance in the history of jurisprudence.’”
Geisler presents a reply for the argument that love and capital punishment are
contrary. He states that the cross of Christ expresses that death penalty was and is
necessary, because it is based on the idea of “a life for a life”.
This view is right
about that “a life for a life” principle in God’s justice has not been abolished by the
new covenant. Those who murder do deserve to die. It is also correct that God does
everything from His love, and the same God of love “gave both the OT law of love
(Matt. 22:37-40) and the NT ‘law of Christ,’ which is also love (e.g. Gal. 5:14;
However, this paper argues that the main question is who has the authority
to take a life for a life, and the research shows that God has the authority. Because
God’s authority and omniscience were directly influencing and controlling the
theocracy, death penalty was legitimate, but this was apt for the old covenant only, as
will be shown below.
God’s love, mercy and justice are seen most brightly in the cross of Jesus.
Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world gives the ultimate meaning and purpose for
justice. This is the ultimate deterrent and prevention of crimes. Modern people can
. J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus, The Bible Speaks Today
(Drowners Growe, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), 240.
. Geisler, 203.
. Gane, 171.
learn the value of human life better from the sacrifice of Jesus than from the “lesson”
of a-life-for-a-life in death penalty (Gal. 3:23-24).
Numbers 35:33 asserts, “You shall not pollute the land in which you are, for
bloodshed pollutes the land, and the land cannot be atoned for on which blood has
been shed, except by shedding the blood of the one who shed it.” Hard Sayings of the
Bible uses this passage for arguing that death penalty is legitimate for today for the
reason that the forsaking of retaliation for the unlawfully shed blood will bring God’s
judgment upon modern societies, as well.
Premeditated killing was more
punishable than accidental killing in the justice system of Israel, because no substitute
was allowed for the willful murderer (Num. 35:31); and, this principle is a reasonable
one for modern courts from the context of the text and in general. However, the
passage from Numbers is taken from the context of the establishment of the nation of
Israel, and the land needed to be atoned because it was the inheritance of the old
covenant people. New covenant has the inheritance in the new heaven and earth
through Christ, as it has been stated. Again, this does not mean that justice should not
be kept in this world, as well. However, the justice of death penalty is based on
God’s omniscient justice, and it is suitable only for the court of the old covenant
theocracy. Reasons for this will be discussed next.
Differences between Ancient Israelite and Modern Courts
In Romans 13:1-7, we saw that Paul taught that Christians should be law
abiding citizens, because the government in principle is founded on order, and God is
. This, obviously, does not mean that the state should force everyone to
hear and obey the gospel. However, it means that the state should embrace the liberty
of conscience, when the gospel can be spread to people by the Church.
. Kaiser et al., 115-116.
the God of order. Obviously, Paul is not saying that every government of the world
has been and is omniscient, perfectly good, and ultimately of God, because the Bible
tells about governments that are not of God (Dan. 7; Rev. 13). In order for a
government to have the authority for death penalty, it should function like the old
covenant theocracy in God’s relatively direct guidance. Why can we say that?
Firstly, the law of Sinai was given to a community in a relatively immediate
presence of God (cf. Exod. 20:18-23). Lawbooks were not followed to the letter by
but Israelites could seek “guidance and judgments from him [God]
through priests at his sanctuary (Deut. 17:8-12).”
They had an access to the
omniscient God. “The fact that the Israelite high court is at the sanctuary and
involves priests who can inquire of the Lord implies that the ultimate source of
Israel’s law is YHWH himself, whose decisions are accessed through oracles.”
E. O. White asserts, “Here, as in the Decalogue, the divine control of ordinary life and
affairs is asserted. God’s hand is seen in the chance meeting of enemies; God
avenges the cry of the oppressed; God’s authority upholds the decisions of local
Obviously, this is not the case for current states. Even in the time of
ancient Israel, other nations were not responsible for obeying the civil statutes of
. Gane, 30.
. Gane, 165.
. Gane, 30.
. R. E. E. White, Biblical Ethics: The Changing Continuity of Christian
Ethics, vol. 1 (Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1979), 22.
. Gane, 166; Geisler, 213, 216.
The idea of the old covenant was that the Israelites would remember God’s
holiness and live according to it in a holy fear. This is clearly seen in that death
penalty was given for example of hitting or cursing one’s parents (Exod. 21:15, 17),
and of sexual intercourse with an animal (22:19). It is clear that the principles of
these laws can be applied for today, but the punishments of them are not for current
societies. Israel was supposed to be a type of heaven on earth, a typological new
earth (Exod. 23:26; Isa. 65:17-25). God himself dwelled visually among the literal
nation, similarly as He will dwell more fully among His people in the new earth (Rev.
21:1-4, 23; 22:3-5). In the societies of this worldly time, there is not and will not be
another experience for a nation as the descending of God to Sinai and the giving of
God’s holy law by His own finger.
Secondly, the “court cases” had, at least, the practical and lawful possibility of
being beyond any doubt. When there were no witnesses to a crime, the community
could “decide” a curse on anyone who knew something about the crime but did not
come to testify (Lev. 5:1).
Another way to solve difficult cases was to take it to the
sanctuary before the Levitical priests and judges, who had the authority from God,
and who had access to the omniscient decision of God (Exod. 22:8-9; Deut. 17:8-13;
9:17). God wanted His people to rely totally on the wisdom and omniscience of Him,
not on man’s fallible wisdom (Deut. 4:6; Prov. 2:6; 3:6). We must remember that
Jesus was and is the center of the Noachian covenant, and that He is the universal
. Unmistakably, Satan can counterfeit God’s supernatural being and acts
up to a point (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thess. 2:9). One can discern Satan’s misleading
miracles and supernatural phenomena from God’s miracles and supernatural acts by
the Bible. If the phenomenon is contrary to or leading away from the truth of the
Scripture, it is from the Devil (Isa. 8:20; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).
. Gane, 119.
covenant, which means that, ultimately, by His authority the blood was shed during
the old covenant, as well.
When it comes to modern courts, they have the practical and lawful possibility
of being beyond reasonable doubt, but not the practical and lawful possibility of
being beyond any doubt.
Modern courts make many mistakes; and an example of
this is that the United Stated federal courts can end up in not giving the verdict of
capital punishment, when the state courts have given it for the same case. Between
1976 and 1990, “40 to 60 percent of such cases were reversed” by federal courts.
Thus, there is the possibility that innocent people are sentenced to death by the courts.
Paul J. Larkin Jr. states, “Whether the criminal justice system will mistakenly execute
an innocent party is hardly a new problem. That risk has been around as long as the
death penalty has been a sentencing option.”
Larkin argues that because the modern courts are fallible, “[p]erfection,
therefore, should not be the standard.”
However, from the theological viewpoint of
this paper, when we are talking about life and death, perfection should be the
standard. It was the standard in the days of ancient Israel, because the Israelites had
access to God’s sanctuary. God has not changed, and the question of life and death
has not changed.
In a difficult case, today, there is no high court of priests who can
. Paul J. Larkin Jr., “The Demise of Capital Clemency,” Washington & Lee
Law Review 73, no. 3 (2016), 1314-1315, accessed April 10, 2019,
. Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking (New York: Vintage Books,
. Larkin, 1315.
. Theoretically and biblically thinking, a perfect government would
absolutely know that a murderer is guilty, would sentence him or her to death, and
speak for the omniscient God to the courts. If a state would appoint or acknowledge
such a high court, it would employ the illegitimate union of church (or religion) and
state, and it would eventually break God’s law of the liberty of conscience.
would give to the criminal a chance to repent and have mercy. If the criminal would
truly repent from his or her heart, the perfect government would know it and give to
him or her absolute mercy because of the omniscience of the offender’s heart, past,
and future, as well as the omniscience about every human being’s, who will be
involved and come across in the offender’s life, heart, past, and future. Obviously,
this is possible only to God and His government.
It is true that when there is no and cannot be perfect justice in the earthly
governments, we cannot have perfect mercy either, and many times murderers murder
again. One can argue that this is the reason that unperfect justice should overrule
unperfect mercy. Even though criminological or criminological-ethical studies of
punishments are delimited from this study, it must be briefly stated that this paper is
more for locking a cold blooded murderer (especially with heinous murder[s], and
convicted beyond reasonable doubt) to prison, in solitary confinement, for the rest of
his or her life, without a chance for parole, with the risk that he or she might murder
again in prison, and with the risk that he or she might escape and possibly murder
again outside of prison, than premeditatedly kill (execute) the murderer. One reason
for this, which is within the scope of this study, will be shared below.
. One could argue that then there was no religious freedom in the ancient
Israel, either, and God must have planned a faulty system of covenants. Eight
arguments are presented against these claims: (1) Because God is just, every
individual human being ever lived on the earth, who can make an intelligent choice,
has had, has, and will have an equal chance to choose between good and evil,
regardless of one’s time and place of birth and circumstances, and regardless of the
level of knowledge of good and evil, because every human being that can make an
intelligent choice has at least some knowledge of good and evil (Rom. 2:12-16); (2)
the only difference between the ancient Israelite theocracy and the present systems in
regard to choice, is that relatively more of the ancient Israelites were able to choose
quicker, because they corporately had the present truth and salvation (via the typical
substitutionary sacrificial system and a chance to have a personal relationship with
God) right before their eyes, when God himself led them out of Egypt, and gave them
the law, the prophets, and the sanctuary; (3) the system was not faulty, because after
the fall of humanity, this world became legally as Satan’s own (Job 1:7), and God had
to bear the Devil's usurped dominion and influence over the earth and humanity,
before Jesus came and won legally this earth back to God on the cross of Calvary
(John 12:31; 19:30); (4) this is why God gave the law as the “schoolmaster” until faith
came through Christ (Gal. 3:23-25); (5) as Israel was a type of God’s kingdom, and
the sacrificial system was a type of salvation, the temple needed to be guarded from
defilement of sin; (6) Israel needed to be guarded and defended against the openly
hostile nations, which would have led the Israelites astray from the truth and high
morality, as happened occasionally (Num. 25); (7) Israel’s laws were similar but more
just than the laws of the surrounding nations; and (8) the great nation-amalgamating
powers (Dan. 7) had not risen yet (the new covenant worked and works among
There are many laws in the OT that have much to teach about universal
principles of justice for people living today. However, to decide whether one can live
or die, is in a different category of justice. This is possible only in a theocracy, where
everyone has an equal access to the religious truth concerning the law of the deity,
death, sin, and salvation.
Only God knows the hearts of men. Only He knows when one would not
choose Him, even in the future, but would rather die than accept God’s mercy,
salvation, love, and God-given life in service to Him. There is only this lifetime to
make our decisions for or against God. After death, there is no second chance (Luke
16:19-31). One can theological-ethically say that because human beings cannot see
the future and in the hearts of each other, it is safer today to choose not to kill
someone, who possibly is ready to die in God at the time of his or her death, than
choose to kill someone with the possibility that he or she kills someone(s), who
possibly die without faith in God, in the future. As one can see, the first choice has
only one possibility (uncertain factor), when the second choice has two uncertain
factors. It is safer to go with the first choice in the light of the new covenant.
syncretistic, nations-unifying, vast authorities [Rev. 12:9; 13:1-4, 7, 8, 14; 14:8;
17:15, 18; 19:19]).
We have seen that ultimate justice is founded on God’s authority and
omniscience. From history we saw that Augustine brought capital punishment into
the early church, which was united with the state. Eventually, the church discipline
was changed into the “sword” of the amalgamation of church and state. This union
brought religious-political authority to Christian priests, which caused the
condemning of “heretics” to death. In this example from history, we saw the wrong
idea of man’s authority, when the pope was lifted to be as omniscient.
The historical context of Genesis 9:6 shows us that Moses was a trustworthy
author of Genesis, and that Noah’s flood was a real universal flood. The literary
context refers to the chiastic structure of the covenant (Gen. 8:15-9:17), which center
points are the “sub-covenants” of mercy and justice. The whole covenant is focused
on Jesus Christ’s substitutionary blood and the justice behind the “blood for blood”
Genesis 9:6 is an emphasizing, poetic part of God’s universal and legal
covenant’s “justice section”. It is recapitulating verse five. Verse six can be
legitimately translated, “Whoever sheds blood of a man, on account of that man, his
blood will be shed; for God made man in His own image.”
The covenant of mercy and justice are both deeply rooted in Jesus Christ’s
authority to save and destroy life, which is the foundation of the Noachian covenant.
God will require the shed blood from the hand of the murderer. Even the sign of the
covenant, the rainbow, points to Jesus Christ. He is the omniscient Yahweh, God.
God did pass some of His authority to men. During the old covenant, He
established the theocratical government of ancient Israel. However, its justice system
was only for Israel. The eternal covenant, which is also the new covenant, in Jesus,
with the law (the ten commandments) and mercy (the substitutionary death of Christ
on the cross, and His substitutionary work in the heavenly sanctuary), is still valid, but
the theocratical laws of Israel are abolished.
Both OT and NT emphasize God’s sovereign omniscience in judgment. NT
refers that even though injustice and horrible things happen in this world, ultimately,
retaliation belongs to God in the last judgment. The message of Genesis 9:6 is the
eventuality of God’s judgment, which Jesus repeated in Matthew 26:52. Jesus has
assigned His forensic power to the saints; however, they get to use it only after His
second coming; and, even then, God executes the judgment. Paul acted as an
example, when he did not send an adulterer to be executed, but he excommunicated
him (1 Cor. 5:5-13). Moreover, Jesus pardoned the adulterous woman, who should
have been executed according to the law of Moses (John 8:1-11). In short, Christ did
not give the church an authority to kill or to send to be executed.
The issue whether the NT teach that the state has an authority to take life, is a
more complicated issue. The NT does not directly say how modern states should
legislate their laws, because the OT theocracy is done away with. Nevertheless,
Romans 13:4, which is used to defend capital punishment, does not specify the crimes
which need retribution, and it does not specify what kind of punishments the
government should use. Christians can live in both a state with and without capital
punishment, because they are or should be law abiding citizens. Jesus himself was
ready to be executed. And the fact that Paul was ready to die by the government, and
follow the laws of the land (Acts 25:11), does not necessarily mean that he advocated
When God established the covenant with Noah, He left the possibility of the
old covenant to work temporarily within the universal covenant. Thus, God passed
some of His authority to the ancient Israelite theocracy to execute death penalty for
various crimes. In the new covenant, accidental killing by the police in a dangerous
situation may be legitimate, but conscientious taking of a life by the government is on
a different level of ethics and justice. Jesus came to abolish the “eye for an eye”
thinking in social relationships of His followers (Matt. 5:38-48), which can give
indirect principles for jurisprudence.
In order for a government to have the authority for death penalty, it should
function like the old covenant theocracy in God’s relatively direct guidance. The
Israelites had access to God’s omniscience through the sanctuary, and they were able
to consult God’s direct will from the “high court” of judges and priests. The “court
cases” had the practical and lawful possibility of being beyond any doubt. However,
modern courts are fallible, and they can find someone guilty only beyond reasonable
doubt, not beyond any doubt, because they do not have the access to God’s “high
court”. If governments would establish or acknowledge a high court of priests, they
would employ the illegitimate union of church (or religion) and state, and they would
break the God-given liberty of conscience.
This paper has shown that the more popular reading of Genesis 9:6 is more
suitable to the old covenant than to the new covenant. This significantly crumbles the
foundation of its usage for advocating capital punishment. On the other hand, the
translations of LXX and this paper are more probable in the light of the universal
Noachian covenant and theology of the new covenant. Since the old covenant
theocracy is abolished, it seems wise to abolish death penalty, as well.
God values human beings so much that Jesus Christ gave His own life for
them. Biblical Christianity values both justice and mercy, equally. Without mercy,
there is no justice, and without justice, there is no mercy. A person who murders
another human being deserves to die. Justice is not cruelty. However, only Jesus
knows the hearts of human beings. Only Christ knows when one has made his or her
final decision regarding salvation in Him. This is why death penalty in modern states
is founded on faulty understanding of man’s authority. Only Jesus Christ has the
ultimate authority and omniscience to shed blood and decide who lives and who dies.
The reason for this is that the universal covenant is founded on His eternal blood.
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