Third, let's consider what the Old Testament teaches about capital punishment in the Law of Moses.
The general law regarding capital punishment given to humanity in Genesis 9 would have been in force for close to one thousand years before the Law of Moses was revealed to the Hebrew people and superseded it for them only (Gentiles would have continued to be amenable to Genesis 9 until Christ's death; cf. Col. 2:14ff; Eph. 2:11ff).
The Law of Moses required capital punishment for over twenty offenses. Let us read a number of passages from the Pentateuch and note the capital crimes God identified:
Numbers 35:29-34 reads:
"And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel."
Here the principle of Genesis 9 is reiterated but many helpful details are also given, particularly regarding the minimum required number of witnesses for the death penalty to be implemented for any qualifying offense.
Leviticus 20:10 commands - "The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death."
In the very next verse, Leviticus 20:11 states - "The man who lies with his father's wife has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." Other incestuous relationships are also identified as capital offenses in that context.
Leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a man as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." God executed the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah for homosexuality (among other sins) in Genesis 19.
Exodus 22:19 - "Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death."
6. Rape of a betrothed virgin.
Deuteronomy 22:25 - "If a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die." We learn in this context that not all types of rape were capital offenses, but this type is comparable to adultery and therefore worthy of the death penalty.
We learn from Exodus 21:16 - "He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death."
Leviticus 21:9 - "The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire" (cf. Deut. 22:13-21).
9. Human sacrifice.
Leviticus 20:2 - "Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death."
10. Striking one's parents.
Exodus 21:15 - "And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."
11. Cursing one's parents.
Exodus 21:17 - "And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."
12. Rebellion against parents.
"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear."
We will continue this study in our next lesson.