Romans 13:3-4: Capital Punishment


The death penalty is a matter that causes great controversy. We live in a country that has put away the death penalty, any country today seeking entrance into the EU will have to ban the death penalty, and even many countries that approve of it are very slow to apply it. But it is to this matter that we must turn as we take a look at Romans 13:3-4, a traditional prooftext for the traditional Christian view that the death penalty for murder is a God given power of the state. ‘For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.’

We continue then our look at Paul’s call for everyone to submit to the governing authorities. You will notice that our verses begin with the word ‘for’ indicating that these verses form part of a greater discussion. Paul has been listing the reasons why we should all submit to the government. In verse 1 he told us that God created governing authority, and even appointed the bad governments. In verse 2 he drew out the necessary implication showing us that if we resist the government, we are resisting God. He also mentioned that if we resist we will incur judgement. Verses 3-4 are a continuation on the idea of judgement. There has been a lot of discussion around the word judgement in v2. Is this the judgement of God, or is this the judgement of the state? Verses 3-4 and show that it is a case of both and. So today as we look at these verses we want to look at the function of government in punishing and rewarding looking at the governor as God’s servant, and the sword as God’s sword.