The sanctity of human life is based on what we read in Genesis 1. The creation of human life differs from that of other life forms. We’re created according to God’s image and have dominion over other creatures.

Succeeding chapters tell us more about what this means:

  • Genesis 4 gives the account of the first violation of the sanctity of human life. While Abel’s sacrifice of an animal pleased God, his murder by Cain greatly displeased Him. We learn that his blood cried out to God from the ground, and that murder does not go unpunished. God did not, however, kill Cain. By the end of the chapter, Cain’s descendant Lamech had mistakenly concluded God wasn’t much concerned about murder; he boasted about the murders he’d committed!
  • In Genesis 5:1-3, another key difference between humans and other living things is shown. Animals and plants reproduce (“after their kind,” from Gen. 1) while humans procreate (after our image, which is in His image).
  • In Genesis 6:11-13, we see the result of unbridled wickedness, as people avenge themselves with no limits.

3/ Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
4/ But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
5/ 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.
6/ Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.

When we get to Genesis 9, a new idea is presented. God “requires” or “demands” a reckoning of any loss of human life—whether it be by man or animal. There will be no more wanton vengeance—killing a murderer’s family members or entire village, for example. The person or creature that causes a human death will be the one to die.

The use of repetition in verse 5especially noticeable in the King James Versionawakens us to the big change. Three times God said, “will I require,” and three times “at the hand of.” Whoever is responsible must be held to account. God hears the blood and He sees what we do about it.

Once again there’s a distinction between us and animals: God does not in the same way hold men accountable for the deaths of animals, but animals as well as men are accountable for the loss of human life. (See Exodus 21:28-36.)

As we've already seen in Gen. 4 and 6, the death penalty can violate God's intent when it’s not carefully or honestly employed, so why put something so dangerous in the hands of fallen men?

The reason given in verse 6 echoes the original statement in Genesis 1: mankind is still made in God's image, even after the Fall. Rather than violating the sanctity of human life, capital punishment actually upholds it. The death penalty is right simply because of imago dei.

This principle is borne out in the rest of scripture (see references below), right up to the end of our current age, as we see in Revelation 6:9-11, 9:20-21, 18:24-19:2, 21:6-8, and 22:15. If a murderer is not punished by his peers, a day of reckoning is still future.

Our latest copy-ready insert shows how cities of refuge were intended to protect the sanctity of human life. God wanted murderers to receive their righteous punishment—capital punishment—but offered sanctuary to anyone who caused death accidentally. These laws reassert the idea that innocent blood cries out to God because whenever innocent blood was shed, it defiled the Promised Land (Numbers 35:6-34).

Related scriptures:
Exodus 21:12-14 
Deuteronomy 19, 21:1-9, and 22:8 
Joshua 20 
2 Kings 9:26 
Psalm 9:12 
Proverbs 28:17 
Isaiah 26:21 
Ezekiel 3:17-21 and 33:1-6 
Matthew 23:34-36 
Luke 11:47-51 
Romans 13:4  
James 3:8-10

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