New Testament Teaching
Nowhere in the New Testament is capital punishment outlawed. On the contrary, the New Testament not only recognizes the right of the State to exercise authority in the name of God, but enjoins obedience to the State in applying the laws of God to its citizens.
As already noted, St. Paul explicitly declares that the State has authority from God to punish criminals. Christ Himself tells us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. St. Peter enjoins Christians to be good citizens. Moreover, we are to obey civil authority â€” not mainly, but also "because you are afraid of being punished" (Romans 13:1-6).
But Sacred Scripture needs to be explained. As we reread the early Church's interpretation of the rights of civil authority, we find a remarkable thing.
From the beginning there were two variant interpretations of State authority relating to war and capital punishment. One interpretation was openly pacifist, and the other was non-pacifist.
Two names especially stand out that wrote belligerently against all war, and therefore espoused universal pacifism. Tertullian, 160-220, and Lactantius, 240-320 also fought strenuously against capital punishment of condemned criminals.
At the same time, the accepted Fathers of the Church never adopted these extreme positions, either outlawing all war as unjust or forbidding all capital punishment as inherently evil.