In this chapter, Kuyper considers the issue of whether Genesis 9:6 provides the basis for imposition of civil government:
Genesis 9:6 (AV)
6Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
The argument is essentially this: The primary (and ultimate) act of the civil government is the enforcement of law, by the (ultimate) act of capital punishment. See, Romans 13:1, et seq.
It is the Reformed position that the right of capital punishment conveys the power of civil government. However, there are those who hold that this verse is not a command but rather a promise of punishment by God on the last day, or perhaps God in providence will provide for an untimely death of the miscreant. And while the Reformed position would agree that God will punish on the Last Day, and that providence may provide for the untimely death of the murderer, the quotation is in the form of an imperative: Thou shalt punish the murderer.
But is this the correct understanding? Are those who refuse the imperative more accurate?
Kuyper begins by assessing the structure of the proposition: He notes that the final clause is explanatory: “for in the image of God made he man.”
What conclusion should we draw from this: Does the taking of the murder’s life rest upon the dignity of the victim? Or does the right to impose capital punishment rest upon the dignity of man to be a judge of such things (in accord with God’s direction)?
We must realize that all created things belong to God, and human beings have no independent position to exercise any dominion over any creature – except as God ordains. This is inherent in the Genesis 1 creation account of human beings: to be created in God’s image & to exercise dominion over creation were two distinct propositions:
Genesis 1:26–28 (AV)
[First] 26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
[Second] 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Thus, no one human being has the right to take another human being’s life without express direction from God.
When we consider this proposition it helps to decide between the two possible readings of the concluding clause of Genesis 9: being in the image of God could not give a human being the right to kill another human. But, killing a human being would give us a rationale for God’s ordinance of capital punishment: it is correct because a human being has been killed.
The ordinance rests ultimately upon God’s sovereignty. God alone has the right and power to impose such a rule. Anyone who kills without God’s mandate, makes himself liable to being executed by other men. The judicial motive of the act is the honor and sovereignty of God. This then makes sense of the whole.
Exodus 21:12 (AV)
He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
Kuyper makes an interesting observation about the sound of the first clause of Genesis 9:6. The sound “dam” means blood in Hebrew. The sound a-dam means human being, man. Thus, the clause sounds like this: dam ha’adam ba’adam damo. There is a fourfold repetition of the sound for blood.
He ends with an interesting observation about authority. Prior to this institution, there was authority within the family – but this included no authority to take a life. Here we have something new, and with that the post-flood world included the institution of a civil government.