What does Genesis 9:6 mean?In the previous verse, God declared that, from this point forward in the post-flood world, He would require an account or reckoning whenever a human life was ended by man or animal. This verse describes that reckoning: The person or animal who killed another person was to be killed. The poetic language of the shedding of blood refers to death.
The institution of the death penalty by God differs drastically from His response to Cain's murder of his brother Abel. Then God allowed Cain to live and even to thrive on the earth (Genesis 4:15–16). However, the violence on the earth was part of God's reason for wiping out mankind with the flood (Genesis 6:5).
God gives a specific reason for this new command to kill those who kill others: Humans are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26–27). God values human life and will not allow the taking of life to stand without the killer giving an account. This command also shows that human life is valued above animal life in God's eyes. Men were allowed to kill and eat animals, but men or animals who killed a person would themselves be killed.
This specific reference to capital punishment—an offense worthy of physical death—is also important in that it predates the Law of Moses. Christians are often divided over the concept of the death penalty. As part of that debate, this verse reminds us that capital punishment did not originate with Moses, but with Noah.