Premeditated Murder       (death penalty required)Exodus 21:12-14, 22, 23Matthew 5:38; Matthew 26:52; Gal 5:18-21; 1 John 3:15
KidnappingExodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:71 Tim 1:10; Rev 18:12, 13;
Striking or Cursing ParentsExodus 21:15, 17; Deut 27:16; Leviticus 20:9; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:11, 17;Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10; 1 Tim 1:9
Magic or DivinationExodus 22:18; Lev 19:26; Lev 19:31; Lev 20:6; Lev 20:27; Deut 18:10-11; 1 Sam 28:3; Isa 19:3Acts 8:9-11; Acts 16:16-19; Acts 19:19; Gal 5:20; Rev 22:15
BeastialityExodus 22:19; Lev 18:23; Lev 18:25; Lev 20:15-16; Deut 27:21 
Sacrificing to False GodsExodus 22:20; Num 25:2-4 Num 25:7-8; Deut 13:1-15; Deut 17:2-5; Deut 18:20Gal 5:20-21;
Profaning the SabbathEx 20:9-10; Ex 23:12; Ex 31:13-16; Ex 34:21; Exodus 35:2; Lev 23:3; Numbers 15:32-36; Deut 5:12-15Luke 13:14-17; Col 2:16, 17
Offering Human Sacrifice to idolsLeviticus 20:21 Cor 13:13
AdulteryLeviticus 20:10-12, 17-21; Deuteronomy 22:22Matt 5:26-27
IncestLeviticus 20:11, 121 Cor 5:1-5
HomosexualityLeviticus 20:13Rom 1:26, 27
BlasphemyLeviticus 24:11-14, 16, 23Matt 13:31
False ProphecyDeuteronomy 13:1-10Gal 1:6-9
Incorrigible RebelliousnessDeuteronomy 17:12; 21:18-21Jude 10-13
FornicationDeuteronomy 22:20, 211 Cor 5:10-11
Rape of Betrothed VirginDeuteronomy 22:23-27 

Chart idea was taken from Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts, page 61.

Worshipping other godsEx. 22:30; 34:14Matt 4:10
ApostasyDe 13:1-8Heb 12:14-17
IdolatryEx 20:4-6; De 4:15-281 Cor 10:14
SorceryEx 22:18; De 18:9-14Rev 21:8
Sacrifice of ChildrenLe 18;21; 20:2-5 
BlasphemyLe 24:16; De 5:11Matt 12:31
False prophecyDe 18:18-20Matt 7:15
Labor on the SabbathEx 35:2, 3; De 5:12-16Matt 12:1-13
Perversion of justiceEx 23:8; Le 19:5; De 16:19, 20Rom 13:7, 8
PerjuryDe 5:20; 19:16-21Acts 5:1-10
AdulteryLe 19:20-22; De 5:18; 22:22-24Ma 5:27-30
Unlawful marriageLe 18:6-181 Cor 5:1-5
Against natureLe 18:19-25; 20:13Rom 1:24-27
ProstitutionLe 19:29; 21:91 Cor 6:15-18
CovetingDe 5:21 
LyingLe 19:11 
MurderGen 9:5, 6; Ex 21:12-14; Nu 35:14-34; De 5:17 
Assault and batteryEx 21:15, 18, 26, 27; Le 24:19Ma 5:39
RapeDe 22:25-27Ma 5:27-30
SeductionEx 22:16, 17;Re 2:20
OppressionEx 22:21-24; Le 19:14, 33; De 24:14; 27;18, 19James 1:27
KidnappingDe 24:7Lu 12:15; Ep 5:3; Phile 15, 16
SlanderEx 23:1; Le 19;16James 3:2, 13, 17, 18
TheftEx 22:1-4; Le 6:2-7Eph 4:28
Stealing of landDe 19:14; 27:17Lu 20:46, 47
False weights and measuresLe 19:35-37; De 25:13, 16Ro 12:17

Chart taken from The New Analytical Bible, John A. Dickson Publishing Co., page 1460.


Any act forbidden by the civil law and punishable upon conviction. As used in the Bible, however, the word crime refers to any act against God’s moral law as well as any transgression against God, or man, or both (Judg 9:24; Ezek 7:23; Acts 18:14). Specific crimes prohibited in the Bible include MURDER (Mark 15:7), theft (Josh 7:21-25), LYING (Isa 28:15), FORNICATION (Gal 5:19), and ADULTERY (Ex 20:14).

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)


(krim), (krimz): This. term is used in English as the equivalent of the Hebrew Mishpat, “judgment,” “verdict” (Ezek 7:23); zimmah, “a heinous crime” (Job 31:11); ‘asham = “a fault,” “sin” (Gen 26:10, English Versions of the Bible “guiltiness”); and Greek aitia, “case,” “cause” (Acts 25:27, the Revised Version (British and American) “charges”). In the King James Version John 18:38; 19:4,6, the rendition is “fault.”

egklema, “indictment,” “charge” (Acts 25:16 the King James Version) is changed in the Revised Version (British and American) to “matter.” A crime is a transgression against the public right; serious offence against the law; a base weakness or iniquity, all of which are regarded by the Bible as offences against (1) God, or (2) man, or (3) both. An injury to the creature is regarded as obnoxious to the Creator. Specific forms of crime are the following:

Adultery. – See separate article.

Assassination. – This term does not occur in the English Versions of the Bible, but, of course, is included in the more general “to kill,” or “to slay” (haragh = “to smite with deadly intent” “destroy,” “kill,” “murder,” “put to death”). The law distinguished between unpremeditated and premeditated slaying, pronouncing a curse upon the latter (Deut 27:25). David expresses the deepest abhorrence of such an act (2 Sam 4:9-12). Instances are found recorded in Judg 3:15-22; 2 Sam 3:27; 4:5-7; 13:28-29; 20:9-10; 2 Kings 12:20; 19:37; Isa 37:38. See also separate article.

Bestiality. – According to Webster: “unnatural connection with a beast.” This form of vice was treated by the Mosaic law as something exceedingly loathsome and abhorrent, calling for extreme language in its description and rigorous measures in its punishment. Both the beast and the guilty human were to be put to death (Ex 22:19; Lev 18:23; 20:15-16; Deut 27:21), in order, as the Talmud says, to obliterate all memory of the crime.

Blasphemy. – See separate article.

Breach of Covenant (parar ‘eth ha-berith). – According to Poucher (HDB, article “Crimes”), this term included: (1) failure to observe the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:29); work on that day (Lev 23:28); (2) sacrifice of children to Moloch (Lev 20:3); (3) neglect of circumcision (Gen 17:14; Ex 4:26); (4) unauthorized manufacture of the holy oil (Ex 30:33); (5) anointing an alien therewith (Ex 30:33); (6) neglect of the Passover (Num 9:13). Note also the following: Gen 17:14; Lev 26:15-44; Deut 29:25; 31:16,20. Paul (Rom 1:31) speaks of asunthetoi = “Convenant-breakers.”

Breach of Ritual. – A term not found in the Scriptures, but designed to cover a number of acts prohibited by the ceremonial law. They have been exhaustively enumerated by Poucher (HDB, article “Crimes”): (1) eating blood, whether of fowl or beast (Lev 7:27; 17:14); (2) eating fat of the beast of sacrifice (Lev 7:25); (3) eating leavened bread during the Passover (Ex 12:15,19); (4) failure to bring an offering when an animal is slaughtered for food (Lev 17:4); (5) offering sacrifice while the worshipper is under the ban of uncleanness. (Lev 7:20-21; 22:3-4,9); (6) making holy ointment for private use (Ex 30:32-33); (7) using the same for perfume (Ex 30:38); (8) neglect of purification in general (Num 19:13,20); (9) slaughtering an animal for food away from the door of the tabernacle (Lev 17:4,9); even the alien must comply, so that the introduction of worship at other places might be avoided; (10) touching holy things illegally (Num 4:16,20 the Revised Version (British and American) “the sanctuary”). The punishment for the non-observance of these prohibitions was the “cutting off” from the transgressor’s people (nikhrath miqqerebh  = “cut off from among,” i.e. excommunicated)

(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)


(pun’-ish-ments) (‘awon, “fault,” “iniquity,” “punishment for iniquity,” “sin” (Gen 4:13; Lev 26:41; Job 19:29; Ps 149:7; Lam 4:22; Ezek 14:10; Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6), `onesh, “tribute,” “fine,” “punishment” (Lam 3:39), chaTa’ah, or chaTTa’th, “sin” and its retribution, “penalty,” “expiation” (Zech 14:19); kolasis, “punishment,” “torment” (Matt 25:46), epitimia, “poll tax,” hence, “penalty” (2 Cor 2:6), timoria, “vindication,” hence, “penalty” (Heb 10:29), ekdikesis, “vindication,” “retribution” (1 Peter 2:14 the King James Version)): A court could inflict for a crime against the person, a sentence of (1) death in the form of stoning, burning, beheading, or strangling, etc.; (2) exile to one of the cities of refuge in case of manslaughter (Num 35); or (3) stripes, not to exceed 40, in practice 39 or less (Deut 25:3; 2 Cor 11:24). Offences against property (theft, fraudulent conversion of deposit, embezzlement, robbery) were punished by exacting more than the value of the things taken (Luke 19:8), the excess going to the injured party, thus differing from a fine, which goes into the treasury of the community. The housebreaker was liable to be slain with impunity (Ex 22:2). A fine in the modern sense is unknown in the Scriptures, unless Lev 5:6-19 be interpreted as referring to such.

1. History of the Hebrew Law concerning Punishment: The earliest theory of punishment seems to have been that of retaliation – “blood for blood” – and to some extent this principle appears even in the Law of Moses (Lev 21:19-20; Matt 5:38). Early in the history of the race, punishment was administered for sin and crime. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, and Cain, the first murderer, though not executed in retaliation for his deed, had a mark set on him. The words of Lamech (Gen 4:24) indicate that death was regarded as the fitting punishment for murder, and the same thought apparently was in the minds of the brethren of Joseph (42:21). Judah, as head of his family, seems to have had power of life and death (38:24), and Abimelech threatens his people with the extreme punishment in case they injure or insult Isaac or his wife (26:11). Similar power is ascribed to Pharaoh (41:13).

2. The Mosaic Law concerning Punishment: Under the Law of Moses, the murderer was to be put to death without mercy. Even if he took refuge at the altar in a sanctuary or in an asylum city, he would not be immune from arrest and execution, and the same principle was applied in the case of an animal (Ex 21:12,14,23,28,36 parallel). But punishment under the Mosaic Law was not to be entailed or transmitted (Deut 24:16), as was the case among the Chaldaeans (Dan 6:24) and the kings of Israel (1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 9:26).

It has been noted that capital punishment is extensively prescribed by the Mosaic Law, and undoubtedly the Law was carried out. This circumstance has been explained by reference to the fact that the nation consisted of newly emancipated slaves, and therefore required harsh measures to keep them in check.

Under the Mosaic Law, the offences that made one liable to the punishment of death were: (1) striking or reviling a parent (Ex 21:15,17); (2) blasphemy (Lev 24:14,16,23; 1 Kings 21:10; Matt 26:65-66); (3) Sabbath-breaking (Ex 31:14; 35:2; Num 15:32-36); (4) witchcraft and false pretension to prophecy (Ex 22:18; Lev 20:27; Deut 13:5; 18:20; 1 Sam 28:9); (5) adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22); (6) unchastity: (a) before marriage, but detected afterward (Deut 22:21), (b) in case of a woman with someone other than her betrothed (Deut 22:23), (c) in a priest’s daughter (Lev 21:9); (7) rape (Deut 22:25); (8) incestuous and unnatural connections (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:11,14,16); (9) man-stealing (Ex 21:16); (10) idolatry, actual or virtual, in any form (Lev 20:2; Deut 13:6; 17:2-7); (11) false witness in capital cases (Deut 19:16,19)

(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)


(See CROSS, etc.) Death was the punishment of striking or even reviling a parent (Ex 21:15,17); blasphemy (Lev 24:14,16,23); Sabbath-breaking (Num 15:32-36); witchcraft (Ex 22:18); adultery (Lev 20:10); rape (Deut 22:25); incestuous and unnatural connection (Lev 20:11,14,16); man stealing (Ex 21:16); idolatry (Lev 20:2). “Cutting off from the people” is ipso facto excommunication or outlawry, forfeiture of the privileges of the covenant people (Lev 18:29). The hand of God executed the sentence in some cases (Gen 17:14; Lev 23:30; 20:3,6; Num 4:15,18,20). Capital punishments were stoning (Ex 17:4); burning (Lev 20:14); the sword (Ex 32:27); and strangulation, not in Scripture, but in rabbinical writings. The command (Num 25:4-5) was that the Baal-peor sinners should be slain first, then impaled or nailed to crosses; the Hebrew there (hoqa’) means dislocated, and is different from that in Deut 21:22 (thalitha tolwi), Deut 21:23.

The hanged were accounted accursed; so were buried at evening, as the hanging body defiled the land; so Christ (Gal 3:13). The malefactor was to be removed by burial from off the face of the earth speedily, that the curse might be removed off the land (Lev 18:25,28; 2 Sam 21:6,9). Punishments not ordained by law: sawing asunder, and cutting with iron harrows (Isaiah, Heb 11:37; Ammon, in retaliation for their cruelties, 2 Sam 12:31; 1 Sam 11:2); pounding in a mortar (Prov 27:22); precipitation (Luke 4:29; 2 Chron 25:12); stripes, 40 only allowed (Deut 25:3), the Jews therefore gave only 39; the convict received the stripes from a three-thonged whip, stripped to the waist, in a bent position, tied to a pillar; if the executioner exceeded the number he was punished, a minute accuracy observed in 2 Cor 11:24. The Abyssinians use the same number (Wolff, Travels, 2:276). Heaps of stones were flung upon the graves of executed criminals (Josh 15:25-26; 2 Sam 18:17); to this day stones are flung on Absalom’s supposed tomb. Outside the city gates (Jer 22:19; Heb 13:12). Punishment in kind (lex talionis) was a common principle (Ex 21:24-25). Also compensation, restitution of the thing or its equivalent (Ex 21:18-36). Slander of a wife’s honour was punished by fine and stripes (Deut 22:18-19).

(from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1998 by Biblesoft)


Payment for crime or sin. Punishment of sin is one of the basic truths of the Old Testament. Mosaic Law spelled out the proper punishments for each crime. The punishments generally took the form of retribution, “eye for eye” (Ex 21:24) and other punishment in kind being the most memorable. Retribution such as this was only a small part of the ideas of compensation and restitution of value emphasized under the Old Testament law (Ex 21:18-36). For example, if one person injured another in a fight, he was required to repay the victim for any time lost from his job because of the injury. In the case of disfigurement, the person committing the crime might also suffer the same violence as a punishment handed down by the court.

Since punishment was tied so closely to crime and sin, it was only natural that this concept should extend from the temporal world into the spiritual world. God meted out His own punishment to those who broke His moral law, notably against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:12-29) and the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness (Num 14:26-35).

In the New Testament, the concern with temporal punishment became secondary to Christ’s message of redemption. An eternal spiritual punishment falls upon those who refuse to accept God’s message.

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)


The final judgment of God upon the wicked. The classic example of eternal punishment in the Old Testament is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:15-28). While speaking about wicked angels who are being held in “everlasting chains,” the writer of Jude in the New Testament likened these wrongdoers to the wicked men of Sodom and Gomorrah, who “are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul wrote about the final judgment. He explains that those who do not know God “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess 1:9). This same idea was expressed by Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46). After separating the two, Jesus blessed the sheep-those who have cared for the unfortunate and poor. Then he pronounced judgment upon the goats-those who did not have compassion: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire” (v. 41).

The essential meaning of the phrase everlasting punishment involves banishment from the presence of God and Christ forever-a fate made vivid by the image of eternal fire (Rev 19:20; 21:8).

Also see HELL.

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

PUNISHMENT. The rendering of a considerable variety of Heb. and Gk. words in the Scripture. The principal meanings expressed by these terms are reproof, chastisement, restraint, penalty, full justice, and vengeance. The specific meaning in each case must be determined by the terms employed and the connection.

Biblical View. The biblical view of punishment differs in the two testaments.

Old Testament. The punishments most frequently mentioned in the OT, and upon which chief stress is laid, are temporal. They were inflicted directly by God, or were divinely prescribed to be inflicted by persons duly authorized. Instances of the former are found in Gen 3:16-24; 4:10-13; 6:12-13; 19:24-25; Num 16:28-33, and many other places. In early times we find punishment authorized to be inflicted by the hand of man (Gen 9:5-6), but more and more plainly it appears that this was to be done in accordance with divinely appointed and developed social order. The penalties prescribed under the Jewish economy were of great variety and were related to every kind of crime and breach of civil and ecclesiastical regulations. Among capital offenses were blasphemy (Lev 24:14,16,23), Sabbath-breaking (Num 15:32-36), witchcraft (Ex 22:18), adultery (Lev 20:10; cf. 18:20), rape (Deut 22:25), incest (Lev 20:11-12,14,17,19-21; cf. 18:6-18), kidnapping (Ex 21:16), idolatry (Lev 20:1-5; cf. 18:21), and murder (Ex 21:12-14; Lev 24:17,21). (See further Ex 21:15,17; 22:19-24; Lev 21:9; Deut 19:16-19; 22:21-24.)

The ordinary mode of capital punishment was stoning, although other forms, such as hanging and burning, are also mentioned. It is believed, however, that these latter were preceded by death in the ordinary way of execution (Ex 19:13; Lev 21:9; Num 25:4; Josh 7:25).

The meaning of the phrase “cut off from his people” or “cut off from Israel,” as descriptive of punishment, is disputed. It is used many times in the OT, sometimes with reference to crimes the penalty for which is death, but frequently also with reference to offenses the penalties for which are not so clear (Ex 12:15-19; 30:32-33,38; Lev 7:25; 17:9; 19:8). Among minor forms of punishment were exemplified the principles of retaliation (Ex 21:24-25; Lev 24:19-22) and of compensation (Ex 21:18-36; 22:2-4,6-7; Lev 6:4-5; 24:8-22; Deut 19:21; 22:18-19). Stripes, stocks, and imprisonment also appear among penalties prescribed or employed (Deut 25:3; Jer 20:2).

The severity of the OT dispensation in this respect has often been made a subject of unfavorable criticism. But the character of the people, the condition of the times, and the necessity for impressing the importance of morality and religion and of developing the right national life furnish the sufficient explanation. It is not to be forgotten, moreover, that the doctrine of a future life, as a state of reward and punishment, was not as strongly emphasized in those times as afterward. See Immortality.

New Testament. We find in the NT a relaxing of the severity of the OT with respect to temporal penalties; but in connection with this is the bringing into prominence of the motives and influences of the gospel revelation (Matt 5:19-48; Luke 7:37-50; John 8:3-11).

That capital punishment is discountenanced by the NT is, however, an unwarranted opinion. The sanctity of human life still has around it its ancient safeguard (cf. Gen 9:6 with Rom 13:1-6; Matt 26:52; Rev 13:10). The retribution, however, upon which the NT lays chief stress is that of the future. The teachings of Christ and the apostles leave no room for doubt of the fact of future punishment and of the eternal duration of punishment in some form (Matt 12:32; chap. 25; 26:24; Mark 3:29; 9:43; Rev 14:11; 20:10). See Hell.

Theological and Ethical. The primary ground for the infliction of punishment is not the reformation of offenders. In the divine administration a distinction is clearly made between chastisement and punishments properly so called. In the administration of human government the object of reformation often has a proper recognition, though the reason and warrant for the penal sanctions of law are still deeper than that. The chief end is not the discouragement or prevention of crime or wrongdoing. This is often an important effect, and a proper though still subordinate object. The underlying idea-that most deeply fundamental-is justice.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. B. Clark, Biblical Law (1944); G. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East (1955); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (1961), pp. 143-63; S. Mendenhall, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews (1968).

PUNISHMENT, MOSAIC LAW. The law of retribution seems to underlie punishment in all ages. It is found in the form of blood revenge among many ancient peoples as a primitive (Gen 27:45) custom, going back for its final basis to Gen 9:5-6 (see Redeemer). Very naturally, in acting as redeemer the person would be tempted to inflict greater injury than that which he avenged. According to the Mosaic code, punishment was made to correspond to the heinousness of the offense, that there should fall upon the culprit what he had done to his neighbor, no more, thus giving no authority for personal revenge. It also limited the punishment to the guilty party without extending it to his children (Deut 24:16). In the case of property, punishment was required only in order for restoration; and by way of restitution, if the guilty man had invaded his neighbor’s property or violated the integrity of his house. What is said (19:19-21) in regard to the false witness holds good of all the penal enactments of the Mosaic law: “Then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. And the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.” Thus we see, at the root of all the enactments of the Mosaic penal code there lies the principle of strict but righteous retribution, and its intention is to extirpate evil and produce reverence for the righteousness of the holy God in the heart of the people.

Capital Punishment. That death was regarded as a fit punishment for murder appears plain from the remark of Lamech (Gen 4:24). In the postdiluvian code, if we may so call it, retribution by the hand of man, even in the case of an offending animal, for bloodshed, is clearly laid down (9:5-6). In the Mosaic law we find the sentence of capital punishment, in the case of murder, clearly laid down. The murderer was to be put to death, even if he should have taken refuge at God’s altar or in a city of refuge, and the same principle was to be carried out even in the case of animals (Ex 21:12,14,28,36; Lev 24:17,21; Num 35:31; Deut 19:11-13; etc.). The wide range of crimes punishable by death according to the Mosaic law may be accounted for by the peculiar conditions of the Israelites. A nation of newly emancipated slaves, they were probably intractable; and their wanderings and isolation did not permit penal settlements or remedial punishment. They were placed under immediate divine government and surveillance. Willful offenses under such circumstances evinced an incorrigibleness that rendered death the only means of ridding the community of such transgressors, and this was ultimately resorted to in regard to all individuals above a certain age, in order that a better class might enter into Canaan (Num 14:29,32,35).

Capital Crimes. Capital crimes in the OT can be divided into absolute and relative classes.

Absolute. Capital crimes for which no mitigating factor could alter the severity of the sentence included the following: (1) striking or reviling a parent (Ex 21:15,17); (2) blasphemy (Lev 24:14,16,23); (3) Sabbath-breaking (Num 15:32-36; Ex 31:14); (4) witchcraft, and false pretension to prophecy (Ex 22:18; Lev 20:27; Deut 13:5; 18:20); (5) adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22); (6) unchastity (Deut 22:21,23; Lev 21:9); (7) rape (Deut 22:25); (8) incestuous and unnatural connections (Lev 20:11-17; Ex 22:19); (9) kidnapping (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); (10) idolatry, actual or implied, in any shape (Lev 20:2; Deut 13:6,10,15; 17:2-7; see Josh 7; 22:20; Num 25:1-8); and (11) false witness, in certain cases (Deut 19:16,19).

Relative. There are some thirty-six or thirty-seven cases in the Pentateuch where the penalty named was that of “cutting off from the people.” Controversy has arisen concerning the meaning of this expression, and some hold that only excommunication and not the death penalty was the punishment prescribed (see discussion below, under Capital Penalties, no. 7). The offenses included in this category were those involving a breach-either of morals, of the covenant, or of the Levitical ritual.

1. Breach of morals: willful sin in general (Num 15:30-31); fifteen cases of incestuous or unclean connection (Lev 18:23,29; 20:9-21).

2. Breach of covenant: uncircumcision (Gen 17:14); neglect of the Passover (Num 9:13); Sabbath-breaking (Ex 31:14); neglect of the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:29); or work done on that day (v. 30); offering children to Molech (20:3); witchcraft (20:6); anointing a stranger with holy oil (Ex 30:33).

3. Breach of ritual: eating leavened bread during the Passover (Ex 12:15,19); eating the fat of sacrifices (Lev 7:25); eating blood (7:27; 17:14); eating the sacrifice in an unclean condition (7:20-21; 22:3-4,9); eating of the sacrifice on the third day after its being offered (19:7-8); making holy ointment for private use (Ex 30:32-33); making incense for private use (30:34-38); neglect of purification in general (Num 19:13-20); offering a sacrifice elsewhere than at the Tabernacle (Lev 17:8-9); slaying an animal elsewhere than at the Tabernacle door (17:3-4); touching holy things illegally (Num 4:15,18,20; cf. 2 Sam 6:7; 2 Chron 26:21).

Capital Penalties. Some capital penalties were natively Hebrew; others were borrowed from foreign lands.

Those Properly Hebrew. The Hebrew law prescribed a number of capital penalties.

1. Crucifixion (which see).

2. Stoning. Stoning was the ordinary mode of execution (Ex 17:4; Luke 20:6; John 10:31; Acts 14:5). “So far as can be learned from the Pentateuch stoning is enjoined for those cases in which sentence of death was to be executed on individuals judicially; when, on the contrary, either the avenger of blood carried out the punishment, or where many were to be executed, the sword was used, the spear (Num 25:7), or arrow (Ex 19:13), to kill from a distance. Thus stoning is enjoined (Lev 20:27; Deut 17:3-5) to punish the individual who practiced idolatry and seduced others; on the contrary (13:16), for the punishment of a whole city which was given over to idolatry, it is commanded, ‘Thou shalt slay the inhabitants of that city with the sword.’ Accordingly it is no doubt stoning is meant when the law merely uses the formulas ‘He shall be put to death’ or ‘his blood be upon him'” (Keil, Arch., 2:357-58). If the crime had been proved by testimony, the witnesses were to cast the first stones at the condemned (Deut 17:7; John 8:7; Acts 7:58). It was customary to add the raising of a heap of stones over the body or its ashes (Josh 7:25; 8:29; 2 Sam 18:17).

3. Hanging. Among the Jews hanging was generally spoken of as following death by some other means (Num 25:4; Deut 21:22; 2 Sam 21:6,9), as a way of aggravating capital punishment. The law provided that persons hanged should not be allowed to remain suspended overnight, but should be buried the same day, lest-he that was hanged being accursed of God-Jehovah’s land should be defiled (Deut 21:23).

4. Death by the sword, spear, or arrow; death by beheading. Death by the sword or spear was the mode adopted when either the avenger of blood carried out the punishment or where many were to be executed (Ex 32:27; Num 25:7-8); the arrow was used to kill at a distance (Ex 19:13). Beheading, practiced in Egypt from most ancient times (Gen 40:19), first appeared among the Jews in the Roman period (Matt 14:10-12).

5. Burning. In pre-Mosaic times burning was the punishment for unchastity (Gen 38:24). The Mosaic law enjoined burning for unchastity only in the case of a priest’s daughter (Lev 21:9), or in the case of a man’s having carnal intercourse with both a mother and her daughter, all three to be put to death (20:14). Burning is mentioned as following death by other means (Josh 7:25), and some have thought that it was never used except after death. Certainly this was not the case among other nations (Dan 3).

6. Strangling. Death by strangulation is said by the rabbis to have been regarded as the most common but least severe of the capital punishments and to have been performed by immersing the convict in clay or mud and then strangling him by a cloth twisted around the neck.

7. “Cutting off.” The penalty described by the expression “cutting off from the people” has been variously understood, some thinking that it meant death in all cases, others that in some cases only excommunication (which see) must be understood. Jahn (Arch., p. 258) says, “When God is introduced as saying in respect to any person, ‘I will cut him off from the people,’ the expression means some event in divine providence which shall eventually terminate the life of that person’s family” (see 1 Kings 14:10; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). Saalschutz explains it to be premature death by God’s hand. Knobel, Corn, and Ewald held that the death punishment absolutely was meant. Keil observed (Arch., 2:358): “From Lev 20:2-6, so much only appears, that God himself will cut off the transgressor if the earthly magistrate shuts his eyes to the crime of idolatry and does not cut off the idolater. Certainly in Lev., ch. 20, all the abominations of which it holds in the comprehensive formula (18:29), ‘Whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them shall be cut off from among their people,’ have not the punishment of death attached to them. For some of the forbidden marriages only childlessness is threatened (20:20, sq.). But from this it merely follows that for certain cases God reserved the cutting off to be otherwise executed; and in these cases the civil magistrate was not to intervene. But in connection with all other offenses, for which the law prescribes cutting off without any such reserve, the civil magistrate was obliged to carry out sentence of death as soon as the guilt was judicially established; even for transgressions of the laws of purification and other matters of ritual, if the sin was proved to have been committed ‘with a high hand,’ i.e., in presumptuous rebellion against Jehovah, and not merely in thoughtlessness and haste.”

We may, perhaps, conclude that the primary meaning of “cutting off” is a sentence of death to be executed in some cases without remission, but in others avoidable, either (1) by immediate atonement on the offender’s part, or (2) by direct interposition of the Almighty, i.e., a sentence of death always “recorded,” but not always executed.

Those Coming from Other Lands. Capital punishments borrowed from other lands were the following:

1. Beheading. The Egyptians knew and practiced beheading (Gen 40:17-19), as did the Hebrews in the time of the early kings (2 Sam 4:8; 20:21-22; 2 Kings 10:6-8). Herod and his descendants ordered decapitation (Matt 14:8-12; cf. Acts 12:2).

2. Dichotomy, cutting in pieces (1 Sam 15:33). Dichotomy was common among the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Persians.

3. Death by torture. Conscious suffering in death was inflicted by burning the offender alive in a furnace (Dan 3:20-26); roasting him in the fire (Jer 29:22; 2 Macc. 7:5); putting him to death in hot ashes (2 Macc. 13:5-8); casting him into the lion’s den (Dan 6:7,16-24); beating him to death on the tumpanon (2 Macc. 6:19), probably a circular instrument of torture, on which prisoners were stretched and tortured or beaten to death. In war we find the sawing in pieces of captives (2 Sam 12:31; 1 Chron 20:3; cf. Heb 11:37); the hurling of enemies from precipices (2 Chron 25:12; cf. Ps 141:6; Luke 4:29), the latter a frequent punishment among the Romans; the cutting open of the bodies of pregnant women (2 Kings 8:12; 15:16; etc.), and the dashing of children against walls, when hostile cities were taken (Isa 13:16,18; Hos 13:16; etc.). In the NT are incidentally mentioned drowning (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42) and fighting with wild beasts (1 Cor 15:32).

Secondary Punishments. Secondary punishments were of a less severe nature.

Retaliation. The law of retaliation, exacting “eye for eye” (Ex 21:24-25) is, probably, the most natural of all kinds of punishment, and would be the most just of all, if it could be instantaneously and universally inflicted; but when delayed, it is apt to degenerate into revenge. To prevent this, the law specified the maximum revenge obtainable. It was thus illegal to demand a life when only an eye had been damaged. Moses accordingly adopted the principle, but lodged the application of it in the judge: “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Lev 24:19-22). This law applied also to the beasts.

But the law of retaliation applied to the free Israelite only, not to slaves. In the case of the latter, if the master struck out an eye and destroyed it, i.e., blinded the slave with the blow, or struck out a tooth, he was to let him go free, as a compensation for the loss of the member. The willful murder of a slave was followed by capital punishment.

Compensation. If compensation was identical, then it was retaliation (see above); but it was also analogous, thus a payment for loss of time or power (Ex 21:18-36; Lev 24:18-21; Deut 19:21). A stolen sheep (killed or sold) was to be compensated for by four others, a stolen ox by five others (Ex 22:1). The thief caught in the act in a dwelling might be killed or sold; if a stolen animal was found alive in his possession, he might be compelled to restore double (22:2-4). Damage done by an animal was to be fully compensated (v. 5); as was damage caused to a neighbor’s grain (v. 6). A stolen pledge found in the thief’s possession was to be compensated double (v. 7); a pledge lost or damaged was to be compensated (vv. 12-13); whereas a pledge withheld was to be restored with 20 percent of the value (Lev 6:4-5). All trespass was to pay double (Ex 22:9). Slander against the woman by her newly married husband was to be compensated for by the payment of one hundred shekels, and the man further punished with stripes (Deut 22:18-19).

Corporal. Stripes, consisting of forty blows with a rod, were to be applied (Deut 25:2-3); whence the Jews took care not to exceed thirty-nine (2 Cor 11:24; Josephus Ant. 4.8.21). If a man struck his servant with a rod so that he or she died, he was punishable (Ex 21:20).

Scourging with thorns is mentioned (Judg 8:16), as is scourging with “scorpions,” i.e., whips with barbed points like the point of a scorpion’s sting (1 Kings 12:11). In addition, there is mention of the stocks (Jer 20:2); passing through fire (2 Sam 12:31); mutilation (Judg 1:6; 2 Macc. 7:4); plucking out hair (Isa 50:6; Neh 13:25); and later, imprisonment, confiscation, or exile (Ezra 7:26; Jer 37:15; 38:6; Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:4; Rev 1:9).

The Scriptures mention the following corporal punishments inflicted by other nations: putting out the eyes of captives, flaying captives alive, tearing out the tongue. Exposure to wild beasts is mentioned by the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:32; 2 Tim 4:17), but without any particulars.

Imprisonment. Although imprisonment was not unknown to the Israelites from their acquaintance with Egypt (Gen 39:20; 40:3; 41:10; 42:19), it is not recognized in the Mosaic law as a mode of punishment. “They put him in custody” (Lev 24:12) means that the offender was secured until a decision concerning his case had been made. Imprisonment is wholly superfluous where bodily punishments prevail and where fines in the case of those without means must be paid by servitude. At the time of the kings imprisonment was introduced, especially as a punishment of too outspoken prophets (2 Chron 16:10; Jer 20:2; 32:2). After the Exile imprisonment was quite a common punishment, along with others, in cases of debt (Ezra 7:26; Matt 18:30). Prisoners were bound with chains (Judg 16:21; 2 Sam 3:34; Jer 40:1); and when the punishment would be made severer, they were placed in stocks (20:2). The Roman custodia militaris (military imprisonment) consisted in chaining the prisoner by one or both hands to the soldier who watched him (Acts 12:4; 21:33), or if the offender was in prison, in putting his feet in the stocks (16:24).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Vos, The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes (1886), pp. 63 f., 65-70, 81-84, 195-98, 200. See also Punishment.

(from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

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