Bible Justice
by Ken Adams (e-mail: [March 22nd, 2002]

Most Christians consider the Bible to be the last word when it comes to justice.  Concepts such as "an eye for an eye" are liberally quoted when advocating capital punishment for criminals.  And, of course, whenever a person wants to speak out against abortion or homosexuality, there is no better source to quote than the old testament.  The Bible has much to say about justice and morals.

“If a woman grabs a man's privates during a fight, her hand is to be cut off. (Duet 25:11,12)”

However, this viewpoint is narrow, to say the least.  The Bible says many things about justice that are not so well quoted, and it omits a shocking list of crimes entirely.  For those who advocate capital punishment on the basis of the Bible's opinion, it would be useful to take a systematic look at the complete system of Biblical Justice. After all, if capital punishment is advisable simply because the Bible says so, and homosexuality or abortion is wrong simply because the Bible says so, then all of the Bible's other statements must be equally admirable and usable in today's world.  You can judge for yourself if you would like to see the Bible's judicial system implemented today.

Section I:  What things are illegal

The ten commandments are generally regarded as being the definitive moral and legal code.  As they are enumerated in Genesis chapter 20, these commandments are the most well known of the Bible's criminal prohibitions.  This simple legal code represents pretty good work.  It outlaws basic legal and moral crimes, such as murder, theft, adultery, lying, and so on.  You can't really argue with the ten commandments, although you could consider them simplistic.  Most well brought up children could compile a decalogue of similar quality.

But, the ten commandments are not the only restrictions that God gave to the Hebrews. He also passed down a complex system of prohibitions that covered everything from sexual practices to diet, with a particular focus on religious observance.  The vast majority of these laws are not taken seriously by anyone, anymore.

Up to this point, the Hebrew judicial system, as passed verbatim from Jehovah himself, seems reasonable, and about on par with that of other early civilizations.

But, God couldn't leave well enough alone.  He continued to outlaw things until he got himself into trouble, at least from a guidance counselor's point of view.  Here is a short list of some of his other prohibitions:

  • The eating of fat is prohibited forever.  (Lev 3:17)
  • You cannot round the corners of your beard or the hair on your temples.  (Lev 19:27)
  • Witches should be killed.  (Ex 22:18)
  • The congregation was to be a bastard free zone.  The Bible was so dead set against bastards that their children, even to the tenth generation, could not enter the assembly of the Lord. (Duet 23:2)  This is in keeping with God's principle of punishing children for the wrongdoings of their parents.
  • Handicapped people could not approach God.  Their presence would profane his sanctuary. (Lev 21:16-23)  This scripture single-handedly offends almost every category of handicapped persons you can name.  The blind, lame, injured, hunchbacks and dwarfs are specifically named.  If anyone is left out, the catchall phrase "anyone with a blemish" is thrown in to cover them.  I guess in Israel, the handicapped parking stalls were at the far end of the parking lot.
  • Entrance into the assembly of the Lord was granted only to those with complete testicles. (Duet 23:1)  Now, I will admit that keeping one's testicles in tact is a pursuit worthy of some attention, but I have to ask:  What went on in the "assembly of the Lord" that required a complete and full set of testicles?  And, since testicles are usually not on display, was there someone at the gate assigned to check?
  • Anyone working on the Sabbath is to be killed.  (Ex 35:2)  This law was to protect the sanctity of Sunday afternoon football. Unfortunately, any player that touched the ball would have to be killed after the game, because he had touched a dead pig. (Lev 11:7,8)  That would certainly make it easier to play defense.
  • Menstruating women and everything they touch are unclean.  The only cure for this uncleanness was for the priest to kill a couple of pigeons.  (Lev 15:19-30)  What could be more logical?
  • If a couple has sex during the woman's period, the two are to be cut off from their people. (Lev 20:18)  Once again, how would anyone know that this had happened?  The couple is obviously not going to tell. Maybe the genital inspector from the temple made house calls.
  • Women were officially second class citizens.  They were considered possessions that were owned, (Prov 12:4) and were officially subordinate (1 Cor 14:33,34).
  • Homosexual men were to be executed. (Lev 20:13)  No mention is made of homosexual women.
  • If a woman grabs a man's privates during a fight, her hand is to be cut off. (Duet 25:11,12)  Now, is it really necessary to have this law on the books?  You get the impression that the person who was writing the laws had recently experienced this and was still a little pissed off.
  • False prophets are to be killed by their own parents. (Zech 13:3)
  • Stubborn children were to be stoned, and the stoning was to be instigated by their parents.  (Duet 21:18-21)
  • And whatever you do, don't ever, ever, ever, pee against the wall (1 kings 16:11 KJV).  OK, I know.  The phrase "anyone who pees against the wall" is just a euphamism for men.  I just couldn't resist this one.
This is a very short listing of some of the more ridiculous laws recorded in the Bible.  A more exhaustive search uncovers literally hundreds of restrictions that range from the merely silly to the positively repugnant.

Section II:  What things are legal

Even more surprising than the list of illegalities in the Hebrew law, is the list of crimes that were not listed.  Many things that are considered criminally and morally wrong today, were not prohibited among the Hebrews.  In fact, men approved by God, such as Abraham, Isaac, David, and Moses, practiced these very things:

Slavery - Exodus 21 outlines the laws for ownership and trading of slaves.  A man could sell his daughter to pay off a debt.  You could beat your slave, almost to the point of death.  Foreign slaves could be kept forever and willed to your descendants, whereas Hebrew slaves could only be kept for a maximum of seven years, although there were exceptions to this policy.  Most of the faithful men of old had slaves.

Incest - For those of you who will not want to believe this, here are the words of Abraham himself:  '"Besides she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife."' (Genesis 20:12)  So, Abraham and Sarah were half siblings, as well as a married couple. And let's not forget righteous Lot, who knocked up both of his daughters.  By the way, doesn't it seem a little strange that God would outlaw incest, and then create a situation where incest is mandatory?  Adam and Eve's children and Noah's grandchildren had no choice but to marry their siblings and cousins.

Genocide - In Dueteronomy chapter 7, God commands the Isrealites to 'utterly destroy' seven nations that were greater and mightier than they were.  Joshua says that they did exactly as commanded.  According to Joshua's census, the Isrealites numbered approximately 2.5 million.  So, if the Bible is to be believed, the Hebrews extinquished seven nations numbering more than 17.5 million persons.

As well, there were several incidental holocausts along the way, such as the Midianites.  In this case, the meek Moses became upset because the Israelites killed only the men, allowing the women and children to live.  So, they went back and finished the job.  When God commanded the Israelites to destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), he told them to kill, not only the men, women, and infants, but even the animals.

Based on these boasts, Jehovah makes Hitler look like a small time thug.

Polygamy - This one doesn't even require much backup.  The list of faithful men of old who had multiple wives is virtually endless - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and many, many more.  In addition to taking multiple wives, most of these men also took concubines, which are basically mistresses.  This leads me into the next category.

Fornication - Most moral codes frown on this, but not the Bible. Numerous faithful men of old had concubines.  Many of them impregnated their slaves.  Lot, who was married, had sex with his daughters.  Judah and Samson hired prostitutes.

Now, it seems to me that the Bible says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery".  But, for some reason, this does not appear to include having multiple wives, keeping mistresses, visiting prostitutes, having your run of the slave girls, or selling your wife/sister to another man at a profit.  So, how do you break this command?

Murder - Now, to be fair, the Bible does outlaw murder.  However, it doesn't seem to enforce the penalty evenly.  Moses killed an Egyptian, and Samson killed thirty innocent people, so that he could steal their clothes.  Both of these men retained God's approval and blessing.

The list of crimes and sins that are not condemned by the Bible could go on for a long time.  The list presented above should be sufficient to prove that the Bible's moral code had a few gaps.

Section III:  Principles

Within the Biblical justice system are found numerous principles that can be used to administer justice in virtually any situation.  I'm sure you will find that the list below more than adequately fills the judicial needs of any modern nation:

Principle #1:  Sinners should be killed.
By the way, when Cain killed 25% of the world's population, why didn't God give him the death penalty?

Principle #2:  It doesn't matter if the infraction is small, kill them anyway.
Don't worry about proportions.  For example, consider the case of Adam. For eating a piece of fruit, which is a violation on par with a parking ticket, the entire human race was sentenced to death.  Of course, Adam himself was severely penalized by being forced to die of natural causes at the age of 950.

Principle #3:  If you can't kill the sinner, kill his children.
"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness... but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." - Exodus 34:6,7

Principle #4:  If you can't kill the sinner or his children, kill someone else - anyone.
Consider the occasion when King David took a census.  (1 Chronicles 21) As a result of this minor infraction, seventy thousand innocent people where murdered by God.

Principle #5:  Every now and then, punish someone innocent.
Jehu followed God's instructions to the letter, yet was later punished for committing the murders that God told him to commit.  Talk about a no-win situation.

Principle #6:  The only sure way to make up for a sin is to kill an innocent animal, or if it's a really big sin, an innocent human.
There was a prescription for every transgression and it usually ended with some poor animal being sacrificed - unless you ate some forbidden fruit, then only the sacrifice a perfect human would suffice.

Principle #7:  Even young children can be tried in adult court, and killed for minor infractions.

  • Children could be stoned for stubbornness - Dueteronomy 21:18,21.
  • Elisha arranged for the murder of forty-two children who insulted him - 2 kings 2:23-25
Section IV:  Conclusion

Advocates of capital punishment often quote Lev 24:17:  "He who kills a man shall be put to death."  They seem oblivious to the preceding verse which says: "He who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death."  And the many others which prescribe death for everything from stubbornness to false prophesying.  You can't have it both ways, if the Bible is right, then it is right.

Clearly, the Bible's judicial system is superior to anything that our modern lawmakers are capable of writing.  I know that I, for one, would welcome the implementation of this system.  We have been far too tolerant of children and handicapped persons.  And I don't even remember the last time that a witch was executed.

Let's lobby the government to implement this judicial system immediately

Resources and Avenues for Further Study

  • Restorative Justice: What the Bible Says About 'Justice'
  • Bible Justice: Find Bible Passages

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