The Church and God’s Law (7)

He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death (Ex.21:12)

This case law is effectively a re-statement of the Sixth Commandment: “you shall not murder” (Ex.20:13). But this text has the penalty attached.

The law of capital punishment for murder precedes the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law in the Bible. God had commanded Noah, “whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen.9:6).

The law is clear: there is a deliberate act on the part of the murderer to end the life of an innocent person. While this verse does not state it clearly, other passages where the murder law is re-phrased make it clear that the murderer is one who initiates violence. Deuteronomy states

If there is a man who hates his neighbour and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies…you shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you (Deut.19:11-13).

What does this show? a) The presence of hate in the heart of the murderer towards his neighbour, and b) a pre-meditated plan to kill him: “lying in wait.”

Exodus 22:2-3 permits a householder to kill a thief if he is found breaking in, and “there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account” (ie, the householder).

This clearly means that acts of self-defence (whether they be personal defence, or for others, or national, in time of war) are clearly permitted. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon all law-abiding people to come to the aid of people who are being attacked by criminals, to apprehend the criminal and if necessary kill them, as the protection of innocent life requires (see Prov.6:16-17). Biblical law implies the police power of every citizen to uphold the law. As Rushdoony notes,

The police power and duty of the person involves a common defence of godly order. Law and order are the responsibilities of all good men without exception.[1]

This effectively prohibits passivity in the face of criminality. If individuals do not seek to prevent injury, assault, or murder, they are themselves in part guilty of the offence committed.[2]

All capital crime convictions required multiple witnesses. Deut.17:6 states that

On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

Not only must there be multiple witnesses for capital convictions. The Bible specifically warns of the testimony of a “malicious witness:”

If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing…the judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you (Deut.19:16-20).

Conclusion:                                                                                                                                   

Obedience to God requires action in relation to criminal activity. Our inactivity in the Church in relation to pressing for the death penalty for murder and other capital crimes has been nothing other than negligence towards crime; an offence against God. We have not protected or cared for the innocent, which the Bible specifically commands us to do.

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul, and will He not render to man according to his work? (Prov.24:11-12).

The sooner the Church again endorses the Biblical position in relation to murder, the better.


[1] Rousas Rushdoony, “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” 1973, p.221.

[2] See Rushdoony, p.220.