The earliest theory of punishment current among mankind is doubtless the one of simple retaliation, “blood for blood.” Viewed
historically, the first case of punishment for crime mentioned in Scripture, next to the Fall itself, is that of Cain, the
first murderer. That death was regarded as the fitting punishment for murder appears plain from the remark of Lamech. (Genesis 4:24) In the post-diluvian code, if we may so call it, retribution by the hand of man, even in the case of an offending animal,
for blood shed, is clearly laid dawn. (Genesis 9:5,6) Passing onward to Mosaic times, we find the sentence of capital punishment, in the case of murder, plainly laid down in
the law. The murderer was to be put to death, even if he should have taken refuge at God’s altar or in a refuge city, and
the same principle was to be carried out even in the case of an animal. Offences punished with death.— I. The following offences
also are mentioned in the law as liable to the punishment of death:
- Striking, or even reviling, a parent. (Exodus 21:15,17)
- Blasphemy. (Leviticus 24:14,16,23)
- Sabbath-breaking. (Exodus 31:14; 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36)
- Witchcraft, and false pretension to prophecy. (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; 13:5; 18:20)
- Adultery. (Leviticus 20:10; 22:22)
- Unchastity. (Leviticus 21:9; 22:21,23)
- Rape. (22:25)
- Incestuous and unnatural connections. (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:11,14,16)
- Manstealing. (Exodus 21:16; 24:7)
- Idolatry, actual or virtual, in any shape. (Leviticus 20:2; 13:8,10,15; 17:2-7) see Josh 7:1 ... and Josh 22:20 and Numb 25:8
- False witness in certain cases. (19:16,19) II. But there is a large number of offences, some of them included in this list,
which are named in the law as involving the penalty of “cutting off from the people. On the meaning of this expression some
controversy has arisen. There are altogether thirty six or thirty seven cases in the Pentateuch in which this formula is used.
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 voidable— (1) by immediate atonement on the offender’s part; (2) by direct interposition of the Almighty
i.e., a sentence of death always “regarded,” but not always executed. Kinds of punishments .—Punishments are twofold, Capital
and Secondary. I. Capital. (A) The following only are prescribed by the law:
- Stoning, which was the ordinary mode of execution. (Exodus 17:4; Luke 20:6; John 10:31; Acts 14:5) In the case of idolatry, and it may be presumed in other cases also, the witnesses, of whom there were to be at least two,
were required to cast the first stone. (13:9; Acts 7:58)
- Hanging is mentioned as a distinct punishment. (Numbers 25:4; 2 Samuel 21:6,9)
- Burning, in pre-Mosaic times, was the punishment for unchastity. (Genesis 38:24) Under the law it was ordered in the case of a priest’s daughter (Leviticus 21:9)
- Death by the sword or spear is named in the law, (Exodus 19:13; 32:27; Numbers 25:7) and it occurs frequently in regal and post-Babylonian times. (1 Kings 2:25,34; 19:1; 2 Chronicles 21:4) etc.
- Strangling 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 round the neck.
(B) Besides these ordinary capital punishments, we read of others, either of foreign introduction or of an irregular kind.
Among the former
Crucifixion is treated elsewhere.
- Drowning, though not ordered under the law, was practiced at Rome, and is said by St. Jerome to have been in use among the
- Sawing asunder or crushing beneath iron instruments. (2 Samuel 12:31) and perhaps (Proverbs 20:26; Hebrews 11:37)
- Pounding in a mortar, or beating to death, is alluded to in (Proverbs 27:22) but not as a legal punishment, and cases are described. 2 Macc. 6:28,30.
- Precipitation, attempted in the case of our Lord at Nazareth, and carried out in that of captives from the Edomites, and of
St. James, who is said to have been cast from “the pinnacle” of the temple. Criminals executed by law were burned outside
the city gates, and heaps of stones were flung upon their graves. (Joshua 7:25,26; 2 Samuel 18:17; Jeremiah 22:19) II. Of secondary punishments among the Jews, the original Principles were,
- Retaliation, “eye for eye,” etc. (Exodus 21:24,25)
- Compensation, Identical (restitution)or analogous payment for loss of time or of power. (Exodus 21:18-36; Leviticus 24:18-21; 19:21) Slander against a wife’s honor was to be compensated to her parents by a fine of one hundred shekels, and the traducer himself
to be punished with stripes (22:18,19)
- Stripes, whose number was not to exceed forty, (25:3) whence the Jews took care not to exceed thirty-nine. (2 Corinthians 11:24)
- Scourging with thorns is mentioned (Judges 8:16) The stocks are mentioned (Jeremiah 20:2) passing through fire, (2 Samuel 12:31) mutilation, (Judges 1:6) 2 Macc. 7:4, and see (2 Samuel 4:12) plucking out hair, (Isaiah 50:6) in later times, imprisonment and confiscation or exile. (Ezra 7:26; Jeremiah 37:15; 38:6; Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:4)