Q: #360. How many sins called for the death penalty in the Old Testament?
A: Many people would be surprised to learn just how many sins in the Old Testament called for the death penalty. Today, there is generally only one crime that calls for the death penalty: murder. However, in the Old Testament I can find 28 crimes/sins in which God called for death. These range from things which are obviously serious (i.e. murder or kidnapping) to things that seem shocking to most of us (i.e. a disobedient child or having sex before marriage).
We will not go into “why” God ordered death for sins which seem so minor in this question, but one thing we should take away from this is that if God ordered “death” for committing some of these “minor” sins, He must take them more seriously than most people do today.
God ordered death for the following sins and people.
1. Murder (Ex 21:12,14)(Lev 24:17,21)(Num 35:16-21,30-31)
2. Kidnapping (Ex 21:16)(Deut 24:7)
3. Child sacrifice (Lev 20:2)
4. Both the man and woman who commit adultery (Lev 20:10)(Deut 22:22-24)
5. Rape (Deut 22:25)
6. Daughter of a priest who became a prostitute (Lev 21:9)
7. An idolater (Ex 22:20)(Deut 17:2-5)(Num 25:1-5)
8. Breaking the Sabbath (Ex 31:14)(Ex 35:2)(Num 15:32-36)
9. A woman having sex before marriage (Deut 22:21-22)
10. Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
11. A man and his father’s wife who have sex (Lev 20:11)
12. A man and daughter-in-law who have sex (Lev 20:12)
13. A man who marries a woman and her mother (all 3 must die) (Lev 20:14)
14. Bestiality (Sex with an animal) (Ex 22:19)(Lev 20:15-16)
15. A false prophet (Deut 13:5)(Deut 18:20)
16. A false witness (Deut 19:16-21)
17. A disobedient son (Deut 21:18-21)
18. A child who strikes his father or mother (Ex 21:15)
19. A child who curses his father or mother (Ex 21:17)(Lev 20:9)
20. Men who are fighting and hit a pregnant woman, causing her lose her baby (Ex 21:22-25) ***Note: A good verse to use against those who are pro-abortion
21. A man whose ox kills someone after previously goring other people (Ex 21:28-29)
22. A sorceress (Ex 22:18)
23. A medium or spiritist (Lev 20:27)
24. A brother, son, daughter, wife, or friend who entices you to go after other gods (Deut 13:6-11)
25. Everyone in any town that entices people to go after other gods (Deut 13:12-15)
26. A blasphemer (Lev 24:10-16,23)
27. Anyone who failed to abide by a decision of the court (Deut 17:8-12)
28. Any non-Levite who tried to set up or take down the Tabernacle (Num 1:51)
*** Note: I cannot say with certainty that this list is complete. If you find something missing, please let me know.
Some also believe that when the Bible says people were “cut off,” it is speaking of the death penalty. According to Strong’s, one meaning of the Hebrew word “karath” is “to exterminate or destroy.” A number of verses seem to bear out this possibility (Gen 9:11)(Ex 31:14)(1 Kin 11:16)(Jer 11:19)(Ob 1:9-10). If this is indeed the case, there are a number of other death penalty offences. A few examples are: failing to be circumcised (Gen 17:14 compare with Ex 4:24-26), eating blood (Lev 7:27)(Lev 17:10,14), and failing to observe Passover (Num 9:13).
So, why isn’t the death penalty being observed for all of these offences today? I answer this in the previous question.