The Bible and Crime


The Bible is my sole authority in these matters and everything must be Scripturally backed up. I am still in progress of a topical Bible study of the New Testament (hereafter designated NT) as it teaches on the nature of Scripture, the nature of the Old Testament (OT) and NT change that took place, the nature of crime, and the nature of government. I have gone through Matthew and John, and am going through Acts right now. I have also, in conjunction, been studying various passages that speak directly on government. There is a multitude of relevant Scriptures in the NT; much more than I realized.

What I am going to do first in this article is expound and exegete on at least three main passages in the NT, showing their meaning scripturally (in both the English and the Greek). I will then give several more passages and verses throughout the Bible which lend contextual support to these verses, and which assist in applying the principles found. I will apply these principles to the OT laws in the Pentateuch. Then I will then describe in summary what the principles are that we have found as well as what we need to do further research on. Assistance and support is welcome.

Romans 13:1-6

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5 Wherefore [ye] must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

This is an obvious passage to study. And it has much insight at first glance, but the deeper I probe into its meaning, the more startling and profound are its revelations. Notice first of all the use of the word "evil" in the 3rd and 4th verses. This is a key word, yet the Greek simply uses just as broad a term as the English. We know that the purpose of government is, obviously, not to punish all evil. So we must determine the type of evil it is referring to from the context. Notice that there were not chapter headings in the original Greek, and so let us look at the preceding passage in Romans 12:

Romans 12:17-21

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but [rather] give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance [is] mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Notice verse 17’s use of the word "evil." It is the same word as used in 13:3 & 4. This passage gives us a clear definition contextually for the type of evil the civil magistrate is to punish with its sword: evil towards others. This is clearly a "horizontal" relationship passage, discussing how we ought to deal with our neighbors’ hurting us. We are not to avenge ourselves against wrongs done to us. This is clear. Notice how verse 19 directly pertains to our passage 13:1-6. We are not to avenge ourselves against wrongs done to us because that is God’s job. We are to leave that to Him. Notice the phrase used "vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Now notice verse 4 of ch. 13: "he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil." The civil magistrate is God’s delegated servant to execute vengeance on what you would otherwise have executed vengeance on: wrongs done to you.

In support of this further, notice how the word "evil" is used in both cases in ch. 13: "…not a terror to good works, but to the evil", "if thou do that which is evil" and "…wrath upon him that doeth evil." These three words (works, do, and doeth) in the Greek and English all refer specifically to actions done outwardly, and the surrounding context declares that these outward actions are specifically against another person.

1 Peter 2:13-14

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

A smaller passage, but just as meaningful. This clearly outlines the purpose of the civil magistrate: to punish evil-doers and praise well-doers. Notice the word "evildoers." It means (in the Greek) injurious, specifically. Its roots and other forms also mean injurious. It also implies or requires that its meaning includes injurious to others. So we have again what we had in Romans 12 & 13: crime (sins punishable by the civil magistrate) is an action that is injurious to other people.

1 Thess. 4:3-6

3 For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

6 That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

This passage’s context is discussing specifically our behavior toward God and our walk of holiness and sanctification before Him. Then it contrasts this with a result of what happens if you fail to keep yourself pure. Notice where this happens in verse 6, "That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such." Notice the word "avenger" is the same as in Romans 13, where we learned that the civil magistrate is God’s agent in carrying out just punishment on crime (avenge). This verse defines crime! "That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such" So what does it mean to "go beyond" and "defraud"? Just what it says. The Greek in fact refers to an infraction of private property and person in both of these two words. Again we have a separation between sin against God and crime against Man. There is also support for private property and person (life) from this passage.

I want to point out now that every sin is against God. This is evidenced by David’s cry in Psalm 51:4. But there are some sins that are particularly against man, and others that have practically nothing to do with man. That is the distinction.

Here are several verses that give support to this definition of crime and add to it.

Romans 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.

Notice that this is in the same context with Romans 12:17-21, 13:1-6.

Luke 3:14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse [any] falsely; and be content with your wages.

The specific duty of the civil magistrate is to not commit the very crimes that he must punish. The phrase “do violence” implies roughing up or intimidating: threatening.

1 Samuel 2:25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

The judge referred to is the civil magistrate slice of the Israel government. Notice the contrast between sins against God and sins against man.

Matthew 5:25-26 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

Another principle of crime: it must be brought to the civil magistrate before it is in the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction.

Matthew 5:38-42 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy] cloak also.

41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

“An eye for an eye” and etc. were commands given to the civil magistrate in the OT, valid guides. This gives the same lesson as Romans 12:17-21, which is that “eye for an eye” avenging is the civil magistrate’s duty, not ours. Notice also that the sins listed are also crimes: against fellow men.

Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16 But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.

A nice progression of jurisdictions listed. An interesting thing is what you notice if you cross-reference this passage with 1 Cor. 6:1-8. Once a person is a “heathen man and a publican” to you it is the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction. This also again reinforces the fact that crime must be brought to the civil magistrate for it to be in his jurisdiction.

Matthew 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is,] God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Jesus only gives those commands that deal with sins against your fellow men. This division is repeated many times, one of which occurs in Romans 13.

Matthew 22:36 Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

God’s law is divided into two sections: horizontal (towards our fellow men) and vertical (towards God alone). This is reinforced here.

John 18:29 Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?

30 They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.

The Pharisees are trying to convince Pilate that the case is in his jurisdiction as civil magistrate. Although the Roman government was corrupt, it still tried to hold somewhat to their rightful role as civil magistrate (Acts 18:12-16).

1 Samuel 12:3 Behold, here I [am:] witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received [any] bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.

14 And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand.

15 And he said unto them, The LORD [is] witness against you, and his anointed [is] witness this day, that ye have not found ought in my hand. And they answered, [He is] witness.

Notice that he is iterating his innocence of crimes. He is talking about how he did as a civil magistrate.

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

The verse that institutes the office of civil magistrate in the first place describes crime as well: injurious to your fellow man.

Now this is the office of civil magistrate: to punish crime (which is an action or inaction that is injurious to another person and that is brought to the civil magistrate by the injured) and to praise righteousness. This is the Bible’s definition, and mine.

Now to apply this to the OT law. Our definition of crime eliminates many things that were sins in the OT that were punished as crimes, such as blasphemy and idolatry. These two are not ceremonial laws, but they are not crimes any more in the NT covenant and in the current office of civil magistrate. Why the difference? Now we get into another Bible study.

THEOC’RACY, n. [Gr. God, and power; to hold.] Government of a state by the immediate direction of God; or the state thus governed. Of this species the Israelites furnish an illustrious example. The theocracy lasted till the time of Saul.

That is our definition of theocracy. A government in which God plays a direct and active part in the ruling of. This is different from now, as will be shown.

I was going to try to list all of the times that God intervened directly on behalf of Israel either by a miracle, or by a sign given to them to follow, or by a direct guiding command, throughout all of Israel’s existence, but I found that I would be reprinting most of the OT from the Pentateuch all the way through to 2 Chronicles. There are many many verses giving direct support to this, though. God used prophets, visions, signs, miracles, direct guidance by voice or by presence, Urim and Thummim, and etc. throughout the days of Moses, the judges, and even into the reigns of the kings. David used the ephod (which was used as a miraculous oracle by which priests communicated directly with God) even before he was crowned king. The judges were moved by the Spirit of God and by direct verbal commands. The prophets gave military and civil counsel from the mouth of God to any king who would listen. Battles were planned by the mouth of God, as well as national cleansing, and rebuilding of the temple at various times. God had direct authority over Israel at all times that it was obedient to Him. When it rebelled, He gave it over into the hands of oppressors to teach them. This is the very definition of Theocracy, and it cannot be done today.

This is because Israel was a special nation, set apart from all others, and it cannot be repeated by us at our will. This is because God made Himself direct ruler of Israel. Man cannot force God into office. Only God has the ability to put Himself into direct office in the government, and He only did this in the case of Israel. Although it contained all that was necessary for a good civil government (it punished crime and praised well-doers), it also had many laws that were treated as crimes that cannot be treated as crimes today. Israel had many ceremonial laws, shadows of things to come (which were fulfilled by Christ’s death), but it also included functions of the church. So it included vertical sins as crimes, which it could do since it was a theocracy. God held a direct office in the government, and thus, these sins were offenses to the King of the nation. This is only possible in a theocracy. Our civil magistrates are the ministers of God in their office, not God Himself, as He was in Israel. Thus, these laws no longer apply to civil government’s jurisdiction. Vertical sins are still the jurisdiction of the Church, but the Church is no longer a part of the national government.

There is another thing that needs to be taken into account in defense of our limited definition of NT crime. Israel was a holy nation, set apart, so there were things that were not ceremonial and which they had to treat as crimes. But they are not now. God judges nations, and there are certain things which, if a nation embraces, He punishes. He either gives them over to oppression or exterminates them. These things are still operative today, and the result of a nation embracing them can still be observed in history. In Israel, these actions obviously had to be criminalized, but they cannot be now, even though the are still grievous sins. These are clearly labeled in the OT law: they are signaled by God defining its punishment as "to be cut off" and the reason for the law including the fact that the "nations before you" were destroyed because of it. These include adultery and similar sins like idolatry, etc. These ought to be handled differently than the other laws in the OT.

So all we have left (other than the obvious crimes like murder and theft) that need to be decided are four laws: cursing father or mother; striking father or mother; rebelling against father and mother; and adultery against another man’s wife (some of the laws dealing with adultery no longer apply since multiple wives is wrong anyways now).

I am inclined to think that adultery (the actual act) is a crime in the NT covenant criminal law.

I am also inclined to think that the other three are not. The reason being that, because Israel was a special nation, the "honor your father and your mother" commandment was more serious than otherwise.

An interesting note which might shed some light on the rebellious son law is that records show that no one ever used it. Ever. Everyone opted to not bring their son before the judge no matter how rebellious he was. This speaks volumes to us when we realize that the only one who did not spare His Son was God the Father, sacrificing His sinless Son for us. What we could not bring ourselves to do, He did for us. This lends an idea of a possible ceremonial element to this law, which might help us in determining its criminality now.

I hope that this helps. Let me know what you think.

With joy and peace in Christ,

Jay Lauser


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