Capital Offenses in the Old Testament

This appendix lists almost two-dozen actions that were capital offenses under the Old Testament Law. While some of these do not apply today, many of them do. The Christian needs to take to heart the fact that all the commandments of God are important and none of them should be taken lightly. God created people, and the Old Testament Law was His wisdom as to how ancient Israel should be run as a society. There is a tendency today to either ignore the Laws we think are outmoded or offensive, or worse, to try to use them to “prove” that the Bible is not a good or godly book but instead the writing of a few prejudiced people. [1] The Torah was God’s instruction to Israel, and we in the Christian Church can learn from it how to model our society, particularly as we compare the Old Testament Laws with the revelation of the New Testament. Christians need to study the Law and discern what God’s purposes were in giving each Law. We can be assured that they are all important. As we learn more about the “whys” and “wherefores” of each Law, we are in a better position to know how to make our society more godly.

After each capital offense is a scripture or scriptures as documentation, or the reader is referred by a link to an article on that subject. The documentation is not meant to be exhaustive, and the aggressive student may find more scripture documentation on any point.

Attacking one’s parents to cause them bodily harm: Exodus 21:15.
Cursing one’s parents: Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9.
Sacrificing your child to Moloch, a pagan god: Leviticus 20:2.
Willful negligence that results in death
Sorcery: Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27.
Being a medium or spiritist: Leviticus 20:27.
Breaking the Sabbath: Exodus 31:14.
Sacrificing to idol gods: Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13.
Trespassing in God’s holy things and places: Exodus 19:12,13; Numbers 1:51; 3:10,38; 18:7.
Blaspheming against God: Leviticus 24:10-16, esp. v. 16.
False Prophecy: Deuteronomy 18:20.
Contempt for the final decisions of the high court of the land: Deuteronomy 17:8-12.
Giving false testimony in a capital case

Sexual sins that were also capital crimes [2]

Adultery: Leviticus 20:10,11; Deuteronomy 22:22.
Incest (specifically with a daughter in law. For more, see Lev. 18:9-17): Lev. 20:12.
Marriage to both a mother and her daughter: Leviticus 20:14.
Rape of a betrothed or marred woman: Deuteronomy 22:23-29.
Homosexuality: Leviticus 20:13.
Bestiality: Leviticus 20:15,16.
Prostitution, if a priest’s daughter: Leviticus 21:9.
Pretending to be a virgin if you are not: Deuteronomy 22:13-21, esp. v. 21.


[1] It is common today to make light of the Bible, but the testimony of Scripture is that it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and there is much evidence to back up that claim. Of course it is a subject of controversy. What better strategy can the Devil have than to discredit the Word of God so that people ignore it? If you are in doubt about the integrity of Scripture and that it is in fact “the Word of God,” please contact us at CES and allow us to point you to sources that will verify its truth.
[2] For a fuller explanation of the sins of adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and bestiality, and information on polygamy in Old Testament, see Sex and Scripture, a book available from STFI.

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