The New Testament lays down the general principles of good government, but contains no code of laws for the punishment of offenders. Punishment proceeds on the principle that there is an eternal distinction between right and wrong, and that this distinction must be maintained for its own sake. It is not primarily intended for the reformation of criminals, nor for the purpose of deterring others from sin. These results may be gained, but crime in itself demands punishment. (See Murder; Theft.)
Endless, of the impenitent and unbelieving. The rejection of this doctrine "cuts the ground from under the gospel...blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune instead of guilt; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the piacular work of Christ into moral influence...The attempt to retain the evangelical theology in connection with it is futile" (Shedd).
The law required that capital punishment should be inflicted for reviling a parent, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, adultery, man-stealing, idolatry, murder, etc. Capital punishment was by stoning, De 13:10; burning, Le 20:14; the sword, Ex 32:27; and hanging, De 21:22-23. It appears that those who sinned at Baal-peor were first slain, and then hanged or impaled: Nu 25:4-5; the word is yaqa, and for hanging is used only here and in 2Sa 21:6,9,13, when the seven descendants of Saul were 'hung up to the Lord,' which may also signify being impaled. There is no record in scripture of crucifixion being practised among the Jews. Capital punishment was at times carried out in ways not mentioned in the law: sawing asunder and cutting with harrows and axes, 2Sa 12:31; Heb 11:37; precipitation, 2Ch 25:12; Lu 4:29.
For minor offences there was flogging, which was restricted to forty stripes. De 25:3. A whip with three thongs accounts for the 'forty stripes less one.' 2Co 11:24. Also placing in the stocks. Jer 20:2-3. In other cases the punishment was according to the offence: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," etc. Ex 21:24-25. Imprisonment for definite periods was not customary as a punishment, though persons were imprisoned. Ge 39:20; 2Ki 25:27; Jer 37:4,18. Punishment was needed in the government of the nation of Israel, as it is in any nation now. God's four direct punishments were "the sword, the famine, the noisome beast, and the pestilence." Eze 14:21.
The Lord, referring to the law of an individual demanding an eye for an eye, enjoined forgiveness of personal wrongs; but this in no way interferes with civil government. Christians are exhorted to obey the ordained powers, pay tribute, etc.