Prisons are Unbiblical

Have you ever noticed, in the Law, Moses never prescribed prison terms. Under Moses’ Law, there was no prison system at all. In fact, on the one occasion someone was held in ward, it was only until his punishment could be decided – which probably took only about a day – and then the man was brought out of ward and sentenced to his appropriate punishment. But a prison term itself was never used as punishment – never. Imagine – the whole nation was to have no prisons!

We can readily see how just is Moses’ system. For example, the prescribed punishment for theft was restitution plus 100-400%. And if the perpetrator was unable to make restitution, provision was made for him to become indentured as a worker to his victim – until restitution was able to be made in-kind.

Thus the innocent victim was compensated, plus the perpetrator was left without a lingering criminal record – he was able to put his misdemeanor behind him and move on. The punishment resulted in restoration of both victim and perpetrator. It was a win-win situation.

Compare that with the injustice of a prison system. The innocent victim has already suffered an injustice at the hands of the perpetrator; but by sentencing the perpetrator to prison, a second injustice is now committed against the victim, this time at the hands of the Criminal Justice System – because the victim’s taxes must now be spent to support the perpetrator during his prison term (the prisoner must be fed, clothed, and accommodated; plus the prison-wardens must receive their salaries). This costs the public around $50,000-$80,000 per prisoner per year.

The economy also suffers, because the prisoner is taken out of the work force and is therefore not contributing to the GNP.

Moreover, while he is in prison, the perpetrator is surrounded by other criminals, many of whom may be worse than him. Rather than correcting or rehabilitating the offender, a prison term can make him worse.

Then, when he is finally released, he carries a criminal record with him for the rest of his life, making it hard for him to get a job. So he probably becomes dependent on welfare, at least for a time. Again, the victim must pay for this, through his taxes.

There are a number of extra, ongoing injustices and costs being imposed on the innocent, yet at no time is the innocent victim actually compensated for his loss. Neither does the perpetrator ever feel he’s able to completely put his misdemeanor behind him and move on. Neither the victim nor the perpetrator is restored. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Moses’ system was far better: restoration plus 100-400%. It provided justice for both victim and perpetrator.

How just and merciful are God’s judgments!

Although we are not under the Old Covenant, we are under Christ’s New Commandment of Love – and love is at the heart of all the commandments. It’s easy to see how Love is at the heart of Moses’ way of dealing with theft.

The way the Law dealt with other crimes besides theft is also very interesting. Again, it never involved imprisonment. It’s goal was both justice and mercy.

Great reforms in Justice have already been achieved through the Christian work of the likes of Elizabeth Fry and Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton who saw the death penalty in England reduced from over 200 crimes to just eight.

But the Prophets foresaw a time when, through the Christ, prisoners would be released. It’s time now that we picked-up where previous Christian prison-reformers left off, and start working towards more a more completely reformed Justice system.

Jesus came “…to set the prisoners free…”

“…And the isles shall wait for His Law.”

Et nunc reges intelligite erudimini qui judicati terram!

What do YOU think?



  1. Come on John,

    You can’t be serious.

    Do you want to stone sinners
    to death ?


    • The question of capital punishment is always difficult, for a person who shares God’s love of both judgment and mercy. The question of self-defense in War also involves similar issues.

      God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. And mercy triumphs over judgment. Paul felt remorseful that he’d rebuked the Corinthians, but later he changed his mind again after he saw the repentance it produced, and was glad he’d rebuked them. God Himself has been known to pronounce judgment then later change His mind due to an intercessor.

      The all-important thing, if mercy is given, is that it does not promote in society a warped understanding of justice. Mercy has no meaning if there is not a clear sense of what is just.

      It’s important, if mercy is given, that it does not perpetrate further injustices upon the innocent, nor expose the innocent to further risk.

      It’s also important that the treatment of the offender has his rehabilitation at heart – and in cases of theft, Moses’ law of restoration vouchsafes the rehabilitation of the offender far more effectively than a prison term.

      If the question of capital punishment is too difficult, we can at least pray and work towards achieving more Bible-based, love-based reforms in the treatment of lesser sins such as theft – and perhaps you can leave the treatment of more serious sins such as murder, kidnapping and adultery for future thought. There are so many beneficial reforms that can be advocated right away.

      On the question of the place for capital punishment under the New Covenant, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton achieved the reduction of the death penalty in England from over 200 crimes to just eight. It was unjust that someone could be sentenced to death for stealing stamps – but whether or not it’s an injustice that someone could be sentenced to death for genocide where the offender will not be reformed, is another question.

      It can be noted that Paul did not seem to forbid capital punishment even in a New Testament setting, so long as the crime was indeed something worthy of death (Romans 13:4, Acts 25:11).

      It is also noteworthy, in the case of the woman taken in adultery whom Jesus did not condemn, that Jesus did not, in the process of showing mercy, break the Law of Moses. The Law required that witnesses must be the first to cast a stone. Therefore, when one-by-one the woman’s witnesses left until she had no accusers left, she could not then, under the requirements of Moses’ Law, be stoned – because there were no longer any witnesses who were willing to cast the first stones. Thus the Jews marveled at Jesus’ love and wisdom in the Law. They were unable to accuse Jesus on any point of Law.

      Jesus showed mercy, but He did not alter the definition of justice. To show mercy is God’s prerogative and that of His officers. But mercy does not mean that the way justice is legislated needs to be altered. Paul still said, in a New Testament setting, that the Law is good, if a man use it lawfully, knowing that the Law is for the unjust.

      Mercy needs to be understood as mercy, and not as justice. It still needs to be understood through legislation, when a sin is worthy of death. Otherwise grace is no more grace.

      When God’s judgments are taught in the earth, then sinners shall understand His ways and be converted unto Him. But justice itself should not be perverted. Just penalties ought to be legislated – and then mercy, when it is shown, shall be understood as mercy, and not as justice. In that way, mercy and perfect justice can both be upheld.

      But keep in mind that mercy isn’t really ‘mercy’ if the action inflicts injustice and future risk upon more innocent people, and if the action removes the deterrent factor.

      Jesus Christ’s throne is established in mercy. The New Covenant is all for showing mercy, yet it does not promote society developing a warped sense of justice. It needs to be understood as Justice that the innocent should not be exposed to risk nor cost because of another’s crime – and yet mercy, and bearing the weaknesses of the weak, is the honor of the righteous. When that standard of Justice is kept clearly in mind, and legislated, then mercy, when it is shown, maintains its meaning.

      As with everything, the question of how serious crimes ought to be treated, is governed by the New Testament royal Law of love. Love for God, love for the innocent, and love for the offender. All things need to be considered and weighed righteously and mercifully.

      And mercy triumphs over judgment.

      But the question ought always to be a difficult one, for anyone who is not calloused nor hypocritical, for anyone who seeks to uphold the royal Law of love without inequality.

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