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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

The Political Supplements of the Sixth Commandment

Leviticus 24

Lev. 24:17, 19-22

17. And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.

17. Qui percusserit animam hominis, morte moriatur.

19. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;

19. Vir qui intulerit maculam proximo suo, secundum quod fecit sic fiat ei.

20. Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him wain

20. Fracturam pro fractura, oculum pro oculo, dentem pro dente: sicut intulerit maculam hominis, sic inferetur ei.

21. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it; and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.

21. Qui percusserit animal reddet illud: qui vero percusserit hominem, moriatur.

22. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God.

22. Judicium unum erit vobis, sicut peregrinus sic et indigena erit: quia ego Jehova Deus vester.


17. And he that killeth any man. We now proceed to the confirmation of the Sixth Commandment afforded by the Judicial Law; and first, the punishment of death is awarded to murderers. To “smite the life”  26 is equivalent to wounding mortally, so that death ensues, as Moses more clearly explains himself in Exodus. But although he speaks briefly, like a legislator, there is no doubt but that he would have those whom he adjudges to die put to death by the sentence of the judges; the manner of executing the punishment we shall see in its proper place. Now although God did not carry out to absolute perfection the laws which He enacted, yet in their principle He desired that a clear and unreserved approval of His Commandments should appear. And this was the reason why I commenced with this passage, because it directly corresponds with the Sixth Commandment.  27

19. And if man cause a blemish in his neighbor, he now also subjects to punishment those who shall have mutilated the body of their neighbor by blows; and this was necessary, because otherwise every very great villain, who might be accomplished in the art of inflicting injury, would have broken his brother’s leg or arm, and then would not only have laughed at the poor man himself, but also at God and His Law. If, therefore, a person had injured a member of another, the law of retaliation is enacted, which has also been in use among other nations.  28 But God thus distinctly prescribes when and how the injury was to be retaliated, that the law might not be open at all to the foolish cavils with which Favorinus attacks the law of the Twelve Tables in Gellius. And certainly the words of the Decemvirs were too obscure, “Si membrum fregeris meum, ex pacto talio est.” (If you have broken my limb; without agreement made, there must be retaliation.) But God does not command an eye to be plucked out for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, till He has set forth that this was only to be the case if any one had knowingly and willfully inflicted the injury; thus, He does not bring to justice accidental blows, but only a premeditated crime. It is vain to object that the members of different persons can hardly be broken with exact. equality, for the intention of God was none other than that, being alarmed by the severity of the punishment, men should abstain from injuring others; and therefore these two things were connected together, If one killeth a man, let him die, and if one hath taken away a part of life, let him suffer a similar privation. And the same is the tendency of the distinction, that the loss of an animal may be repaid, but that if a man be killed, there could be no just compensation made by money.

22. Ye shall have one manner of law. That the people of Israel, with their usual arrogance, might not suppose the race of Abraham only to be privileged, the Law is extended also to foreigners; and thus God shows that the whole body of the human race are under His care, so that He would not have those that are farthest off exposed to the licentious violence of the ungodly. In other points tie provided special privileges for His elect people; but here, because He created all men without exception after His own image, He takes them under His care and protection, so that none might injure them with impunity.

Exodus 21

Exodus 21:12-14, 18-32

12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

12. Qui percusserit virum ad mortem, morte moriatur.

13. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.

13. At qui non insidiatus fuerit ei, sed tradiderit illum Deus in manus ejus, tunc dabo locum ad quem fugiet.

14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

14. Sin vero insultando se extulerit quispiam in proximum suum, ut occidat eum malitiose, ab altari meo tolles eum ut moriatur.

18. And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed;

18. Quod si rixati fuerint aliqui, et percusserit alter proximum suum lapide vel pugno, nec mortuus fuerit, sed jacuerit in lecto:

19. If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

19. Si surrexerit, et ambulaverit foris super baculum suum, tunc innocens erit qui percussit, tantum cessationem ejus pensabit: et medendo medicandum curabit

20. And if a man smite his servant or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

20. Quum percusserit quispiam servum suum vel ancillam suam baculo, et mortuus fuerit sub manu ejus, vindicando vindicabitur.

21. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

21. Veruntamen si per diem vel duos dies steterit, non vindicabitur, quia pecunia ejus est.

22. If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart. from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine

22. Quum autem rixati fuerint viri, et percusserint mulierem praegnantem ut egrediatur foetus ejus, nec tamen sequatur mors, puniendo punietur quemadmodum imposuerit ei maritus mulieris, et solvet apud judices.

23. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

23. Quod si mors fuerit, tunc dabis animam pro anima,

24. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

24. Oculum pro oculo, dentem pro dente, manum pro manu, pedem pro pede,

25. Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

25. Adustionem pro adustione, vulnus pro vulnere, livorem pro livore.

26. And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.

26. Quum autem percusserit quispiam oculum servi sui, vel oculum ancillae suae, et corruperit eum, liberum dimittet eum pro oculo ejus.

27. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maid-servant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

27. Quod si dentem servi sui, vel dentem ancillae suae excusserit: liberum dimittet eum pro dente ejus.

28. If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

28. Si cornu petierit bos virum aut mulierem ut moriatur, lapidando lapidabitur bos, neque comedetur caro ejus: dominus autem bovis erit innocens.

29. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

29. Quod si bos cornupeta fuerit ab heri et nudiustertius, et contestatio facta fuerit domino ejus, nec custodierit eum, occidendo autem occiderit virum vel mulierem, bos lapidabitur, et dominus quoque ejus morietur.

30. If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give, for the ransom of his life, whatsoever is laid upon him.

30. Si pretium redemptionis impositum fuerit ei, tunc dabit redemptionem animae suae quantum impositum fuerit ei.

31. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.

31. Sive filium cornu petierit, sive filiam, secundum judicium hoc fiet ei.

32. If the ox shall push a manservant, or maid-servant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall he stoned.

32. Si servum bos cornu petierit, vel ancillam, argenti triginta siclos dabit domino ejus, et bos the lapidabitur.


12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die. This passage, as I have said, more clearly explains the details, and first makes a distinction between voluntary and accidental homicide; for, if a stone or an axe (De 19:5.) may have slipped from a man unintentionally, and struck anybody, He would not have it accounted a capital crime. And for this purpose the cities of refuge were given, of which brief mention is here made, and whose rights will be presently more fully spoken of, and where also the mode of distinguishing between design and ignorance will be laid down. But it must be remarked, that Moses declares that accidental homicide, as it is commonly called, does not happen by chance or accident, but according to the will of God, as if He himself led out the person, who is killed, to death. By whatever kind of death, therefore, men are taken away, it is certain that we live or die only at His pleasure; and surely, if not even a sparrow can fall to the ground except by His will, (Mt 10:29,) it would be very absurd that men created in His image should be abandoned to the blind impulses of fortune. Wherefore it must be concluded, as Scripture elsewhere teaches, that the term of each man’s life is appointed,  29 with which another passage corresponds,

“Thou turnest man to destruction, and savest,
Return, ye children of men.” (Ps 90:3.)

It is true, indeed, that whatever has no apparent cause or necessity seems to us to be fortuitous; and thus, whatever, according to nature, might happen otherwise we call accidents, (contingentia;) yet in the meantime it must be remembered, that what might else incline either way is governed by God’s secret counsel, so that nothing is done without His arrangement and decree. In this way we do not suppose a fate  30 such as the Stoics invented; for it is a different tiling to say that things which of themselves incline to various and doubtful events, are directed by the hand of God whithersoever He will, and to say that necessity governs them in accordance with the perpetual complication of causes,  31 and that this happens with God’s connivance; nay, nothing can be more opposite than that God should be drawn and carried away by a fatal motive power, or that He tempers all things as He sees fit.

There is no reason to follow the Jews here in philosophizing more deeply, that none are delivered to death but those in whom God finds cause for it. It is indeed certain, that with God there always exists the best reason for His acts; but it is wrong to elicit from thence that those who by tits guidance meet with death must be guilty of some offense. Nor even if God should take away an innocent man, would it bc lawful to murmur against Him; as if His justice were naught, because it is concealed from us, and indeed incomprehensible.

14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor. He expresses the same thing in different ways; for although there is a wide difference between slaying a man presumptuously  32 and with guile, yet Moses applies them both to a willful murder; for by guile he means a wicked disposition to injure, and by the word presumptuous he designates a violent assault, when a man in hate wantonly falls upon another. And surely truculence, and violence, and all cruelty is presumptuous, (superba;) for unless a man despised his brother, he would not assail him as an enemy.

Lest by overlooking murders they should defile the land, God commands that murderers should be torn away even from His altar, whereby He signifies that they are as unworthy of divine as of human aid. For, although the sanctity of the altar might afford an asylum for the protection of those who had transgressed through imprudence, or. error, yet it would have been wrong that impunity for crimes should have been derived from hence; because the sanctuary would have been thus converted into a den of thieves, and religion would have been subjected to gross profanation. Wherefore, although criminals embracing the altar should implore God’s aid, the Law commands them to be torn away from thence to punishment, because it would have been disgraceful to abuse God’s sacred name as affording license for sin. Hence it appears how great was the folly of old in supposing that churches were honored when they were made asylums for the encouragement of evil deeds. This, indeed, was derived from the ordinary custom of the heathen; but it was a foolish imitation thus to mix up God with idols in a spurious worship; although in this respect the Gentiles served their idols more purely and virtuously than the Christians  33 served God; for they refused the right of asylum to the sacrilegious and impure, so that the temple of the Samothracians was no secure hiding-place even to Perseus,  34 the king of Macedon. Livy records the following words, as having been spoken by a heathen, — “Since, at the commencement of all our sacrifices, those whose hands are not pure are enjoined to retire, will ye suffer your sanctuaries to be contaminated by the blood-stained person of a robber?” Let us, then, be ashamed of polluting our temples under the pretext of reverence for them.

18. And if men strive together. The punishment here enacted for wounds and blows is so slight, that it might have served as a provocative to the mischievousness of the ill-disposed. Since the Law of the Twelve Tables only inflicted a fine of twenty-five asses upon a man who had beaten another unjustly, there was a certain Lucius Veratius,  35 who, in mere wanton sport, did not hesitate to box the ears of any one he met, and then to command one of his slaves to pay the amount of the fine, so that it was at length thought better that the law should fall into desuetude, than to suffer it to be thus ridiculously abused. The same thing might easily happen among the Jews, since a person, who had so beaten his neighbor as that he should lie in bed, only had to pay what the unhappy man had expended on his cure. For who would not willingly enjoy the pleasure of knocking down his enemies on this condition, of providing for their subsistence whilst they lay in bed? But we must remember the declaration of Christ, that on account of the perverse nature of the Jews, many things were allowed them “because of the hardness of their hearts,” (Mt 19:8, and Mr 10:5,) amongst which this indulgent provision is to be reckoned. Still God seems to have dealt more leniently with the man who had struck the blow, that He might also chastise the other, who, though of inferior strength, had rashly engaged in the conflict; for both were to be alike punished for the violence unjustly inflicted. Equal lenity seems, therefore, to have been shown to both, since compensation is only made to the person struck for his private loss.  36 But the fact, that God did not carry out the political laws to their perfection, shows that by this leniency He wished to reprove the people’s perverseness, which could not even bear to obey so mild a law. Whenever, therefore, God seems to pardon too easily: and with too much clemency, let us recollect that He designedly deviated from the more perfect rule, because He, had to do with an intractable people.

20. And if a man smite his servant. Although in civil matters there was a wide distinction between slaves and free-men, still, that God may show how dear and precious men’s lives are to Him, He has no respect to persons with regard to murder; but avenges the death of a slave and a free-man in the same way, if he should die immediately of his wound. Indeed, it was a proof of gross barbarism amongst the Romans and other nations, to give to masters the power of life and death; for men are bound together by a more sacred tie, than that it should be permitted to a master to kill with impunity his wretched slave; nor are some men so set over others, as that they should exercise tyranny, or robbery, neither does reason permit that any private individual should usurp to himself the power of the sword. But, although unjust cruelty was not prohibited, as it should have been, by the laws of Rome, yet they  37 confessed that slaves should be used like hired servants. The exception, which immediately follows, does not seem very consistent, for, if the slave should die after some time, the penalty of murder is remitted; whereas it would often be preferable to die at once of a single wound, than to perish by a lingering illness; and it might happen that the slave should be so bruised and maimed by blows, as to die some time afterwards. In this ease, the cruelty of the master would be surely greater than if he had committed the murder under the impulse of burning anger: wherefore the enactment appears to be a very unjust one. But it must be remarked, that the murder of those slaves, who had been obliged to take to their bed from their wounds, was not unpunished. Whence we gather, that it was not allowable for cruel and truculent masters to wound their slaves severely; and this is what the words expressly imply, for the smiter is only exempted from punishment when he shall have so restrained himself as that the marks of his cruelty should not appear. For that the slaves should “stand for one or two days,”  38 is equivalent to saying, that they were perfect and sound in all their members; but if a wound had been inflicted, or there was any mutilation, the smiter was guilty of murder. None, therefore, is absolved but he who only meant to chastise his slave; and where no injury appears, it is probable that there was no intention to kill him. Whilst, then, this law prohibits bloodthirsty assaults, it by no means gives greater license to murder. The reason, which is added, must be restricted to the private loss; because a murderer would never be absolved on the pretext that he had purchased his slave with money, since the life of a man cannot be so estimated.

22. If men strive, and hurt a woman. This passage at first sight is ambiguous, for if the word death  39 only applies to the pregnant woman, it would not have been a capital crime to put an end to the foetus, which would be a great absurdity; for the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, (homo,) and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light. On these grounds I am led to conclude, without hesitation, that the words, “if death should follow,” must be applied to the foetus as well as to the mother. Besides, it would be by no means reasonable that a father should sell for a set sum the life of his son or daughter. Wherefore this, in my opinion, is the meaning of the law, that it would be a crime punishable with death, not only when the mother died from the effects of the abortion, but also if the infant should be killed; whether it should die from the wound abortively, or soon after its birth. But, since it could not fail but that premature confinement would weaken both the mother and her offspring, the husband is allowed to demand before the judges a money-payment, at their discretion, in compensation for his loss; for although God’s command is only that the money should be paid before the judges,  40 still He thus appoints them to settle the amount as arbitrators, if the husband should chance to be too exorbitant. We plainly perceive, by the repetition of the lex talionis, that a just proportion is to be observed, and that the amount of punishment is to be equally regulated, whether as to a tooth, or an eye, or life itself, so that the compensation should correspond with the injury done; and therefore (what is first said of the life  41 ) is correctly applied also to the several parts, so that he who has plucked out his brother’s eye, or cut off his hand, or broken his leg, should lose his own eye, or hand, or leg. In fine, for the purpose of preventing all violence, a compensation is to be paid in proportion to the injury. But although God commands punishment to be inflicted on the guilty, still, if a man be injured, he ought not to seek for vengeance; for God does not contradict Himself, who so often exhorts His children not only to endure injuries patiently, but even to overcome evil with good. The murderer is to be punished, or he who has maimed a member of his brother; but it is not therefore lawful, if you have unjustly suffered violence, to indulge in wrath or hatred, so as to render evil for evil. Since this error was rife among the Jews, our Lord refutes it, and teaches that the punishment, which is publicly awarded to the wrong-doer, is not subservient to every man’s private passion, so that he who is offended should make haste to retaliate. (Mt 5:38.) Nor indeed are these words addressed to them in order to inflame or excite the desire of vengeance, but all violence is restrained by the fear of punishment.

26. And if a man smite the eye. Since, in the sight of God, there is neither slave nor free-man, it is clear that he sins as greatly who smites a slave, as if he had struck a free-man. Still, a distinction is made as regards the civil law and human justice, especially if any one have inflicted a wound on his own slave. For here a tooth for a tooth, or an eye for an eye, is not required, but the superiority, which he has improperly abused, is taken from the master; and in compensation for the injury, liberty, which is almost half their life, is given to the male or female slave. Thus, in consideration that it was his slave, t. he master is treated more leniently, when the severity of the punishment is thus mitigated; whilst, in compensation for his dislocation or fracture, the slave receives what is more advantageous to him, viz., that, being set free, he should not be exposed to another’s cruelty.

28. If an ox gore a man. Moses now descends even to the brute animals, so that, if they injured any one, by their punishment men may be more and more deterred from shedding blood. If, therefore, a goring ox have killed a man, he commands that it should be stoned, and that its carcass should be thrown away as abominable. Though censorious persons mock at this law, as if it were childish to punish a wretched animal, in which there is no criminality, their insolence requires but a brief refutation. For, since oxen were created for man’s good, so we need not wonder that their death, as well as their life, should be made to contribute to the public advantage. If, then, an ox that had killed a, man should be kept, men would undoubtedly grow hardened in cruelty by beholding it; and to eat its flesh, would be almost the same thing as eating the flesh of man. The cruelty of men, therefore, could not better be restrained, so that they should hold the murder of each other in abhorrence, than by thus avenging a man’s death. In the second place, God proceeds further, condemning the master of the ox himself to death, if he had been previously admonished to beware; for such a warning takes away the pretext of ignorance; nor should the punishment seem to be severe for gross neglect, because to give free outlet to dangerous beasts is equivalent to compassing men’s death. He who knowingly and willfully exposes the life of his brother to peril, is justly accounted his murderer. The exception which is finally added, at first sight contains a kind of contradiction, because it was forbidden by the Law to compound with a murderer for money. But inasmuch as a delinquency (delictum) differs from a crime, although it was unlawful to covenant with murderers for the remission of their punishment, still the judges were permitted on their hearing of the case, to mitigate it, if a man were excused by his unconsciousness or inadvertency. This, then, is a special exception, which permits the judges to distinguish between the nature of offenses; viz., that, if they discovered a man not to be worthy of death, they should still punish his negligence by a pecuniary fine.

31. Whether he have gored a son. I know not whether they are correct who refer this to age, as if any young persons of either sex were meant by the words son and daughter; but I do not reject this opinion. Still Moses seems to extend the law, as if, in case a butting ox had killed its owner’s son, the father himself should be subject to the punishment, for not having taken more care of his children. It might, however, be doubted, whether it would be just to condemn to death a father already weighed down by the loss of his child; still it affords a useful example, that parents should not escape with impunity, if their sons or daughters should die by their fault.

32. If the ox shall push a man-servant. It is not unreasonable that the punishment for the death of a slave should now be set at less than for that of a free-man. As regarded the crime of voluntary murder, there was no distinction between slaves and masters; but in a case of mischance (delicto) the severity might in some degree be mitigated; especially when the stoning of the ox sufficiently availed for bringing murder into detestation. God, therefore, showed admirable moderation in condemning the negligence of the master to be punished by the payment of thirty shekels; whilst He proposed the ox as an example, and reminded all by its death, how very precious in His sight is human blood.

Deuteronomy 17

Deuteronomy 17:6

6. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

6. In ore duorum vel trium testium interficietur qui moriturus est, non interficietur in ore unius testis.

Deuteronomy 19

Deuteronomy 19:15

15. One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

15. Non stabit testis unus contra quenquam in quacunque iniquitate, et in quoeunque peccato quod peccaverit: in ore duorum testium vel in ore trium testium stabit verbum.


As His severity in exacting punishment, where murder has been unquestionably committed, shows how highly God rates the life of men, so the qualification, which we find here, declares, that he takes equal care for the preservation of innocent blood. For, since too great credulity would often impel the judges to condemn the guiltless, He here applies a remedy to this evil, forbidding that the crime should be punished unless proved by sure testimony. Although He has naturally inscribed this law upon every heart, yet he would have it written down, that its observance amongst the Israelites might be more sacred; for nothing is more dangerous than to expose men’s lives to the tongue of a single individual; but, where the consent of two or three is carefully weighed, any lurking falsehood is for the most part detected.

Lest, therefore, any one should be rashly condemned, and so innocence should be oppressed by any light conjectures, or insufficient accusations, or unjust prejudices, God here interferes, and does not allow any to be harshly dealt with, unless duly convicted.

Deuteronomy 22

Deuteronomy 22:8

8. When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.

8. Si aedificaveris domum novam, facies tabulatum per circuitum in tecto tuo: nec pones sanguinem in domo tua, si quispiam ceciderit ex eo.


This precept also has reference to the preservation of human life. We know that the roofs of the Jewish houses were fiat, so that they might freely walk upon them. If there were no railings round them, a fall would have been fatal; and every house would have often been a house of mourning. God, therefore, commands the edge to be fortified with battlements, or railings, or other inclosure, and accompanies the injunction with a severe denunciation; for He declares that the houses would be defiled with blood, if any one should fall from an uninclosed roof. Now, if guile were thus contracted by mere incautiousness, it hence appears how greatly He abominates deliberate cruelty; and, if it behooved everybody to be thus solicitous as to the lives of their brethren, it shows how criminal it is to injure them purposely and in enmity.

Deuteronomy 24

Deuteronomy 24:7

7. If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die: and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

7. Si quis furatus fuerit animam e fratribus suis e filiis Israel, et vendiderit: morietur vir ille, et auferes malum e medio tui.


The same punishment is here deservedly denounced against man-stealers as against murderers; for, so wretched was the condition of slaves, that liberty was more than half of life; and hence to deprive a man of such a great blessing, was almost to destroy him. Besides, it is not man-stealing only which is here condemned, but the accompanying evils of cruelty and fraud, i.e., if he, who had stolen a man, had likewise sold him. Now, such a sale could hardly be made among the people themselves, without the crime being immediately detected; and nothing could be more hateful than that God’s children should be alienated from the Church, and delivered over to heathen nations.

Deuteronomy 21

Deut. 21:22, 23

22. And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree;

22. Quum fuerit in aliquo peccatum ad judicium mortis, et interficiendus fuerit, et suspenderis illum in ligno:

23. His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

23. Non pernoctabit cadaver ejus in ligno, sed sepeliendo sepelies eodem die: quia maledictio est Dei qui suspenditur, et non contaminabis terram tuam quam Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi in haereditatem.


The object of this precept was to banish inhumanity and barbarism from the chosen people, and also to impress upon them horror even of a just execution. And surely the body of a man suspended on a cross is a sad and hideous spectacle; for the rights of sepulture are ordained for man, both as a pledge and symbol of the resurrection, and also to spare the eyes of the living, lest they should be defiled by the sight of so horrible a thing. Moses does not here speak generally, but only of those malefactors who are unworthy of the honor of burial; yet the public good is regarded in the burial even of such as these, lest men should grow accustomed to cruelty, and thus become more ready to commit murder. Moreover, that they may take more careful heed in this matter, he declares that the land would be defiled, if the corpse should be left hanging on the cross, since such inhumanity pollutes and disgraces the land. And this was more intolerable in Judea, which God had given as an inheritance to his elect people, that he might be there worshipped reverentially, and purely, every profanation being excluded. The man so hanged is called  42 “the curse of God,” because this kind of punishment is detestable in itself. God, indeed, does not forbid criminals to be crucified, or hanged on a gallows, but rather gives His sanction to this mode of punishment; He only, by His own example, exhorts the Israelites to abhor all atrocity. Although, therefore, He does not disapprove of the punishment, He still says that lie abominates those that are hanged on a tree, that the scandal may be immediately removed; nor does He call them accursed, as if their salvation was to be despaired of, but because the hanging was a mark of His curse. This passage Paul applies to Christ, to teach us that He was made κατάρα (a curse) for us, that He might deliver us from the curse of the Law. (Ga 3:13.) For, since all are guilty of transgression, and thus the whole race of mankind is implicated in the curse, there was no other mode of deliverance, except that Christ should substitute Himself in our place. Nor was God unmindful of His sentence, when He suffered His only-begot, tea Son to be crucified. Hence it follows that He submitted Himself to our condition, in order; that we might receive God’s blessing; since He was

made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness
of God in Him.” (2Co 5:21.)

Deuteronomy 25

Deuteronomy 25:1-3

1. If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

1. Si fuerit lis inter aliquos, et accesserint ad judicium, et judicaverint eos: justificaverintque justum, et impium condemnaverint:

2. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.

2. Si quidem caedendus fuerit impius, tunc prosternet eum judex, et caedere jubebit illum coram se secundum iniquitatem ejus ad numerum.

3. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, /f he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.

3. Quadraginta plagis caedere jubebit illum, non addet: ne forte si addat caedere eum ultra plagis multis, vilescat frater tuus in oculis tuis.


Inasmuch as moderation and humanity are here enjoined, it is a Supplement of the Sixth Commandment. The sum is, that, if any one is judicially condemned to be beaten with stripes, the chastisement should not be excessive. The question, however, is as to a punishment, which by lawyers is called a moderate correction,  43 and which ought to be such, as that the body torn by the whip should not be maimed or disfigured. Since, therefore, God has so far spared the guilty, as to repress even just severity, much more would He have regard paid to innocent blood; and since He prohibits the judge from using too great rigor, much less will He tolerate the violence of a private individual, if he shall employ it against his brother. But it was necessary that zeal should be thus restrained, because judges, in other respects not unjust, are often as severe against lesser offenses (delicta) as against crimes. An equal measure of punishment is not indeed prescribed, as if all were to be beaten alike; it is only prohibited that the judges should order more than forty stripes in all to be inflicted for an offense. Thus the culprits were beaten deliberately, and not in such an indiscriminate manner as when it was not requisite to count the stripes; besides, they were not so injured for the future as to be deprived of the use of any of their limbs. With the same intent God would have the judges themselves to be present, that by their authority they may prevent any excess: and the reason is added, lest “thy brother should seem vile unto thee,” because he had been beaten immoderately. This may be explained in two ways, either, lest his body should be disfigured by the blows, and so he should be rendered unsightly; or, lest, being stained for ever with ignominy and disgrace, he should be discouraged in mind; for we know how grievous and bitter it is to be mocked and insulted. A third sense,  44 which some prefer, is too far-fetched, viz., lest he should die like some vile and contemptible beast; for God only provides that the wretched man should be improved by his chastisement, and not that he should grow callous from his infamy. As the Jews were always ostentatious of their zeal in trifling matters, they invented a childish precaution, in order that they might more strictly observe this law; for they were scrupulous in not proceeding to the fortieth stripe, but, by deducting one, they sought after an empty reputation for clemency, as if they were wiser than God Himself, and superior to Him in kindness. Into such folly do men fall, when they dare out of their own heads to invent anything in opposition to God’s word! This superstition already prevailed in Paul’s time, as we gather from his words, where he reports that “five times he received forty stripes save one.” (2Co 11:24.)

Deuteronomy 24

Deuteronomy 24:16

16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

16. Non interficientur patres pro filiis, neque filii interficientur pro patribus: quisque in peccato suo morietur.


Here also God manifests how great is His regard for human life, so that blood should not be shed indiscriminately, when he forbids that children should be involved in the punishment of their parents. Nor was this Law by any means supererogatory, because on account of one man’s crime his whole race was often severely dealt with. It is not without cause, therefore, that God interposes for the protection of the innocent, and does not allow the punishment to travel further than where the crime exists. And surely our natural common sense dictates that it is an act of barbarous madness to put children to death out of hatred to their father. If any should object, what we have already seen, that God avenges “unto the third and fourth generation,” the reply is easy, that He is a law unto Himself, and that He does not rush by a blind impulse to the exercise of vengeance, so as to confound the innocent with the reprobate, but that He so visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children, as to temper extreme severity with the greatest equity. Moreover, He has not so bound Himself by an inflexible rule as not to be free, if it so pleases Him, to depart from the Law; as, for example, He commanded the whole race of Canaan to be rooted out, because the land would not be purged except by the extermination of their defilements; and, since they were all reprobate, the children, no less than their fathers, were doomed to just destruction. Nay, we read that, after Saul’s death, his guilt was expiated by the death of his children, (2 Samuel 21;) still, by this special exception, the Supreme Lawgiver did not abrogate what He had commanded; but would have His own admirable wisdom acquiesced in, which is the fountain from whence all laws proceed.

Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20:10-18

10. When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.

10. Quum accesseris ad urbem ut expugnes illam, clamabis ad eam pacem.

11. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.

11. Et erit, si pacem responderit tibi, et aperuit tibi, universus populus qui fuerit repertus in ea, erunt tibi tributarii, servientque tibi.

12. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:

12. Si vero pacem non fecerit tecum, sed faciet tecum praelium, obsederisque eam;

13. And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

13. Et dederit eam Jehova Deus tuus in manu tua: tunc percuties omnem masculum ejus acie gladii.

14. But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself: and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.

14. Tantum mulieres, et parvulos, et animalia, et quicquid fuerit in urbe, omnia spolia ejus praedaberis tibi: comedesque spolia inimicorum tuorum, quos dederit tibi Jehova Deus tuus.

15. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

15. Sic facies omnibus urbibus longinquis a te valde, quae non sunt de urbibus gentium istarum.

16. But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee. for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.

16. Tantum de urbibus populorum istorum quos Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi in haereditatem, non vivificabis ullam animam:

17. But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:

17. Sed perdendo perdes eos, Hitthaeum, Amorrhaeum, Chananaeum et Perisaeum, Hivaeum, et Jebusaeum, quemadmodum praecepit tibi Jehova Deus tuus:

18. That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.

18. Ne doceant vos facere secundum abominationes suas quas faciunt diis suis: et peccetis in Jehovam Deum vestrum.


10. When thou goest forth to war. He now teaches that, even in lawful wars, cruelty is to be repressed, and bloodshed to be abstained from as much as possible. He therefore commands that, when they shall have come to take a city, they should first of all exhort its inhabitants to obtain peace by capitulating; and if they should do so, to keep them alive, and to be content with imposing a tribute on them. This principle of equity was naturally implanted in all nations; hence heralds took their rise,  45 nor did they commence a just war without a solemn proclamation. Besides, inasmuch as the word hostis (an enemy) formerly signified a foreigner (peregrinum,) the Romans mitigated by its mildness the sadness of the reality. On this ground they deemed that faith was to be kept with an enemy; and that sentiment of Cicero is worthy of praise, “that wars must not be undertaken except that we may live in unmolested peace.”

But if God would have his people mindful of humanity in the very midst of the din of arms, we may hence infer how greatly displeasing to Him is human bloodshed. Even those whom He has armed with his authority, He would still have disposed to clemency, and He represses their ardor, lest they should stain with blood the swords given them by His permission. How, then, shall it be lawful for a private person to assume the sword for the purpose of killing his brother? We now understand the object of the instructions here given, and how appropriately they are connected with the Sixth Commandment.

12. And if he will make no peace. The permission here given seems to confer too great a license; for, since heathen writers  46 command even the conquered to be spared, and enjoin that those should be admitted to mercy who lay down their arms, and cast themselves on the good faith of the General, although the battering-ram may have actually made a breach in the wall, how does God, the Father of mercies, give His sanction to indiscriminate bloodshed? It has already been stated, that more was conceded to the Jews on account of their hardness of heart, than was justly lawful for them. Unquestionably, by the law of charity, even armed men should be spared, if, casting away the sword, they crave for mercy; at any rate it was not lawful to kill any but those who were taken in arms, and sword in hand. This permission, therefore, to slaughter, which is extended to all the males, is far distant from perfection.  47 But, although in their ferocity the Jews would have hardly suffered the perfection of equity to be prescribed to them, still God would at least restrain their excessive violence from proceeding to the extremity of cruelty. The question is as to cities taken by force, where it sometimes happens that there is no distinction of sex or age regarded; this inhumanity is here mitigated, since they might not kill either women or children.

15. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities. An exception is introduced, that the Jews should not apply the common laws of war to the Canaanitish nations, with respect to whose extermination the sentence had passed.  48 For God had not only armed the Jews to carry on war with them, but had appointed them to be the ministers and executioners of His vengeance. We have elsewhere explained that there were just causes why He would have their race and memory radically destroyed; especially since He had borne with them for four hundred years, whilst in their wicked obstinacy they had not ceased to grow worse and worse, from whence their desperate impiety was manifest. What had been said before is here, however, repeated, i e., that since that land was consecrated to God’s service, its inhabitants were to be exterminated, who could do nothing but contaminate it; and therefore this would be profitable for the Israelites, lest by their wiles they should be attracted to false superstitions.

Deuteronomy 23

Deut. 23:15, 16

15. Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:

15. Non trades servum domino suo, qui se ad te eripuerit a domino suo.

16. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.

16. Tecum habitabit in medio tui, in loco quem elegerit in una urbium tuarum prout placuerit, nec vim inferes ei.


Although this Law has a tendency to humanity and kindness, it still does not appear to be altogether just. Since many masters oppressed their slaves with tyrannical arrogance, their wickedness rendered it necessary to afford some alleviation to the poor creatures. Thus slaves were permitted to take refuge in temples, and at Rome at the statues of the Caesars, so that if they proved themselves to have been treated with injustice and inhumanity, they might, when their case was proved, be transferred by sale to merciful masters. This, indeed, was endurable, but the refuge which is here granted to slaves defrauds their masters of their just right; since, without their case being heard, they have liberty given them to reside in the land of Canaan; thus, too, the law of nations is violated, since the land is opened to every fugitive. Besides, since runaway slaves are generally wicked and criminal, whatever place may be their asylum, it will be filled with many sources of infection. I know not whether there is sufficient foundation for the opinion of some who think that the slaves were exempted by privilege from their former servitude,  49 in order that they might give themselves up to God’s service, and that thus true religion might be propagated. It certainly does not seem consistent that filth and refuse of every sort should be received into the Church, because, in the end, it would have been filled with all kinds of corruptions; and besides, it was by no means decorous that whatever crime had been elsewhere committed should be sheltered under God’s name. For, suppose a thief, or an adulterer, or a murderer, should leave his master, and seek for an asylum in the Holy Land, what else would it have been to receive and protect such guests, but to overthrow law and justice, and to set up a state of foul barbarism? I think, therefore, that more is to be understood than the words express, viz., that, if it should be found that the slaves had not fled in consequence of their own evil doings, but on account of the excessive cruelty of their masters, the people should not drive them away, which would have been tantamount to giving them up to butchery. And, in fact, it may be inferred that judicial proceedings were to be instituted, because a choice is given as to the city in which they prefer to dwell.

Religion, indeed, stood them in some stead, because those who sought a place and home in the land of Canaan, were obliged to dedicate themselves to God, and to be initiated in His worship; still, God would never have allowed His name to be profaned by the reception of wicked persons without discrimination. Wherefore, as I briefly slated before, God inculcates humanity upon His people, lest, by the extradition of fugitive slaves, they should be necessary to the cruelty of others; because their masters would have been their executioners; and, since lie forbids the people from ill-treating them, He implies, by these words, that He only so far provides for the safety of these wretched beings, as to allow them to defend their innocence in a court of justice; wherefore I have thought fit to place this law amongst the Supplements of the Sixth Commandment.

Deuteronomy 22

Deut. 22:6, 7

6. If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young:

6. Quum occurrerit tibi nidus avium in via in quavis arbore, aut super terram ubi pulli vel ova, et mater cubet super pullos aut super ova: non accipies matrem cum filiis:

7. But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.

7. Sed dimittendo dimittes matrem, pullos autem capies tibi, ut bene sit tibi et producas dies.


Since by this precept God instructed His people in the, law of kindness, it is a Supplement to the Sixth Commandment. Regard was had, indeed, to the preservation of the breed; but, besides, when birds are sitting, as being very lean, it is certain that they are not wholesome food; still there is no question but that it was God’s intention to accustom His people to study humanity. For, if there be one drop of compassion in us, it will never enter into our minds to kill an unhappy little bird, which so burns either with the desire of offspring, or with love towards its little ones, as to be heedless of its life, and to prefer endangering itself to the desertion of its eggs, or its brood. Wherefore, it is not to be doubted but that in this elementary lesson, God prohibited His people from savageness and cruelty.

Exodus 23

Exodus 23:5

5. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him; thou shalt surely help with him.

5. Si videris asinum inimici tui decumbentem sub onere suo, et cessaveris ab auxiliando ei, auxiliaudo auxiliaberis cum eo.

Deuteronomy 22

Deuteronomy 22:4

4. Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them; thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

4. Non videbis asinum fratris tui aut boves ejus jacentes in via, et abscondes te ab eis: erigendo eriges cum eo.


By this law also, God exhorts His people to exercise the duties of humanity towards brute animals, in order that they may be the more disposed to assist their brethren; for we must bear in memory what Paul teaches, where God commands oxen to be kindly treated, viz., that He does not care so much for them in this, as for mankind. (1Co 9:9.) God prescribes elsewhere, that if any should see the ox or ass of his brother, or even of his enemy, going astray, he should catch it, and restore it to its master, (De 22:1-3, and Ex 23:4;) but here He had another intention, i.e., that believers should testify their forgiveness of their enemies, by being merciful to their animals. If it had been simply said, that our enemies were to be helped, and that we must contend with them by acts of kindness, to overcome their ill-will, all cruelty would have been sufficiently condemned; but when God commands us not only to succor our enemies, to point out their way to those who are straying, and to lift up those who are fallen, but would also have us exercise these kindnesses to their very beasts, He more emphatically and strongly expresses how very far removed from hatred and the desire of vengeance He desires His children to be. Wherefore we see that what Christ afterwards taught His disciples is taught also in the Law, that we should love our enemies. (Mt 5:44.) Nor is it merely the desire of vengeance which is here restrained, but something more is required, viz., that believers should conquer the ill-will of their enemies by kindnesses: since to bring back a straying ox or ass is a proof of sincere affection. But, in these two passages, what relates to the Sixth Commandment is represented in a more striking manner, viz., that assistance should be rendered to an ox or an ass, weighed down by its burden. Interpreters  50 are not agreed as to the meaning of the words, and Jerome has departed most widely from them. But others, who desire to translate them more accurately, read them interrogatively, — If thou shall see an animal fall under its burden, etc., wilt thou hesitate to help? The other sense seems more appropriate, — If thou shall; have seen and have hesitated to help, still do thou help: for in this way God anticipates a person, if, perchance, impelled at first by hatred, he should dislike to help his enemy: and then commands him to correct his guilty thought. The meaning, therefore, will be, — if the sight of thine enemy should delay thee from aiding his beast, lay aside thine ill-will, and unite thyself with him, that you may together be humane and merciful to the wretched animal. Thus an opportunity was given to enemies for their mutual reconciliation. There is another difficulty in the word גזב,  51 gnazab, which, although it means to leave, still, in my judgment, is used for to assist, or to give help: although it is not translated amiss, to let fro, or to loose: or, if it be preferred, to strengthen; in which sense it is sometimes found.

Numbers 35

Numbers 35:9-34

9. And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying,

9. Et locutus est Jehova ad Mosen dicendo:

10. Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan,

10. Alloquere filios Israel, et dicas eis, Quum transieritis Jordanem in terra Chanaan,

11. Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.

11. Constituetis vobis urbes: urbes autem refugii erunt vobis, quo fugiet homicida qui percusserit aliquem per errorem.

12. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.

12. Et erunt vobis urbes illae in refugium a propinquo, et non morietur homicida, donec steterit ipse ante congregationem adjudicium.

13. And of these cities which ye shall give, six cities shall ye have for refuge.

13. Et ex urbibus quas dabitis, sex urbes refugii erunt vobis.

14. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.

14. Tres urbes dabitis citra Jordanem, et tres urbes dabitis in terra Chanaan: urbes refugii erunt.

15. These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them; that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.

15. Filiis Israel, et peregrino, et incolae in medio eorum, erunt sex urbes illae refugium, ut fugiat illuc quicunque percusserit aliquem per errorem.

16. And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that lie die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.

16. Si instrumento ferreo percusserit eum, et mortuus fuerit, homicida est: moriendo morietur homicida.

17. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.

17. Si vero lapide manus, quo moriatur, percusserit eum, et mortuus fuerit, homicida est: moriendo morietur homicida.

18. Or if he smite him with an hand-weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.

18. Aut instrumento ligneo manus, quo moriatur, percusserit eum, et mortuus fuerit, homicida est: moriendo morietur homicida.

19. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.

19. Propinquus sanguinis ipse interficiet homicidam: quum ipse obviaverit illi, ipse interficiet eum.

20. But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;

20. Si per odium, inquam, impulerit eum, aut projecerit aliquid in eum per insidias, et mortuus fuerit.

21. Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer when he meeteth him.

21. Aut per inimicitiam percusserit eum manu sua, mortuusque fuerit: moriendo morietur percussor, homicida est: propinquus sanguinis interficiet homicidam quum ipse occurrerit illi.

22. But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him ally thing without laying of wait;

22. Si autem casu absque inimicitiis impulerit eum, vel projecerit in eum quodvis instrumentum absque insidiis.

23. Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm;

23. Aut quemvis lapidem quo moriatur quem prius non videbat, et cadere fecerit super illum, mortuusque fuerit, et ipse non erat inimicus, neque quaerebat malum ejus;

24. Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:

24. Tunc judicabit congregatio inter percussorem et propinquum sanguinis secundum judicia ista.

25. And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil.

25. Et eruet congregatio homicidam e manu propinqui sanguinis, et reverti faciet eum congregatio ad urbem refugii sui ad quam confugerat: habitabitque in ea donec moriatur sacerdos magnus qui unctus est oleo sanctitatis.

26. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled;

26. Quod si egrediendo egressus fuerit homicida terminum urbis refugii sui ad quam confugerat:

27. And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:

27. Et invenerit eum propinquus sanguinis extra terminum urbis refugii sui, atque occiderit propinquus ille homicidam: non erit obnoxius morti.

28. Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.

28. In civitate enim refugii sui habitabit donec moriatur sacerdos magnus: posteaquam autem mortuus fuerit sacerdos magnus, revertetur homicida in terram possessionis suae.

29. So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations, in all your dwellings.

29. Et erunt ista vobis in statutum judicii per generationes vestras, in omnibus habitationibus vestris.

30. Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.

30. Quicunque percusserit aliquem, ad verbum testium occidet homicidam: solus enim testis non testificabitur in animam ut moriatur.

31. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death; but he shall be surely put to death.

31. Neque accipietis pretium pro anima homicidae qui est sceleratus, ut moriatur: sed moriendo morietur.

32. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest.

32. Sed nec accipietis pretium ut fugiat ad urbem refugii sui, ut revertatur habitare in ea terra donec moriatur sacerdos.

33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.

33. Et non polluetis terram in qua fueritis, quia sanguis iste polluet terram: neque terra expiabitur propter sanguinem qui effusus est in ea nisi per sanguinem illius qui effudit illum.

34. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.

34. Ne ergo polluatis terram in qua habitatis, et in cujus medio ego habito: ego enim Jehova habito in medio filiorum Israel.


10. Speak unto the children of Israel God appointed the cities of refuge, not only to make distinction between sills of malice and error, but also lest innocent blood should be rashly shed. Thus far we have seen how severely He would have murder punished: but, inasmuch as it would have been by no means just that he, who had not willfully but accidentally killed his neighbor, should be hurried away to the same punishment, to which willful murderers were subjected, an exception is added here, in order that he might escape who had killed another ignorantly, and unintentionally. Although, as has been said, God had a, further object, viz., lest murder upon murder should be committed, and the land should thus be polluted. Let us now examine the details in order. Although at the outset He only mentions the cities on the other side of Jordan, still we gather from what follows, that six cities were chosen for this purpose, of which three were on this side Jordan. He would have them so situated, that every part of the country should have one of them in its neighborhood, lest the exile of the unhappy persons, who were guiltless, should be rendered more painful by the distance they would have to travel. We have already briefly pointed out  52 that these cities were to be in the portions of Levi, in order that the dignity of the priesthood might the better protect the exiles, and also, because it was probable that there would be more prudence and serious feeling in the Levites, so that the refuge accorded to the innocent should not also shield the guilty.

16. And if he smite him with an instrument of iron. God appears to contradict Himself, when, a little further on, He absolves involuntary murderers, although they may have inflicted the wound with iron or with a stone; whilst here He absolutely declares that whosoever shall smite another with wood, or iron, or a stone, shall be guilty of death; but this is easily explained if we consider his meaning; for, after having pardoned the unintentional act (errori,) lest  53 any should misconstrue this as affording impunity for crime, He at once anticipates them, and again inculcates what has been said before. By the express mention of iron, wood, and stone, He more dearly explains that no voluntary murders are to be pardoned; else, as laws are wont to be evaded by various subtleties, they would have endeavored, perhaps, to limit what had been said respecting the punishment of murderers to one single species of murder, viz., when a person had been slain with a sword. It is not, then, without cause that God condemns to death every kind of murderer, whether he have committed the crime with a weapon (of iron,) or by throwing a stone, or with a dub; since it is sufficient for his condemnation that he had conceived the intention to do the evil act. It is well known that  54 by the Lex Cornelia, whosoever had carried a weapon with the intention of killing a man was guilty; and Martianus cites the reply of Adrian, — He who has killed a man, if he did it not with the intention of killing him, may be absolved; and he who has not killed a man, but has wounded him with intention to kill him, is to be condemned as a murderer; as Paulus also teaches, that in the said Lex Cornelia, the evil intention (dolus) is taken for the deed. Another reply of Adrian is very true, That in crimes, the will and not the result must be regarded. Whence that saying of Ulpian, That there is no difference between the man who kills, and him who causes the death of another. Here, therefore, God had no other object than to cut off from murderers all handles for subterfuge, if they should be convicted of a wicked intention, especially when it resulted in an actual attempt; since there was no difference whether they had made use of a sword, or a mallet, or a stone.

19. The revenger  55 of blood himself. When God commanded that murderers should suffer death, He required that they should be condemned by the judges after due trial; but it seems to savor somewhat of barbarism, that he should now permit the relative of the dead man to take vengeance; for it is a very bad precedent to give the power of the sword to private individuals, and this too in their own cause. It; was indeed formerly permitted, as we shall see in its proper place, to put to death robbers by night, as also it was lawful for the husband, or the father, of a ravished woman to kill the adulterer caught in the fact; but it is absurd that the law should allow a person to avenge the death of his brother. But it is not to be supposed that this license was ever accorded by God, that a man might neglect the public authorities, and inflict punishment on his brothers murderer, wherever he should meet him; for this would have been to give the reins to sudden anger, so that blood would be added to blood. Wherefore it is probable that the danger of this is here denounced, rather than the gate opened to private vengeance; as if it had been said, that unless a provision were made for the innocent, the fury of those whose kindred had been slain, could hardly be restrained; not because it was lawful for them to render violence for violence, but because they would not consider it a crime, and impunity would prove a stimulus even to them, if their just indignation should be pardoned. It must be understood, then, that when a man had been maliciously and willfully killed, a death inflicted by his relative in vengeance was not punished; because it was hard that a man should be capitally condemned as a criminal, who had only slain a murderer already exposed to capital punishment, under the impulse of that love towards his own blood, which is naturally implanted in all. This, however, was tolerated, and not approved of, because, as I have already said, punishments are to be inflicted by public judgment, and not by private will. But, since this indulgence was conceded on account of the people’s hardness of heart, God here reminds them how needful it was to provide an asylum for the innocent, because all murderers would else have been indiscriminately attacked. In short, a comparison is made between the guilty and the innocent, for, unless a just distinction had been drawn, all alike would have been exposed to death. The murderer, he says, is worthy of death, if, perchance, he is met by the kinsman of the man murdered. A remedy is, therefore, to be provided, lest one who is not criminal should accidentally receive the same punishment. Hence, at length it is gathered that a distinction is made between one and the other, by a lawful trial. The mode of procedure is also prescribed, viz., that the congregation should acquit the man who has killed another unwittingly. But because there is some perplexity in the words, it must be observed, that as soon as a person had slain another, he immediately betook himself to the place of refuge, and there declared that he sought shelter. After this declaration, it was open for the relatives of the dead man to lay their accusation, and then, after both parties were heard, judgment was pronounced. Otherwise there is a manifest contradiction in the context, since it is presently added; they “shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled,” whence it appears that, after the exile had presented himself to state his case, and to clear himself, it was usual that a day should be appointed, upon which his accusers should come forward. The sum is, that the murderer should nowhere find refuge, except he were acquitted of his crime. This was an excellent precaution, lest the same punishment should be inflicted upon mischance and criminality, whilst  56 at the same time, by the temporary banishment it was testified how carefully bloodshed was to be avoided. God likewise spared the eyes of those whose brother had been killed, lest their grief should be kept alive by continually beholding (the person who had killed him;  57 ) and this we gather from verse 26, where impunity is conceded to the relations, if they had caught and killed out of the boundaries of his refuge the man, whose duty it was to withdraw himself; not because the fury of their indignation was excused before God, but because it would else have been difficult to restrain the strong desire of vengeance proceeding from the feelings of human nature.

28. Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge. The period of banishment is prescribed, “until the death of the high-priest,” because it would have been anything but humane that all hopes of restoration should have been cut off from the unhappy exile; and, when a new priest succeeded to reconcile the people to God, this renewal of grace was to propitiate all offenses. Wherefore it was not unreasonable that God should entirely restore those who were only punished for inadvertency.

30. Whoso killeth any person, He now returns to willful murderers, whom he will not have spared, but yet not given over to punishment unless convicted by legal proofs. Literally it is, Whoso smiteth a soul, at the mouth of witnesses he shall slay him that slayeth: and this sentence is obscure, from its brevity, unless a noun be supplied before the second verb; and this may be understood either of the judges or the accuser. In the substance, however, there is no ambiguity, viz., that no one should be condemned unless he be lawfully convicted. Moreover, He declares that one witness would be insufficient, inasmuch as it would be most unjust that a man’s life should be at the mercy of a single tongue. I have already adduced a similar passage,  58 in which Moses gave instructions that no capital causes was to be decided except at the mouth of two or three witnesses: and, because such declarations are of general application, I have purposely assigned to them a separate place. Now again, in referring to the condemnation of murderers, he takes occasion to state that two witnesses are required, since nothing is more likely to occur than that the innocent should be overwhelmed by calumnies and perjury, if it depended on the testimony of any single individual. But, when two are brought forward, it may be discovered in many ways, as has been said, whether there is any falsehood; for, if examined separately, they will scarcely accord in all particulars. But, whilst sure proof is required, in order to the punishment of guilt, so, when the murder is proved, God sternly requires, and commands that it should not remain unpunished. He expressly forbids that the right of refuge should be purchasable, since it would else have been in danger of being a shield for many crimes. When, therefore, He forbids a satisfaction to be taken from any one, who would betake himself to a city of refuge, His object is, that no one should enjoy this benefit, until his innocence was fully established; lest the mercy, whereby the innocent were succored, should be open to bribery.

33. So ye shall not pollute the land. In this concluding sentence, He again reminds them that, unless they should exercise severe justice against murderers, they would be guilty of sin against God; because the land stained with human blood is polluted, and lying under His curse, until expiation has been made. Again, since God dwells in the land of Canaan, having chosen His abode among the children of Israel, his sanctity is also profaned. The sum is, that, in every respect, care should be taken lest the land, which is sacred to God, should be contaminated by bloodshed.

Deuteronomy 19

Deuteronomy 19:1-13

1. When the Lord thy God hath cut off the nations, whose land the Lord thy God giveth thee, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their cities, and in their houses;

1. Quum exciderit Jehova Deus tuus gentes quarum ipse Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi terram, et possederis eas, habitaverisque in urbibus earum et in domibus earum.

2. Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.

2. Tres urbes separabis tibi in medio terrae tuae quam Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi ut possideas eam.

3. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither.

3. Praeparabis tibi itinera, et in tres partes divides terminum terrae tuae, quam in haereditatem daturus est tibi Jehova Deus tuus: eritque ut fugiat illuc omnis homicida.

4. And this is the case of the slayer which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;

4. Haec autem est res homicidae. qui fugiet illuc, et vivet: qui percusserit proximum suum ignoranter, neque oderat eam ab heri et nudiustertius.

5. As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:

5. Quicunque abierit cum proximo suo in silvam ad caedenda ligna, et impulsa fuerit manus ejus in securim ad caedendum lignum, elapsum autem fuerit ferrum e ligno, inveneritque proximum suum, et moriatur: is fugiet ad unam urbium istarum, et vivet:

6. Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.

6. Ne persequatur propinquus sanguinis homicidam illum, quum incaluerit cor ejus, et assequatur eum, quod longior fuerit via: et percutiat eum anima, quum tamen non sit reus mortis, quod non odisset eum ab heri et nudiustertius:

7. Wherefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee.

7. Idcirco ego praecipio tibi, dicendo: Tres civitates separabis tibi.

8. And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers;

8. Quod si dilataverit Jehova Deus tuus terminum tuum quemadmodum juravit patribus tuis, et dederit tibi universam terram quam dixit patribus tuis se daturum:

9. If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, besides these three:

9. Quum custodieris omnia praecepta ista, ut facias ea quae ego praecipio tibi hodie, nempe ut diligas Jehovam Deum tuum, et ambules in viis ejus omnibus diebus: tunc addes tibi adhuc tres urbes ultra tres istas:

10. That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and so blood be upon thee.

10. Ut non effundatur sanguis innocens in medio terrae tuae quam Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi in haereditatem, neve sint super to sanguines.

11. But if any man hate his neigh-hour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities;

11. At quum fuerit quispiam qui oderit proximum suum, et insidiatus fuerit ei, insurrexeritque in eum, et percusserit eum anima, et mortuus fuerit, fugerit autem ad unam urbium istarum.

12. Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

12. Tunc mittent seniores urbis illius, et abstrahent eum inde, dabuntque eum in manu propinqui sanguinis, et morietur.

13. Thine eye shall not pity him: but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.

13. Non parcet oculus tuus ei, et auferes sanguinem innocentem ex Israele, et bene erit tibi.


1. When the Lord thy God hath cut off the nations. Moses repeats the same precepts which we have just been considering, that, in regard to murders, the people should distinguish between inadvertency and crime. With this view, he assigns six cities, wherein those who have proved their innocence before the judges should rest in peace and concealment. In one word, however, he defines who is to be exempt from punishment, viz., he who has killed his neighbor ignorantly, as we have previously seen; and this is just, because the will is the sole source and cause of criminality, and therefore, where there is no malicious feeling, there is no crime. But, lest under the pretext of inadvertency those who are actually guilty should escape, a mark of distinction is added, i.e., that no hatred should have preceded; and of this an instance is given, if two friends should have gone out together into a wood, and, without any quarrel or wrangling, the head of the axe should slip out of the hand of one of them, and strike the other. God, therefore, justly commands that the motive of the crime should be investigated, and shows how it is to be ascertained, viz., if there had been any previous animosity, or if any contention should have arisen. For it is incredible that any one should be so wicked as gratuitously to rush into so abominable a sin. It must be observed, however, that there was no room for this conjecture, except in a doubtful matter; for if any should stab his neighbor with a drawn sword, or should hurl a dart into his bosom, the inquiry would be superfluous, because the guilty intention would be abundantly manifest.



See margin of A. V.


Lat., “quia praecepto respondet quasi ἀντίςροφος.”


This is the earliest account we have of the Lex Talionis, or law of like for like, which afterwards prevailed among the Greeks and Romans. Among the latter it constituted a part of the Twelve Tables, so famous in antiquity; but the punishment was afterwards changed to a pecuniary fine, to be levied at the discretion of the Praetor. It prevails less or more in most civilized countries, and is fully acted upon in the Canon Law in reference to all calumniators: “Clumniator, si in accusatione defecerit, talionem recipiat.” Nothing, however, of this kind was left to private revenge; the magistrate awarded the punishment when the fact was proved. Otherwise the Lex Talionis would have utterly destroyed the peace of society, and have sowed the seeds of hatred, revenge, and all uncharitableness.” — Adam Clarke on Ex 21:24.

The enactment of the Twelve Tables to this effect appears from Festus to have been the following: “Si merebrum rupsit, (ruperit,) ni cum eo pacit, (paciscetur,) talio est;” presenting a singular coincidence with the Mosaic provision. See Aul. Gell., lib. 20 c. 1, where the words are given somewhat differently, as in C.’s text. The objection of Favorinus is that it was impossible to be kept; for if the like were inflicted for the like, as one wound for another, they must take care that the like wound in every respect should be made, neither longer nor deeper; if it were, then a new retaliation must arise, and so ad infinitum.


No reference is here given, but it is probably to Job 14:5, — “Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.”


“Une necessite fatale.” — Fr.


“Une necessite confuse selon des causes entortillees;” a confused necessity according to complicated causes. — Fr.


Superbire, et insidiari longe differunt.” — Lat. “Ruer sup quelqu’un par fierte et malice, et laguetter.” — Fr.


“Ceux qui se glorifioyent du titre de Chrestiente;“ those who prided themselves in the name of Christians. — Fr.


See Livy, lib. 45:5. The words quoted are from an address of a certain L. Atilius to the popular assembly of Samothracia.


Aul. Gellius. Noct. Attic., 20:1.


“Ainsi il semble bien que tous deux ont este supportez quant au delict public, quand il n’y a que le dommage particulier qui soit recompense;” thus it plainly appears that both were set free, as regarded the public offense, since it was only the private injury for which compensation was made. — Fr.


“Les gens prudens;” their wise men. — Fr.


A. V., “continue for a day or two.” Ainsworth, in loco: “Heb., stand, which the Greek translateth live.”


It will be seen that the word אסון in the text is translated by C., mors; in A V., mischief. “The Chaldee expounds it, (says Ainsworth,) no death; but it implieth less also than death, as the words following manifest. The Greek refers it to the child; translating, if it be not figured, (ἐξεικονισμένον,) i e., have not the shape and proportion.”


The word determine is added by our translators. Ainsworth’s literal rendering is, “and he shall give by the judges.”


Added from Fr.


See margin, A. V.


“Ce que les jurisconsultes appellent une reprimande moyenne.” — Fr.


This exposition is attributed to Vatablus in Poole’s Synopsis.


“Feciales.” — Lat. “Les herauts d’armes.” — Fr. “The Romans never carried on any war without solemnly proclaiming it. This was done by a set of priests called Feciales. When the Romans thought themselves injured by any nation, they sent one or more of these Feciales to demand redress, (ad res repetundas,) Liv. 4:30, 38:45. Varro, L.L. 4:15. Dionys. 2:72; and, if it was not immediately given, thirty-three days were granted to consider the matter, after which war might be justly declared. Then the. Feciaks again went to their confines, and having thrown a bloody spear into them, formally declared war against that nation, Liv. 1:32.” — Adam’s Romans Antiq.

The references in the two following sentences are to Cicero, de Off. 1:12, and 11, and 13.


“Et cum iis, quos vi deviceris, consulendum est; tum 2, qui, armis positis, ad imperatorum fidem confugient, quamvis murum aries percusserit, recipiendi sunt.” — Cic, de Off. 1:11.


Addition in Fr., “et equite qui doit estre en tous enfans de Dieu;” and from the equity which ought to be in all God’s children.


Addition in Fr., “et l’execution commise aux enfans d’Israel;” and its execution committed to the children of Israel.


“The Chaldee addeth, a servant of the peoples, i.e., of the Gentiles, who for the religion of God cometh from his master to the Church of Israel. This servant that fleeth to the land (of Israel) he is a righteous stranger, (that is, a proselyte come unto the faith and covenant of God,) saith Maimony.” — Ainsworth in loco.


Margin A V., Ex 23:5, “Wilt thou cease to help him? or, and wouldest thou cease to leave thy business for him; thou shalt surely leave it to join with him.” The Vulg. translation is, “Si videris asinum odientis te jacere sub onere, non pertransibis, sed sublevabis cum eo:” and this precisely accords with LXX., οὐ παρελέυσὟ αὐτὸ


Ex 23:5 עזב, in its primary and most usual sense, signifies to leave; but a thing may be left from dislike or weariness; hence it signifies (2) to forsake. On the other hand, it may be left, because it has been brought into that state, in which it needs no further help or security; and hence (3) it sometimes signifies to complete a defense, as Neh. 3:8, Neh. 4:2; to relieve from a difficulty, as in this place — W. The whole of this criticism is omitted, not only in the French translation, but also in the Latin edition of 1563, pp. 390, 391.


See vol. 2 p. 251, on Numbers 35:6.


“De peur que cela ne tirast trop longue queue, et que les criminels en fissent couverture d’impunite, il exprime notamment les facons de tuer plus communes, quand on y va de guet-a-pens. Ainsi en nommant les instrumens, qui sont destinez, ou qu’on applique a mal faire,” etc.; for fear this should be carried too far, and that criminals should make it a ground for impunity, he expressly mentions the more ordinary kinds of deliberate murder. Thus, by naming the instruments, which are intended, or used for inflicting injuries, etc. — Fr.


Vide Digest. 48, tit. 8. In legem Corneliam de Sicariis, et Veneficiis, 1 Section 3. “Divus Hadrianus rescripsit, eum, qui hominem occidit, si non occidendi animo hoc admisit, absolvi posse: et qui hominem non occidit, sed vulneravit ut occidat, pro homicida damnandum: et ex re constituendum hoc.” — Ibid., 11 “Ulpianus, lib. 8, ad legem Juliam, et Papiam. Nihil interest, occidat quis, an causam mortis praebeat.” Vide item, Julii Pauli Recept. Sentent., lib. 5, tit. 23, Section 2. “Qui hominem occiderit, aliquando absolvitur. Et qui non occidit, in homicida damnatur. Consilium enim uniuscujusque, non factum puniendum est. Ideoque qui cum velit occidere, id casu aliquo perpetrare non potuerit, ut homicida punietur. Et is, qui casu jactu teli hominem imprudenter occiderit, absolvitur.”


“Propinquus sanguinis.” — Lat.


The Fr. gives a different turn to this sentence; “que pour obvier a un nouveau meurtre en bannissant pour un temps celuy, qui avoit tue quelqu’un par erreur;” as well as to prevent a fresh murder, by banishing, for a time, the person who had killed another unintentionally.


Added from Fr.


Deuteronomy 17:6. See ante, p. 45.

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