Eliminating Crime Through Law—Is It Possible?
A Lesson Taught by the Mosaic Law
CRIMINAL laws vary greatly throughout the world. Yet there is a general similarity in them as to what is considered a crime, and the relative seriousness of crimes. While God gave the Mosaic law to Israel and to no other nation, many of the laws of the nations reflect the principles of the Mosaic law. Their similarity is due partly to the fact that some governments actually have drawn upon the Mosaic law.
Those statutes that have not been influenced by this law given to the nation of Israel also have similarities, for the reason, as explained by the apostle Paul, that “whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”—Rom. 2:14, 15.
A survey of the penalties for specific crimes as legislated by governments in a wide area of earth reveals that the crime of murder is nearly always considered the most serious, carrying the heaviest penalty. The relative weightiness of the other crimes is graduated, for the most part, in a manner very similar to that of the Mosaic law. In the 19 countries surveyed, the penalties for some of the most serious crimes are as shown on the above chart.
A few of the countries surveyed provide for compensation or reparation to the victim. Goods stolen, if found by the police, are returned. In some lands the robber or thief is required to make compensation; in others, victims may sue for compensation, with good prospects of a favorable judgment from the court. The severity of penalties varies according to the circumstances under which the crime was committed, such as age of offenders, being influenced by economic situations, customs, mores, and so forth. In the lands surveyed in which the death penalty is carried out, it is inflicted by hanging, garroting or a firing squad.
Some Features of Mosaic Law
While no nation today is under the Mosaic law, as the nation of Israel was, by viewing that law’s penalties we can nevertheless get a good look at how God feels about crime. We find that the various statutes were quite clear-cut and definite. However, judges were allowed latitude to apply the penalty according to the circumstances of the case. They could inflict a heavy or a light sentence, exercising mercy where they felt it proper. (Compare Exodus 21:28-32.) Evidence had to be conclusive. In capital cases especially, the testimony of two or more witnesses was mandatory in determining a decision.—Deut. 17:6.
The premeditating or deliberate murderer was to be put to death without fail. (Num. 35:16-18, 20, 21, 30, 31) The method of execution was by stoning to death; in especially heinous cases the criminal was first stoned, then his body was burned, or, after death by stoning, he was hanged on a tree during the daylight hours of that day in order to make him an example before the people. (Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Deut. 21:22, 23) Unintentional or accidental manslayers were provided cities of refuge to which they could flee and remain so as to be safe from revenge that would otherwise be taken by a near relative of the victim. (Num. 35:22-25) In those cities they worked to support themselves.
The adulterer and adulteress were punished by death. (Lev. 20:10) Incest within certain degrees of relationship, also bestiality and homosexuality, brought the death penalty. (Lev. 20:11-13, 16) Fornication with an engaged girl was a capital offense for both parties, unless the girl resisted and screamed for help. (Deut. 22:23-27) If a man and an unengaged girl committed fornication, the man was required to marry the girl (unless the father of the girl refused to give the girl in marriage), and the man could never divorce her. (Ex. 22:16, 17; Deut. 22:28, 29) This latter law kept the girls of Israel from becoming harlots or prostitutes. Also, the laws against adultery, incest and fornication tended to prevent the births of illegitimate children.
A thief was required to pay double (in some cases, more) to the victim for the things that he stole. If he was financially unable to pay, he was to be sold into slavery to someone residing in the land (preferably to his victim) until he worked out the penalty. (Ex. 22:3b, 4, 7) In this way the victim was compensated so that he not only received the value of the goods stolen, but also was paid for loss of time, loss of use of the goods and the anguish and other inconveniences caused by the theft.
There was no provision for imprisonment. Consequently, a convicted person was not an expense on the public. He was not thrown into the association of other criminals where, through frustration because of lost freedom and lost human dignity, he could become easy prey to the suggestions of fellow prisoners. There were no degrading, demoralizing, filthy prison life and no brutal guards to inflict cruel and unusual punishments. As a consequence, the man who had committed a crime had a far greater opportunity for rehabilitation.
Why No Law Code Can Bring Righteousness
While the law that God gave to Israel was good, wholesome, just and superior to the laws of the nations today, and while it did in a measure deter crime, did it actually eliminate crime in Israel? No. Does this mean that no code of laws can do away with crime—that obedience or righteousness cannot be legislated into people? Or that neither lenient nor severe enforcement will ever bring about a world in which crime does not exist? Yes, it does. Certainly if a law given by God (who wrote the basic Ten Commandments with his own “finger”) cannot accomplish righteousness, no man-made laws could have that result. (Ex. 31:18) Then, is there any hope for a crime-free world?
To consider that question let us first look into the purpose of the Mosaic law. The apostle Paul, before becoming a Christian, was a student under one of Israel’s best law teachers and was very zealous for the law’s strict enforcement. He wrote to Christians: “Why, then, the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made.” (Gal. 3:19) The Law, by designating the various wrongs that all men commit, made manifest that all are sinners and cannot live up to a perfect law. As Paul went on to say: “Really I would not have come to know sin if it had not been for the Law; and, for example, I would not have known covetousness if the Law had not said: ‘You must not covet.’”—Rom. 7:7; Ex. 20:17.
Regardless of how a person lived—not stealing, not committing adultery or murder or any of the specially named violations—he could not say that he never coveted or desired anything wrong. Therefore he knew that he was a sinner. But the Law did good for him, because it made him see that neither he nor anyone else could live up to any law code.—Rom. 3:10-20.
So the fact that sin is in all mankind makes all humans imperfect, all naturally disobedient. However, someone may say, ‘Though all are sinners, some are quite law-abiding, so how does this mean that lawlessness cannot be abolished?’ The sinfulness that is in us, and that we pass on to our offspring, is far worse than we imagine. The Bible, with the actual evidence—a nation that was under Mosaic law for some 15 centuries—tells us. The apostle, speaking to his Christian associates, says: “When we were in accord with the flesh, the sinful passions that were excited by the Law were at work in our members that we should bring forth fruit to death.” (Rom. 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:56) According to this statement the various commandments of the Law, forbidding certain wrong acts, incited people to do these very things.
Was the Law therefore bad, or is it bad to have law today? By no means! The apostle explains: “Did, then, what is good become death to me? Never may that happen! But sin did, that it might be shown as sin working out death for me through that which is good; that sin might become far more sinful through the commandment. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am fleshly, sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:13, 14) Does this not show us how deeply ingrained we are with sin? Is it not an evidence to us of our sinfulness that we are so contrary and so inclined to disobedience, yes, to rebellion, that when told by authority not to do something that will work out bad for us, this is just what we want to do, though perhaps we had not thought of it before?
Criminologist Jerome H. Skolnick of the University of California at Berkeley highlighted this tendency of humankind when he said: “Not everyone reveres criminal law, or not in the same way. By passing a law we may even make the prohibited conduct more popular.”
This shows why world governments cannot eradicate crime through law. Where, then, is the hope?
[Chart on page 9]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
LEGISLATED PUNISHMENTS FOR CRIMESa
Death Life 5 Yrs. Prison,
Imprisonment to Life
Murder (Willful, 13 1 5
Murder (Not willful, 3 16
Imprisonment 2 Yrs. Prison,
Rape 3 16
Imprison- Up to 4 to 10 Yrs. From a Strokes
ment, Life Imprison- Fine (Flogging)
Death to Death Imprison- ment to 10
Robbery† 1 2 5 11
Theft 1 1 16 1
a Survey of 19 countries.
†While “theft” is a broader term, “robbery” refers to stealing from the person or in the immediate presence of a person by violence or threat of violence.
[Picture on page 11]
The Mosaic law proved that no imperfect human could perfectly keep a law code