In Israel, when used regarding a punishment for violation of the Law, it meant a cutting off in death. Some rabbinic scholars believe that it merely constituted expulsion from the congregation of Israel, though they differ widely in opinion.
By examining the Scripture texts naming the offenses for which this punishment is prescribed, it can be determined that it has reference to the death penalty, executed either by the authorities in Israel or by God himself. The crimes for which cutting off are prescribed are those of a most serious nature. They include disrespect of Jehovah (Israel’s God and King), idolatry, child sacrifice, spiritism, desecration of sacred things, and such disgusting practices as incest, bestiality, and sodomy. In some instances the death penalty is specifically mentioned in connection with the offense for which ‘cutting off’ is decreed as the sanction.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews evidently had in mind the statement at Numbers 15:30: “The soul that does something deliberately . . . that soul must be cut off from among his people,” when he said: “Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three.” (Heb 10:28) Jesus used the expression in setting out the punishment for the symbolic “goats”: “These will depart into everlasting cutting-off [Gr., koʹla·sin; literally, “lopping off; pruning”], but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” (Mt 25:46) Here the contrast is between life and death.