Sunday, November 27, 2005

Crime and Sin

Biblical law makes an important distinction between a crime and a sin. This distinction is important in defining the role of judges, because a crime is a sin that can be punished by them. Therefore, defining crimes places an important boundary around the activity of judges.

The Old Testament teaches that only a few sins are also crimes. For example, coveting is listed as a sin in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:17), but there is no punishment specified for coveting. Although coveting is a sin, it is not a crime. The obvious reason for this is that it would be impossible for judges to prove that a person is coveting. No one can testify that another person is coveting, because we cannot see into another person’s mind. This places a clear limit on judges. They can only punish actions. They must not attempt to control our thoughts.

Theft is specified as a sin in the Ten Commandments, but in this case the bible also specifies a punishment. This means that theft is both a sin and a crime (Ex 22:1-4). Once a man acts on his coveting and steals from his neighbour, judges have authority to act against him. His actions are visible, so witnesses can observe and testify against him. This provides judges with a basis for dealing with theft.

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