Treatment of criminals

Christianity and punishment

Jesus taught about unconditional love and forgiveness. These teachings influence how Christians think about criminals. However, society needs to punish criminals:

A Christian response has to balance these aspects. It is no surprise, then, that Christians disagree about the treatment of criminals.

The Bible and punishment

The Old Testament provided a legal framework for the emerging Jewish nation. As such, it lists many specific punishments for different crimes. The idea behind these is that the punishment should not exceed the offense. Moses taught:

"If anyone injures his neighbour, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured, so he is to be injured".

Leviticus 24:19-20

The New Testament did not set out rules for structuring society. However, Jesus challenged people to rethink assumptions made based on Old Testament thinking. He said that Moses taught 'an eye for an eye' because that was what people needed. However, it is better to 'turn the other cheek' if someone wrongs you. We all need forgiveness, which Jesus showed when he met a crowd that wanted to stone a woman to death for adultery.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7

The New Testament gives few clues about how Christians should respond to crime. However, Christians are told to respect the authority of the state, which means keeping to the law and accepting the punishments.

"Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God."

Romans 13:1