The Political Supplements of the Sixth Commandment


Leviticus 24

Leviticus 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"1 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.2

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.3 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.

1 See margin of A. V.

2 Lat., "quia praecepto respondet quasi ajnti>vrofov."

3 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 Exodus 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.


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