In the Middle Ages, when it was very difficult to reach offenders, the judges inflicted frightful punishments on the few who were arrested; but this did not diminish the number of crimes.  It has since been discovered that, when justice is more certain and more mild, it is more efficacious.

                                   Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, 1835







Corporal Punishment: bodily punishment such as flogging inflicted on a person guilty of offensive behavior or criminal activity.  Its practice has been largely discontinued in modern times because of restrictions against the use of “cruel and inhuman punishment.”


Flagellation: scourging, flogging, lashing, or mutual whipping for bodily discipline or penance.  Arising out of the punitive flagellation of offending priests and monks, voluntary scourging developed after the eleventh century.  The practice was condemned during the Inquisition, but it is still practiced, along with other types of self-torture and mutilation, in primitive societies.


Scourging: striking with a whip or lash in order to punish or chastise.


Flogging: beating with a whip or stick usually as a public humiliation.


Whipping: beating with a whip, quirt, lash, strap, rod, cane, or switch.


Thrashing: beating soundly in punishment; mauling.


Mauling: clubbing, bruising.


Drubbing: beating with a stick or cudgel.


Spanking: striking a person, usually a child and usually on the buttocks, with the hand.


          The objects of corporal punishment down through human history have been the following: children, wives, slaves, insubordinate soldiers or monks, heretics, and criminals.

          As to children the case was as follows.  The apostle Paul charged husbands to keep their families under control.


He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way.         1 Tim. 3:4


          An obligation to discipline children is enjoined by the adage based on the Book of Proverbs: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  Several such Proverbs may be cited, as follows:


He who spares the rod hates his son,

But he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.     Prov. 13:24


Discipline you son while there is hope;

Do not set your heart on his destruction.      Prov. 19:18


Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,

But the rod of discipline drives it far from him.     Prov. 22:15


Do not withhold discipline from a child;

If you beat him with a rod, he will not die.

If you beat him with a rod,

You will save his life from Sheol.          Prov. 23:13-14


The rod and reproof give wisdom,

But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

                     Prov. 29:15

Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;

He will give delight to your heart.        Prov. 29:17


          The apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) also had lengthy instructions in this regard.  It has been said that more whippings have been administered on the authority of Ecclesiasticus than any other source.  Here is a passage from that book.


The man who loves his son will continually beat him,

So that he may be glad at the end.

The man who disciplines his son will profit by him,

And boast of him among his acquaintances.

The man who teaches his son will make his enemy jealous,

And exult over him before his friends.

When his father dies, it is as though he were not dead,

For he leaves behind him one like himself.

In his lifetime he sees him and rejoices,

And in death he does not grieve.

He has left one to avenge him upon his enemies,

And to repay the kindness of his friends.

The man who spoils his son will have to bind up his wounds,

And his heart will tremble at every cry.

An unbroken horse turns out stubborn,

And a son left to himself grows up headstrong.

If you pamper your child, he will cause you grave concern.

Play with him, and he will grieve you.

Do not laugh with him, so that you may not later mourn with him

And gnash your teeth over him at last.

Do not allow him liberty in his youth.

Bruise his buttocks while he is a child,

So that he will not become stubborn and disobey you.

Discipline your son and take pains with him,

So that he will not distress you with his bad behavior.

                Ecclus. 30:1-13


          Now obviously some of this sage advice is too extreme, but not all of it is.  It may be said that there are two kinds of child abuse: too much punishment and too little punishment.  And certainly those oversolicitous parents who will not have their unruly offspring kept in line by teachers or respectful of other adult authority are inflicting grave harm on their children.  Such as these are prone to becoming misfits in civilized society.

          When a child receives just punishment from a loving parent, there should be no resentment on his part.  In fact, the Bible says that chastisement is a proof of love.  When a person is afflicted by the heavenly Parent, it should be an occasion for rejoicing, in that by this event the fact of sonship is affirmed.


Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, Yahweh your God disciplines you.             Deut. 8:5


Blessed is the man whom Thou dost chasten, O Yahweh,

And whom Thou dost teach out of Thy law.           Ps. 94:12


But He was wounded for our transgressions;

He was bruised for our iniquities;

Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole,

And with His stripes we are healed.              Isa. 53:5


But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.     1 Cor. 11:32


And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?  My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

Nor lose courage when you are punished by Him.

For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves,

And chastises every son whom He receives.

It is for discipline that you have to endure.

God is treating you as sons,

For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.

Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.

For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant.  Later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.          Heb. 12:5-11


          As for wives, they were subject to the authority of the man.  It was ordered in Genesis 3:16, “...your husband...shall rule over you.”  Records in early Baptist churches in England gave rulings that were made in this regard.  The general advice was that the wife should be persuaded to obedience without force if at all possible, and she should be whipped only as a last recourse.  The term “rule of thumb” came from the limitation upon husbands that they not beat their wives with a switch larger than their thumbs.  A doggerel rhyme of the day was:


Three things beat, the better they be:

A dog, a wife, and a walnut tree.


(Note: As to the walnut tree, the efficacy of striking or cutting plants to make them produce fruit is still known and practiced by farmers.)


          Flogging of wrongdoers, whether soldiers, monks, heretics, or criminals was common in ancient times.  Jesus, before He was crucified, was first scourged.  People were often strapped to posts or torture wheels and beaten.  Onboard ships, crewmen were lashed as they were strapped to a mast.  Flogging while in stocks was also common.  American Indians caused captives to run the gauntlet or to be beaten by squaws as a form of humiliation.  In general, the Bible accepts the propriety of public flogging.  “Stike a scoffer” was the sage advice of Proverbs (19:25).  Also:


Condemnation is ready for scoffers,

And flogging for the backs of fools.         Prov. 19:29


Blows that wound cleanse away evil;

Strokes make clean the innermost parts.       Prov. 20:30


A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass,

And a rod for the back of fools.             Prov. 26:3


By mere words a slave is not disciplined,

For though he understands, he will not give heed.     Prov. 29:19


          Notwithstanding its common acceptance from ancient times, the practice of public degradation (by such activities as stocks and pillories, stripping away clothing and administering the lash, and being carried by a wagon - or made to walk behind it - through the streets) has been abandoned in all civilized societies of today.  Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

          Even today, however, there are some cases where striking a person is still deemed beneficial, as for example in the case of spanking a newborn child to make it start breathing.  Also, it is still common belief that it may be proper to strike a hysterical person, a drowning person, or a violent person in order to shake them from their distraction.  Whether this method works in all cases is to be doubted, however.

          One argument against capital punishment is that it does not act as a deterrent against crime.  The same cannot be said against the use of corporal punishment.  It does work, and speedily.  It causes an instantaneous improvement in behavior, and thus has immediate positive results.  If applied with firm resolution it has the effect of showing who is in control, as when a horse is broken to the saddle.  But like all forms of interpersonal behavior, this approach to character molding is subject to abuse.  Depending upon the individual involved, and given the fact that the primary motivation to change is the fear of bodily harm, the long range effect on character can be for good or for bad.  Thus, other means should be employed to communicate the necessity for obedience if at all possible.  Other milder forms of punishment can be substituted, and harsher measures reserved for truly incorrigible cases, where stubborn insubordination cannot be conquered in any other way.

                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins





Excerpts from The Description Of England by William Harrison, 1587


Chapter XI. Of Sundry Kinds of Punishments Appointed for Malefactors


          In cases of felony, manslaughter, robbery, murder, rape, piracy, and such capital crimes as are not reputed for treason or hurt of the state, our sentence pronounced upon the offender is to hang till he be dead...To use torment, also, or question by pain and torture in these common cases, with us is greatly abhorred, sith we are found alway to be such as despise death (approach death with courage) and yet abhor to be tormented, choosing rather frankly to open our minds than to yield our bodies into such servile halings and tearings as are used in other countries.  And this is one cause wherefore our condemned persons do go so cheerfully to their deaths, for our nation is free, stout, haughty, prodigal of life and blood, as Sir Thomas Smith saith, and therefore cannot in any wise digest to be used as villeins and slaves, in suffering continually beating, servitude, and servile torments.  No, our jailers are guilty of felony by an old law of the land if they torment any prisoner committed to their custody, for the revealing of his complices.

          The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the state is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead and then taken down and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies and thrown into a fire provided near-hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose.  Sometimes, if the trespass be not the more heinous, they are suffered to hang till they be quite dead...

          If a woman poisons her husband, she is burned alive; if the servant kills his master, he is to be executed for petty treason; he that poisoneth a man is to be boiled to death in water or lead, although the party die not of the practice; in cases of murder all the accessories are to suffer pains of death accordingly.  Perjury is punished by the pillory, burning in the forehead with the letter P, the rewalting (overthrowing) of the trees growing upon the grounds of the offenders, and loss of all his movables.  Many trespasses also are punished by the cutting of one or both ears from the head of the offender, as the utterance of seditious words against the magistrates, fray-makers, petty robbers, etc.  Rogues are burned through the ears; carriers of sheep out of the land, by the loss of their hands; such as kill by poison are either boiled or scaded to death in lead or seething water.  Heretics ar burned quick (alive).  Harlots and their mates, by carting, ducking, and doing of open penance in sheets, in churches, and marketsteads, are often put to rebuke...

          Manslaughter in time past was punished by the purse, wherein the quantity or quality of the punishment was rated after the state and calling of the party killed, so that one was valued sometime at 1,200, another at 600 or 200 shillings.  And by a statute made under Henry the First, a citizen of London at 100, whereof elsewhere I have spoken more at large.  Such as kill themselves are buried in the field with a stake driven through their bodies.

          Witches are hanged or sometimes burned; but thieves are hanged, generally on the gibbet or gallows, saving in Halifax, where they are beheaded...

          Rogues and vagabonds are often stocked and whipped; scolds are ducked upon ducking stools in the water.  Such felons as stand mute and speak not in their arraignment are pressed to death by huge weights laid upon a board that lieth over their breast and a sharp stone under their backs, and these commonly hold their peace, thereby to save their goods unto their wives and children, which, if they were condemned, should be confiscated to the prince.  Thieves that are saved by their books and clergy (right of appeal from temporal to ecclesiastical jurisdiction) for the first offense, if they have stolen nothing else but oxen, sheep, money, or suchlike, which be no open robberies as by the highway side, or assailing of any man’s house in the night without putting him in fear of his life or breaking up of his walls or doors, are burned in the left hand upon the brawn of the thumb with an hot iron...Pirates and robbers by sea are condemned in the court of the admiralty and hanged on the shore at low watermark, where they are left till three tides have overwashed them.


Chapter X. The Several Disorders and Degrees Amongst Our Idle Vagabonds


 1.  Rufflers (thieving beggars, apprentice uprightment)

 2.  Uprightmen (leaders of robber bands)

 3.  Hookers or anglers (thieves who steal through windows with hooks)

 4.  Rogues (rank-and-file vagabonds)

 5.  Wild rogues (those born of rogues)

 6.  Priggers of prancers (horse thieves)

 7.  Palliards (male and female beggars, traveling in pairs)

 8.  Fraters (sham proctors, pretending to beg for hospitals, etc.)

 9.  Abrams (feined lunatics)

10. Fresh-water mariners or whipjacks (beggars pretending shipwreck)

11. Dummerers (sham deaf-mutes)

12. Drunken tinkers (thieves using the trade as a cover)

13. Swadders or peddlers (thieves pretending to be peddlers)

14. Jarkmen (forgers of licenses) or patricoes (hedge priests)


Of Womenkind


 1. Demanders for glimmer or fire (female beggars pretending loss of fire)

 2.  Bawdy baskets (female peddlars)

 3.  Morts (prostitutes and thieves)

 4.  Autem morts (married harlots)

 5.  Walking morts (unmarried harlots)

 6.  Doxies (prostitutes who begin with uprightmen)

 7.  Dells (young girls, incipient doxies)

 8.  Kinchin morts (female beggar children)

 9.  Kinchin coes (male beggar children)


          ...the law ordaineth this manner of correction: the rogue being apprehended, committed to prison, and tried in the next assizes...if he happen to be convicted for a vagabond, either by inquest of office or the testimony of two honest and credible witnesses upon their oaths, he is then immediately adjudged to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with an hot iron of the compass of an inch about, as a manisfestation of his wicked life and due punishment received for the same...If he be taken the second time and proved to have forsaken his said service, he shall than be whipped again, bored likewise through the other ear, and set to service; from whence if he depart before a year be expired and happen afterward to be attached again, he is condemned to suffer pains of death as a felon without benefit of clergy or sanctuary.


Note: Before the time of penitentiaries, the gaol (jail) was a short-term detention prior to trial.  Sentencing was a fine, exile, mutilation, or corporal or capital punishment.





1. Judicial execution is deliberate, public, legalized manslaughter.  Its practice has been abandoned by the majority of democratic nations, the only exceptions being France, four states in Mexico, and two-thirds of the states in the American Union.  This barbaric custom will eventually be abolished by all civilized countries in the world and looked back upon as a vestige of the Dark Ages.


2. Jesus Christ was a victim of capital punishment.  His death combined all of the worst elements of a mock trial, torture, and public humiliation.  The Cross itself is a symbol of the shame and guilt of mankind and of man’s faulty judicial system.


3. Civil and religious authorities have inflicted the death penalty on many of the greatest men who have ever lived.  These include Isaiah, Socrates, Peter, Paul, Polycarp, Jan Huss, Joan of Arc, Balthasar Hübmaier, Thomas More, Francis Drake, Archbishop Cranmer, Giordano Bruno, and Michael Servetus.  The bloody record of religious inhumanity has been recorded in Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs and in the annals of the Waldensian, Anabaptist, and Quaker movements.  Oscar Wilde observed: “As one reads is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted...”


4. The first murderer, Cain, was not himself slain by God.  The divine ideal is summarized in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  The sanctity of life is a universally recognized principle.  Three times in the Bible it is written: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Deut. 32:35, Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30).


5. The Old Testament prescribed and even commanded capital punishment, but the Christian ethic goes beyond Mosaic rules and regulations.  In keeping with the principle of progressive revelation, the ancient Hebrew laws and customs have been replaced by better God-given ethical standards.  Social progress should continue to improve on into the future as the “Holy Spirit leads into all truth” (John 16:13) and “until we all attain to...the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).


6. In the Old Testament, death was meted out for several offenses that today are deemed very minor.  These harsh laws were not always enforced by the Jews themselves.  In the Gospel account of the woman taken in adultery, the Jews had let the guilty man go free, and then Jesus forgave the guilty woman as well.  The modern state of Israel has abolished the death penalty except for acts of treason.


7. The spiritual forebears of Baptists, the sixteenth century Anabaptists, as well as the seventeenth century Quakers, were opposed to both war and capital punishment.  In those days Baptists were executed for their beliefs, and they hated the despotic exercise of the death penalty.


8. There were twenty-two capital crimes in the Old Testament.  In fifteenth century England there were seventeen, but by the eighteenth century the number had risen to 222.  Children were hanged for minor offenses, and life was cheap.  A person could die for stealing grapes, killing a household pet, poaching a rabbit, cutting down a cherry tree, or “injuring Westminster bridge.”  The nineteenth century saw great reforms in England when in 1833 slavery was abolished, followed by prison reform in 1835, and the abolition of the death penalty for minor offenses in 1838.


9. The word “penitentiary” refers to a place of “penance,” “penitence,” and “repentence.”  Capital punishment may be inflicted before the criminal has had a chance to repent or be converted to faith in God.  The word “penal,” related to “penalty” and “penalize,” comes from the Greek poine: a fine.  Death is much more than paying a fine.  The idea of a death “penalty” is, therefore, a contradiction in terms.


10. Legalized manslaughter is eye-for-eye justice and is not compatible with the Christian spirit or the Sermon on the Mount.


11. There are now available alternatives to capital punishment, such as mandatory life imprisonment, deportation for crimes against the state, and the sterilization of rapists.  Hebrew law was based on the culture of the desert nomad.  There were no prisons, only certain cities of refuge to whch fleeing manslayers were confined.  Thus, the law could only mete out two kinds of punishment: death or repayment (by restitution of goods or by fines).


12. Innocent persons have been executed.  Other forms of punishment allow an erroneous sentence to be rectified, but capital punishment is irreversible.  Just one innocent victim is one too many.


13. Capital punishment is a discriminatory practice.  The average occupant of death row is a poor black male.  Men die for crimes for which women do not.  A person is more likely to be executed if the murder was committed with a pistol than if it were by poison.  No rich influential American has been executed in recent times.


14. Capital punishment is not a deterrent to homicide.  In fact, in the states employing the death sentence, the homicide rate is slightly higher.


15. The folly of capital punishment has been dramatized in books such as Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, Melville’s Billy Budd, and Tolstoy’s Resurrection.  The movement for the abolition of capital punishment actually began with the publication of Cesare Beccaria’s Essay On Crimes And Punishments in 1764.


16.Wardens and state employees who must carry out sentences of executions are almost totally against capital punishment.  To inflict the guilt of taking a life upon state servants is itself a crime.  A condemned person may deserve death, but nobody else deserves to be his executioner.  No organized or unorganized group of men has the right to take the life of another man.


17. T. B. Maston, eminent Baptist professor of Christian ethics, opposed capital punishment for the following reasons: 1) Old Testament punishment by death was a practice done in the absence of a penal code, 2) It is contrary to New Testament teaching, 3) It discriminates against lower classes, 4) It is not a deterrent to crime, and 5) It precludes rectifying an error as to guilt.


18. In the pamphlet Issues And Answers: Capital Punishment (1981), the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention concluded that all Baptists should “support the abolition of Capital Punishment.”


                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins





Manslaughter  (Genesis 9:6)

Premeditated Murder  (Exodus 21:12)

Striking One’s Parents  (Exodus 21:15)

Kidnapping For Slavery  (Exodus 21:16)

Cursing One’s Parents  (Exodus 21:17)

Adultery  (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22)

Non-Virgin Wife (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

Intercourse With a Betrothed Maiden (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-29)

Incest (Leviticus 20:11-12)

Homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13)

Intercourse With an Animal (Exodus 22:19)

Sabbath Day Labor (Exodus 31:14-15, Numbers 15:32-36)

Idolatrous Prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:5)

Idolatry (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)

Perjury (Deuteronomy 19:16-19)

Infant Sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2)

Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16)

Approching the Tabernacle During Its Erection (Numbers 1:51, 3:10,38)

Witchcraft (Exodus 22:18)

Necromancy (Leviticus 20:27)

Sorcery (Leviticus 20:27)

New Testament Times: a Gentile who entered the Temple’s Court of Women


Note: It is inconsistent to appeal to the Bible for sanction of capital punishment unless one is willing to enforce the death penalty for all of the capital offenses enumerated therein.




United States

First degree (premeditated) murder

Homicide connected with arson, robbery, rape, or burglary








Parricide (murder of kin)


Perjury on a capital case

Kidnapping of a child

Abuse of a child unto death


Homicide connected with a serious crime


Note: The list of capital crimes given in the Bible does not agree with the lists that are invoked by modern countries.



    ANCIENT TIMES                                         RECENT TIMES


Based on Old Testament            Based on New Testament

          retribution                                              reconciliation,

              and                                                     restoration,

          retaliation                                                        and

(Lex talionis:                                                  rehabilitation

“Law of retaliation”)


Trial by Ordeal                                               Trial by Jury

(torture, poison,                                               Protections:

ducking, burning)                                              Habeus Corpus

                                                                   Ex Post Facto

Trial by Combat                                             Right of Silence

(a cause without a                                             Right of Counsel

champion was lost.)                                  No Double Jeopardy


Excessive Punishment                             Humane Penal Codes

(death for theft, heresy,                                       Abolition of capital punishment

sedition)                                                      in most world democracies.


Cruel Punishment                                       Eighth Amendment to the

(crucifixion, impaling, flaying,                            Constitution forbids “cruel and

dungeon, galley, mines, flogging,                and unusual punishment.”

rack, wheel, screw, branding,

mutilation, indentured slavery,                            The United Nations monitors

stocks, pillory, keel-hauling,                            human rights violations.

tar and feathers, etc.)






The death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.

          States that impose the death penalty have the highest murder rates.


The only reasons for capital punishment are:

          a. retribution or revenge,

          b. preventing the murderer from killing again.


          As to the first reason, God has said, “Vengeance is mine.”


          As to the second reason, a life sentence would prevent a repeat                    murder.  Clearly, some people have demonstrated that they are               a threat to society and should forfeit their freedom, but killing                     them only perpetuates the cycle of violence.  They should be                locked up for life.


Florida State Law:

          Since May 24, 1994, juries are given an option to the death           penalty, which is “life imprisonment without the possibil-          ity of parole.”


Standard Jury Instructions:


“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have found the defendant guilty of first degree murder.  The punishment for this crime is either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Final decision as to what punishment shall be imposed rests solely with the judge of this court; however, the law requires that you, the jury, render to the court an advisory sentence as to what punishment should be imposed upon the defendant.  The State and the defendant may now present evidence relative to the nature of the crime and the character of the defendant.  You are instructed that this evidence is presented in order that you might determine, first, whether sufficient aggravating circumstances exist that would justify the imposition of the death penalty and, second, whether there are mitigating circumstances sufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, if any.  At the conclusion of the taking of the evidence and after argument of counsel, you will be instructed on the factors in aggravation and mitigation that you may consider.”