December 21, 2005
Does the Bible Prohibit Torture?
Reading this post at LaShawn Barbers corner about the Christian response to torture made me think: Is torture prohibited anywhere in the Bible? Barber argues that the state should be allowed to torture sometimes as part of a total war effort. She writes:
Though I ve already offered enough food for thought, I figure why not roll out a banquet? To wit, I d like to bring into the picture a meme I ve recently heard from progressive Christians (progressive being synonymous with liberal in this context). Who would Jesus torture? is asked, often followed by trying to paint a disagreeing party into admitting that they see Jesus teachings as irrelevant to the real world the same way one asks so, do you still beat your wife?
Lots of actions are banned in the Bible and the bible describes many actions that can be considered torture such as beating people with rods or whips. I have read the Bible all the way through more than once and did not remember any passages that said something like thou shall not torture or any pasages where Jesus says not to torture people. In looking for biblical passages that could either be for or against torture, I thought about avoiding passages that were obvious metaphors about God or someone else beating or torturing people. Instead I included all the passages I found interesting and leave it to the reader to judge if this is an endorsement or prohibition of torture or if any of these relate to torturing people for information.
One can infer things like torturing your neighbor is bad from reading the bible (but love your neighbor as yourself Lev 19:18) or that what is ok for God to do is not always ok for man to do, but from my searches for terms such as torture, beat, whip, rod, gnash, etc. I could find no explicit prohibitions of torture. Proverbs in particular seems to favor torture and other passages advocate torture as a form of punishment. The passages below are all from the NIV translation.
This reminds me of a conversion I had with one of my philosophy professors in college about the ethics of suicide. Although suicide is considered a very severe sin by many Christians and the Catholic Church considers it a mortal sin, there is no specific biblical prohibition against suicide. In fact, several fairly major biblical figures commit suicide without God seeming to get upset about it. Samson, Saul, and Judas all committed suicide and in the case of Samson he did it with an assist from God. However, while there are many bible passages that condemn murder, there are none that condemn suicide. A case can be made that suicide is sinful, but it has to be an implied case, not a explicit case.
Here are the passages with my thoughts below them:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.
(this is usually interpreted as being against murder, but could also be interpreted as against other forms of violence)
If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
(some beating is allowed as long as it does not lead to death)
If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves,
(some beatings are even deserved)
then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you.
(God may send people to beat you for your sins)
2 Chronicles 10:14
he followed the advice of the young men and said, "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions."
(better to be scourged with whips then scorpions)
I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God's name and said: "You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves."
(Nehemiah is usually held as an example of a very just and good leader and here he beats some of his people)
I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging;
(God uses rods and flogging)
A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.
(the first of many proverbs about beating fools)
Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools
Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.
(beatings can improve you)
A whip for the horse, a halter for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools!
The Lord Almighty will lash them with a whip, as when he struck down Midian at the rock of Oreb; and he will raise his staff over the waters, as he did in Egypt.
(The Lord will use a whip)
"What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"
(The demons expect Jesus to torture them eventually)
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
(proverb about torture)
"Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
(The king, who in this parable represents God, binds people and makes them suffer)
He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(again, but this time with cutting)
He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!"
(once again a demon expects to be tortured by Jesus)
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!"
But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
(bad servant beats other servants and is then himself beaten by the master as punishment)
2 Corinthians 11:25
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
(Paul and other early Christians were beaten)
They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
(Not marked by God: get tortured)
Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, 'I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.' Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
(torture as punishment for evil torture)
Add you bible verses that relate to torture in the comments!
Posted by Pete at December 21, 2005 09:32 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Great compendium, but I would add one caveat. I made it clear on La Shawn's blog that no one individual has the authority to engage in torture because acts of war are the domain of government.
What would be interesting would be to see what the Bible says with regards to the acts of earthly government in the prosecution of war. I suspect there too would be some limits, though not as severe as limits placed on individuals in passages such as Genesis 9:6 and Exodus 21:20-21
Posted by: Mean Dean at December 21, 2005 10:24 PM