What does the Old Testament phrase 'cut off from their people' mean?

I have often read it, but am having difficulty imaganing how it may have actually been practiced? If it was determined that so and so "must be cut off from their people. " (Leviticus 7:27) would this simply mean they were cast out fo the camp and never welcomed back? How would the rest of his immediete family be treated and would the person have 'moving notice', or would it be suddenly applied without food provisions etc.

I am hoping somebody can identify real Jewish history or Rabbinic examples that describe an instance of this penalty actually being applied.

5 Answers 5


Here are some examples I found:

Exd 31:14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

Exd 31:15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

Lev 23:29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.

Lev 23:30 And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.

Jdg 21:6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day.

In context, "cut off from Israel" means the complete extinction of the tribe.

1Ki 14:10 Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

1Ki 15:29 And it came to pass, when he reigned, that he smote all the house of Jeroboam; he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according unto the saying of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite.

1Ki 21:21 Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,

2Ki 9:8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel:

2Ki 9:9 And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah

2Ki 10:17 And when he came to Samaria, he slew all that remained unto Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed him, according to the saying of the LORD, which he spake to Elijah.

2Ki 10:30 And the LORD said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.

Thus the general trend is that "cut off from Israel" and "cut off from the earth" mean physical death. However, when "cut off from [other places in specific contexts]" occurs, it may mean other things:

2Ch 26:21 And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land.

Uzziah was not killed at that time, but became a leper and was no longer allowed to the temple, or even within Jerusalem.

Summa summarum: Generally, "cut off", when it is a generic punishment or statement, means death/extinction. However, in certain specific circumstances the phrase refers to separation from a particular location or institution.

  • I will not downvote the answer, since it has useful research. But I do disagree with it. To be "cut off" sometimes implies a death penalty but not necessarily. Conversely, the death penalty is sometimes applied in cases where the person is not to be :"cut off." See my answer for more. Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 18:49

Being "cut off" is not the same as being put to death. Cutting off expels the person from the covenant community. The death penalty in itself does not do that. There are cases when the "cutting off" (also called excision) is part of a death sentence, and other cases where it is not. For example, an Israelite who is not circumcised is to be "cut of from people" but is not to be put to death:

Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:14)

On the other hand, there are cases where a death penalty does not carry with it an expulsion from the covenant. For example:

If he struck him down with an instrument of iron, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17 And if he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which a man may die, and he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. (Num. 35:16-17)

But admittedly, there are cases where being "cut off" implies a death penalty without stating it, such as the case of human sacrifice. And there are others when the sentence is unclear, such as a man having sex with his wife during her menstruation. (Lev. 18:19-21)

Conclusion: to be "cut off" means to be expelled from the covenant community. It sometimes implies a death sentence, but not always. Moreover, a death sentence does not always carry the penalty of being cut off.

  • Mi Yodeya has answers to similar questions, which make a distinction between the death penalty and being cut off. Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 23:54
  • Dan Fetterman, you use Ex 17:14 to prove death would not be involved in cutting off an uncircumcised , then whay was God's Angel seek to kill Moses son as in EX 4:24-26?
    – ACME
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 1:22
  • @DanFefferman I hold the same believe that cut of means to expel / exile someone like the sins in Lev 18 and King Asa did it in Kings 15:11-12 "he took away the sodomites out of the land" he must have cut them off. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:55
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    @ACME It was Moses the angel of the Lord was about to kill not the son. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 19:15
  • as to why God sought to kill Moses... the text does not say, but the implication is that it was because Moses did not circumcise Gershom. The sin was Moses' not Gershom's. It was important because Moses had to lead the people and set an example. A boy could easily rejoin the community once his condition was remedied. If he remained uncircumcised as an adult, then the law was that he would be cut off. But in practice, the law was not enforced. Indeed, I can think of no instance where it WAS enforced. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 22:34

What does the Old Testament phrase 'cut off from their people' mean?

It means "put to death."

Leviticus 7:27 NASB

27 Any person who eats any blood, even that person shall be cut off from his people.’” Under the Mosaic Law. For serious or deliberate violations of God’s law given through Moses a person could be cut off, that is, "put to death."

Numbers 15:30-31 NET

Deliberate Sin

30 “‘But the person who acts defiantly, whether native-born or a resident foreigner, insults the Lord. That person must be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the Lord’s message and has broken his commandment, that person must be completely cut off. His iniquity will be on him.’”

Apostasy, murder, idolatry,, eating blood, and adultery were among the offenses carrying this penalty.​

Leviticus 20:10 NET

10 If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Numbers 35:31 NET

31 Moreover, you must not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death; he must surely be put to death.

Under the Law, for the penalty of cutting off to be carried out, evidence had to be established at the mouth of at least two witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:15 NASB

15 “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin [a]which he has committed; on the [b]evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.

These witnesses were required to be the first to stone the guilty one.

Deuteronomy 17:7 NASB

7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

This would demonstrate their zeal for God’s law and the purity of the congregation of Israel and would also be a deterrent to false, careless, or hasty testimony.

  • see my answer to understand how that being cut off is different from being put to death. Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 18:50

I always thought the jewish view of cut off from the people meant to die before age 50 and leave no family descendents, but not necessarily as a punishment. My brother died at 48 years of age due to physical diseases, leaving a widow and 3 orphaned children. He was not cut off, though he died young, because he left children.

Just a couple of thoughts. Yeshua died at 33 and thus was cut off from his people, unless we are His family and God the Father is His Father, as He has said.

Many jewish martyrs, i.e. the mother and her seven sons tortured to death for not converting to pagan religion from judism, were cut off from their people as they, or at least some of them, died before age 50 and the family line was cut off because they were all killed. They did not commit evil and it was not a punishment from heaven. (2 Maccabees, Chapter 7) I do not think it was considered as a punishment by the jews, simply that they died too young if they died before age 50 and left no family line. Also this chapter in this intertestamentary book speaks of the common jewish belief in the resurrection. ( * [7:9] The King of the universe will raise us up: here, and in vv. 11, 14, 23, 29, 36, belief in the future resurrection of the body, at least for the just, is clearly stated; cf. also 12:44; 14:46; Dn 12:2.) To be cut off fom the people actually means to have your family line end so your genes are cut off from the people. To die early (before age 50) and leave no descendents. Here is a good site on this subject and it gives biblical citations for it. I do not have a keyboard and it would take to long for me to input it all...sorry



we need to see this in the light of Jesus's other sayings. He told many times to his disciples, that he has to find the lost sheep of Israel. than it tells us in Torah that he will "cut off from the people"when we try to understand both things together we see that, The Prophet who will come, has to leave the land in any case whether its people refuse to believe him or even if they believe he would have gone to find the lost sheep of Israel. which he did after Jews refused him and try to kill him on cross,God saved him from the death on cross and then he left the land and had gone to India where ten Israeli tribes lived who migrated in 7th century after Prophet Moses from their own land. he lived their for along time in them. who believed in him and honored him and then he died

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