According to the OT, an individual who violated the Mosaic law could only be put to death based on the testimony of 2-3 credible witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6).

Could the witnesses and maybe the court give a chance for the criminal to repent and thus live? There's Biblical verses that show how sinful Israel can be spared from death and destruction if they repented (2 Chronicles 7:14) but not sure if it applied to the individual.

  • Is "only" in the correct place in the first statement? As written, "only be put to death" means that there was no choice in the matter, death was the only permitted punishment. Is that what you intended it to mean? Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:13
  • What do you mean? Let me be clear, what I'm saying is that people who committed crimes against the Mosaic law that were worthy of death could only be executed if 2-3 credible witnesses prosecuted against them. Death is the only punishment here. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:17
  • Okay, you did mean "only be put to death". But I think that is a misinterpretation (see my answer). Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:34
  • Well it was the only punishment. Not sure what you're trying to insinuate. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:35
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    So what about God being the God of Justice and the wages of sin being death? God's vengeance? Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:04

4 Answers 4


Can a Criminal repent and live? - Yes. The Murderer of Uriah the Hittite repented and was forgiven in 2 Samuel 12:13.

2 Samuel 12:13 | NIV : "Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die."

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    Hmm interesting. Not to mention how David also committed aduletry with his wife. The only example I could think of where a Biblical monarch was justly impeached and executed for their crimes was Athaliah. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:08
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    Scripture does not accuse David of 'murder'. A king may send troops into battle. And a king may deploy his forces as he sees fit. David did not kill Uriah. The enemy did.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:44
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    @Nigel J - Is 2 Samuel 11:14-15 not proof of David's plot to have Uriah murdered? - If David did not murder Uriah, then the Pharisees did not murder Jesus, since Jesus was crucified by Romans. Is this your logic? Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 16:10
  • @ChurchQuestions Nobody 'murdered' Jesus. 'No man taketh it from me', John 10:18. Jesus voluntarily expired.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:21
  • @NigelJ So if David didn't kill Uriah because the enemy directly killed him, then the Pharaoh didn't kill the Hebrew boys because he ordered the Egyptians to directly drown them. Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:26

Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you. — Deuteronomy 17:6–7

Notice the "deserving of death".

These two verses aren't saying that people must be executed, but quite the opposite.

The verses apply restrictions to the circumstances under which people are allowed to be executed:

  • The crime merits the death penalty.
  • The determination of guilt must be based on the testimony of at least two witnesses.
  • Those same witnesses must be willing to be the executioners.

In particular, if someone admits their offence, realizes that it was a wrong and stupid thing to do, and sincerely wants to never do it again, the judges or witnesses could decide that the criminal is not deserving of the death penalty.

The execution is not mandatory, but the criminal would still be responsible for any consequences of the crime, and must still make compensation therefor. This is a common principle throughout Biblical Law.

Execution shouldn't happen unless the judges and the witnesses all want it to.

  • What about Numbers 15:32-36? * Why did this man deserve to die only in God's eyes? Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:43
  • Someone was blatantly flouting the law and setting a bad example for everyone else. Death wasn't a punishment; it was a way of removing the corruption from society. ¶ I don't understand the "only in God's eyes" part of the question. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:51
  • I ask why "only in God's Eyes" was death the punishment for gathering wood on the Sabbath, since none of the Israelites (including Moses) had any idea how to punish the man. - Numbers 15:34-36 * We are left presuming the man did not repent, which hopefully would have gained favor in God's eyes to receive mercy instead. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:01
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    Because the Sabbath was commemorating God's rest on the 7th day and thus take pleasure in how with God, there is rest assuming that the 7th day was perpetual. It was also the holiday that indicated that the Israelites were in covenant with God. So to break Sabbath is to reject God's rest, which some even view as rejecting His salvation as salvation brings "rest", and covenant. Even worse, that man proudly flaunted it in a time where many were slain by God out in the open for their sins Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:22

Let me quote some examples of how the law was supposed to work:

Eze 18:20-23

20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. ... 21 But if the wicked man turns from all the sins he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. 22 None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him. Because of the righteousness he has practiced, he will live. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord GOD. Wouldn’t I prefer that he turn from his ways and live?

2 Sam 12:9-13 (David and Nathan)

9 Why then have you [David] despised the command of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You put Uriah the Hittite to the sword and took his wife as your own, for you have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ ...

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

“The LORD has taken away your sin,” Nathan replied. “You will not die."

Ps 51:3, 4

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be proved right when You speak and blameless when You judge.

Dan 9:18

For we are not presenting our petitions before You because of our righteous acts, but because of Your great compassion.

2 Sam 24:14

David answered Gad, “I am deeply distressed. Please, let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”

Acts 2:36-38

Therefore let all Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

One could also quote the example of other murderers such as the apostle Paul himself (1 Tim 1:12-16) and many more.


Could the witnesses and maybe the court give a chance for the criminal to repent and thus live?


There's Biblical verses that show how sinful Israel can be spared from death and destruction if they repented (2 Chronicles 7:14) but not sure if it applied to the individual.

Yes, it applied to the individual.

Ezekiel 33:14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.

Zacchaeus was an example.

Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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    How would that work in the case of murder? A person could repent but could not restore what was lost or taken. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 19:39
  • They just have to bear the earthly consequences and accept it. And if you decide to regress to recidivism, God judges you with death. An example of this is Ahab, a mass murdering king who repented after Elijah pointed out his sins. However, he continued to rely on false prophets and God killed him in the battlefield. Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:17

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