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Theft and Punishment in the Bible and the Koran

One of the most disturbing things to non-Muslims living in North America, South America, and Europe is the hadd punishments. The hadd punishments are those corporal and capital punishments meted out to gays, people accused of adultery or fornication, thieves, apostates, and others that certain Muslim sects regard as deserving them. Gays are thrown off of buildings or other high places. People who committed adultery or fornication are either stoned to death or flogged. The hands of thieves are amputated. Apostates are beheaded. Those are all examples of hadd punishments. In this blog I am going to talk about theft and the punishment for thieves as found in the Bible and in the Koran.

Hadd punishments are a harsh reality in many Muslim countries.

Allah “is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy” (Koran 12:92) and there is definitely no mercy in the practice of these harsh, hadd punishments. None of this is of God. It is barbaric.

Hadd Punishments in the Old Testament

First of all, it is important to understand that hadd punishments are in the Old Testament. For example, a woman who has lost her virginity before marriage was stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) Adulterers were stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:22) Homosexual men were put to death. (Leviticus 20:13) A priest’s daughter who has pre-marital sexual relations with a man was burned with fire. (Leviticus 21:9)

There is even a commandment in the Old Testament which says that a woman’s hand should be cut off if she grabs a man’s testicles.

11 And if men should strive together, a man with his brother, and the wife of one of them should advance to rescue her husband out of the hand of him that smites him, and she should stretch forth her hand, and take hold of his private parts; 12 thou shalt cut off her hand; thine eye shall not spare her. (Deuteronomy 25:11,12, LXX)

The main reason for prescribing such a harsh punishment is because if the woman injures the man so badly that he cannot have children, she has committed a very serious crime. By rendering the man in effect incapable of procreation, she has “destroyed a world.” Remember the citation in the Jewish Talmud that I quoted in a previous blog.

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1(22a)]

Whenever one kills another human being, he has also exterminated his posterity that he could have had if he had lived longer. Likewise, rendering someone unable to procreate is like destroying a world.

Another reason for amputating her hand is because emasculated men were not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord.

He that is fractured or mutilated in his private parts shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1, LXX)

One could not apply the “eye for an eye” law to her since women do not have testicles. Amputation of her hand was the punishment under the Mosaic Law.

The “eye for an eye” law was meted out in the case of King Adonibizek.

4 And Judas went up; and the Lord delivered the Chananite and the Pherezite into their hands, and they smote them in Bezek to the number of ten thousand men. 5 And they overtook Adonibezek in Bezek, and fought against him; and they smote the Chananite and the Pherezite. 6 And Adonibezek fled, and they pursued after him, and took him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. 7 And Adonibezek said, Seventy kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their food under my table: as I therefore have done, so God has recompensed me: and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there. (Judges 1:4-7, LXX)

He lost his thumbs and large toes after being captured by the Israelites. He had committed the same atrocity to seventy kings who gathered food under his table.

Hadd Punishment for Theft

As for theft, the only hadd punishment meted out for theft was the theft of people. Man-stealers or kidnappers were executed under the Law of Moses.

Whosoever shall steal one of the children of Israel, and prevail over him and sell him, and he be found with him, let him certainly die. (Exodus 21:17, LXX; Exodus 21:16, Hebrew)

The Biblical Prohibition Against Theft

Stealing is forbidden in both Testaments.

Thou shalt not steal. (Exodus 20:14, LXX; Exodus 20:15, Hebrew; Deuteronomy 5:19; Matthew 19:18; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9)

Ye shall not steal, ye shall not lie, neither shall one bear false witness as an informer against his neighbour. (Leviticus 19:11, LXX)

Trust not in unrighteousness, and lust not after robberies: if wealth should flow in, set not your heart upon it. (Psalm 61:10, LXX; Psalm 62:10, Hebrew)

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28, NKJV)

Consequences of Theft

Stealing is a serious crime. Thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God.

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9,10, NKJV)

In the Old Testament there are punishments prescribed for those who steal another person’s property.

1 And if one steal an ox or a sheep, and kill it or sell it, he shall pay five calves for a calf, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 And if the thief be found in the breach made by himself and be smitten and die, there shall not be blood shed for him. 3 But if the sun be risen upon him, he is guilty, he shall die instead; and if a thief have nothing, let him be sold in compensation for what he has stolen. 4 And if the thing stolen be left and be in his hand alive, whether ox or sheep, he shall restore them two-fold. 5 And if any one should feed down a field or a vineyard, and should send in his beast to feed down another field, he shall make compensation of his own field according to his produce; and if he shall have fed down the whole field, he shall pay for compensation the best of his own field and the best of his vineyard. 6 And if fire have gone forth and caught thorns, and should also set on fire threshing-floors or ears of corn or a field, he that kindled the fire shall make compensation. 7 And if any one give to his neighbour money or goods to keep, and they be stolen out of the man’s house, if the thief be found he shall repay double. 8 But if the thief be not found, the master of the house shall come forward before God, and shall swear that surely he has not wrought wickedly in regard of any part of his neighbour’s deposit, 9 according to every injury alleged, both concerning a calf, and an ass, and a sheep, and a garment, and every alleged loss, whatsoever in fact it may be, —the judgment of both shall proceed before God, and he that is convicted by God shall repay to his neighbour double. 10 And if any one give to his neighbour to keep a calf or sheep or any beast, and it be wounded or die or be taken, and no one know, 11 an oath of God shall be between both, each swearing that he has surely not at all been guilty in the matter of his neighbour’s deposit; and so his master shall hold him guiltless, and he shall not make compensation. 12 And if it be stolen from him, he shall make compensation to the owner. 13 And if it be seized of beasts, he shall bring him to witness the prey, and he shall not make compensation. 14 And if any one borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be wounded or die or be carried away, and the owner of it be not with it, he shall make compensation. 15 But if the owner be with it, he shall not make compensation: but if it be a hired thing, there shall be a compensation to him instead of his hire. (Exodus 21:1-15; LXX)

The principle in this law is compensation or restitution. Whenever one steals from someone, he is required to make compensation to the owner. The compensation is two to five times the value of the item stolen, depending on the circumstances regarding the theft. Verses 1 through 5 of the passage and verses 8 through 15 pertain to theft of livestock. Verse 6 is about destruction of another’s field by fire. Verse 7 is about money or goods entrusted to someone. (There were no banks and no rental storage facilities back then.)

In another Old Testament law, the amount of compensation paid to the owner by the thief is twenty percent more than the value of the item stolen. So, if one steals through fraud or deceit $100 from someone, he must repay $120 dollars to the owner.

2 The soul which shall have sinned, and willfully overlooked the commandments of the Lord, and shall have dealt falsely in the affairs of his neighbour in the matter of a deposit, or concerning fellowship, or concerning plunder, or has in anything wronged his neighbour, 3 or has found that which was lost, and shall have lied concerning it, and shall have sworn unjustly concerning any one of all the things, whatsoever a man may do, so as to sin hereby; 4 it shall come to pass, whensoever he shall have sinned, and transgressed, that he shall restore the plunder which he has seized, or redress the injury which he has committed, or restore the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost article which he has found of any kind, about which he swore unjustly, he shall even restore it in full; and he shall add to it a fifth part besides; he shall restore it to him whose it is in the day in which he happens to be convicted. 5 And he shall bring to the Lord for his trespass, a ram of the flock, without blemish, of value to the amount of the thing in which he trespassed. 6 And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any one of all the things which he did and trespassed in it. (Leviticus 6:2-6, LXX)

There is another law in the Book of Proverbs regarding theft. It is more harsh than the ones found in the Books of Moses. A thief is required to repay seven times the value of the item stolen to the owner even if he stole the item in order to satisfy his appetite because he was hungry. The items about which these verses pertain are apparently food.

30 It is not to be wondered at if one should be taken stealing, for he steals that when hungry he may satisfy his soul: 31 but if he should be taken, he shall repay sevenfold, and shall deliver himself by giving all his goods. (Proverbs 6:30,31, LXX)

Biblical Provision for the Hungry

The ancient Israelites were allowed to eat corn from someone’s field or grapes from someone’s vineyard if they were hungry. This was not considered theft. If they put the corn or the grapes in a vessel or a sack as if they were harvesting it, then it would be theft.

1 And if thou shouldest go into the corn field of thy neighbour, then thou mayest gather the ears with thy hands; but thou shalt not put the sickle to thy neighbour’s corn. 2 And if thou shouldest go into the vineyard of thy neighbour, thou shalt eat grapes sufficient to satisfy thy desire; but thou mayest not put them into a vessel. (Deuteronomy 24:1,2, LXX; Deuteronomy 23:24,25, Hebrew)

Jesus’ disciples did this when they were hungry on a Sabbath day. (Mark 2:23-28)

The Example of Zacchaeus

Then, there is the New Testament example of Zacchaeus.

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” 8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-9, NKJV)

Zacchaeus repented when he met Jesus and decided to give more than the Old Testament law required. He, being a tax collector, probably stole money from people while collecting taxes for the Roman Empire. Instead of giving back 120% as the law in Leviticus prescribed (Leviticus 6:2-5), he said that he would restore fourfold. Also, he said that he would give half of his goods to the poor. Zacchaeus is a model of repentance.

Notice that nowhere in the Old Testament or New Testament is a thief’s hand required to be amputated.

Some Words of Jesus

These words of Jesus need to be examined next.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29,30, NKJV)

8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. (Matthew 18:8,9, NKJV)

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — 44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — 46 where ‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire —  48 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43-48, NKJV)

Jesus quotes from Isaiah’s passage respecting eternal torment.

And they shall go forth, and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:24, LXX)

Of course, one way that one can sin with his hand is through theft.

Church Fathers and Ancient Christian Writers

These words of Jesus in the Gospels seem to be talking about amputations of hands, feet, and eyes in order to avoid going to Gehenna. One would think that these are self-inflicted hadd punishments, but when one reads the Church Fathers and some ancient Christian writers, one sees that that is not the case.

Tertullian was not a Church Father, but he lived in the second century. He left the Church and became a Montanist. The Montanists were heretics. He wrote:

A whole day the zeal of faith will direct its pleadings to this quarter: bewailing that a Christian should come from idols into the Church; should come from an adversary workshop into the house of God; should raise to God the Father hands which are the mothers of idols; should pray to God with the hands which, out of doors, are prayed to in opposition to God; should apply to the Lord’s body those hands which confer bodies on demons. Nor is this sufficient. Grant that it be a small matter, if from other hands they receive what they contaminate; but even those very hands deliver to others what they have contaminated. Idol-artificers are chosen even into the ecclesiastical order. Oh wickedness! Once did the Jews lay brands on Christ; these mangle His body daily. Oh hands to be cut off! Now let the saying, “If thy hand make thee do evil, amputate it,” see to it whether it were uttered by way of similitude merely. What hands more to be amputated than those in which scandal is done to the Lord’s body? (On Idolatry, chapter 7, by Tertullian, p. 64, vol. 3, Ante-Nicene Fathers)

Although a heretic, not everything that he wrote was bad. He says that idol-makers were handling the Eucharist. He says, “Oh hands to be cut off!” He may not have meant this literally to be done, but he was expressing his displeasure with a scandal in the Church.

Origen, another ancient Christian writer and also a heretic, lived in the third century. He wrote the following:

And it is well, then, if the eye and the hand are deserving of praise, that the eye cannot with reason say to the hand, “I have no need of thee.” [I Cor. 12:21] But if any one in the whole body of the congregations of the church, who because of his practical gifts has the name of hand, should change and become a hand causing to stumble, let the eye say to such a hand, “I have no need of thee,” and, saying it, let him cut it off and cast it from him. [Matt. 18:8] And so it is well, if any head be blessed, and the feet worthy of the blessed head, so that the head observing the things which are becoming to itself, may not be able to say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” If, however, any foot be found to become a stumbling-block to the whole body, let the head say to such a foot, “I have no need of thee,” and having cut it off, let him cast it from himself; for even it is much better that the rest of the body should enter into life, wanting the foot or the hand which caused the stumbling-block, rather than, when the stumbling-block has spread over the whole body, it should be cast into the hell of fire with the two feet or the two hands. And so it is well, that he who can become the eye of the whole body should be worthy of Christ and of the whole body; but if such an eye should ever change, and become a stumbling-block to the whole body, it is well to take it out and cast it outside the whole body, and that the rest of the body without that eye should be saved, rather than that along with it, when the whole body has been corrupted, the whole body should be cast into the hell of fire. For the practical faculty of the soul, if prone to sin, and the walking faculty of the soul, so to speak, if prone to sin, and the faculty of clear vision, if prone to sin, may be the hand that causes to stumble, and the foot that causes to stumble, and the eye that causes to stumble, which things it is better to cast away, and having put them aside to enter into life without them, like as one halt, or maimed, or one-eyed, rather than along with them to lose the whole soul. And likewise in the case of the soul it is a good and blessed thing to use its power for the noblest ends; but if we are going to lose one for any cause, it is better to lose the use of it, that along with the other powers we may be saved. (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Book XIII, Chapter 24, by Origen, p. 489, vol. 9, Ante-Nicene Fathers)

Many of Origen’s theological views were anathematized at the Fifth Ecumenical Council of the Church in 553 A.D. However, he did write some good sound material. So, not everything that he wrote was bad. In the above-cited passage, Origen says that some people should be put outside of the Church. He interpreted Christ’s words in the Gospels figuratively as referring to members of the Church who cause others to stumble.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was a sub-apostolic Church Father.  He lived in the second century. He knew someone who knew one of the Twelve Apostles.

As then the unrighteous, the idolaters, and fornicators perished, so also is it now: for both the Lord declares, that such persons are sent into eternal fire; and the apostle says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, not effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” [I Cor. 6:9,10] And as it was not to those who are without that he said these things, but to us, lest we should be cast forth from the kingdom of God, by doing any such thing, he proceeds to say, “And such indeed were ye; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.” [I Cor. 6:11] And just as then, those who led vicious lives, and put other people astray, were condemned and cast out, so also even now the offending eye is plucked out, and the foot and the hand, lest the rest of the body perish in like manner. [Matt. 18:8,9] And we have the precept: “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat.” [I Cor. 5:11] And again does the apostle say, “Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of mistrust. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” [Eph. 5:6,7] And as then the condemnation of sinners extended to others who approved of them, and joined in their society; so also is it the case at present, that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” [I Cor. 5:6] And as the wrath of God did then descend upon the unrighteous, here also does the apostle likewise say: “For the wrath of God shall be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of those men who hold back the truth in unrighteousness.” [Rom. 1:18] (Against Heresies, Book IV, chapter XXV, by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, p. 500, vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers)

St. Irenaeus interpreted Christ’s words regarding the amputation of body parts figuratively. He interpreted those passages in the Gospels as referring to those who lead “vicious lives” and “lead others astray.” Such people were to be put out of the Church.

St. John Cassian the Roman is regarded as a Saint by the Orthodox Church. He wrote:

And even although they seem to be useful and needful at first, yet if afterwards they begin to interfere with the soundness of our profession, and as it were to weaken in some sense the whole body of our purpose, it is well that they should be cut off and cast away from us like a member which may be necessary, but yet offends us and which seems to perform the office of the right hand or foot. For it is better, without one member of a command, i.e., its working or result, to continue safe and sound in other parts, and to enter as weak into the kingdom of heaven rather than with the whole mass of commands to fall into some error which by an evil custom separates us from our strict rule and the system purposed and entered upon, and leads to such loss, that it will never outweigh the harm that will follow, but will cause all our past fruits and the whole body of our work to be burnt in hell fire. (Matthew 18:8) Of which kind of illusions it is well said in the Proverbs: “There are ways which seem to be right to a man, but their latter end will come into the depths of hell” (Proverbs 16:25, LXX) and again “An evil man is harmful when he attaches himself to a good man” (Proverbs 11:15, LXX), i.e., the devil deceives when he is covered with an appearance of sanctity: “but he hates the sound of the watchman” (Proverbs 11:15, LXX), i.e., the power of discretion which comes from the words and warnings of the fathers. (The First Conference, Chapter XX, by St. John Cassian, pp. 306-307, vol. 11, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series)

He interpreted Christ’s command to amputate parts of one’s body figuratively. He interpreted it to mean to expel people from a monastery who hinder the spiritual progress of others.

St. John Chrysostom also interpreted these words of Christ figuratively. He is one of the Greek Church Fathers.

And that thou mayest learn that it is not of necessity, hear also what follows. For after bewailing them, He saith, “If thy hand, or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: for it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or feet to be cast into the fire. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the furnace of fire;” not saying these things of limbs; far from it; but of friends, of relations, whom we regard in the rank of necessary members. This He had both said further back, and now He saith it. For nothing is so hurtful as bad company. For what things compulsion cannot, friendship can often effect, both for hurt, and for profit. Wherefore with much earnestness He commands us to cut off them that hurt us, intimating these that bring the offenses. (Homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Homily LIX,  by St. John Chrysostom, p. 367, vol. 10, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series)

“There was therefore a division among them.” This division first began among the people, then later among the rulers also, and some said, “He is a good man”; others, “Nay, but he deceiveth the people.” (John 7:12.) Seest thou that the rulers were more void of understanding than the many, since they were divided later than they? and after they were divided, they did not exhibit any noble feeling, when they saw the Pharisees pressing upon them. Since had they been entirely separated from them, they would soon have known the truth. For it is possible to do well in separating. Wherefore also Himself hath said, “I am come not to bring peace upon the earth but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34.) For there is an evil concord, and there is a good disagreement. Thus they who built the tower (Gen. 11:4), agreed together to their own hurt; and these same again were separated, though unwillingly, yet for their good. Thus also Corah and his company agreed together for evil, therefore they were separated for good; and Judas agreed with the Jews for evil. So division may be good, and agreement may be evil. Wherefore It saith, “If thine eye offend thee, smite it out, if thy foot, cut it off.” (Matt. 5:29, and 18:8.) Now if we must separate ourselves from an ill-joined limb, must we not much more from friends united to us for evils? So that agreement is not in all cases a good, just as division is not in all cases an evil. (Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John, Homily LVII, by St. John Chrysostom, p. 206, vol. 14, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series)

Cutting off a body part or poking out an eye means to separate oneself from those who would influence you to do evil according to St. John Chrysostom.

Blessed Augustine, one of the Latin Church Fathers, also interpreted Christ’s words figuratively. Those words of Jesus mean to separating oneself from those who would want you to do evil, according to Blessed Augustine.

But thy wife comes to thee advising thee to some evil thing. Thou dost love her as a wife should be loved; she is one of thy members. “But if thine eye offend thee, if thine hand offend thee, if thy foot offend thee”[Matt. 18:8,9],  thou hast just heard the Gospel, “cut them off, and cast them from thee.” Whosoever he be that is dear to thee, whosoever he be that is held in high estimation by thee, let him be so long of high esteem with thee, so long thy beloved member, as he shall not begin to offend thee, that is, to advise thee to any evil. Hear now how that this is the meaning of “offence.” I have brought forward the example of Job and his wife; but there the word “offence” did not occur. Hear the Gospel: when the Lord prophesied of His Passion, Peter began to persuade him not to suffer. “Get thee behind Me, Satan, thou art an offence to Me.” [Matt. 16:23] Here undoubtedly the Lord who hath given thee an example of life, hath taught thee both what an “offence” is, and how an offence is to be avoided. Him to whom He had a little while before said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona” [Matt. 16:17]; He had shown to be His member. But when he begins to be an offence, He cuts off the member; only He restored the member, and put it into its place again. He then will be an “offence” to thee, who shall begin to persuade thee to any evil thing. And here, Beloved, take heed; this takes place for the most part not through any evil will, but through a mistaken good will. Thy friend who loves thee, and is loved by thee again, thy father, thy brother, thy child, thy wife, sees thee in an evil case, and would have thee do what is evil. What do I mean by “sees thee in an evil case”? Sees thee in some press of trouble. This pressure it may be thou art suffering for righteousness’ sake; art suffering it because thou wilt not give false witness. I would speak merely by way of illustration. Examples abound; for “woe to the world, because of offences.” See, for instance, some powerful person, to cover his rapine and plunder, asks of you the service of a false witness. You refuse: refuse the false oath, lest thou shouldest deny Him that is true. (Sermons on Selected Lessons from the New Testament, Sermon XXXI, by Blessed Augustine, p. 354, vol. 6, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series)

Another Latin Church Father, St. Jerome, also quoted those words of Christ when writing to a monk.

The sons of the prophets, who were the monks of the Old Testament, built for themselves huts by the waters of Jordan and forsaking the crowded cities lived in these on pottage and wild herbs. [II Kings 4:38,39; 6:1,2] As long as you are at home make your cell your paradise, gather there the varied fruits of Scripture, let this be your favourite companion, and take its precepts to your heart. If your eye offend you or your foot or your hand, cast them from you. To spare your soul spare nothing else. The Lord says: “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” [Matt. 5:28] “Who can say,” writes the wise man, “I have made my heart clean?” [Prov. 20:9] The stars are not pure in the Lord’s sight; how much less men whose whole life is one long temptation. [Job 25:5,6] Woe be to us who commit fornication every time that we cherish lust. “My sword,” God says, “hath drunk its fill in heaven” [Isaiah 34:5]; much more then upon the earth with its crop of thorns and thistles. [Gen. 3:18] The chosen vessel [Acts 9:15] who had Christ’s name ever on his lips kept under his body and brought it into subjection. [I Cor. 9:27] Yet even he was hindered by carnal desire and had to do what he would not. As one suffering violence he cries: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Rom. 7:24] Is it likely then that you can pass without fall or wound, unless you keep your heart with all diligence [Prov. 4:23], and say with the Saviour: “my mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it.” [Luke 8:21]  This may seem cruelty, but it is really affection. What greater proof, indeed, can there be of affection than to guard for a holy mother a holy son? She too desired your eternal welfare and is content to forego seeing you for a time that she may see you for ever with Christ. She is like Hannah who brought forth Samuel not for her own solace but for the service of the tabernacle. (Letter CXXV, by St. Jerome, p. 246, vol. 6, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series)

He interpreted the words of Christ as referring to asceticism. One should keep his body under subjection and his heart with all diligence and struggle against committing the sin of lust while looking on a woman. I do not think that St. Jerome was advising the monk to amputate one of his body parts or poke out an eye.

All of these Church Fathers and ancient Christian writers lived before time of Muhammad. So, the Koranic precept regarding looking at what they say applies here.

And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers. (Koran 10:94, Pickthall)

An Exegesis of Koran 5:38-40

I already did an exegesis on Koran 5:33 in a previous blog. In my opinion, the amputation of feet and hands spoken of in that verse occur in military battle and are not punishments inflicted on civilians who violate a law in the Koran. There is one other passage which is often interpreted by Muslim commentators to mean to literally cut off the hand of a thief. It is Koran 5:38-40.

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise. But whoso repenteth after his wrongdoing and amendeth, lo! Allah will relent toward him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Knowest thou not that unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth? He punisheth whom He will, and forgiveth whom He will. Allah is Able to do all things. (Koran 5:38-40, Pickthall)

Before I do an exegesis of this passage, I want to first of all discuss some other verses of the Koran.

God is extremely merciful. In the Koran, it says that God is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.

He said: Have no fear this day! May Allah forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy. (Koran 12:92, Pickthall)

And (O Muhammad) say: My Lord! Forgive and have mercy, for Thou art Best of all who show mercy. (Koran 23:118, Pickthall)

So, if there are human judges who would never order that a thief’s hand be cut off because of their sense of mercy and compassion, Allah, who is the Most Merciful, would never order such a thing to be done either. This is one of the many reasons why I think that these words in Koran 5:38 must be interpreted figuratively.

The Torah is a light and guidance for mankind. (Koran 6:92) Nowhere in the Torah, as we have already seen, is there a commandment to amputate the hand of a thief. People who kidnap others and sell them into slavery were supposed to be put to death. People who stole from others were to pay back what they stole plus one-fifth to six times more depending on what was stolen and how it was stolen, according to the Old Testament. In the Koran, it says:

Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you. (Koran 2:185, Pickthall)

Amputating someone’s hand would make it more difficult for one to work and make restitution for his theft. God does not desire hardship for the thief. He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.

Then, there is the principal of abrogation.

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things? (Koran 2:106, Yusuf Ali)

If Koran 5:38 is interpreted literally, then it is not better than the previous commandments in the Torah which prescribe that a thief should pay back what he stole plus an additional amount as compensation to the owner. It is better for the owner to receive the compensation and what was stolen from him than to witness the amputation of the hand of the thief who can now be less productive at working to restore what he had stolen plus the restitution. A thief with an amputated hand joins the disabled and becomes a burden to the community in which he lives. A literal application of this verse from the Koran cannot be better. Furthermore, the verse is not similar to previous commandments of God. Therefore, the verse must, like the words of Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 5:29,30; 18:8,9; Mark 9:43-48), be interpreted figuratively.

Even in the Koran, there is the example of Joseph detaining his brother, Benjamin, for stealing the King’s cup. Joseph was obeying the “the king’s law.”

Then he (Joseph) began the search with their bags before his brother’s bag, then he produced it from his brother’s bag. Thus did We contrive for Joseph. He could not have taken his brother according to the king’s law unless Allah willed. We raise by grades (of mercy) whom We will, and over every lord of knowledge there is one more knowing. (Koran 12:76, Pickthall)

So, theft in ancient Egypt was, according to the Koran, punished by detention or imprisonment. This is a much more merciful sentence than amputation of the hand and Allah is “the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.” (Koran 12:92)

Therefore, Koran 5:38 must be interpreted figuratively.

The Koran also lays down another principle pertaining to justice. The punishment must fit the crime.

If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. But if ye endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient. (Koran 16:126, Pickthall)

A person’s hand is worth far more than anything he could have stolen. Therefore, amputating a thief’s hand would not be a fair punishment. Requiring the thief to replace what he stole plus an additional amount as restitution is a far more just sentence.

Furthermore, there are no contradictions in the Koran.

Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction. (Koran 4:82, Sahih International)

Some passages in the Koran are clear and others are allegorical or figurative.

He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. (Koran 3:7, Yusuf Ali)

The words, “cut off the hands,” in Koran 5:38 must be interpreted figuratively. Otherwise, it will contradict Koran 2:106 regarding abrogation, Koran 12:92; 23:118 regarding God’s mercy, and Koran 16:126 regarding fair punishment.

Another point to mention is the principles regarding authority in the New Testament and in the Koran. In the Gospels, Jesus said:

I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him. (John 8:26, NKJV)

But as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. (John 8:28, NKJV)

The words of Christ are the words of Allah. There should be no doubt about that. After He was resurrected, He told His disciples that He possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 20:18, NKJV)

He never relinquished that authority during the time of Muhammad. One of the prophecies regarding the Messiah in the Psalms says:

The Lord said to My Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. (Psalm 109:1, LXX; Psalm 110:1, Hebrew)

St. Paul says regarding the reign of Jesus:

He (the Son) must reign until He (the Father) has put all enemies under His (the Son’s) feet. (I Corinthians 15:25, NKJV)

Jesus told Pilate before He was crucified:

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 19:36)

Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual one, but He still possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.

Regarding Muhammad, the Koran says:

Thou art but a warner, and Allah is in charge of all things. (Koran 11:12, Pickthall)

With truth have We sent it down, and with truth hath it descended. And We have sent thee as naught else save a bearer of good tidings and a warner. (Koran 17:105, Pickthall)

We are Best Aware of what they say, and thou (O Muhammad) art in no wise a compeller over them. But warn by the Qur’an him who feareth My threat. (Koran 50:45, Pickthall)

Jesus continues to reign from Heaven over the earth. Allah is in charge of all things. Muhammad was only a warner of eternal damnation and a bearer of good tidings of immortality in Paradise. He was not “a compeller” over those he led. Muhammad is under Jesus’ authority. St. Paul also said:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. (Romans 13:1, NKJV)

and the Koran, likewise, says:

It is We Who have placed you with authority on earth, and provided you therein with means for the fulfilment of your life: small are the thanks that ye give! (Koran 7:10, Yusuf Ali)

O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority; and if ye have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the messenger if ye are (in truth) believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end. (Koran 4:59, Pickthall)

Muhammad never named a successor before he died. It was never his intention that an Islamic theocracy should be established after his death.

In a society without a prophet, we must obey the authorities that exist. We must submit to the laws of the land. So, the punishment for theft is determined by the laws of each country on earth.

I think that no country should prescribe that the hand of a thief should be cut off, even if most of the inhabitants are Muslims. The verse in the Koran (5:38) should be interpreted figuratively.

“Cutting off the hands” is probably a metaphorical way of saying “impede the ability to steal.” The word translated “cut off” is the Arabic word, quṭiʿa. It is used in this passage of the Koran and means “to obstruct.”

And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Lo! ye commit lewdness such as no creature did before you. For come ye not in unto males, and cut (quṭiʿa) ye not the road (for travellers), and commit ye not abomination in your meetings? But the answer of his folk was only that they said: Bring Allah’s doom upon us if thou art a truthteller! (Koran 29:28,29, Pickthall)

Impeding one’s ability to steal can be accomplished through detention and supervision. Any time a thief is convicted, he should be required to make restitution to the owner. He should replace what he stole and pay an additional amount as restitution.

So, I think that an appropriate sentence for a thief would be some sort of supervised work detail and detention. The convicted thief can stay in jail and leave under the supervision of a prison guard to work and pay for what he has stolen plus an additional amount as restitution to the owner.

The punishment in Koran 5:38 is “an exemplary punishment” from Allah. So, other people in the community will know that this person was convicted of theft. Still, Allah is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy and cutting off someone’s hand is not better than the laws of Allah in the Torah. So, the expression, “cut off the hands” is still metaphorical. State supervised work detail, detention, and forced payment of restitution to the owner is exemplary punishment.

If the thief repents like Zacchaeus did in the Gospel according to St. Luke (Luke 19:1-9) and “amends,” that is, makes restitution to the owner immediately, then there is no need to detain the thief and place him under supervised work detail.

The text goes on to say, “Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” He is the “Best of all who show mercy.” (Koran 23:118) So, in respect to his eternal destiny, the repentant thief has the hope of eternal life in Paradise.

“Knowest thou not that unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth?” The Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth belong to God, not to any earthly authority. However, “for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1, NKJV) It is God who has “placed you with authority on earth.” (Koran 7:10) So, “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1, NKJV) and “obey… those…  who are in authority.” (Koran 4:59)

“He punisheth whom He will, and forgiveth whom He will. Allah is Able to do all things.” God punishes people by sending them to Hell. He forgives those who repent and reform their lives. He offers eternal life in His kingdom to all who believe in Him and serve Him.

In conclusion, there were hadd punishments in the Old Testament, but there was no such punishment for the theft of personal property. Koran 5:38 cannot abrogate the Old Testament laws if it is interpreted literally. Amputating a thief’s hand is not better than requiring the thief to pay back what he stole plus more as restitution to the owner. Making amputees creates a burden for the community. God is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy. There are human judges who would never order that a thief’s hand be amputated because of their sense of mercy and compassion. The law of the king of Egypt under whom Joseph served apparently had no law requiring that a thief’s hand be amputated. Joseph detained his brother according to the “law of the king.” Therefore, God does not want a thief’s hand to be literally cut off. If He did require that, He would be less merciful than many human judges including the King of Egypt under whom Joseph served. Amputating a thief’s is an unjust punishment since a thief’s hand is worth far more than anything he could have stolen. Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and earth. He is reigning until all of His enemies are put under His feet. Muhammad was under Jesus’ authority. Muhammad did not name a successor. Therefore, it was never his intention that an Islamic theocracy be established after his death. “Cutting off the hands” is probably a metaphor meaning to impede someone from stealing. In Koran 28:29 the same word translated “cut off” in Koran 5:38 has the meaning “to obstruct.” The consequences for theft in the afterlife are exclusion from the kingdom of God and eternal damnation in Gehenna. God is forgiving and merciful. A thief who repents and amends can find mercy from God.

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