What The Bible Says About Obedience To The Harsh Morality Laws Of Moses

This article is part of a sub-series: Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say, which is about Old Testament laws on morality and tithing, customs like animal sacrifice and the celebration of the Passover Festival, and what the New Testament says about them.
This is Part 1 (of 13) in Section 5: "Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say".

To read an overview of the way Christians should regard the Law of Moses, visit: Bible Quotations on Whether Christians Should Obey the Law of Moses.

Some parts of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are very unpleasant. If you become offended by anything, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.

In the New Testament, the Bible says:

2 Timothy chapter 3 (TEV)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17 so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 24 (TEV)

13 The Lord said to Moses, 17 "Any who commit murder shall be put to death, 18 and any who kill an animal belonging to someone else must replace it. The principle is a life for a life. 19 "If any of you injure another person, whatever you have done shall be done to you. 20 If you break a bone, one of your bones shall be broken; if you put out an eye, one of your eyes shall be put out; if you knock out a tooth, one of your teeth shall be knocked out. Whatever injury you cause another person shall be done to you in return. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall replace it, but whoever kills a human being shall be put to death.

Exodus chapter 22 (NIV)

1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

2 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.

Exodus chapter 22 (NLT)

3 "A thief who is caught must pay in full for everything that was stolen. If payment is not made, the thief must be sold as a slave to pay the debt. 4 If someone steals an ox or a donkey or a sheep and it is recovered alive, then the thief must pay double the value.

Exodus chapter 21 (TEV)

15 "Whoever hits his father or his mother is to be put to death.

6 "Whoever kidnaps someone, either to sell him or to keep him as a slave, is to be put to death.

22 "If some men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she loses her child, but she is not injured in any other way, the one who hurt her is to be fined whatever amount the woman's husband demands, subject to the approval of the judges. 23 But if the woman herself is injured, the punishment shall be life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Leviticus chapter 20 (NLT)

6 "If any among the people are unfaithful by consulting and following mediums or psychics, I will turn against them and cut them off from the community. 7 So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the LORD, am your God.

Leviticus chapter 19 (NLT)

31 "Do not rely on mediums and psychics, for you will be defiled by them. I, the LORD, am your God.

Leviticus chapter 20 (TEV)

8 "Obey my laws, because I am the Lord and I make you holy."

9 The Lord gave the following regulations. Any of you that curse your father or mother shall be put to death; you are responsible for your own death.

Leviticus chapter 20 (NIV)

11 " 'If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 " 'If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
13 " 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus chapter 20 (TEV)

14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, all three shall be burned to death because of the disgraceful thing they have done; such a thing must not be permitted among you.
15 If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he and the animal shall be put to death. 16 If a woman tries to have sexual relations with an animal, she and the animal shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death.
17 If a man marries his sister or half sister, they shall be publicly disgraced and driven out of the community. He has had intercourse with his sister and must suffer the consequences.

Leviticus chapter 20 (NIV)

19 " 'Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, for that would dishonor a close relative; both of you would be held responsible.
20 " 'If a man sleeps with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.
21 " 'If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless.

Leviticus chapter 20 (TEV)

22 The Lord said, "Keep all my laws and commands, so that you will not be rejected by the land of Canaan, into which I am bringing you. 23 Do not adopt the customs of the people who live there; I am driving out those pagans so that you can enter the land. They have disgusted me with all their evil practices. 24 But I have promised you this rich and fertile land as your possession, and I will give it to you. I am the Lord your God, and I have set you apart from the other nations. 26 You shall be holy and belong only to me, because I am the Lord and I am holy. I have set you apart from the other nations so that you would belong to me alone.

27 "Any man or woman who consults the spirits of the dead shall be stoned to death; any of you that do this are responsible for your own death."

Deuteronomy chapter 17 (NIV)

2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, 3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, 4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death.
6 On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

Deuteronomy chapter 18 (NLT)

17 "Then the LORD said to me, 20 Any prophet who claims to give a message from another god or who falsely claims to speak for me must die.' 21 You may wonder, 'How will we know whether the prophecy is from the LORD or not?' 22 If the prophet predicts something in the LORD's name and it does not happen, the LORD did not give the message. That prophet has spoken on his own and need not be feared.

Deuteronomy chapter 13 (GWT)

1 One of your people, claiming to be a prophet or to have prophetic dreams, may predict a miraculous sign or an amazing thing. 2 What he predicts may even take place. But don't listen to that prophet or dreamer if he says, "Let's worship and serve other gods." (Those gods may be gods you've never heard of.) 3 The LORD your God is testing you to find out if you really love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 Worship the LORD your God, fear him, obey his commands, listen to what he says, serve him, and be loyal to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and freed you from slavery. He was trying to lead you away from following the directions the LORD your God gave you. You must get rid of this evil.

6 Your own brother, son, or daughter, the wife you love, or your best friend may secretly tempt you, saying, "Let's go worship other gods." (Those gods may be gods that you and your ancestors never knew. 7 They may be the gods of the people around you, who live near or far, from one end of the land to the other.) 8 Don't be influenced by any of these people or listen to them. Have no pity on them. Don't feel sorry for them or protect them. 9 You must put them to death. You must start the execution. Then all the other people will join you in putting them to death. 10 Stone them to death because they were trying to lead you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. 11 All Israel will hear about it and be afraid. Then no one among you will ever do such a wicked thing again.

12 You may hear that the residents in one of the cities which the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 have been led away from the LORD your God by worthless people. You may hear that these people have been saying, "Let's worship other gods." (Those gods may be gods you've never heard of.) 14 Then make a thorough investigation. If it is true, and you can prove that this disgusting thing has been done among you, 15 you must kill the residents of that city with swords and destroy that city and everyone in it, including the animals, because they are claimed by God. 16 Gather their goods into the middle of the city square. Then burn their city and all their goods as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. It must remain a mound of ruins and never be rebuilt. 17 Don't ever take any of the things claimed for destruction.
Then the LORD will stop being angry and will show you mercy. In his mercy he will make your population increase, as he swore to your ancestors. 18 The LORD your God will do this if you listen to him, obey all the commands that I'm giving you today, and do what he considers right.

Leviticus chapter 21 (TEV)

7 A priest shall not marry a woman who has been a prostitute or a woman who is not a virgin or who is divorced; he is holy. 8 The people must consider the priest holy, because he presents the food offerings to me. I am the Lord; I am holy and I make my people holy. 9 If a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she shall be burned to death.

Deuteronomy chapter 23 (TEV)

17 "No Israelite, man or woman, is to become a temple prostitute. 18 Also, no money earned in this way may be brought into the house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of a vow. The Lord hates temple prostitutes.

Deuteronomy chapter 19 (TEV)

16 If any of you try to harm another by false accusations, 17 both of you are to go to the one place of worship and be judged by the priests and judges who are then in office. 18 The judges will investigate the case thoroughly; and if you have made a false accusation, 19 you are to receive the punishment the accused would have received. In this way your nation will get rid of this evil. 20 Then everyone else will hear what happened; they will be afraid, and no one will ever again do such an evil thing. 21 In such cases show no mercy; the punishment is to be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.

Deuteronomy chapter 17 (NLT)

8 "Suppose a case arises in a local court that is too hard for you to decide - for instance, whether someone is guilty of murder or only of manslaughter, or a difficult lawsuit, or a case involving different kinds of assault. Take such cases to the place the LORD your God will choose, 9 where the Levitical priests and the judge on duty will hear the case and decide what to do. 10 The decision they make at the place the LORD chooses will always stand. You must do exactly what they say. 11 After they have interpreted the law and reached a verdict, the sentence they impose must be fully executed; do not modify it in any way. 12 Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. 13 Then everyone will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly.

If you'd prefer to skip the rest of the harsh laws, Go to what the New Testament teaches about the Law of Moses.

In the Old Testament, the Bible says that God said to Moses:

Deuteronomy chapter 18 (NLT)

10 Do not let your people practice fortune-telling or sorcery, or allow them to interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, 11 or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is an object of horror and disgust to the LORD.

Exodus Chapter 22 (TEV)

21 "Do not oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
22 "Do not exploit widows or orphans. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, then I will surely help them. 24 My anger will blaze forth against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Your wives will become widows, and your children will become fatherless.

Deuteronomy chapter 22 (NIV)

22 If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Deuteronomy chapter 22 (NLT)

23 "Suppose a man meets a young woman, a virgin who is engaged to be married, and he has sexual intercourse with her. If this happens within a town, 24 you must take both of them to the gates of the town and stone them to death. The woman is guilty because she did not scream for help. The man must die because he violated another man's wife. In this way, you will cleanse the land of evil.
25 "But if the man meets the engaged woman out in the country, and he rapes her, then only the man should die. 26 Do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no crime worthy of death. This case is similar to that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since the man raped her out in the country, it must be assumed that she screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.

Deuteronomy chapter 22 (TEV)

28 "Suppose a man is caught raping a young woman who is not engaged. 29 He is to pay her father the bride price of fifty pieces of silver, and she is to become his wife, because he forced her to have intercourse with him. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Exodus chapter 22 (NLT)

16 "If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to anyone and sleeps with her, he must pay the customary dowry and accept her as his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to let her marry him, the man must still pay the money for her dowry.

Deuteronomy chapter 22 (TEV)

13 "Suppose a man marries a young woman and later he decides he doesn't want her. 14 So he makes up false charges against her, accusing her of not being a virgin when they got married.
15 "If this happens, the young woman's parents are to take the blood-stained wedding sheet that proves she was a virgin, and they are to show it in court to the town leaders. 16 Her father will say to them, "I gave my daughter to this man in marriage, and now he doesn't want her. 17 He has made false charges against her, saying that she was not a virgin when he married her. But here is the proof that my daughter was a virgin; look at the bloodstains on the wedding sheet!' 18 Then the town leaders are to take the husband and beat him. 19 They are also to fine him a hundred pieces of silver and give the money to the young woman's father, because the man has brought disgrace on an Israelite woman. Moreover, she will continue to be his wife, and he can never divorce her as long as he lives.
20 "But if the charge is true and there is no proof that she was a virgin, 21 then they are to take her out to the entrance of her father's house, where the men of her city are to stone her to death. She has done a shameful thing among our people by having intercourse before she was married, while she was still living in her father's house. In this way you will get rid of this evil.

To read a perspective that argues that these laws were not as harsh as they seem, because there would be more investigation into them than is implied by what is written in the Law of Moses, and that the reason the penalties were so harsh was that the well-being of communities who lived as the Israelites did could be threatened by behaviour that violated the laws, visit: Are the laws in the Old Testament about rape and virginity unfair to women?

To continue quoting from the Old Testament:

Numbers chapter 5 (GWT)

11 The LORD said to Moses:
12 "Speak to the Israelites and tell them: A man's wife may have been unfaithful to him 13 and may have had sexual intercourse with another man without her husband's knowledge. She may have kept it secret if there were no witnesses to accuse her and she wasn't caught in the act.

14 "A husband may have a fit of jealousy and suspect his wife, whether she was actually unfaithful or not. 15 He must then take his wife to the priest along with eight cups of barley flour as an offering for her. He must not pour olive oil on the flour or put frankincense on it, since it is a grain offering brought because of the husband's jealousy, an offering used for a confession--to remind someone of a sin that was committed.

16 "The priest will have the woman come forward and stand in the LORD's presence. 17 Then the priest will take holy water in a piece of pottery and put some dust from the floor of the tent into the water. 18 The priest will bring the woman into the LORD's presence and loosen her hair. In her hands he will put the offering used for a confession (that is, the grain offering brought because of the husband's jealousy). The priest will hold in his hands the bitter water that can bring a curse.

19 "Then the priest will say to her, 'If no other man has had sexual intercourse with you and you haven't been unfaithful to your husband, you're not guilty. This bitter water that can bring a curse will not harm you.
20 If, in fact, you have been unfaithful and have had sexual intercourse with another man, 21 may the LORD make you an example for your people to see what happens when the curse of this oath comes true: The LORD will make your uterus drop and your stomach swell.'" Then the priest will administer the oath and the curse by saying: 22 'May this water that can bring a curse go into your body and make your stomach swell and your uterus drop!' "Then the woman will say, 'Amen, amen!'

23 "The priest will write these curses on a scroll and wash them off into the bitter water. 24 Then he will have the woman drink the bitter water that can bring the curse. This water will go into her [and] become bitter. 25 The priest will take the grain offering she was holding, present it to the LORD, and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest will take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar. Then he will have the woman drink the water.
27 If she has become unclean by being unfaithful to her husband, the water that can bring the curse will go into her and become bitter. Her stomach will swell, her uterus will drop, and she will become cursed among her people. 28 But if the woman is not unclean and is pure, she is not guilty and will be able to have children.

29 "These are the instructions for how to deal with jealousy. They tell you what to do when a woman is unfaithful to her husband and becomes unclean. 30 They also tell you what to do when a husband has a fit of jealousy and is suspicious of his wife. He will make his wife stand in the LORD's presence, and the priest will do everything these instructions tell him to do. 31 The husband isn't guilty of doing anything wrong, but the woman will suffer the consequences of her sin."

This sounds horrifying; but to read a short explanation which says that in fact it would actually have protected women from the otherwise harsher cruelties that were often inflicted by jealous/paranoid husbands of the day, visit:
Wasn't there a HUGE double standard in biblical sexual ethics? - weren't women supposed to be good, but men didn't have to be?
(It over-states the case in some of the things it says regarding women, but overall is informative.)

To continue quoting what the Bible says Moses said to the people of Israel:

Deuteronomy chapter 23 (TEV)

2 "No one born out of wedlock or any descendant of such a person, even in the tenth generation, may be included among the Lord's people.

Leviticus chapter 20 (NLT)

10 "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death.

Deuteronomy chapter 25 (TEV)

11 "If two men are having a fight and the wife of one tries to help her husband by grabbing hold of the other man's genitals, 12 show her no mercy; cut off her hand.

For an explanation of the harshness of the law about cutting off a woman's hand in such a circumstance and of other laws, visit: Castration, Excrement Disposal, and Similar Issues in the Bible.

To continue quoting from the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy chapter 21 (TEV)

18 "Suppose someone has a son who is stubborn and rebellious, a son who will not obey his parents, even though they punish him. 19 His parents are to take him before the leaders of the town where he lives and make him stand trial. 20 They are to say to them, "Our son is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey us; he wastes money and is a drunkard.' 21 Then the men of the city are to stone him to death, and so you will get rid of this evil. Everyone in Israel will hear what has happened and be afraid.

Exodus chapter 35 (TEV)

2 You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is to be sacred, a solemn day of rest dedicated to me, the Lord. Anyone who does any work on that day is to be put to death. 3 Do not even light a fire in your homes on the Sabbath."

In the New Testament, the Bible says:

Romans chapter 3 (NLT)

20 No one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it. 21 But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight - not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22 We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. 23 For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. 24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. ... 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

In John's Gospel in the New Testament, the Bible says:

John chapter 7 (NLT)

14 ... Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach. 15 The Jewish leaders were surprised when they heard him. "How does he know so much when he hasn't studied everything we've studied?" they asked. 16 So Jesus told them, "I'm not teaching my own ideas, but those of God who sent me. 17 Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.

John chapter 8 (NLT)

1 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.

3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and Pharisees brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 4 "Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?" 6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, "All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!" 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, "Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?"

11 "No, Lord," she said.

And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more."

Later in the New Testament, the Bible says to Christians:

Galatians chapter 1 (TEV)

4 In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father.

Galatians chapter 2 (TEV)

16 We know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the Law requires.

Galatians chapter 3 (TEV)

19 What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is

Romans chapter 8 (NLT)

3 The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will. 8 That's why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. 9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.)

10 Since Christ lives within you, even though your body will die because of sin, your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. 12 So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you keep on following it, you will perish. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

In the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Hebrews chapter 12 (NLT)

25 See to it that you obey God, the one who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: "Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also." 27 This means that the things on earth will be shaken, so that only eternal things will be left. 28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

The next file in this section (Part 2), is entitled: "What The Bible Says About Divorce, Observance Of The Sabbath, And Strict Personal Hygiene".

The main Bible pages on this site:

Bible Bible Part 1: Bible Quotations, The Holy Spirit, People And Their Stories
Bible Part 2: The Lives and Suffering of the Ancient Israelites
Bible Part 3: The Bible, Articles About Alleged Inaccuracies in it, And Stories of People who Became Christians.
If you have found parts of the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation offensive, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.

The selections of Bible quotations have been put together by Diana Holbourn.

Throughout this series, wherever the initials TEV appear, they stand for Today's English Version (The Good News Bible).

Other initials:

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There are a lot of pages on this website with quotations from the Old Testament on them. Many of these are unfortunately rather gruesome, since the main theme of the Old Testament is warnings and stories about how it says societies were punished for mass lawless and hurtful behaviour, even to the extent of having war brought on them by God, that seem to have been designed to scare societies where crime and violence were rampant into behaving more ethically. In case there is any misunderstanding, it should be understood that this website does not endorse war as anything other than a last resort. The position of the website owner can be gleaned from the articles:

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