Why There Are No Prisons In The Old Testament

Yesterday I wrote about Faisal Shahzad, the Muslim terrorist who this week received a lifetime federal scholarship for attempting to blow up Times Square. I noted the irony in Americans having to pay room and board for the next 50 years for the person trying to kill them. I also suggested the Bible had a better solution.

Old Testament law does not provide for prisons. I challenge you to look. There are none, nunca.

It’s not because people were so good they had no need for prisons. Just the opposite, God’s law contained a very detailed framework for addressing criminal conduct, but prisons were not part of that framework, and for good reason.

Think about it. Joe Criminal steals from you. The State brings charges against him, for which you (the taxpayer) pay. It’s not enough Joe’s already stolen from you because when he’s convicted, we then send him to prison where you (the taxpayer) pay $23,000/yr. to house and feed him so he can hang out with other criminals for a few years and learn to be a better criminal.

On top of that, we talk about Joe paying his debt to society, as if the State is the victim, when in fact you are. There is no restitution. There is no rehabilitation. Instead, you become a victim twice and Joe becomes a better criminal, more likely than not to commit another crime when he gets out.

Under Old Testament law, if Joe Criminal stole from you, you would bring the charges against him. If he is convicted he doesn’t go to prison. There are no prisons. Instead he is ordered to pay you, perhaps twofold what he stole from you. If he can’t pay you, then his labor is capitalized, meaning it’s sold to someone else. Under this bondservice contract, the purchaser would pay you, making restitution for Joe Criminal. Joe Criminal would then go and work for the purchaser of his services for the agreed-upon time. The law impliedly presumes if someone has enough money to purchase Joe Criminal’s services for a year or years he must be somewhat successful. So, instead of Joe Criminal learning to be a better criminal, he learns to be productive by working under someone who is.

The Old Testament law also paints a picture of the effects of sin. If you commit a crime, you lose your freedom. If you commit sin, you become a slave to sin. The justice system was a constant reminder of a spiritual principle that he who commits sin is slave to sin.

As much sense as this makes, we are quite a ways from trying something like this in the United States. The horrid sin of race-based slavery continues to cause ripple effects through our culture, and for many bond-service would look too much like slavery, even though it is more humane and effective than our modern alternative form of punishment and rehabilitation, namely prisons.

What do you think? Which system makes more sense? GS