Exodus 21:16

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Exodus 21

Law Analysis overview

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 21:16WEB


The Command

This passage contains a positive command, directed toward Israel: "Anyone who kidnaps someone and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall be put to death.".


This command is part of the Civil/Judicial Law.

This law fits well with laws relating to Human Judicial Response.

This law contributes to an understanding of Slavery, Capital Punishment, and Theft.


The command is understood to be an abiding rule for governments in the New Covenant.

Notes on Interpretation/Application

"Or if he is found in his hand"

Alternative translations render this, "whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper's possession.", indicating that the verse refers only to the kidnapper. Others render it, "and anyone found in possession of him", indicating that the verse applies the death penalty to anyone who comes into possession of a kidnapped man, whether or not they were the initial kidnappers. A more careful examination of the Hebrew should be conducted to identify which is proper.

The implication of this distinction may have bearing on whether a person who knowingly (or perhaps unknowingly) purchases stolen goods is subject to the same penalty as the thief.

A parallel passage for consideration is Deuteronomy 24:7, which says, 17 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17WEB.

Although this parallel refers specifically to instances where an Israelite steals a fellow Israelite, it more plainly prescribes the death penalty to the thief.

Interpretation 2