Does the Old Testament call for cutting a woman’s hand off?

Yesterday I mentioned Frank Viola’s long post titled “What is God Really Like? Hell, the Old Testament God, and Love Wins – An Interview with the Author of “Is God a Moral Monster?”

One thing I found interesting was a discussion of a difficult Old Testament passage, one which a friend and I were discussing just a few weeks ago. Here’s the beginning of that discussion (which is in the form of an interview; bold represents question asked of author):

    If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) Doesn’t this make clear that the Old Testament was written by a man? Come on now. How is this consistent with a good, loving, reasonable God? If God wrote this, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a God like that. So what did God have in His mind when He authored this Law? And how does it reflect His nature? What say you?

    This action was considered shameful—touching an area where only a man’s own wife is allowed to touch. Also, the man could possibly be permanently injured and thus deprived of future children. At first blush, this passage apparently requires that a woman’s hand must be cut off if she seizes the genitals of the man fighting with her husband—and scholars typically take this view.

    If so, this would be the only biblical instance of punishment by mutilation; beyond this, where ancient Near Eastern laws call for bodily mutilation for various offenses, the Mosaic Law does not. The Babylonian code of Hammurabi insisted that certain crimes be punished by cutting off the tongue, breast, hand, or ear—or the accused being dragged around a field by cattle. The Law of Moses—though not ideal—presents a remarkable improvement when it comes to punishments.

Read the rest of the interview and tell me what you think.

(Yeah, the book image is an associate link. If you decide to buy and use that link, I get enough commission to buy a stick of gum)

8 thoughts on “Does the Old Testament call for cutting a woman’s hand off?

  1. Keith Brenton

    “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.” – Deuteronomy 22:25

    Ah, but would we say, “A God who imposes the death penalty for rape? I don’t want to have anything to do with that sort of God”?

    Sometimes we can’t see past our own cultures and eras … back into a time before the influence of the Christ, when barbarism largely ruled and the laws God gave were almost all that held Israel together as a nation and people.

  2. Tim Frakes

    Regarding Mr. Brenton’s comment, I can’t recall a time during the Christian era when barbarism didn’t rule in many places around the world – particularly in the 20th century and often in then name of Christ.

    Regarding the Deuteronomy 22:25 text, I can’t imagine an attempt to defend or explain the outrage described. Except, perhaps an attempted defense of the 19th century doctrine of the so-called infallibility of scripture.

  3. Tim Archer Post author


    I really hope you’ll read the article. To me it makes a lot of sense. If that passage actually calls for cutting off the woman’s hand, it is completely different from every other punishment under the Law.

    If it should be translated as the article asserts, it makes a lot more sense.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. Wes

    If I understood Mr. Viola’s comments correctly, the word translated “cut off” is correctly translated “cut, or shave”. The word translated “hand” could refer to any curved surface of the body including only the palm of the hand or groin and it would be impossible to cut off only the palm. He suggested that this should probably read “shave her groin”. Even though it is an acceptable translation, it does not seem reasonable to me for two reasons.

    1) It might embarrass, but inflicts no pain similar to the pain she probably inflicted. 2) That does not fit with the Old Testament doctrine of an “eye for an eye”. Laws and conditions were different under Moses as Mr. Brenton suggests. Much of Moses Law would not be acceptable under Christ.

    My suggestion is that the translation could read “cut the palm of her hand” which I know from experience would inflict a similar pain and a soreness that would remind her for several weeks not to do the same thing again.

    Just a thought.


  5. Wendy

    Just another reason to avoid a concrete interpretation and try to apply what was written for the ancient Jews to us today in a concrete manner…

  6. Bob Bliss

    Wes, what you suggest as the possible translation makes sense to me. However, in reading Copan’s answer he claims that in the text there is no mention of the woman harming the man when she seizes his testicles. He claims that she has humiliated the man in public and that an “eye for eye” punishment require the woman to be likewise humiliated. So Copan’s suggestion also works for me. I guess how one views the context (man hurt by woman or man humiliated by woman) would require one or the other translation.

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