As the Kingdom of God comes to fulfilment, justice will be an important issue. We will need a system of justice that does not depend on force and coercion as in worldly justice systems. One of the most important articles I have written is called Voluntary Justice. It seems like an oxymoron, but it describes how biblical justice can be established in a voluntary community.

In a voluntary community, the only constraint on behaviour will be peer pressure from within the community. The only penalty that judges can specify for theft is restitution, but payment the payment of the restitution specified by the judge is voluntary. Exclusion from the community is a tool for ensuring restitution is made to victims in a voluntary society.

Community Exclusion

When a judge declares a person guilty, the elders of the community should help the person make restitution. They should do what they can to help the person change their behaviour and live at peace with their neighbours.

If they guilty person rejects the judge's verdict, they are also resisting the wisdom of the elders who are trusted by the rest of the people living in the community. They are undermining people who have loved and served them. Their relationship with the community that had sustained them would be dead.

If they persist in their bad behaviour, they become a threat to the peace and security of the community. The leaders might need to exclude them from the community to prevent further harm.

The person rejecting a judge's verdict would be left out of all community activities (Deut 17:12). They will lose all the benefits that come from participating in its activities, including financial support and spiritual protection.

Die Death

The worst crime is murder. The Laws for Society specifies "life for life" as the penalty for it (Ex 21:23) but we must be careful about assuming that we know what it means. "Life for life" is God's judgment on murder. Humans were created in the image of God, so killing a person is like striking at the image of God. Human life is so valuable that the person who deliberately destroys a human life deserves death.

A murderer deserves to die, but that does not settle the matter. God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15) so his justice is always merciful. He showed how to be merciful towards those who deserve to die in the Garden of Eden. God had warned Adam that he would die if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will die death (Gen 2:17).

The word die is doubled in the Hebrew, as "die death". However, God did not put Adam and Eve to death when they ate the fruit. That is what they deserved, but he is merciful, so he excluded them from the garden instead. Adam lived on for hundreds of years, but he was shut out from the presence of God.

God implemented his penalty of "die death" as "exclusion". In a sense, Adam and Eve were dead. Their relationship with God had died. They lost their place of safety and were thrust into a dangerous world dominated by the spiritual powers of evil.

The same doubling of the word death (die death) is used in Exodus 21:12 to describe the penalty for murder.

Anyone who fatally strikes a person shall die death.

Excellent judges should not apply this expression more literally than God does. If he implemented Adam and Eve's penalty as exclusion, the same penalty should apply for murder.

Exodus 21:12 is a statement of about what murder deserves, not a penalty that judges should implement. A murderer deserves death, but they should not be killed, as that would be doing evil to achieve good. Instead, the murderer should be excluded from their community. Their relationship with the community that had sustained them would be dead. They would be cut off from the people they trusted for protection and exposed to spiritual attack.

A person found guilty of murder will be excluded from the community. They will be allowed to escape, provided they agree not to return. Most will have fled immediately after committing their crime.

Justification for Exclusion

The ultimate consequence for refusing to accept the verdict of a judge is exclusion from activities of the community. The justification for this "exclusion" is provided in the New Testament.

You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is a seriously immoral person... Do not even eat with such people (1 Cor 5:11).

When a person persists in evil that actively harms other people, they should be excluded from the community's meals and other activities, especially if they claim to follow Jesus.

Jesus confirmed the process for settling disputes before judges in Matthew 18:15-17. The first step is to speak in private.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over (Matt 18:15).

If the person who has sinned will not listen, the next step is to take the issue to a judge with the support of witnesses.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (Matt 18:16).

Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 19:15, a passage that describes the work of judges.

If the person refuses to accept the decision of the judge and rejects moral pressure from the community to put things right, they can be excluded from community activities.

If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would an outsider (Matt 18:17).

Jesus said that if a person refuses to accept the verdict of a judge, they can be treated as an outsider. If the community agrees with the judge's decision, the person rejecting it can be excluded from their community.

Throughout the scriptures, God's remedy for extremely serious sin is always exclusion.

1. Garden of Eden — Adam and Eve were excluded from the garden (Gen 3:23-24).

2. First Murder —     Cain was excluded and spent his life as a restless wanderer (Gen 4:14)

2. Promised Land — The Israelites were exiled to Babylon after repeatedly rebelling against God.

3. Laws for Society — Criminals who persistently refuse to make restitution are excluded from their community.

4. Church —           Christians who persist in sin that destroys the body of Jesus must be excluded from the body (1 Cor 5:11).

5. Last Judgment — Those who have rejected Jesus will be shut out from the presence of God (eternal destruction) (2 Thes 1:9).

Exclusion should always be a last resort for very serious sin, as it is a failure of grace.

Spiritual Exclusion

In the age of the gospel, exclusion will be mostly spiritual (1 Cor 5:4-12). The person rejecting the verdict of judge loses the spiritual protection that comes from belonging to a Strong community and becomes vulnerable to attack by the spiritual powers of evil.

Anyone resisting a good judge is rebelling against what God has put in place. They bring judgment on themselves (Rom 13:2).

The most devastating effect of exclusion from a community is exposure to attack by spirits of wrath and destruction (Rom 13:4). Paul described exclusion as "handing such a one over to Satan" (1 Cor 5:5) because it leaves them exposed to serious spiritual attack.

The person who rejects the verdict of the judge respected in their community is rejecting the authority of its elders. This withdrawal of respect eliminates the elder's authority to provide spiritual protection for them. Spiritual protection comes through submission to elders who stand together against enemy attacks. When a person rejects the authority of their elders, their protection evaporates.

For someone who has been living in a spirit-free zone, the change will be dramatic, and dreadful. The spiritual powers of evil will enjoy attacking someone that they have not been able to get at while they were under the protection of a Strong community. The elders of the community will warn the person of the distressing consequences of loss of spiritual protection, not as a threat, but to save them from danger. They will urge them to avoid spiritual harm by accepting the judge's verdict and paying restitution to their victim.

Once they understand the spiritual impact or their decision to reject the judge's decision, most people will prefer to make peace and remain in their community. They will find a way to make restitution and lift the curse they have put on themselves.

Last Resort

Exclusion of an offender must always be a last resort. The person who rejects the verdict of a judge and refuses to pay restitution should only be excluded if they continue offending and become a threat to the community. Most communities would give a person several second chances before adopting such a serious remedy. If the offending is minor, the person might be let off, especially if they have stopped offending. The exclusion option should only be used for serious crimes that undermine the strength of the community. People should only be excluded if their persistent wicked behaviour threatens the cohesion of the community.

The elders should be motivated by love, so they will aim to restore peace in their community. In most cases, they will prefer to deal with the problems caused by the difficult person rather than take the sad and painful alternative of exclusion. To restore peace, they will arrange for any victims to be compensated by the giving and sharing of the community.

If the Holy Spirit is moving in a community, the need for exclusion should be extremely rare. Most issues will be resolved by the love and grace of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is not active, excluding a person would usually be pointless, as there must be deeper problems underlying the community that need to be resolved.

Limits on Exclusion

The Laws for Society place three limitations on the exclusion of serious criminals.

1. Accidental Death

The Laws for Society distinguishes between murder and accidental death. The intention of the person causing the death determines the difference. If the death was not planned in advance, it is assumed to be accidental.

Anyone who strikes a man that dies deserves death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but powers of evil let it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate (Ex 21:12-14).

Murder has not occurred, so exclusion is not required. The Law gives guidelines for identifying an accidental death.

If he impulsively pushes someone without enmity, or he throws something that unintentionally hits someone, or drops something heavy and it hits and kills someone he didn't even know was there, and there was no enmity between them, the community is to judge between the killer and his family using these guidelines (Num 35:22-24).

If the person did not intend to cause death, it should be treated as accidental.

The person causing death by their carelessness might need to flee for their own safety. People who do not respect God's law might try to take revenge. Special refuge communities might become a safe place by welcoming and providing refuge for people who have committed manslaughter.

2. Ransom

The Laws for Society allow a person sentenced to exclusion for murder to pay a ransom to their victim's family in return for being permitted to stay in their community.

If payment is demanded, he may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded (Ex 21:30).

In most cases, the victim's family will prefer a ransom, as they would benefit economically, whereas the exclusion of the murderer would bring them no economic benefit. The rest of the community would only be able to overrule their wishes, if the murderer continued to be a serious threat to other people.

The judges would decide the value of the ransom in agreement with the victims of the murder (or their family). The value of the ransom should approximate the discounted value of the victim's future earnings. If the criminal could not afford the required ransom, they would need to borrow the money from their family. If their family could not help, they would need to offer themselves as a "bonded employee" to a person in the community who could pay the ransom on their behalf. They would have to work for that person until the loan had been re-paid.

The ransom is an instrument of mercy, but it is not an easy option. The seven-year limit for charity loans would not apply to someone borrowing to pay a ransom in lieu of exclusion, so the offender might have to work as a bonded servant for most of their life. They would not be able to travel away from their place of work, but this is more merciful than the modern practice of imprisoning people for life.

In 2 Sam 14:5-10, David agreed that a woman whose son had murdered another son would not benefit if here remaining son was put to death. This example shows that solutions that benefit the family of a murder victim should be preferred. Another example is in 1 Kings 20:39, where a talent of silver could be paid where loss of life was required.

Some very evil people who are a risk to society would not be allowed to pay a ransom to remain in their community.

Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who is really wicked. He must surely die death (Num 35:31).

Ransom is not an option for some murderers. The Hebrew word "rasha" is missing from many English translations. It means "wicked". Murderers who are unrepentant and staunch in their wickedness should not be allowed to pay a ransom, as they are a danger to their community.

Some repeat offenders are so incorrigible that society needs to be protected from them. Locking them up for a lifetime is cruel and costly, so excluding them is a kinder way to protect the community. When a person has become so evil, that they cannot live in society, sending them away is a more practical solution.

3. Young Person

A young person should not be excluded from their community without the consent of both parents. Parents have the power to override the decision of the judges if they are willing to take responsibility for remedying the harm their son or daughter has done. This recognises the reality that young people can make serious mistakes, but still turn out fine.

On the other hand, if his parents agree that the young person is hopelessly rebellious, the sentence of the judges should apply.

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us" (Deut 21:18-20).

If a son is so stubborn and rebellious that his mother and father give up all hope for him, he should be excluded from the community, before he does more harm. If his parents believe that there is hope for the youth, he must be given another chance. If they think that he is redeemable, he must be given an opportunity to repent and remain.


Excommunication has become a dirty word, because it has been misused by the church as a tool of power. However, properly understood, it is an important tool for establishing justice in a voluntary community. The concept is good, but the word has been contaminated, so I use the expression "exclusion from the community" rather than excommunication.

The church has got exclusion all wrong. Instead of using exclusion as a tool for justice, the Church mostly used excommunication to get rid of heretics who pushed false beliefs. The main basis for this practice was 1 Cor 5:9-11, but Paul is very clear about the classes of Christian who should be excluded from the body.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people (1 Cor 5:11).

Two things are interesting about this passage.

A closer examination shows that Paul is recommending exclusion as a response to unrepentant sin that is harming the community. His list contains six categories of Christian behaviour. The body of Christ should have nothing to do with Christians who continue to practice:

Deliberate idolatry undermines the unity of the community. Sexual immorality and drunkenness make the community unsafe.

The last three behaviours are important for the administration of justice. If a member of the body is convicted of a crime and asked to make financial restitution, then they will be committing each of these three sins.

The Greek word for greed refers to someone who always wants more. This type of person will not be willing to give up what they have, even if they are instructed to make restitution. They want more, not less.

The Greek word for slander is "loidoros". It means slanderer or abuser. A Christians who refused to make the restitution, specified by a judge, is slandering and abusing the judge, saying that he does not know what he is talking about. He is a liar. I do not owe anything.

The Greek word translated "swindler" is "arpadzo". It comes from a verb for taking, snatching, or carrying off by force. A Christian who refuses to make restitution that has been instructed by a Christian judge becomes a thief. They are holding something by force that they are not entitled to keep.

"Shutting out" of the Christian community empowers voluntary justice. If a Christian judge makes a verdict and specifies that the guilty party should make restitution, the judge has no power to enforce his verdict. The guilty party can simply ignore the judge's requirement. This is where the power of the community comes in. The person who refuses to make the restitution specified by a judge should be treated according to the standard of 1 Cor 5:9-11. They will be ostracised by the Christian community and lose all the benefits of participating in it. They are not forced to leave their home, but it will be quite unpleasant for them to stay.

Rejecting Restitution

The person who refuses to make restitution will have three practical options.

If the person is poor, they may need to take a loan. If the person has a good attitude, the elders of the community will loan the money to make the restitution. The convicted person will then have an obligation to repay the elders. This will give the elders greater authority in their lives (Prov 22:7).

The second option will be very unpleasant. Few people would be able to withstand the pressure.

The person taking the third option will be leaving all communities that have connections with the leaders of their own community. They may not be accepted in any Christian community, so they will have no choice but to join a community of outlaws (see below). This will not be a pleasant community like the one run by Robin Hood. It will be a community of nasty people, a very frightening and unpleasant place to live. Most people will reject the escape option, and organise a way to pay the restitution specified by the judge.

Voluntary Exclusion

Exclusion is a tool for dealing with people who are undermining the cohesion of the community and threatening to destroy it. The stronger the Christian community, the more effective voluntary justice will be, because the greater the cost that comes with being excluded from the community.

Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this (1 Cor 5:2).

If a member of the community steals from others or is violent toward another, the leaders of the community will expect the guilty person to make restitution. If the troublesome person refuses to make restitution and persists in their bad behaviour, the leaders of the community may decide they are a threat to the cohesion of the community. They could ask the other members of the community to exclude the recalcitrant person from the privileges that come from being part of the community.

Exclusion is a voluntary process. The leaders of a community cannot enforce it. The most they can do is ask other citizens of the community to withdraw from the immoral person and leave them out of their activities. They cannot force people to stop meeting with another person, so their decision to withdraw will only be effective if everyone in the community considers the fickle person to be a threat and refuses to share their lives with them.

If the decision of the leaders is not supported by the rest of the community, the offender would still be able to participate in some of the community's activities. If the leaders are uncertain about their support, they will be reluctant to exclude a person.

The guilty person is not forced to change. If they want to continue their behaviour, they are free to leave the community and live in some other place. When are person joins a community, they are committing to the general values that shape it. Those who are unwilling to accept those values will gradually drift out and find a society where they are more comfortable.

The power of exclusion should not be used lightly. Selfishness or greed would not be sufficient justification. Exclusion would only be used for persistent behaviour that undermines the strength of the community. Going further would be unreasonable.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world... In that case you would have to leave this world... (1 Cor 5:9-10).

Christians must not escape from the world. People who are struggling with sin should be welcomed in a faithful community, because "the sick need a doctor" (Mark 2:17). Sinners should only be excluded if their persistent sinful behaviour threatens the cohesion of the community.

Outlaw Communities

The fleeing criminal would be choosing a desolate life. They would be cutting themselves off from people who have trusted and supported them. All the privileges and blessings that came from being part of a strong community would be lost.

Loss of spiritual protection would be the most devastating consequence. The spiritual powers of evil would take advantage of the criminal's isolation and attack mercilessly.

The reputation of the fleeing criminal would go before them and make them unwelcome in most communities. They might need to go and live with other criminals on the edge of society. Their new life would very insecure, because they would never know when a vengeful person might try to harm them.

People with a bad reputation will have greater difficulty finding another place to live. Many communities would not welcome a person with serious justice issues. They would not want to offend a neighbouring community by harbouring someone who has rejected their justice.

Groups of people avoiding justice might come together and form a community of outlaws. These outlaw communities would be a horrible place to live, as the leaders would be those who have refused to accept justice. The strongest people would rise to the top, so the community would have only rough justice.

The outlaw community would be a dangerous place, so most people would stay away from it. Some Christians might enter temporarily to share the gospel and tough people might visit for trade. A few relatives might visit, but this would be risky.

Fleeing to a community of outlaws would be a frightening option. Most people would choose to avoid exclusion by accepting the verdict of the judge and their community leaders. No one would have to stay in an outlaw community, but they might have to comply with the verdict that they had been avoiding before returning to the community they had escaped.

Voluntary justice will allow many people who commit crimes to escape the consequences. Followers of Jesus will often suffer at the hands of ruthless people. Peter explained that they should be glad to follow Jesus' example (1 Pet 4:13).

A few serious criminals would choose to remain in a neighbourhood where a faithful community has developed and make threats against people they hate. If they engage in war against the community, they should be defended against like any other enemy invader.

Rare Option

If the Holy Spirit is moving in a Kingdom Community, the need for exclusion should be extremely rare. Most issues will be resolved with love and grace and the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is not moving, exclusion would probably be pointless, as there must be underlying problems that have not been dealt with.

This material is developed further in a book called Government of God.