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Bible Q

Is the concept of a statute of limitations found in the Bible?

A “statute of limitations” gives a time limit after which someone cannot be sued or prosecuted for something they have done. This legal concept is contained in the Law of Moses in at least two places.

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. (Deuteronomy 15:1-3)

So for native Israelites, there was a time limit of up to seven years on debts. However, the “seven years” refers to the national cycle of seven year periods marked by the sabbatical years. So if you loaned someone money in the sixth year, you had to forgive the debt in less than 12 months, not seven years later.

Another example of a statute of limitations concerned manslaughter. Someone committing manslaughter could flee to a “city of refuge” where they were granted sanctuary until the death of the high priest.

For he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. (Numbers 35:28)

After the high priest died, the person who had committed manslaughter was free from prosecution. Presumably the period of confinement in the city of refuge could last for many years if the high priest was young and healthy.

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