Stone Him

Since God’s Law requires stoning stubborn rebellious sons (De 21:20-21a), it seems most Christians would argue the old Mosaic laws, or at least some of them, are obsolete, inconsistent with the Law of Love. (Ro 13:10) This is so obvious to most of us it’s offensive to suggest otherwise. (Ps 119:172) Yet Christ affirms otherwise: the entire Mosaic Law remains valid so long as Heaven and Earth stand. (Mt 5:18-19) We do well to ponder the maxim: Obviousness is always the enemy of correctness. (Is 8:20)

First, note that this command to stone a defiant son may not be obeyed in isolation, parents taking matters into their own hands: following this command requires the collective assessment and agreement of an entire civil community. Parents accuse the son of rebellion in front of the city elders, in the city gate where civil matters are formally resolved. (De 18:18-19) The elders then enquire, question the parents, the son and others familiar with the situation, and must align with the parents in their struggle. Then all the men of the community participate in executing the son, after his legal conviction.

So, unless parents live in a society which incorporates the civil aspects of Torah within its legal code (as every society should), this command to stone a rebellious son cannot be rightly obeyed. This does not mean the law is obsolete; God has not abolished it (Mt 5:17); it simply doesn’t apply outside this civil context. However, when Messiah returns to rule the nations (Ps 2:9), we can be sure He will enforce this law (Mi 4:2), and it will be holy, righteous and good. (He 1:8)

Secondly, the charge requires both parents to publicly testify that their son is in willful rebellion against them both (De 21:20a), implying both parents are uniquely accountable for training their children into adulthood, and in this case neither parent has been successful in getting their son to cooperate

Thirdly, the requirement for the son to obey implies he is still a child, not yet an adult, and therefore unable to provide for himself; he remains under his parents’ roof and dependent on them, and therefore required to obey them. Further, the context implies the son is sufficiently mature to understand the gravity of the consequences of his rebellion; though still a child, he is choosing to defy his parents and is old enough to be held accountable for his actions.

Finally, the accusation must include the sense that the son, in addition to being defiant, is focused on pursuing his own interests and pleasures. (De 21:20b) The rebellious son is intent on gratifying his own personal appetites without providing for himself; he is acting irresponsibly and burdening his parents rather than contributing to the welfare of the family.

These public accusations, and the threat of brutal execution looming before him, provide a final opportunity for the rebellious son to repent, or perhaps to expose his parents if they’ve been neglectful, abusive or cruel. (De 25:1) In either case, the conflict is dealt with decisively by the community such that open childhood rebellion is not normalized at any level within the culture. (De 21:21c)

Just imagine this command of God playing itself out in a society over decades, over centuries, as parents raise up children amidst grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family all keeping an eye out for domestic strife, ready to intervene, to love, encourage and advise as needed.

What parent could afford to be careless, negligent or selfish here, unreasonably harsh or undisciplined, knowing a bloody execution could be the outcome? That they’d lose a son, nephew or grandson in brutal termination before the entire community. To be remembered as the family who couldn’t control their kids.

What sobriety this would encourage! (Ti 2:1-6) What self-control and wisdom! What prayerful discipline of all the children in the household, care taken to promptly and prayerfully address any signs of rebellion with firmness, impartiality, fairness, consistency and love! (Pr 19:18)

How it would encourage wisdom in courtship! to choose a compatible, godly spouse, to intentionally avoid turmoil and chaos in the home. How it would motivate parents to collaborate and work together to solve relational issues, both between themselves and among their children, to seek God in maintaining a loving, stable equilibrium in the family, constantly aware of the pulse and disposition of each of their children as they grow and mature.

Might this be a good thing?

And what are our alternatives? Tolerate such abuse and disruption in the family? Do nothing of consequence to deter and prevent it? (Ps 119:155)

And how is that working out for those who despise God’s Law? (Pr 28:9)

I hear the Jews claim that throughout their recorded history, not a single Jewish son has ever been stoned for rebellion. If true, this certainly is something to think about, as we search down the corridors of our prisons — it’s rare indeed to find among the inmates the son of a practicing Jewish family.

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2 thoughts on “Stone Him”

  1. Tim,

    Where do you place the Adulteress woman where Jesus told the assembled “community” — he that is without sin cast the first stone?


    1. Great question! Jn 8 is often used to show that Jesus was not in favor of enforcing capital punishment and also that Torah is not the Law of Love. It is a favorite of those who seek to disannul Torah in general.

      The important point to note here is that it was not lawful for the Jewish people to execute anyone; the Pharisees pointed this out when Pilate told them to judge Christ on their own. (Jn 18:31) The Jews were not in civil authority in that culture, Rome was, so they did not have God’s authority to take a life.

      What the Pharisees were doing in this temptation was pitting Christ against either Torah or Rome, in a way that they thought forced Him to choose between the two and be loyal to one or the other, but not both. If He decided against stoning then He would be abolishing Torah, and if He went ahead with it then He would be in trouble with Rome. It was a no-win predicament for Christ.

      The fact that Christ did not choose either one explicitly, but sided with Torah under the condition that the person who began the execution was sinless, and therefore in a good place to lead the people in regaining their national independence and re-instituting a proper Torah-observing civil authority. This would be the ultimate risk and self-sacrifice to honor Torah, that a sinful, selfish person who did not fully submit to God and to Torah would be unwilling to undertake.

      Further, the fact that they did not bring the man who was involved in the adulterous situation and charge them both as Torah requires (De 22:22) suggests the entire thing was staged, that the Pharisees had set this woman up and tempted her in a way that was deeply unreasonable, and significantly out of character for her, simply to bait their trap for Christ.

      What then do we make of Christ’s refusal to condemn the woman? Christ was not positioning Himself at that time as judge; He did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. (Jn 3:17) His mission was not to enforce Torah, but to fulfill it and its redemptive promises. In that particular circumstance and context it was fitting for Christ to decline to condemn her. In doing this, He did not say it would have been inappropriate to do so, however, it would indeed have positioned Him against Rome in a way that was contrary to His mission. Yet it is important to note that Christ never did say that Torah was inappropriate, that it is not God’s eternal, holy standard, or that it is not ideal in principle for all people and for all time.

      In my opinion, the story itself, particularly Christ’s response, is absolutely brilliant, evidence the passage is not spurious, but divinely inspired.

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