Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Stoning of Disobedient Children in the Mosaic Law (Deut. 21:18-21)

As is evident, my blog posts are few and far between these days, largely due simply to life's circumstances. I do, however, find time for interaction with friends and acquaintances on Facebook, occasionally to some profit. Few of these are of a nature that can be easily turned into blog posts. But every once in awhile one ends up readily transferable to this page, and I had one such conversation this past week. The question began with a link to this article, and was followed by a friend bringing up the matter of the supposed stoning of disobedient children under the Mosaic Law, as is often brought up by atheists wanting to refute Holy Scripture. What follows is my response to the question. My response is a bit exploratory, and I will readily admit that I have never heard anyone approach the passage the way I have below. Nonetheless, I do so anyway, but not without some caution, and the awareness that I could be completely wrong.


Well, my reason for pointing to a situation like this isn't necessarily to say whether or not capital punishment is wrong, even capital punishment of disobedient children. The point is to dispel the myths that modernist Muslims tell what "true Islam" is. They claim it is peaceful, meaning that this is something real Muslims don't do, and that people like this are "extremists". But the heaping up of situation after situation like this proves that, if these are extremists, they sure are a common lot. And the Koran would confirm this as well.

The fact, too, that we're talking about Islam, a false religion, is another issue here. It is wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. But for a non-Christian to marry another non-Christian is a matter of indifference to me, and not only to me, to Scripture. The true law of Scripture trumps all its competitors.

Now, does the Old Testament injunction still apply today? This isn't something I've studied in detail, but I'll take a preliminary crack at it. A couple of things are obvious in the passage (Deut. 21:18-21). First, the son (notice it says "son" specifically, not "daughter", or "child") is of some age of discretion. You don't have five year olds that are drunkards. And yet, this son is not fully an adult, because issues of obedience and discipline are in play. So we're talking about an older child or teenager, prior to independence.

Also, this is clearly not a case of one-off disobedience. This is a case of extreme, prolonged rebellion, that manifests itself in many ways, and is societally disruptive. And not only is the result that the son is doing things he shouldn't be doing; he also wouldn't be doing things he is supposed to be doing. He isn't assuming the role in home and society that he is required to assume. He is failing to be productive in an extreme way, and is not only counterproductive, but downright destructive.

Then there is the issue of who carries out the capital punishment. Notice that it isn't carried out by the parents in the home. The situation has to reach the point that the parents (both of them together, not just one of them) are willing to take the child to the elders for judgment. However brief, there is a trial, with the testimony of the parents, and then execution, by the men (women aren't mentioned) of the city.

And how many parents, no matter how bad things got, would be willing to take that step? It would be pretty rare, to say the least. The parent would always be praying for the child's repentance, and only when things had gotten bad beyond imagining would a parent drag their child off to their death - unless, of course, the parents themselves were just extremely wicked, a rarity among God's people. And one would expect the elders of the city, if they were wise and godly men, to be hesitant to carry out the action, without some discussion - which the text does not exclude the possibility of occurring.

All taken into account, the situation here is a far cry from the way the Old Testament is often portrayed, and a far cry from Islam, which is a religion of violence at its heart.

And having considered all of these things, I would make some suggestions of my own about how the text is to be considered (once again, the scholars probably have a better take on this). The larger issue involved isn't one of mere rebellion, but one of maturing and taking one's role as a man and therefore a leader in society. The law doesn't apply to daughters, only sons, and only sons beginning to reach an age in which they are taking on responsibilities and becoming rulers in the family, the church, and the larger community.

The point is heading off future trouble. Every man fails in his own ways. But this is a case of not only a few failures, but behaviour that is all-around destructive. This individual, if allowed to live, will lead people away from the truth of God, and cause unspeakable trouble. He isn't just a well-meaning person who makes a few mistakes; he lives to sin and to destroy people's lives. The fact that leadership is the core issue here is also pointed out by the fact that it is specifically the men of the city who carry out the execution, I would suggest.

Some would seek to take these civil laws and apply them in the New Covenant to the church - the parents in the New Covenant should take the son to the elders of the church, and he will be subject to church discipline. But while I think it should go without saying that that should occur, I don't see Scripture giving any reason to eliminate it from the civil realm today. I don't see the Intrusion Ethic of Meredith Kline as being a legitimate reading of the Mosaic Covenant, and while I can see some adjusting of Old Testament law for the New Covenant situation (Scripture itself does that), Kline's idea that the civil penalties applied to Old Covenant Israel only doesn't hold water with me. I can't say for sure that allowing for capital punishment in this situation today is appropriate, but I would lean that direction.

Like I said, this is just exploratory on my part, and subject to some measure of correction, I don't doubt. But based on this analysis, I would say that it doesn't apply to daughters; it doesn't apply to someone who has just committed one sin, however major (there are other laws for major sins); it isn't an "honor killing", and isn't conducted for vengeance; and is carried out by the civil courts. And Islam is a false religion, so how we approach them is entirely different.

So I see application for today, in a Christian society, in the civil realm. That won't satisfy your atheist friends, of course.

It should be pointed out that the occasion of such an event was to cause all Israel to hear and fear (Deut. 21:21). It was to warn Israel that spiritual declension was in its midst, that it might rectify its ways, and not become what that son was. It typologically pointed to Israel himself as the son of God who was to fail God through such rebellion, and to point to Christ, who was to take the punishment of rebellious son(s).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:50 PM  

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