How could a good God sanction the stoning of a disobedient child?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
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The Mosaic Law included the following provision for dealing with a disobedient son: “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. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 21:19–21). At first blush such language jars modern moral sensibilities. A closer examination, however, turns such moral pretension on its head.

First and foremost, the son in question should not be thought of as an adolescent guilty of nothing more than slamming doors or stubbornly asserting his independence. Rather, the son described above is old enough to be morally culpable of extravagantly wicked behavior that threatens the health and safety of the entire community. As such, the prescribed punishment is not for adolescent decadence, but for adult degeneracy.

Furthermore, the parents’ desire to spare their own son serves as a built–in buffer against an unwarranted or frivolous enforcement of the law. Likewise, ratification by the elders precludes a precipitous judgment on the part of the parents. Thus, the standard of evidence prescribed by the Mosaic Law exceeds that of modern jurisprudence.

Finally, for modern skeptics to claim the moral high ground over the ancient Scriptures is the height of hypocrisy. Rather than the civility of the Mosaic Law, our culture reflects the carnality of Israel’s neighbors who sacrificed their sons and daughters. Indeed, for over three decades Western society has sanctioned the systematic slaughter of children, guilty of nothing more than being unloved.

For further study, see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, (eds.), Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996); on related issues, see Hank Hanegraaff, “TV’s The West Wing vs.The Bible” available through the Christian Research Institute (CRI) at www.equip.org.


“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their wicked ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18:23

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