Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Did God Really Say to Stone Our Kids?

  • Dr. Chuck Betters
  • Updated Aug 30, 2019
Did God Really Say to Stone Our Kids?

How can you say all Scripture is divinely inspired when we read passages like the following:

"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, 19his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20They 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." 21Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." Deuteronomy 21:18-21

If I raised my kids according to this Scripture I would be jailed. Please explain how this can be considered truth.

Thank you for your honest inquiry. There are three aspects of Biblical law in the Old Testament. First, there is the moral law of God or what we simply call the Ten Commandments. This law according to both the Old and the New is pure and just. It is that very law, even though it is good, that stands to condemn men in their sins. Yet, even that law is an act of God's grace and mercy in that He has clearly taught us what He requires. But according to Galatians that law was given as a “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24) to bring us to Christ. In other words, sinful man cannot keep the moral law of God. That is why we need a Savior. Christ came to free us from the bondage of the moral law. The moral law of God is still binding.

The second aspect of Biblical law is the ceremonial law of God. Throughout the books of the Pentateuch certain sacrificial laws were formulated to allow sinful man a way in which he could approach a Holy God. The blood of bulls, goats, and all of the other integral parts of the sacrificial system were designed to be types of Who was to come - Jesus Christ. He would shed His blood once and for all. After giving His life there is no more shedding of blood. Read the book of Hebrews in conjunction with both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Plenary inspiration demands we see the Old as fulfilled in the New. If there is no Old there is no New. (For example, Moses is a type of Christ. So are Joseph and David).

The third aspect of Biblical law is the civil law of a nation governed under a theocracy. In that theocracy there existed a demand for purity and holiness. For example, countless passages warn against intermarriage with the non-elect. Samson is a prime example of one who disobeyed and paid the consequences. Children were raised to know, understand, and obey the Law of God. Proverbs 1 through 9 was written for that very purpose. Wisdom and understanding is taught. It is not inherent to our children. They are born with a sinful nature and must be led to Christ.

Allow me to pursue the context. The passage you noted is an application of moral law, specifically the sixth commandment on murder. The entire chapter deals with the second law (that is what the word Deuteronomy means) or specific applications of that sixth commandment. In its context several issues emerge. First, the youth is out of control and is a danger to society. That is evident from the words used to describe his behavior. Second, there is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that this sentence ever had to be carried out. Third, the specific reason for such an insistence upon the protection of society is spelled out in verse 21 … Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. The fear of God is a lost Biblical doctrine. If one wants to know what God thinks of sin, he need look no further than the cross where God turned His back on His only Son in love to redeem a fallen race. God's holiness is so trivialized by today's post-modern church. In our quest for a pacific God we have forgotten what He really thinks of sin. In the words of one author “what ever happened to sin” becomes the key question.

However, the new theocracy is the Body of Christ - the Church. As with moral and ceremonial law the civil law of the Old Testament was designed to point us to Christ and the New Theocracy - the Kingdom of God. I cannot speak for how you raised your children. But I taught mine the law of God tempered by the grace of God. I often pointed them to that very text in Deuteronomy and then to the cross in order to demonstrate for them what grace looks like. One of them (Mark, age 16) has been safely deposited in heaven and the other three are in full time Christian ministry raising my ten grandkids to know, love, and fear God. The sin of children who dishonored their parents in the Old economy was considered a breach of the moral law and like all egregious sin required an excommunication of the offender. In some cases the law demanded death in order to insure the theocracy could not be jeopardized or compromised by egregious sin.

This is critical to your question. The moral law has not been abrogated but the ability to keep it has been given to us through Christ's meritorious death on the cross. However, civil and ceremonial law has been abrogated by the death and resurrection of Christ. So instead of blood-letting to atone for sin, we look to Christ. His death is final. There can be no forgiveness of sin apart from the shedding of blood - but not the blood of goats and lamb. Now we have the unblemished sacrifice of Christ. His death frees us from the burden of the moral law by giving us His Spirit where the law is written on our hearts and not merely on tables of stones.

We do not offer goats and sheep. Nor do we execute egregious offenders because we no longer live under an Old Testament theocracy. We instead point them to the One Who died in their place. So in summary, the civil law (pertaining to which your question arises) of Deuteronomy has been abrogated and fulfilled in Christ. This is not to say the civil law has no bearing on us. Not to be redundant. But the Old is fulfilled in the New. We now live in a spiritual kingdom governed by a spiritual theocracy called the Church over which Christ is the Head. This Kingdom is covenantal in nature. In our reformed tradition we do discipline egregious sin. But it is a spiritual discipline not a blood letting one. We do not kill rebellious kids nor do we hang homosexuals. We point them to Christ. If they will not repent of their offense we place them under the nurturing care of the spiritual leaders (elders) of the church so that they might be led to repentance. I wish I had the time to outline the doctrine of church discipline. But that is not germane.

Although there are elements of theonomy and Reconstructionism within Evangelicalism fighting to revive the Old civil law, most evangelicals denounce it. Just as we believe all Scripture is divinely inspired so I also believe the civil and ceremonial law of Deuteronomy is divinely inspired to point us to our need of a Savior. He would once and for all offer His life to His Father as the way by which man may approach Him. (By the way, there is ample evidence that the passage you referenced is paralleled in Matthew 18:15ff where the rules of scriptural discipline are spelled out).

The implication of your question is that the noted passage is not inspired Scripture and applicable today. I would agree unless you are able to understand these three aspects of Biblical law. What a sentence to be carried out. That is how seriously God takes the moral law. The wages of sin is always death (Romans 3:23). That is why Christ's death is the pinnacle of all of human history. He is the way to God - the only way.

I hope this exegesis helps you to also understand how evangelicals apply certain hermeneutical principles to Biblical passages. I hold to the redemptive approach to the study of Scripture. There are four elements to this - literary (genre of literature such as apocalyptic, historical, wisdom, prophetic, etc.), grammatical (building the context of the verses such as the bookends of the pericope, original language, context, etc.), historical (such as what place is the book in the unfolding drama of redemption history, where is the pericope in the context of the book, etc.), and canonical (where else in the Bible is the same concept explored, etc). This means I first examine the text in its immediate context asking questions concerning its historical, grammatical, and literary roots. Then I look at it in its placement in the redemptive history context. Plenary inspiration demands this. Then I study it in its canonical context, that is, what do other texts in the Bible have to say about the same subject. Then I ask how the text fits God's eternal plan of redemption in the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.

I would suppose you would also have a problem with the many divinely ordered wars in the Old Testament. The danger with this approach is that truth in Scripture becomes arbitrary. Do we agree only with the passages with which we are comfortable? Which pages do you choose to rip out? Truth becomes relative and is left to the traditions and reason of man. I need not remind you that is Catholic doctrine for which a great Reformation was birthed - sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia. I hope this helps in your quest to understand the essence of inerrancy.

For more questions like these or to ask Dr. Betters a question, visit www.markinc.org.