Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Penalty for Rebellious Children: What Does the Bible Say and What Does it Mean?

* Notes from a study I did on the "stoning of the rebellious son."  

The Penalty for Rebellious Children

1.     Texts: Exodus 21.15, 17; Leviticus 20.9; Deuteronomy 21.18-21

2.     Why this topic?

a.     Understand a piece of God’s law in its original setting—understand God’s Word.

b.     Apologetic issue—it is common to disparage this law as cruel and unbecoming of a good God

“The idea that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is simply astounding, given the contents of the book.  Admittedly, God’s counsel to parents is straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13-14).  If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7).”--Sam Harris[1]

c.      Exhortation to us today—shows the seriousness of sin and the call to holiness.

d.     Look at potential applications to our modern culture.

3.     Some details of the commandments:

a.     Exodus 21.15—physical assault upon one’s mother or father

                                               i.     No age is given for the offender—why do people assume an 8 to 12 year old?

                                              ii.     Implication of the commandment—one is able to assault parents and get away with it. 

·      Otherwise the penalty would be the rod of discipline used by parents (Proverbs 23.13-14)

b.     Exodus 21.17 and Leviticus 20.9—cursing one’s father or mother

                                               i.     “’To curse’ means more than uttering the occasional angry word.  2 Sam. 16:5ff; Job 3:1ff. give some idea of the venom and bitter feelings that cursing could entail.”[2]

                                              ii.     It has been suggested that the nature of this cursing “means something like ‘repudiation,’ and may not involve a spoken ‘curse’ at all.”[3]

                                            iii.     In reference to the phrase, “his blood guiltiness is upon him”:

* “The phrase occurs only in Ezek. 18:13; 33:5 and in this chapter as a coda to several of the laws (vv. 11, 12, 12, 16, 27), apparently in justification of the death penalty in these cases.  It seems to be equivalent to the commoner phrase ‘his blood shall be on his head’ (e.g., Josh. 2:19; 2 Sam. 1:16).  If a man breaks such a law, he does so knowing the consequences, and therefore cannot object to the penalty imposed.”[4]

c.      Deuteronomy 21.18-21—stubborn and rebellious son[5]

                                               i.     “Stubborn and rebellious son” (v. 18)—what does this refer to?

“[T]he kind of behavior that is envisaged in this legislation would be of a very serious nature; whatever the explicit form of that behavior, its implicit threat would be against the security and continuity of the covenant community of God.  As such, it was to be dealt with firmly and severely.”[6]

                                              ii.     “when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them”

1.     This is habitual disobedience.

2.     This is disobedience beyond the cure of family exhortation and discipline (Proverbs 1.8-9; 23.13-14).

“The procedure for dealing with the rebellious son (Deut. 21:18021) explicitly presupposes that internal family action has been taken.  Only because this has failed does the problem then become a matter for public concern and action.”[7]

                                            iii.     “he is a glutton and a drunkard”

1.     “The latter words [glutton and drunkard] do not specify the crime, but indicate, by way of example, the kind of life that has resulted from disobedience to parental authority.  The crime, in other words, is disobedience, but the result of the crime is the dissolution of a proper style of life.[8]

2.     This also shows us something of the age of the son under consideration.  Ten year-old sons are not normally characterized by drunkenness as a by-product of their sinning against mom and dad.

                                            iv.     “bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown.

1.     “Both the father and mother were to take the boy to the elders, whose duty it was to deal with offences against the social order and family rights (19:12).  The elders assembled at the city gate, the usual place for the administration of law (22:15; 25:7; Ru 4:1, 2, 11; Jb 31:21; Ps 127:5; Is. 29:21; Am 5.10, 12, 15).  It is of interest that both parents were required to act in agreement in such a drastic move, which could easily end in the boy’s death.  But the judicial decision was one for the elders, since the offence was more than a family concern.  It was a community offence.”[9]

2.     There are judicial limits on the parents’ rights over children.  There is no right to take the child’s life.  (Closely linked with next point…)

                                              v.     “all the men of his city shall stone him to death”

1.     “If the elders found the man guilty, the sentence was death by stoning.  The parents were not required to participate, perhaps out of a sense of delicacy, although more likely in order to stress the point that the power of life and death over their children was not theirs.”[10]

2.     “Here the allocation of responsibility within the community is made clear.  The parents had a responsibility to prosecute their son for the offense in question; they could not take the law into their own hands, however.  Judgment would then be carried out by the men of the city.”[11]

3.     “In this context Deut. 21:18-21, concerning the rebellious son, has been seen as setting a legal limit on the exercise of paternal power by placing the power of execution of a son in the hands of a court of elders and no longer in the hands of the father—that is, bringing into the realm of civil jurisdiction what may have originally been exclusively a matter of family law.”[12]

4.     The covenantal context of commandment—there may be some unique elements given Israel’s covenantal status as God’s people in the Old Testament.

a.     “In addition, because parents had a key responsibility for teaching their children about God and His law (Deuteronomy 6:6-9), the parents represent the primary channel through which knowledge of and conformity to the divine order is passed on and preserved for the next generation.  An attack on the authority of parents is most grievous because it threatens the most precious heritage of Israel, its knowledge of God, and thereby also threatens possession of the blessings flowing from this knowledge (‘that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,’ Exodus 20:12b).”[13]

b.     “In this light, the various laws which prescribe the death penalty for any form of open disrespect for parental authority can be seen in a new and more positive perspective.  They are not relics of a harsh patria potestas or an arbitrary, authoritarian patriarchy.  They are in fact safeguards of the national well-being.  For violation of parental authority—rejection of the domestic jurisdiction of the head of the household—was a crime against the stability of the nation inasmuch as it was an attack upon that on which the nation’s relationship with God was founded—the household.  It was thus as justly liable to the sanction of capital punishment as the more blatant forms of apostasy or idolatry.  The treatment of the rebellious son in Deut. 21:18-21 shows most clearly how seriously this was taken.  If the circumstances were sufficiently grave, the stability and well-being of the household were to be reckoned of greater importance than the life of one of its members.  The national significance of the situation is reflected in the phrase ‘all Israel will hear of it and be afraid’ (v. 21).”[14]

5.     The commandment as criminal deterrent and protection

a.     “The purpose of the law is to eliminate entirely a criminal element from the nation, a professional criminal class.”[15]

b.     “By law, certain acts are abolished, and the persons committing those acts either executed or brought into conformity to law.  The law thus protects a certain class, the law-abiding, and every law-order is in effect a subsidy to the people of the law.  If the law fails to enforce that protection, it destroys itself in time.  The failure of the law to execute the incorrigible and professional criminal is creating a major social crisis and leading increasingly to anarchy.”[16]

6.     Death penalty as a maximum sentence with potentially other lesser penalties acceptable

a.     Based on the wording of Numbers 35.31, Walter Kaiser and others have argued that the majority of the death penalty offences in the Mosaic law were seen as the maximum allowable punishment.  Other forms of compensation could be offered to cover the offence.

                                               i.     The only capital offence that could not receive a reduced sentence was premeditated murder: Numbers 35.31.

                                              ii.     “It seems most likely that everyone of these cases [death penalty offences] could have a substitute penalty except that of premeditated murder.  Composition (sic—compensation) was explicitly prohibited in the case of murder (Num. 35:31).  Since this crime was singled out and this prohibition was sternly attached to it, we may assume that in all other capital cases, given the proper conditions, some substitution for one’s own life was possible.”[17]

                                            iii.     “In biblical law, the option of ransom in lieu of execution is sometimes explicit (Exod 21:29-30; 1 Kgs 20:39), and arguably is was an option unless explicitly disallowed (Num 35:31).”[18]

7.     The commandment in the New Testament

a.     Matthew 15.1-9 (esp. v. 4); Mark 7.5-13 (esp. v. 10)

b.     Matthew 11.19—Jesus is accused of being a glutton and drunkard (cf. Deuteronomy 21.20)

8.     Application of the commandment

a.     Historical application

                                               i.     “An Abstract of the Laws of New England, As They Are Now Established” by John Cotton (1641)

                                              ii.     “Rebellious children, whether they continue in riot or drunkenness after due correction from their parents, or whether curse or smite their parents, to be put to death. Ex. 21:15, 17. Lev. 20:9.”  Chapter VII, Section 16

b.     Contemporary application

                                               i.     In 2004…[19]

1.     38 states allowed for death penalty

2.     21 of these states allowed for execution of criminals who were 16 years old at the time of their crime (AZ was included)

3.     14 was the youngest age where a defendant could face the death penalty in Arkansas, Utah, and Virginia

                                              ii.     In 2005, the Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons struck down the death penalty for juveniles. 22 defendants had been executed for crimes committed as juveniles since 1976.[20]

                                            iii.     Contemporary examples of “rebellious sons”

1.     Samuel Rudolf Rotondo[21]

·      December 15, 1998: killed an 11-year old girl and injured a 33-year old woman—Rotondo was 26 at time.

·      Drinking alcohol: 11

·      Smoking marijuana: 12

·      Methamphetamines: 15

·      3 stays in prison: violated terms of parole each time after release

2.     William Benton Jr[22]

·      Age: 24

·      Attacked mother by throwing rock at windshield of her car

·      Upset over drugs

3.     Ryan Heisler[23]

·      Age: 20

·      Killed Glendale police officer Bradley Jones

                                                                                                     i.     Went through officer’s pockets for key
                                                                                                    ii.     Stole patrol car

·      18: arrested for breaking and entering and theft

                                                                                                     i.     6 months in jail
                                                                                                    ii.     3 years intensive probation

·      Day he got of jail—assaulted a Mesa woman

                                                                                                     i.     6 months jail
                                                                                                    ii.     Continued 3 years probation

4.     Consider the issue of contemporary gangs—a professional criminal element.

5.     God’s law is gracious.  It provides the mechanism for ridding a community of a criminal element

·      When the criminal element is not taken care of then other people are hurt and die.

     [1] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 8—bold-face added.
     [2] Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (NICOT) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 278.
     [3] John Durham, Exodus (WBC) (Thomas Nelson, 1987), 323.
     [4] Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (NICOT), 279—bold-face added.
     [5] John Durham mentions the work of H. C. Brichto (The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible. JBLMS 13. Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1963, p. 134, n. 41) who speculates that the Deuteronomic law dealing with rebellious and contentious sons who must be stoned to death is “an expansion” of the “terse statement of Exodus 21:17.”  Durham, Exodus (WBC), 323.
     [6] Peter C. Craige, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT), (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1976), 283-284.
     [7] Christopher Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), 77.
     [8] Craige, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT), 284.
     [9] J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1974), 230-231.
     [10] Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, 231.
     [11] Craige, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT), 284.
     [12] Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament, 230-231.
     [13] Vern Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 88-89.
     [14] Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament, 78.
     [15] Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 188.
     [16] Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 191.
     [17] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1983), 298.
     [18] Joe M. Sprinkle, Biblical Law and its Relevance: A Christian Understanding and Ethical Application for Today of the Mosaic Regulations (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2006), 132.
     [19] The Arizona Republic (February 5, 2004), A-1,2.
     [20] Death Penalty Information Center—Fact Sheet (October 15, 2015).  Available online:
     [21] The Arizona Republic (December 17, 1998), A-2.
     [22] Peoria Times (February 1, 2013), A-10.
     [23] The Glendale Star (November 3, 2011), A-1, 10.  Also “Laurie Roberts’ Columns and Blog” in The Arizona Republic (November 1, 2011).