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Question: Why did God allow stoning to death or killing in the Old Testament?

Answer: This is a question, probably, a lot of people have thought about before. As I was thinking about it, I remembered something from my university days. In our psychology class, I remember studying about deterrents. One of the things I learned from these studies was that in order for justice to work well with the population, everyone needed to know what would happen if you broke the law. Another thing is that justice needs to be administered quickly if it is to be effective. This second one alone has kept our justice system from working well in America. It seems like it takes a very long time for justice to be administered.

By the way, capital punishment is in the New Testament for the Church Age. Here is how it is to work in the Church Age. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

“Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:1-4)

The government does have the right of capital punishment, or why else would it say, "for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." Swords are used for killing.

The Bible is not against Christians being soldiers or police officers, which must use lethal force at times. Police officers are in this case, an arm of the government. There were believers in the military in both the Old and New Testaments. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they must do to get right with God, he did not tell them to stop being a soldier. There has to be someone who enforces the law of the land. God is the one who instituted law for governments after the flood. There in the Old Testament, before even the Law was given by Moses God says:

"Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" Genesis 9:5-6.

In this way God keeps evil from taking over. That does not mean that governments always use capital punishment correctly. Governments should strive to punish justly, not allowing the rich to go free and the poor to die because of lack of legal aid. Think about how many crimes have been deterred by laws and justice. When we don’t have swift justice, though, evil grows in a society.

We may think God’s laws in the Old Testament were cruel, but in reality these laws prevented many crimes. For a time in Israel, when they obeyed God’s law like they were commanded, there were hardly any murders, rapes, kidnappings, thefts, etc. When they thought they would be soft on crime and criminals many of the above crimes took place in Israel. So who has the better idea? God, of course, knows what works best. One day Christ will rule the world for a thousand years like it is supposed to be run!

You asked about stoning, though, and so I need to answer that specifically. As harsh as it may seem, using stones to kill someone, there was a practical side to it. Wherever you were, there would always be plenty of rocks. Secondly, to stone someone, it would have to be done in public, and this was part of the instructions. Since stoning was public, and carried out right away after the trial, it worked as a great deterrent.

There is one case where God had told the Jews to keep the Sabbath and a man was found in direct violation of God’s commands. This man was stoned. (Numbers 15:32-36) Another legitimate case in the Old Testament was when Achan stole from Jericho when they had been told full well what would happen if they did. His family was also stoned with him, because they evidently knew about it and didn’t say anything. All the ones in his family involved in the crime must have all been old enough to know what they were doing. (Joshua 7)

Then there are those Jews who wanted to stone Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath, where there was no injunction against such a thing. Steven, the first Christian martyr was stoned, but not according to the Law. The religious leaders tried to get Jesus to stone someone, and He is God, but He would not do it, because they were just as guilty or maybe more so, than she was. Besides Jesus said that He had come the first time to save life, not to destroy it. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

Now, the government today still has the use of capital punishment, but executions should be swift and free from much pain. At the same time it should be public, and carried out as quickly as possible to be a good deterrent. God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice!

Other nations did use cruel means to execute people. The Romans, and other godless nations used torture to kill people whom they deemed deserving. The Romans were the ones who used crucifixion. Stoning seems a lot more human than crucifixion. Stoning seems a lot more human than being roasted alive like the Babylonians used on occasion Jeremiah 29:22, Daniel 3:20.

Other countries used skinning alive or other inhumane methods for capital punishment, such as putting people in with wild lions Daniel 6:8,13. Some used the method of sawing people in half Hebrews 11:37. As hard as this fact seems, in most cases stoning would be rather quick once a person was hit in the head by a rock. This method probably was far more humane than many of these other afore mentioned methods of execution!

Capital punishment was used for 1. Striking or reviling a parent (Exodus 21:15, 17). 2. Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14, 16, 23). 3. Sabbath-breaking (Numbers 15:32-36; Exodus 31:14; 35:2). 4. Witchcraft, and false pretension to prophecy (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 13:5; 18:20. 5. Adultery (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 13:5; 18:20). 6. Unchastely (Deut. 22:21, 23; Lev. 21:9). 7. Rape (Deut. 22:25). 8. Incestuous relations and bestiality (Lev. 20:11, 14, 15; Exodus. 22:19) 9. Kidnap (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7). 10. Idolatry, (Lev. 20:2; Deut. 13:6, 10, 15; 17:2-7). Etc.

Aren’t you glad that we live in the Age of Grace, I am afraid that most of us would have been executed if we lived back then. That is the point of the New Testament, Jesus took our execution for us. Now, if we believe in Him, repent of our sins and trust Him to save us, He does! The Law in the Old Testament was given to show us that we are sinners, and cannot keep the law. God is a holy God and must punish all sin, and He did that through Christ’s death. God loves us, and He wants to save us through His grace.

The Bible says: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…(Romans 3:23,24) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Thanks for the question,

Gary T. Panell

For more information email me.

To view other questions visit our Interactive Bible Study Page or read some of our Christian Literature at Bible-Christian.org

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Key words: God, Bible, law, stoning, death, justice, capital punishment, evil, Old Testament