Should Rebellious Sons Be Stoned? Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Some argue that it was wrong for God to command the stoning of rebellious sons in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Learn the solution to this alleged problem.
Bible "contradictions"
Is God good?
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Quick answer

The sons who were to be stoned were sinners, and God has the right to punish sinners with death. Those who say that this seems unnecessarily cruel or unfair do not have a proper view of the seriousness of sin.

The argument

Some argue that it was immoral and unfair for God to command the stoning of rebellious sons. Here is the relevant passage:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 - 18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

The solution

What moral standard are you using?

If you content that it was unfair for God to punish rebellious sons with death, then we must ask, "What moral standard are you using to judge that God was unfair or immoral to do this?"

More than likely, you simply cannot point to any moral standard that judges God to be wrong to do this. And, if you use the Bible's moral standard, then:

  • Your argument fails before it even begins, because it's absurd to assume the Bible to prove the Bible wrong.
  • You are misinterpreting the Bible's moral standard, as we will see below.

God did nothing wrong

The Bible teaches that evil and sin deserve the punishment of death and hell. Rebellious sons have sinned by disobeying their parents. God does not always punish sin with death immediately, but He sometimes does, and He did so in this instance. The boys fully deserved their punishment, and God was not wrong to punish them. He was simply doing what His own moral law demands.

But it seems excessive for such a "minor" sin

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is referring to a "stubborn" son, not a son who has rebelled for the first time, or even the first few times. This is a son who consistently refuses to obey his parents, which is commanded by God in the fifth commandment, and who is "a glutton and a drunkard." This is a son who has committed serious and egregious sin.

If you have an emotional problem with God's command in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, then you need to gain a proper understanding of sin and its seriousness. The Bible teaches that every human is guilty of sin from birth and deserve eternal torment in hell for this sin.

Everyone who has not been saved through faith in Jesus deserves the exact same punishment as what the rebellious sons in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 would receive.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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