Isn't stoning cruel and unusual punishment? Why God command it? (Num 15)


From Numbers 15, Knox Translation:

[quote=“Numbers 15, Knox Translation”]32 It happened once, as the Israelites were passing through the desert that a man was found gathering firewood on the sabbath day. 33 When he was brought before Moses and Aaron and the common assembly of the people, 34 they put him in ward, uncertain what they should do with him. 35 But the Lord said to Moses, His life must pay for it; he must be stoned by the whole multitude, away from the camp. 36 So they took him out and stoned him to death, as the Lord had bidden them.

(My understanding of this passage, contrary to a Seventh Day Adventist declaring God was underscoring how holy the Sabbath was, is that God was underscoring how holy He was, i.e. that mortal sin is a horrendous thing: Reading the chapter in context, it appears to me the point is that he was deliberately disobeying God with full knowledge, rather than that he was merely breaking the Sabbath. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Reading this passage, I found myself thinking of what it would be like today to actually stone someone to death, i.e. throw rocks at them until they die. It seemed extremely taxing on the executioners, especially if they were friends with the person. I was reminded of my earlier study in social psychology: One reason Hitler introduced the gas chambers was that soldiers tasked with lining up prisoners and shooting them point-blank into ditches was too taxing for them: They were having emotional breakdowns, and refusing to do it. The solution was to divide the task into multiple stages, so that no one person felt personal responsibility (one to load them onto trains, one to bring them into the camp, one to bring them into the room, etc.), and to use a remote mechanism so the person feels more removed from the event.

That was simply pointing a barrel at someone and pulling a trigger with the knowledge of what would happen. Now imagine instead of that quick end, throwing a rock at someone again and again and again. Rather than diminishing the feeling of personal responsibility, God is amplifying it several times! It seems several times worse, to the point of appearing absurd and unrealistic: I can only imagine someone stoning someone to death if they were actually fighting, i.e. if the person was brutally angry, wrathful, “in fight mode”, and the assailant “got lucky” with only a few blows – if it was a ‘neutral’ occasion, or a friend, actually stoning someone seems traumatic as described above, if not impossible.

Why would God require people to go through the trauma of stoning someone else, and how could they actually go through with it? Wouldn’t Jesus instead have commanded a faster, non-traumatic, less painful execution? How many rocks would actually have to be thrown?

If you are going to respond with the simplistic idea, “Things and people were way more brutal back then,” this explanation raises additional questions that you must also answer. For example, why God would pick such brutality as a starting point, and why He would want us today to continue reading about it for 2000+ years until He returns.


Trauma or object lesson? Remember for the Israelites things like monotheism, monogamy and the like were actually quite new concepts. They had just come.out of Egypt where polytheism, sexual sin and incest (at least among the nobility) were not frowned on.

Scripture numerous times shows them.backsliding and reverting to.worship of other gods for example. Consider it ultra-tough love (though nothing when compared to the sufferings eternity in hell). Aimed more at bringing home the harsh consequences of sin to those inflicting or witnessing the punishment as anything else.


Lily, I must respond with what you yourself quoted:

Moreover, your answer appears at first to make sense in the context of a Sunday morning Bible study, but it does not actually explain the situation if applied: You have not presented a psychological portrait of the people depicted in the Pentateuch. Why would their knowledge of noble incest render them insensitive to throwing rocks at their neighbor or child until he ceased screaming and bled to death? You haven’t really answered any of my questions.

In fact, you’ve only magnified them, if what you say is true: Not only are they to do something horrific and traumatic, but they are to do so for ideas that are foreign to them! All together, your explanation does not make sense.

(And, actually, if we suppose they were coming from a culture of incest, then stoning someone for it would be that much more difficult! Indeed, as we see today, stoning them for anything at all would be more difficult, since accepting sexual sin leads to being more accepting of essentially all other sin. Likewise, if they were open to the idea of there being other gods, then it would indeed be more difficult to accept that they should do everything this particular one says without exception.)


I’m not suggesting for a moment that people of old were less sensitive to the pain of stoning. I am suggesting that they were possibly less sensitive to the consequences of some sins. So like raw army recruits maybe they did need to be drilled hard and, to an extent, taught first to obey and trust their superiors, and only later, after they earned the privilege, allowed more freedom to think and question.


Well, if thats the case, our society today really needs the same type of ‘tough love’…right?


Isn’t that the rationale behind capital punishment? Possibly if the ancient Israelites had had the US’s gas chambers or lethal injections available to them, God would have nixed the stoning.

Mind you, possibly after milennia of the West being utterly soaked in Judeo-Christian morality there’s less need of 'harsh punishment, a bit like a child who grows up and is old enough to be reasoned with rather than merely sent to the naughty corner or spanked.


In comparison to eternity what is any earthly punishment? Do you remember when you were 5 every time you were in time out and thought your life was ruined?

SO if stoned/stoning at say 35yrs old, How much impact does that have on you in 600 yrs? 2000 yrs? 10000000000 yrs? pfft you’d be all like “I did what when? I forgot about that!”


We only have to consider out Lord’s Passion.



“Ver. 32. Wilderness of Pharan, if this crime were committed soon after the murmuring of the people, or in some other part of the desert. This example tends to show the severity and extent of the former precept. The law had condemned the breaker of the sabbath to be put to death. But Moses consulted the Lord, to know in what manner; or perhaps there were some circumstances attending the offender, which extenuated or enhanced his crime. Some of the Rabbins have unjustly aspersed the character of Salphaad, as if he were the person, because it is said that he died in the desert in his own sin, chap. xxvii. 3. (Calmet) — Those who transgress with full knowledge, deserve to be severely chastised; (Luke xii. 47,) and this is the more necessary, when the law has been lately promulgated, to restrain the insolent. (Haydock) — God generally makes an example of those who first transgress his laws, as he did of our first parents, of Cain, the Sodomites, the worshippers of the golden calf, &c. He punished thus the sacrilege of Nadab, the disobedience of Saul, the lie of Ananias and Saphira. (Cajetan) (Du Hamel”

**We are to KEEP in mind that God can ONLY DO “good things”

Definition of God: God is all good things perfected"**

Qute often in the OT God is seemed as intolerant and unfairly inflicting punishment unsuited fort he crimes:

To which I share:
Isaiah 55: 6-9
[6] Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found: call upon him, while he is near. [7] Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God: for he is bountiful to forgive. [8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. [9] For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts

One must always place the punishment back into the then current conditions and context of the crime verses the punishment.

It this case the crime was by intent a DIRECT challenge to the authority of God Himself as well as that of Moses.

The “40” years in the desert was a time of Faith-formation and Education. In this case the LAW had recently been given and it was essential to the Faith-formation of the nation to understand, graphically, if necessary; that what was shared was a COMMAND, not merely a suggestion.

Was it NOT “better”, for one-man to die, than to RISK the salvation of the entire nation:shrug:

Easter Blessings,


In a small community, if you have a method of execution done by only one person, that one person will be the object of retaliation and will become an outcast. Stoning is a bad way to die, but it spreads the responsibility to all the adult males in the community, while making it difficult to tell which stone from which person did the killing.


“Cruel and unusual punishment” is an expression from the English Bill of Rights 1689. It was not known before then. :slight_smile: In this expression, the word “unusual” was the most important. Quartering remained a punishment for the high treason in England for another 130 years, and no one ever tried to call it “unusual”, although it was definitely quite “cruel”.


Let’s remember that, as Jesus Himself said, God permitted certain things among the Israelites (such as divorce) not because they were good, but because of the “hardness of their hearts”. Perhaps the Chosen People were not yet quite ready for modern humanitarian ideals. :smiley:

Also, given that such instances are relatively rare, we must remember that one of the functions of punishment is deterrence. For a devout Israelite, blasphemy was a capital crime, and a strict sentence would keep others from doing the same.


Before reading and writing was a common thing empathy was at an all time low in the world. I mean think about it. Until a guy was able to sit and read a book showing things he’d never experienced through the eyes of someone else he’d have no idea of that pain. And no idea it was something he could share in. So empathy as a thought was really a bit more basic.

Now we have TV and films so we can actually live other people’s lives in a way no one ever could until lately. So of course for us it’s natural to think of how things affected others. But back then? Not so much.

So the lessons taught at the time were in a way stronger than they’d have to be now. Because the grit of pure survival was a lot closer to the bone. I mean it was a harsher and less relaxed world. So the lessons were harsher and less relaxed in order to have meaning.

Just like breaking a horse means spurs, ropes, and captivity. Just like it seems a brutal thing at first. But after that horse is broken it gets the soft treatment. It gets taken care of and housed and patted down and spoken softly to.

Well that’s the same way with God. First He had to break through to us. Then He could come as Jesus and do some whispering and patting down.

Does that make sense?

Peace ethereality. Thanks for coming here to ask your questions.



If anything I would think it easier to execute by stoning.
No single person is responsible for the death since there are many throwing stones.


Re: empathy, the beginning of empathy in stories was millions of years older than any writing system. And people had to have empathy before it could show up in stories. If anything, primitive oral stories are more likely to give feelings and motivations to animals, plants, and inanimate objects. And oral stories can be very complex and deep.

Prehistoric humans acted like humans.

You might want to take an archeology class or do some living history. There’s nothing like having an artifact right in front of your face and working to make you understand that people from the past are understandable people with real thoughts and feelings and know-how.

Re: breaking a horse, it is inefficient and obsolete. I would point out the Horse Whisperer.


Closer to “all are responsible”… no?


None of the explanations so far have dealt with the problem I’ve raised of the self-trauma apparently involved in stoning someone to death.


I believe it has been.
Your argument was predicated upon one person doing the stoning, the ramped up guilt of the long and drawn out process, and the exhaustion of such a process.

Each has been shown to be mistaken.
Stoning was not a solo act. Many people were involved.
There was no guilt for a single act as many participated.
Also, many participants meant that it was not the arduous task it would be for a single person.


Thanks. That does help clarify, but you make it sound like everyone would throw one rock and it would be over with. The narrative of St. Stephen being stoned seems to contradict this idea. He has time to say stuff while being stoned, people have to take their clothes off and lay them in a pile at Saul’s feet, etc.

Moreover, group stoning doesn’t completely remove feelings of personal responsibility. It still seems like there would be some who would think, “I really, really don’t want to be a part of this,” similar to “conscientious objectors” of war in the 20th century. It seems like such a person might only throw one rock, or try to find a small one to throw, and be upset by seeing a neighbor “really into it” throwing several rocks (more than others), etc.


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