Question about Stoning, etc

First off I admit that I havent read much of the bible at all (i will start this semester). How are we supposed react to some of the laws in leviticus, deuteronomy, etc. when it says that adulterers should be stoned and some people should be put to death for sinning.

here’s a little sam harris video that I was watching that prompted me to ask this question. I wonder for myself and I would like to know how to respond to an unbeliever if I am asked.

I guess these are the kinds of quotes referring to, but I’ve heard more verses that sound a bit harsh

Deuteronomy 20:23

20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you

How are we supposed to take these verses? I admit that Im not very familiar with scripture so my lack of understanding may come from that. I would appreciate any comment.


You do know those Laws were written specifically for Jews, right?

With that said, there is a lesson for lowly Gentiles like you and I. :wink: There is a need to be loyal to the Covenant, whatever that Covenant shall be. When the Jews violated these laws they were made ritually impure, kicked out of the camp, or stoned to death. We can experience a similar event, in a Spiritual Sense (which is far worse), when we commit a venial sin to a mortal sin to renouncing our religion.

Lucky for us we have forgiveness of sins :slight_smile:

We who are members of western culture have internalized those laws and we can thank the extreme penalties for violating them back then for the guilt most people feel for violating them now.

Harris asks the question shouldn’t we expect that if the Bible was truly inspired, that it would be a perfect book that would hold up to any kind of scrutiny throughout all the ages without seeming conflict. He cites stoning as a punishment and slavery as issues. If you look at his argument in a syllogism, it would look something like this:

P1: God is perfection, therefore what He inspires must be perfect and eternal
P2: Since stoning and slavery are seen today as immoral, a perfect God could not have them be moral in one age and immoral in another
Conclusion: Therefore the Bible cannot be inspired by God.

You will note right off that bat that “perfection” in this case is not an absolute standard, but only that standard that suits human beings, in this case, Mr. Harris. He is essentially saying that God can only make something perfect if it suits Mr. Harris’ idea of what perfect is. It does not allow for the possibility that God could actually do something in perfection that would appear imperfect to one of His creations, such as Harris. So Premise #1 is ambiguous in its terms.

Premise #2 assumes that morality has to be eternal without offering any proof that this is so, and simply calling into question moral and ethical behavior Harris doesn’t think passes his own eternal test. The real question is not whether morality is eternal, but does morality reflect reality, for if it does not, it cannot be morality.

If you have the people of one age, say 500 BC, living a different reality than a person in 2010, then you would expect some difference in how they would define morality. To illustrate, how could a person in 500 BC decide the morality of the use of handguns or birth control pills when they didn’t exist in their time? Conversely, it is possible for a group to have a law, and that law appear to be moral, when it is not so in reality. Jesus Himself said this about the Mosaic law concerning divorce, saying that such a law was not just but only tolerated because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. That statement, coming as it did from the lips of our Lord, proves without doubt that our own human perception of laws and their morality is faulty, while His certainly is not. It also demonstrates that human perception of justness, thereby morality, thereby perfection is limited to the lens we can see it through, which is not God’s lens, but man’s. God can do to us just as we might do to children of different ages. We might tolerate a 1-year old making crayon marks on a wall without much by way of penalty, where if a teenager did that, the penalty would be much different. Does that mean there are “two moralities” concerning crayoning a wall? No, it just means in applying morality, we recognize a difference in the capacity to understand and work within the one morality. Some are capable, some are not (yet). And so it is with people in different times and ages and cultures.

Because of the problems with those two premises, I believe his conclusion is all wrong.

How are we supposed react to some of the laws in leviticus, deuteronomy, etc. when it says that adulterers should be stoned and some people should be put to death for sinning.

One way we can react is to recognize, as was already stated, that these laws were given to a specific group of people in a specific time, and were not meant to continue eternally for everyone, everywhere. To illustrate this kind of principle, think of just a couple hundred years ago in America to the “wild west,” and examine the penalty assessed for stealing - in this case, a horse. The penalty was hanging by the neck until dead. But that is not the penalty for stealing a horse today. Why? Did the morality of horse thievery change? No, but the circumstances that relate to the time and surroundings have. If you stole a man’s horse in 1830, you might deprive him of the only means to travel for necessities, to seek help in an emergency, or get out of the way of danger. Today we can use our second automobile, borrow a friend’s, take the bus, or just call 911. It isn’t such an obstacle to see that an action in one time and set of circumstance could be devastating, while not so in another time and circumstance. So it was with the post-Exodus Jewish community. They were a certain people with certain traditions and background living in a certain time where such laws fit and made moral sense. Nothing mandates those same laws must apply today, any more than stealing a horse needs capital punishment.

In the video of the debate you posted the link to, you will notice the rabbi speaks of rabbis of the past grappling with the issues of how to apply these laws. All faiths do that as society evolves. Think about it, would anyone really expect Thomas Aquinas to write about the morality of stem cell research, or to imagine that when stem cell were discovered, that religions would not examine the issue in terms of their faith and beliefs? Or even worse, to conclude that God is imperfect or His word and gospel are deficient because we didn’t receive specifics for all moral issues for all times, penned by the hand of people ranging from 2000 years to 3500 hundred years ago? That just doesn’t seem practical or sensible.

DOshea your comment makes alot of sense. The part that hit home the most is the example about hanging horse thieves back in the wild west.

So the moral law hasn’t changed, but the punishments for those laws have? Should we recognize that it is still sinful to commit adultery, steal, etc., but shouldn’t deliver the same punishments?

Thanks for your response, any other comments would be much appreciated!

I recently heard Dr. Peter Kreeft refer to this issue in a discussion with Sam Harris. Dr. Kreeft said something like " the idea of progressive revelation seems to answer that. The idea that God gave his people what they could swallow and gave them more when they where ready for more"

Can anyone refer me to some good articles or websites on this subject? Is there a specific term for this issue like “progressive revelation” that I could research? If you know of any authors that address this issue I would appreciate it if you could refer me to them.

That’s a good example of what the Lord said"Render to Ceaser" As the laws change then we obey those laws unless they are against God him self. Think about this.

Anybody else?

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