Why Don’t Christians Stone People Today?
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
A common question I receive is: Why don’t Christians stone people today?
This is a good question, especially as it relates to the Sabbath. In the Old Covenant, the penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death (Exodus 31:12-17). I have friends who told me that they couldn’t start keeping the Sabbath because they would have to be stoned anytime they broke it. This is poor logic for several reasons – one of which I will address.
Most Christians, regardless of their church background, will agree that adultery is still a sin and out of God’s will. The penalty for this transgression (as well as others like murder) was also death (Ex. 21, Num 35:6-34; Lev. chapters 18 and 20), yet the Old Covenant penalty has not prevented many Christians from avoiding these behaviors.
Now it looks like we have multiple reasons to resolve the issue of why Christians don’t stone people for Sabbath breaking, adultery, or anything else. The answer is as simple as understanding the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
In the Old Covenant, the sacrifices of bulls and goats were made for the sins of the people. These sacrifices were insufficient to cleanse the conscience of the worshiper or to erase the memory of sin. These sacrifices were reminders that the cost of sin was death.
When Jesus died, He instituted the New Covenant with His blood (Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:20; Rom. 11:27; I Cor. 11:25; Hebrews 8:8-12, 10:15-17). Because He is the image of God, He died in our place. He took on our sins and suffered for us. His sacrifice is greater than that of any animal (see Hebrews 10:1-25). Unlike the animals, He only had to be offered once. He died in our place (Romans 5:6-20; I Peter 2:21-24, 3:18).
So there are many reasons we personally do not stone people today, but I will cover three of them: (Author’s note: this article has nothing to do with civil laws and the penalties created by governments for their transgression. I am addressing why the Christian community does not take upon itself the action of stoning others for transgressions of God’s Law.)
1) Jesus already died in our place for our sins, so how could we put someone else to death?
2) When Jesus died and rose from the dead, He was given the keys of death and the grave. Only He and the Father can make such a decision about someone’s physical life. “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and the grave.”
3) When Christ died for us, He purchased all those who would accept Him. He owns us. This is expressed to us in I Corinthians 6:19b-20: “…You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
Because we were bought by Christ, we are His servants/slaves (Romans 6:18; I Peter 2:16). Since we all have the same Master, only He and the Father could the determination about where someone deserves to live or die based upon their life (see Acts 5:1-5). We will have to stand before Them and give account for the things done in the Body (see also Romans 14:9-12, I Peter 1:17). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). He will reward us according to what we have done (Rev. 22:12; Romans 2:6-11).
We have at least one example in the New Testament that shows us how issues like this should be handled.
In I Corinthians chapter 5, we learn about a man who slept with his father’s wife. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: a man has his father’s wife…” (verse 1). According to Leviticus 20:11, the punishment should be death. How did Paul address the situation?
“4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord…11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”
Paul addressed this situation by dis-fellowshiping the guilty individual for a space of time. He also listed several other sins that can result in the same discipline. At the end of the chapter Paul quoted the Old Testament to support this action: ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’
This verse is found several times in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 17:7, 19:19, 21:21, 22:21, 24, 24:7). All these references have to do with someone who is either being stoned or put to death. The overall goal of the punishment was to remove the evil from among the camp.
Paul applied these verses not by putting someone to death, but simply removing the guilty party from fellowship from the congregation. He even expresses his hope that this discipline would still result in the man’s salvation on the Day of the Lord (remember, the Lord will make the final decision about life and death).
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, we learn that he was brought back into the church after he sincerely repented. There are other places in the New Testament where we are instructed to utilize this kind of discipline: (Titus 3:9, Romans 16, I Cor 5, 2 Thess. 3:14-15)
Why don’t we stone people? Jesus died in our place to purchase us; He also rose from the dead. Because He is our Master and has the keys of life and the grave, only He could make such a determination about whether or not a person deserved to live.
While we do not stone people for breaking God’s commandments, we do administer discipline in the church for certain sins (examples given in the New Testament) because they can defile the entire congregation of believers. When a person has genuinely repented, then they can be brought back.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President, www.biblesabbath.org