Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Biblical Stoning: "Barbarism," or Righteous Punishment?

Public stoning contrasts with the genocidal state that would
commit private executions behind closed doors or in far
away concentration camps. Need we look further than the
private twentieth-century genocides?

by Steve C. Halbrook
(Excerpt from Chapter 23 of God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws)

Stoning (as a punishment by the state for crimes worthy of death) is an act almost universally despised today.  Gary North writes:    

What we find in our day is that Christians despise biblical law almost as much as secular humanists do. … The very idea of execution by public stoning embarrasses Christians, despite the fact that public stoning is by far the most covenantally valid form of execution, for God’s law requires the witnesses to cast the first stones, and it also requires representatives of the entire covenantal community to participate directly, rather than hiding the act in a sanitary room in some distant prison.  The Bible is clear:  “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people.  So thou shalt put the evil away from among you” (Deut. 17:7).[1]

While some may misunderstand biblical stoning to be an indiscriminate act of mob violence, Jean Kellaway, in The History of Torture and Execution, says this regarding stoning in ancient Israel:  “There is a danger in viewing historic laws with modern attitudes, heightened by the risk of mistranslation and misinterpretation.  In defense of ancient Israel’s laws, it should be stressed that the courts demanded overwhelming levels of proof before pronouncing the death penalty.”[2] 

The incredulous statement, "You want to
go back to stoning?!" is premised on a silly,
superstitious evolutionary assumption.
Not only this, but capital crimes are offenses against the entire community, since such crimes can bring God’s judgment on it.  Therefore, stoning is a logical method of execution, since it—unlike most other execution methods—is carried out by members of the community. 

Stoning carried out biblically is attacked for being primitive and barbaric. But the argument that such stoning is primitive is based on a humanistic, evolutionary assumption—an assumption implied in the incredulous objection, “You want to go back to stoning?!”  It is an evolutionary assumption in either a moral or technological sense. 

It is an evolutionary assumption in a moral sense in that it assumes man has morally evolved to the point that the death penalty is now immoral—especially in such painful death penalties as stoning.  It is an evolutionary assumption in a technological sense in that in our evolutionary mindset, we tend to relate basic elements such as stones to so-called primitive caveman times.  Only “primates” resort to basic elements when they could instead make use of great technological achievements developed over the course of evolution.  So in the case of capital punishment, methods should conform to technological innovation.

Neither of these assumptions are rational.  The assumption from moral evolution cannot object to stoning in the past, since according to the moral evolutionary philosophy itself, past stonings were moral acts by the standards of natural selection at that point in time.  And the assumption from moral evolution cannot object to stoning in the present, since an always changing, evolutionary law lacks any objective moral basis for judging stoning to be wrong at the present time.  And who’s to say that sometime in the future, stones might be morally okay to use again?  Evolution might reveal that stones were really okay to use all along—we were just not evolved enough in our thoughts to see it.

Regarding the argument from technological evolution, we must ask that, in regards to state-sanctioned executions, why prefer sophisticated technology over basic technology?  Technology has given the state such methods of “efficient” mass killings as gas chambers and nuclear missiles.  It has also given the state brutal methods of killing through the use of biological and chemical weapons, as well as doctors brutal methods of infanticide from within the womb.

We are not without stoning in our day, but
have replaced the biblically prescribed
method of stoning with "technologically
advanced stones" in everything from death
penalties to total warfare.
And, it must be further noted that technology has not replaced stoning, but only given us a different form of it, and on a much wider scale.  While the biblically prescribed method of using natural stones against convicted criminals is no longer used, we now use “technologically advanced stones” in everything from death penalties to total warfare.  Hurling stones with the hand has been replaced by hurling stones (bullets) through the barrel of a rifle, or by hurling boulders (bombs) from cannons and airplanes.  (This, by the way, “shows the madness of our times: we drop nuclear bombs on others, and attack stoning.”[3])

One of the great blessings of biblical law is that it does not hand the state carte blanche over life and death.  This is especially the case with biblical stoning.  When one is convicted in a court of law of a crime punishable by stoning, the public carries out the execution.  (Hence the balance of powers in executions: the state authorizes, the people execute: no pretrial mob violence, no secret state-sanctioned gas chambers and mass graves.)  Mitigating the state’s power to take life mitigates the state’s power to take life arbitrarily; execution by the public reminds the state that its trade isn’t primarily in death, but in justice.  And, stoning carried out by the community deters the state from creating a professional class of bloodthirsty executioners.[4]

Public stoning contrasts with the genocidal state that would commit private executions behind closed doors or in far away concentration camps.  Need we look further than the private twentieth century genocides?  Gulag survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for example, writes of Communist Russia’s custom of “hiding executions in cellars under cover of night and of shooting the victims in the back of the head.”[5]  Former Hitler-youth and German soldier Hilmar von Campe writes that “most Germans did not know of the Holocaust until after the war.”[6]

Stoning also reminds society of the seriousness of state-sanctioned executions.  Unless a society is so depraved that it enjoys watching deaths—at which point it would be on the road to collapse anyway—the public and participatory nature of stoning teaches society to not be indifferent to state-sanctioned deaths.  We need look no further at the human tendency to condone deaths committed out of sight than abortion. 

Stoning people to death was part of the mob
violence during the secular humanistic
French Revolution.
Abortion is easy for many to accept because they cannot see what happens to the unborn child—out of sight, out of mind.  So public stoning can help keep society from easily tolerating unjust capital punishments.  Further, public stoning deters criminal acts.   People—particularly participants in the stoning—see firsthand what could happen to them should they commit a capital crime.

Public stoning has an important sobering effect.  Not only does it remind citizens of the death they could face for committing heinous crimes, but it reminds them of God’s final judgment.  As Gary North writes, “Public stoning forces citizens to face the reality of the ultimate civil sanction, execution, which in turn points to God’s ultimate sanction at judgment day.” [7] 

Every instance of public stoning then reminds unsaved citizens to repent and turn to Christ, else they will suffer an eternal death penalty much worse than stoning.  But not only does public stoning remind citizens of eternal damnation, but of the inevitable victory God’s people will have over evil and death itself, due to Jesus Christ.  Again, North: “Stoning … faithfully images the promised judgment against Satan: the crushing of his head by the promised Seed (Gen. 3:15).”[8]

Because of the public nature of stoning, those sentenced to death are able to address the public prior to their execution.[9]  Thus in cases where the Bible’s strict due process is followed[10] and yet an innocent man is nevertheless stoned to death, that man can publicly proclaim his innocence and even indict those responsible for his unjust death.  The impact such an outcry can have on the community can pressure the state to be very cautious in whom it sentences to death, and can deter future malicious witnesses.

Stoning wasn’t unique to 
Israel.  Humanists who decry stoning sanctioned by biblical law conveniently ignore stoning carried out by other ancient civilizations.  Consider Greece:

The Pharmakoi—persons considered worthless by Greek communities—were kept in Athens and other cities at public expense and used as sacrifices for annual events.  “In Athens one of these was celebrated in the middle of summer, when two men were led out and stoned to death as scapegoats for the wrongs of others.  If one of these Pharmakoi were to be killed, he would first be paraded around the city, in order that he should drain off the impurities of others and take them upon himself; he was then slain in a ceremony in which the whole population took part.”  That was in the city which is hailed above all others as the birthplace of democracy.[11]

This incident, carried out in Athens—the darling of democratic humanists—is democratic humanism taken to its logical conclusion.  These stoning victims did not commit any crimes but the majority nevertheless singled them out as inferior and worthy of death.  This is the logical and inevitable outcome of rejecting God’s will for the will of the people.  Stoning in Athens cannot be compared with stoning in biblical law because Athens sanctioned stoning of the innocent, while biblical law sanctions stoning for those guilty of criminal offenses (as determined by God) proven in a court of law under the testimony of at least two credible witnesses.  Athens was a depraved society on the road to collapse, while the Christian theocracy is sustained by a godly—albeit imperfect—society. 

This "shows the madness of our times: we drop
nuclear bombs on others, and attack stoning."
--Daniel Ritchie
One might think that the real problem of secular humanists with stoning is not stoning itself, but with stoning sanctioned by the Bible.  Strangely, secular humanists appear to have no problem with certain modern-day stoning riots.  And when mobs of Palestinians attack Israel’s military with stones, a “barbaric tactic” becomes “heroic.”  Whether or not Palestinians ever successfully stone a superiorly-armed Israeli soldier to death is beside the point; stoning is stoning.  And do we really think there would be a secular humanist outcry if an Israeli soldier was actually stoned to death?  Perhaps instead they would consider the assailants to be heroes. 

Secular humanists have historically employed stoning; the difference between biblical law and secular humanists is that biblical law only permits lawful stoning, while secular humanists prefer unlawful stoning.  For instance, mob violence in support of the French Revolution included the stoning of people to death.[12]  The early secret police for the Soviet Union, the Cheka, also stoned to death some of their victims.[13]  One tactic by Soviets was to use a piece of rock to dash out the brains of those who survived being shot.[14]

Should an abortion procedure ever be invented that is comparable to stoning—say, if a doctor injects the womb with a lethal chemical that, with a similar velocity to thrown stones, attacks the unborn child from several directions simultaneously until the child dies—would the secular humanist condemn this?  Of course not—he would adamantly defend this procedure as another liberating breakthrough for “womens’ rights.” 

Excerpt from the (Lord willing) upcoming book, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws: Biblical Theocracy, Justice, and Slavery versus Humanistic Theocracy, "Justice," and Slavery by Steve C. Halbrook.  Copyright © 2010 by Steve C. Halbrook.  Based on the master's thesis, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws

     [1] Gary North, Victim’s Rights: The Biblical View of Civil Justice (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), 273.    
     [2] Jean Kellaway, The History of Torture and Execution: From Early Civilization through Medieval Times to the Present (London: Mercury Books, 2003), 17.
     [3] Daniel F.N. Ritchie, e-mail message to author, June 9, 2010.  
     [4] As Gary North puts it, “The Bible does not allow the establishment of a professional, taxpayer-financed guild of faceless executioners who, over time, inevitably either grow callous and impersonal toward their awful (full of awe) task, or else grow sadistic.”  Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), 45.
     [5] Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago:1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Thomas P. Whitney, trans. (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers Inc., 1973, 1974), 300.
     [6] Hilmar von Campe, How Was It Possible? The Story of a Hitler Youth and a Vital Analysis for Today’s Times (Top Executive Media, 2006), 36.
     [7] North, Tools of Dominion, 44.
     [8] Ibid.
     [9] Ibid., 45.
     [10] Conviction can only be on the testimony of 2-3 witnesses, and witnesses themselves are threatened with the same punishment as those they testify against should they be found to bear false witness (Deut. 19:16-19).  Hence those who are false witnesses in a trial where the accused, if found guilty, would be stoned will themselves be stoned if exposed.
     [11] Otto Scott, “The Great Christian Revolution: Part One,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, ed. R.J. Rushdoony, vol. 13, no. 2 (1994): 5.  Scott cites Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 6, 848.
     [12] See Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 130 and Frank McLynn, Napoleon: A Biography (NY: Arcade Publishing, 2002), 56.
     [13]  Sergey Petrovich Melgounov, The Red Terror in Russia (Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc., 1975), 178. 
     [14] Ibid., 78. 

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