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I was about to write my thoughts about the death penalty cited in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 to a newspaper in response to another article that referred to this scripture. I had never read it before and it does seem off base. Maybe you could help me. I’ve looked at sites in the Old Testament but haven’t found any help. Deut 21: 18-21 doesn’t seem right….stubborn and rebellious sons may be put to death by stoning??

Thanks in advance. I would very much appreciate some insight on the imposition of the death penalty for such trivial reasons.





Dear Shelly,

Yes, the scripture you mentioned that cites the death penalty was part of the law of Moses. Those scriptures seem rather strange and exceptionally severe to us, but our societies are vastly different, and different norms are required to ensure acceptable behavior. You must remember that the Israelites had lived as slaves to the Egyptians for 215 years. As slaves they had no rights and were completely and harshly governed by their owners. There was no possibility of exercising individual responsibility for over two centuries. Thus disobedience to moral law had to be shown as intolerable, and so God gave to Moses this harsh law of the death penalty in order to teach the people responsibility and morality.

Now, of a sudden, they are freed from their oppressors and are on their own, isolated in a desert land. We are not talking of just a small tribe of people that would be easy to govern. Josephus tells us that when the Israelites fled from the Egyptians they numbered 600,000 men of age fit for war, and the women and children were not numbered. We must consider that the number of people who were suddenly thrust from slavery to freedom were probably on the order of two million. So you can see why extremely severe measures had to be instituted in order for them to assume moral and civil responsibility. Accordingly, the Lord took the appropriate measures to bring order and civilization to that vast nation. This included the death penalty for numerous infractions of a serious nature.

If you look in Leviticus 20, you will find the death penalty imposed for the following infractions-

-giving one’s children to the fire-god, Molech, to be burned- v 2

-cursing parents- v 9

-adultery- v 10

-incest- v 11, 12

-sodomy- v 13

-fornication with animals- v 15, 16

-witchcraft- v 27







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