Glenn Beck’s The Blaze website is trying its hand at Biblical exegesis, with predictable results. They have an article entitled Fact Check: Does the Bible Really Condone Stoning? The answer, of course, is clearly yes. It does so over and over again. So what else is there to say? Well, there are weak excuses and contradictory explanations to be offered. The first one is “Well sure it does, but Muslims are even worse.”
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, author of “Push Back: Reclaiming Our American Judeo-Christian Spirit,” told TheBlaze that the Bible speaks openly about stoning, however he said that the Judeo-Christian texts differ greatly from “the procedures we see today in Islamic countries.”
Rather than burying people in the group up to their necks and then stoning them for a long period of time in an effort to embarrass them, Spero says that the death penalty described and practiced in Jewish culture was a bit different.
“Any Biblical death penalty procedure had to be accomplished in one instantaneous stroke,” he explained. “For while the death penalty may have been administered, it was not done in a way to prolong agony or suffering, nor in a manner of public humiliation that degraded the human being created in the image of God.”
This in mind, Spero said that there was no humiliation or entertainment value imbued by the stoning process.
First, he offers no evidence for that claim. There is certainly none to be found in the Bible. In fact, it’s the Bible that Muslims turn to for justification for stoning because, like Christians and Jews, they regard the first five books of the Bible as the authentic word of God. But even if this were true, the claim is absurd. There is no such thing as stoning by one “instantaneous stroke” unless one uses a rock the size a basketball and aims well. And of course, even if this claim were true it would come as little comfort to the victim of such barbarism. I doubt that a gay man stoned to death in ancient Israel would be thinking, “Hey, it could be worse. At least they’re not trying to humiliate me.”
The second argument is even worse, and internally contradictory.
Theologian R.P. Nettelhorst added that capital punishment is seen in the Bible for a variety of offenses: Murder, adultery, rape, Sabbath breaking, disobedience to parents, witchcraft, and idolatry. While the codes were similar to other legal constructs in the Ancient Near East, he agreed that there were some notable differences.
“The laws are applied equally to all members of society. There are not different laws for different classes,” he told TheBlaze. “Second, the laws were intended to be proportional. The lex talionis ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ was designed to limit punishments to being no worse than the offense.”
One really has to wonder at the writer — Billy Hallowell in this case, who could write those two paragraphs back to back and manage to bury the cognitive dissonance. Does he seriously mean to argue, indeed could anyone seriously argue, that stoning is “no worse” than the “offense” of homosexuality? Or being an unruly child? Or mowing your lawn on the sabbath? Or adultery? Come on, no one could say that with a straight face, could they? And bear in mind that this would apparently all be okay, being proportional and all, as long as they didn’t bury them up to their neck. It’s perfectly okay to kill a gay person, apparently, as long as you don’t “humiliate” them while you do it.
When it comes to perceived Biblical mandates or issues like stoning, the rabbi noted that it’s important to view the holy book through a specific lens.
“It is our duty to, with reverence and humility, demarcate between that which God intended as eternal and that which was a time-period-necessity later to be eased-out– animal sacrifices, for example,” he continued. “Things regarding human nature and sexual discipline and limitations undoubtedly are eternal, as are the Sabbath and need for holiness.”
Ah, so it’s still okay to kill gay people, since that’s a matter of “sexual discipline.” And those who work on the sabbath, we can stone them too. And none of this strikes them as being the least bit arbitrary, I guess.
Outside of this though, Spero said that certain procedures were never meant to be permanent and were, instead, based on the habits and mindsets of the original society that God spoke to. The culture, thus, had a major impact on how these procedures were implemented and played out.
Isn’t that fascinating? God is apparently limited by the cultural practices of the people he’s giving commands to. Even though, if the Bible is to be believed, God explicitly commands them to stone people to death (unless you think Moses was lying), that was just a cultural leftover. Because apparently God isn’t really omnipotent and he is forced to tell them things that they want to hear. Voila, a magic way out of the undeniable fact that, if the Bible is true, God actually commanded those things.
When I was a Christian and struggling with these very questions, these are exactly the kind of incoherent, unsatisfactory arguments my pastors made. Because in the end, this simply isn’t defensible. There is no coherent excuse for it. It’s barbarism, plain and simple.