Fun With Deuteronomy, Part 1

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all of the men in his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.” Deuteronomy 21:18-21


Many Christians argue that passages like these in Old Testament books like this one are irrelevant to modern-day Christianity and that, therefore, all arguments made referring to any of them are moot. I say that is a weak excuse to try to cover up the awful stories, advice and traditions that in today’s modern world seem harsh and unappealing. I say it is weak because it is not rational to base your entire life, your entire faith on one book just to then turn around and say that some of it doesn’t matter. If that is the case, then what’s to say that all of it doesn’t matter? And who determined which parts mattered and were relevant and which parts weren’t? I would say the above passage is irrelevant because murder is against the law and many faithful Christians would agree with me. But, there are plenty of passages in Deuteronomy that were declared law but are not considered to be against the law in our “real” world. For example, Deuteronomy 25:13-14 says, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small.” Neither of those things are against the law so why do you carry your cell phone and your iPad in your purse? Why haven’t you sworn off measuring cups in your house? I’ll tell you why: Because it’s STUPID. So, explain to me how the rest of the Bible isn’t stupid. Please. I would LOVE to hear it. And while you are at it, explain to me how one can, in clear conscience, live their life by a book in which they throw out more than half of it, cling to a few parts of it and claim that it is the guidebook to living as a decent human being on this earth?


  1. I am guessing this older child a age of knowing right from wrong was not just disobedient but violently so, a drunkard, and glutton which conveys someone who is violent in all their conduct probably hit his parents and abused his siblings, who would not allow himself to be correct or make any efforts to restraint himself which made such a person a serious danger, he was someone who absolutly had no respect for any authority, so stoning was setting a example, and to rid them of this serious threat, by the way they could of exiled him kicked him out of the society to the nations but he would most likly had been killed by them since hatred for the hebrews was intense and they would of killed him cruely, now I am only speaking in generalities since I am not 100 percent positve this explantion is right. just trying to play victims advocate

    1. That is definitely one way of interpreting the text. I would argue, however, that the actions would not have necessarily needed to be so extreme because, as it states in the first part of the passage, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them […]” it only makes mention of the child (could be teen) disobeying orders from his parents. There is no mention of him needing to be violent or be displaying violent behavior. Only later in the passage does it mention any kind of specific behavior deserving of the consequences and even then, it is presented as what you must tell the elders which may or may not be what is actually the case. I say it may not be the case because there is no mention of it anywhere in the context of the passage, only that you must bring your son to the elders if he is being rebellious and will not heed his parents, regardless of chastening. Also, to be noted, only 2 examples of specific behavior warranting this death sentence are mentioned to the elders: gluttony and drunken-ness. Both of which are incredibly minor offenses (in the grand scheme of possible offenses) and yet that is all you would need to say to these elders for them to accept and carry out the death-by-stoning sentence on your son. I would also argue that this text is indeed about a child/teenager as men are highly revered throughout the Bible and, more specifically, the book of Deuteronomy. I doubt that a grown man would need to be subject to his parents’ orders as he would most likely already have a family of his own by the time he even reached adult-hood.

      1. Remember also that Deuteronomy admonishes children to obey their parents in other places, the ten commandments for one. Children are to obey even bad parents and parents have no particular requirement to be good to their children specifically. The OP interpretation seems best in light of other passages in the same book.

        In the book it is called honoring your parents – today we just call it child abuse.

      2. I did more research on this, it turns out that nations round about the father decided who lived and died, there was no judical way to find out the seriousness of a matter, one example was given if a father didn’t like the child he had especially a daughter he could just bury her alive to kill her without having to have a thrid party group to intercede on the validity of any accusations, very cruel. in deut they were required to bring the child to the elders (hence they could intercede if the child was not as bad as the parents claimed) so Jehovahs way was more just, it is good to remember gluttony and drunkedness is not a minor thing, people who are drunkards tend to be very violent, they use up scarce resources of the family (family were large and required for the farming community)they can impoverish a family.

        a glutton deprives others of enough to eat a glutton is someone who is greedy for food and eating for the sheer joy of it and domination over other, it is not about hunger or satiaty or any of the normal process of living. it is their attitude and unwillingness to change that is the problem, not some flaw they had no control over. they are given the best raising anyone can give the best food, the best teaching, lots of time and attention by the family for hte young ones (today this is becoming rare) given the best of everything and if they become really bad then that is a personality flaw not trama of bad upbringing.

        drunkards tend to be violent, once a man broke into our house he was dead drunk and my mom did what she could to keep him out hitting him with a knife which didn’t phase him, I was trapped upstairs (I was about 5 or 6)and my dog was guarding me barking his head off so I am guessing he might have attacked me had my dog not been there, everone else had fled the house, within about a minute or two the police showed up and got him. turns out he has a history of drunkardness and causing trouble. the police knew him. so a drunkard duet speaks about is someone who is unreformable and will become a problem in the future.

        so it really is a attitude problem that is leading to the behavior that is unacceptable. our attitude is within our control. thus juvinile delinquency was rare. not like today.

  2. I think you bring up some good points, but we have to remember what is at the core of this passage- killing one’s own child. Regardless of how detrimental gluttony and drunken-ness are to one’s family, are they really crimes worthy of death? Most states in our nation don’t even believe that brutally raping and killing someone should be punishable by death, let alone eating everything in one’s household without sharing. To me, it does not matter how rare the case is. The question is, should it be punishable by death and ,if so, should we consider the age of the person and the seriousness of the crime? Modern day law says we should…

  3. America could use some of these laws. We are overrun with rebellious and foul people. And they clutter up the landscape sitting on death row and housed in juvenile detention centers nationwide. One old testament law was, if I recall correctly, if you take someones life yours was required in their place. The world would be a better place if the law had kept that one on the books. People would at least have to think twice before they ran afoul of the law. Just my opinion. Like it or not.

  4. Actually, all societies had ways of getting rid of anti-social members, even if they didn’t always frame it in religious terms. For example, the Inuit of Alaska talked about pushing men who ‘lied, stole… and were always being brought to the elders for reprimands’ off the ice floes. On Pitcairn Island after the mutiny on The Bounty, one of the mutineers started threatening the other men and the women and children, so two other men got him drunk and killed him. So the passage in Deuteronomy isn’t really that different from what other societies did to eliminate people who couldn’t function in regular society.

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