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by Wayne Blank
God commanded stoning for violations of The Ten Commandments, any of them:
"And The Lord [see Rock Of Ages] said to Moses ... He who blasphemes the Name of The Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death." (Leviticus 24:13,16 RSV)
By the time of the New Testament, stoning for blasphemy was still a part of Israelite thought (the people of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin that is, the rest of the people of Israel were by then lost to history, and to themselves (as most of them still are) - see When Israel Became "Israel" and "Judah"). The people of Judah (i.e. the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who became knows as "Jews"), like the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, were conquered and sent into exile as a punishment for their unfaithfulness to God (see Why Babylon? and The Galilee Captivity). When The Lord permitted the return of the southern kingdom, the Jews, they vowed to never again bring God's wrath upon themselves because of disobedience to His Law, which was good, but they accomplished that, in their own eyes, by adding all sorts of their own laws and traditions, much of which had nothing to do with the intent of the Law that God actually gave them, and all of the rest of Israel, when they were all still together.
By the time of Jesus Christ, many of those man-made laws and traditions were viewed nearly on the same level as God's actual Law - and it was for this that Jesus rebuked them for worshiping God according to their own traditions:
"Now when the Pharisees gathered together to Him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of His disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?"
Along with the self-righteousness was spiritual blindness; not all Jews recognized the long-awaited Messiah when He came. Instead, they accused Him of blasphemy (which was itself blasphemous), and on at least one occasion attempted to stone Him to death even though, while under Roman rule, they had no lawful authority to do so, as they themselves well knew ("It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (John 18:31 RSV), but ignored:
"Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of Whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known Him; I know Him. If I said, I do not know Him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know Him and I keep His Word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see My day; he saw it and was glad."
This deadly persecution of believing Jews by non-believing Jews continued after the Messiah's crucifixion. In one of the greatest ironies (and one of the most powerful lessons about persecution, and persecutors) of the Bible, among those who stoned Stephen (who is regarded as the first Christian martyr) was a fanatical Christian-hating Pharisee named Saul, a man who, after his conversion On The Road To Damascus, became the apostle Paul, who later wrote much of what is today the New Testament. Paul became one of the greatest Christians the world will ever know, a beacon of light in a religion that he at one time fiercely persecuted and tried to destroy.
The stoning of Stephen:
"But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."
Fact Finder: Was the former Pharisee Saul, by then the Christian apostle Paul, himself stoned and left for dead as a "blasphemer" by the very same kind of people that he himself once was?