In “Would Jesus stone a misbehaving child?” I argued that he wouldn’t. One of my readers, Jeff, responded as follows:
“Jesus affirms in Mark 7:10 the practice of stoning rebellious children, and we don’t have any manuscript evidence (that I’m aware of, at least) that this is an inauthentic addition to Mark.”
Jeff clearly believes that this text supports the conclusion that Jesus would advise the stoning of a child. But is that correct? In order to address this question we can begin by considering the relevant text with Jesus’ words rendered in red:
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Does this text support the conclusion that Jesus would stone, or commend the stoning, of a child? In other words, if a mob brought a young man before Jesus demanding that he should be stoned because he had cursed his father and mother, would Jesus have agreed? Would he pick up the first rock? Would he commend others for doing so?
It seems to me that for those who grant the John 8 pericope canonical authority Jeff’s supposition cannot get off the ground. If Jesus refused to support the killing of a woman caught in adultery, why would one think he would support the killing of a child who cursed his parents?
Of course this begs the question of what one should do with Jesus’ comments in Mark 7:10. So how should we deal with it? In response I’ll make two points. And I’ll set up those two points with an illustration:
Imagine that some teachers at Elm Street Elementary School complain that the vice-principal failed to wear a green tie on St. Patrick’s Day in accord with school tradition. In reply the vice-principal notes that the school policy says any teacher who steals school supplies from the office should be fired. And he notes that the teachers who are complaining about his failure to wear a green tie regularly subvert this policy by claiming that they are merely “borrowing” supplies. Hence, they are acting like hypocrites, subverting the written law while they require fidelity to a demand which is, in fact, no law at all.
The parallel with our present case should be rather obvious. The vice-principal parallels Jesus in that each is concerned primarily not to affirm a particular law or regulation for current observance but rather to point out the hypocrisy in those who fail to observe that law while identifying others follow their non-binding demands. So that’s the first point: the issue is hypocrisy not affirmation of a particular legal statute.
But what about the status of that statute? By referring to it isn’t the speaker thereby appealing to it? The short answer is no. Let’s return to the vice-principal’s situation. While the legal code says teachers who take supplies should be fired, it may be years since that policy has been enforced. And the vice-principal may, in fact believe it ought not be enforced. He may believe it is excessive and unfair. And he may be happy, as such, to leave the status quo. The point is not about endorsing the statute. It is simply about pointing out that the teachers reject it with rationalizing behavior that perpetuates their own selfishness while improperly judging others.
In Jesus’ case there can be little doubt that no child had been stoned for this indiscretion for a very long time. Nor do we have any reason to think Jesus was looking to reestablish this practice. Rather, he simply appeals to the law to illustrate in a stark, vivid manner, the hypocrisy of his critics.