Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why We Don't Kill Non-Virgin Brides

Someone on Facebook recently posted a picture of a person holding a sign that paraphrased Deuteronomy 22:13-21, which basically states that if a woman was found out not to be a virgin on her wedding night, she was to be stoned to death.
A Shot From the Movie The Stoning of Soraya M.
The person was intimating that Christians were hypocritical for following only part of the Bible--and as the Christian-bashing began, the conversation went downhill quickly. It had devolved to pot-shotting at the pope and the Church by the time I came across it, but I thought it would still be helpful to at least provide a little context and clarity, so I wrote the following. If any of my theologian friends have a better understanding, please feel free to comment and help all of us come to a fuller grasp of this topic.


I admit, I once was intimidated by the Old Testament because it was so hard to read. It's still pretty thick (and sometimes confusing), but I've gotten a LOT better at understanding what it says after I learned the context in which much of it is written. Once I knew the context, quotes like this started to make a LOT more sense. Ask yourselves: "Do I know what the book of Deuteronomy is? Who wrote Deuteronomy? What is its purpose?" If you know more about the context of a particular quote, it can help a lot to understand it. It's particularly helpful to understand why this statute is not followed. I'm not an ancient Israel expert, but here's what I have been able to gather:

Deuteronomy (Greek for "second law") was a secondary concession for the misguided people of Israel after Moses saw that they couldn't live up to the law which they were SUPPOSED to follow (see Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). Deuteronomy is like a nicotine patch--it's not necessarily good for the Israelites (because it allowed SOME things that conflicted with the Law), but it started the Israelites on a path away from worse offenses. Just as the patch pumps the body with nicotine (not a particularly healthy substance) to turn the person away from smoking, Deuteronomy was intended to lead them through "lesser evils" to turn away from really bad things toward doing good. Moses knew it wouldn't be enough, but it was kind of like a patch job to keep the people from completely falling away from the life of goodness and truth. Later it was explained through the prophet Ezekiel that "they were given statutes that were not good, and ordinances through which they could not have life" (Ez 20:25). Even so, not every statute in Deuteronomy allowed bad stuff. This particular statute rejects something bad: fornication. The punishment was more severe than today (I'll explain why later), but it was a severe punishment to show how severe the offense was.

Yes, Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law, and that fulfillment brought with it the maturation of the punishments. The early laws contained some extreme punishments because the people of Israel were immature and needed to be taught like children. When you were younger, and your dad needed to discipline you, he gave you a spanking. As you grew up, spankings weren't the punishment anymore. The rules ("law") remained the same, but the punishment matured as you matured--so with Israel. Israel was so immature (and so misguided from their years in Egypt) that they needed extreme punishments to continually reinforce to them that bad things were wrong. St. Paul called it a "pedagogue"--a child's tutor (Gal 3:24). In this case, it says fornication is wrong. Fornication is such a serious offense against God and His covenant of marriage, that it endangers someone's soul. Also, if it is allowed to go unchecked in the community, fornication leads people to think it's okay, thereby cheapening the people's view of the marital act, and leading them to be more permissive about other offenses against God's covenant of marriage. This can lead to a mass of people, numbed to the effect of sin, and constantly drawing themselves further from what is ultimately best for them (union with Goodness itself--being with God in Heaven). Moses wanted the people to know just HOW wrong fornication is, so he set the punishment at death. Today, Catholics and other Christians believe that it's still wrong for anyone to fornicate. It's still a serious sin and endangers someone's soul, but God no longer allows humans to give the punishment. Humanity has matured. Jesus brought with Him the maturation (fulfillment) of the Law. St. Paul continued by saying that "we are no longer under a pedagogue." (Gal 3:25) Yes, it's still wrong to do the bad things, but He has overhauled the punishment. We're mature enough to know how bad it is without people having to be killed for it. The Church also wants to give people the rest of their lives to repent and turn back to the life of goodness and truth.

So, you see, we ARE following all the passages--the way they are SUPPOSED to be followed: same law, mature (fulfilled) punishment.

Anyone can pull a quote of out of the Bible, or out of a politician's mouth, or any book ever written and make it sound how he wants. It's important to know the context to see if that person's quote is being presented correctly. I'm sure you have all been misquoted sometime or another, and I'm sure you would rather have had people know the context of what you were REALLY saying. I hope this helps you get the context of this particular passage.

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