Punishing the Insubordinate Son: How Deut 21:18–21’s Death Penalty Applies to Families Today

Deuteronomy 21:18–21 commands parents to deliver an insubordinate child over to government officials to the penalty of death when his destructive behavior is of a nature that it puts the community’s welfare at stake. How does this old covenant command relate to Christian parents today? This study seeks to provide an answer that grows out of the close, continuing, and complete biblical context and that accounts for the numerous New Testament uses of the law. First, it establishes the original revealed meaning and application of the law, noting also comparable laws in Exodus 21:15, 17, Leviticus 20:9, and Deuteronomy 27:16. Second, it determines the law’s theological significance by noting what it tells about God and his ways, by assessing from texts like Matthew 15:4, 1 Corinthians 5:13, and 1 Timothy 1:9–11 how Christ’s fulfillment of the law impacts it, and by stating in single sentence the love principle behind the law. Third, it summarizes the lasting significance of Deuteronomy 21:18–21 today, clarifying how it justifies not only a local church excommunicating formal members who are unrepentant but also a family relinquishing custody rights to an insubordinate child, thus making him or her a ward of the state. In both settings, God intends the loss as a gift of grace to the community––that others may “hear and fear” (Deut 21:21).

5 thoughts on “Punishing the Insubordinate Son: How Deut 21:18–21’s Death Penalty Applies to Families Today”

  1. Has a clear focus on the law
    Has a clear focus on the law and how that works theologically (so could transfer to the Torah session if need be). Might be a little narrow, hence this rating.

  2. Too narrow/exegetical for our section? Application ≠ theology?
    My (higher) rating is for the quality of the paper, but my notes here are about fit. I, with David, think it’s a bit narrow for our session.

  3. Theological application
    Rather focused but often the reality within a paper. It showcases one approach to moving from ancient law to modern context. It does seek to bring together various legal code expressions, which does highlight inner biblical witness on its way to the new covenant. This seems fitting for our focus this year on Law.


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