Troublesome Topic: What Was the Procedure for Stoning Someone?

Matthew 1:19

Translation

Moreover, her husband, JOSEPH, being a righteous man, but not willing to expose her publicly, purposed to divorce her secretly.

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Paraphrase

But her husband, THE ONE WHO IS INCREASING, being a righteous man, but not willing to expose her to public disgrace, purposed within himself to divorce her without bringing any charges of wrongdoing against her.

The procedure for stoning was this: First the charges of wrongdoing and the evidence of the act were brought before the proper leaders of the community, and the opportunity of giving a defense was also granted. Witnesses were called as well, for the law required two or more witnesses. However, some things were so private as to have no eye witnesses thus other evidence was considered. If the city leaders determined the party was guilty, and if the Law called for the consequence to be stoning, then off they all went to make that happen. It was immediate. There was no jail time involved.

To carry out a stoning they would usually take the guilty party to the edge of a cliff, bind him (or her,) throw him over the cliff and then each one who was making the accusation, and those convinced of his guilt, would get one chance to throw a stone. The stone could be of any size, but only one was allowed per person. If the thrower missed, he missed, no second chance was given. If the person being stoned lived through it, he lived; if he died, he died.

In the case of a bride who was found to not be a virgin, she was stoned in front of her father’s house, with the husband being the one to bring the accusation and cast the first stone, and the community leaders who were convinced by the evidence to be the others who also cast stones upon her. The location was intended to bring great shame to the father for not protecting his daughter properly while under his authority. If she lived, she would stay in her father’s house the rest of her life, living in disgrace, with a very unhappy father whom she had caused to suffer unspeakable shame.

The next lesson is: What Were Joseph’s Options?

Footnotes

1: “divorce her secretly”

In that culture an engagement was serious enough that it required a type of divorce ritual in order to be negated. How could Joseph do this secretly since people knew they were engaged and they could see, or would soon see, that she was pregnant? Besides that, there are no secrets in a small town. What is meant by this statement is that he would not press charges resulting in her being stoned (see full comment below).