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Sticks and stones will break your bones

Crotch Examined 06

A. Sticks

This well-known bible passage is often criticized for displaying an excessive punishment for a seemingly minor infraction. Rightly so, for what harm did the executed man cause anyone or anything by picking up wood, presumably for a cooking fire or just to keep warm during the cold wilderness nights?

Christian ethics teach that wrath is one of the seven deadly sins, punishable by death, and wrath is described as excessive punishment or anger, disproportionate to the perceived infraction. Clearly the god who ordered the torturous death of this man for picking up sticks falls into that description; unless of course, you could inflate the grievous sin of this simple Israelite.

That is exactly what Christian apologists (i.e. Matt Slick, CARM) propose. The man was not tortured and killed for merely picking up sticks, but for being disobedient. The bible does not mention this and it is therefore mere assumption by the ‘interpreter’. None the less, the apologists assume the authority to add those words to the text and that, ladies and gentlemen, settles the matter. Really?

Imagine that your child would go out to a party on Saturday evening, even though you said it wasn’t allowed to go. Would you assemble a posse, take your child into custody and then stone it to death? Killing your child for this one time disobedience? Agreed, there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries and displaying some tough love… but god’s love exceeds mere ‘toughness’ and could at best be described as stone cold… perhaps not love at all.

B. Stones

A subsequent problem that is never addressed when Christian apologists defend the wrath of god: why is it not okay for one man to pick up some sticks on a Saturday, but perfectly okay for an entire assembly of men to pick up stones (and then stone someone to death)?

A possible objection is that the death sentence was only executed the following day. Since the text does not specifically say so, it is a perfectly possible interpretation. Given the same context of the passage however, it is equally possible that the stoning took place that very day. Whichever is the case, the question remains as to why the entire assembly (number of executioners is not specified) was not stoned to death after stoning the man to death. For god clearly ordered that “anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death” (Leviticus 24: 17). So why did no one stone the members of the assembly to death? It doesn’t appear that anyone did. It looks like the entirety of god’s favorite people disobeyed a clear order from god. And that is precisely the sin that, according to the same apologists justifying the first stoning, deserved the death penalty. You’re damned if you obey god and you’re damned if you don’t. Or simply put: there can be no salvation with god.

Darryl P. Arnaiz, 24 March 2023


Notes: Many Christian ministries indeed claim that the Israelite was not sentenced to death because of the wood gathering by itself, but because of the willful disobedience to god's command to keep the Sabbath holy. Examples thereof can be found on Matt Slick's Christian apologetics and research ministry (CARM),

or similar sites like Reformed Wiki,

and Stack Exchange,

As you can see on above sites, none of them put the passage in context of the rest of the bible, specifically in view of the cited commandment of god to kill anyone who kills a human being. An often heard accusation from Christians when criticizing the omnibenevolence of god, or any other verse of the bible that is problematic or immoral, is that their opponents take the verse out of context. But it seems that sometimes they don't like being given too much context either.

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