On the Scandal of New Testament Evangelism: Thoughts on Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Paul confirmed that Jesus was a reproach to Jews. Preaching Christ became scandalous to those who based their right relationship with God by seeking to live under the stipulations of the Old Covenant. In Romans 9, Paul highlighted this fact by grafting two Isaiah passages related to the ministry of the Messiah, Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 respectively:

“As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, ‘And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” Romans 9:33.

The Greek word behind this use of “offense” is the noun “scandal” [τὸ σκάνδαλον]. This noun is found 15 times in the New Testament. The verb “scandalize” [σκανδαλίζω] is used 30 times in the New Testament. As in the case of Romans 9, not all uses of these words are as a deterrent to sinful behavior.

Often, however, the verb “scandalize” is used in warning against scandalizing someone else:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin [σκανδαλίζω], it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck.” Matthew 18:6.

On the other hand, some of the New Testament uses of “scandal” relate to evangelizing. Within these verses dwells the idea that there is a scandalous element to New Testament evangelism. Here are a few examples illustrating this idea:

“And blessed is he who is not offended [σκανδαλίζω] because of Me.” Matthew 11:6.

“So they were offended [σκανδαλίζω] at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’” Matthew 13:57.

“Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended [σκανδαλίζω] when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:12.

With this context in mind, this article will consider the role of Deuteronomy 13 in providing a precedent for the Jewish rejection of New Testament evangelism.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

When Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, the actions of Saul and the others were sanctioned in Deuteronomy 13. In fact, had they not stoned Stephen to death, according to their doctrinal presuppositions, they would have disobeyed the direct command of Deuteronomy 13:6-11. Therefore, after this deadly deed was done, raging against Christians, Saul of Tarsus could congratulate himself that he was acting righteously according to the Law of Moses.

Here is the Deuteronomy passage in question:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.” Deuteronomy 13:6-11.

Consider that, if anyone was to come teaching or preaching, either publicly or privately, discussing another form of religion, other than society’s generally held interpretation, that person was to be put to death. A religion-state relationship was key to applying the death penalty here. Again, if anyone did not adhere to the prevailing belief system (by which Deuteronomy 13 was interpreted), then that person, regardless of kin or kinship, was to be put to death. There was to be no pity for that person. He was not to be concealed or spared. That person was to die publicly. And his death would be a warning to “all Israel” that they might “hear and fear.”

Herein, God gave the appearance of requiring absolute submission without any individual “freedom of conscience.” There were only two possible views: conformity and non-conformity. For proselytizing non-conformity, there was only one penalty, the death penalty. The purpose for the public stoning was explained, to instill terror in the rest of the people. There was to be in Israel no dissident believers, no pluriform faith or multiform practice. Deuteronomy 13 appears to condone a type of “Reign of Terror.”

Questioning Jesus

In like manner, persons filling the role of “Thought Police” followed Jesus around, picking up stones whenever they determined that He had crossed the bounds of religious propriety:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” John 8:58-59.

“‘I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. John 10:30-31.

The Jews, in this case, were doing nothing more-or-less than what Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 13. They were initiating the same response to what they thought was false teaching that was later initiated by Saul of Tarsus against Stephen in Acts 7.

In fact, if a reader of any of the Gospel accounts begins by reading Deuteronomy 13, the response of the Jews becomes more understandable, as does Jesus’ revelation of Himself. In fact, the actions of the Jews so clearly presumed the precedent of Deuteronomy 13, that they allowed Jesus to fulfill God’s purpose by this biblical antecedent.

The actions of the Jews against Jesus should then lead the reader of the Book of John to ask himself, “Was Jesus truly telling the people to abandon the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” Or again, “Was Jesus truly ‘the Prophet’ foretold by Moses who would explain the fullness of God’s redemptive plan to the people?”

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’” Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Christians believe that Jesus was the Prophet foretold by Moses—which affirmation continues to be a point of contention between Christianity and Judaism to this very day. The attentive reader of the four Gospels must consider if Jesus fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies regarding His appearing. Deuteronomy 13 led the Jews to question Jesus. And because of their negative response, Jesus became for them “a stumbling stone and rock of offense.”

Saul’s Predicament

When Saul of Tarsus placed His trust in Jesus as His Lord and Savior, and later had his name changed to Paul, he was forced to wrestle with the message of Jesus as a scandalous message. He explained this scandal in the context of describing his difficulties with the Judaizing Christians in Galatians 5:

“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense [τὸ σκάνδαλον] of the cross has ceased.” Galatians 5:11.

It was because of Paul’s preaching the cross of Jesus that he was persecuted by the Jews. Paul pinpointed the reason for his persecution as not merely the person of Jesus, but His death on the cross—the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world!

In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul expanded the reason for persecution to include the “Greeks”—or non-Jews. For their part, the Greeks regarded the preaching of the cross as utter foolishness:

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.

One of the most confusing aspects of evangelism for a new believer is to realize that the preaching of the cross is a scandal. The new Christian needs to face rejection and persecution for the sake of the gospel. The gospel which was so easily received by the him is not so easily received by those travelling on the wide road to destruction.

Paul explained his unrealistic optimism related to his Jewish friends’ reception of the gospel in Jerusalem. As he shared in his testimony before his Jerusalem acquaintances in Acts 22, Paul explained his inexperienced confidence:

“‘Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” Acts 22:17-22.

The newly saved Paul had a level of naiveté related to the spiritual receptivity of his Jerusalem friends. He thought that their eyes would be open to the gospel, just as his eyes had been. Not so. By evangelism, we enter the saving work of God. We can never know God’s saving purposes for another person. We dare not try to presume upon God or force God’s hand in this matter.

Deuteronomy 13 and Evangelism

Back to Deuteronomy 13. In this rich passage, we read about the proselytizing efforts of a false teacher. The need for individual discernment was taught by Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. More than anything, the discerning lover of God ought never, for any reason, desert his Master to follow after “other gods.”

Then comes the passage cited above, Deuteronomy 13:6-11. This second passage acts as a synonymous or synthetic parallel to the former passage. However, there are key differences between the two. In the second passage, verbs are used to describe the telling of the message, the hearing of the message, and the reception of the message. As it turns out, similar verbs are used to describe evangelism in the New Testament:

  • 6, παρακαλέω [to urge], used of NT evangelism in Luke 3:18; 2 Cor 5:20; and 2 Tim 4:2.
  • 6, λάθρᾳ [secretly], not used to describe NT evangelism, although Paul was secretly lowered out of window to escape arrest in Damascus, as recorded in 2 Cor 11:32-33.
  • 6, βαδίζω [follow after], using other words, Jesus often said to potential disciples, “Follow Me.”

Of the fact that Jesus was accused of setting Himself up as “another god,” we have discussed above the ongoing scandal of following Jesus to Judaism.

Here, by transference, it is clear that any country to which any Christian missionary goes will already have its entrenched religious practices. As in Deuteronomy 13:6, their belief systems are culturally accepted, and are already part of the pattern of religious observance from their “fathers.”

Therefore, when a missionary or evangelist arrives to preach Jesus, expecting that a few will hear and receive the gospel, while the rest are hardened, he sets up the scenario as explained in Deuteronomy 13:6.

For the follower of the Old Covenant, God through Moses explained in great detail the gods that they were not to follow. The people of Israel were not to follow the gods of the people around them, nor were they to follow the gods of those far from them. They were not to follow after any other gods from any part of the earth, from one end to the other.

Then, in verse 8-10, God explained the judicial response to a preacher of apostasy. He was not to be received nor heard. Rather he was to be stoned with stones until he died. Interestingly, the two verbs used in the negative are the exact response desired by the preacher of the gospel:

  • 8, οὐ συνθέλω [not consent]; its opposite—to consent;
  • 8, οὐ εἰσακούω [not listen]; its opposite—to listen.

Consider the second verb, the verb listening. One of the clearest passages describing the interrelationship of God and man in personal evangelism is found in Acts 16:13-14:

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening [ἀκούω]; and the Lord opened [διανοίγω] her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:13-14 (NAS).

Lydia was listening [ἀκούω]. The first prerequisite for evangelism is that the person with whom we are seeking to share the gospel must listen or hear us out. Consider that, as it relates to the false prophet depicted in Deuteronomy 13, obedient Jews were not to listen.

Following the order of verbs in Acts 16:14, after a hearing of the gospel, God must then act on the heart of the person. It is God who then opens [διανοίγω] the heart. Lydia’s commitment to Jesus was confirmed by her and her household being baptized (Acts 16:15).

Like “consent,” the New Testament used the verb “believe” to depict a positive response to the gospel. For example, Paul had the following dialogue with the Philippian jailer at the end of Acts 16:

“And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” Acts 16:30.

Correspondingly, in Deuteronomy 13, Moses told the people of Israel that they should not have agreement [συνθέλω] with false teaching or false teachers. They were not to consent to or agree with their teaching.

Again, in various places in Acts, the clear response to the gospel was that of consent, belief, or persuasion:

“And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” Acts 17:4-5.

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Acts 17:32-34.

“And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” Acts 28:24.

Therefore, in the New Testament, the response to the gospel was exactly how Moses told the people of Israel not to respond to false teachers and false teaching.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 13 provides an inverse blueprint for New Testament evangelism, set in the context of warning against false teachers and false teaching. The same verbs are used for the method of proclamation, and similar verbs are used as to its reception. Jesus and Stephen were both accused of false teaching based on this and other passages. These parallels are too remarkable to be mere coincidence.

Lessons from the Scandal of Evangelism

What lessons can be applied from this study?

First, Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies. His approach was far different from the “Reign of Terror” that appears to be taught in Deuteronomy 13.

Second, Jesus did not teach from a state-church presumption, whereby all persons were to be forced to follow the prescribed teaching of one sect. Rather, Jesus taught freedom of conscience, whereby individuals have the opportunity to hear and weigh the truth for themselves.

Third, Jesus taught that His followers should be “on their guard” and “take heed” against false teachers. They were not to deed their freedom of conscience to any other authority. By contrast, some followers of Christ deed their conscience to a Bishop or Archbishop of some locality. Jesus, however, taught soul competency and freedom of conscience.

Fourth, Jesus prepared His followers that they would be hated by family members due to the gospel. In His missional sermon in Matthew 10, Jesus was very clear to state that brothers would betray brothers and fathers their children and children their parents (Matt 10:21). These betrayals of kin and kindred were also taught in Deuteronomy 13:6.

Fifth, Jesus regularly taught that persecution and even the death penalty would be applied to Christians for evangelism. He taught that His followers should rejoice in the midst of persecution for His name, Matthew 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23. He taught that His disciples would be hated by all men, Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 15:18, 20; 16:1-2.

Yes, God drew some clear lines of demarcation between the Old Testament and the New Testament in certain areas. The area of evangelism manifests several of these differentiations. Followers of Jesus are advised to consider both areas of agreement between the two testaments, as well as those areas of transition and change brought on by New Testament teaching.

Is it not a grave danger for a follower of Jesus attempt to remove the reproach of the cross? Is it not dangerous for Christians to think that they can evade the scandal of evangelism? Is it not preferable, in light of Deuteronomy 13, to agree with the Apostle Paul’s assessment of God’s ways?

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33.

Jesus remains a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the Jewish mind. The cross remains foolishness to the Greek mind. And yet, in this antagonistic context, the preaching of the cross remains the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18.

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