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Deuteronomy 21:20

20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ NKJV, ©1982

This son deserved death by stoning. I always wondered if he was a child or an adult. Since the verse is not specific, we need to look at it through inference I guess. If the son is rebellious, should we assume that he was living under the roof of his parents? If he was qualified as glutton and drunkard, should we infer he was an adult? (The question focuses on the accountability of minors for their sins.)

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  • Rebellion and drunkness imply practice, and that of evil, which is the scriptural 'knowlegde' of evil. Chidren don't practice evil, adults do. Children occasionally 'wobble,' if you like, as they grow into all 'knowledge.' In Deut 1:39, the 'little ones' included 20 yr olds, who aren't innocent by many standards, but whom God says had 'no knowledge of good or evil'. So this son is an adult.
    – Ted O
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 14:34

5 Answers 5

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Was the son in Deuteronomy 21:20 an adult or a child?

20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ NKJV, ©1982

Beyond the age of a young child, for the scriptures describe him a "glutton" and a "drunkard" (Deut.21:20) “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:15) “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death."(Exodus 21:17)

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (NASB)

18 “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city [a]at the gateway of his hometown. 20 They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear."

Disrespectful.

A group of young boys that mocked the appointed prophet Elisha, cried out, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead! (2 king 2:11) When he looked behind him and saw them,he cursed them in the name of the Lord;

2 Kings 2:23-24 (NASB)

23 "Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number."

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I think we have to assume that the son is an adult who is of age and who has grown beyond his parent’s ability to control. Clearly, he is of an age to be able to lead a life of excess of food and strong drink beyond the influence of his parents.

The Law of Moses was not merely a set of statutes given to regulate worship and religious ceremony. It also served as the foundation of civil government and judicial law. It laid down the standard of right and wrong, blessings and cursings, and prescribed punishment for the violator. The punishment for the violation of any of the first ten commandments (of which “honor your father and mother” was the fifth) was death without mercy. The violation of any of the second five commandments had various consequences depending on the nature of the offense and the status of the offender. The punishments for violating any of the ten commandments were not subject to human manipulation, compromise, substitution, or dismissal. These punishments were delivered from the mind of God and we’re fixed and unalterable.

The sins of this son in our text are multifaceted. Just like the prodigal son, this young man had led a life-style that ran to excess. Because of this, his life was in ruin socially, domestically, and spiritually.

a. He was stubborn and rebellious.

b. He was disobedient to his parents.

c. He refused correction – he would not accept chastisement.

d. He refused guidance – he would not listen to his parents.

e. He was stubborn – self-willed.

f. He was rebellious, which represented a disregard for all kinds of authority.

g. He was a glutton and a drunkard.

This young man was more than just a nuisance, he was a danger to the social and spiritual fabric of the city, and for the welfare of the city and of the nation, this young man was not worthy to live. He must be destroyed. This may seem rather harsh by conventional ways of thinking but, the extreme nature of the penalty is meant to empress upon the mind the seriousness of this type of behavior. Not because society may disapprove, but because God disapproves, and apparently, in a violent way. This his how God sees this type of behavior and we are required to represent it in the same way. It was not to be tolerated.

The behavior of this young man has now become a capital offense. He was to be brought before the elders at the gates of the city (This was the place where judgment was rendered – Lot sat at the gates of the city of Sodom.), of his hometown. It was in his home town where his sins had been made a public display. His home town was also the place that had suffered offense at his hands. Because of his behavior, he became an offense to the entire city. (Notice, it is his father and mother who have delivered him to the judges. They are his accusers. It was their responsibility.)

Once the matter had been thoroughly investigated as the law demanded, and determination of guilt has been established, “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death.” This is of course based on the testimony of at least two witnesses – his father and mother.

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This passage definitely spoke of a teenager who was completely out of control by that point.

I saw another answer claiming that God sees 20-year-olds as "little ones", but this is false. Numbers 14:29-31 is clear that 20 is adult in God's eyes.

Remember, only children are required to obey their parents, as per Ephesians 6:1-4. Adults are not required to obey, and 20-year-olds in the Bible are considered adults. It is ridiculous to see them as children, which unfortunately, our culture sometimes does, as the age limit for many adult rights in the United States is 21 years of age. 21 is very American, but not Biblical.

20 is the coming of age in the Bible (Exodus 30:11-16 and Numbers 1:1-3).As such, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 applies to a teenager who is completely out of control. I am not talking about a teenager who broke his parents' rules; all teens disobey their parents from time to time, and all teens act disrespectfully from time to time.

This is talking about a teen who was absolutely out of control to the point where his parents can no longer rein him in with discipline. There are unfortunately teenagers in our world who are indeed out of control, who do drugs, commit all kinds of sin, and even violently assault their parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is definitely talking about teenagers who are no longer able to be reined in by parents, and thus need to be executed.

This may seem harsh by modern standards, but this was for the protection of society. Many violent criminals started their careers by attacking their parents.

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 2:16
  • There is no such thing as "a teenager" in the Bible. And your argument actually shows it would have to be a son older than 20 years (hence, not a teenager) who remained out of control while in his parent's house in Deut.21:20, while Num.14:29 shows death in the desert due rebels aged 20 and older. Yes, all for the protection of those obeying God.
    – Anne
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 15:25
  • Hi Anne, the term "teenager" does not appear in the Bible (KJB). However, an adult is someone aged 20 years old and over (manhood). Most Christians seem unaware of that. To say that a man aged 20 years and over still has to obey his parents is ludicrous; the Bible also says that women have no right to exercise authority over men (1st Timothy 2:11-15). A man is not subject to parental control.
    – Nathan Qi
    Commented Jan 26 at 17:36
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Deuteronomy 21:18-21 describe how parents should handle their rebellious son. It is seen they brought him to the elders for judgement, that means the parent had been release from their guardianship as a parent, and the son had to take his own accountability. Therefore, what is the age in Jewish custom a man take on their own accountability?

It does not find in Bible explicitly an answer for the age of accountability. But I find in Wikipedia, there is an article regarding Bar mitzvah, literally means "son of commandment/law". The age of thirteen is mentioned in the Mishnah as the time one is obligated to observe the Torah's commandments: "At five years old one should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at 13 for the commandments..."

Apparently, the narrative about young Jesus at His twelve, talking to the teachers in the temple courts (Luke 2:41-52), signified His maturity of understanding the words of God before reaching His adulthood.

Conclusion

Therefore the age of the son in Deuteronomy 21:20 should be above 13 years of age.

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As long as a child (of whatever age) had not left his father's household, he was considered a dependent.

The father was head of the household and so responsible {to YHWH} for the sins of the household. The son was responsible to the father for his own sins (until such time as he left and started his own family)

Yes everyone is responsible for their own sins. The question is - who are they responsible to?

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  • Can you cite some verse to support your claim that in the context of Deuteronomy a dependency relationship absolved adult children from culpability to God? Deuteronomy 24:16 seems to indicate the opposite. It is clear from the narrative of Joseph that the other sons are culpable, and not just to their father Israel for what they did to Joseph, and that Joseph is also culpable for his behavior, despite the fact that they are all under their father's tent.
    – user17080
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 12:19
  • Are you still trying to make children - master's of their own ships? I won't defend the strawman argument you are trying to credit me with since that's your interpretation and not what I argued. I will defend: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land YHWH your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12) and its application (Ephesians 6:1-3). To address this question specifically look at (Deut. 21:18-21)
    – user34445
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 12:45

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