I used to have many intense conversations with a good friend who held positions, both politically and religiously, which were diametrically opposite to my own. This friend considers himself a Christian, so during our discussions I would often quote Scripture in an effort to find points of commonality. However, such attempts were unsuccessful. He would dismiss the use of Scripture by quoting some passage out of Leviticus, noting how ridiculous it was for our current culture. By doing so, his intention was to undermine reliance on Scripture as timelessly authentic truth.
Let’s be honest. There are some passages in the law that do cause us to wonder. Does God really tell us In Leviticus 20:10 to stone adulterers? Given the vast array of Scripture, it is sad that sometimes these are the only verses atheists have memorized. Yet, the thoughtful Christian can take such verses and use them to discuss the difference between law and grace, the need for the law, and the gift of grace offered by Christ.
These are tough discussions to have, but they aptly show God’s redemptive plan. The law was put in place to maintain the identity of the Jewish nation (Leviticus 20:26), but ultimately salvation still came through faith and not by works (Romans 4:13). It was there to convict us of sin (Romans 4:15). The law showed us our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24). It was there so that Jesus would have a context to step into and lead the type of obedient life that no one else could, making Him the perfect sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:21). To try and sum up the entirety of what Jesus did with respect to the law in one sentence, the law had its place, but Jesus brought a new and better covenant (Luke 22:20).
This new and better covenant resulted in Jesus proclaiming forgiveness of sin. God’s just nature was still intact, but His grace was now more fully manifested in a very real and profound way. One place where we can see God’s justness and His mercy collide in full force is in the story of the woman caught in adultery from the eighth chapter of John.
3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It’s a devious trap that the Pharisees laid for Jesus. All grace and no law means that we could do whatever we want with no repercussions. All law and no grace means death by stoning. Somewhere in-between the two lies obedience to Christ and forgiveness when we fail. We still deserve death for disobedience to the law. However, God’s mercy is also at work and allows us the opportunity for forgiveness. So how does this attitude regarding the confluence of law and grace compare to Islam? What is the penalty for adultery in Islam? You guessed it, it is death by stoning. Rather than build on the new covenant brought by Christ, or even just maintaining it, Islam regresses to the Old Testament law. Islam reverts to a strict punishment system for such crimes. As always, rather than taking my word for it, the following Hadith shows Muhammad’s own actions.
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar : The Jew brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from amongst them who have committed (adultery) illegal sexual intercourse. He ordered both of them to be stoned (to death), near the place of offering the funeral prayers beside the mosque.” [i]
In Christianity, the law is there to convict us sin (Romans 7:7), but forgiveness is available to everyone. In Islam, the law is there for civil punishment of wrongdoers. The Islamic law exists outside the realm of grace and mercy.
To be fair, some Muslims will protest that the penalty for adultery as prescribed by Islam is not stoning, but rather one-hundred lashes. Their claim is that those Muslims who execute sentences of stoning are not following true Islam. This assertion deserves its own full article, which will follow soon.