A MILLSTONE AROUND THE NECK
~ Alfred Newberry ~
“Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believed in me, it were better for him that millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6
In this passage the Lord indicated that it would be better for one to suffer a terrible form of capital punishment than to be guilty of this sin. The form of capital punishment that he referred to was practiced, according to Barnes, by the Greeks, Syrians, and Romans. The sin he referred to was causing a young Christian to sin. This is a serious sin, and it cannot be taken lightly in the Church. Certainly the Lord is not prescribing the death penalty as punishment for this sin, but rather is showing how wicked this sin really is.
THE METHOD OF EXECUTION
The method of execution was as follows. A millstone was tied around the criminal’s neck with a rope, and he was thrown into the ocean, lake or river, A millstone was a large circular rock which was used to grind wheat and other grain into flour. The stone was turned around a shaft by either a man or by an animal such as an ox. The mills which were turned by animals were, of course, much larger than the human powered models. Barnes says the Greek word used in Matt 18:6 means a large stone from an animal powered grinding mill.
Those who have learned to swim, can easily understand the effect of having a large stone attached to the neck. The head would be pulled straight down with the result being the person would find it impossible to swim. Death by drowning would occur within a few seconds as one struggled in a hysterical fashion to swim to the surface.
We have not discussed this method of execution in detail to horrify anyone, rather to give the reader the kind of understanding of this method of capital punishment that Jesus’ hearers had. These people knew all about this method of execution and so the full weight of Jesus words was heavy on their minds. It is not our purpose to give anyone bad dreams about this form of execution, but our purpose is to ensure that we will not take lightly the serious nature of this sin. This was a terrible form of execution. It was a terrifying experience both for the person being executed and for his friends as they watched him fight the water struggling in vain to come up for air. In addition to this, his body was pulled to the bottom of the sea probably never to be seen again. This added to the intensity of the punishment since the family could not give the executed man a proper burial.
THE “SIN” IS CAUSING A YOUNG CHRISTIAN TO SIN.
The KJV (King James Version) rendering of Matt 18:6 is not properly understood by some people. Many people take this verse to mean “do not hurt the feelings” of a young Christian, but this is not the meaning. The ASV (American Standard Version) says, “whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea”. The NIV (New International Version) says, “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
It is very clear that the sin Jesus describes is any action on the part of a Christian which would aid, encourage, influence, or cause a new Christian to sin. Causing a young Christian to sin is clearly a terrible sin that cannot be taken lightly. This is why Jesus said that a Christian would be better off being executed by the millstone than to be guilty of causing a new member of Christ’s body to sin.