These laws sound rigid and austere in their proclamations, and we cannot say for sure how often this particular punishment was employed. What we can say for sure is that exceptions were allowed, as illustrated by Jesus. He did not demand that the woman caught in adultery be executed but instead disarmed her executioners and urged her to leave her lift of sin (John 8:3-11).
When the biblical authors formally mention stoning in action, they do so to characterize people’s faith, illustrate the power of God’s Word, or indicate that a mob was out of control. In a few cases, the Israelites followed the letter of the law and literally stoned a person to death (Lev 24:23; Num 15:36; Josh 7:25).
In each of these cases, there appears to have been a specific directive from God to apply the ultimate penalty; consequently, when the Israelites stoned the offender, they are characterized as faithful. But the opposite impact on characterization of those stoning someone is shown with Ahab and Jezebel, who used the stoning of Naboth not in the interest of justice but for personal gain (1 Kings 21:8-15; also read the example of Joash in 2 Chron 24:20-21).
The New Testament writers mention stoning to show the power of God’s Word. People had no desire to die, particularly by the painful death associated with being stoned, but those empowered by God’s Word proclaimed their message even in the face of those who wanted to stone them.
Jesus expressed his frustration over Jerusalem because its people had so often stoned the divine messengers sent to it (Matt 23:37); and when he arrived in the city, he too faced the prospect of being stoned by those who found his divine claims to be nothing short of blasphemy (John 8:59; 10:31-33; 11:8). After Jesus’s death on the cross, the Jewish religious leaders tried to quiet those who shared his gospel.
With stones in hand, they muted the voice of Stephen (Acts 7:59). But as Stephen entered heaven, new witnesses arose, like Paul and so many others who were stoned and died or were left for dead (Acts 14:5, 19; 2 Cor 11;25; Heb 11:37). In no instance do we find that the threat of stoning was effective in halting the advance of the gospel.
Finally, there is one more way the biblical authors make use of stoning: to illustrate that a crowd was out of control. In these cases, we are not talking about stoning that came at the close of a Judicial process but instead stoning that resulted from unrestrained mob violence.
Angry, frustrated, disappointed people stood before Moses, Joshua, Caleb, David, and Rehoboam. In each case the mob is characterized by the fact that they were on the verge of stoning these leaders (Exod 17:4; Num 14:10; 1 Sam 30:6; 1 Kings 12:18).