In this episode, Kurt interviews Dr. Paul Copan on the supposed divine genocide passages from the Old Testament.
Listen to “Episode 11: Did God Command Divine Genocide?” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill. We’ve got a fascinating show today dedicated to the supposed genocide commands in the Old Testament and it’s really become a more popular issue recently due to the rise of the new atheism I think. Richard Dawkins thinks that YHWH is the most unpleasant character in all of fiction and so is it true that YHWH’s just this mean vindictive God? After all, He commands His people to go utterly destroy everything so let me read a couple of passages here to you.
1 Sam. 15. “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey, but Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs and all that was good and would not utterly destroy them.
And then also in Joshua you see this command often.
So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country, and the Negev, and the lowland, the land of the slopes and all of the kings. He left none remaining but devoted to destruction all that breathed just as the Lord God of Israel commanded. That’s Joshua 10:40.
So here you have this difficulty because if YHWH is all loving, why is He telling His people to go to war but really a severe form of war, really genocide, killing women and children. I think that’s really the heart of the issue. Chris. I know we’ve talked a little bit about this. This has been an issue perhaps that is a difficulty for Christians. Have you encountered it in your thinking, your studies at all?
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s something that every Christian wrestles with. I think it is attached to the problem of evil a lot. And then often like you said, opponents of Christianity, this is the first thing they cite. If the God you’re preaching is this God of the Old Testament who seems to be angry and vindictive and petty at first glance and is just a bully, I don’t want anything to do with Him. Having a proper understanding I think is super super important.
Kurt: Yeah. So this is right up in the apologetic alley because if you interact with anybody who’s a non-believer, there’s a good chance you’ve probably heard this. If someone’s a new atheist, especially if they’ve read Dawkins God Delusion, I think that really brought it to the forefront. Okay. So before we get into that though, I’ve just a few points here of business. We’re trying Facebook Live for the first time. Here for Veracity Hill we’ve got that rolling so if you like our page, Veracity Hill, you’ll see it come up likely in your news feed and today we’re just going to be doing sort of the introduction here and we haven’t yet figured out to see if we can input the guests sounds so we’ll be working on that so we’re taking baby steps as I’ve told Chris and we’re gonna figure that out, but today also we’ve got a pre-recorded interview with Dr. Paul Copan on this topic and so for those of you joining us here on Facebook Live, if you want to continue on after we end the livestream there, go ahead to our web site, VeracityHill.com, and you can listen to the rest of the show. Thank you for those that are presently live. I appreciate your support.
Okay. We’ve got this pre-recorded interview. If you have questions though, Chris and I are still going to be taking your questions after the interview so if you want to have your voice heard, feel free to give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Go ahead, give us a call if you’ve got a question or comment. We’ll be taking those after the interview with Dr. Paul Copan. Now you might be asking, who is Paul Copan? He is a professor of philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University and he holds the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics there and he has edited, co-edited, authored, co-authored, something like over 20 or 25 books, just a lot. Some good philosophical work but also some for us not so philosophically minded. He’s written some great popular books. I’ve liked When God Goes To Starbucks: A Guide To Everyday Apologetics. One of the first books I ever read on apologetics was True For You, But Not For Me: Deflating The Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless. It was literally the very first apologetics book I read and it’s on relativism. It really helped me understand what people were saying in high school, that’s when I first read it. So I highly encourage you to get that one. He’s written some other books as well, Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Wisdom, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding To Skeptics That Challenge Your Faith. So he’s really a prolific apologist. He’s a great philosopher as well and so I had the pleasure of interviewing him just yesterday actually. He was able to block some time in his schedule so I’ve decided to capitalize that and recorded the interview.
Again, if you’ve got any questions or comments during the interview, we’ve got the phone lines open so you can go ahead and give us a call and then we’ll be taking those after the interview so I hope if this has been something that’s really been a difficulty for you, maybe you’ve even found yourself doubting the Christian faith because of these passages, we’re going to be taking an interesting and shall I say untraditional approach and what I mean by that is I never heard of this explanation up until just a few years ago of how to better understand the Biblical text in its historical context because we really need to understand the passages of Scripture in their historical context. We need to remember that these Bible verses were not written to us. They were written to a different people from a different time with different values, but the Scripture’s written for us because when they wrote it down they had hope that the writings would continue on and live on so the Biblical text was not written to us, but it was written for us, so with that in mind we need to understand and we need to interpret the text in light of its original intention.
So how then should we understand these difficult passages in the Old Testament? So for this I’m no expert, so that’s why I bring experts on the show so they can handle these difficult questions for us and so I’m gonna play the interview here and I hope you enjoy the show and we’ll catch you after the interview. Also let me say, thank you to the Facebook Live followers. We’re hoping to start doing this so thank you so much. I’ll be catching you another time.
Dr. Copan. Thanks for joining us on the show today and today we’re looking at the supposed divine genocide commands and you’ve written a couple of books here. Is God A Moral Monster? Did God Really Command Genocide? So what is it about a philosopher that is interested in the Old Testament?
Paul: Well I do have a background in Biblical Studies. Both my undergraduate days I majored in Biblical Studies, so in my Master’s level I have a Master’s of Divinity degree so I did Biblical and studies in seminary. So that’s a bit of the background and so hence my interest in these Old Testament matters in particular and it became more pronounced with the event of 9/11 and the aftermath of new atheists who were basically dismissing and trashing the God of the Old Testament as being mean, vindictive, cruel, barbaric, and so forth, and so I just wrote an article in response to some of these charges of the new atheists, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etc., and then that developed into the book Is God A Moral Monster? Beyond that Matthew Flannagan who’s an excellent theologian/philosopher joined me in the second book Did God Really Command Genocide? in which he in particular attacked some of the philosophical issues related to the Divine Command Theory and so that’s a brief sketch of the development of that.
Kurt: Gotcha. I imagine there might be some people wondering why is it that philosophers have got interested in this. Even I’ve come across an article by the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff who’s also, I guess it was a chapter of a book called Reading Joshua so it’s even piqued his interests as well, perhaps for the same reasons that got your interest.
Okay. We’ve got this text her in the Old Testament, I guess we’ve got multiple texts. Right? Multiple passages. I think the main thing that bothers some people, it comes across as repulsive, is the idea of killing everything, wiping it all out, including the women and the children. I think if I had to boil it down to one specific point, I think that’s the issue. For some Christians I guess traditionally, the argument has been “God is the creator of life and He’s also the taker of death and so He can do what He wants and if God wants those people to die, He’s God and we’re not.” Is there merit to this argument and does this view take the best interpretation of the text?
Paul: There are a number of layers that we need to consider here and there are philosophical, Biblical issues at play here, but let me begin to unpack them. Yes. It’s seen as an exception to Israel’s normal warfare code which does distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and we see that in Deuteronomy 20 so this is an unusual situation and the text acknowledges that this is unusual. It’s not as though this is how the Israelites are to engage with all the nations but as they’re engaging with the Canaanites, remember even here it’s not anything ethnic, it’s not anything tribal. It’s simply a matter of the wickedness of people who are engaging in acts that would be considered criminal in any civilized society. Incest, bestiality, ritual prostitution, infant sacrifice. Those were the sorts of things that are on a much different level than those people have tattoos and we don’t or those people eat pork and shrimp and we don’t. A far different consideration here.
That is something to keep in mind. Also we understand this in the context of a group of peoples who have been degrading over a long period of time. When God spoke for example to Abraham around 2000 or 1900 B.C. you have this. It is telling Abraham in Genesis 15:16 that He’s going to wait until the sins of the Amorites, a Canaanite people, would be filled up. So what his this looking like? So this is basically half a millennium before the Israelites would actually come into the land of Canaan and this would include 430 years of Israel’s being in Egypt, including slavery, so this is not something that is precipitous, something that has been just a dramatic new development. No. This is something that has been going on a long time. Furthermore you also have a Canaanite people who are aware of who this God is and what this God did in the land of Egypt. Rahab in Joshua 2 speaks of the awareness that all the Canaanites know and our hearts melted with fear when they heard about what your God did to the Egyptian gods and how you came through the Red Sea, what you did to Sihon and Og and so forth and so you have that. You have also these Canaanite kings in Joshua 5 who know that while this is the God who brought them through the Jordan on dry ground and then in the Gibeonites in chapter 9, they are aware of what God did in Egypt and so forth and even you get to 1 Samuel 4 when the Israelites are battling the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant comes into the camp and the army of the Israelites, then the Philistines are greatly afraid because they said “These are the gods who brought them out of the land of Egypt” and so forth, so there’s a pervasive awareness of who this God is, of what this God has done, not to mention that there’s a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night over the camp of the Israelites so it’s not as though you have a command that is given that is a private revelation to Moses or Joshua and then no one else can really verify this but, okay, we’ll just go ahead and attack the Canaanites anyway. No. It’s much more pervasive and public than that and so you have public signs and wonders that are accompanying this command. The Canaanites have ample warning that this is the God who is greater than the gods of the Egyptians and so forth and there are signs and wonders that go along with this so it is an unusual circumstance, but it’s also accompanied by, one, the signs and wonders. Secondly, there’s a long period of time that has taken place. Thirdly, you have something very strange going on with regard to the language of utterly destroy, leave nothing alive that breathes, and so forth. In Deuteronomy 7 as well as Deuteronomy 20 you have that sort of language, but then you keep reading and you read places where it says “We utterly destroyed them,” and then you find out actually there are a lot of survivors of people who were allegedly wiped out and there they are back at it again. We talk about the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 where they had just attacked and been raiding the Israelites in 1 Samuel 13:48 and then we read in chapter 15 utterly destroy them, man, woman, young and old, etc. and then we read, the narrator’s telling us, not just Saul who tells us this, but the narrator tells us that Saul utterly destroyed the Amalekites, but then we read later on in chapters 27 and 30 that David is fighting against a whole slew of Amalekites, so often within the same book or even in the same chapter or sometimes in the same verse in Joshua, we see that there is on the one hand, language of utter destruction, and then when we see on the other hand, lots of survivors, so that is also another consideration. What does this term utterly destroyed mean and you look at utterly destroy in the Ancient Near East. These terms of utter destruction, leaving them without survivors and so forth, this was staple language in Ancient Near war text where you could have a narrow margin of victory or even a loss and declare that you had utterly destroyed your opponent. It’s something that happened with Ramses II who talked about this battle against Syria at Kadesh and he basically said, the king was alone standing, the Egyptians alone were standing, no one else was around, and you talk about in terms of people and all the nations he’s fighting against. Actually, when you have that kind of language, and then when you see what actually took place, that it wasn’t even a decisive victory at that, you keep on reading and there’s a lot of that kind of language in the Ancient Near East. Moab, for example, King Mesha, he battled against Israel in the 9th century B.C. and he said Israel is no more and actually that was a century premature before the Assyrians actually came in and devastated the northern kingdom of Israel so that’s the sort of thing that you have going on.
You furthermore have another complication of the language of driving out the Canaanites. You have this language of those who are supposed to be driven out. Well, if you’re driving them out, you’re not killing them. You are not literally utterly destroying them.
Kurt: You’re not hunting them down. Yeah.
Paul: So how do we put all these things together? Well I think you have two stages or two phases. On the one hand you have the phase of driving them out and this is the primary command, this is the dominant command, to drive them out. It’s not directed at any way toward genocide. For one thing there is no ethnic hostility here, no tribal hostility, because a lot of these people who are mentioned, the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Hittites, and so forth, these are often included in the people of God. They’re friendly terms. Rahab was a Canaanite. Caleb was the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, one of the peoples mentioned in Genesis 15 when God speaks to Abraham. The Kenites, you have Moses’s father-in-law who is a Kenite. You have Uriah the Hittite and so forth who is one of David’s mighty men and so forth. Again, there’s nothing tribalistic. There’s no real ethnic issue here. It’s more a matter of wickedness and engaging in these sorts of activities and there you have kind of a nuanced understanding of what’s going on. There is no ethnic cleansing at issue here, but you do have the driving out component and that is the dominant command.
On the other hand, if people are entrenched, they don’t want to leave, then they’re going to leave themselves vulnerable. They’re going to be open to attack and so that’s where man, woman, young, old, etc. comes in, but typically when you’re fighting you’re not going to be dealing with wome and children and so forth. They’re the first ones to flee typically. That’s just how battles work. That’s how fighting works. It’s also interesting that even the commands to utterly destroy presuppose that there’s going to be Canaanites around. In Deuteronomy 7 when it says utterly destroy them, leave alone nothing that breathes, show no mercy and so forth, then it goes on to say and once you have defeated them, utterly destroy them. Then it goes on to say “And then don’t make any covenants with them. Don’t intermarry with them. Don’t make these alliances with them.” in Deuteronomy 7. What’s going on here? It seems like there’s kind of a mixture of language of utter destruction and then how to deal with the people in the land. In fact, the more you read, you read in Joshua “We utterly destroyed them”, and then you keep reading and at the end of Joshua, even though the land has had rest from war and so forth, you read at the end of the book that there are many nations that still remain and that need to be driven out. In the next book in Judges 1-2 we see repeatedly they could not drive them out. The Israelites couldn’t drive out the Jebusites or whatever. Even in 1 Kings, it’s kind of interesting, even in Judges 1, you have first of all mentioned that the Jebusites that live in Jerusalem, that the city was burned with fire, that they were utterly destroyed, and then later on you read that the Jebusites are there to this day. So again you’ll have these sorts of tensions and if you take them literally, contradictions, but if you understand the Ancient Near Eastern context where utterly destroyed does not seem to mean literally utterly destroy, it starts to come into focus. Furthermore, something that adds another layer to this is that as you see the Israelites going into the land of Canaan, they’re engaging in what Kenneth Kitchen, the Egyptologist says, is more like disabling raids, that they’re raiding these towns, typically military installations according to the Old Testament scholar Richard Hess, that these towns are more like military installments, places where the religious military leaders are, but generally not for the civilian populations and so they’re going in there, they are disabling them, they’re incapacitating them, but they’re not occupying these towns. They’re going back to their base camp at Gilgal so there’s this interesting kind of a slow gradual process that is also unfolding. It’s not this military blitzkrieg, this sudden incursion into the land and taking over vast swaths of Canaanite territory. No. You have actually more like gradual infiltration, back and forth battling people who are entrenched and not being able to drive them out and so forth. It’s a process that takes a couple of hundred years until the name of YHWH becomes the dominant national deity in that territory so again, this is a long process and it’s interesting too that Joshua we’re told is doing all that Moses commanded. But if that language from Moses in Deuteronomy 7 and 20, utterly destroy, leave alive nothing that breathes, show them no mercy, etc. Well you’ve got Joshua who’s allegedly obeying everything, but yet you have lots of survivors so it seems like the language does not even presuppose utter destruction. You don’t have this annihilation that often comes to the mind of modern readers and I would say that alarm bells go off in our day when we talk about the mention of slavery in the Bible, our minds automatically go to the antebellum slavery in the South, that that is what the Bible means by slavery and I think that that’s just an unfortunate translation of the Old Testament which I’m not going to go into at this point.
Kurt: But there’s cultural differences there. Yeah.
Paul: And translational differences in some ways too so cultural as well as with regard to the term slay, I think you don’t translate with this kind of loaded language. You have to more qualify how you’re translating rather than just kind of throwing it out there and not really qualifying that kind of emotional language of the alarm bells that go off. But anyway, going back to the question, well what about, again we talk about women and children and so forth but let me step in and offer some philosophical reasoning here. We’ve looked at some of the textual issues, but I think that as we wanna really hit this head on, it’s important that we distinguish between certain categories of duties. A lot of people when they look at the Bible and just duties in general, they think, oh they’re all absolute commands, they’re all utterly, unqualified, absolute, no exceptions, sorts of commands, but that’s not exactly how things works. There are absolute duties in Scripture, to worship and to love God. No compromise there. No qualification, etc. Don’t engage in idolatry. Again, these are commands, these are duties that should never be violated, but that is different from other duties which would be more general or philosophers might call them prima facie duties. For example, it’s generally wrong to deceive other people, but it would be permissible in warfare or criminal activity to deceive so for example, you have Rahab or the Hebrew midwives or even God Himself when He tells Samuel when His life might be under threat by Saul when He’s going to anoint a new king, God tells Him if anyone asks you why are you going to Bethlehem, 1 Samuel 16, this is the Lord speaking by the way, “if anyone asks you why you are going to Bethlehem, tell them that you are going there to offer a sacrifice.” So here there’s deception going on, but innocent life is under threat and so deception is permissible and of course we deceive quite often when we leave our lights on when we go out at night and give the impression that someone is home when that’s not the case. But also, I would say that there’s another exception where in general the command “Don’t take innocent human life” would be understood as normative, etc. All things being equal, you don’t do that, but is it possible that there are overriding circumstances in which it would be morally justifiable to take innocent human life? Well, here’s the example. An ectopic pregnancy, that is when a fertilized egg is trapped in the fallopian tube in the mother rather than being implanted in the uterus and if the unborn, the little one, I believe in the sanctity of human life from conception onward, that this is a human life, but it would be morally justifiable to take that life in order to save the life of the mother. Otherwise, both the unborn and the mother would die and so we’re not saying this is a good and pleasant thing. No. We’re saying it’s a tragedy. It’s something that we don’t desire to happen, and we could give another example too. During a terrorist attack and a plan is hijacked by terrorist and the plane is going to be used as a weapon of mass destruction, and a president or prime minister says “Shoot the plane out of the sky.” Well, that would be a morally justifiable action even though it would result in the killing of innocent men, women, and children, on board that plane. Again, tragic. Again, done with great reluctance, but still morally justifiable. So we have on the one hand absolute duties, then we have general duties, but then we have exceptional duties in these cases of supreme emergency when those general duties may be overridden, so it’s not as though morality’s being turned upside down. No. Generally speaking you don’t take innocent human life. Generally speaking, you don’t deceive and so forth, but there may be certain circumstances in which those duties would be overridden and again even the Scriptures themselves suggest that those duties may be overridden, so we’re not talking about God commanding something that is evil, but rather God commanding something that is difficult, but would be in certain instances morally justifiable so if we could talk about innocent life being taken in certain morally justifiable circumstances, how much greater confidence could we have that God who is commanding this has morally justifiable reason for permitting this, and again this is only stage two of the offensive. The primary command is to drive out people which again suggests that people survived. If you’re driving them out of the land, clearing away the land so that the Israelites can receive the gift of the land that God has promised to them, then this is something that you’re not killing people. David was driven out of the presence of Saul. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Again, they weren’t killed. They were just driven out and that’s the predominant command and we ought to focus on that and not lose sight of that so God is not going to command something intrinsically evil. Some people say “Oh, because God is necessarily good and wise, He couldn’t command the killing of the Canaanites.” Well, maybe what we can say is this; For one thing, if a command is intrinsically evil or impossible, God won’t command it, but because God is necessarily good and wise, He would have morally justifiable reason for issuing this command regarding the Canaanites, so again I think some of those philosophical issues can have a bearing, can give a fuller picture of what is going on here in this scenario and to make better sense of this. I know there’s an objection here.
Kurt: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got some follow-ups.
Paul: Maybe if I might just take the liberty, I’m doing a lot of talking. I’m kind of on a roll here. Thanks for putting up with me here, Kurt.
Kurt: Sure. What’s the anticipated objection?
Paul: Some people might say “Well what if a terrorist claims that God told me to blow up a bus full of children?” and that’s often used. What about ISIS today and so forth? Well let’s unpack that a little bit. For one thing, a person sincerely believing that God told Him to do something doesn’t mean that God actually commanded such an act. We read for example in John 16 where Jesus says that people are going to do all sorts of evils in the name of God. That doesn’t mean that God actually told them to do something and so Jesus says in Matthew 7 at the judgment that many will say to me “Lord, didn’t we cast our demons or prophecy or do miracles in your name?” And Jesus will say “Depart from me, I never knew you, you workers of lawlessness”, so yeah, a lot of things can be done in the name of Jesus, in the name of God, by evildoers and it’s not as though this is being endorsed by God at all. Now of course, if an act is commanded by God then one ought to do it, but let’s ask the question “What are the qualifications for this terrorist who says God told Him to blow up a bus full of children?” Well, for one thing, surrounding the commands with regard to the Canaanites, parting the Red Sea, the plagues in Egypt, manna in the wilderness, the pillar of cloud by die and fire by night and so forth, these are public signs that are very evident and that give credence to the claim that God said to drive out the Canaanites, but what does the terrorist have in that regard? Nothing. He doesn’t have those kinds of signs. He just has this allegedly private revelation that God told him to do this or Muhammad who himself had private revelations was commanding these sorts of things, but this is different. We have public signs and wonders here. Furthermore, what are the prophetic credentials that this person has? We look at Moses who spoke to God face to face and these signs and wonders accompanied him and also we see that there is in Matthew 7, that you can know a true prophet by the kind of fruits that come from his life, that you will know them by their fruits, and this is the context of true and false prophets. Well, if a person is going to be a true prophet, there’s going to be a reflection of a good, moral character that is there. If this terrorist is saying “God told me to do this,” but his life is characterized by killing innocent people, by deception, by breaking promises and so forth, well that person doesn’t have the qualifications of a prophet in terms of his own character. His character is to characterize the prophet, so is this person living a morally virtuous life? Is this person engaged in moral virtue? If he’s not, then he’s not going to be morally trustworthy when it comes to “God told me to do this.” What we have in the Scriptures is an exception to what is generally understood and this is seen as only for a specific time to a specific people and it is even not for all of those people. It’s just for those who refuse to repent, those who refuse to engage in those sorts of activities that would be considered criminal acts in a civilized society so we’re dealing with different scenarios here and hopefully some of these things that I’ve unpacked will help us to better see the Biblical nuances as well as the philosophical qualifications and nuances as well as we approach this question.
Kurt: So I’ve got a lot of ground to cover and I’ve been taking notes here. I’ve got some follow-up questions for you. You brought up what if today someone says the same thing. “God told me to do it.” You brought up the fact that this is perhaps just a supposed private revelation but with Israel, we have public revelations. We have signs and wonders. We have prophets and what not. Now you said something about the prophet being credible. Right? Maybe he doesn’t live a morally upstanding lifestyle. Wouldn’t some say the same about the Israelites here? They’re killing women and children and so really they aren’t credible either so we shouldn’t believe them?
Paul: The issue here is is this something that is exceptional or is this standard fare? This is exceptional. For the terrorist it’s standard fare to kill non-combatants and so forth. And again, this goes even beyond just the qualifications of just the really strange language that the Scriptures give where you have on the one hand, utterly destroy language which also presupposes that people are still going to be around and not to make treaties with them or that they’re lots of survivors, but yet we’re told that they’ve been utterly destroyed so there are a lot of layers to unpack here and if you try to in a sense systematize here it’s going to be very confusing if you will and if you want to take these things literally, it’s going to be contradictory, so we need to take a number of different shades of what the Scriptures are talking about to put the picture together, but anyway back to this question of aren’t the Israelites engaging the very thing we are saying? It just calls into question the character of these people. Well think about Joshua. Think about Moses. You think about Moses. There’s such a virtue that he is being portrayed as someone who wants Israel to survive despite their wickedness. That he is showing patience and so forth and God’s saying “Well look, I can wipe them out and start over with you,” and Moses is pleading on behalf of the people, so you see that there is even with Moses who you think would be ready to just have done with them, he is one who is actually intervening on their behalf and wanting God to be understood as faithful to His promises, that the perceptions of the people around hear, “Did God bring them out of the wilderness just to destroy them? He didn’t fulfill the promises” and so forth. No God. You’ve got to bring them through. You’ve got to come through and so forth. There’s this kind of dynamic conversation going between Moses and God and you do see that there is a moral uprightness to Moses. That there is an integrity to Moses and Joshua as well. Again, we’re talking about the general qualifications. That there is a general moral character here, but there may be certain exceptions to the rule.
Kurt: To the norm. Yeah.
Paul: I’m someone who, I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t want to bring harm to anyone, but I would protect and defend my family if there were some sort of a home invasion. I would want to defend lethally if necessary my loved ones who are in my charge from this kind of attack, assault, injury, from death itself. So again, I love peace. I don’t want to get into this sort of a thing, but if I’m called to this sort of thing, I want to step up and do what’s right in that sort of circumstance. So anyway, all that to say is we’re dealing with something that is exceptional. Even in Deuteronomy 20 itself where you have this language of utter destruction and so forth, we also see that this is an exception to the ordinary laws of warfare that are taking place here, that you distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and so forth, that this is something that is an unusual set of circumstances and it’s an unusually wicked people that we’re dealing with here, that they have sunk to this low level that they’re engaging in infant sacrifice and so forth and the time has come for God to bring judgment on them. He has waited over half a millennium for this time. So you have a number of these sorts of qualifications that add moral layers to this whole issue.
Kurt: I want to follow-up with a question about, “Yes, it was very sinful, but doesn’t it seem kind of extreme to command that the Israelites kill the women and the children, but before we follow up on that I want to cover just one point because I get the feeling we’re going to talk more about the hyperbolic language after the break, but before we go to the break, so we have these leftover survivors, right? We have people that are still living there. Wouldn’t it be possible that maybe the Israelites just failed to fulfill God’s command and so even though God did command to kill all the women and the children, but the Israelites didn’t do that so how do we understand that?
Paul: A few things here and again, Matthew Flannagan talk about some of these things, that God desires to show mercy rather than to bring judgment so if people refuse to repent, that’s a last resort. We need to see this as a last resort situation, but it’s not as though it’s closed up from people actually embracing the one true God or leaving the land or repenting from their ways and so forth. That adds another category to this situation that we’re talking about, so I would say when it comes to the whole issue of the Canaanites, just think about in chapter 8 of the book of Joshua. At the end of the book you have these people who are dwelling in the town of Shechem between mount Ebla and Mount Gerazim where Joshua is reading this covenant, the book of Deuteronomy, he’s reading the law and it’s a covenant renewal ceremony but notice that there are these strangers there from the town of Shechem who are listening in, they’re a part of this covenant renewal ceremony? Where did they come from? Very interesting that there is an incorporation of these Canaanites into the people of God, into the reading of the Law and so forth without batting an eye so you have this willingness on the part of God to embrace those who repent, to those who turn and so forth, that God doesn’t desire the death of the wicked. We need to understand that. He would rather see, for example in the book of Ezekiel, God would rather see the Israelites turn from their wicked ways and live and God says “Why will you die O House of Israel?” So we ought to see God as one who is reluctant to judge, that God desires to see salvation. Think of the book of Jonah. Jonah is one who is upset because God has spared the Assyrians, the Ninevites, and he says I knew that this would happen because you’re a God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, something we read out of Exodus 34. But it also says God will not leave the guilty unpunished in that same text so God desires to show mercy. God is willing to relent as Jeremiah 18 says. If there is any nation, He’s not just talking about Israel, it says if that nation against whom God has pronounced judgment turns from its wicked ways then God will relent from the judgment He had threatened against it, so we see that this is part of God’s general dealings with the nations, not just Israel, and this would certainly apply to the Canaanites as well, but the fact that they are hardened. They are resistant many of them, that they are entrenched and really not caring about those signs and wonders that are accompanying the Israelites as they’re coming into the land just shows how hardened and resistant they are and that judgment is coming upon a people who are ripe for it.
Kurt: Okay. This has been great, but we’ve got to take a short break so let’s continue the discussion after this break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us and I’m here with Dr. Paul Copan and today we’re discussing the supposed genocide commands in the Old Testament and I guess issues related to that, to the war that went on, the warfare, the type of warfare that went on, but before we get back to that Dr. Copan, it’s time for a segment of the show that we like to call Rapid Questions and this is a segment in the show where we ask short lighthearted question and want fast responses. So, are you ready?
Kurt: Okay. Here we go.
Kurt: What film did you see last?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Paul: Taco Bell
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What’s your #1 pet peeve?
Paul: I don’t think I have one.
Kurt: Alright. Morning or night person?
Kurt: Lefty or righty?
Kurt: What’s your favorite cuisine?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: What’s your inner milkshake flavor?
Kurt: Crushed ice or cubed ice?
Kurt: Spring or fall?
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head’s shaped like?
Kurt: It’s a hard one!
Paul: I don’t know! Orange! I don’t know!
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Paul: New England.
Kurt: New England. Okay. Alright. Where in New England specifically?
Paul: Connecticut. Massachusetts.’
Kurt: Okay. Nice. Great. Thank you so much for playing Rapid Questions. Okay. So before we took the break, you gave us essentially what was a great introduction of the issues at stake here. You talked about how, yes, there’s this warfare language, but the war that’s going on, the warfare that’s going on is local and so it’s not sort of worldwide. It’s just for a specific geographical location and the issues for going to war are largely based on sin and wickedness and we’re not just talking what today we might call non-essentials like tattoos or which day you pick as the Sabbath or something like that, but rather that people are sacrificing their children to false gods, they’re having sexual relations with animals, and so this is a really wicked community, communities, and it needs to be not ethnically cleansed, but behaviorally cleansed. Right? It needs to become holy again. The land needs to become holy, and so this isn’t just a short all of a sudden the Israelites decided this. This was a long-term goal, a long-term plan, and It was made known publicly. Even the Canaanites had heard about the work that YHWH was doing and so they better have been prepared that He was coming. Okay. There is this language though about utterly destroying and then even that may not be as off-putting, but it’s what is utterly destroyed. All of the animals, the women, and the children and in the first half of the show you gave some examples where we might find ourselves taking innocent life such as ectopic pregnancies or a plane that’s been hijacked by terrorists, taking that a president might say well take it out of the sky to prevent more deaths, but do those examples really equate? Of course I’d agree that those are instances where innocent life is being taken, but why does the innocent life need to be taken out of the land of Canaan? I mean, these are just little babies, right? They are out of the womb. Why do they need to be taken? What purpose would that serve?
Paul: Again, in laws that are given we may not know what is actually behind everything. What purpose would it serve? We aren’t necessarily told what purpose it would serve. We’re simply told that this is the extent to which you are to go, but again as I said, even in these sorts of warfare situations, for one thing, even though men, women, young, old, and so forth, all of these categories are mentioned, we’re not told for example that
Kurt: That they did kill women and children.
Paul: Women and children are involved here, like for example the Israelites are going to be fighting against the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 and there is this citadel city and what’s interesting is you’ve just heard about man, woman, young, and old and so forth, utterly destroy them, and then you have Saul basically sending messengers into this city, to the Kenites who are there, and he says “We don’t have any beef with you.” By the way, the Kenites were mentioned in Genesis 15 with Abraham, that these are the peoples into whose land you’re going to go, but Saul says “We don’t have any issue with you,” and so the Kenite warriors basically leave and so they’re just fighting against the Amalekites. Now you think that women and children are going to be in that sort of a situation? First, they’re giving warning that they’re going to battle against the Amalekites, but then Saul goes on to say along with the narrator, both of them are affirming that Saul did exactly what the Lord commanded when it came to killing the Amalekites. Of course, he kept animals to himself and kept King Agag alive, but it’s said he had done what the Lord commanded and the narrator affirms that he had done so, so we’re left with again this interesting language of even when women and children are mentioned, are they even involved? So you have that again nuanced language as well. You also have, remember to that, that you have also King Agag, again a wicked king, Samuel says that he has left many women childless and so his mother would be left childless when King Agag would be killed by Samuel, so we’re not talking about really nice people. They themselves are doing the kinds of things…they’re killing people too, and there’s this kind of law of that God’s going to bring justice to people if you do these sorts of things to others, these things will be done to you. So there is that kind of component as well that we could also add into the picture, but again if God is an all-wise, all-knowing God, and He issues a command that maybe add a certain moral tension or add a certain moral question to our categories God is the one who would best know what command ought to be issued in this circumstance so it’s not up to even a human being. This is God who is speaking, who is issuing this command, and it’s not as though God’s commanding something that is intrinsically evil. We’ve seen that there may be morally justifiable reasons for taking innocent human life. Well, in this case is it possible that God might have morally justifiable reasons for doing so even though we may not know what those reasons are? And I would say “Well yes” and we also would say that based on what we see in Scripture, what we know of goodness itself, the character of God, that there are some things that God will not command, that God will not do, so for example in the book of Jeremiah in chapter 19, there is the ritual sacrifice of children and God says that He didn’t command it neither did it even enter His mind. In other words, this is so foreign to God’s goodness that it’s as though He wouldn’t even dream this up, He wouldn’t even think of it, He didn’t even know this was coming. That’s the kind of language that’s being used to show how God is removed wickedness and so God is not who is going to command something that is intrinsically evil, though He may command something that is morally difficult.
Kurt: So we’ve got a couple questions here that people submitted and I want to sort of make sure that I can address those. Here’s one question. This question comes from David so he asks if genocide did not occur, what exactly did occur in your opinion? Do you believe that the Israelite armies killed non-combatants intentionally and do you believe they carried away war brides in our context/raped them, so essentially he says here, he continues, if you think that the language is hyperbolic and that genocide did not occur, what did occur and it seems like it’s still connected to a command by God. Paul. You’ve given a little bit of a clue in here, well yes, that God is in a position still to command His people to go to war over these issues, but how do you respond there especially, we haven’t talked yet about what happened to the women as war brides.
Kurt: Maybe you could address that.
Paul: Sure. First, I think we get a clue as to what is meant by utter destruction when we look at what God Himself says that He is going to do to the nation of Judah in Jeremiah 25:9-11 where God says He’s going to utterly destroy Judah and leave its cities in everlasting desolation through Babylon so did that literally happen? Well, no. You read throughout the book of Jeremiah, you read other Biblical books, and you see that there a lot of survivors who are in the land, a number of people, the urban elite from Jerusalem are taken off to Babylon, but you have the nation of Judah, you have a lot of Judahites who are still around, so they have not been utterly destroyed in any literalistic sense, but if you understand the Ancient Near East, you say “Well okay, well this makes sense.” I would say that there has been a disabling that has taken place. Yes. There has been death, but there has been a disabling of the religious, the political, the military, the economic, the social fabric of the nation of Judah that it has been incapacitated and that is the sort of thing that we see, even that word utterly destroy, applied to in the book of Jeremiah itself, so as Kenneth Kitchen said, that language of disabling raids is helpful when we understand what is going on in the book of Joshua, that they’re going back to their base camp, they’re disabling, they’re incapacitating, and then they’re moving back to their base camp without taking over, without reeking this military blitzkrieg and taking over vast swaths of territory all at once. It’s more gradualistic. It’s slow. It’s a process. It takes a couple of hundred years before YHWH becomes the established name in Israel, etc. So that’s one thing to keep in mind.
Secondly, what about those who are prisoners of war? Well there were rules about how you got a bride and there had to be a kind of transition process. You were not allowed to rape. Rape was not permitted. There was no sexual contact permitted outside of marriage. That was just part of the fabric of the Israelite community, and so as you read the Old Testament texts you see that adultery is prohibited. Rape is not at all permitted. In fact, there are laws against rape that this could bring even the death penalty for you if you engaged in rape. Secondly if you had a foreign bride, say a prisoner of war, there would have to be a ceremony that would take place in which she would shave her head, the woman would shave her head, clip her nails and so forth, and it would be a kind of a mourning process to say good-bye to her old way of life, and now to be incorporated into Israel in a new way of life, a new living under the Law of Moses, living with a new people and so forth, so there’s this farewell to an old way of life and to a new way of life and that if a man decided not to marry her in the end, she had to be treated with dignity rather than being treated as some sort of object or whatever, so you have certain protocols that have to be followed. You do have, yes, rape that takes place in a lot of Ancient Near Eastern settings. That is just kind of stock warfare tactics, but not with the land of Israel. That was prohibited by the Law of Moses itself. Yes. They could take women as their own wives, but you had to be married first in order to engage in sexual relationships.
Kurt: Okay, so we’ve got this language here, this hyperbolic language, and we’ve got some other questions here about that. I’m just going to try to synthesize some of them. Why is it that God would use hyperbolic language with a culture? So there’s that question and then there’s a follow-up. Why would God then use that hyperbolic language when generations later could so easily misunderstand because they’re no longer part of that context?
Paul: Right. I would say this. It is helpful for us to know the context with which we are dealing, the genre for example, the kind of literature that we’re talking about. There’s certain rules that you have to understand that enable us to interpret what the author is saying so if you know that he’s speaking with a lot of figurative language, metaphors, symbols, and so forth, like the trees of the field clapping their hands, you don’t say “I’ve never seen a tree clap its hands before!” No. We know that that’s the type of genre or literature that we’re dealing with and so we don’t think that there’s something amiss. We also when it comes to Ancient Near Eastern war texts, what we ought to do is actually look at the Scriptures more closely, more carefully, because what we’ll see when we do so is that there is the language side by side of both utter destruction and plenty of survivors. I think a lot of people say “Well look. How much clearer can the Bible be? It says they utterly destroyed them. They left alive nothing that breathes and so forth.” Yes. That’s only one side of the ledger though. You need to read the other side of the ledger too in order to be consistent and if you read them both side by side and have an understanding that, “Oh. Maybe more is going on here.” You realize that “There is something more going on than just a straight forward recounting here. Maybe there is hyperbole here,” and indeed when we read the Ancient Near Eastern war texts that is exactly what we see. We see this kind of exaggeration, hyperbole, and so forth when it comes to warfare situations. So on the one hand, I would say, “Yes, it can be a little confusing when you read just one side of the ledger,” but I would say read the other side of the ledger and it will become clear. It’s not as though some people say “Well how can we really trust what the Bible is saying?” Well I’m saying we haven’t been reading the Bible as carefully as we should because look at what the rest of the Scriptures say. Look at how there are plenty of survivors. What are you going to do with that? Are you just going to ignore it? And I think that we basically have ignored that kind of language and just focused on the utterly destroyed so that’s what I would encourage people to do. I’m not saying read the Bible more superficially, but I’m going to say read it more carefully and as you read it more carefully you see that there’s a lot of rich texture and nuance here and if we take the two sides of the ledger literally, they’ll contradict each other.
Kurt: I sort of had a question perhaps that’s come up in my mind before. When we’re dealing with this language of God being hyperbolic, couldn’t it just be the case that the Israelites perceived their deity to be stating using stock warfare rhetoric. Did God audibly speak these things or was this merely the Israelites’ perception? How should we understand that?
Paul: Well we do have God speaking through prophets. Moses, Joshua, and so forth. There are certain things, that they go before the Lord and they’re inquiring of the Lord and the Lord says do this or don’t do that, that there are certain protocols that they follow. They have prophets and so forth who are in their midst, who are also advising kings about warfare situations, etc. So you do have certain, not to mention the accompaniment of these signs and wonders that add credibility to those who are speaking, so yes. We don’t know all the ends and outs, but there is a difference between Moses at a burning bush and our taking his word for it from say a situation in which there is a Red Sea that opens before you or there is a pillar or cloud by day and fire by night and manna every morning in the wilderness, etc. So there is am integrated fabric that there are these things that all kind of fit together. It’s not as though you can always separate the private message or what was the nature of the message from the public signs. You see these things as coming together, as part of God’s vindication of God’s approval of a messenger whom He has sent to deliver a particular command to the people that ought to be carried out, so again we can maybe look at some of the details and say “I wonder how this works,” but I think the main thrust is that these are messengers who are selected by God, who have a particular role to play, a dominant role to play in Israelite society and directing them with regard to the nations around them.
Kurt: My last question for you is this. If here in the war annals of Israelites’ history we have a hyperbolic explanation, what’s keeping us from saying that there are other passages that are figurative or hyperbolic themselves and seemingly that would be sort of like a get out of jail free card with difficult texts.
Paul: This doesn’t prevent us from the need for doing homework. We still need to do our homework and examine texts to see what is the best reading. Did the author intend this to be literal? Did he intend it to be figurative? And I said even in the text that I’ve been citing of Joshua and Judges, we see very clearly that there is hyperbole involved, that as you compare texts you see that if you take them both literally, they will cancel each other out. They will contradict each other. We don’t see that for example when it comes to the resurrection. Do we see that Jesus rose from the dead but that His body was somehow in the tomb? No. We see uniform witness against that sort of a thing. Again, we have rules and regulations if you will with regard to the types of genre and literature within Scripture. There are things like the book of Revelation, highly symbolic book. It’s part of the apocalyptic genre, especially chapters 4 through the middle of 22. We have high degrees of symbolism. Numbers have symbolic value. Colors. Even the beasts and so forth. These are symbolic. And we basically invert principles of interpretations. Whereas in historical narrative we typically understand something as being literal unless there are good reasons for reading it figuratively, but in the book of Revelation in this apocalyptic section we assume that something is symbolic unless we have good reasons for taking it literally so there will just be different rules that apply to how we interpret the Scriptures, and there are admittedly some places where things are a little bit more unclear or ambiguous, but what we ought to do is start with the clear and move to the unclear rather than starting with the ambiguous texts and saying “Oh, well therefore it’s all up for grabs!”
Kurt: Great. Dr. Copan. Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. Thank you for the research that you’ve done, helping to shed light on the difficult war passages, the supposed divine genocide commands in the Old Testament that we see so thanks so much for your time.
Paul: Thank you very much. Great to be with you Kurt. God bless.
Kurt: Okay. So that was Dr. Paul Copan and again, a special thanks out to him for taking time out of his schedule to answer some of these difficult questions that we have. Chris. I’d love to get your thoughts on the matter but before we do that, we’ve got a patient caller. Eric has been waiting on the line and he wants to discuss the Canaanites responsibility in the war that God was putting them back on, so Eric. What’s your comment or question?
Eric: It’s kind of a little of both. I think we’re starting off with the wrong presupposition. I think we need to start with absolute morality to fully understand what God is doing. I think there’s a couple of conflicts with what’s being said. Like number one, the kingdoms themselves that were the Canaanites were kingdoms. When they say utterly destroy the Hebrew word literally means utterly destroyed. It’s an action on top of the word destroyed meaning to make it utterly destroyed and we’re talking about the nation, not the individual. Like he said before, individuals left. They saw the trouble coming and they left. Go back to Rahab. She said that they heard about the Jews coming and their hearts melted at the very thought of them coming and like he said before, we’ve got people here who are murdering each other, having sexual rituals and then murdering their babies with drums and fires and such. These people were not only at war with God but would immediately have been at war with the people of Israel once they entered the land and so in reality, it wasn’t the Jews going to war with people. This was God going to war with people and the Jews being the tool that was used, much in the same way that Babylon was used to entreat the Jews when they weren’t behaving. Going a step further I would question his example about shooting down the plane or even the fallopian tube thing because for one, you beg the question why don’t I seek God first since He does do miracles. He is the miracle worker, and #2 how can you dismiss the individual’s life and trade for the many? That goes back to the few and the many. I think we’re going from the wrong presups. You know?
Kurt: So what you’re saying here, that one of the first points that you had was that the utter destruction is of the nation, to make sure that the social structures of that geographic region were to be destroyed, and if I’m understanding you correctly….
Eric: In a more literal sense, a kingdom of satan being destroyed in the land of the Canaanites.
Kurt: Well yeah. So if you’re just talking about the social structures, then yeah, I think that’s perfectly compatible with what Dr. Copan is saying here and it doesn’t entail, it doesn’t necessarily entail that the women and the children are being killed and I think that’s, from an apologetics standpoint, that’s sort of one of the crucial aspects because this is why some of the people are repulsed by the text and therefore by the Bible and Christianity. It’s because, “Oh, well how could God command the Israelites to kill the women and the children?” So as far as I’m concerned, yeah. Your main point there I think is…
Eric: I could even go back a step further with presups to morality and say “Well if I don’t believe in absolute morality from God, who cares about the women and children? They’re just a bunch of animals. You know? Who cares about me? I mean there’s no purpose outside of God. You have to base your morality on absolute morality which is God’s character. When He makes an exact judgment of righteousness, when He judges a sinful nation is He wrong in His judgment or is He committing an act of righteousness by judging evildoers? Look at Sodom and Gomorrah. He did a specific act of war against Sodom and Gomorrah that He committed himself.
Kurt: Right. Right. Yeah. What you’re taking is a certain methodology which may be acceptable so this is just another route that one can take…
Eric: I can go a step further. Not all the people in the land of Canaanite were human. We had Nephilim in those days. Joshua’s spies came back and said there’s giants in the land. I mean Goliath himself was a Nephilim.
Kurt: Now hang on a second. If you think there are giants, you might have to think, well I’d ask for evidence that those giants are not human
Eric: I’m bringing up a big topic but just think for a moment that that’s true, then they’re not entirely fighting just human people.
Kurt: That could be and you might even think that there’s spiritual warfare going on at the same time which we don’t have…
Eric: I wouldn’t be surprised. I would also say that Saul when he kept King Agag and stuff, he was rebuked for doing so. He had gotten the sheep so that he could give them as a sacrifice and even Moses himself, no it was David I think it was, said to him, it is better to be obedient than to sacrifice. He was told to kill it all, not take it back. Not take it with him. Not take it captive.
Kurt: We have to get into the text and unfortunately we don’t have time to get into the text today, but we’ll bring in….the point I want to make to that though is in 1 Samuel 15, since I’ve got it up here and I read it earlier on the show, it says “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs”, and here’s the next phrase that’s important, “and all that was good and would not utterly destroy them.”
Eric: Oh good, but you’ve got to realize that he’s about to sacrifice..
Kurt: Hang on. Were those things good and if we take a certain interpretation…
Eric: Well more importantly, what was he told to do?
Kurt: Well remember
Eric: Was he not told to slaughter the sheep?
Kurt: We have to be careful not to be begging the question here because what does it mean to utterly destroy? What does it apply to? Is it hyperbolic?
Eric: The word that’s used in Hebrew is Herem and it’s an addition to the word destroy….
Kurt: We need to make sure we’re not committing the root fallacy here. I mean, even if I said, if you asked me if the Cubs beat the Cardinals yesterday, and I said “Oh they slaughtered them.” Right? What that means is not that the Cubs players actually killed the Cardinals players at Wrigley Field. What it means is that they just beat them really badly in the game. I think they won 5-0 or something, which isn’t maybe a baseball slaughter at any rate the point is this.
Eric: To get into jots and tittles to see how effective this word is but there’s a lot of words that it’s used for, like forfeit, devote, destroy, to be blunt,
Kurt: We need to make sure we’re not, words do have meaning and we need to try our best to understand what the meaning is so
Eric: That’s like saying does the Greek word all mean all? Yeah. It means all.
Kurt: Sometimes it means generally. Sometimes it doesn’t mean exhaustively…
Eric: That doesn’t work because in the language of Greek you have different word additions that make specific meanings and they have to have certain requirements. Some requirements very implicitly tell what kind of time line, if it’s past, present, or if its future tense, plus future….you have female connotations. You have dominant and submissive connotations. These are additions that are required verbage for a specific word to even be used.
Kurt: Okay, but there are still scopes to the definitions and so we just need to understand and try our best to interpret what the scope is of a word in any given context and that’s the key thing here.
Eric: I think my real problem is that we’re making it look like this was man’s actions against possibly great men, but at the same time that’s not what’s going on here. This is God’s actions against evil men with the Jews being utilized as the tool and then we’re taking that and turning it around saying “I guess we can shoot down planes with innocent people in them” and maybe abortion’s right in some terms, and it’s not. It’s murder, and you can’t disqualify the individual for a group of individuals.
Kurt: You bring up a good point.
Eric: Now let me ask you this. If I set a group of individuals with three or four people in one room and I set a group of one person in another room and I told you you had to choose which one dies, what would you choose? I would think the question is whether or not you should have to choose.
Kurt: Eric. You’ve brought up a lot here and I want to thank you for your comment on the show today so I’ll go ahead and answer this. In the hypothetical you’ve given me, there has to be a good reason I think for your instruction. To the point you made about the ectopic.
Eric: To the contrary. You don’t have a choice in the mater. You have to make a choice.
Kurt: Well, I disagree with
Eric: Even in that choice is not to make a choice.
Kurt: I disagree with the premise of your question.
Eric: It’s an example.
Kurt: I still disagree with that premise. Let me answer
Eric: Do you shoot down the plane or not shoot down the plane? Do you shoot the plane down?
Kurt: If terrorist have taken it over and they’re going to fly into buildings in New York City and kill thousands of people, then yes there’s a great good.
Eric: To force it to go into a different direction. We can’t drain its fuel. We can’t put somebody on the plane.
Kurt: Let me talk about the ectopic pregnancy and then we’ll go on from there. I personally know people where they’ve had complications from pregnancy and the egg does not attach and so then, what then? Do we let the fetus grow and then literally it will kill the mother and so in that case, I think that it is
Eric: In that case, I kind of agree with you.
Kurt: Innocent life can be taken, at any rate, Eric, I want to thank you for your call and I just want to say that’s Copan’s….
Eric: Before you cut me off, I’m just saying that we could look at that abortion thing but that’s a whole lot, a tougher
Kurt: I agree. You’re making a great.
Eric: A simpler example where there are possibilities.
Kurt: No you are making a great point
Eric: I would even say why can’t you say why can’t you put the egg in another mother or even in that mother’s womb? I would question that because again we’re not looking at all the facts. That’s a harder topic to take on than should you shoot down the plane?
Kurt: Eric. Thanks for your comment today.
Eric: Thank you.
Kurt: So to that I did follow-up with Dr. Copan because I could see what he was doing. He was bringing up one example and for those listening, I asked and I followed up later, does that seem to be a good enough analogy? Is it a good enough example because there are more difficult cases where it seems like, boy, this doesn’t really apply. It’s not the same thing. It’s apples and oranges, so that was a question I had for him, so you can listen to the follow-up there. If you’re interested in more resources, there’s a lot out there on this. If you want to check out Dr. Copan’s book it’s Did God Really Command Genocide? Co-authored with Matthew Flannagan? And he’s also written Is God a Moral Monster? And also you’re getting into, on that issue in particular, on if God literally commanded them to do it, you’re getting to what’s called skeptical theism. Maybe we don’t have good enough reasons to know why God commands something even if you don’t like it. Now that’s if you take the command literally and I don’t. I think it’s hyperbolic in nature. It’s just like how I mentioned the Cubs slaughtered the Cardinals. This is Ancient Near Eastern war rhetoric and so when we do a historical study we can see that other countries do the same thing. They embellish their war narrative and part of that is to instill fear in their enemies and to just boast about their accomplishments and even as Copan said, when you do the historical study, you see even countries and nations that lose in war still talk about how they utterly destroyed their opponents and what not and so this is, I mean, look, we do it today in politics. Right? You see America first, right? Which is this phrase, because it lacks nuance, implies that America can never do any wrong. You see it with other countries. They just embellish and inflate their accomplishments and so this is what is happening back then and when you look at the text like that, it really opens it up to I think the truth of, and accuracy of the historical context, and that’s really important because we do not want to be importing 21st century bias into the text because it wasn’t written to us, it was written for us.
So we’re going over our normal time here, but Chris I saw you taking copious notes. I want to know what’s your first impression on this? This is something you’ve been thinking about a little bit recently and so maybe this is a view that you hadn’t encountered beforehand so what’d you think?
Chris: I thought it was, well, I have a lot of thoughts. First, I want to thank brother Eric, I want to thank you for your questions and comments today. I agree with a lot of what you said about its important that we make sure that we have context about what’s going on. Who’s commanding this? Is this people against people making arbitrary decisions or is it God commanding certain things? Even if it’s literal or figurative or etc. etc. Thank you Eric for your questions. I appreciate also Dr. Copan’s brilliant amount of, I guess, research and historical insight on this and that he’s able to kind of bring a lot of clarity to some of us who may have been wondering “Okay. Did this literally happen? Did God say this thing or was it not figurative but kind of like you’ve been saying, there’s a word for it.
Chris: Thank you. Hyperbolic. Do this mostly, but do it in a way that still needs to be done.
Kurt: And for those of you who aren’t too familiar with hyperbole, a lot of scholars think when Jesus says if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, or if your right eye causes you to sin, gauge it out, that is what’s called hyperbole. Jesus doesn’t literally mean do it, but He’s illustrating the extent to which the issue at stake, at any rate continue Chris.
Chris: Yeah. So I think the thoughts I had on this, he addressed a lot of the language and the syntax of what might literally be happening, but it skirted around the issue that I was interested in, like maybe God did command them to do it or maybe He didn’t command them to do it. The question I had in my mind was “Could He have commanded them to do it and He still be God?” because if you think about, there’s a lot of psychological things from the people who would be asking this including myself and then outsiders as well, like people who ask this, if we were to give them this explanation, this long explanation that Dr. Copan had given which sounds correct and I was reading through the text he was referencing and I think he knows his stuff. He’s got the creds for it, but then people would be like. “Okay. Okay. Then this now image fits the god I have constructed in my head,” and then later when we talk about things like why is there evil in the world or how could a loving God be said to help and these issues come back up because we haven’t really dealt with the issue. We’ve crafted a god that people are very comfortable with. “Okay. Well God wouldn’t command genocide.” Well, He might. There are issues in which He might so the thing that normally happens I guess to encourage my brothers and sisters who get attacked by this like, they’ll have friends or co-workers or intellectuals come up to them with this and they don’t know how to answer it, is that many times intellectuals will ask, they’ll take a book like Deuteronomy and that’s their cross-section of who God is and they’ll say “Here’s this god who I don’t like,” and they expect your answer to be a form of Christianity fit for a five year-old and anything outside of that it’s not acceptable.
Kurt: Well no, and that’s a good thing you have in mind there. You want to make sure that we aren’t just dealing with sort of this basic simplisitic theological worldview. Let me put it that way. I don’t want to say simplistic faith because Jesus talks about having childlike faith, but it’s a simplistic theological worldview and so it’s good to be concerned about that and you do have a good question. “Could God command those things?” So first let me say I want to know “What did God command and what did He mean?”
Kurt: And in that sense it’s both a historical and yet philosophical inquiry, but when we ask “Could God command that?” that’s sort of like another higher level. You know. What could God do? That doesn’t so much concern us with what the text actually says so I think when we stick with the text, yes there are those difficult passages, but again something that Dr. Copan pointed out, there are also these other verses that are associated with them that we need to pay attention to, about how there are survivors and such.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Kurt: And well, okay. What exactly is going on here? Now some people think that maybe because that’s they failed in their duties and this was one of the questions I had asked him to respond to and I just don’t think that objection is sufficient enough because it does seem like, no. There are good things about this and God does honor the people and their treaties which God does honor so yeah. There’s a lot of issues here. Did you have any other thoughts?
Chris: Yeah. I think so. I think the thing that’s important about looking at “Could He have commanded this?” or “How did it play out?” Like I said, even if those issues get addressed, they carry over to other problems like problems of pain. You have that individual who’s asking the question still wrestling with what’s God’s Character and if you don’t address it then, then it’s hard to address it later. You have to address the same things over and over again. If you just kind of wipe away all the syntax and look at this, this seems like a really weird way for God to make space for a people to live. If you look at this just in this context as an outsider, then I agree with you outsider looking at this. God does appear to be unmerciful. God does appear to be vindictive, but we have a Christian God who’s being upheld as a loving and merciful God, so we have to find a way to reconcile those two things and like everything else with God and moral complexities, you have to pull back to a wide shot of what God might see and this whole thing that you see in Deuteronomy, Joshua, during this time they’re trying to occupy this land, started 500 years ago.
Kurt: Dr. Copan makes that point. Remember? He says you’ve got to look back to Genesis because it’s about God’s promises to Abraham and it’s about the sin that they’re doing but the time is not yet fulfilled, so it’s sort of like I know Dr. John Walton who is the professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and we haven’t had him on the show yet but hopefully we will. He’s talked about maybe Chris at one of the conferences you’ve been to, that in the Old Testament what we see is sort of, we see the scales of justice and so when you have that in mind the passage about how their sin is not yet fulfilled, it’s not like they’ve weighted down the scale yet, so if it gets down to a certain point, okay. Time for justice and punishment because you need to be spiritually cleansed because it’s such a depraved society, so yes. Okay. Any final thoughts?
Chris: Yeah. It’s important to reconcile these things with God’s character of who He is and you need to be able to wide shot. I would ask anyone who argues this is wide shot, if there was an omnipotent and omniscient being, would He command this? What reasons could He have and we see that in Genesis when He promises this 500 years before it happens. There are people other than Abraham’s offspring who knew what God was because Abraham met them all the time and so all these people who God all of a sudden appears to suddenly say “You know what? Kill them.” They had had 500 years to change and God knew how long it would take them.
Kurt: And they’d heard of YHWH’s actions too like Copan mentioned.
Chris: Everyone knew who He was so He was very merciful and here’s the thing too that we see in part of God’s character too. He hates evil regardless and it’s the same God we still serve. He’s loving and merciful and He’s given us all a way to atone for that and be in a relationship with Him, but God still hates evil and He’s still the same God and it can sometimes be hard to reconcile that perspective, but if you think about this. In Isaiah, when God’s talking to His people He says “I love you and I have ransomed entire nations just so you would understand who I am and we can be in relationship.” Anyone who’s ever had a loved one knows how much they would pay to be in relationship with this loved one and for them to know certain things and God says “Hey. I love all these people, but I’ve given them in ransom for you.” As far as God’s glory is concerned in places like Job and Romans, God will say “Hey. I’m God. What have you made that is not mine already? What do I owe you man? Can you render to me an answer?” There are things we expect from God because of His character, but He says realistically, “I don’t owe you anything,” and if you want to cite human rights, well what human rights do you have apart from…
Chris: And so God may say and Paul actually brings this up in Romans because he had people who were legitimately thinking like this. “Well what am I supposed to do if God does this?” Well God has reasons for doing it that He can see. He can see that there are these people that want redemption, but the only way that they’re going to be able to do it is if I show what wrath is and I have to use people I’ve created to do that.
Kurt: Those are some good thoughts and for those that are interested more and want to look into that, there’s material out there so a lot of what Chris is talking about is called skeptical theism, this camp that we’re just not in this position. I did have a few things there that I might push back on a little bit, not all that much, but unfortunately we don’t have time today to do that, but I’m sure we’ll have another episode devoted just to that.
Kurt: Thanks for those thoughts Chris.
Chris: Sure thing, Kurt.
Kurt: If you’re interested in more, you want to get Copan’s book. Again, that’s titled Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming To Terms With The Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, published by Baker Books. That does it for our show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnership of our sponsors Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0 and Fox Restoration, and also before we close here, let me make one brief announcement. We are going to be doing a giveaway on our Facebook page. We’re going to be giving away the book Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant And Extreme by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. They are the leaders of Barna and Q. So we’re going to be giving that away so go ahead and like us on social media and follow us and you’ll see that and you’ll get a chance to win for that. Thank you to the tech team. Chris, especially today. Joel was off. He promises he’ll be here next week and again a special thanks to our guest today, Dr. Paul Copan. Thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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