June 18, 2024

Join Kurt as he interviews the speakers from the Defenders Conference!

Listen to “Episode 116: Genocide Conference Q & A” on Spreaker.


Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here. Episode 116. We are here finally after many months of announcements, we are at the Defenders Conference 2018. 

As you can tell, we are recording today’s episode, well it’s a livestream here. I want to welcome those that are following along, and maybe while I’m talking about this I can, oh you know what? My phone’s back there. I’ll depend upon the audience to share the video here that we’re livestreaming right now, but we’re very pleased to be here. We have just spent yesterday and today talking about genocide and Scripture as the main theme this weekend and here we are with our four main speakers and they are Clay Jones, Paul Copan, Kenton Sparks, and John Walton, and a boxing match is about to break out between these speakers and their different views, no, no. I kid, of course. Actually, that’s one of the beautiful things about Christian charity, is that we can hold to our cherished positions and yet still be Christian brothers and love each other even if we have disagreements on what the text is saying. We’ve got a question for them and we’ve taken questions from the audience as well, and actually if you’re following along online right now, you can text in a question as well. All you have to do is text the word GENOCIDE to 555-888. I’m not following along the Veracity Hill code which is VERACITY to 555-888. Text the word genocide, submit your question that way, and you might have one of our guests today be able to answer that. 

Let me start off the panel here with this series of Rapid Questions which I hope will summarize or delineate the differences amongst our guests today and so hopefully as best as they’re able they’ll be able to answer these questions and I hope my questions are clear enough and nuanced well enough that they can understand them. I know it’ll be sort of a rapid question, but if you need to take a moment I’ll give you a moment before you decide how you want to answer. Okay. So, these are going to be as best I can, yes or no questions. 

First off, Did God actually communicate herem and we’ll just go down the line this way.

Clay: Yes.

Paul: Yes.

Kenton: No.

John: Yes.

Kurt: Okay. The next question. Was the conquest just war? Was the conquest just war?

Clay: Just war. When you think of just war, I think of Augustine and his just war theory, but was God just in ordering the conquest? Yes.

Paul: Likewise.

Kenton: God didn’t order it and it was not just.

John: Inappropriate category.

Kurt: Okay. Dr. Walton rejects the question. Alright. Next question. Were the Canaanites punished for their sin?

Clay: Yes.

Paul: Yes.

Kenton: According to the text, yes.


John: That’s not the point of the text.

Kurt: Alright. When YHWH made the command to kill even the women and the children, was this command a literal command?

Clay: Yes.

Paul: With qualifications, yes.

Kenton: According to the text, yes.

John: Rhetorical language.

Kurt: Okay. Alright. Now, historically speaking, were there women and children casualties?

Clay: Yes.

Paul: Perhaps so.

Kenton: Yes.

John: Likely, but we’re not told.

Kurt: Okay. Alright. So we’ve seen a bit of a variety here of these categories. Yes. Thank you for those that could sort of as best as we could with yes or no or, the fact of the matter is, if you haven’t heard these talks you should go online and watch them in full, when they’re going to be made available so you can really get the perspective of our speakers today. So now I’m going to load up the questions from some of our in studio, this is not exactly a studio, at our venue, the guests here, they’ve been submitting questions online. But first let me ask this here, When we talk about the conquest and in other aspects of the other Old Testament, there is language of corporate divine judgment. Do you think that corporate divine judgment does exist and if so, is this a good category of that? That’s kind of a broad question, and it doesn’t have to be yes or no here.

Clay: Yes.

Paul: I would agree that there is a corporate judgment although allowing for exceptions like the strangers in Canaan in chapter 8 and Rahab, etc.

Kenton: Yeah. I mean, on one level humanity will be judged by God. That’s a different question than whether in a given case, God would sanction eliminating groups of people as an act of, what was the word you used, corporate punishment.

John: God does do corporate punishment, but I don’t believe this is an illustration of that.

Kurt: Okay. Interesting. We’ve got here a question from texter 6918. Is the land still God’s land? Are the people living in the land living there against God’s order? So it’s a sort of a contemporary question about the land. That’s a tough one.

Paul: I’ll jump in. I think that national Israel’s rejection of Jesus, Matthew 23 is as R.T. France says kind of the farewell to national Israel as the people of God and that there is a new people of God, the true children of Abraham, the true Israel, that the New Testament emphasizes, and so the land of promise in the New Testament becomes the Earth, a new heavens and the new Earth. That is what we inherit, that we’re looking forward to, a new heavens and a new Earth in which righteousness dwells and so we are, as Paul says in Romans 9, not all Israel are those who are descended from Israel and so i see, I think the category of Israel being the national Israel in 1948 being a fulfillment of prophecy or something, I don’t see that that’s the case.


Kenton: I think the Kingdom of God is a world in which God rules all of it and so as believers in the world we should be sponsors of and defenders of truth, love, peace, and compassion, and that we shouldn’t be taking sides. We should be working as best we can to create a place where human beings can thrive in their relationship with God and with each other.

John: It’s God’s land because God was going to dwell there in the tabernacle in the temple, God’s dwelling place. That’s what made it God’s land. The temple and tabernacle are there. We are the temple and therefore that’s not a landed concept anymore so I don’t think you can apply that to modern politics.

Kurt: One of the, I know Paul in your presentation, warfare kind of played up quite a bit in what you’ve presented here, not that it doesn’t play up in others. If we were to place society[NP2]  divine command, looking at it from a pragmatic aspect and warfare techniques, do you think that what the Israelites did were, I mean justifiable might be too strong of a word, but understandable, so for example, making sure that you weren’t leaving the enemy behind you so as to not be attacked from behind. That may have been a good tactic, because, look, if you’re going to defeat people, if you leave survivors, then they’re just going to come up and attack you again, especially if you leave the young. They will come back 10-15 years later with a vengeance so maybe it was advantageous for the Israelites to kill everyone strictly from a warfare perspective. What would be your respective thoughts on that?

Paul: I think that there are some tactics that were used in the ancient world and I think that there is kind of a, God, as I said, begins where people are and warfare tactics, strategies, and so forth, are kind of lumped in to there, not that everything is idealized or anything like that, but yeah, I think that if there are some dangers that would harm the integrity of Israel, its longevity, its mission, and so forth, then what would be appropriate to guard against its harm and so forth would be appropriate, again assuming that Israel is doing God’s will so forth. Perhaps I should add something here too. I think a lot of times we assume the question, “Well how would you like it if, I can just throw this in, a nation invaded yours? How would you like that? I think the question itself neglects the very unique salvation historical issue of what is going on with Israel. Jesus acknowledges this mission that Israel has, that is singular, that is unique, that no other nation has, but again it is to bring blessing to the ends of the Earth. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s the universal goal to bring light and blessing to the ends of the Earth, but I think if we treat it as though, the way that we ask the question, well how you would like it if you were a Canaanite and so forth and your nation was invaded. Again, I think there is the judgment aspect too. I also think it’s important for the salvation historical uniqueness of this event, that we can’t simply turn Israel into just any other nation. It was uniquely appointed. It’s sort of like saying, “What if you took out Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings? What then?” Well, you wouldn’t have a story. Here you’ve got God doing miracles, bringing deliverance and so forth. God issuing commands and reinforcing them with signs and wonders, and so you have something that is very unique that isn’t like the other nations of the Earth and so I just wanted to bring out, that didn’t come out in some of our discussion today. Just a few thoughts.

John: I would say Israel’s conduct of war would be very much like everyone else arond them. That’s how they understood war. That’s how they pressed warfare so we wouldn’t see a lot of differences, but the Bible’s not talking about trying to adjust their conduct of war. It’s the reason for the war that’s given a different focus. Again, that comes into my understanding, that this is preparing the land for God’s presence. That’s a whole other different reason than what any other war would be engaged for.

Kenton: The strategy used here in the text is exactly what was used by the Moabites in the ninth century Mesha Stele where they attack Nebo and Ataroth and they use the word herem here to dedicate so to speak all of the Israelite inhabitants of those cities so this was common military strategy. Why leave anybody behind who can make trouble for you?

Kurt: For those that do believe YHWH commanded the Israelites to do this, was it fair for God to judge the Canaanites without warning them? That’s a question from 1886.

Clay: They were warned. Just take the case of Rahab. She says we were all in terror because we knew you were coming. We heard what happened in Egypt and we’re scared and so, anyway, when it comes to warning, I understand the angel came to Sodom and Gomorrah, but basically God decided to destroy them and the angel really wasn’t there to warn them. They could have taken that as warning if they wanted to. Apparently, they didn’t, but God destroyed them anyway. There’s nothing in the text about the angel saying, “By the way, unless you repent” and what not. I guess that Lot and his wife could have gone out and done a little evangelism thing, even though there were people surrounding the house that were trying to rape the angels, but I don’t think that was going to get very far.

Paul: Again, Joshua 2, 5, and 9, and even 1 Samuel 4 with the battle with the Phillistines. They all knew this was the God who brought them out of Egypt, who led them across the Jordan, who defeated King Sihon and Og and so forth. It was just well-known. People knew who the Israelites were and what their God was about and if you wanted to peep over the crest of the hill and see this pillar of cloud by day and fire by night over the tent of the camp of the Israelites, something funny’s going on here. Something I’d better pay attention to.

John: Of course, I would deconstruct the whole question because to say is it fair for God to judge them without warning, well, I don’t think He was judging them in my approach and therefore the warning’s immaterial and therefore the question of fairness is not something to be considered. We’re not doing any smiting here. Is that cool?

Kurt: From 8944, how do the genocide passages in the Bible inform how we as Christians today should react to current day genocides?

Clay: Well I don’t see a relationship at all. I have spent much of the last twenty years studying 20th century genocide and in my book, one of my chapters, an awful lot of it is about genocides. Also, of course, I don’t think it was again, what Israel did had nothing to do with genocide whatsoever. It was capital punishment. I say that because when an Israelite did the things that they accused the Canaanites of doing, Israelites were told to be stoned to death? This is capital punishment. It isn’t genocide. I don’t see any relationship at all.

John: I likewise would not see any relationship. Of course, I would see it differently because the reason the Israelites are stoned to death is because they accountability to the covenant whereas the Canaanites did not. I don’t see that the Israelites were trying to do any ethnic cleansing or trying to wipe out a people group. Again, they’re trying to remove them from the land. It was fine for the Canaanites to exist in other lands, in other cities, outside the land, and do whatever they do. They just had to be removed from this territory because this is where God’s presence were going to be and they would have the role of corrupting the Israelites from Israel’s covenant with God and that’s why they couldn’t be there. It was inimical to the Israelite identity as covenant people. Again, the same reason why you get rid of bacteria in the surgical room. It doesn’t matter if they exist somewhere else, but not here. That’s the problem.

Kenton: I suppose if you take my approach which is that the Israelites essentially baptized their vice as virtue. They wanted the land, they took it, and then they said “God told us we could do it.” What’s the message? One message is God didn’t do it, didn’t say it. That’s essential for me. The second thing is, I don’t stand in judgment upon these Israelites for having made that decision. I believe all of us as human beings have a tendency to baptize our vice as virtue. All of us have a tendency to turn other people into Canaanites and to denigrate them and to describe them as evil and horrible and worthy of punishment, so I live in a glass house here, but I think the message is that insofar as the Canaanites justified their sin by appealing to God, we and I all need to do all we can to not fall into that same trap.

Paul: I think it’s helpful to look at the New Testament and how does the New Testament reflect on what is going on here before we kind of take our clues into the modern world. I think as I pointed out, you do see the mention of God driving out the nations in the book of Acts 7, Stephen’s speech, Acts 13, Paul’s speech, and also mention this of in Hebrews 11 where Rahab is mentioned, the Canaanites’ disobedience to the general moral law. Amos 2. God speaking to the nations surrounding Israel and for three sins, even for four, I will send fire. For what sorts of things? Not because you haven’t circumcised your kids or your boys or because you’re not having kosher food. It’s for ripping open to pregnant women to expand your borders. It’s for delivering vulnerable refugees into the hands of their enemies and so forth. These things that the Canaanites or those around Israel, Edomites and so forth, should have known better. So there’s this moral law, this moral understanding, and it looks like the author of Hebrews is plugging the Canaanites into that. That they were disobedient. That they were violating moral laws and so forth and so Rahab did not perish with those who are disobedient and of course, you see those who were mighty in war and so forth. Hebrews 11 is also talking about that. Sounds like at least in part, they conquered kingdoms and so forth, that this is what part of an understanding that God led these people who are trusting in Him. Did they get everything right? No. There were some people who were like Samson and so forth. They got things wrong. There were immoral choices that they made and so forth, but fundamentally they had put their trust in God and God gave them victory and so forth. That’s an important point to bring with us, so reflecting on the looking back and saying, “Yeah. God was behind us.” How are we now as God’s people not living as a theocracy now scattered among the nations as people in every tribe and tongue, people and nation who are worshiping the same Lord. How then do we conduct ourselves? It’s a different order. It’s not governed by political civil laws, punishments and so forth. It’s a much different order and so we kind of take that now as in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations. Now we’re operating according to a different order set in place by Christ and the apostles and beyond. Anyway, just a reflection on that.

Kurt: A question perhaps for Paul or Clay here. If YHWH did instruct for the utter destruction and if it’s about cleansing from the identity and about not being Canaanized, why is it at least in some cases, the Israelites were allowed to keep virgins?

Clay: I don’t think they were ever allowed to keep Canaanite virgins. I don’t think so ever. They were not allowed to keep Canaanite virgins.

Paul: In warfare, there are general laws like in Deuteronomy 20 of the nations surrounding Israel, not the Canaanite cities themselves, but there was the permissibility to take women, prisoners of war, and so forth, and there’s a ceremony in Deuteronomy also, where a woman, again it’s not as though you could somehow just rape anyone. There was a presumption that if you were to engage in sexual relations that you were to be married. This woman was presented to me as a virgin. This man calls into question whether she’s actually a virgin, so there’s this test, Numbers 5. There’s this question. There’s this assumption that you only have sexual relations in the context of marriage and for those who are foreign wives from other countries, other nations, that there was to be a shaving of the head, clipping of the nails, a time of mourning for a month, and then during this time of waiting and seeing a man could take her on as wife, but even if he doesn’t, that she should not be treated with dishonor and so forth. So there were protocols to go through. It wasn’t as though you could go, “Hey. We can rape these women and so forth.” That just goes against the very ethos that you see throughout the Pentateuch. 

Kurt: This question is from 4882 and it’s for Kent and John. They’re asking “Is Joshua and the conquest something that actually happened in human time and space?”

Kenton: Yes. We know from archaeological data that although sparsely populated, the highlands of Palestine in the late bronze age, there were Canaanites there and then suddenly around 1200, between 1200 and say 1050, they’re scores and scores of Israelites there in the hill country. Undoubtedly they had battles and wars and fought. I would venture to say sometimes carrying out herem types of activities. So while there was not the conquest in the sort of full-orbed massive conquest maybe described in the Bible, there was an invasion of the highlands and there were Israelites who killed Canaanites.

John: I would say these are real events in a real past in real time, but our ability to reconstruct those events in order to formulate them in our way of thinking about history is something that would be a very questionable thing because the events are couched in literature and rhetoric and ancient conventions, we are limited in our ability to reconstruct what the event would have looked like in terms that would be meaningful to us.

Kurt: Alright. We’ve had a couple folks text in here. They want to see some interaction. They’re wondering, a couple people, if I could formulate it. If you had to critique the others’ views, what would be one thing you would critique about each view? I guess that means each of you would give three things you don’t like about the other person’s view.

Clay: I’ll start with my brother Paul. There’s not a lot of difference between Paul and I frankly. We both agree that at least on some occasions, that God ordered the killing of women and children, at least on some occasions. It really comes down to Paul thinks there’s more hyperbole than I do. I think some of it might be hyperbolic so then it’s just a matter of degree. How much hyperbole is there? The only thing I’d say is sometimes when it comes to when they kill them and then they were there later, well in Afghanistan, of course, we drive people out and they come back. You can kill everybody in an area, but we’re talking about is we killed the people that actually stayed, but a lot of people left and they came back, but really for Paul and I it’s just a matter of degree and so there’s not much to say there. With Kent, I’m glad to go first, with Kent it’d be an interesting conversation because I don’t know philosophically how he comes to conclusions about truth, because he kind of made it seemed like to me a rational argument that we can’t trust rationality and I don’t know, there’s not time to really pull that apart, but I just don’t know what he believes about truth, and I have a lot of respect for John Walton. I think he’s depending too much on reading the way other cultures work, but I don’t know if I have a lot more to say about it than that.

Paul: Well Clay basically took care of my response to Clay and would say that there is a difference. That’s more again in degree rather than kind. I do see a lot of hyperbole even within say a short span of time with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 and then chapters 27 and 30 where David is then battling in the same region, the same large swath of territory, it sounds like there is a lot more going on even though the narrator says that Saul utterly destroyed the Amalekites. So you’ve got a large population still that David is dealing with in his warfare, again in a large swath of territory. In terms of Kenton, I guess the issue of, one point of disagreement would be rather God actually commanded this or was this simply the fallen, when Moses is saying, for example, utterly destroy or identity removal with John, that this is, it’s not thus says Moses. I do think that the Lord is behind it, and the New Testament reinforces this, that God drove them out. Hebrews 11. That they are living by faith, trusting in the Lord, that God enabled them to conquer kingdoms and so forth. Again, as John Goldingay says, that if there’s an issue of warfare in Joshua, the New Testament doesn’t see it. Even if we can kind of press it a little further, when there are places where Moses seems to be, as it were, more principled than the Lord, when the Lord wants to wipe out the Israelites, I was talking with someone about this earlier, after their golden calf incident in Exodus 32, you have Moses pleading on their behalf to basically preserve them and fulfill your promise and so forth so is it, how do we portray God here if Moses is the one who’s actually looking like he’s better than God, so to speak, that God wants to wipe them out, but Moses wants to preserve them? It looks like God is more succumbing to the cultural conditioning and violence and so forth, and there are also others instances too, when Sihon and Og, when Moses wants to pass through the territory and they say they want to pass through peacefully, Sihon and Og say no and they take up arms against the Israelites to protect themselves. They engage in battle, so it is a defensive kind of thing. So there is this kind of willingness to operate on some realm kind of in a more peaceable way in some areas where they don’t want to bother with the locals because that’s not where they’re going to be established in the land. I would see that would be an issue between Kent on me on whether God issued these commands, and I think the New Testament is actually reinforcing that and so that means we need to kind of recalibrate, and say, “Okay. Well, here you have the New Testament authors, followers of Jesus, wanted to live out the Gospel, but yet they’re not standing in opposition to what actually took place in the Old Testament. Indeed, they’re saying that God was the one who was behind it. Maybe we need to, like C.S. Lewis said in his letter to John Beversluis, that we need to kind of humbly fearfully recognize that maybe we don’t see things as clearly as we would like and that there are some morally sufficient reasons that God has for doing things that we perhaps don’t see. So that would be one point of disagreement. When it comes to John Walton, I would argue that the moral dimension is indeed pronounced. I think that you see that highilighted in various ways. I know that John is emphasizing the covenant and I would agree that there is disorder and that Israel is to set right that order, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t also be a moral component to this as well and I think that again, commentary on this like in Hebrews 11:30-31, Jericho falls, but Rahab isn’t punished with those who are disobedient, so I think that again, the assumption is that there is a justice that is being done, a moral retribution is being meted out and so those would be I guess points of disagreement in the lineup here.

Kenton: I suppose when it comes to Clay, he and I agree most on the fact that we both agree the text says that God said go kill them all, men, women, children, animals. The difference here is a moral and ethical one in which I don’t regard this as an acceptable behavior, that God would proffer to Israel and Clay thinks that it is acceptable and I think that’s a fundamental difference between us. When it comes to John and Paul, I don’t see a lot of difference between their approaches. I think I value both of them in the sense that I think that they soften to an extent the sense in which they’re comfortable with an all-out conquest of men, women, children, animals, that kind of thing, kind of indiscriminate killing. I think if I had to side with one I would tend to side a little more with John, because I think that his position more fully advances an argument in which God is not active in promulgating this total destruction of the Canaanites. I feel probably more affinity for his views than any of the others except for the exegesis. I agree with Clay. 

John: The thing I feel strongest and I disagree with everyone is up here is that apparently, I didn’t get the memo about wearing jeans. For some of the lesser issues, obviously it’s been clear just from our talking here and our presentations, one of the biggest differences is I don’t believe that God is carrying out judgment against the sins of the Canaanites and that would differentiate my position. I think that it needs to be pointed out though that even though I talk a lot about the Ancient Near Eastern text, when it comes down to what difference I believe that’s making here, it really is just the issue of genre and how that works. That was part of my argument, but a much greater part of my argument, and it probably didn’t show in the proportions that I gave attention to, but a much larger part of my argument has to do with the exegesis of individual passages. I could only talk about that very lightly in my presentation, but that’s probably 80% of my case about what’s going on. Not with genre, that’s an important issue, but with the exegesis of passages. As Paul mentioned in his presentation, Tremper Longman, hasn’t even come out yet, but I’ve seen it and he’s seen it, does a critique of my assessment of Genesis 15:16 which is really key, but it’s interesting that when he writes his critique, he just says, “This isn’t how people have traditionally thought.” That doesn’t make much of an impression on me. I gave a lot of evidence. Critique my evidence. It’s the same kind of thing when Clay would say, “I looked at all these translations and they all say the same thing.” Well, lots of translations depend on one another. That’s not a surprise they say the same thing unless a translator is struck with something that he needs to look at again, you might see the same thing over and over again. Again, I don’t just just say, “Here’s a different translation. Take it or leave it.” I say, “Here’s a different translation and here’s the evidence that substantiates why we should follow that translation. Why what we’ve traditionally had doesn’t work. Look at the Hebrew usage and even an English reader can follow that. We lay it out for that purpose.” So it really comes down to the exegesis of particular passages in Genesis, in Deuteronomy, in Leviticus, in Joshua, and that really stands at the core of the interpretations that I offer.

Kurt: I think Clay, battery’s low.

Unknown speaker: Do you want to talk into this?

Kurt: Sure. 

Clay: I had a follow-up question.

Kurt: You had a follow-up. Okay.

Clay: Kenton, a follow-up question for me is just when you say God didn’t order the genocide because that’s not the way He would work, my question to you is, I don’t know, maybe this is out of court, but do you believe that we can know objective truth and how do we come to the conclusion of what it is? In other words, can we come to all of this truth where we say there are some things that are objectively true? It doesn’t matter whether anyone believes it or not. If we can know objective truth, how do we come to the conclusion of what objective truth is? It seems to me, and I might be wrong, of course, but it seems to me that it’s just you come to this conclusion subjectively and that’s why when you did your talk you said you kind of made a rational argument against rationality and how we should really trust intuition. How do you deal with that?

Kenton: There are many layers here. One is to recognize that I wasn’t saying rationality is nothing. What I’m saying is that generally behave out of their intuitions and intuition is not feelings. It is a cognitive model of the world that is more powerful than rationality in the sense of moving ideas through your head. Rationality can defend your intuitions or it can interrogate your intuitions and ask hard questions of it and it can argue for an intuition and maybe generate in another person new intuitions. When Jesus is preaching, He’s trying to create a new intuitive sense of the world. I’m certainly not anti-rational. What I’m saying is that rationality is not the whole game. It’s a part of the game so to speak. As far as making judgments about whether something can be immoral or right or wrong on God’s behalf in terms of divine behaviors, at the end of the conversation when you were talking to Kurt, Kurt said, “If God told you, Clay, in your ear right now, go and kill all these people, like He did in the Old Testament,” your answer was, “Well, I would know it wasn’t Him.”

Clay: Right.

Kenton: Yes. How do you know? “Well, because the God I see in Jesus in the New Testament”, you said, “wouldn’t do that.” My only question is, “Is the God we see in Jesus and that we know good and well wouldn’t tell us to do that now, is it the same God?” Right? Because that’s why I believe it can’t be true in the Old Testament that God said to do that. So the point is there isn’t affective commonality in spite of our differences. I think Clay and I both have a sense, I bet all four of us agree on this point. All of us agree that God is not going to ask us as Christians to go out and kill a group of people, men, women, children.

Clay: Amen.

Kenton: Right? We all agree on that point. We all agree Jesus is God’s solution to a broken cosmos. We all agree that God speaks to us in Scripture and that Scripture is God’s Word. Right? Where we disagree is this question of whether Scripture participates or doesn’t participate in the very brokenness that it seeks to heal. That’s where our fundamental differences. 

Clay: Do you believe that we can know objective truth and if we can know it how do you come to the conclusion of what it is?

Kenton: So there are different kinds of, one of the things that people will talk about is objective truth. Well, I believe there’s a table. Now to say I believe there’s a table and it’s probably not made of real wood, is different than to say I believe in the Trinity, because in the table’s case, I can grasp it, but in the notion of the Trinity, when you try to explicate what you mean, you quickly find you’re grasping, so while I do believe in Trinity, my guess is whatever I think about it is woefully inadequate, the reality of God who made a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars, and knows where all the electrons and how they spin? That God is so far beyond my comprehension. To say that when I make a theological statement about that God, that somehow it’s the same as objective. It’s a different kind of engagement with the world when we’re trying to describe theology and morals and ethics than if we’re trying to describe an objective world of things and places and that sort of thing.

Clay: So can we know objective moral truth? Truth, in other words, this is true for me and it’s not true, and anybody that disagrees with it is wrong? They’re mistaken.

Kenton: I would put it differently. We can’t live without certainty. I can’t get up in the morning, you’ll see where I’m going here, I can’t get up in the morning except that I assume that the world works in a certain way, things happen in a certain way. I have to be certain. What I have found is there are things about which I have been certain that I turned out to be wrong. That doesn’t mean I don’t have certainty. It doesn’t mean I don’t need it to function. It does mean that I have to be cautious about recognizing that certainties can lead me astray. Right? There are certain things that I would say I am sure of XYZ and I will probably never question it. However, I’ve had times in my life where XYZ turned out to be false. Right? There is an objective reality. Insofar as my ideas about that reality correspond to it, I’m alright. Insofar as I’m far off, I’m wrong. If I get it wrong, hopefully I’ll learn. Get it right.

Clay: I would love to chase this down, but it’s not fair for me to run the show.

Kurt: Sure. Alright. This is a question, I think I’m going to ask John here. I’m not sure, perhaps you might be familiar with Michael Heiser’s position.

John: Sure.

Kurt: His view, and this wasn’t brought up, we had one of our attendees here request that this topic be brought up, because it is Heiser’s view. He advocates for a position as I understand it, I haven’t looked at it. I’ve been told this and it’s been confirmed. He advocates that the view that the Nephilim referenced in Genesis 6 have a genetic connection to those that are not Israelites. What’s your view on that and Kent or others that want to chime in, feel free, but we’ll let John take it first.

John: Nephilim occurs twice in Scripture. Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. Genesis 6:4, they’re associated with the sons of God who took the daughters of men, and of course, that’s a very brief passage that doesn’t tell us hardly you any of the things that you’d really like to know. The nephilim are mentioned, they’re not specifically, not explicitly I should say, as either the sons of God or the offspring of the sons of God, but ones who were there at the same time. In Numbers 13:33, they’re mentioned alongside of the sons of Anak. The sons of Anak are identified as giants, the Nephilim not necessarily so, and so they’re among a minority group of peoples in the land. The questions that are unanswerable? Is this an ethnic group? A racial group? Is it a description of a certain kind of person like heroes or something of that sort? Some people say they’re fallen angels. Some people say that they’re people from certain genealogical lines and the fact is we don’t know. The fact that they are there before the flood and after the flood, well that depends on if you think the flood is universal or not and whether anyone could have survived or not. If you don’t think anyone survived, then you wouldn’t have to think that they’re genealogically connected unless you think Noah was a Nephilim. I just don’t see that we have enough to sort that out, and that’s why I don’t necessarily find myself persuaded by Mike Heiser’s argument even though we are good friends.

Voice: John and I agree.

Kurt: Alright. We have a question from 8944. I wonder if the four of you would tell us one take away about how your view on the subject matter guides us into living for Christ today.

Clay: God hates sin and He will punish anybody that goes on in sin and rebellion against Him and frankly, they’re going, at the judgment, if they don’t repent before the judgment while they’re in this life, they’re going to go to Hell forever. God’s treatment of sin is consistent throughout both testaments.

Paul: I think it’s one of the things that I’ve learned and I think we’re all on a learning curve here, that we all learn from each other. It’s good to interact with one another. With integrity we want to move forward to understand the text, understand how we ought to live before God, and I think it’s also a good reminder to that in that quotation from C.S. Lewis in the letter to John Beversluis, July 1963, where he says that it requires a certain humility that we recognize. I could be wrong on certain things and that God is the cosmic authority, is one who rules the world, whose ways are higher than our ways, and so there may be some things that make us uncomfortable. C.S. Lewis said that the doctrine of hell was a doctrine that he would gladly dispense with, but he couldn’t because this was affirmed by Scripture and especially by Jesus Himself, etc., but I think one of the takeaways for me is the importance of humility, the importance of being willing to learn, of also recognizing that God is the cosmic authority and I’m not.

Kenton: I suppose the takeaway I’d want you to take from what I’ve talked about today, obviously I’m still a work in progress, always trying to figure out what’s next and how to deal with problematic questions, but it would be this. That Jesus said when you read Scripture, you read it with an understanding that it is about loving God and neighbor, that that is the ultimate meaning of the text. How do you love God and neighbor? The only reason He gives that is because, it is possible. If your goal as a reader of Scripture is not to love God and neighbor well, including your enemies, clearly you can make Scripture be and do things that are damaging to the Gospel and damaging to other people so follow Jesus as a reader of the Bible.

John: The Israelites had a stewardship to preserve the place of God’s presence. We have a similar stewardship because God dwells within us and we therefore are called to preserve the place of God’s presence and our identity in Christ and therefore we have to drive out the old man, destroy that which is old and corrupt in order to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

Kurt: How do each of you view the doctrine of God’s inspiration of Scripture as it applies to your view?

Clay: Verbal Plenary inspiration. I don’t understand the question exactly other than what I just said. God inspires, I believe, I’ll just put it this way. I believe the Word of God is inerrant in the autographs. That doesn’t mean though, as Paul would point out and as he does, that doesn’t mean that every word is inerrant because the serpent said things that weren’t inerrant and so on. I do think that it’s possible, along with what Paul has said, that sometimes the people going, “Yeah. We wiped them all out.” It’s possible that sometimes that’s just warfare hyperbole. That doesn’t trouble me really so….

Paul: I’d guess you’d probably say the Scriptures are truthful in what they affirm or aim to teach.

Clay: Okay. I’ll go with that.

Paul: Yeah. I would take a similar view, although I recognize that in the Old Testament, Jesus Himself in Matthew 19:8 talked about how certain laws like regarding divorce and so forth and others too could be included in there, that these laws were given because of the hardness of human hearts. It wasn’t necessarily because these were God’s ideal. The Mosaic law assumes people are going to sin and so it says, “If this person does that, X, that is wrong, well this is how you deal with it.” It takes for granted that there will be sin. There’s also modification that takes place as the Pentateuch progresses, that there are certain things that are modified as you go along. You have altars that are not to be made of cut stone, and then you have an alteration to that if I may put it in the pun where you have an altar that is of acacia wood covered with gold and so forth, so you have this kind of progression as you go through the Pentateuch. There are some laws, there’s a certain fluidity. Kenton was pointing this out too. I think being careful about a certain rigidity about how we read some of these laws, that they are for Israel for a certain time that God meets them where they are and so rather than treating all of them as idealized and so forth, no. It’s for a fallen culture. It’s for a fallen people. It’s not as though this is the Garden of Eden here or the new Heavens and the new Earth and so we also take that into account, that there are certain things that are less than ideal, but yet God is meeting the people where they are and working them in a redemptive direction.

Kenton: I think I would draw some inferences from the phenomena of Scripture when you ask me things about inspiration, not that that would be the end of the answer, but it’s relevant. For example, when you’re reading Luke, you can tell Luke said, “I’m going out. I’m gonna look at these sources and try to piece together a history.” Or if you’re reading Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, they’re constantly quoting these sources. When you’re reading Revelation, there’s this vision that the person is seeing. When you’re reading the prophets, it’s like that God almost seizes the prophet and the prophet then speaks and then often these prophetic speeches get written down by someone and collected, often not even in chronological order, which is why the prophets are so hard to read. There’s not any one thing that you can say that’s inspiration in terms of the way that it happens, so what inspiration for me is to say that ultimately God is the publisher of Scripture. The way in which God is involved is different from author to author. You don’t get the impression, like when Paul says, “I haven’t baptized anybody. Wait. I might have baptized somebody, but nobody else.” It isn’t like God’s dictating him, making sure that he gets exactly right how many people he baptized. Right? So these are very human documents. God publishes them and I think He publishes them both to prepare the way for Jesus Christ and to reflect back on Jesus Christ, so Jesus is the center of what Scripture was inspired to connect with.

John: Interesting[NP3] . Inspiration it basically makes a very simple statement, that the source is God. Now, all kinds of different ways that it gets from the source to us, but the source is God and therefore it deserves our respect and I would even say therefore it has authority, but authority is connected to the message that it has to give. Again, going back to what it affirms, what its message is intended to be, but that requires an interpretative act. What is the message? What is it supposed to be and that’s what we’ve been discussing up here with this particular passage. What is the message of the conquest? To affirm that this comes from God, that it comes through various means, through different human beings, through different processes, different processes of writing and composition, different cultural aspects and genres, all of that makes it very complicated and we can’t really determine what that message from God is without engaging in interpretation and that becomes problematic, so inspiration is very important. It says where it’s coming from, but it doesn’t give us all the answers of how to resolve the issues that we face as we try to be faithful interpreters.

Kurt: This question for Paul here. Why did Israel not destroy the Gibeonites after the Gibeonites obtained a covenant by fraud in Joshua 9?

Paul: I think it was a matter of honoring one’s word even though that word was obtained through duplicitous means and even later on, Saul mistreats the Gibeonites and this is again, this is a bad thing. Why? Because there had been an agreement. There had been a treaty that was made and so even though it was under, they should have consulted with God. They should have checked with Him rather than just being hasty, but having made that arrangement, you stick with that agreement and so I think it just is a fundamental part of what you see in the Pentateuch of being a person of your word, if you make a vow that you stick with it, and then if you’re going to recant it that you need to, in a sense, get the permission of the person to whom you made that vow and so forth. It’s a reflection of taking truth very seriously here. That’s what I see is going on there.

Kurt: Next question for Kenton. If God can punish in Hell for eternity, why would Him using temporary death be evil or wrong?

Kenton: I’ll give two answers. The first is, if we assume that God does do that, which is an open question for me, but if we assume that He does it, it would be based on His inscrutable judgment to know who deserves this punishment. Right? It’s different than let’s go kill all these people irrespective of their moral status. Right? At least God would be the one who makes the judgment. The second thing is that insofar as we’re making our sort of predications of the afterlife, when you look at Jesus’s constant use of these metaphors of burning, He’s also using these metaphors of kindling and thorns and thistles and things that you’re burning up. Also, a lot of this Hell imagery comes from, as we all know, Gehenna and the burning trash pile that’s always there. It’s unclear to me, given the breadth of Biblical testimony about the nature of the afterlife, that we should be thinking about God punishing people for eternity. If God is a God of justice, as I understand justice from Scripture, it wouldn’t include an eternal punishment for finite sin and all of us are finite sinners. I am troubled by that. I like what I.H. Marshall said in his book which escapes me right now in which he says, “Jesus is using this kind of imagery, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody’s going to burn in fire forever.” That would be cruel.

Kurt: Alright. Next question. How much of a stumbling block is the conquest? Perhaps each of you could take a shot at that one.

Clay: Jesus is the rock that people stumble on all the time. I think all of you have already gotten my trajectory. The truth is the truth. God hates sin. Get in line or be ready to pay the consequences. People go, “Oh yeah. That’s offensive to me.” I DON’T CARE. What do you really think? I don’t care. This is the truth. God says get in line with it. He’s not making apologies. You’ll notice when Jesus talks about Hell, He’s not, “I’m really sorry to bring this up, and I feel really bad about it, but they’re going to go off to eternal punishment. I know that’s bad, but it’s going to happen anyway.” He just says it and I think we need to embrace what He says instead of finding ways to continually qualify around it.

Paul: Yeah. It is a topic, the warfare, the conquest, and so forth, can be seen in terms of a stumbling block and so forth, but I again would affirm what Clay is saying, that fundamentally it’s Jesus we have to contend with and what did Jesus think about what happened in the Old Testament. If we look at the witness of the New Testament authorities, we see in the book of Acts, Stephen’s speech, Paul’s speech, the author of Hebrews and so forth, we see that this is something that is acknowledged to have come from God, again even capital punishments are recognized as having been given from God. Jesus Himself talks about this. Peter. The author of Hebrews. What we need to do is say, I think point to Jesus, a lot of people respect Jesus. They see Him as a great moral authority and so forth. I say, “Well, you need to take the whole package. Not just turning the other cheek sorts of things.” That is very difficult to do by the way, but Jesus is one who is also speaking for God when it comes to these issues of Old Testament history and God’s judgment upon them, the severity of God’s judgment. Paul said, “Behold the kindness and severity of God”, and I think you see, and I think you see in Jesus a kindness, but also a great severity. I mean, Jesus says some scary things. I remember hearing N.T. Wright say, “Jesus scares me to death.” That’s a very telling thing. Jesus is a scary figure. He’s reflecting in a sense the scariness of the Old Testament God whom He is representing, but also the kindness of God and so we see that in His self-sacrifice. I would simply point out that though this is a stumbling block, I think we need to say, “If Jesus, who is regarded as this great spiritual and moral authority universally, worldwide, if He takes these things as being so, then I’m well-positioned, I’m well-situated if I’m going to take His word for it rather than dismissing and saying, ‘Oh that’s inferior and so forth.’ ” I think that there’s more going on to it, even though Jesus is announcing the new era in which God is working, that those things were precursors, theocracy and so forth, that lead up to a point that the blessing comes to the nations and so forth. God is working in a different order, but it doesn’t mean that God wasn’t involved in those things in the past and so that’s kind of how I would structure an argument, but again, it’d elaborate a lot more. 

Clay: I agree with him. I agree with this guy. 

Kenton: I think in ways the larger society doesn’t realize, there world has been shaped by the Gospel. They don’t realize that the kind of softer side of Western society, aside from the sin and the darkness which is, of course, there, personal rights and freedoms and this sort of thing are really consequences of the influence of the notion of love and caring about neighbors and that sort of thing. Consequently, we live in a world where something like killing indiscriminately men, women, and children, because you want their land, is going to be a stumbling block in a way it wasn’t heretofore. I think it is a stumbling block. It certainly was for me. It certainly is for many people which is why I write and do the things I do. I’m a bit of an outsider here in certain respects. I feel one as a follower of Jesus, but I think differently, but yeah, biblical violence is a problem for many people, whether it’s legitimately a problem, that’s a different question, but certainly for a lot of people it’s a problem.

John: I think it’ll remain an obstacle because despite all of our exegetical and philosophical and theological attention, it doesn’t make the problem go away. We can try to give explanation and sort it out, but it doesn’t go away. The people who are really bothered by this, whether it’s because of skepticism or fears or doubts or wondering about their own faith, whatever, they want the Bible to be read in such a way that it’ll make them feel better about this issue, but the Bible doesn’t conform itself to our sensibilities, to become what we want it to become. It can’t be we have a better idea. It is the inclination of humans since the beginning of recorded time that we want to make God in our own image, we want to shape God into something that we find manageable and that we find acceptable. That’s never a good tradeoff because in the end, a god in our own image is just another form of self-worship. This is going to remain an obstacle as long as people think that we can reshape God so that we’re comfortable with Him. 

Kurt: This will be the last question and I’d like each of you to answer and I sort of set you up with that previous one about how it was a stumbling block. Now I want to personalize it so here’s my question. Why have each of you instead of abandoning your faith, although Kent, I would be interested for you to speak more about your experience, decided to hold fast to your Christian profession in the face of this challenge to the nature of the God of the Bible?

Clay: Wow. I realize that people disagree, that there’s a lot of people, I know John does disagree with me, and people of conscience can disagree with things. For me, I just don’t see it as a problem. There it is. I’m not troubled by the Canaanite conquest. It doesn’t bother me at all. These people were desperate sinners and God destroyed them for it. The Scripture says in Romans 1 that they repress the truth by their wickedness, that what can be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. He did the same thing with Noah, where He decided that all the people on Earth, they’re all wicked. They have to go. He destroyed them all. I got to be honest with you. I just don’t find it troubling. I understand that other people do here and I’m fine, but if you come to me, I don’t find it as a problem. I don’t sit there and go “Ah, yeah, but what are we really going to do?” They were sinful and God finally said their sin has now maxed out. There’s not one person there that is righteous. They’re all evil. I talked about that in my session, and they all deserve to die. I don’t have a problem with that. I have been a Christian now for a long time. I’m sure these gentlemen have too. I became a Christian when I was 12 and I’ve been walking with the Lord ever since, and the more I grow in Christ, I see the creator of the universe, He’s not messing around folks. He is the rock. Jesus is the rock upon which men stumble and He’s not apologizing for it. I just don’t have a problem with it.

Paul: Thank you. Great work. I think what Clay is pointing out too I think is a good reminder to us all about how seriously do we take sin and maybe our sensitivity to the Canaanite question and so forth. Maybe we need to have more of an understanding of what was actually going on, the kind of wickedness that was taking place there and so forth. I know there’s disagreement about these things, but I think, yes, Jesus was one who was very strong in His stance against sin. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah and so forth and how they were destroyed, and Tyre and Sidon and so forth. They were judged and so forth. These are the sorts of things that Jesus Himself is saying. I take refuge in Jesus. Jesus is the one who is the, I see so clearly, the revelation of God, but you see that Jesus is both kind as well as severe and so as I kind of wrestle with these issues, I look at Jesus who is affirming the Old Testament as do His followers and you see in the New Testament as I’ve talked about in the book of Acts, the book of Hebrews and so forth, there’s no rejection or distancing from what has taken place in the past, but simply seeing that Jesus is now bringing about a new order, bringing about the Kingdom of God and so forth, but it doesn’t lessen the severity of God, that God is still angry against sin and so there’s some things that, of course, things like the bodily resurrection of Jesus and so forth, the historicity of that fact and so forth. These reinforce and vindicate the claims that Jesus made about Himself during His ministry and also His view of the Old Testament, His view of sin and so forth. Those are some kind of cluster of things that kind of hang together. I think Jesus is the one, kind of the converging, the credibility point as it were where we look to Him and we say we want to get guidance from Him. We want to read, in a sense, yes, we’ve talked about the importance of loving your neighbor and yourself, but Jesus is also engaged in very severe activities. In the book of Revelation, He’s very severe. He’s going to cast Jezebel on a bed of sickness. He is going to strike dead her followers and so forth. Again, very severe. Is there a love there? Yes. Sometimes it’s saying, “I’m going to cut you off, because you are harming my people. I’m going to cut you off, because you’re bringing destructive influences to those around you.” And so, in some way, yes, that is an act of love to prevent them from bringing great harm to others. It’s also showing love to those who are potentially being harmed by that as well. It’s not as though this flies in the face of love, but we see in Jesus, someone again, behold the kindness and severity of God as reflected in Jesus Christ.

Kenton: Thanks. So I lost my faith when I was in Bible College studying philosophy and theology and Biblical studies. You don’t have much sophistication when you’re 19, 20 years old. You look back on that and it was formative and important and intellectual, but my understanding of the world such as it is is far more detailed and advanced than it was when I was 19, but I had decided, “Look. Evolution is true. The Bible’s not inerrant. The violence in the Bible is disgusting. Wow.” And then I read C.S. Lewis, but you got to read all the notes. Lewis will tell you, evolution, fact. Right? Lewis will tell you, inerrancy, no. Lewis will tell you, violence in the Bible, not good. Lewis will tell you, lots of the text in the Old Testament? Myth. In Jesus, God fulfills the myth of Israel. I was able to get back to faith by reconfiguring my understanding of how the Bible worked in relation to Jesus. Jesus is for me the centerpiece around which all else sort of rotates you might say, but so, yeah, these things were real stumbling block and I’m grateful to Lewis and Bonhoeffer for their help.

John: When I see something in the Bible or in God that’s disturbing or looks like a discrepancy, my immediate presupposition is it’s my problem. It’s not God’s problem. It’s my problem. It’s not the Bible’s problem. I’m not understanding well enough. I’m not interpreting well enough. I’m not reading carefully enough. I always assume that the problem is mine, so that doesn’t become a crisis of faith for me. It becomes a spur to study deeper, to try to learn more, to understand it better. We’re always going to be people who are short of adequate information to understand everything that God’s doing and all that Scripture is presenting. We’re a people with our built-in limitations and we can’t let those become obstacles. When I recognize that I am short of information that will allow me to understand what the Bible’s saying and what God is doing, I try to remind myself that it’s precisely when we’re short of information, that trust is supposed to step in. Trust comes in where information is lacking. When I find something troubling, to me that’s the moment to fall back on trust and say, “I just have to try to keep understanding better.” That’s kind of how I approach it, so it’s never created a crisis of faith for me. It only makes me doubt myself more and my abilities to decipher and understand what I need to do.

Kurt: Let’s give a big round of applause to all of our speakers. Thank you so much.


Kurt: Thank you gentlemen. Alright. That does it for our episode today. Next week, I’ll be back in studio joined by Austin Fischer where we’ll be talking about his recent book Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt. Again, that does it for today’s episode. I’m grateful for the continued support of our sponsors and the patrons that we have. Patrons are folks that just chip in a few bucks every month to help our program a little bit. We could use your support especially if you want to bring Veracity Hill to the radio. Please check out our website, Veracityhill.com, where you can learn more about our weekly program. I want to thank our guests, all four of our guests, Clay Jones, Paul Copan, Kenton Sparks, and John Walton for joining me on our program today. Thank you to our technical producer Chris in back running the livestream and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. 

 [NP1]Indiscernable around 8:00

 [NP2]This sounds like bad phraseology at 9:00, but I don’t know what else you mean

 [NP3]Check at 51:25

Not at this time
Not at this time

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