Things Christians say to explain away biblical moral atrocities

Posted on 06/21/12 143 Comments

First off, what’s a moral atrocity?

It is the kind of event perpetrated by moral agents such that, if you read about it in the newspaper, you’d naturally exclaim “That’s a moral atrocity!” And by saying that you’d be meaning (among other things) that the event in question is an egregious moral evil which could not plausibly have an adequate moral justification.

For example, you open up the newspaper and read that in the fictional country of Roumidia an entire village was slaughtered by a neighboring tribe of people, infants included. The explanation given by the tribe was that their deity had directed them to consecrate the people of the other tribe to their deity and offer them up as a sacrifice.

Upon reading this horrifying account, properly functioning, minimally moral people would immediately judge the massacre in Roumidia to constitute a moral atrocity. We wouldn’t even dignify their claim for moral justification with a moment’s serious consideration.

This is where things get perplexing, because countless Christians will suddenly shelve the skepticism when it comes to reading accounts of similar atrocities in the Bible. As surely as they dismiss any claim for moral justification to the Roumidian village slaughter, so they dismiss any possible claim against moral justification for things like the Israelite slaughter of the Canaanites.

What do Christians say to explain this curious double standard? Let’s consider a few examples that have appeared in recent days in the blog.

Who are you to question God’s morality you gnat!?

Chris wrote to me: “Are you saying that you are in a position to judge God’s morality? And if so, on what basis?” Now that’s a trump card if ever there was one! Bam! Who are you to question God’s morality, you, you … gnat!

The problem is that this comment completely begs the question. And I do mean completely. The very issue at stake is whether we have reason to believe that God would commit actions like punishing women by orchestrating conditions in which they would cannibalize their children (to take the example that started us off earlier this week). And in response to this Chris basically says that since God did punish people in this way, we are in no place to question him. But of course I’ve been arguing that we don’t have good reason to believe God would punish people in this way, and that means that we don’t have good reason to read the texts straight (i.e. as straightforward, factual accounts of actual past events).

God has no obligations

Walter observed: “The classical theists that I spar with on another site are always stressing to me that God has no moral obligations to human beings.”

That’s another popular response. In layman’s terms: God don’t owe us nuthin’. (Never mind the grammar, you know what I mean.)

Soku offers a good response: “Even if God doesn’t have any moral obligations – a view I’m somewhat attracted to – it doesn’t follow that God’s own nature as The Good itself wouldn’t compel God to treat his creatures in certain ways (which would also *exclude* God treating his creatures in certain ways).”

That’s exactly right. I think it is in fact confused to think of God as having moral obligations, especially if we think of God as the ground of morality as most Christians believe. But to offer that as a response to explain (or explain away) moral atrocities allegedly commanded or committed by God is simply confused. The claim is not that God would never punish women by orchestrating conditions in which they’d eat their infants because he has an obligation to refrain from acting in that way. The claim, rather, is that God would never act in this way because it is fundamentally inconsistent with God’s perfect moral nature.

So dispensing with divine moral obligations is quite irrelevant to the matter.

God’s goodness isn’t our goodness

Walter then added further explanation of his point which was just enough to constitute another explanation:”The classical theists that I engage with seem to want to qualify God’s goodness as something quite different from human moral goodness. They would claim that a perfect Heavenly Father is substantially different from a perfect Human Father….”

This is essentially an argument for moral skepticism. It claims that our moral intuitions are so unreliable that we can’t see how things like punishing mothers by orchestrating the conditions in which they’ll eat their infants is actually a morally defensible way to punish a mother (and the infant).

That’s absurd. The onus is on the moral skeptic to provide some reason to think our moral intuitions are that significantly flawed, all the more so given the heavy dependence on the natural moral law in texts like Romans 1-2.

Playing the meticulous providence card

This is a really popular form of argument and it is well stated byAlex who writes: “How much worse is a God who punishes with child-eating, than a God who has the ability to stop it, but simply allows it to happen? At least with the former, there is some sort of rationale there.”

So we have two scenarios.

Scenario 1: God foreknows and allows the conditions to occur in which a mother cannibalizes her child.

Scenario 2: God foreknows and allows the conditions to occur in which a mother cannibalizes her child for the express purpose of punishing the mother and child.

And Alex is claiming that scenario 2 is preferable because there is at least a reason God allows the moral atrocity to occur, i.e. for the sake of punishment. But there is no such justifying reason in Scenario 1.

In fact, with this argument Alex has gotten himself into something of a pickle. Indeed, by the look of things he’s submerged in a vat of Vlasic’s. You see, this argument assumes that there is something morally problematic about God allowing scenario 1 over scenario 2. From this it follows that God would only allow a moral atrocity to occur if it were a punishment for something.

I take it Alex wouldn’t want to accept that consequence. Thus, he should retract his claim that scenario 2 is somehow preferable because the woman and child are being punished.

Now to the main point. Alex erroneously assumes that in Scenario 1 God would have no reason simply to allow a moral atrocity to occur. But that’s not true. To note the two stand-bys, free will and greater goods. Let’s focus for the moment on the latter. It may be enormously implausble to a person to contemplate what greater goods could possibly come from God’s allowing a woman to eat her infant under extreme conditions of starvation. I agree, that’s a tough one. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some possible justifying reasons. Indeed, given the complex webs of relationships that can arise from singular events, it is well within the range of plausiblity to think that an event which is morally atrocious could produce greater good on balance in the world.

However, things are very different when we say that the woman and her child were being punished. I don’t need to spend much time explaining why it is problematic to envision an infant being punished. Imagine for the minute that you saw a mother slapping the bottom of her six week old at the Dairy Queen. Horrified, you ask what she’s doing. “I’m punishing my baby!” she replies indignantly. “The brat spit up all over my shoulder!” Your next move would be to call social services and file a complaint. You don’t punish babies.

Slapping a neonate’s bottom is bad enough, but imagine punishing a baby by orchestrating the conditions where its mother would cannibalize it. That, as you can imagine, is absolutely off the moral charts.

But what about its mother? Could it be morally proper to punish the mother by orchestrating the conditions in which the mother would cannibalize her infant?

Well, there are four main justifications that are commonly given for punishment: incapacitation (i.e. prevention of further criminality), deterrence, rehabilitation and retribution. It seems to me that of these four retribution would be the only remotely plausible explanation.

But remotely plausible isn’t plausible.

And keep in mind that the one undertaking the punishment is also described as “maximally compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love”.

Newspaper moral atrocities revisted

It is at this point that we return to the moral atrocity in Roumidia. No doubt the Roumidians could proffer a few contorted remotely plausible justifications for their actions. And no doubt you would dismiss those justifications as the most implausible rationalizations.

Perhaps it is time for some exercising of the Golden Rule by turning the same skepticism that you have for the justifications of moral atrocities given in other traditions to those justifications provided in your own tradition.

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  • soku

    Nice post, Randal. I’m largely in agreement with your points and I’m even pleased I was deemed quote-worthy! :D

    How I would respond to Walter’s follow up would be simply to quote J.S. Mill (I don’t agree with him on nearly anything else but he seems to me to make an excellent point):

    “To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good? To assert in words what we do not think in meaning, is as suitable a definition as can be given of a moral falsehood.”

    I would maintain on Christianity there simply *must* be some type of moral conceptual/epistemological link between God and human beings no matter how comparatively weak or sparse or anemic it is. The case you were discussing seems to me to involve very fundamental and basic moral truths.

  • Alex Dalton

    Randal defines a moral atrocity: “if you read about it in the newspaper, you’d naturally exclaim “That’s a moral atrocity!” And by saying that you’d be meaning (among other things) that the event in question is an egregious moral evil which could not plausibly have an adequate moral justification.”

    The problem is – for Israelites, these punishments of God in the Bible were simply not moral atrocities. That would be why they are in their sacred texts. They had a completely different view of Fatherhood than we do today.

    This is the most obvious and pertinent point to this discussion. Remember – it is not morally atrocious for the God of the Israelites to have Job’s children destroyed simply to test the loyalty of Job. Even more strange to us is that Joseph’s latter life is considered more blessed after his kids are replaced. It is not morally atrocious for God to punish David’s act of adultery by killing his child, etc.

    In the ANE, the Father was expected to be a harsh disciplinarian – particularly through physical punishment – what we would call very abusive by today’s standards. This was seen as the most effective method of training the child to be unswervingly loyal to the father. The silent suffering of the child under the punishment of the father was seen as honorable and essential to masculinity.

    How are you going to understand the biblical metaphor of “Father” for God if you don’t understand the social role of the father at the time the bible was written? Hint: you aren’t.

    Here’s another hint – the central redemptive act in Christianity is the Father offering up the torture and death of his, son. Tender hearted theologians can spin out all of the books they want on atonement theories and it is never going to take the violence out of the cross. The biblical God redeems the world by what, by modern standards, is no less than a moral atrocity. The paradox of the God whose love is often violent is not an OT issue – it is the cornerstone of the Christian faith – hate it or love it. I sure hope its ok to wish that it wasn’t, but trying to reinvent Christianity as if it can ever be acceptable to modern sensibilities, is a waste of time and an extreme form of historical denial.

    For some cultural background on all of these subjects, see:

    Pilch, John J. “Death with Honor: The Mediterranean Style Death of Jesus in Mark,” BTB 25 (1995)

    • randal

      “The problem is – for Israelites, these punishments of God in the Bible were simply not moral atrocities. That would be why they are in their sacred texts. They had a completely different view of Fatherhood than we do today.”

      This is partially true, paritally false. Take the issue of human sacrifice. Clearly some ancient Israelites incorporated human sacrifice to Yahweh into their religious practices. But the prophets reveal a growing discomfort with this practice. There isn’t a unified moral vision in the Old Testament. Instead, the book is a complex library of distinct perspectives on Yahweh and how we relate to him. Some of those perspectives are incompatible. So when you speak of “They” you are referring only to some Israelites.

      And this pushes us back to natural law. To what extent do Christians, like everybody else, depend on a grasp of the natural law written on the heart in reasoning ethically? The impact is huge. It is operative when we read of atrocities in Africa. Yes, of course the tribes in question may say it isn’t an atrocity to them. And when you uncover a cannibal tribe in Indonesia, eating flesh isn’t anathema to them. But the existence of social groups that believe certain things are morally permissible which we recognize are not is not an argument that we should abandon our perspective and adopt theirs.

      If you want to argue that adopting certain ancient Israelite perspectives on war and human sacrifice and the moral culpability of infants is essential to identifying one as a Christian, well good luck with that.

      • Alex

        Randal – take a few seconds and read what I wrote again, then see your response. I say the punishments of God were not considered moral atrocities, and the Israelites had a different conception of Fatherhood. You respond by telling me there’s no unified moral vision in the OT, and Israelites disagreed on things like sacrifice. Herm…

        As if a generalization about the role of the Father in the ancient world, and its difference from our modern idea of Fatherhood (also a generalization) simply shouldn’t be made. And to do so is to fail to appreciate the diverse theological perspectives of the OT.

        Firstly, its perfectly okay to look at ancient mediterranean fatherhood from a high level of abstraction and see how well Yahweh’s role as father lines up with this (it lines up very well). Yes I’m only talking about “some ancient Israelites” – specifically the ones who spoke of Yahweh as Father, and also described his actions in terms of the strong disciplinarian role of ANE Fatherhood.

        There’s really nothing you can disagree with here in the specifics of what I’m saying. The Israelites would’ve seen Yahweh as having the right to give or take life, to bless or to curse based on their behavior. Those terms are written into the covenant in full-blown harshnsess. And they would’ve seen it as bound up with his righteousness, honor, and good judgment as their Father. That’s why these are the kind of texts written to exhort them towards fear of, and loyalty to God.

        Randal wrote:
        If you want to argue that adopting certain ancient Israelite perspectives on war and human sacrifice and the moral culpability of infants is essential to identifying one as a Christian, well good luck with that

        Alex: Nowhere do I argue this, though we should be aware of their differing perspectives and understand that our own ethical considerations are conditioned just as much by our modern individualistic culture, and many of them would’ve looked foolish and evil to them in many instances where they seem right to us (as is the case with Islam today). Your “natural law written on the heart” about how wrong it would be for God to order the killing of other nations as an act of judgment, simply wasn’t on their hearts, Randal. It wasn’t on Jesus’ or Paul’s heart either.

        • Alex

          While we’re on the subject of ethics across cultures, I’m pretty sure we’d both agree that child sacrifice to a deity is unethical. Now, was Abraham, a man who lived at a time when this was a common practice, acceptible to many, unethical in his decision to obey God? An act that made him worthy to be the father of all those who would inherit salvation? Did he violate the natural law?

          Now there’s a sour pickle for you. Are you that far off track in your “theological diversity”? Or are you a moral skeptic by your own criteria?

          You probably will be crafty and refrain from answering though.

          • randal

            Why would you call me “crafty” Alex? There’s no reason to be antagonistic and impute nefarious motives to me. Unless you’re training to be a politician.

            If you want to find my answer to what one does with the Akedah see my conference paper “I want to give the baby to God

            Before you claim that “child sacrifice to a deity is unethical” I recommend you read up on the concept of herem in ancient Israel. You’ll discover that Israelite holy war consisted of a devotional act of offering up defeated warriors, civilians (including children) and their possession to Yahweh as sacrifices. So if you want to say that child sacrifice is wrong then I’m with you, but you’re not with the portrayal in Deuteronomy 13, 20, Joshua 6, et cetera.

            I hope you’ll take the time to read Susan Niditch on this and digest the results of her study. In the interim, here are some choice quotes for you:

            “Perhaps the neatest example of devoting a person to destruction as a sacrifice promised to God is found at 1 Kings 20.” (35) The prophet removes his disguise and declares (to Ahab who spared the king Ben-Hadad): “Because you let go the man who was devoted to me (literally ‘my devoted person’), your life is in place of his and your people are in place of his.” “No clearer description of the ban as sacrifice exists. The banned king is the Lord’s herem: if he is found missing, compensation must be provided in the form of the Israelite king’s own life.” (36-7)

            “[the soldiers] are offering human sacrifices to the deity. The enemy is usually imagined to be slaughtered by sword in the denouement of battle and not prepared Aztec-style for a separate sacrificial ritual…. Nevertheless, the deaths are perceived as sacrifices to God in exchange for his help in war.” (42)

            “Scholars who have explored the Molek-sacrifice in Israelite religion suggest that it is not merely a literary leftover from a pre-Israelite past or part of the belief system of a small renegade group of Israelites. Heider and Mosca conclude, in fact, that a form of child sacrifice was a part of state-sponsored ritual until the reform of the seventh-century BCE Judean king, Josiah….” (48)

            • Alex

              Randal:
              Before you claim that “child sacrifice to a deity is unethical” I recommend you read up on the concept of herem in ancient Israel.

              Alex: I should’ve been more clear here. I meant unethical to modern people like you and I, who are not called specifically by God to do any such thing.

              Yes, I’ve read Niditch, own her book, and corresponded with her. I’m not all that convinced on many of her readings. I’ve read through some of the Stark Wars; I think there is good info. there to be taken into account. But even Niditch distinguishes between herem as sacrifice, herem as justice, etc. You quote:

              “Perhaps the neatest example of devoting a person to destruction as a sacrifice promised to God is found at 1 Kings 20.” (35) The prophet removes his disguise and declares (to Ahab who spared the king Ben-Hadad): “Because you let go the man who was devoted to me (literally ‘my devoted person’), your life is in place of his and your people are in place of his.” “No clearer description of the ban as sacrifice exists. The banned king is the Lord’s herem: if he is found missing, compensation must be provided in the form of the Israelite king’s own life.” (36-7)

              Alex: I think this reading is really weak and I think here we are closer to herem as justice than herem as sacrifice. And even with herem as sacrifice, there are MANY different kinds of sacrifice in the ANE – some of which really don’t do any more ethical damage to the deity receiving sacrifice than to say the deity ordered the killing of certain individuals. For instance, Yahweh isn’t eating a communal meal of children, or asking that they be set on an altar during an elaborate ritual. I think there are multiple paths here for evangelicals with a high view of scripture to take here.

              • Alex

                Randal: Why would you call me “crafty” Alex? There’s no reason to be antagonistic and impute nefarious motives to me. Unless you’re training to be a politician.

                Alex: I can be a bit of a pest – no harm intended.

        • randal

          You can’t justly punish a person that isn’t culpable. Multiple texts in scripture describe infants being punished as part of the societal whole. If you deny what the text says you do so based on your moral perception that guilt cannot be imputed to an infant and punishment justly inflicted upon an infant. If you do in fact take this position, then you should come out and admit it, which means we’re in the same boat of using our moral reasoning to eliminate prima facie readings of certain biblical texts. Or you could be consistent and agree that infants can be guilty and justly punished. Right now you’re just inconsistent.

          As for the place of human sacrifice in ancient Israel, like I said, read up on the herem and then come to your conclusions.

      • pete

        “There isn’t a unified moral vision in the Old Testament. Instead, the book is a complex library of distinct perspectives on Yahweh and how we relate to him.”

        @ Randal:

        Can you provide the reasons why you think this?

        I see the Old Testament as quite consistent in promoting covenant fidelity (rooted in the revealed nature of God) as the plumb line to which Israel or certain persons are judged.

        • randal

          You might start with Thom Stark’s book. The writers and redactors of the OT present different views on issues like warfare, the transmission of guilt, the role of the power elites, and the relation to outsiders to the covenant community.

          Keep in mind that what you describe as the Old Testament is the result of a long, complex, and ideologically driven process of redaction.

    • randal

      “Here’s another hint – the central redemptive act in Christianity is the Father offering up the torture and death of his, son. Tender hearted theologians can spin out all of the books they want on atonement theories and it is never going to take the violence out of the cross.”

      Well this is going to be an abortive conversation if the only atonement theory you’re willing to countenance is one that depends on the literal functionality of human sacrifice as a way to appease the deity.

      I think the disparaging, almost mocking reference to “tender hearted theologians” is interesting though. Yes, particular moral intuitions drive many theologians to engage critically with their tradition. You have those same intuitions when you read the newspaper and then you shelve them when you read the Bible.

      • Alex

        I have no problem with atonement theories, as there are obviously many different perspectives on the atonement within the NT, and many different functions of sacrifice within the OT. I tend to appreciate just about every atonement theory out there and I have some speculative theories on the atonement myself. Though I admit to preferring the work of philosophers like Swinburne, Eleonore Stump, Steven Porter, Robin Collins, etc., over straight theologians. Here is a collection of articles I put together on the atonement, some of which I requested permission to host and typed up for the web myself:

        http://www.lastseminary.com/atonement/

        Have a look. I think its some of the best modern writing on the atonement you will find anywhere. See Eleonore Stump’s essay for sure. It is right up your alley.

        But though Jesus’ atoning death is more than just a human sacrifice to appease God, it is *at least* that, and there simply is no denying that it is an act of horrific violence that God uses to save the world – not just the death of his son, but the torture and extreme shaming of his son. And yes, it is a literal human sacrifice (though sacrifices do more than just appease a deity). When you think you’ve found a way around that, post a blog on it. I’d be interested to discuss the atonement.

        • randal

          Thanks for that link Alex. I’m sure many readers will benefit from that list.

          I’m going to respond to the rest in a blog post.

  • Alex

    Randal writes:

    “The problem is that this comment completely begs the question. And I do mean completely. The very issue at stake is whether we have reason to believe that God would commit actions like punishing women by orchestrating conditions in which they would cannibalize their children (to take the example that started us off earlier this week).”

    The God of the Bible chose Israel as his firstborn son. He then sent firey serpents into the crib when Israel was cranky or cried for food. God chose Joseph to do something special; this special boy was then sold into slavery by his own brothers, and spent 12 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Hell, if God gives me a rough week, I question my faith. David was one of God’s favorites. God broke him in with a little game called hide in caves from the most powerful madman in Israel who is trying to kill you for no reason. Job was such a great guy, God took everything from him. And what about his real son? Need I go on? I mean – these guys’ lives – they sucked, no?

    How can you possibly miss the severe punishment of God even if we toss the OT entirely? Jesus is throwing it in your face all throughout the gospels. Jesus is loving and merciful, but he is also just as terrifying. Is condemning people to seemingly unending weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell for not accepting Him, any better than being punished by having to eat your dead kid? It isn’t. Jesus commandments are harder, and the punishments he speaks of are greater – than anything in the OT.

    I mean c’mon man…Just admit it. God could’ve left that stuff out of the Bible. He wanted it in there…Isn’t it obvious? He’s saddled us with this Bible. You’re spending your life trying to figure out how to deal with it. Me too. Its pretty tough sometimes. I took a 5 year break from reading the OT. Every time I read it, its harder to deal with. I’ve sat over those kid-eating passages and cried – literally cried over my Bible asking God “why is this in here?”.

    I would love it if you had the answer, but I’ve read some of your stuff and I don’t think you do. Keep trying to come up with something solid though – we need it. So far, I think you are way off though – denial being the key problem.

    • randal

      “I mean c’mon man…Just admit it. God could’ve left that stuff out of the Bible. He wanted it in there…Isn’t it obvious?”

      Of course he wanted it in there. The point is not that we get a pair of scissors and begin snipping to produce a modern Jeffersonian bible. In other words, the issue isn’t one about the extent of inspiration. Rather, it is about the nature of interpretation. My “Lecture Notes on the Imprecatory Psalms” give one example of how you appropriate prima facie problematic biblical texts.

      The biggest problem with your comments is that you don’t acknowledge that Christianity is a complex, living conversation with various distinct perspectives in which people are seeking to appropriate the same canon. You talk as if there is only one way to read the text and the tradition. I have met many atheists who were once Christians of that persuasion and eventually the natural law broke through cracking their rationalizations and leaving them with nothing. As a result, helping Christians recognize the diversity of perspectives, the diversity of theological frameworks for Christian doctrine, the diversity of ways that texts are read, is a preemptive apologetic move so that they are never forced into that dichotomy when the natural law finally comes knocking.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        Randal, I absolutely admire that you’re one of the few prominent evangelicals (that I know of, at least) who is willing to deal with these issues honestly. But I just can’t for the life of me understand why you would would be so insistent that “of course [God] wanted [tales of child cannibalizing, etc.] in there.”

        To paraphrase Robert Price (can’t remember the exact quote) about the “dashing infants’ heads against rocks” Psalm: sure, it’s possible that God chose to include this in scripture as some sort of negative moral example, but then in that case it’s also entirely possible that God chose include the gospel of John as an example of gnostic heresy!

        • randal

          “But I just can’t for the life of me understand why you would would be so insistent that “of course [God] wanted [tales of child cannibalizing, etc.] in there.””

          In other words, why would I maintain plenary inspiration (PI)?

          There are many reasons. Here are a few:

          (1) PI is represented in the views of Jesus, Paul and other first century adherents toward the Hebrew scriptures.
          (2) PI is representative of the mainstream Christian tradition.
          (3) I am unaware of any persuasive defeaters to God appropriating texts that hold some incorrect theological opinions and those texts thereby becoming plenary inspired in their appropriated role within a broader canonical whole.
          (4) I can readily envision some of the ends to which those texts with their incorrect theological opinions might be properly put within the canonical whole (as I discuss in the imprecatory psalms piece).

          • http://leadme.org Jeff

            Well, what you say to me if I were to say to you, “Of course I accept the plenary inspiration of scripture. But of course, the gospel of John is gnostic heresy we ought not appeal to for Christology, soteriology, etc.”

            • randal

              I don’t think that the Gospel of John is gnostic heresy. I think it is combatting protean gnosticism. But I think I understand your point. For example, when Peter preaches in Acts that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” a person could argue that this is a heretical adoptionism which was incorporated into the canon for some particular reason.

              In principle I recognize that people could argue that way. The real issue is that I don’t see at this point any reason to countenance seriously such readings. The one place where I do see such readings as potentially persuasive concerns the moral atrocity texts.

            • http://leadme.org Jeff

              The “gnostic heresy” line was Price’s, not mine, although it does seem much more otherworldly than the synoptics.

              But anyway, what I’m really trying to understand is what your operating principle is here. That the various biblical texts are to be considered prescriptive for faith and theology unless proven guilty? It sure seems to me (and to most people, I would guess) that you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. Is there anything you can imagine that might serve as a defeater of your view of scripture?

              Maybe I should elaborate a bit on my own understanding of biblical inspiration. I don’t ascribe to inerrancy or plenary inspiration or anything similar, but I certainly do consider very much of the Bible to have been inspired by the experience of God. Many of the biblical writers, I have no doubt, came into contact and communion with God. They then struggled to put their experiences into words, as best they could, framed in their own cultural language and bound by their own cultural baggage. Their experiences of God were real. Their explanations of those experiences, however, are very frail human products. God was revealed to them, but the task fell solely on their shoulders to try to translate those (often bewildering) experiences into human language. So the value of scripture is that it points us to God, not that it provides us with some sort of sure and certain foundation for our theology.

              Perhaps the main difference in our positions is that you’ve committed yourself to the truth of Christian orthodoxy (however broadly you want to define that) and so, it seems to me, you have to grasp for some sort of ad hoc way to ground orthodox theology. By contrast I don’t have any particular attachment to orthodoxy, and in fact I consider it largely to be chaff that in many places serves to obscure God, and to obscure Jesus.

              • http://leadme.org Jeff

                Whoops, chance “ascribe to” to “hold to.”

                • http://leadme.org Jeff

                  Argh! “Change” not “chance.”

              • Bob

                fyi, Jeff, the example I’ve usually heard Price use in the past is that of C.I. Scofield commenting that Ecclesiastes was not meant to be taken at face value as wisdom. Scofield felt it was so nihilistic that he thought it must have been included as a negative example.

                But Price wasn’t *endorsing* this point of view. He was claiming this point of view allows you to turn the Bible into a wax nose, to say anything you want. He was rejecting it as a bad hermeneutic.

              • randal

                This indeed comes down to one’s epistemology. I’ve already explicitly repudiated an evidentialist approach to the text in the same way I repudiate an evidentialist approach to most things human beings know. The vast amount of data that we know — sense perception, intuition, memory, testimony, and so on — is known as properly basic absent defeaters. I am not sure why you are so convinced that knowledge of God through scripture should be excluded from that status for those who are members of the Christian community.

                Plantinga’s chapter “Two kinds of scripture scholarship” (I think that’s the title) in Warranted Christian Belief provides a good discussion to the issues and presents a view of scripture with which I’d be broadly sympathetic.

      • http://leadme.org Jeff

        Put another way: In what way (if any) is biblical inspiration unique from and superior to (for example) Quranic inspiration?

        • randal

          This question seems to assume an evidentialist approach toward biblical inspiration, i.e. I detect some unique properties in scripture that are not present in any other texts (e.g. uniquely fulfilled prophecies) and infer based on that evidence that the text is therefore inspired.

          But that’s not how most Christians arrive at and retain their belief in the inspiration of the Bible, and it certainly isn’t how I do it.

          • http://leadme.org Jeff

            Actually, that’s not quite what I’m getting at. I could imagine that if one accepts a model of meticulous divine providence, then one could/should perhaps say that every piece of literature is in some sense inspired by God. So in what way is biblical inspiration unique? Or is this a totally confused question?

            • randal

              Your question seems to be posed like a reductio ad absurdum against the concept of meticulous providence, i.e. (1) if God is meticulously provident then every text is inspired. But (2) it is absurd to think every text is inspired so (3) God isn’t meticulously provident.

              But I don’t find that reasoning compelling. (1) is false. The fact that God, in his providential purposes, actualized the conditions in which persons would write a text doesn’t make that text inspired. God also has to claim that text as his authoritative word to humanity. Christians believe he did that for the Bible but not other texts.

              • http://leadme.org Jeff

                No, I wasn’t trying to argue that. I was simply asking what is unique about the way in which the biblical writers were inspired. Am I understanding correctly that you’re saying that there really isn’t anything unique about the process by which the Bible was inspired? That what makes the Bible unique from other literature is, rather, that God has claimed it as his authoritative word to humanity?

                • randal

                  The standard family of views of inspiration have presupposed that the Holy Spirit acted upon individuals in a particular way enabling them to write things down which were revelation. I don’t take that view. Instead I follow Nicholas Wolterstorff and William Lane Craig’s account. Wolterstorff talks about God claiming human discourse as his own to make it divine discourse and Craig explains this process in accord with the theory of middle knowledge which I accept. So I don’t posit as a rule that something unique happened to people when they wrote scripture. Rather, it becomes scripture as it is appropriated as God’s words by the Spirit working in the human community to recognize it as such.

        • randal

          I’ll answer the question as you’ve posed it: as a Christian I believe that biblical inspiration exists but Quranic inspiration doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

          Now let’s say you were to rephrase: “In what way (if any) is the evidence for biblical inspiration unique from and superior to (for example) Quranic inspiration?”

          This would be a legitimate question to consider for a person committed neither to the Bible or the Qur’an and considering the claims of each. But getting into that question here would bring us rather far afield from present concerns.

      • Alex

        Randal: The biggest problem with your comments is that you don’t acknowledge that Christianity is a complex, living conversation with various distinct perspectives in which people are seeking to appropriate the same canon.

        Alex: Well, let me set the record straight and acknowledge that, and also say that the type of disagreement you and I are having is part of that.

        Randal: I have met many atheists who were once Christians of that persuasion and eventually the natural law broke through cracking their rationalizations and leaving them with nothing.

        Alex: I’m not so sure it was the natural law that broke through – probably something more along the lines of not knowing how to read ancient texts – e.g. reading them and reacting to them like they are a modern newspaper (as you recommend we do). Realy bad advice, btw…

        Randal: As a result, helping Christians recognize the diversity of perspectives, the diversity of theological frameworks for Christian doctrine, the diversity of ways that texts are read, is a preemptive apologetic move so that they are never forced into that dichotomy when the natural law finally comes knocking.

        Alex: I’m somewhat with this. I think its good to have the diversity of views, but not because the natural law is finally going to come knocking, but because, in direct contradiction to your views on natural law, people are just very different in what they can and cannot accept – and they waver in their own moral considerations, absorb different viewpoints from their surrounding environments, life experience, etc. – and we need to be humble enough to admit that our intuitions about what the natural law is can often be wrong, so these alternate theological systems that still preserve the essentials can really be useful. Your very disagreement with more conservative evangelicalism on these “moral atrocity” issues in the OT, work against your thought on natural law. These are real differences in moral opinion – not either side stubbornly refusing to admit something we all just *know* is true in our heart.

        • randal

          “how to read ancient texts – e.g. reading them and reacting to them like they are a modern newspaper (as you recommend we do). Realy bad advice, btw…”

          What are you talking about? Where did I say that ancient texts should be read “like they are a modern newspaper”?

          “we need to be humble enough to admit that our intuitions about what the natural law is can often be wrong….”

          Should I be “humble” in my convictions that pedophilia and Father-daughter incest are always wrong? Should I be humble when I read the carnage in Rwanda or Nazi Germany? Should I be humble in my moral judgments when my neighbor introduces himself as a porn star? I guarantee your “humility” is completely self-serving, i.e. it kicks in only when there are moral problems in your texts and tradition.

          • Alex

            Randal: What are you talking about? Where did I say that ancient texts should be read “like they are a modern newspaper”?

            Alex: Here is what you wrote:

            “For example, you open up the newspaper and read that in the fictional country of Roumidia an entire village was slaughtered by a neighboring tribe of people…properly functioning, minimally moral people would immediately judge the massacre in Roumidia to constitute a moral atrocity….countless Christians will suddenly shelve the skepticism when it comes to reading accounts of similar atrocities in the Bible.”

            Alex: You are asking Christians to have the same ethical response to texts generated in completely different contexts, and WITHOUT context (is Roumidia collectivist or an individualist culture?), and further you completely disregard the cultural context of the actions in the Bible as reflecting upon the ethics of the actions, as if ancient Israelites recognized your modern Western individualist version of “natural law”. Its nonsense.

            Just open up your Bible, and respond ethically to it like you would a modern newspaper….riiiiight. Good job at “incarnating” in order to better listen to the text and appreciate its point of view, as you recommend in your video on your home page.

            Randal: I guarantee your “humility” is completely self-serving, i.e. it kicks in only when there are moral problems in your texts and tradition

            Alex: See my example of the judgment of John/Randy I gave below. This little jab is answered sufficiently, and you can apply it to all the examples you gave. Yes, we need humility because we have limited knowledge of factual circumstances, motives, actual potentials for freedom in any given human action, etc. You’ve ignored a good deal of what I’ve said on the limitations with regards to human moral deliberation.

  • Alex

    Wow – did you delete my post on Fatherhood in the ANE? Not sure why…

    “The onus is on the moral skeptic to provide some reason to think our moral intuitions are that significantly flawed, all the more so given the heavy dependence on the natural moral law in texts like Romans 1-2.”

    Its not so much that our moral intuitions are flawed for purposes of moral deliberation with regards to the acts of human beings. Indeed though, we’ve had alot of divine assistance in that area haven’t we? And our history really shows that we actually needed it, doesn’t it?

    The context in which our moral intuitions might be insufficient would be in judging whether or not a divine being might have certain sorts of justifications which we would lack, in ending the lives of beings he has created, and the methods he chooses to do so. Our understanding of justice would be woefully inadequate compared to his. We have no way of really doing anything other than guess-work when it comes to what punishments truly fit what crimes. Our theories of justice are quite obviously inadequate. We lack the knowledge of all the factual circumstances regarding any actual crime. We lack the true standard of goodness – which only God can have – by which we can really assess the severity of any crime. We lack the epistemic access to the real motives of individuals, for which we substitute guess work, which certainly have to be taken into account. And we lack the understanding of the degree of control an individual has over any particular behavior. We can’t even come to a consensus on whether or not free will exists, let alone untangle the psychological schemas and genetic factors that have a degree of control over individuals.

    • randal

      “Wow – did you delete my post on Fatherhood in the ANE? Not sure why…”

      I haven’t deleted any of your comments. But I just checked in and found one of your comments being held in the queue. Not sure why. Anyway I just approved it so hopefully that’s the one you’re referring to.

    • randal

      Alex, your comments here are a plea for moral skepticism. If we perceive a natural law at all, it is the natural law that is expressive of the divine being. Consequently, if we recognize, for example, that an infant cannot meaningfully be punished (let alone punished horrifically at the edge of the sword for sacrifice or sustenance), we have grounds to discount the coherence of any account of infants being properly punished, let alone punished through dismemberment and cannibalistic consumption. And that would provide grounds to read the description in Lamentations in a non-literalistic way.

      “Our understanding of justice would be woefully inadequate compared to his. We have no way of really doing anything other than guess-work when it comes to what punishments truly fit what crimes.”

      This is a good example of how you’ve adopted a functional moral skepticism. The thing is that here too you’re not really a moral skeptic (I imagine). You hear in the news about a murderer being released from prison after three years of good behavior while another person spends five years in prison for possession of contraband tobacco. You don’t say “It’s all guess work.” You’re appalled at the disparity, and rightly so. And of course in the example in my article, you immediately judge the actions of the tribe in slaughtering infants to be evil. You don’t seriously consider their claim that their God told them to do it, even if their God is Yahweh.

      Rather than adopt an ad hoc and self-serving moral skepticism whenever you need it, why don’t you examine your theological beliefs and reading of the texts with the same God-given natural law that you read the newspaper?

      • Alex

        Randal: Consequently, if we recognize, for example, that an infant cannot meaningfully be punished (let alone punished horrifically at the edge of the sword for sacrifice or sustenance), we have grounds to discount the coherence of any account of infants being properly punished, let alone punished through dismemberment and cannibalistic consumption.

        Alex: Well, as you saw in my next comment, I don’t believe these infants were actually punished – just killed. Their death actually takes them out of real harm’s way – and whoooosh! they’re in that light. Kill me with the infants, please. Eat my carcass if you like. “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” (Is. 57:1) Ponder it in your heart, Randal.

        Here’s your rebuttal to my suggestion that the children that die are better off:

        “First off, that’s not true to the text. The depiction is of all of Israel was being punished for the sins of Israel. The text makes no exceptions for infants. That’s the natural law working in you, diverging from the text.”

        Alex: Really? “All of Israel” must mean the infants are punished too? I’m not so sure. These guys used alot of hyperbole. I once read a book on use of hyperbole in ancient texts and it told me to watch out for use of words like “all” specifically. Does the text say “all”? But let’s just put that argument aside and look at the facts. The kids can live and starve slowly, or die a quicker death than the majority of the human race (assuming their parents kill them)and get ushered immediately into eternal bliss. Sounds like Yahweh loves the little children just like Jesus.

        Randal: Second, (sorry I have to put this rather harshly but) it is truly grotesque reasoning that would describe infants that are cooked and eaten by their mothers as receiving a reward.

        Alex: Let’s be “rigorously analytic” and really look at what happens to those kids. They die – that’s all. The children are not cooked *alive* (that might be impractical, no?), so essentially “they” are not cooked at all. Similarly, they are not eaten *alive*, so “they” are not cooked at all. They are actually alive and well, getting toasty in that bright loving light, while their soul-less carcasses are being cooked. They don’t care at this point. Like I said, this really only sucks for the person doing the eating – but still they chose to eat them no? Also, a relevant point I think – Yahweh really didnt’ directly punish them by stuffing their mouths full of children. They freely decided to eat their own children rather than starve. Yahweh’s judgment is the inficted famine. How many of them even ate their kids? And why is it Yahweh’s fault again? Because he knew they would decide to do it? How culpable is He for child-eating here? I’m not sure. Help me out.

        Bed time…I will respond to the rest tomorrow.

        • randal

          “Well, as you saw in my next comment, I don’t believe these infants were actually punished – just killed.”

          “Really? “All of Israel” must mean the infants are punished too? I’m not so sure. These guys used alot of hyperbole.”
          Right, and when Achan’s sons and daughters were all stoned you’re sure that they had all reached the mythical “age of accountability”.

          And when Samuel commands God to punish Amalekite infants, that was just more hyperbole, right?

          1 Samuel 15:3: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

          Don’t get me wrong. I agree with you that God doesn’t punish infants. I’m just asking you to stop deluding yourself into thinking the text supports your proper moral judgment.

          • Alex

            Randal – I’ve been busy tonight and will try to respond to more of your comments tomorrow. You desperately want the text to say God is specifically punishing infants, but a) it doesn’t, and b) the passages you quote indicate the opposite. Let’s look at the text:

            1 Samuel 15:3: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

            Unfortunately for your view, we’ve got some sheep, camels, and donkeys in this text fouling everything up. Are the cattle, sheep, and donkeys being held responsible and thus punished? Doubtful. God orders total annihilation here, for sure, but there is no reason to assume all parties designated for such destruction are specifically being held *responsible* (and thus punished) for the sins of the Amalekites warriors. They may be destroyed as a *consequence* of the punishment upon the Amelekite men, but the two are very different. And in this instance, it is a great mercy, as the ancient world had no social programs to take care of the remaining women/children and they would’ve died of starvation, been ravaged by another people, etc. Any way God punishes the Amalekite men, will have harsh consequences for the women and children. In this case, the decision to end their lives is a mercy compared to the alternative.

            If you disagree with me here, then please be more consistent moving forward and stop saying that God punishes children; say God punishes children, camels, donkeys, etc.

            Randal: Don’t get me wrong. I agree with you that God doesn’t punish infants. I’m just asking you to stop deluding yourself into thinking the text supports your proper moral judgment.

            Alex: I don’t think it is wrong for God to order that an infant’s life be taken. I’m being honest. What do you think? Can God ethically do this? I understand your view on the *punishing* part, but do you even allow that God can ethically end the life of an infant?

            • randal

              Alex, surely you’re not denying that the Amalekite non-infant humans were being punished?! Yet by your reasoning their inclusion in the same list as animals would mean they weren’t being punished. Care to revise your rebuttal?

              • Alex

                Um, no. But I will spell it out more clearly. I am *not* arguing that:

                1. there are animals in the list of those to be killed

                2. the animals are obviously not responsible, and thus not being punished

                3. therefore, each and every party included in the list to be killed are among those not being punished.

                I am arguing that:

                1. there are animals in the list of those to be killed

                2. the animals are obviously not responsible, and thus not being punished

                3. therefore, inclusion in the list of parties to be killed, does not entail inclusion in the list of parties held responsible, and thus to be punished

                Big difference…

                Thus, your statement that the text states God commands to “punish Amalekite infants” is false. All we really needed to do was read it to see that though.

                So from there, which parties in the list of those to be killed, would also be among those being punished? Those held responsible – namely, the warrior class, “for what they [the warrior class] did to Israel”. That is the clear statement of the text, designating those responsible, and thus the recipient of the “punishment”.

                • Alex

                  Also, since the text says to “totally destroy “all that belongs to them”, and by your reasoning, all objects designated for destruction in the text entail punishment of those same objects, please also add an exhaustive list of Amalekite property – housewares, clothing, etc. – to your list of things God punishes.

                  It may not engender any moral outrage but you’ll at least be able to make the OT authors look a little more foolish in their portrayal of God.

                  • randal

                    “by your reasoning, all objects designated for destruction in the text entail punishment of those same objects”

                    “By my reasoning”? This from a guy who cannot tell the ontological difference between an Amalekite infant and a rake?

                    My reasoning is that when God said totally destroy the Amalekites as a form of punishment for past sins, the Israelites destroyed them, and that included everyone from infants to the elderly, along with all their stuff.

                    You, on the other hand, want to offer a totally ad hoc, question-begging stipulation that when the Amalekites were slaughtered, only the non-infants were being “punished”. Talk about adding epicycles.

                    • Alex

                      Randal:
                      My reasoning is that when God said totally destroy the Amalekites as a form of punishment for past sins, the Israelites destroyed them, and that included everyone from infants to the elderly, along with all their stuff.

                      Alex: As I said, the punishment designates the warrior class in the text, and then the destruction of the families and possessions are mentioned separately as part of this punishment *of* those responsible. They are not said to be individually punished or held responsible for attacking the Israelites. The text is very clear on what the fault is and where the responsibility lies. The families being destroyed is part of the consequence of the punishment of the men, and in this instance, it is a merciful consequence given the alternatives. The women, and children, were probably considered the property of the men anyway. In the OT, God does bring about the death of children as punishment for the sins of their fathers, but this does not entail that the children themselves are beign held responsible, and thus punitive measures are being taken against them. David’s child with Bathsheeba was killed bc of David’s sin. The child was not held responsible and this was not a punitive action taken against the child. David was the target of the punitive act. I’m not sure you know what “punishment” means, and it sounds like you think it refers to anything negative a person does to another. Perhaps you could define what you mean by “punishment”.

                      Randal:
                      You, on the other hand, want to offer a totally ad hoc, question-begging stipulation that when the Amalekites were slaughtered, only the non-infants were being “punished”. Talk about adding epicycles.

                      Alex: Since you still cannot even restate my argument correctly, I’m not surprised that you think it is more complicated than your own. Perhaps its your reading comprehension that is the trouble.

                • randal

                  Keep adding the epicycles to your theory Alex. Eisegete the passage by assuming without argument that the infants get lumped in with the animals as slaughtered as an offering to Yahweh but not punished.

                  And I’m sure that Joshua spared Achan’s infant children. They just forgot to mention it. Or maybe they were stoned after all, but not as a punishment since all Achan’s livestock was destroyed as well.

                  As for the infants that Israel are instructed to slaughter in Deuteronomy 20, that’s only so they don’t grow up to lead Israel astray, not because they are being punished.

                  And in Deuteronomy 13 infants are offered to Yahweh to turn away his wrath from the Israelites. They’re not being punished, they’re just herem offerings to the deity.

                  Yes, that’s so much better.

                  • Alex

                    Randal: Keep adding the epicycles to your theory Alex.

                    Alex: Oh the irony. Hahah…this made me chuckle.

                    Randal: Eisegete the passage by assuming without argument that the infants get lumped in with the animals as slaughtered as an offering to Yahweh but not punished.

                    Alex: Eisegete by assuming without argument? Randal, please turn off any lighting you may have in the background of your study; I think you are catching your own reflection in the glare of your monitor, and your conscience is speaking to it. Here’s what actually happened. *You* claimed the text said something it doesn’t. *You* provided no argument in favor of the text actually saying this, other than to quote the text which clearly does *not* explicitly say what you want it to say. I presented an argument against your interpretation of the text. You then misconstrued my argument. I then gave you numbered premises and conclusion, none of which you have now singled out for disagreement. You accuse me of not having argued for my own position, but I actually did give an argument. See if you can find it, and understand it, without me having to number my premises for you again. So basically, your response is just a tad hypocritical.

                    Randal: As for the infants that Israel are instructed to slaughter in Deuteronomy 20, that’s only so they don’t grow up to lead Israel astray, not because they are being punished.

                    Alex: Yeah, that silly Yahweh. He doesn’t know WHAT he’s talking about! Hahaha…Yes, that was the reasoning, and its one among many reasons not to assimilate the wives, and especially children of a people whose land you are occupying. Can you think of any others? Several were widely understood in the ANE.

                    • randal

                      Back to the main two issues (to wrap this up).

                      First, as regards the punishment of infants, you seem not to understand the nature of the Mosaic covenant. Everyone in the nation was included within the covenant, no exceptions. That means that everyone could benefit from the blessings when Israel respected their end, and everyone could be judged when Israel failed to respect their end. Your attempt to exclude Israelite infants from the punishment is wishful (or just confused?) thinking.

                      Second, I still think you need to get your head around the nature of the herem and the fact that Israel was commanded to offer up other living persons, including infants, as sacrifices.

                      So if you want to be consistent in the way you treat the text you will accept both that Yahweh punished infants and he demanded them as sacrifices.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Back to the main two issues (to wrap this up).

                      First, as regards the punishment of infants, you seem not to understand the nature of the Mosaic covenant. Everyone in the nation was included within the covenant, no exceptions. That means that everyone could benefit from the blessings when Israel respected their end, and everyone could be judged when Israel failed to respect their end. Your attempt to exclude Israelite infants from the punishment is wishful (or just confused?) thinking.

                      Alex: Well, its your blog and if you are wrapping it up then so be it.

                      Of course, in an ancient collectivist world there was a notion of corporate responsibility, and of course everyone is going to suffer consequences when God judges a nation – it could be no other way, even in the modern world. We are all connected to others who will be impacted by the things that happen to us. But this does not get you to the view that the Israelites believed the individual children were responsible for anything, and therefore being directly punished themselves for what the Amalekite warrior class did. This whole conversation is getting nowhere as I have no idea at this point what you even mean by punishment. Please be rigorously analytic and define the term.

                      Randal: Second, I still think you need to get your head around the nature of the herem and the fact that Israel was commanded to offer up other living persons, including infants, as sacrifices.

                      Alex: Again, what do I need to get my head around exactly since I already responded to this? Just saying the word “sacrifice” does not instantly fill me with horror, Randal. The word has many meanings, as I’ve said, and some of them are not at all problematic. Herem is also not always about sacrifice. Post the passages you are referring to and we can discuss them. Otherwise, I am not scared of undefined terms. You are like the skeptic who shouts “God condones SLAVERY!!!” in the Bible without any context whatsoever, as if that’s the end of the story.

                    • randal

                      I’m glad to see that you recognize “corporate responsibility”. That is another way of saying collective culpability. And if collective culpability exists, then culpability pertains to each member of the corporate set, including infants.

                      This brings us to the concept of punishment, for which you now apparently need a definition. Punishment is the infliction of punitive measures in response to a perceived culpability. Thus, when Israel failed to maintain the covenant, they bore collective responsibility which included the culpability of each member in the corporate set, including infants. And as a result, God inflicts punitive measures on the corporate whole in response to the perceived culpability shared by the corporate whole.

                      Of course if you’re an adherent of penal substitution then you should be aware of the concept of imputation, and specifically the imputation of Adamic guilt on the whole human race which means it is all infants, and not only those in the Mosaic covenant, who are guilty and liable for punishment.

                      Yes, the word sacrifice has many meanings. When we speak of the herem we are using it in the formal sense where living and nonliving things are turned over to God for destruction. Thus, while the Israelites could have benefited from the infant children of surrounding people just like they could have benefited from the fatted calf or goat, they instead destroyed those infants for Yahweh, offering them up as pleasing sacrifices.

                      Here is a passage from Deuteronomy 13 where Yahweh explicitly directs Israel to offer up human beings as burnt sacrifices (one of the four types of sacrifice in the temple system):

                      “And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things[c] are to be found in your hands. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you.”

                    • Alex

                      Randal:
                      I’m glad to see that you recognize “corporate responsibility”. That is another way of saying collective culpability.

                      Alex: Hahaha…thx Randal (thx is another way of saying thanks). May I ask what you’ve read on what you call “collective culpability”? Read any of the social science stuff on collectivist societies? By the Context Group (Malina, Pilch, Neyrey, Rohrbaugh, Elliot, etc.) or anthropologists in general?

                      Randal: And if collective culpability exists, then culpability pertains to each member of the corporate set, including infants.

                      Alex: Well, that’s where the problem comes in. You’re reasoning like an individualist about collectivism. That’s an inference a collectivist wouldn’t make. Of course in a collectivist society there is a collective responsibility. Like views on reciprocity, concern for honor/shame, kinship, etc., this flows out of a need for survival. There is collective responsibility in individualist societies as well, but this is amplified to the extreme when the society is as group-oriented and dependent upon one another for survival as the ANE tribal/agrarian society is. For one, individuals are often so unified in thought, and so embedded in each other’s lives, privacy almost non-existent, that it is hard to overestimate how much a person’s very self-image, let alone their moral behavior, are influenced by the views of others. There is a complete externalization of *conscience* and a person is who he is publically perceived and acknowledged to be by the group. Its partly the authoritarian child-rearing that encourages this kind of conformity and concern for group status. So, within these societies, family, village, nation, etc. are perceived as having more of a part in the behavior of others, and rightly so. Now, even if a text is explicitly worded along the lines of collectivist punishment, does this mean you can dice up the text and say “Look, Yahweh punishes individual babies and holds them to be guilty of what the Warrior class did!”? A collectivist would never do that, and its nonsense. When children were killed, it was more out of fear (and really a knowledge) of what they *would* do, given that they would *grow up* with such a high likelihood of conforming to a surrounding culture that threatens the safety of the other. It was pre-emptive and practical and not bc of some intangible magical imputed guilt. Vendettas are not just something practiced by the mafia. They are perceived as a necessary affirmation of solidarity with, and the cohesiveness of (and thus the continued existence of) the in-group.

                      The issues are much more complicated than your simplistic apologetic-style “natural law on the heart” arguments can address. You seem to be so unfamiliar with the cultural differences here that you can just pass a quick moral judgment and do some weak proof-texting, shouting “The OT God likes punishing babies!!!”. As I’ve said here already, the survival needs in these societies are different, and it changes perception of morality. If the PERCEPTION of what is good is very different from our own, and even more likely to be absorbed externally from the other members of one’s in-group, then we can’t really judge their behavior as unethical *for* them as easily can we? And that is just one factor. Put aside the issue that bucking the system too much often gets you killed. You might object that “God knows the good, and regardless of what these collectivist’s accept as moral, God would still never do that!!” Well, that would be too simplistic as well. Just like parents in many collectivist societies get better results with authoritarian behavior than they do with permissive, God might have a little window into the greater good, and deal with collectivist societies in a collectivist manner to achieve that. These are the lines I think theologians should be thinking along. But instead of thinking along these incarnational lines, you’re doing the opposite and projecting your views and values onto the text. If it doesn’t create a good feeling when we filter it through Randal’s kind heart where the natural law resides, its not of God. No wonder you are latching onto Nidtich’s work; she does the same in assuming there is some heavy burden of guilt that ancient people bear in engaging in war, so they project it onto God. This perceived heavy burden of guilt is really the projection of her own modern individualist feelings about war onto ancient people. Even if you pursued a more empathetic reading, and you still found these things to be as unethical as you do, you could even still maintain that some of these things are ethically wrong, but, just as God accommodates to incorrect factual knowledge (e.g. cosmology), he often accommodates to man’s incorrect ethical knowledge. We already have biblical precedent for that (e.g. Jesus on the OT on divorce).

                      There are so many problems with your views, its been hard for me to sleep these last few nights. You focus on herem, but why aren’t you equally as outraged about Job’s kids? Surely they were treated worse. The children who were eaten during famine avoided a worse fate, as did those killed in the ban. Job’s kids would’ve been just fine, and they were killed just to test Job. Why isn’t this the supreme moral outrage in the OT for you? Further, Jesus pronounces the judgment/punishment and destruction of Jerusalem. He even references mothers with children at that time and how bad it will be for them. They are being judged because they reject him. So why are you so inconsistent? Does it just feel wrong if you post a blog entitled “Jesus pronounces PUNISHMENT AND KILLING OF CHILDREN because their parents don’t believe in him!”. Jesus weeps for the children, not because he is sad that they are being judged, but because, as I believe, their deaths will be an unfortunate consequence of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem.

                    • randal

                      Alex, when you read about widow burning, honor killings, female circumcision and cannibalism occurring in far flung regions of the world in cultures very different from your own, do you judge those actions as wrong? Or do you say “Hmmm, I better read some more cultural anthropological studies on this culture before I render a moral judgment.”

                    • Alex

                      Randal: This brings us to the concept of punishment, for which you now apparently need a definition. Punishment is the infliction of punitive measures in response to a perceived culpability.

                      Alex: So you think if you asked the author of any of these texts “Are the baby Amalekites culpable for what the warrior class did?”, he would say “Yes, of course.”? Nonsense.

                      Randal: Thus, when Israel failed to maintain the covenant, they bore collective responsibility which included the culpability of each member in the corporate set, including infants.

                      Alex: Find me any ancient text that distributes individualistic culpability like that to the children – that specifically says that.

                      Randal: Of course if you’re an adherent of penal substitution then you should be aware of the concept of imputation, and specifically the imputation of Adamic guilt on the whole human race which means it is all infants, and not only those in the Mosaic covenant, who are guilty and liable for punishment.

                      Alex: Bah. Let’s not open that can unless you’ve got something in the OT that supports it. Enoch sure got a pass, didn’t he? Job? I’ve got my own views on penal substitution and not all views require anything like Imputation. I guess the rabbis weren’t reading their Bibles too carefully when they came up with the age of accountability either.

                      Randal:
                      Thus, while the Israelites could have benefited from the infant children of surrounding people just like they could have benefited from the fatted calf or goat, they instead destroyed those infants for Yahweh, offering them up as pleasing sacrifices.

                      Here is a passage from Deuteronomy 13 where Yahweh explicitly directs Israel to offer up human beings as burnt sacrifices (one of the four types of sacrifice in the temple system):

                      “And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things[c] are to be found in your hands. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you.”

                      Alex: LOL, “pleasing” sacrifices? Does the text say that or is that just you? Are we sure the people aren’t just killed, and then the “town and all its plunder” aren’t the burnt offering? And this is not the burnt offering of the Temple system. The Temple’s burnt offering had very precise regulations – certain animals, of a certain quality, offered by certain people, in a particular ritual, on an actual alter. There are previous burnt offerings outside the Temple though (Noah, Abraham, etc.). The burnt offering here may just be a metaphor and not literal. A true burnt offering was generally associated with atonement for sin. Here the analogy to the burnt offering might simply be the total dedication of these items, just as the burnt offering in Leviticus is consumed entirely, not leaving any portion for the priest like most of the other sacrifices. And if that’s not the case, and God is calling it a literal burnt offering, who is to say its simply for a pleasing aroma to God? Who are you to discern the purposes of it? We already *know* its off track from the usual sacrificial purpose. Isn’t this very explicitly described in the passage as Niditch’s herem as justice? That seems to be the main focus here.There was obviously a problem with wanting to take the plunder, and again, given the heavy emphasis in such a society on ritual and purity, perhaps God is here accommodating to with sacrificial language the Israelites would be familiar with, in order to simply make this outcome of total destruction more likely. I don’t find this kind of sacrifice any morally problematic than the basic notion of God ordering the killings. I think you are just playing off of the emotional tone of the common perception of the word.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Alex, when you read about widow burning, honor killings, female circumcision and cannibalism occurring in far flung regions of the world in cultures very different from your own, do you judge those actions as wrong? Or do you say “Hmmm, I better read some more cultural anthropological studies on this culture before I render a moral judgment.”

                      Alex: Have you been reading my comments? The latter, of course. And I recommend that for everyone. Incarnate in order to listen, Randal. Then you’re in a better place to render a judgment. Don’t project based on how you feel instantly. Take your own advice. I like alot of your writing and I think your compassionate heart is a great gift, but I don’t think you’re treating these issues with the depth they need, and I definitely see a double standard.

                      I’d really like to see your response on how, on your view, Jesus isn’t also guilty of pronouncing punishment on those babies of Jerusalem. I think I poked a large hole in your boat there.

                      And another major point I’ve made is that unknown higher-order good theodicies work just as well for all these areas as they do for other perceived evils.

                    • randal

                      “Have you been reading my comments? The latter, of course.”

                      Wow. I knew that was the logic of your position. I just wasn’t sure if you’d be willing to bite that bullet.

                      That’s a key difference between the two of us. I agree that learning about a context can illumine why a person does something and can create sympathy for the person and their action (of the “If I had been raised in that culture I’d probably act the same way” sort).

                      The key difference between us is that I believe some actions are always wrong, irrespective of the individual and social context. Actions like forcing a widow to climb onto the smoldering corpse of her husband and die with him are WRONG.

                      I wonder if you really understand the complex social relationships between the Hutus, Tutsis, Twa and their relationships to the Belgians and other historic colonizers in Rwanda to condemn the 1994 genocide?

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Wow. I knew that was the logic of your position. I just wasn’t sure if you’d be willing to bite that bullet.

                      Alex: It looks like I’m biting the bullet, but I actually caught it with my teeth like Bruce Leroy in the Last Dragon.

                      Randal: That’s a key difference between the two of us. I agree that learning about a context can illumine why a person does something and can create sympathy for the person and their action (of the “If I had been raised in that culture I’d probably act the same way” sort).

                      The key difference between us is that I believe some actions are always wrong, irrespective of the individual and social context. Actions like forcing a widow to climb onto the smoldering corpse of her husband and die with him are WRONG.

                      Alex: Randal – again, go back and re-read your question and then my response. Nowhere do I deny that some actions are always wrong. I simply affirm what you now say you agree to. Even when we’ve done our best to understand, and identified an action as wrong from our vantage point though, the question of culpability gets into much murkier waters.

                    • randal

                      “Randal – again, go back and re-read your question and then my response. Nowhere do I deny that some actions are always wrong. I simply affirm what you now say you agree to.”

                      Alex, I find it difficult to believe you are as confused as your response indicates you are.

                      My entire argument has been predicated from the beginning on moral philosophy, i.e. a normative ethical assessment of the actions of ancient Israelites as recorded in the Bible. You are now attempting to conflate this issue with the descriptive disciplines of moral psychology and moral sociology.

                      I out that I have never denied that work in moral psychology and sociology might create sympathy for a perso’s comission of a prima facie heinous act, but I never claimed that this increased sympathy creates moral justification. So you are either being disingenuous or revealing your complete inability to keep descriptive and normative issues distinct by grossly conflating these issues.

                      When it comes to normative ethical assessment I listed several behaviors and asked which you would be able to judge ethically without background of the social situation. I included in the list widow burning, honor killings, female circumcision and cannibalism. You refused to judge any of these actions ethically without first studying the social backdrop in which they occur. So you leave it open that it can be moral to burn a widow or cannibalize a person and you’ll withhold your judgment pending further social scientific enquiry into the situation.

                      Isn’t it ironic that you begin trying to defend the Bible as you understand it, and you end up painting yourself into a truly grotesque and absurd moral corner?

                    • Alex

                      Randal:
                      I out that I have never denied that work in moral psychology and sociology might create sympathy for a perso’s comission of a prima facie heinous act, but I never claimed that this increased sympathy creates moral justification.

                      Alex: Firstly, all I said in my response to you, if you go back and read it, is that I would consider the cultural context before rendering a moral judgment. This doesn’t commit me to any particular views about the morality of, or culpability for, those things. It simply may be that, even though I ultimately decide these things are immoral, I want to understand the *degree* of immorality or culpability. With moral justification, things aren’t always black and white (isn’t there a book chapter you wrote with that title?) with regards to other peoples’ actions. Even if I consider an action to be wrong, if I were to perform the action, and even if I consider it ultimately wrong for another person to perform an action, they may still have been morally justified (or more morally justified then we would have otherwise considered) in performing it, based on what were their own considerations of conscience, cultural norms, etc. – or the person may not be ultimately culpable (or as culpable) based on ignorance, etc.

                      Randal:
                      Isn’t it ironic that you begin trying to defend the Bible as you understand it, and you end up painting yourself into a truly grotesque and absurd moral corner?

                      Alex:
                      Oh stop.

                    • randal

                      “Oh stop.”

                      Almost done. Just one more thing. You’ve talked about understanding another person’s culture. That gives your position a superficial air of credibility to those who want to be culturally sensitive and avoid cultural imperialism. But your same aptness to withold judgment applies to the serial killer you read about in the newspaper. You don’t know his situation, his upbringing, his beliefs, et cetera, so you likewise ought to suspend judgment on his actions because they too may be morally justified.

                      This brings me to one more irony. The Bible doesn’t display your moral humility. While you refuse to judge actions like cannibalism and human sacrifice and genocide, the Bible lists dozens and dozens of moral actions and condemns them without qualification.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Almost done. Just one more thing. You’ve talked about understanding another person’s culture. That gives your position a superficial air of credibility to those who want to be culturally sensitive and avoid cultural imperialism.

                      Alex: Keep trying to turn the things you secretly like about my position into negatives. Hahahaha….

                      Randal: But your same aptness to withold judgment applies to the serial killer you read about in the newspaper. You don’t know his situation, his upbringing, his beliefs, et cetera, so you likewise ought to suspend judgment on his actions because they too may be morally justified.

                      Alex: This is a subject that I’ve thought alot about. Same thoughts still apply, maybe even moreso. I wouldn’t go so far as morally justified, but I truly believe there will be some major gaps between our perception of culpability and God’s when it comes to these individuals. I have alot of compassion for these people when I read about their upbringing and the abuse, neglect, and rejection they often suffer, at the hands of their families and communities. The worst part to me is that, from my point of view, they are truly hurting themselves the most. I think one day they will be allowed to experience what they’ve done from the vantage point of the victims, and that won’t be the worst part. I think for all people who do wrong, the worst part will be the self-condemnation we experience when we view our lives with the conscience and knowledge of God. But I also think there will be alot more to the story.

                      Consider the kids involved in school shootings. Often bullying, abuse, and social rejection/isolation seem to factor in here. And to some extent, the community that either allowed, facilitated by neglect, or directly participated in the hatred that is poured into these individuals – to the point at which they no longer value their own lives, or anything else, will be very much a part of the culpability. To what extent I could not judge. I think there will be some big surprises though.

                      So yeah, lol, maybe the real irony is that my position is more compassionate.

                      Randal: This brings me to one more irony. The Bible doesn’t display your moral humility. While you refuse to judge actions like cannibalism and human sacrifice and genocide, the Bible lists dozens and dozens of moral actions and condemns them without qualification.

                      Alex: Woah now. Randal….

                      Do you read your Bible much these days? The OT is FULL of contextual qualifications! The NT is FULL of qualifications! Seemingly small moral deeds are praised tremendously on account of the limited circumstances of the people they come from. The Gospels even qualify one another on moral issues. Jesus qualifies the OT quite often. I could give hundreds of examples. Open up a Gospel and point your finger to the page, you’ll probably land on one. Jesus qualifies the moral ramifications/culpability factors for the greatest atrocity ever committed by humankind – the shaming, torture, and murder of God incarnate! “He who delivers me unto you has the greater sin”, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”, etc.

                      Kick yourself now please.

                    • randal

                      “So yeah, lol, maybe the real irony is that my position is more compassionate.”

                      I have no idea what you’re talking about here. The issue that separates us is not over whether we should have compassion for those who commit heinous evils. The issue that separates us is whether prima facie morally heinous actions like child sacrifice, honor killings, cannibalism, or widow burning could ever be morally justified. You’ve made the claim that they can be.

                    • randal

                      “Do you read your Bible much these days? The OT is FULL of contextual qualifications! The NT is FULL of qualifications!”

                      Face-in-palm.

                      Ever hear of the Ten Commandments? Do not commit adultery. Do not murder.

                      But even as the Bible condemns murder unequivocally, you are fully open to widow burning if the circumstances warrant it.

                      And how about cannibalism? You refused to condemn it and thus left it as something morally justifiable. But the Bible condemns it in several places (e.g. Leviticus 26:29).

                      Surely you’re not going to suggest that Jesus qualified biblical prohibitions of murder and cannibalism?

                      The more you type, the more the self-defeating irony of your position emerges.

                    • Alex

                      Randal:
                      I have no idea what you’re talking about here.

                      Alex: I think my position allows for a more compassionate/understanding hearing than your anachronistic culturally insensitive and uninformed judginess.

                      Randal: The issue that separates us is not over whether we should have compassion for those who commit heinous evils. The issue that separates us is whether prima facie morally heinous actions like child sacrifice, honor killings, cannibalism, or widow burning could ever be morally justified. You’ve made the claim that they can be.

                      Alex: Show me where! No. You gave me this: “Hmmm, I better read some more cultural anthropological studies on this culture before I render a moral judgment.”

                      I agreed to that. That doesn’t mean I think these can ever be morally justified. It means I think we should make moral judgments from a contextually informed place. Moral judgments are not solely about black and white justification. As I’ve said, understanding the cultural background behind certain practices can help us understand *degrees* of justification, or make more informed decisions on culpability or degrees of culpability.

                      For example – Bill is a modern western individualist who is raised permissively and feels free to do whatever he wants. He generally doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. He is listening to Slayer one day and decides, based on a certain song, that it would make him feel powerful to eat and kill his neighbor Jim, and perform a little Satanic ritual. He recognizes this as an evil act and sees evil as really cool because it makes him feel powerful.

                      Jeff is from a collectivist tribe where there are very uniform beliefs about the fact that cannibalism is necessary for survival. He was raised in an authoritarian manner, to be obedient and loyal, taught to fear severe famine and neighboring tribes who will capture/kill/eat his tribe if he is not a superior hunter, and the most highly valued attribute of a person in his tribe, is his ability to hunt other members of other tribes. On Jeff’s worldview, his cannabilistic ways make him a good person.

                      Who is more culpable? Bill or Jeff? You may think there is no difference. I see a huge difference.

                    • randal

                      You want me to show you where you refuse to condemn these behaviors? Let me quote myself and then you can work back up the thread from there to read your own words:

                      Randal: “When it comes to normative ethical assessment I listed several behaviors and asked which you would be able to judge ethically without background of the social situation. I included in the list widow burning, honor killings, female circumcision and cannibalism. You refused to judge any of these actions ethically without first studying the social backdrop in which they occur. So you leave it open that it can be moral to burn a widow or cannibalize a person and you’ll withhold your judgment pending further social scientific enquiry into the situation.”

                      Now for your latest question: “Who is more culpable? Bill or Jeff? You may think there is no difference.”

                      I never said there wouldn’t be a difference in levels of culpability. There certainly may be. But your position isn’t that there is a difference in moral culpability. Rather, it is that one individual is culpable and the other is morally commendable. In the last week you’ve morphed from a conservative biblicist to a cultural relativist.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Ever hear of the Ten Commandments? Do not commit adultery. Do not murder.

                      But even as the Bible condemns murder unequivocally, you are fully open to widow burning if the circumstances warrant it.

                      Alex: Firstly, did I say there weren’t any unqualified moral commands in the Bible? Secondly, you think the ban is murder don’t you? So wouldn’t this be biblically qualified murder from your perspective? Thirdly, there’s a whole heck of alot more qualified instruction for the community than the 10 commandments. The majority of the ritual aspects of the law are qualified instructions for the Holiness of Israel. Israel is the qualification. Yahweh doesn’t judge other nations by their adherence to them. It is wicked for Israel to fail to obey; it is not so for surrounding nations. This is not universal moral law here. But with the 10 commandments, take the Sabbath for instance; doesn’t Jesus qualify actions concerning the Sabbath?

                      Randal: And how about cannibalism? You refused to condemn it and thus left it as something morally justifiable. But the Bible condemns it in several places (e.g. Leviticus 26:29).

                      Alex: Cannibalism can be morally justifiable. Ever see the movie Alive?

                    • randal

                      “Cannibalism can be morally justifiable. Ever see the movie Alive?”

                      Alex, you’re all over the place. Here are two examples.

                      Example 1: A minute ago you’re giving an example of a person for whom cannibalism is allegedly morally commendable. Now you flip to a case where you think it is morally permissible. There’s a huge difference. Anyway, I’m not sure why you assume that cannibalism is morally permissible for a person who is starving. How ironic that you fight for biblical genocide but you dismiss biblical prohibitions of cannibalism with a single reference to a Hollywood movie!

                      Example 2: Observation of the Sabbath has nothing to do with the fact that you refuse to offer unqualified prohibitions of behaviors for which scripture does offer unqualified prohibitions. It’s like you’re making up your position as you go along.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: You want me to show you where you refuse to condemn these behaviors?

                      Alex: Look how you shift your words. First, I said they were morally justifiable. Now, I’m “refusing to condemn”. You keep fudging the words around when I’ve made it very clear what proposition of your’s I was agreeing with: “I better read some more cultural anthropological studies on this culture before I render a moral judgment.” I’ve made it very clear why I would do that, and what kind of moral judgments I’m talking about with the specific examples you gave.

                      Randal: Let me quote myself and then you can work back up the thread from there to read your own words:
                      “When it comes to normative ethical assessment I listed several behaviors and asked which you would be able to judge ethically without background of the social situation. I included in the list widow burning, honor killings, female circumcision and cannibalism. You refused to judge any of these actions ethically without first studying the social backdrop in which they occur. So you leave it open that it can be moral to burn a widow or cannibalize a person and you’ll withhold your judgment pending further social scientific enquiry into the situation.”

                      Alex: I made it very clear why I would want to make an informed moral judgment. If you don’t get it by now, I give up.

                      Randal: I never said there wouldn’t be a difference in levels of culpability. There certainly may be. But your position isn’t that there is a difference in moral culpability. Rather, it is that one individual is culpable and the other is morally commendable. In the last week you’ve morphed from a conservative biblicist to a cultural relativist.

                      Alex: Whether culpable, commendable, etc. – it all depends on the circumstances. I’m not sure what you’re even talking about here, but I’m sure you do not understand my position.

                      Now, you admit that there are differing levels of culpability for similar seemingly immoral acts and I presume you’d admit also that further enquiry into the context of a seemingly immoral act can shed light on them. That’s great, bc that’s one of my reasons for doing further enquiry and there you have it. That is enough. But moving on from there, this even has bearing on whether or not an individual has done something immoral or not. On further investigation levels of culpability might be so low to render it difficult to say whether or not any individual knowingly did anything wrong. Though in hindsight, or from a more privileged vantage point of knowledge (or I’ll even grant differing cultural circumstances), we judge an act as morally wrong, an individual may have only had access to what looked like good moral justifications for an action. So yeah, I’m hesitant to make hasty moral judgments.

                    • Alex

                      Randal: Alex, you’re all over the place. Here are two examples.

                      Example 1: A minute ago you’re giving an example of a person for whom cannibalism is allegedly morally commendable.

                      Alex: You keep putting words in my mouth. Actually I never said it was morally commendable in any objective sense in the example (though from the perspective of the tribesman and his culture it is). I’ve said multiple times how one can do something immoral with varying degrees of culpability, which you seem to agree with now. All I used those examples to show was the vast difference in culpability betw. the two cases.

                      Randal: Now you flip to a case where you think it is morally permissible. There’s a huge difference.

                      Alex: I didn’t say there wasn’t. My point is that there are instances where I wouldn’t immediately judge someone immoral in cases of cannibalism.

                      Randal: Anyway, I’m not sure why you assume that cannibalism is morally permissible for a person who is starving. How ironic that you fight for biblical genocide but you dismiss biblical prohibitions of cannibalism with a single reference to a Hollywood movie!

                      Alex: Um, isn’t the movie based on a true story? Does it matter that its based on a Hollywood story? You give fictional examples. Can’t I just give a hypothetical counterexample? This is your crafty side, Randal. I wasn’t aware that the Bible condemned the eating of a person who had already died, to avoid starvation. Show me the passages (not saying they aren’t there).

                      Randal: Example 2: Observation of the Sabbath has nothing to do with the fact that you refuse to offer unqualified prohibitions of behaviors for which scripture does offer unqualified prohibitions. It’s like you’re making up your position as you go along.

                      Alex: Wowzers. Nowhere do I do this. Because I would take time to investigate, in order to better render a decision on degrees of culpability, I am *refusing* to offer an unqualified prohibition? I’m just not as hasty in my judging as you are, Randal. I’d like to consider all of the circumstances I’m capable of considering.

                      I think we’ve shown though, that the Bible does qualify *alot* – even culpability with regards to torture and murder.

      • Alex

        I wrote: “Our understanding of justice would be woefully inadequate compared to his. We have no way of really doing anything other than guess-work when it comes to what punishments truly fit what crimes.”

        Randal responded: This is a good example of how you’ve adopted a functional moral skepticism.

        Alex: Note how Randal completey ignores the reasons I gave for skepticism with regards to our ability to render ultimately correct judgement on matters. If anyone just looks over the reasons I gave, its fairly obvious that we are completely out of our depth here. We can explore those reasons more fully, but they should be obvious unless you skip over them like Randal. The whole biblical tradition screams this as well – man judges by the outward appearance, God knows the heart.

        Now, is this an advocation of an all-encompassing moral skepticism with regards to human justice, morality, etc. – or even a denial of some sort of natural law? Absolutely not. Firstly, since we have so much Revelation concerning ethics – and Revelation that has itself been updated by Jesus himself in the NT, for our community specifically – we need not be moral skeptics in most of the major areas. There are core matters we’ve been given much instruction concerning (murder, adultery, theft, lust, greed, forgiveness, lust, love, etc.). Now, will there be complications in determining when and how these commands ought to be applied? Of course, we don’t know the hearts of other people, so we do have to adopt a sort of functional approach and entrust all ultimate judgment to God in the end. We do this as a society, not just as Christians. We consign people to prison as a deterrent, knowing full well that the justice system is imperfect, inadequate, and often wrong.

        When we consider true just judgment, of which God can only be capable, imagine how far off we are? To give some examples, a man might be consigned to judicial punishment, unethically from our perspective (e.g. Paul, Joseph, Jesus), but this sequence of events might have a very ethical higher-order purpose from a divine perspective. A modern man could be imprisoned for the rape of a woman that falsely accused him. If that’s all we knew, we’d consider it unjust. If we later found out that he had actually raped a young girl 5 yrs earlier, we might see his false accusation as a rendering of justice from a different perspective. I suspect things like this happen often (though to us they are indiscernible), and this illustrates well the bifurcation between human and divine justice. Job calls God’s justice into question. God’s answer is that His ways are above our’s.

        Consider another example. John is born with a genetic predisposition towards violence. He naturally has higher levels of testosterone than the other boys inclining him towards aggression, and as he grows, he is abused badly at home before the age of 6, so he develops certain psychological schemas that render him distrusting of others, with a feeling of vulnerability and anxiety with regards to his personal safety. As he grows older, he constantly feels the urge to escalate disagreements to physical altercations and has severe anger issues. Suppose John struggles to resist this daily, from the car ride to the office, to his interaction with co-workers, etc. – every day is a war against anger. This is a nature he inherited and, though he struggles against it, he still winds up getting into a physical altercation once a year. Now consider Randy. Randy is a peace-loving boy with a tender heart, who was breast-fed until 6, coddled excessively by both parents, and wouldn’t voluntarily harm a microbe. He lives his life, never once struggling with a tendency towards violence. When John and Randy get to heaven, they are judged with regards to their deeds. Who was more moral in the area of restraining anger and aggression? From John’s criminal record, it looks pretty clear he hasn’t done so well. Buddha and Randy are off to the side, high-fiving each other, when they are both shocked to see the crown of peace being placed upon John’s head. God announces that John struggled ethically against anger and wrath every day of his life, and overcame more often than not; on earth he was seen as a violent man, in heaven he will be known as a great peacemaker. When we line up to enter the kingdom, we might be surprised to see the types of people ahead of us.

        • Alex

          Much more could be said on ethics across cultures and time. Of course what is good will vary in some ways. A lot of ethics are related to survival, and when environment and circumstances change, the ethics will need to as well. The OT father (divine and human) demands absolute obedience and honor, under penalty of death. This isn’t like modern Western individualistic culture, where kids can just wander off to Donkey Island and do as they please w/o affecting the nuclear family much. Children will go on to impact the livelihood of the family, were expected to one day take care of their parents, and honor is the core value of the society – it is like a currency that directly affects the acquisition of resources. The disobedient son shames the father and affect the status and livelihood of the entire family. The people in this society knew the stakes were higher and understood the need for such deterrents. Much of OT ethics are about survival of that specific type of agrarian community and the behaviors no longer make sense to us in a post-industrial society. God is going to bless the earth through Israel, and so much of the law he gives will set them apart and preserve them, if they follow it. The food laws are a constant subject of skeptical mockery for their seeming irrelevance. In the ancient world, what you ate or didn’t eat was a major boundary to who you ate with, and who you didn’t. And table-fellowship was a demarcation of the in-group. If they ate like the pagans, and with the pagans, and married the pagans, they became like the pagans, in abandoning the true God of the world, and adopting their practices and gods. Recognizing that ethics can be context-dependent does not consign one to a hopeless moral skepticism. It engenders a better understanding of the good.

          More later, but the key takeaway here: we should never read the Bible like we are reading the newspaper. If anyone tells you to do this, roll your newspaper up and wack them with it. Then take their bible away, and hold onto it until they read something substantial on the cultural anthropology of the ancient Mediterranean.

          • randal

            “the key takeaway here: we should never read the Bible like we are reading the newspaper. If anyone tells you to do this, roll your newspaper up and wack them with it.”

            This is irrelevant bluster. The point is that the text describes things that you yourself have rejected, like the punishment by, and sacrifice of infants for Yahweh. This has nothing to do with reading the text like a newspaper. It has to do with your inconsistent hermeneutic which is forced into its inconsistency by the moral law written on your heart that it couldn’t possibly be right to punish infants and sacrifice them to Yahweh.

      • Alex

        Randal: Alex, you’re all over the place. Here are two examples.

        Example 1: A minute ago you’re giving an example of a person for whom cannibalism is allegedly morally commendable.

        Alex: You keep putting words in my mouth. Actually I NEVER EVER EVER said it was morally commendable in any objective sense in the example (though from the perspective of the tribesman and his culture it is). I’ve said multiple times now one can do something immoral with varying degrees of culpability, which you seem to agree with now. All I used those examples to show was the vast difference in culpability betw. the two cases.

        Randal: Now you flip to a case where you think it is morally permissible. There’s a huge difference.

        Alex: I didn’t say there wasn’t. My point is that there are instances where I wouldn’t immediately judge someone immoral in cases of cannibalism.

        Randal: Anyway, I’m not sure why you assume that cannibalism is morally permissible for a person who is starving. How ironic that you fight for biblical genocide but you dismiss biblical prohibitions of cannibalism with a single reference to a Hollywood movie!

        Alex: Um, isn’t the movie based on a true story? I wasn’t aware that the Bible condemned the eating of a person who had already died, to avoid starvation.

        Randal: Example 2: Observation of the Sabbath has nothing to do with the fact that you refuse to offer unqualified prohibitions of behaviors for which scripture does offer unqualified prohibitions. It’s like you’re making up your position as you go along.

        Alex: Wowzers. Nowhere do I do this. Because I would take time to investigate, in order to better render a decision on degrees of culpability, I am *refusing* to offer an unqualified prohibitions. I’m just not as hasty in my judging as you are, Randal. I’d like to consider all of the circumstances I’m capable of considering.

        I think we’ve shown though, that the Bible does qualify *alot* – even culpability with regards to torture and murder.

  • Alex

    Randal: Alex has gotten himself into something of a pickle. Indeed, by the look of things he’s submerged in a vat of Vlasic’s. You see, this argument assumes that there is something morally problematic about God allowing scenario 1 over scenario 2. From this it follows that God would only allow a moral atrocity to occur if it were a punishment for something.

    Alex: Not really. Saying that, in this instance it is better that God allow the eating of infants for some reason, than no reason, does not commit me to the claim that God would only allow moral atrocities that are punishments. It doesn’t even commit me to the broader claim that God always needs a justification for a moral atrocity. But you apparently agree with “no reason” being a bad situation, so you go on to provide an “unknown higher order good” theodicy. I’m fine with that, namely because it works just as well for anyone who wants to take the Biblical texts at face value. You are a fine writer so let’s just go ahead and plug the morally atrocious punishing God into your statement of the theodicy:

    It may be enormously implausible to a person to contemplate what greater goods could possibly come from God’s punishing a woman by allowing her to eat her infant under extreme conditions of starvation. I agree, that’s a tough one. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some possible justifying reasons. Indeed, given the complex webs of relationships that can arise from singular events, it is well within the range of plausiblity to think that an event which is morally atrocious could produce greater good on balance in the world.

    Seems to work just fine. Even further, I can probably come up with more plausible greater goods that might actually arise in the world, with my version.

  • Alex

    Randal: things are very different when we say that the woman and her child were being punished.

    Alex: Well, I didn’t say that. The child isn’t punished at all, as I said. From my perspective (the right one, I think), given the options, the child is rewarded with death. Instead of starving to death with his family, or going into a harsh captivity, he gets to die. After he dies, his soul floats out of his body, then goes down a tunnel, is greated by a beautiful angel made of light, and ushered into a bright sunny ball of unfathomably euphoric love. After he bathes in that for a billion years or so to cleanse him of the memory of the sucky world he had to be born into, he goes on to grow up in the heavenly city, where he can teleport, know everything about anything just by looking at it, talk to flowers, rivers, and just about everything else via telepathy, listen to the celestial music the angels sing, etc. Not a bad deal, IMO, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it goes, from reading thousands of accounts of people who’ve died and glimpsed it.

    The mom has to eat her kid, yeah, and I agree it sucks. But that kid is better off than all of us. He probably appeared to his mom in a dream or vision shortly after he died to let her know he was alright.

    Randal: Well, there are four main justifications that are commonly given for punishment: incapacitation (i.e. prevention of further criminality), deterrence, rehabilitation and retribution. It seems to me that of these four retribution would be the only remotely plausible explanation.

    Alex: We simply aren’t in a place to even know what actual just desserts are for anything (I’ve given several reasosn why and we can get into if needed), let alone divine punishment, so plausibility considerations concerning retributive justice are simply out of our reach. But this is problematic for other reasons…

    Are you telling me that the harsh punishment of unfaithful Israel, a major thrust of the OT, wouldn’t have served as a warning to fear and obey the Lord? That’s pretty insane. And Paul would disagree with you. He thinks God’s harsh punishment of the Israelites was written as a detterent for us (1 Cor 10:11).

    • randal

      “From my perspective (the right one, I think), given the options, the child is rewarded with death.”

      First off, that’s not true to the text. The depiction is of all of Israel was being punished for the sins of Israel. The text makes no exceptions for infants. That’s the natural law working in you, diverging from the text.

      Second, (sorry I have to put this rather harshly but) it is truly grotesque reasoning that would describe infants that are cooked and eaten by their mothers as receiving a reward.

      “The mom has to eat her kid, yeah, and I agree it sucks. But that kid is better off than all of us. He probably appeared to his mom in a dream or vision shortly after he died to let her know he was alright.”

      Where’s your textual basis for this vision? The natural law is working…

    • Adam Omelianchuk

      “Instead of starving to death with his family, or going into a harsh captivity, he gets to die. After he dies, his soul floats out of his body, then goes down a tunnel, is greated by a beautiful angel made of light, and ushered into a bright sunny ball of unfathomably euphoric love. After he bathes in that for a billion years or so to cleanse him of the memory of the sucky world he had to be born into, he goes on to grow up in the heavenly city, where he can teleport, know everything about anything just by looking at it, talk to flowers, rivers, and just about everything else via telepathy, listen to the celestial music the angels sing, etc. Not a bad deal, IMO, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it goes, from reading thousands of accounts of people who’ve died and glimpsed it.”

      Good grief, if what you say is true, then perhaps we should all eat our children. It would be the most loving thing a parent Could do.

      • Walter

        Alex gives a great argument for abortion as well. All those aborted fetuses get to bypass hell on earth and go straight to Jesus.

      • Alex

        Adam: Good grief, if what you say is true, then perhaps we should all eat our children. It would be the most loving thing a parent Could do.

        Alex: Firstly, we don’t really have the right, based on God’s commandments or man’s law, to do that, do we? And unless there are some extremely harsh circumstances that we wish for them to avoid, we probably wouldn’t consider it. The mothers murdered their children. That God can bring something good out of something bad, something even better than what would’ve been had the bad not occured, is not a good argument for doing bad things.

        But a little off topic (like your response), I suppose there could be circumstances where human beings might ethically end the life of our child, over allowing them to suffer.

        Walter: Alex gives a great argument for abortion as well. All those aborted fetuses get to bypass hell on earth and go straight to Jesus.

        Alex: Really Walt? That God can allow the soul of a child to enter into heaven, is a good argument in favor of human beings aborting their babies? You think so? Unpack that one a little for us…

  • soku

    Alex, I have a question for you. Imagine that all of the responses you have given were put into the mouth of a perpetrator of the roumidian massacre (per Randal’s example). Would you accept them as perfectly good jusifications for the massacre or would you just dismiss them as obvious rationalizations for defending moral atrocities?

  • Alex

    soku – really, I haven’t tried to justify any biblical atrocities as much as I’ve tried to point out what I see as problems with Randal’s take on the issues.

    But I think its a good question you pose and worth entertaining.

    Let’s say I sat down with this roumidian perpetrator, and I look him in the eyes, and he tells me a long story about how he was just tending his sheep one day when he saw a bright light, felt paralyzed, and heard a loud voice asking him to remove his sandals. The voice instructed him that he was the God of all the earth, took him up to heaven for a few moments and let him watch some footage of the creation of the universe on the heavenly DVR. This being then told him that he was going to bring judgment upon the neighboring village for grave sins, and he was chosen to lead the attack.

    The guy just shrugs his shoulders and says “What would you do? This sure seemed like it was God to me. What would you do?”.

    If I believed him, I would probably not hold this guy accountable at all. I’d either suppose he had some sort of serious mental disorder (Randal lets people off the hook for this too), or just shrug and say “Wow, it sucks to be you, and I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.”

    Here’s a question for you and Randal – what if God appeared to you in such a way? What would you do? Myself, I don’t know….I’d certainly ask some questions.

    What would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your child? That’s one where I can actually see people saying “Hell no! Send me to hell before I will do that.” Yet that’s the great OT example of faithfulness! And its also undeniably (from a Christian POV) a typological foreshadowing of the atonement of Christ. Abraham expected gods to ask for things like this though. Different time, different place, different culture…

    If anything is obvious about the Christian God, he puts on the mantle of culture to communicate with us – indeed that’s partly what culture is – a series of shared symbols and values through which communication is made possible.

    • randal

      “Here’s a question for you and Randal – what if God appeared to you in such a way? What would you do? Myself, I don’t know….I’d certainly ask some questions.”

      Make sure you distinguish between “God is appearing to me” and “It seems to me that God is appearing to me”.

      “What would you do if God asked you to sacrifice your child?”

      Alex, what would you do if God asked you to chain your child in the basement and gang rape him/her for weeks on end? It’s a stupid question, isn’t it? When do we move from stupidity into serious moral option?

      • pete

        “Alex, what would you do if God asked you to chain your child in the basement and gang rape him/her for weeks on end? It’s a stupid question, isn’t it? When do we move from stupidity into serious moral option?”

        In the pre-torah Hebrew/Semetic culture of OT ANE, child sacrifice apparently had a value to a deity.

        Post-torah, child sacrifice was prohibited, and no where does gang rape have any praisworthy function.

        I’m not sure how your comment relates to the context.

        • pete

          I should have clarified:

          Pagan cultures and their dieties would have expected child sacrifice.

          Genesis 22 makes it clear that God was only testing Abraham.

          As Alex rightly noted, God wears the mantle of culture to communicate with us.

          In view of that, I think the gang rape comment is disanalogous to the issue at hand.

        • randal

          Let me explain what I’m saying and why your response is so disturbing.

          What I’m saying: The question “What would you do if God asked you to do x?” totally begs the prior question of whether God would ever ask a person to commit x. If I have reason to think God would never command gang rape then asking me “But what would you do if God asked you to perform gang rape?” is a stupid question. Mutatis mutandis for the command to kill a child and mutilate the body (which is functionally what child sacrifice is).

          Why your response is disturbing: you act as if you have no general reliance on moral precepts apart from the biblical text. I.e. “Well the Bible doesn’t ever show God commanding gang rape so that must be wrong.” That’s a contorted piece of moral reasoning. Not only that, but given that the text supports cases of child sacrifice and mutilation, it provides you with a moral precedent for you to consider, at least in principle, that such commands might be given again.

          • pete

            @ Randal:

            Canon is closed.

            I would never support child sacrifice. Furthermore, I don’t live in a culture where it would ever be acceptable. And it was never acceptable to God in the first place. He only tested Abraham with commanding a practice that was deemed acceptable within pagan religions.

            Re: Gang rape

            Also not a reflection of God. As Paul would call it, “a kind of immorality not even known amongst the pagans” (1 Cor. 5)

            I believe God is perfectly moral, and that the Bible faithfully reveals God’s nature and His gracious acts in history.

            God hasn’t commanded gang rape, and He hasn’t commanded child sacrifice. Its not a reflection of God or His Son.

            I don’t ever have to posit the question, “well what if He commanded x?” because the “X” He has commanded is to “Love God with all your heart” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

            I love/fear God, and do not dare to judge Him.

            He did command herem against His national enemies, and will come back to smite His spiritual enemies. So I think we should pay attention not to be categorized as an enemy.

            How is this disturbing?

            • pete

              @ Randal

              re: me “not having moral precepts apart from the Bible”

              Ask yourself this: Why don’t I have a problem with God destroying the Egyptians vis-a-vis the destroying angel; Caananites vis-a-vis Israel; Israel vis-a-vis Assyria/Babylon; and the rest of the world at the Parousia?

              Answer: Because this is the same God who was mad enough to incarnate His word in the flesh of Jesus, and offer Himself up as a guilt offering for our salvation.

              I am loyal to Him, and accept a priori His perfect moral status in dispensing blessings and judgements.

              I also don’t hold myself more knowledgeable than His prophets and apostles.

              • randal

                “I am loyal to Him, and accept a priori His perfect moral status in dispensing blessings and judgements.”

                What you are in fact saying here is “I accept a priori particular readings of particular texts despite the fact that these texts proclaim as morally permissible or obligatory actions which I would count as moral abominations if they were part of any other text or tradition.”

                “I also don’t hold myself more knowledgeable than His prophets and apostles.”

                This statement is so incautiously stated it is nearly meaningless. Don’t you think living in a post-Copernican world has yielded a new perspective on the ascension not available to the apostles who witnessed the ascension?

                • pete

                  “What you are in fact saying here is “I accept a priori particular readings of particular texts despite the fact that these texts proclaim as morally permissible or obligatory actions which I would count as moral abominations if they were part of any other text or tradition.”

                  @ Randal

                  I support the straight forward reading of the text in concordance with my hermeneutical training, and the general consensus of 2nd Temple Judaism for 2500+ years, and Christianity for 2000 years.

                  “This statement is so incautiously stated it is nearly meaningless. Don’t you think living in a post-Copernican world has yielded a new perspective on the ascension not available to the apostles who witnessed the ascension?”

                  Are you saying that because the apostles had a primitive scientific understanding, that they must have had a primitive understanding of spiritual things?

                  When Yahweh is praised for destroying the Egyptians, and Caananites… when Phinehas is declared righteous for killing the immoral Israelite and his Midianite bedfellow… when John the Baptist tells us Jesus’ winnowing fork is in His hand ready to clear the threshing floor… when Paul tells us Christ will be revealed from heaven and destroy the godless with everlasting fire….

                  I’m just wondering what percentage of the Bible you think should be read “straight” versus through the philisophical lenses of Wolterstorff and WLC that you referred to.

                  I’m also wondering to what degree of enlightenment you are claiming over the spiritual knowledge of the prophets and apostles vis-a-vis modern post-Copernican knowledge.

                  I find it interesting that you have conceded in previous posts that Jesus would have adhered to the scientific knowledge of His day, but could/did reveal the pinnacle of inerrant spiritual truth of God through His person and teaching.

                  Do we now have a fuller spiritual revelation of God thanks to Copernicus?

                  • randal

                    “the general consensus of 2nd Temple Judaism for 2500+ years, and Christianity for 2000 years.”

                    Pete, you seem to have a penchant for making grossly sweeping statements. What is your familiarity with the history of interpretation of these texts?

                    “Are you saying that because the apostles had a primitive scientific understanding, that they must have had a primitive understanding of spiritual things?”

                    I simply pointed out that your statement is fallacious since you have understanding of the events narrated in the text not available to those who wrote the text.

                    “I’m just wondering what percentage of the Bible you think should be read “straight” versus through the philisophical lenses of Wolterstorff and WLC that you referred to.”

                    You’re confused. Wolterstorff and Craig offer an account of inspiration, not interpretation. I understand inspiration to consist of a divine appropriation of human words, but that provides no insight into how those words are to be interpreted.

                    “Do we now have a fuller spiritual revelation of God thanks to Copernicus?”

                    I’m not sure what meaning you’re loading into revelation. But obviously we understand much more about the universe post-Copernicus than we understood before, and that impinges at many points on Christian doctrine. (The same goes for Faraday and Darwin and Einstein.) Isn’t that obvious?

                    • pete

                      @ Randal:

                      Re: Grossly sweeping statments and history of interpretation

                      Getting aside of the legal parsings of 2nd Temple Judaism, and rabbinic interpretations of the messianic texts, I am aware from texts such as Acts 1:6, that Jewish Christians read the Deuteronomic History in a straightforward manner.

                      I am also aware of the Antiochene and Alexandrian Schools of interpretation; papal allegorical readings; quadriga; and the reclamation of straightforward readings of Hebrew/Greek scripture by the Reformers.

                      It is in the Reformed/Antiochene camp I sit.

                      Where as the earlier church, according to the “Rule of Faith” tended to make sweeping Christological allegories of OT texts, the focus appeared to be more on seeing Christ within the tent pegs of the tabernacle.

                      These seem to have been the most predominant historical readings.

                      It has only appeared to me to be a post-enlightenment/greek philosophical aversion to God’s wrath in Christian circles that forces a new “spiritualization” of the wrath/imprecatory texts.

                      You can take issue with how I see it, but it isn’t grossly sweeping. Its what I learned in my hermeneutics course.

                      “But obviously we understand much more about the universe post-Copernicus than we understood before, and that impinges at many points on Christian doctrine.”

                      I think it impinges on the doctrine of young earth creation.

                      Thankfully, we have parallels to the Genesis account in ANE texts, and as such are rightly beginning to see Genesis as having many points indicative of the literary genre of mythology.

                      What other doctrines are impinged by a post-copernican scientific understanding?

            • randal

              “Canon is closed.”

              What’s the relevance of that statement?

              “I would never support child sacrifice.” “God … hasn’t commanded child sacrifice.”

              He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, right? So now your revision is “He never commanded child sacrifice with the intention of having people actually sacrifice children.”

              But the herem is a sacrifice. If you don’t understand that then you don’t understand the very basis of herem.

              “I don’t ever have to posit the question, “well what if He commanded x?” because the “X” He has commanded is to “Love God with all your heart” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”.”

              Except where the X is “slaughter entire civilian populations to me.”

              “How is this disturbing?”

              How is it not?

              • pete

                @ Randal:

                Canon is closed, so God is not commanding anything further than Jesus’ Royal Command of Double Love.

                Re: child sacrifice vs. herem.

                You are correct that I was eqivocating.

                Perhaps it is because I see the act of a parent sacrificing their child to appease a diety as more in line with Pagan religion than religion of the God who I worship.

                With respect to Israel “devoting” things and people to the LORD, you are correct that they are the same basic act.

                However, God did reveal a stated purpose for the destruction of the Amorites

                “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen. 15:6)

                Set within God’s Deuteronomic history (Genesis to Kings), and fuller redemptive history (awaiting the New Heavens and Earth) God had a set purpose for conquering Caanan and establishing the nation of Israel. He also had a beef with the nations and their demon gods.

                “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deut. 4:19)

                “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.” (Deut. 32:8)

                ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET “‘ (Matt. 22:44; 1 Cor. 15:25-28 cf. Psa. 110:1)

                Given the fact that God had a purpose for conquering Caanan, and establishing Israel, I have to ask you how you would have gone about it if “herem” is unnaceptable in your eyes?

                What would I do if God commanded me to kill His enemies?

                I would have questions:

                a)”If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken) (John. 10:35)

                Jesus filled all OT requirements of the Law, and told us that martyrdom/the cross is the way of God. This is also scripture, which cannot be broken.

                So instantly, the burden of proof would be on the spirit communicating a new “herem” (Gal. 1:8 and 1 John 4:1 vs. Islam) to assert that Jesus is now commanding us to kill his enemies while soujourning in our earthly bodies.

                b) “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)

                Zechariah was a post-exillic prophet giving an apocalyptic vision. This would line up nicely with “Put back your sword.” (cf. Matt. 26:52) This is also after the narrative of the conquest.

                c)”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John. 12:24)

                “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev. 12:11)

                So for me adhering to “straight” biblical inerrancy, I have much less reason to ever think God would command his Church to ever engage in herem.

                However, the Caananite herem serves as an object lesson/typology for the overall spiritual herem to ensue at the eschaton (Ps. 149; 2 Thess 1; Revelation)

                And I still think we are better off repenting and following Jesus than resorting to elaborate philosophical schemes over and against sober exegesis and homeletics.

                • randal

                  “Canon is closed, so God is not commanding anything further than Jesus’ Royal Command of Double Love.”

                  The closing of the canon is a non sequitur since we’re we’re not presuming an open canon. Moreover, you are assuming without argument that certain actions are essentially incompatible with the “Royal command of double love”. That’s a leap that you actually have to defend. I assume that you don’t think massacring infants as commanded in 1 Samuel 15:3 is not inconsistent with this command to love, so on your view in principle Christians today could be commanded to engage in similar behaviors.

                  As for the rest of your comments, they appear to be a roundabout way of admitting that the Hebrew scriptures do depict God commanding child sacrifice which requires you to repudiate your previously held position.

                  • pete

                    “I assume that you don’t think massacring infants as commanded in 1 Samuel 15:3 is not inconsistent with this command to love, so on your view in principle Christians today could be commanded to engage in similar behaviors.”

                    @ Randal:

                    I think I was pretty clear in previous comments, but obviously I wasn’t, so I’ll try again.

                    a) The canon is closed; Jesus gave instructions to make disciples based on His own examples; the latter prophets, Jesus, and the apostles via the Holy Spirit preach the way of the cross; Jesus is with us until the end of the age…. no new commands….. ergo there will be no command to massacre infants….. we don’t have to worry.

                    b) There is a difference, although I ask for patience in explaining it, between the pagan practice of parents sacrificing their own children to appease a demon vs. God commanding the destruction of an entire people, including children that were already being sacrificed to demons.

                    c) 1 Sam 15:3 is consistent with “Love your God”…. apparently Saul fell short on this one.

                    However, God has revealed His eschatological kingdom through Jesus, and for the time between the ascension and parousia, we are to adopt a different methodology in putting Christ’s enemies beneath His feet…. evangelization and martyrdom.

                    d) Biblical Herem is an object lesson and typology for the Parousia.

                    Maybe an overarching principle is found here:

                    A General can give different commands at different times, in pursuit of the same goal. He once told us to carpet bomb Caanan.

                    Since that has been accomplished, He is now sending believers in as an infantry of ambassadors to proclaim mercy and repentance to the rest of God’s enemies.

                    Furthermore, God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8)

                    His foolishness (read: madness) is wiser than our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25, 3:19)

                    The same methodological objection to God smiting His enemies seems to be the same methodologial objection to God choosing the Cross to mark His Kingdom.

                    Funny enough, we see (or should see) the Cross as normative. However, the reason it was not normative to first century Jews is that they expected God to act as He had already acted in history
                    (Psalm 106)

                    Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    4 To Him who alone does great [a]wonders,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    5 To Him who made the heavens [b] with skill,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    6 To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    7 To Him who made the great lights,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
                    8 The sun to rule [c]by day,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    9 The moon and stars to rule [d]by night,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    10 To Him who smote [e]the Egyptians in their firstborn,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    11 And brought Israel out from their midst,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    12 With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    13 To Him who divided the [f]Red Sea [g]asunder,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    14 And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    15 But He [h]overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the [i]Red Sea,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    16 To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    17 To Him who smote great kings,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    18 And slew [j]mighty kings,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
                    19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    20 And Og, king of Bashan,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    21 And gave their land as a heritage,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    22 Even a heritage to Israel His servant,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    23 Who remembered us in our low estate,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
                    24 And has rescued us from our adversaries,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
                    25 Who gives food to all flesh,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
                    26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
                    For His lovingkindness is everlasting

                    • pete

                      @ Randal

                      By all accounts, 2nd temple Judaism didn’t have a problem with herem, and they also appeared to lament/repent of their sins which precipitated them eating their children.

                      And it was them who attributed cannibalization of their children to God.

                      But they didn’t blame God. They blamed themselves.

                      Were they fundamentally a more perverse society than us today?

                      When they wrote down the oral traditions of the conquest of Caanan, being an oral culture, in the Torah 1000 after the fact, were they way off the historical mark.

                      Take for instance the historiography written in Judges and Kings

                      “For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time?” (Judges 11:26)

                      “Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 6:1)

                      Many scholars think Deuteronomy to Kings is a consistent literary unit, and I agree with this.

                      So if we have the same group of scribes encapsulating a combination of written law and oral tradition in what appears to be good historiography, why should we doubt the fact that the conquest of Caanan took place as recorded.

                      Then that forces the question, why did the Isrealites attribute their command, to slaughter the Caananites, to God?

                    • randal

                      “Were they fundamentally a more perverse society than us today?”

                      In some ways yes, in other ways no.

                    • randal

                      “There is a difference, although I ask for patience in explaining it, between the pagan practice of parents sacrificing their own children to appease a demon vs. God commanding the destruction of an entire people, including children that were already being sacrificed to demons.”

                      So your logic is that because some children in a social group were being sacrificed to one non-human agent, it is morally permissible to sacrifice all the children in that social group to another non-human agent.

                      Right, that makes perfect sense.

                      At least you’re starting to recognize that the text depicts God demanding the sacrifice of infants.

                    • pete

                      @ Randal

                      “So your logic is that because some children in a social group were being sacrificed to one non-human agent, it is morally permissible to sacrifice all the children in that social group to another non-human agent.”

                      My logic is as follows:

                      (sorry if I use different terms. Its hard for me to follow the agent/non-agent language)

                      1) The Amorites were wicked before God. They worshipped demons, and God stated deserved to be punished. Genesis 15:16 tells us that.

                      2) God has the authority and the latitude to punish as He sees fit. Eli from 1 Samuel 3, and the Book of Lamentations tell us that.

                      3) Sometimes we don’t understand why God does some of the things He does, and He has no obligation to explain it to us. Job 38:1-41:34 and Isaiah 55:9 tells us that.

                      4) We are told by Jesus to humble ourselves and become like a little child if we want to enter the God’s Kingdom. Matthew 18:1-6 tells us that.

                      5) Jesus had an ineffable view of Hebrew Scripture and was “one” with the Father/Yahweh. John 10:35 and 14:11 tell us that respectively.

                      6) Jesus died for our sins, and the evangelists pretty much all died for their testimony. I trust what they say. This is my faith.

                      7) Therefore God was right to command the massacre of all Caananites, and cannot be rightly morally impugned or judged by His image bearers.

          • Brap Gronk

            “If I have reason to think God would never command gang rape then asking me “But what would you do if God asked you to perform gang rape?” is a stupid question.”

            Randal, do you think God would ever command gang rape? If not, is it because you believe gang rape commanded by God could not be part of God’s plan to a achieve a greater good at some point in the future? Can you envision God commanding any actions today that most people would consider moral atrocities, in order to further God’s plan?

            • randal

              Brap Gronk, your question seems to assume a utlitarianism in which an action is morally permissible or even morally obligatory if it produces more units of goodness than badness. But I’m not a utilitarian. Of course I believe God allows people to commit moral atrocities for a greater good, but that’s very different from God commanding people to commit moral atrocities for a greater good.

              • Brap Gronk

                I didn’t intend to appear as though I was assuming anything, so I’ll try again.

                Do you think God would command gang rape? If so, why? If not, why not?

                • randal

                  I can answer your question after you answer this one:

                  Do you think a perfectly loving human father would command his child to gang rape a third party?

                  • Brap Gronk

                    No, I do not think a perfectly loving human father would command his child to gang rape a third party.

                    • randal

                      Good, I agree with you. So here’s an argument:

                      (1) A perfectly loving human father would not command his child to gang rape a third party.
                      (2) If God exists then he is even more perfectly loving to all people than a perfectly loving human father is to his child.
                      (3) If a perfectly loving human father would not command his child to gang rape a third party, then God would not command any person to gang rape a third party.
                      (4) Therefore, God would not command any person to gang rape a third party.

    • David Evans

      “If I believed him, I would probably not hold this guy accountable at all. I’d either suppose he had some sort of serious mental disorder…”

      Suppose you had had a similar conversation with Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, or an Israelite leader off to attack a neighboring tribe at God’s command. Would you suppose they had some sort of serious mental disorder?

  • Walter

    One thing that I will say about Alex’s well written comments: He shows that the Judeo-Christian religion is infused with violence from start to finish. There is no getting around it.

    • pete

      @ Walter:

      Yes. We serve a Violent God and His Violent Son.

      However, we are (except in cases of legitimate self-defence, police service, military service) called to do it non-violently.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Another thing: why would anyone think that God is not subject to obligations? Does not God speak? God is subject to obligations towards x if and only if God makes a promise to x. If God failed to keep his promise he would both act wrongly. To be sure God is not NECESSARILY subject to obligations, because he is under no compulsion to promise anyone anything, but it is equally false to claim that NECESSARILY is not subject to obligations.

    • Adam Omelianchuk

      I should amend this last statement: God is subject to obligations towards x IF God makes a promise to x. It is possible that God is under the obligation to treat things in accordance with their worth. If he failed to do so, he would not be morally perfect and therefore not God at all.

      • pete

        @ Adam Omelianchuk:

        Precicely.

        Going back to the explicit Covenant Blessings and Curses of Deuteronomy 28+, and the Song of Moses, we can see that cannibalization of children (Deut. 28:53, 28:57) is decreed for covenant infidelity.

        The summary follows in Deut. 28:58-68:

        Deut. 28:58-59: “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses”

        (and it goes on)

        Note God’s view on His people in Deut. 28:63a:

        “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LROD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you;”

        Moses told the people that God was offering them the choice between life and death (Deut. 30:15,19)

        God was obliged to keep His curses.

        • pete

          by “LROD” I meant “LORD”

        • David Evans

          I have just read Deuteronomy 28.

          It appears to me that never in the history of mankind has anyone been subject to all those curses. Such a fate would be so spectacular that it would surely have been noticed.

          Can we conclude, then, that no Jew has ever failed to keep all of God’s commandments and his statutes?

          • pete

            @ David Evans:

            “It appears to me that never in the history of mankind has anyone been subject to all those curses. Such a fate would be so spectacular that it would surely have been noticed.”

            The first time I read Deuteronomy 28, I immediately thought of the Holocaust and the how people use the word “Jew” as a slur or a “byword”

            “You shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the LORD drives you.” (Deut. 28:37)

            Again, you can re-read Deut. 28 and tell me if I am irrational in seeing large portions of this prophecy being fulfilled in the Holocaust.

            “And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:35)

            Biblical prophecy is chilling, no?

            • pete

              “Such a fate would be so spectacular that it would surely have been noticed.”

              Well I guess there are still some people who deny the Holocaust.

              • David Evans

                Please believe that I have no intention of denying the Holocaust, or of disrespecting those who perished in it. It was a very terrible event and a great crime.

                However, I was responding to your quote from Deuteronomy

                “the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants” (my italics)

                and your statement

                “God was obliged to keep His curses.”

                Those seem to imply that the plagues would befall those who disobeyed God in every generation, not one particular generation thousands of years after the prophecy.

                Also (and again, I mean no disrespect) I don’t think many of those who perished in the Holocaust suffered all of that amazing list in Deuteronomy:

                “The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew;”

                “The LORD shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head.”

                And cannibalism? Surely there wasn’t time for all those things to happen to any one person.

                Of course if you read Deuteronomy as saying “Some of you who disobey me will suffer some of these punishments”, the question I raise goes away. But then God would not be obliged to keep His curses in any particular case.

                • pete

                  @ David Evans,

                  I agree that the sores from head to toe have not yet been experienced.

                  But they will.

                  “And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.” (Rev. 9:5)

                  “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.” (Rev. 16:2)

                  All I’m trying to say from my previous citations, and 19 centuries of Jewish history, is that the curses of Deuteronomy 28 and Matthew 27:25 are playing out exponentially in full view from Masada to Auschwitz.

                  I’m trying to show a congruity between what God promised in scripture, and what has happened in modern history.

                  I also agree that the Holocaust was a terrible crime, and I don’t mean any insensitivity to the victims/family/Jewish people.

                  I’m just saying that everyone should take God’s threats seriously, repent, and follow Jesus.

                  We should not dismiss His wrath as a moral atrocity.

                  • David Evans

                    “God’s threats”

                    No-one is obliged to carry out a threat. In fact people are often praised for not carrying them out.

                    Previously you described them as promises, and therefore obligatory. I understood this to be an important part of your justification of what seems like unnecessary cruelty. Have you changed your mind?

                    “I also agree that the Holocaust was a terrible crime”

                    But you seem to be saying that it was a crime intended by God.

                    Let us be clear. Were those who died in the Holocaust being punished for

                    (1) their own sins?
                    (2) the sins of the generation to whom Deuteronomy was addressed?
                    (3) the cumulative sins of Jews in the intervening centuries?

                    If (1), it should be obvious that the Holocaust victims were more sinful than all those Jews who survived. Is it?

                    If (2) or (3), does not this constitute collective punishment? Something which, I believe, we generally regard as unjust.

                    • pete

                      @ David Evans:

                      Good questions.

                      “But you seem to be saying that it was a crime intended by God.”

                      God uses dishonorable agents to execute His purpose.

                      “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation” (Isa. 10:5)

                      “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Rom. 9:21)

                      “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.” (2 Tim. 2:20)

                      “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.” (Rev. 17:17)

                      Why God does this? Ask Him :)

                      “Let us be clear. Were those who died in the Holocaust being punished for…”

                      Let me be clear: I don’t know exactly how God slices that pie. Giving the gravity of the topic, let me be humble in giving my observations.

                      On first glance, it appears to capture Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy, and the self-invoked curse of Matthew 27:25.

                      I don’t think that individual Jews have sinned any more eggregiously than individual Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or Atheists:

                      “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “ Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

                      However, Ezekiel provides this stinging rebuke to the Jews of his day:

                      “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “ What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying,

                      ‘ The fathers eat the sour grapes,
                      But the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

                      As I live,” declares the Lord God, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” (Ezek. 18:1-3)

                      This would also be in line with Luke 13:1-5, which places the accountability for spiritual life and death in the hands of th individual.

                      So it could be all 3, but I put more contextual weight of the Holocaust on the corporate sins of Israel in line with Deut. 28 and Matt. 27:25.

                    • pete

                      @ David Evans”

                      “Previously you described them as promises, and therefore obligatory. I understood this to be an important part of your justification of what seems like unnecessary cruelty. Have you changed your mind?”

                      I will be clear: God doesn’t need me to justify Him.

                      I was providing an explanation of the origin of the cannibalization of children that the kingdom of Jerusalem suffered in 587/6 BC.

                      I have sympathy for the children, and I do have compassion for the victims (it must have been terrible)

                      However, I also believe that the victims don’t have much to complain about, and bear responsibility for the outcome. (again cf. Deut. 28)

                      Remember, they did sacrifice their children to Molech at the Valley of Ben-Hinnom (2 Kgs 23:10; Jer. 32:35)

                      They also forsook the God of their covenant, and as such invited all of the curses upon their heads.

                      Space does not permit a full explanation of covenant ritual in an ANE context here, but I will offer a quote from Jeremiah to give the picture:

                      (pay special attention to verse 18)

                      “Therefore this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. 19 The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, 20 I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

                      (Jer. 34:17-20)

                • pete

                  @ David Evans:

                  Sometimes judgement is individual, sometimes it is collective; sometimes it is gradual, and sometimes it is punctilliar.

              • David Evans

                Forgot to close italics. Sorry.

      • pete

        @ Adam Omelianchuk:

        Who determines “the worth”? Us or God?

      • randal

        There are two reasons why it is mistaken to talk about God having obligations. First, there is the observation (that you make) that God would by definition do the right thing. Obligations exist as external constraits which oblige an agent to maintain fidelity to a particular standard. It makes no sense to speak of external constraints on a morally perfect being. We can say that if God makes a promise he necessarily will keep that promise. But it makes no sense to say he is obliged to keep the promise. That’s like saying that a three year old on a trike is obliged to respect the highway speed limit. The obligation doesn’t apply to those who could not possibly violate that obligation.

        Now this leads to an ironic conclusion because the person who insists that God has obligations to act in a certain way presumably wants to secure that God will act in a certain way. But placing God’s moral actions into the category of obligation actually weakens rather than strengthens the moral grammar of his actions.

        In addition, as I said if moral law is an expression of God’s being then it makes no sense to say he is obliged to respect the necessary expression of his being.

  • pete

    @ Randal

    I believe you mentioned earlier in this thread that you can maintain a greater goods theodicy for events allowed by God vs. events commanded by God.
    (please correct me if I am wrong)

    So I wonder why, in principle, an event like the dropping of the atomic bomb on 2 Japanese civilian populations is a priori more glorifying to God than the commanding of the conquest of Caanan, which punished the Amorites, established national Israel, and furthered God’s plans in Deuteronomic and Redemptive History.

    Along the same line of thought, the Destruction of Jerusalem produced a pious repentance/remorse for idolatry et. al, and seemed to be a catalyst in 2nd Temple Judiasm (the context of Jesus) and the written production of the Torah.

    I believe a greater goods theodicy that restrains God, but gives free reign to demons and men, allows the demons and men to take the credit for the greater goods.

    What are your thoughts?

    • randal

      “I wonder why, in principle, an event like the dropping of the atomic bomb on 2 Japanese civilian populations is a priori more glorifying to God than the commanding of the conquest of Caanan”

      Why would you think the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were glorifying to God? Those are heinous war crimes.

      • pete

        @ Randal

        That’s precicely my point. I don’t believe they were glorifying to God, and certainly not more glorifying/less audacious than the Caananite conquest.

        But your greater goods theodicy, as previously explained, makes the nuking of Japan (God allowed it to happen) greater than the Caananite conquest (God commanded it)

        • randal

          I don’t understand your reasoning here. Perhaps you might want to unpack the actual argument you’re presenting in propositional form so I can track with you.

          Also a caveat: you may be construing greater goods too narrowly, since one greater good could be the state of affairs of people having free will, rather than some concrete “fruit” that follows from a particular moral atrocity.

          • pete

            @ Randal:

            I’m not good with formulas (that’s why I pursue liberal arts degrees), but I’ll do my best to capture the thought.

            1) at face value, genocide and nuclear bombing of civilian populations are moral atrocities.

            2) it is more morally eggregious for God to command an atrocity than not to command a moral atrocity.

            3) Christians should hold a “greater goods” theodicy as an explanation for why God allows a moral atrocity.

            4) Therefore, the bombing of Japan (which was not commanded by God) is greater than the massacre of Caanan (which was either commanded by God, or falsely attributed to being commanded by God)

            And since I was trying to follow your logic, please correct me if I have misrepresented anything.

            However, the logic doesn’t seem to follow (again correct me if its a straw man)

            Maybe I do have to narrow a view of “greater goods”. But as the term “greater goods” tends to be used, it does refer to a “concrete fruit” coming out of a situation.

            Otherwise, it would appear that we should adopt a heavier “free will” theodicy.

            And again, with all things being equal, God appears to be less impugned when referring to the bombing of Japan (a human/demon act) than the slaughter of Caanan (a divine/human act)

            Any greater goods theodicy that comes from this, based on your presuppositions, still appears to give greater credit to human/demon action than God.

            Note: I believe the massacre of Caanan was a historical event. Although the archaeological evidence is still debated, very strong cases have been made for recovered destruction levels corresponding to the cities of Ai, Jericho, and Hazor.

            • randal

              I’m sorry, I really am at a loss. I don’t see how your propositions form any sort of argument.

              The issue is very simple. Compare:

              (1) Mr. Jones sees Billy picking on Tommy. He allows Billy to pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.

              (2) Mr. Jones commands Billy to pick on Tommy. He insists that Billy pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.

              If you can’t see how (2) is morally problematic in a way that (1) is not then I can’t help you. But most people can see the difference.

              • pete

                @ Randal

                You’ve captured my basic point. We disagree on the “Billy” and “Tommy” part though.

                Do you really think that Pagan Caanan, who actively worshippped demons and sacrificed their own children to them are as innocent as syllogistic children?

                How about apostate Israel?

                Was God just letting America bully Japan, so that He can step in later to teach both kids a lesson?

                I respectfully think that your position fails to grasp the true nature, extent, and severity of evil on the part of Caanan, Apostate Israel, and America.

                I don’t want to worship a God that doesn’t eventually curb-stomp such wickedness, after giving LOTS of time to repent.

    • pete

      @ Randal

      You also have mentioned that you see Jesus as uniquely fulfilling OT prophecy.

      (that was actually what convinced me to believe in Jesus as God)

      With that being said…

      major messianic prophecies/typologies such as the proto-evangellicum (Genesis 3:15); Jacob’s blessing on Judah (Gen. 8:12); The Angel of the Lord Covenantal Narrative (Exodus 23 to Judges 13); The Bronze Snake (Numbers 21:4-9); The Prophet (Deut. 18:18); the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-17 et. al)…

      are contained within a continuous narrative such as the Pentateuch (Gen-Deut); the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy to Kings), or as I believe actually spans from Genesis to 2nd Kings.

      Other major prophecies/prophetic narratives are seen in the Sign of Immanuel (Isa. 7:14); the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); the glory of the likeness of the Lord (Ezekiel 1)…. these are also connected to the Deuteronomic History (Isa. 36; Jer. 52; Ezek. 33:21-22)

      Many explicit Messianic prophecies are also found in the latter prophets:

      “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you– indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.”
      (Zechariah 3:8)

      “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2)

      However, in each of the Books I have cited, there are major wrath filled prophecies (Deut 28; Isa. 63, 66:24; Jer. 25; Ezek 24, 38-39 to name a few)

      But I will note two explicitly grizzly prophecies from Zechariah and Micah, who I have previously cited as providing the Messianic prophecies which you agree with:

      “Now this will be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth” (Zech. 14:12)

      “And I said,
      “ Hear now, heads of Jacob
      And rulers of the house of Israel.
      Is it not for you to know justice?

      2 “You who hate good and love evil,
      Who tear off their skin from them
      And their flesh from their bones,

      3 Who eat the flesh of my people,
      Strip off their skin from them,
      Break their bones
      And chop them up as for the pot
      And as meat in a kettle.”

      4 Then they will cry out to the Lord,
      But He will not answer them.
      Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time
      Because they have practiced evil deeds.

      (Micah 3:1-4)

      Which has greater explanatory power:

      a) WLC’s middle knowledge/Wolterstorrf’s adoptionist hermeneutic?

      b) Historical/Grammatical “straight” reading?

      • randal

        As I already said, Craig and Wolterstorff ARE NOT PROPOSING A HERMENEUTIC. Their theories are concerned with inspiration, not interpretation.

        • pete

          @ Randal.

          Re: WLC and Wolterstorff

          Sorry I missed that.

          My question still remains though:

          How do you affirm a straight reading of the messianic prophecies within the narrative of the Deuteronomic History, but a non-straight reading of texts commanding herem or the curses of Deuteronomy 28?

          It seems that you would affirm Deuteronomy chapter 18, but not chapter 28.

          Is chapter 18 inspired, while chapter 28 is not inspired?

          In chapter 18, God commands the people to listen to “the Prophet”. Is this inspired?

          In chapter 20, God commands the people to destroy the Caananites. Is this not inspired?

          (I will read your articles that you already referred me to, so if you have already addressed these specific questions in those articles, feel free not to reply)

          • randal

            “How do you affirm a straight reading of the messianic prophecies within the narrative of the Deuteronomic History, but a non-straight reading of texts commanding herem or the curses of Deuteronomy 28?”

            First, it is far too simplistic to call Christian messianic interpretation a “straight” reading.

            Second, as a rule of thumb you adopt an alternate reading of the sensus plenior when the text forces you to do so because it appears to contradict some generally accepted knowledge, either knowledge of the natural world or moral knowledge or something else.

            • pete

              @ Randal:

              re: alternate readings.

              How should Deut 20 and 28 be read?

  • Walter

    Randal says in an earlier comment:

    If God exists then he is even more perfectly loving to all people than a perfectly loving human father is to his child.

    Would a perfectly loving human Father place his kids in a strange new environment and let them fend for themselves with little or no instruction or communication from him? How many of his children have died from the trial and error of eating the wrong mushroom or handling a venomous snake because life on earth didn’t come with an instruction manual? Is this how a loving *human* father would act? I say no.

    If there is a Deity (and I believe that there is) then you really must stop trying to anthropomorphize “him” into some kind of superhuman Father figure–God acts more like an absentee father than anything else.

    • pete

      @ Walter

      “Would a perfectly loving human Father place his kids in a strange new environment and let them fend for themselves with little or no instruction or communication from him?”

      The prophets, Jesus, the apostles, evangelists, and church have faithfully preserved explicit instruction and communication from him over a 3800 year period.

      Modern day Charismatic/Pentecostal Christians world-wide also claim ongoing communication from Him via the Holy Spirit (both prophecies and miracles)

      Have you engaged at all with the explosion of Christianity in the Global South, and the people who witness/testify to it?

      • Walter

        The prophets, Jesus, the apostles, evangelists, and church have faithfully preserved explicit instruction and communication from him over a 3800 year period.

        Humankind existed long before Judaism or Christianity ever came upon the scene. Besides, I think that you did not fully understand my point. People had to find out the hard way–usually by someone dying–before they understood that some things you cannot eat without it killing you. God provided no instruction in this regard. That is not the way a loving human father would act towards his children, so let’s stop drawing such comparisons to God.

        • pete

          @ Walter:

          “People had to find out the hard way–usually by someone dying–before they understood that some things you cannot eat without it killing you. God provided no instruction in this regard.”

          You are basically correct. God does not appear to have been a cuddly-dad figure to those people.

          In fact, the “cuddly-dad” figure is one that we should categorically reject.

          The disciplinarian/warrior with a tender/sacrificial side is probably a better image. (read: Biblical Father)

          But I think you have missed my point:

          To those who God covenants with, and invites into covenant with Him, He is a “Biblical Father” to the church and a potential “Biblical Father” to the rest of the world.

          And as such, He has given spiritual/covenantal instructions to attain eternal life.

          • David Evans

            What would you think of a human father who let his children find out the hard way what would kill them? Would you say, admiringly, “What a disciplinarian/warrior”?

            You will, say, no doubt, that calling God a father is a metaphor, or not to be taken literally. My question would be, is it a good metaphor?

            • pete

              @ David Evans:

              “What would you think of a human father who let his children find out the hard way what would kill them?”

              I don’t claim that all humans are God’s children. Jesus doesn’t make that claim either.

              “Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
              (John. 8:42-47)

              “My question would be, is it a good metaphor?”

              Yes it is. Jesus taught us to call God “Abba” Father. And I testify that God has been a Great Father to me.

  • fdule

    Wonderful article!