Last November I was on a panel discussion with Matt Flannagan at the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta talking about Old Testament ethics. We agreed on a number of points but disagreed sharply on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. After returning I blogged about the experience and Matt has now published a belated critical response at his blog. The key issue: Matt argues that the evil of killing consists in the deprivation of one’s life such that if God had allowed Abe to carry through with the sacrifice, it would have been okay so long as Isaac was quickly resurrected and thus not deprived of his life.
I have responded a couple times in the thread, and the core claim I’ve made thus far is that if it could be morally permissible (or obligatory) for Abe to kill his son based on an anticipated future resurrection, it could also be permissible (or obligatory) for him to mutilate the corpse prior to that resurrection. After all, if killing one’s son is a powerful demonstration of faith in God then mutiliating the corpse is even more of an illustration of that faith.
Since these intuitions go together, if we reject that it could possibly be praiseworthy, permissible or obligatory to mutiliate the corpse of one’s child, we should likewise reject that it could possibly be praiseworthy, permissible or obligatory to sacrifice one’s child. And that means we need a different reading of the story in Genesis 22, or we need a different assessment of its inspiration. But clearly somethin’ has gotta give.