Divine genocides and Biblical inerrancy

The moral problem of Genocide within the Bible

The presence of apparently genocidal texts within the Bible (where God allegedly ordered soldiers not to spare children) is arguably one of the strongest challenges faced by Conservative Evangelicals who believe that the writers of the Bible never made any mistake with respect to everything they wanted to convey.

Difficult moral issues: the genocide of the Canaanites.  On the picture, shouting bearded men are fighting and swinging their swords.
Moral problem for Biblical inerrantists: the genocide of the Canaanites.

I already went into the problem while responding to an email from an atheist.

Peter Enns besides his book: the Bible tells me so: why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it.
Progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns.

Recently, progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns started out critically examining a new Conservative Evangelical book (“Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God” by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan) aiming at alleviating the moral tensions caused by the problematic texts.

Book available on Amazon: Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God
Copan and Flannagan:
Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.

Here is my response to his post which is really worth reading.

Conservative Evangelical apologetics defending Biblical inerrancy

I once interviewed Matt Flannagan himself about his views on the conquest of Canaan.

Matt Flannagan with a neutral facial expression.
Evangelical apologist Matt Flannagan.

I must say I largely prefer his approach to that of William Lane Craig who defends the killing of babies by untrained soldiers as perfectly moral (while he is passionately opposed to such an act if it is committed against a yet unborn child by a trained physician).
To his credit, Craig does recognize it is an option for Christians disagreeing with him on that to reject Biblical inerrancy. This is a point almost no Conservative Evangelical grants.
Here, I can only mention Randal Rauser’s excellent criticism of his arguments.

In a sense, this is a real pity. Craig is an extremely brilliant man. While I don’t think he’s ultimately successful in proving Christianity, I think he is by no means inferior to sophisticated defenders of atheism out there.

He’s also a kind person and tend to be a very agreeable and respectful conversation partner.

William Lane Craig with a nice suit and a charming smile.
William Lane Craig, leading Evangelical apologist.

So it is truly disappointing he holds such indefensible views owing to his belief in Biblical inerrancy.
He gives anti-theists powerful rhetorical ammunitions for refusing to take seriously anything he has to say.

When the Bible is at odds with facts from the external world, Conservative apologetics fall into two categories:
– fundamentalism: denying the facts and clinging to the literal interpretation of Scripture (as typically Young Earth Creationists do)
– concordism: accepting the reliability of the external facts and trying to find an interpretation of the Bible matching them (as typically progressive creationists do).

With respect to this specific question, Craig has chosen a fundamentalist approach.
The apologetic strategy of Copan and Flanaggan is more in line with our basic moral intuitions and as such they can be regarded as concordists.

I generally think that concordists are successful for SOME moral difficulties found within Scripture whereby they offer a plausible alternative interpretation no longer strongly offensive to our fundamental ethical intuitions.

Atrocities in the text and some very implausible assumptions

But there are countless other “Biblical difficulties” and oftentimes I cannot help but think that their interpretation of the text is far-fetched and certainly not in accordance with what the original authors meant.

While reading Deuteronomy 20 explicating the difference between war inside and outside Canaan:

“When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labour. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here.
(first part).

“But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”
(Second part)

Deuteronomy 20: mighty Isrealite riders are ready for genocidal assaults.
Atrocities in Deuteronomy 20?

it seems extremely likely that the Biblical author wanted to convey the idea of literal killings in both cases

Or consider the war against the Midianate:

“Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

Women are being seized by men against their will.
(Virgin) women as war booty.

It is very plausible (if not almost certain) that Mose (according to the authors of the book of Numbers) wanted his men to kill male infants, married women and widows while taking virgin girls as war booty .

It seems extraordinarily hard to avoid the conclusion that the Biblical authors attributed barbaric commands to God.

Conservative Evangelicals having troubles

Coupled with all examples of scientific and historical inaccuracies in the Bible, it appears that the Chicago Statement of inerrancy (the Biblical writers never erred in what they wanted to convey) can only be salvaged by resorting to a flurry of extremely unlikely ad-hoc hypotheses and distortions of the text.

This is why I think that the Conservative Evangelical faith has an incredibly shaky foundation which can be all too easily shattered once one begins to honestly read and examine the Biblical texts.

Among all these seeds of doubt, the description of God as an immoral being seems to be the main factor leading young Evangelicals to give up Christianity altogether, as an email to which I responded illustrates.

Antitheism as a legitimate child of religious fundamentalism

As a consequence, we get plenty of angry anti-theists who view the Bible as an entirely wicked book which should be burnt.

They have kept a fundamentalist mindset in so far as they think that:

1) the Bible should be judged in every respect according to modern criteria (thereby disregarding the strong influence of history and culture on moral beliefs)
2) the Bible is always entirely consistent in relation to its moral message.
Thus, if we can show that in one book soldiers are ordered to slaughter children, we must conclude that the WHOLE Bible endorses and advocates infanticides.

Over 90% of those who identify themselves as "Christian" admit they have never read the entire Bible...which ironically is the way you become an atheist.
How fundamentalism produces antitheism.

Far from protecting the Church, Conservative Evangelicalism is causing a mass desertion which could be avoided.

Progressive Christianity means embracing uncertainty.

On a personal level, the results of historical-critical scholarship have led me to give up the concept of a divine Canon set apart and more inspired than other books outside of it.

Frankly speaking, there is no meaningful way in which we could say that the imprecatory psalms (where a man prays for the atrocious death of the children of his enemy) is more inspired that sermons of Martin Luther King or books of C.S. Lewis (who by the way recognized the existence of errors within the Bible).

If one reads the Bible as a collection of book reporting the experiences and thoughts of people concerning God (i.e. in the same way one reads other Christians and Jewish books including apocryphal books in the Bible), many moral problems disappear completely.

I can even find moral beauty in many texts which fall short of perfection.

Of course, Evangelicals find my approach terribly unsettling because they’ve been raised to think that a Bible free of mistakes is the only way we have for knowing how God truly is .

There is no easy answer I can give them. I think that by definition, God has to be morally perfect and therefore higher than the most noble person who has ever lived under the sun.
For me, being a Christian means hoping in a God who revealed his ultimate face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I find Hans Küng’s book “Christianity”  (which I originally read in German) excellent and think that he did a very good job showing that ultimate worldview commitments (including the contrast between hope and despair, nihilism and meaning, atheism and theism, Christianity and non-Christian religions) involve choices which go far beyond what is warranted by the evidence and rational considerations.

Hans Küng. Christianity: essence, history and future.
Hans Küng: Apologist for progressive Christianity.

So I view faith as existential hope in the face of uncertainty and think that religious fundamentalists and Conservatives should come to terms with the fact that our ambiguous world hasn’t anything better to offer.

Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide

English version: Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides. Feel free to comment there at any time!

Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide


Ich hatte einen interessanten Emailaustausch mit Andy, einem bekennenden Atheisten aus Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Wir haben uns vor allem über Metaethik unterhalten aber in diesem Post will ich auf spezifische Sachen eingehen, die er über in der Bibel erwähnten Völkermorde geschrieben hat.

“Wenn du dir manche Rechtfertigungen für die Völkermorde im alten Testament anschaust, z.B. die von fundamentalischen Christen wie Paul Copan z.B., dann findest du übrigens exakt die gleichen Rechtfertigungen wie die, die die Nazis hatten – Copan sagt das die Feinde der Israeliten von Grund auf Böse waren, das nicht ein einziger von ihnen nicht böse war, das die Israeliten sie töten *mussten* weil sie sonst getötet worden wären etc. pp. Und genauso wie die Nazis über die Juden gelogen haben, so bin ich mir sicher dass das alte Testament über die Kanaaniter lügt, bei den Lügen der Nazis ist dies leicht zu zeigen, bei den Lügen im alten Testament ist dies schwieriger weil es keine Quellen gibt ausser solche die von den *Tätern* geschrieben wurden (stell dir vor die Nazis hätten den zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen – dann würden wir heute auch überall lesen das die Nazis der Welt einen Gefallen getan haben weil die Juden von Grund auf Böse waren und unser aller Untergang geplant hatten…)”

Ich bin Andy sehr dankbar,. seine Meinung auf eine solche Weise geäußert zu haben, denn es wirft viele interessante Fragen auf.

In den Büchern von Josua und Samuel wird es berichtet, dass Gott hebräischen Soldaten angeordnet hätte, ein ganzes Volk zu vernichten, wobei es ausdrücklich betont wird, dass Frauen, Kinder und alte Männer dazu gehören.


Nun gibt es mehrere Möglichkeiten:

1) die wortwörtliche Interpretation unserer europäischen Bibel ist wahr und historisch und

1.a) Gott hat wirklich ein Blutbad eingerichtet

1.b)  Gott hat das gar nicht gewollt, vielmehr haben die alten Israeliten ihren mörderischen Nationalismus auf Ihn projiziert.

2) die wortwörtliche Interpretation unserer europäischen Bibel ist falsch, wir sollten den Vernichtungsbefehl als eine volle militärische Niederlage der Feinde ansehen

3) die Eroberung von Kanaan und die damit verbundenen Genozide sind eigentlich nie passiert. Erst viel später wurden die Moses und Josua zugeschriebenen Bücher von mehreren unbekannten Autoren geschrieben.

3.a) die Autoren dachten wirklich, dass die Völkermorde passiert wären und fanden das gut. Sie haben aber viele falsche Daten und mündliche Traditionen verwendet.

3.b) die Autoren wollten eine mythologische oder symbolische Geschichte ihrer Ursprünge schreiben und hatten keinerlei die Absicht, sorgfältige Historiker zu sein

Wahrscheinlich gibt es andere Möglichkeiten, woran ich nicht gedacht habe.

Ich würde nicht Paul Copan als einen Fundamentalisten bezeichnen sondern als einen konservativen Evangelikalen, der die Doktrin der biblischen Irrtumslosigkeit verteidigen will.

Er hat mir gesagt, dass er solche Befehle als schrecklich ansieht,obwohl sie aufgrund der tragischen Umstände durchgeführt werden sollten.

Da er aber auch seinen Glauben an die Güte Gottes nicht aufgeben will hat er in seinem Buch hauptsächlich versucht, 2) zu verteidigen. Ich gebe ihm Recht, dass die berichteten Vernichtungsbefehle in dem alten nahen Osten manchmal hyperbolisch oder symbolisch sein könnten. Dennoch gibt es viele Fälle, wo man davon ausgehen kann, dass sie ernst gemeint waren, wie Thom Stark in seinem Buch gezeigt hat.

In diesem Zusammenhang finde ich es sehr merkwürdig, dass Copan nur mit 4 Seiten auf ein Buch geantwortet hat, das mehrere hunderte Seiten umfasst und sich danach kaum mehr darum gekümmert hat.

Ich bezweifle sehr, dass es nur an dem aggressiven und respektlosen Ton von Thom Stark in der ersten Version seines Buchs liegt. Danach hat er sich bei ihm entschuldigt.

Da Copan aber sich bewusst ist, dass 2) dubiös sein könnte, hat er auch geschrieben, dass dieser von Gott angeordnete Genozid eigentlich gerecht gewesen wäre. Der beliebteste evangelikale Apologet William Lane Craig hat mehrmals versucht, den Völkermord weiss zu waschen und ich bin auf seinen letzten Versuch eingegangen.

Aber nun muss man die Tatsache betrachten, dass die Eroberung von Kanaan eigentlich historisch äußert unwahrscheinlich ist, und dass die in der Bibel beschriebenen Massaker nie geschehen sind.

Ich weiß ehrlich gesagt nicht, ob 3a) oder 3b) wahr ist. Die Autoren wollten vielleicht wirklich die historischen Ursprünge ihres Volks dokumentieren und haben sich geirrt.

Aber es besteht auch durchaus die Möglichkeit, dass die Autoren eine symbolische Erzählung beabsichtigten, die später als Historie missinterpretiert wurde.

In beiden Fällen glaube ich, dass es sich um menschliche kulturbedingte Gedanken über Gott handelt und sehe die kanonischen biblischen Bücher an auf die selbe Weise wie Bücher außerhalb des Kanons.

Und genauso wie moderne christliche Autoren sich irren können, können auch uralte biblische Schreiber sich irren.

Das Fundament meines Glaubens ist Gottes Vollkommenheit, die immer der Maßstab sein sollte, um jeden religiösen Text zu evaluieren.

Und nun will ich beschreiben, wie eine gesunde und gerechte moralische Entrüstung bezüglich solcher Texte aussehen sollte.

Evangelikalen tendieren sehr stark dazu, nur die schönen Seiten der Bibel zu betrachten, während sie die hässlichen Texte ignorieren oder weginterpretieren. Und sie würden sagen: die Bibel stellt uns auf eine konsistente Weise Gott als vollkommen gut dar.

Das ist zweifelsohne eine Art von Selbsttäuschung.

Aber militante Atheisten begehen den selben Fehler, wenn sie behaupten, die Bibel würde uns auf eine konsistente Weise Gott als ein moralisches Monster darstellen.

Wie Thom Stark in seinem Buch “The Human Faces of God” (die menschlichen Gesichter von Gott) beschrieben hat haben die unterschiedlichen Autoren der Bibel keineswegs dasselbe Gottesbild in Bezug auf die moralische Natur von Gott.

Wenn 1a) oder 3a) richtig sind dann gibt es einen krassen Kontrast zwischen dem Befehl kein Lebewesen in den kanaanitischen Städten zu ersparen und der Verkündigung des Propheten Ezechiel, dass Kinder nie wegen der Sünden ihrer Eltern bestraft sein sollten.

Nun hätte ich den folgenden Ratschlag für intellektuell ehrliche Atheisten: anstatt zu behaupten, dass der Gott des alten Testaments ein psychopathisches Monster ist wäre es besser, folgendes zu sagen:

“Das alte Testament zeigt uns widerspruchsvolle Gottesbilder. An manchen Stellen wird er als barmherzig und liebevoll dargestellt, während er an anderen Stellen als ein psychopathisches Monster beschrieben wird. Dies zeigt uns, dass das Judentum, Christentum und Islam keine offenbarte Religionen sein können, weil man daraus kein widerspruchsfreies Gottesbild ableiten kann.”

Dies wäre viel redlicher und wirksamer als die Behauptung, das alte Testament wäre fast völlig schwarz, denn das kann man leicht widerlegen.


Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)



Eric Seibert on Biblical atrocities

Lothringische Version: Eric Seibert iwer Biblische atrozitäte.

Unjust violence and misogyny in the  old testament

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser interviewed Biblical Scholar Eric Seibert on the topic of violence in the Bible.

Eric Seibert

He did an excellent job showing why the usual strategies of Conservative Evangelicals such as Paul Copan and William Lane Craig completely fail to show that the god they worship is not a moral monster (or does not suffer under a split-brain disorder).

I don’t, however, share his pacifist convictions. I believe in Just War Theory and in the righteous retribution of wicked deeds.
So it is not the presence of violence within the Bible which shocks me but atrocities committed against innocents, such as Canaanite babies or toddlers, or a law stipulating that a raped woman having not dared scream should be stoned as a adulteress.

I think there is just no way one can defend such kinds of laws as stemming from God.

Now this raises lots of question concerning the inspiration of Scripture. If we know there are clearly parts of it which contradict God’s will, how can we trust the others?

I think that a paradigm shift is clearly necessary.

Evangelicals should stop seeing the Bible as being necessarily more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books, as I explained in a prior post a long time ago.

Such a change does not, however, inevitably implies embracing theological liberalism and anti-supernaturalism.

To take a concrete example, I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way  I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were examplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all to appreciate all the right things they figured out.

But if we don’t believe that the books within the Biblical Canon are more inspired than books outside it, how can we make the difference between right and wrong beliefs about God?

While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even tough human beings are faillible creatures they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong as Saint Paul explains in the first chapters of the letter to the Romans.

Even if the books of C.S. Lewis are not inerrant, most Christians agree he was an extraordinary man of God, had many genuine spiritual experiences and reached profound insights in God’s nature.

But God did not directly speak through him, he used his own culturally-conditioned concepts to write about the Almighty, which involves he also got God wrong at times.

I view the Apostle Paul and other Biblical writers in exactly the same way: like modern Christian writers, they had genuine experiences with and thoughts about God they wrote down.

Of course such an approach does not eliminate all difficulties.

For why did people pretending to be believers commit atrocities they justified theologically? Conservative Protestants (and former ones) focus on the problem of atrocities in the Old Testament, but this is only one part of a more general difficulty: the problem of divine hideness.

Christian conquistadors viewing the slaughter of native Indians as the divine Will or isolated tribes routinely sacrificing their children to their deities are troubling as well.
For in all these situations, God allowed countless humans to have noxious and murderous false beliefs about Him.

While I cannot address such a huge problem with a few lines, I believe that God is able to redeem the suffering of all the victims of religious violence who just have to choose Him for an everlasting bliss.

Whilst this does not solve the problem, I find that this largely mitigates it.

Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides

Deutsche Version: Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide.


I had an interesting email exchange with Andy, a confessing atheist from Northrhine-Westphalia.

We’ve mainly discussed about metaethic but in this post I want to go into specific things he wrote about the genocides mentioned in the Bible.

“If you look at some of the justifications for the genocides within the Old Testament, like those from fundamentalist Christians like Paul Copan, then you find exactly the same justifications as those that the Nazis had.

Copan says that the foes of the Israelites were completely wicked, that not even one of them was not wicked, that the Israelites *had to* kill them because otherwise they would be killed etc.

 And exactly like the Nazis lied about the Jews, I am sure that the Old Testament lies about the Canaanites. It is easy to show this for the Nazi lies but it is harder to demonstrate it for the Old Testament because we have no other source than that of the perpetrators (try to figure out the situation if the Nazis had won World War 2, we would read everywhere that the Nazis had helped the world because the Jews are completely wicked and would have planted the seeds of our destruction and so on and so forth.)

I am extremely thankful to Andy for having given me his opinion in such a way for it raises many interesting questions.

Atrocities in the book of Joshua

In the books of Joshua and Samuel it is reported that God ordered  Israelite soldiers to annihilate an entire people whereby it was expressively said that women, children and old men should also be killed.


Now there are several possibilities:

1) the literal interpretation of our European Bibles is correct and historical and

1.a) God has really organized a bloodshed

1.b) God didn’t want that at all. Actually the ancient Israelites projected their murderous nationalism on Him.

2)  the literal interpretation of our European Bibles is wrong, we should view the extermination order as a complete military defeat of the enemies

3) the conquest of Canaan and the related genocides actually never occurred. The books attributed to Moses and Joshua were written only much later on by several unknown authors

3.a) the authors really thought that the genocides happened and approved of them. However they employed many false data and oral traditions.

3.b) the authors wanted to write down a mythological or symbolic history of their origins and had absolutely not the intention to be careful historians

There are probably also other possibilities I did not envisage.

Strategies of conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists

I would not describe Paul Copan as a fundamentalist but as a conservative Evangelical who wants to defend the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. He told me that he views such commands as not good but terrible, but that they had to be carried out owing to the dire circumstances.

Since he also doesn’t want to give up his faith in the goodness of God he has mainly tried in his book to defend 2).

I think he is right that the reported extermination orders in the Ancient Near East could be sometimes hyperbolic or symbolic. That said, there are many cases where we can assume that they were meant seriously, as Thom Stark described in his book.

In this context, I find it really remarkable that Copan’s response only included 4 pages whereas Stark’s book includes several hundreds of pages and that he no longer interacted with him and his book after that.

I strongly doubt that this only lies in the aggressive and disrespectful tone of Thom Stark in the first version of his book. Afterwards he apologized for his rudeness.

Since Copan is aware that 2) could be dubious, he also wrote that a divinely ordered genocide could have been actually justified.

The most popular Evangelical apologist William Lane Craig has also tried several times to whitewash the genocides and I went into his last attempt.

But now one must also consider the fact that the conquest of Canaan is actually historically extremely unlikely and that the massacres written in the Bible never occurred.

Frankly speaking, I don’t know if 3a) or 3b) is true. Maybe the authors truly wanted to document the historical origins of their people but were mistaken.

But it is also possible that the authors intended to write a symbolic tale which was later misinterpreted as being historical.

In both cases I believe these are human and culturally conditioned thoughts about God and I see the canonical Biblical books in the same way I see books outside the Canon.

And Biblical authors can be wrong in the same manner that modern Christian writers make mistakes.

The foundation of my faith is God’s perfection which should always be the norm according to which each religious text has to be evaluated.

And now I want to describe how a healthy moral indignation concerning such texts should look like.

Evangelicals have a strong tendency to only consider the nice pages of the Bible whereas they ignore or explain away the odious texts.

And they then say: the Bible depicts us in a consistent way God as being perfectly good.

This is undoubtedly a kind of self-deception.

But militant atheists make the very same mistake when they assert that the Bible depicts us in a consistent manner a God who is a moral monster.

As Thom Stark described in his book “The Human Faces of God“, the different Biblical authors had not by any mean the same conception of God with respect to his moral nature.

If 1a) or 3a) are true,  then there is a great contrast between the order not to spare any living thing in Canaanite cities and the preaching of the prophet Ezechiel that children are never punished for the sins of their parents.

Now I have the following advice for intellectually honest atheists:

instead of asserting that “the God of the Old Testament is a psychopathic monster” it would be better to say what follows:

“The Old Testament shows us contradictory portraits of God. In some passages he is described as being compassionate and loving whereas in other texts he is depicted as being a psychopathic monster.

This shows us that Judaism, Christianity and Islam cannot be revealed religions for one cannot deduce a portrait of God free of contradictions out of them. “

This would be much more honest and efficacious than the assertion that the whole Old Testament is wicked for this can be easily refuted.



Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

On the burden of proof of the atheist

Deutsche Version: von der Beweislast des Atheisten


Paul Copan has written a great article several years ago showing that both theists and atheists have a burden of proof regarding the truth of their claims:


I’ve give additional reasons to think so on my blog under the category “Parsimony”
. https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/category/parsimony/

If you’re discussing with an atheist friend, don’t forget that aspect.



Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)