Inerrancy and mass slaughter

It does depend on your definition, and yes, it is harder to define rape in cultures where the concept of consent does not exist. But I have to disagree that rape is not an accurate description. I and many women I know would describe sex imposed on a girl or woman who did not want it and did not consent as rape. Date rape is rape. Statutory rape is rape. Incest is rape. Forcing a bride to have sex is rape. A slave owner visiting the slave quarters at night is rape. Whether or not the woman outwardly protests or has to be held down is irrelevant.

I realize that in many cultures certain forms of coerced sex are normalized and men are not (and maybe should not be) held morally accountable for them. In other words, just as there are cultures where good men have multiple wives, there are cultures where good men rape women. Where I live and work, girls as young as twelve are traditionally sold into marriage by their fathers. I have never met a girl in this situation who has willingly entered this arrangement. Sex is forced, and it is just as traumatic and painful for them as it would have been if they were not married. It’s rape. Do some such marriages result in couples who grow to love each other and build fulfilling lives with each other? Yes. But let’s not sugarcoat the trauma or pretend it doesn’t happen.

Anyone who reads the Bible passages on this thread and isn’t disturbed by them is not reading them very carefully. It should be very disturbing that God commands people to take virgins as plunder and commands men to marry the women they rape. It should be extra disturbing to people trying to maintain a doctrine of inerrancy that sees those words as 100% truthfully representing a command from a loving God.


Exactly. Understanding the context of the time is one thing, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape just because it was common in the culture anymore than incest isn’t rape just because its in the family. Rape is and always has been morally wrong, even when the culture makes it okay and even when the Bible says it is permitted. Looks like inerrancy is not tenable.

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We’ll have to agree to differ in our definitions, then. And I would hardly minimize the various problems that you are also aware of. But given that the concepts and scope you are using of “consent” in marriage is a distinctly modern invention, your view seems to require me to believe that the vast, vast majority of marriages that were consummated before the modern invention of our Western, individualized, romance oriented dating system was a rape. That would include such as Isaac and Rebekah, Joseph and Mary, and lots of others that operated within the arranged marriage or betrothal system, who I’m not comfortable calling “rapists”.

Well, it’s good to know you’ll draw the line somewhere. Killing anybody/everybody is fine (if you’re convinced God commands it), but rape crosses the line.

Okay - that was a bit snarky on my part. But to help soften my sarcasm just a bit, I’m just making the point that you’re really no different than any of us in having a well-instilled sense of justice that you think is God-given and you are offended at the suggestion that God would ever see fit to cross it. Good! I’m only pointing out that some of us also feel that same revulsion at the suggestion that God delights in human sacrifice or any oppressive violence.


No you are misunderstanding. You don’t need romance for consent. Many women are willing partners to arranged marriages. When I taught ESL, I knew quite a few Muslim and Hindu women who met their husbands at their wedding. They were fine with that. They were adults and had agreed to the marriage. It is different with children being sold into marriage. It is different with war captives being plundered into marriage. Surely this is not a difficult distinction to see. Life has not been fair for women for much of human history and in many cultures, and there it is definitely part of humanity’s “sin” problem, not a neutral cultural component that we have made into a sin because of our modern ideas.


Yes, having a moral instinct, and the resultant revulsion at certain things, is absolutely real and certainly valuable… it is a reflection of the image of God… but broken and sinful as we are, I’m only saying it should not be trusted as the final and ultimate arbiter of all things good and evil.

When it comes to killing, my instinctive revulsion is to a certain extent challenged by what I read in scripture. upon further reflection, I recognized that I did not find the same sense of moral revulsion when I thought of God droning the countless children in the flood, or an angel killing the firstborn (including children) in Egypt or the various children angels have been recorded to kill. This and the rest of the items discussed on this page brought me to where I recognize that the revulsion I have at killing in general simply can’t be extrapolated to definitively decide that “God would never command such a thing.”

When it comes to rape, my instinctive revulsion is confirmed by what I read in Scripture. The lack of any approval whatsoever of such behavior, the disapprobation attributed in every single case, the 100% no exception condemnation, the death penalty for rapists (or lifelong responsibility to provide for a dishonored virgin who had thereby lost prospects for marriage)

No disagreement there. Any war and all its ramifications are a result and consequence of sin and is going to be terrible, Numbers 31 included. This is at least something I know a bit of. No one would suggest that having your parents slaughtered and being married off to their slaughterers is some kind of “God’s ideal for your life.” The fact that such a situation even existed whatsoever is entirely a result of sin, granted.

I want to move on and get back to Randy’s main question, but I am curious what you would suggest by way of alternative, given the situation. For right, wrong, good or bad, all the men, boys, women, and older girls are dead. You show up to advise Moses just after all these have been slaughtered; all that remains of Midian is a group of say, a thousand girls age 12 and under.

Without importing wholesale some radical cultural change… given the reality of life and culture and the situation they found themselves in, what would you have advised Moses to do? Surely not slaughter them as well; certainly not just abandon them to either starve as destitute or find themselves a target of rape from other bandits and nomads without protection. Do you set up a ”Midianite survivors convent” where the girls can hang out together in relative isolation? Have them adopted into individual families? Do you forbid them from marriage to any Israelite? Give them option to refuse said marriages?

Peterson and [Jewish] Ben Shapiro had an interesting discussion in a November Rubin Report (I linked to it in the Peterson thread). In it there is quite a bit of discussion and a new (for me) take on the whole sacrifice of Isaac situation that has been so discussed on this thread. When one gets the Christian-sympathetic Peterson in the same room with Jewish Shapiro, it seemed to me to be a fruitful proliferation of thoughts around all that.

I rather respect their take on the Abrahamic situation but will wait to comment on that (either here or in the other thread) until others have had a chance to listen in for themselves.

[discussion of sacrifice of Isaac starts at about 1 hr : 20 min. though at around 1 hr they are also discussing atonement.]

Mr Fisher, why do you think that Moses called for slaughter of babies and boys, and leaving only the virgin girls? Was there some mandate for girls to survive only? It sure sounds like this was a mandate to save them for sexual use.

In regard to how to care for them, this seems an odd question–is it right to force sexual contracts because they killed everyone else (again, because some Midianite women had seduced some Hebrew men)?

The definition of rape is “the crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will.”

In regards to the question of what they could have done–if they had not intended to save only the girls for sex–if God had indeed commanded this, it was a theocracy, and He could have taken care of them; or, certainly, keeping boys for servants and slaves was not unheard of. they could have done that, too.

The Bible also condemns murder in the strongest possible terms–except when it is to kill enemy women and children with the men. The laws referenced above appear to have been given for peace time.

Regarding marriage by arrangement, I love Ravi Zacharias’ story, “I, Isaac, Take You, Rebekah”–I have given copies to friends because it’s got a great moral of “love is a choice.” However, that’s the point–Ravi’s brother and his wife both chose to marry.

The history of child and forced marriage is a very sad one. I grew up in Africa, as I told you, and I have heard stories of how young, bubbly girls became sad after marrying and bearing young. I have known some of them personally. I told you of a time when a 40 year old man offered to buy my (then) 12 year old sister; and the horror I had of that. That would certainly have been against her will, and by definition, rape.

One thinks that the conservative Muslim culture I lived in would have a low divorce rate, but reportedly, at the time I was there, it was comparable to, and higher than, ours.

I think we have to avoid an over optimistic idea of what a forced marriage was; and it certainly wasn’t the same Ravi’s brother’s arranged marriage.

If we don’t ascribe a given morality to God, that He is held to, how do we tell the difference between him and Satan?

C S Lewis posed that question in “The Last Battle,” when the Calormenes set up a false god, Tashlan, who was cruel. The Narnians said, “Why, we wanted Aslan to come back,” in shock, when they realized this wasn’t at all like the good Aslan they knew of.

Thank you for your dialogue.


That’s a good question. And that’s exactly why I’d say that if anyone I knew told me that God told them to kill their child – I’d be calling CPS on them in 0.5 seconds, and hope anyone would do the same to me. :stuck_out_tongue:
[edited to add, I don’t actually see this type of thing come up regularly, but it’s probably worth asking why, and what methods we use to determine how we’d know whether God was speaking to us.]

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I want to add that in every way possible I think of you as a gentleman and a lover of God, and respect you. I am learning from our discussions!

I appreciate your dialogue.

Great discussion. I was reviewing it wit my wife, who is a bit more on the conservative interpretation side, and it is really thought provoking I am reminded of a case a few years back where a mom killed her children, saying God told her to do so. She was obviously mentally ill, but quite sincere in her belief of God’s direction.


I want to move past this particular topic as it is a bit of a rabbit trail… one last observation and I will move on to other topics, else we need to start a separate thread.

I would observe that anything “sexual” in nature in Numbers 31 is a result of assumptions and imagination one brings to the text. The girls are to be “kept for yourselves.” That could mean lots of things, but one thing pretty obvious it does not mean is “for immediate sexual use.”

Clearly, if the only girls left alive were those who had not reached sexual maturity (“not known a man by lying with him”) we are talking about a group of female children that even the pagan Midianites recognized were too young for sex. If so, then to answer Christy’s question (“What do you think virgins taken as plunder were used for?”)… servant girls, I would imagine in all likelihood. Certainly not for sex, at least not anytime soon after said conquest.

Christy’s and others language, whether intentional or not, seems to portray a situation wherein each of these children (which includes the infants and toddlers) was immediately used for sex… perhaps within days carted off to some man’s house after an immediate marriage ceremony and had conjugal sex forced on them against their will, the tears of losing their father and mother not yet dry.

For the vast majority of these survivors, we would be talking about marriages (assuming they married) only after years of holding some entirely different status, of having had years to assimilate and adapt to their new culture and go through a process of betrothal perhaps not dissimilar to any other young Hebrew maiden or at least a Hebrew household servant girl. I have no idea what that specific status was. I would imagine as household servants for those children old enough, for the much younger, perhaps cared for within individual households. But the one thing they were not immediately going to be was wives - They were simply too young for that. whatever “kept for yourselves” meant, the one thing it could not mean was “for immediate marriages” or “for immediate sexual purposes.” Interpreting Numbers 31 in the darkest and most uncharitable way, one could at most say that sexual use of these girls may have been the long-term objective.

But even on this most uncharitable reading… keeping a 3 year old girl alive even on the sole expectation that, when she is old enough, she may be a good marriage prospect for an Israelite man someday… does not fit within my definition of ”rape.”

If we insist on critiquing the entirety of Israel’s marriage customs, especially involving captive women, as institutionalized rape, I am not interested in arguing that point further, as to my reading it requires far too many assumptions and uncharitable interpretations and unwarranted comparisons with other worst-case practices, and seems to me quite ethnocentric. But if one wants to so understand it as such, then by all means please feel free, I will not argue that point here.

I will observe, though, that the one time that such purported institutionalized rape did not occur was in the immediate aftermath of Midian’s conquest as recorded in Numbers 31. All the women old enough to have had such supposed institutionalized rape forced on them had been killed. If such purported institutionalized rape did ever happen to the Midianite girls, it would not happen until quite some time - years in most cases - after the events recorded in Numbers 31.

Thus I maintain that “rape” by any conceivable definition can simply not be found in Numbers 31 on any fair reading. What they did was bring home a train of captive children.

And to borrow from Herodotus, “So much for Numbers 31.”

That’s the crux of the issue though isn’t it? Was Moses using his God-given authority to institute what he thought was the best scenario or was he relaying a divine command he received directly from God?

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No, we aren’t talking about children. In Num. 31: 18, the Hebrew is haṭ·ṭap̄ ban·nā·šîm “the young women.” In Num 31:35 the Hebrew is 32,000 han·nā·šîm “women.” Not girls. Not infants. Talk about bringing assumptions to the text. How does a “woman who has not slept with a man” equal a pre-pubescent child? Women are, by definition, post-pubescent. And I’m fine to let the rabbit trail die. :slight_smile:

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Some of several Moses cartoons I found on the Internet–



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Christy, I don’t know how to respond politely. This is completely erroneous. I’ll bite one more time, if only to debate the Hebrew.

haṭ·ṭap̄ (ṭap̄) means “children.” I’m not sure what more needs to be discussed… So yes, we’re talking about children.

but in case that isn’t clear enough…

  • “haṭ·ṭap̄” (הַטַּף) (which is simply ṭap̄ with the He (“the”) prefix) simply means “children.” This is not remotely disputable. We are most certainly talking about “children.” The same word is used in v. 17, the very verse preceding, along with “male”, to specify they were to kill all the male children. (כָל-זָכָרבַּטָּף, literally “all the males within the children”, using the Beth (“in/within”) prefix to specify the males within the larger category of “children”)

  • conversely, v. 18 also uses the Bēth prefix, Beth with nashim (women), to specify you are to take the hattap/children of/from the nashim/women. Nashim is include pd here to specify/modify what kind of children: women children as some translations use,

Every use of (hat)tap that I could find, without exception, is translated as “children”, “little children,” or “little ones”. The only exception being here in num31, where the fact that it is describing only female children, is thus translated “little girls,” “women children,” or the like…

Of the 51 translations available at Biblegateway (…

  • 17 translate hattap banashim as young girls,
  • 16 translate it as simply girls
  • 6 as women children or women-children,
  • 3 as young women
  • 2 as young female
  • 1 as female children
  • 1 as women
  • 1 as females
  • 1 as little girls
  • 1 used a hyper literal the children among the women
  • And 1 used an odd infants among the women

Even the reliably progressive NRSV goes with “young girls.”

As for the scholarly lexicon…

The standard Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon gives all this under ṭap̄, specifying the word unambiguously means children, and including clarifications of the 2 gender-specific formulations in Numbers 31 that adjust the translation to “young boys” and “young girls” respectively…


טַף42 noun masculine collective children (as going with quick, tripping steps; Ethiopic Di1251) — טַףJeremiah 41:16 11t.; טָ֑ף Jeremiah 40:7 5t.; suffix טַמֵּנוּGenesis 43:8 5t.; טַמְּכֶם Genesis 45:19 10t.; טַמָּם Genesis 34:29 6t.; never construct and never plural (in Genesis 47:24omitted by ᵐ5, compare Di); — children, little ones , Genesis 34:29 (E) + 18 t. J E (Genesis Exodus Numbers), also Deuteronomy 1:39 8t. D (including Joshua 1:14; Joshua 8:35); P only Numbers 31:9,17,18, where note זָכָר בַּטָּ֑ףNumbers 31:17 = young boys , and הַטַף בַּנָּשִׁים Numbers 31:18 = young girls


So yes, we are most certainly talking about children. Yes, “girls.”

Is there anything further to discuss? Besides who it is that may be bringing said assumptions to the text?

I do learn things from you–and while I’m not sure of who’s correct on the “virgin” thing (I’d like to review how we interpret those roots in our Bibles, eg the Isaiah “virgin shall be with child”), that would make me feel better if so. It doesn’t take all the problem away, but lessens the problem in one instance. Thank you.

I’m puzzled here. I am curious why that would be so? Because drowning and instant death (presumably, from an angel) are less painful? Because many of us die, every day, and attribute it in part to God? I hadn’t thought of that fully enough. God doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked (still less in the death of the innocent), so I know He wouldn’t be happy in any case–but it’s an interesting psychological phenomenon, as the protagonist says in “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (which I highly recommend, by the way).

Back to the main course–I’m happy to “read” Packer (actually, Randal Rauser recommended one of his pamphlets to me) but can’t do that by regular reading. What do you think of the “Taking God Seriously”?

Randy, I obviously know nothing about it, but am reading a book written by a Jewish rabbi,Moshe Avraham Kempinski, discussing Isaiah 7:14 where he states," (the Christian) translation of the word almah is virgin while the (Jewish) is “young woman” or “maiden” . The Hebrew word bitulah means ‘a virgin.’ " He goes on to discuss it further, He also takes issue with how the Septuagint was translated, with it being unknown who did the translation of Isaiah, and bias may have been present.
So, different word, but still a conflict in translation. This translation stuff is hard.


I take it all back that v. 18 does not include children!

But there is no chidren/young modifier in the verse about the plunder (35), just the word for women, so I am entirely unconvinced that this group referred to only pre-pubescent women. Especially when you combine it with the Deuteronomy passage that had specific instructions about what to do when the men sexually desired one of the captives.

This is largely true… almah generally means young maiden (and can mean virgin depending in context)… except he errs in attributing it to Christian interpretation. The authors of the Septuagint some 200 years BC used the Greek word for “virgin.” So Christians that translate Is 7:14 as “virgin” are following the precedent of respected Jewish scholars…

But there is no ambiguity whatsoever that tap means “children.”