Inerrancy and mass slaughter

Yes … one would hope!

Exactly. And that’s what’s going on. If orthodoxy needed testing, then how much more so heterodoxy? What you espouse is being tested; and some of it is found wanting.

Our culture makes it easy to think of love as mainly an inward emotion. In the Bible, it’s typically an outward response. It may start with the heart, but it necessarily flows outward. This makes the contrast between Jesus’ words and other words to kill people groups without mercy even more stark. I’m convinced Jesus’ words prompt us to go well beyond having good feelings for the people we choose to harm.

While each person is accountable for how they respond to their own conscience, I’m convinced by C.S. Lewis’ explanation of the tao: how even with local differences, there is a thick commonality to morality across cultures and time. In addition to localized setbacks, there have also been advances in our moral understanding, some of them realized through processing the shocking life and teaching of Jesus.

So when it comes to the ancient Israelites, you guessed wrong. :slight_smile: I find the texts that tell the Israelites to suppress their conscience – the “show no mercy” texts – to be among the hardest to deal with. They seem to be told to plug their nose, stifle their conscience, harden their hearts (pick your favourite metaphor) and commit acts they saw as unjust. When the wandering Israelites longed to go back to Egypt, they knew that wouldn’t be a death sentence for them all. The Egyptians wouldn’t be as cruel as what they were commanded to be! Even by ancient standards, killing everyone was beyond the pale.

(My own way forward with such texts begins by accepting the scholarly consensus that they were written when the banned nations were no more common to Israelites than Orcs. As such, the purpose of such texts was to encourage exiled Israelites to put to death the only Canaanite around: the Canaanite within that enticed them to put their trust in other gods. This also happens to be the main way the texts were used by early Christians. When taken literally, the texts were ignored or taken as a reason to separate from the Old Testament God; when taken figuratively, they had enduring significance for the Christian life. Since the figurative reading is the only one that would have meaning for the original audience, given a late date of composition, I think a strong case can be made for a figurative reading being the original intent as well as the dominant approach in reception history.)

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I find it extremely ironic that those Xtians who have no problem with these genocide passages also have such a problem with evolution. Why do they find no problem with the idea of God ordering the extermination of a group of people and then find it so inconceivable and repugnant that death could also be the tool by which God shaped life on the Earth? For me, these go hand in hand as part of the same fact of life that death is as necessary a tool in dealing with problems of life as the scalpel is for a surgeon. Sometimes you have to cut out the cancer and that is all there is to it.

The only explanation I can see for this stark inconsistency is that this group of Xtians want to forbid rational thought with regards to their religion. They don’t want people to think rationally about what is morally acceptable any more than they want people to think rationally about the origins of the species. This frankly fits the reshaping of religion into a tool of power and evil and it is hardly surprising that the result is that the power, glory, and self obsessed God they preach likewise sounds more and more like the devil and god of this world.

But one can also believe in a God who is not only both perfectly good with the greater responsibility of the scalpel wielding surgeon, but who advocates and supports the use of reason for both morality and understanding how the universe works. Biblical literalism is just an excuse as is the fear of the slothful servant who returns what he has been given without any investment of thought.

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Dear Mervin,
Thank you, then I have achieved my goal! I am not here to prove anything, because without a desire to search, there can be no learning. All I can expect to achieve is to inspire people to search. And once you start to search, then Jesus promises that we will find and a door will be opened.
Best Wishes, Shawn


Mr Fisher,

Thank you for your note. I’m currently reviewing a presentation by Eric Metaxas on C S Lewis and “Mere Christianity,” on how Lewis posited a universal moral code as a clue to the existence of God. We’re probably going to use it for Sunday School. Philip Yancey, Alister McGrath, and others help with this.

Now, McGrath points out that the universal consciousness of a right and wrong standard that we are all able to appeal to, but of which we all fall short, is only a clue, not a proof, of God–that if God were to exist, this would make sense.

We can also argue that this sense of right and wrong is from evolution–that humans need it to coexist, and that through logic we’re necessarily abstract, needing a reference point. However, as Justin Barrett in the cognitive science of religion would probably say, that doesn’t disprove God–it is also just a puzzle piece that would fit in to His existence, but is necessary to our survival.

Randal Rauser has an interesting post that I’m trying to wade through, but haven’t yet finished.

He’s interacting with a skeptic on this website:

It seems to me that Lewis’ discussion, in the midst of two secular but historically Christian nations (Germany and Britain) fighting with each other, was very relevant given the question about why we would have a similar dissonance–the video series advertises that it’s relevant to discuss this in our current mixture of philosophies warring with each other.

It does seem that while we all have an innate sense of right and wrong, we allow some things to trump them, and work illogically in respect to the right and wrong. For example, we allowed ourselves to kill thousands of innocent civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima because of the weariness of war and the impression that we would prevent further deaths (at least, in part, from my understanding). The Hebrews also justified killing men, women and children in revenge for their forefathers’ persecution, the evil they committed (but it seems odd to kill everyone because of some child sacrifice), etc.

All this brings me back to saying that there are very big blind spots in my understanding; but I do think that these arguments are not based on fairness, but on what seems most expedient for the people of the time. Boyd argues that in Christ’s estimation, no violence is justified–it’s better to sacrifice oneself. This throws oneself back on God as the ultimate rewarder of good and bad, and the ultimate reconciler.

Your discussion has certainly made me think hard. It’s not clear what the best step is next. I do think (from my comfortable, 21st century position) that both the nuclear bomb in Japan and the Canaanite genocide were wrong. I do think that Christ’s way was better–but do I have the guts to follow it? I would have to be very convinced of that if my own family were threatened. I think I would throw that conviction to the winds and protect them!

And there is an argument that it’s merciful to keep a bully from bullying–from scarring his own soul with the wickedness you can prevent. Every parent has to mete out justice in this way.

However, it seems that in both cases above, something else could have been done.

I’m not sure we will ever see an ultimately good version of justice in this life–there are too many variables. However, as Lewis implies, and as @MarkD quotes Dostoevsky, it’s the erring that makes us human and responsible.

Please note that I’m not saying the Hebrews or my forefathers involved in World War II were in human–they did things according to their lights. We can learn from them and Christ. It may be appropriate and helpful to read more of Greg Boyd, etc (like Zahnd, McLaren, and Enns).



Just letting you know I haven’t forgotten about you. Dealing with many work crises, will hopefully be able,to give you a proper response to your thoughts before too long.

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Mr Fisher, did you write the question for Pete and Jared’s podcast most recently made? It sure sounded a lot like one of your good ones–how do they know, without an inerrant Bible, that God is good? I’m listening and found it a good discussion so far. I’m sure you have some good questions for them, too.


No hurry, by the way. I’m on vacation, staying at home, this week, so I’ve posted more than usual. Take your time. Thanks.

Afraid that wasn’t me, no. But yes, a very legitimate question. I would observe, logically, that said revelation need not be scriptural in nature. But yes, unless God has spoken in some kind of clear way, then we don’t have any basis for concluding that God is good (or, more accurately, as Pete and Jared observed, what “good” actually means).

Pete’s observation was essentially that he chooses to believe God is good because he wishes to (and I’d note “good” according to his own cultural definitions)… but that there is not any basis for making any actual solid, “final” “claim” to said belief.

Again, I fear he doesn’t realize he puts himself in a position where he has no basis for critiquing the folks at Westbrook Baptist that “feel” that God gates all gays, or the 9/11 hikackers, or the like. In such a system, their beliefs about God are all just as legitimate, based as they are in their own (sub)cultural perspectives of right and wrong.

If God hasn’t given us the “teacher’s manual” final answer book in at least some form or fashion that we judge our perspectives against, then Jared’s take on the content of God’s “goodness” is no more or less valid than that of Fred Phelps or Osama bin Laden.

On another topic, since you pointed out this link, I happened recently upon another that bears at least a remote relevance to our discussion of the. Dry unpopular biblical beliefs…

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Mr Fisher, I love Babylon Bee :slight_smile: I’ve seen that one before–and it’s a good one. The instrument of sarcasm is not unbiblical, either (eg Paul saying he wished the Judaizers would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!; and Jesus used quite a bit of hyperbole).

Well, we all do put our heads together to think things through–but we can turn that on its head. Judging from the Bible, how do we say that Westboro (heinous though it is, not as bad as genocide) is condemned by God? We’ve discussed dominionism and dispensationalism–but there are as many mixtures of OT and NT, perhaps, as there are churches (or at least, denominations). Jesus said “no”–but what does that apply to, and how do we do that? He said His was a new commandment–and that he was greater than the OT (even though the OT did not pass away–at least, the law). We’ve talked about that a bit, but it’s interesting to decide how that works out in real life. I have some empathy with Marcion (but only superficially).

An earlier comment mentioned that once we question a part of the Bible as not God given, how do we clarify the other parts–we can go one further. How do we decide it’s the Bible, and not one of the other faith traditions? I do have my own reasons–but we need to apply some of those reasons, I think, to understanding the Bible, too.

I have been thinking about what to write–but think rather than re iterating some of the path I’ve trod, I’m going to listen again to “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, and then to some books I’ve not read --Thomas Jay Oord’s “The Uncontrolling Love of God” and a book by Greg Boyd–maybe the entire “Crucifxion of the Warrior God,” to get at deeper reasoning behind “Cross Vision.”

So --I’m going to try to explore some new territory in the next few weeks.

I hope you are doing well!


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I don’t know if you have seen this post by Randal Rauser yet, but it’s an interesting one about “Four Pitfalls for Apologists Defending Biblical Violence”

Divine command theories of moral relativism, cultural relativism, utilitarianism, and moral skepticism are the concerns he discusses.

Thanks for your discussion.


Thank you for the link, and your patience as I’ve been swamped recently. A brief response, I’m afraid I found Randall’s first argument rather disingenuous, and bordering a bit on a straw man argument. I say this about the reasoning in general, not even about whether I at core agree or disagree with him. But I’m not aware of anyone on any side of the debate that would endorse the idea that God‘s commands are arbitrary, and do not reflect goodness at their core.

This of course goes back to the ancient dilemma, is something good because god commands it, or does god command something because it is good? If something is good merely because God prematurely commanded it, then “good” has no real inherent meaning. If God commands something because it is good, then it implies that God is found to some higher standard than himself, and he is not the ultimate. We must therefore understand that good and God are practically synonymous and cannot be separated.

His fourth point is where I land. I think it inescapable and self evident that if we are broken, and sinful, then we ought to expect there to be places wherein our deepest moral instincts will be at odds with God’s. Should we really trust our own moral instincts as societies? That would be a book in itself, but there is plenty of historical evidence, contra Randall’s utopian idea, that basic human moral instinct, shaped ait is by culture, selfishness, and corruption, simply ought not be trusted in the way Randall seems to suggest. We at core should not put final and absolute trust in our core moral instincts as informed by our various cultures, and use this as a basis to dismiss anything that God has commanded or endorsed in Scripture. As previously mentioned, this is a sure and certain means to (re)invent a God in our own image as fitting with our own cultural preferences.

After all, leaving aside the entire question of divine inspiration, the people who wrote numbers and Joshua didn’t seem to have such the moral issue with these things that we 21st century people do. On what basis does Randall claim that his understanding of morality is so vastly superior to theirs? He seems to think it self-evident. Those ancient authors would have thought their moral view similarly self-evident. Because we are modern and they were ancient, we are automatically right? Chronological snobbery?

Finally, if I were to make Randall’s approach as the standard, then there is no getting past the point that Abraham ought to have refused to obey such a command that was against his core moral instincts. Randall’s approach would have required him to disobey God’s command, and this i find untenable.

Simply put, I cannot accept any approach to these things that would have required Abraham refusing to obey God‘s command regarding Isaac on the basis that Abraham clearly should have followed his own moral instinct Rather than Obeying the voice of God. If Randals approach is correct, then we ought to condemn Abraham for not trusting his own moral instinct And being willing to obey the voice of God instead. Rather, following Randall, Abraham ought to have refused such a clearly immoral command and trusted his own moral instinct over and above a divine command that required him to violate a moral imperative so “basic and intuitive.”

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That would not be difficult for me to do… I would accuse them of being as selective in their reading of the Bible as I’m (hopefully kindly) accusing you of being! :wink: they reject all those parts of loving ones enemy, of inviting the lost, of us being the worst of sinners… I could make a huge list of the parts of the Bible they are selectively ignoring.

There is on the one hand questions about which parts of Scripture apply directly apply to us, and hence questions of OT application, etc. even if I disagree with friends who are dispensationalist, or who embrace more of the OT than I think appropriate (Seventh Day Adventists for instance), I don’t object whatsoever to this approach. We all agree some parts directly apply and some don’t, and there will be disagreements of exactly how to do that. Even ancient Jews understood some parts to apply and some not to (they at one point no longer worshipped in a tabernacle as was commanded in Exodus, moving to a permanent temple). Even if I disagree with someone’s conclusion, I don’t at core take issue with the approach itself. Because, at the end of the day, however we make said boundary lines, people in this category are still willing to (attempt to) obey everything that does apply to us.

(But even in all these categories, it is a question of what does or doesn’t apply to us, based on existing principles… this approach doesn’t deny previous revelation about who God revealed himself to be, rather limited to what commands do or don’t apply to us, not whether God did or did not command other things to other people at different times.)

But on the other hand, there is an approach of practically gerrymandering the Bible, carefully excising select passages or doctrines from both OT and NT that do not fit a predetermined outcome as determined by our personal preference. This I find terribly problematic. This was the approach that gave rise to Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, carefully gerrymandering and excising not particular books or large sections based on larger theological implications, but a verse-by-verse, cafeteria-style, careful selection of individual verses based on whether the reader did or didn’t approve of the particular theological concept.

This is essentially what the folks at Westboro do. They wouldn’t say they are, of course, but it is obvious they are essentially and practically selecting or obeying only those select parts of Scripture that they want to fit their desired practice. It isn’t a matter of the fact they reject this or that book wholesale, it is that they essentially gerrymander their way through the New Testament carefully ignoring various commands and exhortations while endorsing and practicing others.

And, with kindness, I fear that is the same approach I see you pursuing, though of course from a completely different angle. Unless I misunderstand you, your core question isn’t whether or not to include books like Numbers or Joshua in the canon, or the like, but your concern seems more to be in excising any suggestion that God punishes or exercises vengeance from any part of Scripture, whether OT or NT, questions of canon entirely aside. But attempting this with Scripture seems reminiscent of The Merchant of Venice, trying to remove a pound of flesh but not a drop of blood. There are simply no “canonical” boundaries that you could find, selecting certain books and not others, that will remove all the references of God’s punishment and vengeance.

If I could toss out a suggestion on reading… I just started rereading J. I. Packer’s “God has Spoken.” I find that to be a far, far better treatment of inspiration and inerrancy than others we’ve discussed. Would love to walk through that if you’re ever interested.

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Dear Daniel,
The issues that I have seen come up with inerrancy is that many have assumed that each time the Bible says God, it means The Father that Jesus describes to us. Just as every occurrence of spirit turns into Holy Spirit.

With perfect hindsight, we can see that it could not have been The Father telling Abram to kill Isaac, because it violates what Jesus tells us about His Father and the Laws that God gave to Moses, specifically “thou shall not kill.”

I suggest an inquisitive approach to the term “god” used anywhere in the Bible because of Jesus warning about the “god of the dead” (Mark 12:27). For me, the logical conclusion is that the “god of the dead” impersonated The Father and The Father sent one of His angels to stop Abram and stop the “god of the dead” from thwarting His Plan.

Best Wishes, Shawn

Yes, it is too bad that this logical conclusion was lost on the author of Genesis, as well as on James and the author of Hebrews.

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However, in the passage from Mark, Jesus is answering the Sadducees’ claim that there is no resurrection of the dead:

26 "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

Jesus is not describing another entity, another “god”. What Jesus is saying is that, God spoke to Moses, not as the God of dead men who no longer exist but God of them as still alive.

God doesn’t let Himself off the hook in discussions of theodicy and we can’t pardon Him. God spends 4 chapters saying to Job, I’m God and you’re not, don’t try to figure me out. You can’t. That’s a God one struggles with, one that won’t be contained by editing or scholarship or discovered between the lines.

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I am not sure where you are going with this comment. The god of the dead is Satan and he is alive and well trying to impersonate God and His Angels today as often as he can, as he always has.

There is nowhere in Scripture, that I have encountered, where Satan is given such title or status. I simply point out that Christ, in the passage you cite, makes no reference to a “god of the dead.” Further, in trying to posit a person other than God as commanding the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re trying to let God off the hook. In the Scriptures, God takes responsibility for His actions and does not ask to be let off that hook. We are left with these words: “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” We don’t need a deus not recorded to work our way through the story and I believe working our way through it, confronting God and His Word, is a better test of inerrancy. In my opinion, it certainly makes for a livelier theological discussion. The same would go for any sort of mass murder or atrocity commanded. In the end, such an honest and bold approach would be more respectful to those demanding an explanation and those challenging the validity of faith.

Satan is the Accuser, the Adversary, the Enemy. We see him in Scripture as a rebel, prosecutor, a deceiver, a tempter, a monstrous beast, defeated and imprisoned and demons as torturers, abusers, possessors, mockers. While he is the prince of this world and rules over those spiritually dead, we are assured: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) In all cases of Scripture, though, the words and actions which belong to the devil are ascribed to him, without ambiguity.

Yes, that is true. You do not see that he has also deceived the scribes and the priests? (Malachi 2:7-9, Jeremiah 8:8-9, and Ezekiel 2:1-7)

If you believe this what do you think God’s good purpose in allowing it could be. Or is Satan too powerful or God not enough so?

Dear Mark,
It was certainly not God’s intension to create thousands of separate belief systems based on His teachings. This is the work of Satan - divide and conquer. The world that we live has not changed since the Garden. God wants us use our free will to choose Him over the serpent, Satan. He ants us to follow His commandments despite all of the temptations. The new pope got one thing right by changing: “lead us not into temptation” to “lead us through temptation”. Without the temptation the faith would be meaningless.
Best Wishes, Shawn