Inerrancy and mass slaughter

Wow, this topic is difficult, the old adage, Interpretation, Interpretation, Interpretation rings in my ears! I have no wonderful conclusion, for we humans often hide behind God to validate our actions, so if we lived in that age we very well might have engaged in the common warfare of slaughter used by all the ANE peoples, which raises the question, do we have the right to condemn those of that age and their interpretation of what God was directing them to do? In the recording of the Conquest we do see that the people of Israel seemed to tire of slaughtering and often just demanded subjugation of the conquered people, but then that seemed to be interpreted as disobedience. I think God could have used any of the above methods mentioned to have brought about the elimination of a people, which it appears he has done time and time again, if we attribute the weather, earth quakes, Tsunami’s, blight, drought, famine, etc. to the Sovereignty of God. Historically mankind was pretty vicious toward one another but if these ancients were correct in their interpretation of God’s will that Israel do this act of genocide, which we find reprehensible, we must also remember it’s the same God who loved this world so much as to send his only begotten son into this world to redeem it, reconcile us to him so that we can today, here and now, walk in his love one toward another, perhaps that should be our focus, we can’t justify the history, but it’s now up to us to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ, and how are we doing with that? Carol (ReviC)

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I give us a C+ currently. Jesus competed His mission, and left us with the New Covenant and a perfect example of how to live our lives, regardless of what nature and humanity throws at us. Humanity has not let go of the Old Covenant and still uses it to justify attitudes like xenophobia and homophobia instead of the Love Jesus taught. We are a long way from loving our enemies (Matt 5:44) and from stop finding ways to create new ones.

@Daniel_Fisher, thanks for your patience. Like you, I have been too busy to give your message the time it deserves. We also lost our water from a well problem this week, which alters time constraints a bit! I plan on a response. Thank you for the discussion.

Thank you for your note. I have been thinking about this. I certainly agree that I do do bad things. My children do, too. However, that does not, to my mind, justify such terrible things as occur in the OT.

It’s frequently (in Christian fundamentalist circles) asserted that God says there is none righteous, no, not one; and that we (like David) sin from conception. But from my understanding, there are 3 points against this understanding:

  1. The Jews frequently talked of the righteous. God often promises good to the righteous in Psalms and Proverbs, for example.

  2. The reference for “none righteous” leads in from a discussion of looking for those who follow righteousness among the foolish ones–thus, I think (I may be wrong here) God is looking for the righteous among the group of the foolish–frequently a tribal delineation.

  3. “In sin my mother conceived me” is again a specific hyperbole, when David weeps over his sin with Bathsheba–when he committed sin in conceiving someone in adultery and had her husband killed.

To move on–Paul’s intent was somewhat hyperbole in Romans as well. He knew that the Jews did not rely on works to get God’s salvation; it was their seal of the covenant, but they, since the beginning (before Moses), relied, as Gentiles do, on mercy. Thus, he was arguing against circumcision or the forcing of Judaizing laws on the Gentiles that joined the Roman church.

Thus, today’s preachers say, almost with a gnostic flourish, that we are all evil from conception. Either we bear the imprint of Adam (a genetic or genealogic fallacy) and possess an evil nature that would take us to Hell; or even the smallest sin would put us in Hell for eternity, because God can’t stand any evil at all.

This is what Rachel Held Evans in “Faith Unraveled” called “pondscum theology.” In order to make a given theme all-important, we have to theorize that we all are evil beyond belief.

But that’s not the case. Either we are, and it’s God’s fault (we didn’t ask for that to come from Adam; He made it that way); or we are simply finite, have adaptive tools to learn to live with our surroundings, and God is more like a parent who teaches us how to live with His righteous law. Either way, it makes no sense to condemn anyone to Hell for eternity for the least imperfection.

There is much more to discuss, but I’ll try to keep this short. It’ late, and we have lots of work in the morning!

Thank you. God bless!


PS I think you, enjoying Lewis as you do, would really get much from George Macdonald. I am currently listening to his anthology “George Macdonald,” (it’s $10 on Kindle and a bit more on Audible), and the foreword is quite revealing about what he thought of his sermon, “Justice,” and his theology. I’m listening to his favorite “Unspoken Sermon” quotes in that book now; it’s dense going as it’s in the older style, but delightful.

Although Tim Keller doesn’t, apparently, agree with Macdonald, he admits that Macdonald’s works are “full of a common grace.”

In reading “The Princess and Curdie” with my children over the last few days, and his laser sharp vision for the godly life is clear throughout the book. As Lewis said, he wasn’t a great novelist; he was an inspired preacher.

There is a response to Keller and Piper here:

The other book which clearly seemed to give voice to such concerns was Rachel Held Evans" “Faith Unraveled.” A major question that led to her wondering about justice was that of what happened to Zarmina, a woman in Afghanistan near 9/11, who was executed unjustly with no knowledge of the Gospel. I believe that with your level of compassion, you would resonate with it, whether you agreed with it fully or not.

Thank you.

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Is the anthology you speak of this one from Harper Collins?

I continue to have a lot of respect for Pastor Tim Keller, but I must admit that respect took something of a hit when I heard him speak as he did of Macdonald. Not such a hit that I would question Keller’s status as a believer, though, as he did Macdonald’s! It is revealing to me as such, whose conception of God, then, is the larger and more generous one!
[One might fairly respond by asking: “yes - but is it the truer conception of God?” That may be an open theological conception to continue pursuing, but any conception that makes of God somebody less just, less generous, and less loving is going the wrong direction with regard to Truth.]

[though I guess I don’t know why I should be surprised. Since Keller is in the reformed tradition after all, to turn one’s back on Calvin would be beyond the pale, and how else should a reformed pastor react? It would be sort of like somebody utterly repudiating Menno Simons to me. Except in my case, I would just laugh and welcome them into the rather large club! (and then be secretly flattered that they had ever even heard of Simons!)]

I will be looking into F.D. Maurice now because of his influence on Macdonald’s legacy. Thanks for this.

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Yes, that’s the one. I am using the Audible version at present.

I agree that Keller, in his speeches and interaction on line, is a very compassionate man. His allusions to Lewis indicate how much he appreciates him, too.

I read a bit about Maurice, as well, after watching that portion by Ron Dart, and found it interesting!

The Mennonites are pretty well known! Our mission liked the Mennonites–there was quite a group from Western Canada (one who was a Russian refugee from the Stalin era as a child–I knew him in the '80s, and he taught me chess when I was a child). We also grew up with the “More With Less” cookbook (which my wife and I still use)!

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PS You might find this discussion by Randal Rauser regarding relative violence contrasted between Christianity and Islam interesting. It seems that we have a hard time criticizing Islam if we consider the OT to be inerrantly proclaiming what God desired.

Hello Dan,

God’s command for Israel to judge a nation such as we see in Numbers 31 is one of several instances in the Bible where there’s a tendency to place God under scrutiny. Passages of this nature require understanding of background knowledge. Did God violate His own commandments by having Israel destroy all the Midianites including the women and children? If God is mindlessly cruel as it may appear, why was He not consistant with the tendency by wiping all of us out also? Didn’t the Bible say that there’s none good, no not one (Romans 3:12)?

God judges societies as well as people. The links below should give light to help us to determine why God judged Midian in Numbers 31.

Even if we should think of God as cruel, should we forget the fickle-mindedness and immense cruelty of people? Think of the time when God judged His own people likewise after they engaged in the pagan practice of burning babies as sacrifices to the pagan god Molech despite the fact that they were given the Law of Moses beforehand. Have they forgotten Abraham’s example that proved that God doesn’t require child sacrifice? Think about the state of people prior to the flood:

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).

On the other hand, think of the time when Jonah was angry with God because God didn’t judge Nineveh because Nineveh repented. May we then charge God as cruel?

May we thus conclude that God had a justifiable reason to judge the Midianites? Judgment is God’s very last resort for man. It is written, “God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).”

In the case of Uzzah, the explicit instructions God gave for carrying the ark with no margin for error was not followed.

Whether we fully understand God’s purpose in making the moves discussed or not, we are certainly in need of His mercy for ourselves!


@Ecerotops, Thank you for your comment. To clarify, @Daniel_Fisher is very kindly and graciously interacting with me about the questions of inerrancy. I had posed the objection, as a Christian who struggles with passages like Numbers 31, that it was not of God’s character to kill men, women and children indiscriminately. I do not think this is inerrant. Mr Fisher kindly reviewed this and the “Five Views on Inerrancy” with me. I have enjoyed and appreciated his interaction. Please see the above postings which already address many of the same things you say. I would be interested in your discussion.

Thank you. In Christ,

I have only one bit of insight into this very worthwhile discussion: we moderns are not as far removed from the ancient near east as we imagine.
No matter what individual Americans thought of the atomic bombing of Japanese cities, our country’s general position was that it was justified to end the war quickly and save American lives. If our soldiers had been ordered to massacre all the men, women, and children in one of the already captured cities of Okinawa for the same purpose, we would have been outraged and many soldiers would have refused to obey such illegal orders. Yet achieving the same end by indiscriminate killing and burning of a city’s population with bombs was acceptable. The fire-bombing of Dresden was similar.
Our culture’s revulsion at the slaughter of the Midianites is, I believe, mostly due to the fact that Israelite warriors had to do it close up. If God had killed the Midianites with a plague or earthquake, we might be less concerned with inerrancy and more with theodicy.


@JFD, thank you very much for this good insight. I would agree that the bombing of children in Japan and the firebombing of Dresden appears, to my mind, to be terrorism of the same sort as Midian. One may well argue that Christ said we should not kill at all. In many ways, killing another human being over a given argument is worse than being killed.

A discussion of evil by Randal Rauser appears here, with a photo of a burnt out tricycle from Hiroshima:

Greg Boyd, in “Cross Vision,” argues that Christ was the revelation of God that superseded our mistaken ones (this is the boiled-down version of “Crucifixion of the Warrior God”). In writing it, he initially tried to compose a book justifying the violence in the OT, and came to the conclusion that it was impossible. Rather, Christ is the sensus plenior of the OT, the surprise ending, that revealed to us what God really meant all along.

Boyd is also a pacifist. I struggle a bit with the idea of complete pacifism. I wonder sometimes what I would do if someone attacked my own family. On the other hand, I think Bonhoeffer struggled about even striking an evil man, because it could be like striking Christ himself. However, there is a difference, as you say, between fighting the perpetrator and killing men, women and children. We need the testimony of Jesus to give us sense in the madness of violence.

So finally getting back into it… finally finished chapter 5. Some significant disagreement, and I find it a relatively dangerous method he proposes. He selects a certain principal as taught by Christ, and uses that to reject or overturn previous teaching. My objection is essentially that I have to Dr. Enns. Once we start doing that, on what basis do I maintain anything as God-breathed teaching? Jesus’ parables incorporated violent imagery, I don’t need to go to the OT for that. Do I reject parts of Jesus’ own teaching in deference to other parts of his teaching?

Now, where I have more sympathy with Dr. Franke, is that he seems to recognize Jesus’ own words and teaching as inerrant, an absolute standard by which we can judge everything else in the Bible. While I don’t agree, I have sympathy, and can see the idea that God has spoken through Christ. Everything else he says throughout Scripture is to various degrees muddled, culturally conditioned, spoken to a certain people in their context, etc. But Jesus gives us a final word in the topic, while Dr. Enns’ philosophy gives us no way to even trust Jesus words, Dr. Franke at least gives us confidence that God has clearly and articulately spoken through Christ.

I also appreciated to some degree his take on just war in general. But this hardly gets God “of the hook” in the context of our discussion. And related…

Appreciate the thought, and it is very relevant in general… however, this doesn’t help the specific difficulty in question…, particularly the situation against Midian where the Israelites slaughtered all the men in combat. Yet then, after the battle was done, after they had taken captive (prisoners of war status?) the women and children… Moses instructed them to kill the women and male children, as what seems part of a separate action, in a non-combat scenario.

As a military man myself, I’m not shy of any discussion of holy war or combat action, or the unfortunate, unintended, or sadly unpreventable collateral deaths of civilians during war. But to focus on the real crux of the matter, I concur with Randy that this doesn’t solve the issue, when we’re talking about Moses ordering the killing of the women and some of the children entirely as a separate action, where they could in no way be seen as “collateral” deaths.



Now as we go forward, after reading the rest of the book, I’ll try to get into the real bottom-line, core issues. As such, could I impose on you to help me understand exact what is your core difficulty? I’ll share my own difficulties and challenges and how I deal with them, but it would help my later responses if I better understood your core objections. Hence, if I might shoot back to you two other such clarifying questions I’d asked earlier.

I’ll organize my thoughts, and give you something closer to some final ideas here before too long as well. Let me repost those questions I’d asked earlier… I’ll also try to review some of your own posts to which I haven’t given good answer as well…

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Again, not trying to trap you or specifically try to “win” an argument, but this would help me understand exactly where any objection lies.

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Also, just asking as it would,focus our further discussion, and help me understand the crux of where your objections lie… that way I’m not answering questions that you don’t have any desire to see answered!

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Thanks! I’ll try to get back to you soon. I am dealing with some work deadlines, but I look forward to discussing. I did address the questions above, I thought, but I can probably do it more clearly.

Regarding the top question, the issue is whether death occurred as a punishment or not, I think.

Regarding the second, I would reject NT descriptions as well if they were not logical or just. There is a big difference in literary genre between the two, though, and there is an apples and oranges difference in hyperbole.

‘God does not care about physical evolution, He cares only about spiritual evolution.’

  • sorry but that’s nonsense. God is the Creator of both physical and spiritual reality and cares about both. After the physical creation of the universe, he said all was ‘good’. That has not changed. Indeed if he was only interested in the spiritual why did He bother raising Jesus’ physical body from death? And why ours at the end of the age? In reality, even our eternal abode is NOT heaven but a physical earth joined in some glorious way with heaven.
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God created us in His image. God is immortal, divine and spiritual (ethereal). A human is mortal, corrupt and physical, so how are we like God? Yes, God created the material world, but He did this for spiritual growth, for us to become immortal, divine and spiritual once again.

Jesus said His Kingdom is not of this world and if we follow Him, we will never die. These are spiritual promises. Jesus did not promise a material church or that our physical bodies would never die. This is what I meant when I said God does not care about our physical body, only the purity of our soul.

PS. it was not Jesus’ physical body that was risen from the dead, otherwise He could not have walked through locked doors.

That sounds more like Mormonism than Biblical. Humans did not exist prior to the physical universe being created. Only God is eternal, not us. Indeed we are not even immortal in the sense of once born we cannot die. ‘Hell’ represents the final and complete destruction of the human being - mind/body/spirit - following judgement. But for those who are deemed worthy because of the blood of the Lamb, their bodies will be resurrected just like Jesus’, physical but immortal. His body was not just physical but transformed. Hence His ability to appear at will (rather than walking through doors/walls, the impression given is that He appears in the midst of them, or simply disappears from sight but is still very much physical). We should not expect His resurrection body to be just the same as His purely physical body before the resurrection.

‘Jesus did not promise a material church’

  • Im not sure what you mean by that as the church is the collection of Christian believers world-wide, or local. Very much physical, inhabited by the Holy Spirit.