Inerrancy and mass slaughter

Matthew is full of little passing references that are absolutely pregnant with meaning. Perhaps my favorite is simply the passing note in the introductory genealogy… “David begat Solomon by Uriah’s wife.”

No one familiar with 2 Samuel would miss all the layers of meaning and implication in that little phrase, and the meaning and focus involved in referring to this particular woman not even by name (like he did with Rahab, Ruth, etc.), but as “she who was Uriah’s”


Back to a few loose ends.

I agree with you, Daniel, about the sheep and the goats being different than a parable. As such, I think it speaks to what comes after death in a more direct way than, say, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That makes the sheep/goats saying even more unsettling, since the criteria for judgement seems impossible to predict (who can honestly say they always act like a goat or always act like a sheep?) and leads to surprises on both sides. But perhaps knocking down certainty is part of the point.

On the violent nobleman, the many additions Luke (19:11–27) makes to this story compared to Matthew (25:14–30) reveal a different purpose, and not one of having the nobleman image God. (Or if you think Luke’s version came first, these are things Matthew removes from the story.) Here’s some of what is unique to Luke’s version:

  • “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.”
  • “But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ ”
  • “When he returned, having received royal power…”
  • “Well done, good slave! … take charge of ten cities. … And you, rule over five cities.’ ”
  • “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man…”
  • “But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’ ”

These details make the nobleman look like Archelaus, one of those vying for power after the death of Herod the Great:

Archelaus and his entourage went to Rome to persuade Caesar to confer on him the authority to succeed Herod as king. (Antipas also made the trip as a throne claimant.) In addition a delegation of fifty Jews from Israel, joined by 8000 Jews in Rome, appeared before Caesar to argue against Archelaus being made king. While these texts [in Josephus] tell of Archelaus killing 3000 troublesome Jews before going to Rome, no details of revenge on the Jewish delegation in Rome opposing him are given. Josephus does say, “Archelaus, on taking possession of his ethnarchy, did not forget old feuds, but treated not only the Jews but even the Samaritans with great brutality” (J.W. 2.111).

—Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 521

Anyway, given its context, I think it would be unwise to see this nobleman as picturing God.

As for angels, it’s not that I don’t “bat an eye” when angels are God’s agent to do something violent, but for me that’s in the same general category as times when God is portrayed as killing directly or through natural agents (e.g. the flood, Sodom). It’s not that I ignore the angelic element, it’s just that angels aren’t humans. We don’t know as much about angels, their nature, their freedom, or how they are the same or different from humans. The Bible is for us, not them. So angelic violence doesn’t raise the same issues for me as when humans are commanded to kill en masse.

As for the violence of hell, that does expand the topic somewhat. To be extremely brief, I understand hell as a second and final death, the inescapable consequence of rejecting the only means of transformation that enables one to enjoy God’s presence. Every person has their day before the merciful Judge of all the earth. All who accept God’s gift – and none who ultimately refuse it – are raised to eternal life in the new creation.


We’ll have to respectfully disagree there, then. Given the context…

He proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom…”

It sure sounds to me like what is under discussion is the kingdom of god and Jesus as said king… Jesus claiming his kingdom yet being rejected, and eventually returning to judge his servants when his kingdom finally does come to fruition, and punishing his enemies, or those he doesn’t know, at that time (as is described in plenty of other similar passages). But not particularly critical to the topic at hand.

Much more germane to the topic at hand…

Then I fear we must similarly disagree here, as I cannot understand how it could not raise the same issues, if we are applying the same standards. Whatever angels may or may not be, I think we all seem to agree they are rational creatures, moral agents, and servants of God, who are occasionally enlisted or commanded by God to carry out mass killings.

If there are issues with humans as rational, moral agents carrying out a killing by God’s direction, individual or en masse, there should be an equal issue with an angel doing such as a rational, moral agent acting as God’s servant. If we do not have issues with an angel carrying out such an action, then in principle at least, we should also raise no objection to a human doing such.

The horror of the one is more obvious to us, but we must adhere to the moral and rational principle, not our visceral or personal reactions. If we object to a human carrying out a killing at God’s behest, then we ought object to an angel doing the same. I cannot see any rational difference.

Or, if you want to say, “but angels are different,” I would want to know specifically in what way you understand angels to be different in such a manner that would make these improper comparisons. But as it is, whatever else angels may or may not be, they seem to be rational, moral agents serving God. And if so, their position is the same as the Israelites should God command either the one or the other to carry out a mass killing. Either both should obey, or both should refuse on moral grounds. I’m afraid I do not see how we can maintain such different standards while utilizing “equal weights and measures.”

Dear Daniel,
The difference is actually enormous. When God commands an angel, the we know His Will is done. When a god commands a man there are many possible errors that can happen.

  1. Which god gave the command, the living God or the god of the dead?
  2. Did the preist understand God’s Will?
  3. Did the preist exert his will?
  4. Did the army carry out God Will to the letter?

Most people accept unquestionably that each time the Bible says “god” that it means God the Father. I suggest you consider each case separately.
Best wishes, Shawn

Thanks for this question. I am not sure why there are folks who make a difference; I was not aware that there were. If you can clarify for me an example, please let me know. It would help me understand, I think. I think it was Enns’ daughter that came home from a Sunday School lesson traumatized at the death of the first born (or was it Brian Zahnd’s son?) It makes no sense to kill the first born except as a group retribution; (certainly not for the son’s guilt) for what the Egyptians did to the Hebrews (or attempted to do), and also for other things. The ANE value was very high on the first born. The idea that God allowed Noah and other forefathers like Jacob/Israel to curse (and enforced their curses) on descendants also appears to be an ANE belief that the children would suffer from the sins of the fathers, much as it’s thought that all man kind suffered from Adam’s sin. But it seems no closer in reliability or justice to believe God sent an angel to kill the innocent than it is to enforce a curse from a patriarch. I don’t believe that an angel did this, nor that the first born were killed by God.

To expand on the interpretations of mass slaughter, I found several points of view (in addition to the Nabeel Qureshi excerpt above, from “Answering Jihad”–I put these together for a presentation in my very conservative church.

Paul Copan wrote (in “Is God a Moral Monster?”:
i. Laws of the OT reflected an imperfect understanding of God’s righteousness. Christ’s revelation clarified it. Matt 19:7-9; Matt 26:52; Matt 5:39 Luke 20:25
ii. Only a few died-- Kill all” is a figure of speech, common to Middle Eastern discussions. Effectively, only male combatants likely really died.
iii. Joshua 11:14-15 Despite saying that all were destroyed, they weren’t. Jebusites, Gibeonites and Rahab remained, even though Joshua reports having completely destroyed them.
iv. May have offered peace treaties to the Canaanites, esp if they accepted God
v. Really only destroyed only small military outposts: Jericho, Ai and Hazor (Jericho only about 100 people, mostly soldiers). Archeological evidence shows widespread destruction did not occur.

Thom Stark wrote, “Is God a Moral Compromiser” in response (I have not read all of that; just a bit)

b Norman Geisler Josh 6:21 “When Critics Ask,” pp 137-138 formulated reasons that God had to kill children and all:
i. Canaanites were guilty people, like a cancer. Israel had to weed them out.
ii. They had refused to repent after 400 years (when the Israelites had gone to Egypt)
iii. Why kill children:

  1. They had no chance to avoid growing up evil given their environment
  2. Those under the age of accountability would go straight to Heaven. It was a mercy
    iv. God is sovereign over life and can order its end according to His will and in view of creature’s ultimate good
    v. God is the only perfect Judge. Don’t question Him.
    vi. If any trace remained of the old Canaanite culture, it could cause paganism to return

Others on mass slaughter:
c. Randal Rauser Counterpoint: It is far from clear that the appropriate response to a culture that murders some of its children is to kill everyone in the culture, including the children.
d. e. CS Lewis—If it is evil, God didn’t do it.
i. “The dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger."
f. George MacDonald (Unspoken Sermons, “Justice”)
i. If it be said by any that God does a thing which seems to me unjust, then either I do not know what the thing is, or God does not do it…Least of all must we accept some low notion of justice in a man, and argue that God is just in doing after that notion.

Thank you.


I would to give two things to consider when looking at mass slaughter in the OT. It has been my experience that two things are missing when modern researchers research the Old Testament. 1) they do not accept the OT as a spiritual story and tend to judge in materialistic terms. 2) they do not understand the conditions that existed before the New Covenant was forged by Jesus.

Here is an example of the first problem out of Homer’s Iliad.

As when the stars shine clear, and the moon is bright-there is not a breath of air, not a peak nor a glade nor jutting headland but it stands out in the ineffable radiance that breaks from the serene of heaven; the stars can all of them be told and the heart of the shepherd is glad-even thus shone the watchfires of the Trojans before Ilium midway between the ships and the river Xanthus. A thousand campfires gleamed upon the plain, and in the glow of each there sat fifty men, while the horses, champing oats and corn beside their chariots, waited till dawn should come. (Homer, and Samuel Butler. “VIII.” Iliad . USA: Barnes & Noble, 1995. 126. Print.)

Heinrich Schliemann discovered the “mythical” Troy only with the use of the inspired words of Homer. After its discovery, they were faced with a dilemma - it was not possible for 70,000 troops and their horses to fit on the small piece of land described in the Iliad. The spiritual explanation that I suggest is that there were 70,000 spiritual beings fighting along side the humans in this epic battle. The battle for good and evil is fought on both sides of the veil. That angels fight alongside men doing God’s Will and demons fight alongside those doing their bidding.

The second point that I would like you to consider is that the laws governing humanity changed with Jesus’ victory over Death. When He passed the New Covenant, He limited the ability of Satan’s influence over humanity. The best example of the is change is seen in the high occurrence of demon possession during the time of Jesus (Mark 1:23, 3:11, 5:2, 6:7, 7:25).

Taken together, you can see that Satan in the OT could muster plenty of forces (both humans and demons) to stop God’s attempts to bring humanity His Good News. And only with sufficient humans following the Will of God, was God able to supply the support needed to resist these material and spiritual attacks. They were enormous ballets, but like the battle for Troy, the large numbers in the battle were on the other side of the veil.

Best Wishes, Shawn

Regarding @Daniel_Fisher’s question about alleged differences between morality for angels as opposed to humans, Randy responds:

Prior to my exposure to G.Macdonald, I would have quickly responded to this with incredulity over how people could fail to make a difference! But now I’ve been given a healthy dose of “one morality fits all” since we have a God-given sense of basic morality and are asked to be like God, in any case. So if our ideal state is to have matching ethics to God, then certainly angels (whatever they may be), as long as they are willful agents could not be expected to be different, and still be considered good.

Nonetheless, my only observation to add then, is that we [humans] have our definite marching orders from God: thou shalt not kill … and a good many other commands as well. So there is no longer any doubt about this. Whatever commands angels may or may not have been given - that would all be irrelevant and inaccessible to us, unlike what what is commanded for us. So it isn’t so much that anybody defends a difference or a similarity, as it is that we have no knowledge to defend. With regard to ethical codes of angelic beings, we can’t defend what we don’t know. And there would be no point to it if we could. We aren’t them. Or even if some of us were (angels among you, etc.) we would still not be excused from human codes of ethics to the extent that we are also human and remain that way.

I agree that once orders have been given that is relevant aspect, and this would be a relevant observation if it were entirely true. Even so, as you pointed out, then, if angels were authorized but we were not, then such human killings would not be a violation of an eternal or absolute moral law, rather the violation of a specific and limited ordinance given to a specific people for a specific purpose.

But it should be noted that nearly every modern translation (including the hardly evangelical NRSV) translates Ex 20 as “You shall not murder,” (or footnotes it to that effect) and with good reason. Like English, there are various words for “kill” in Hebrew, with different nuance, and the more proper translation is “murder,” not “kill,” for numerous reasons. Same is true as I can tell in the Greek Septuagint as well.

Otherwise it would be quite odd, since the very next chapter after the commandments are given details the various violations that result in capital punishment. I think it safe to say that there is no doubt in scholarship of any kind, evangelical, critical, Jewish, or the like that the command is “You shall not murder,” not “you shall not kill.”

We might disagree over whether a parable can make important points about Jesus’ kingship and rule without equating the nobleman with Jesus. Luke seems to have a penchant for using flawed human characters to show us something about God. A chapter earlier, he shares the story of the unjust judge. By listening to the unjust judge, we learn something about God (Luke 18:6–7). Now, two stories later, Luke gives us a portrait of a nobleman blatantly conformed to the mold of Archelaus. Archelaus was not Jesus and wasn’t easily mistaken for Jesus. It appears he was as nasty as Luke’s portrait let on – just as far from Jesus as that judge was from God. But still, the known consequences of crossing Archelaus before he got a firm grasp on power can reveal something true about Jesus:

This is primarily a parable about the need to decide in favor of or against a king whose authority has not been confirmed. It is a parable about the ultimate risk of discipleship, which is based on the conviction that this one whom the disciples serve is indeed king—a point that will become very much an issue in the rest of the Gospel. It is a parable about being faithful to an absent king whose power is opposed by many in his own land, and who can give his servants no more than a paltry pound or mina.

Ultimately, stewardship itself is a political issue. Would-be disciples have to choose between the present order and the order of the king whose kingdom has not yet been revealed. That king does not give his disciples large sums of money, nor power, nor influence. But what they have, they must use in expectation of the coming kingdom.

—Justo L. González, Luke, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 224.

If allegience matters with a pretender like Archelaus, how much more so with the true King! That said, I don’t fully know what Luke is getting at with this parable, or at least with the changes that take it beyond its purpose in Matthew. Luke’s distinctives make it far more complicated to understand, and I’m less familiar with Luke’s gospel than Matthew’s anyway.

Even if I did think Luke wanted us to view Jesus as a “harsh man” opportunistically seeking power before enjoying the sight of his enemies getting cut down, I wouldn’t simply adopt that view. Too many passages that are easier to understand and more directly about Jesus contradict that portrait! I don’t give every passage an equal vote in forming my image of Jesus.

We have texts written by inspired humans for the use of other humans in which humans of one nation are commanded by God to indescriminantly kill other populations of humans. All four “humans” in that statement are important. Hopefully it is self-evident why changing only one or two of them to “angels” doesn’t lead to an equivalent scenario. Even if the angelic nature were identical to human nature (which of course it is not), the texts about angels killing humans or where humans are told what angels will someday do don’t raise as clearly the hardest issues prompted by the Bible’s conquest texts.

The texts with angelic violence still raise issues, but the angelic dimension makes them that much more mysterious and complex. Given what little we know of angels compared to humans, I don’t see texts about angels as being all that helpful in understanding texts about humans.

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I wouldn’t risk going that far. The word is more limited than “kill,” especially in only having a human victim. But while “murder” is a good shorthand that sometimes gets very close to the meaning, the word also seems to include manslaughter and, in one case, execution. That case is Numbers 35:30 where the noun and verb forms are used together to say the killer shall be killed. Now, I realize it may seem inconsistent that one verse says not to kill while another verse commands a killer to be killed. If words were algebraic parameters that would be problematic. But this is language, and blurred edges are to be expected.

There’s also a chicken-and-egg situation since murder means unlawful killing, and this word is used somewhat to define what killing counts as unlawful. (Saying “You shall not murder” is, in a legislative context, no more meaningful than a law saying “Don’t do anything illegal.”) Probably a good way to read the Decalogue commandment against killing is that it summarizes other instruction against killing. On its own, it doesn’t mean much.

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Quite correct, language is more fluid, even in English, than can be captured with any such “algebraic” formulations, and num 35 is a good example. We can also in English use hyperbole, poetic expressions, figures of speech, idioms, etc., that all modify the nuance and meanings, and all words have a scope of meaning, not one and only one specific dictionary definition. It is wise to refrain from any certainty about any nuance or meaning of a word in any particular case simply because that particular word was used.

And yes, both preponderance of usage and context certainly give that the commandment itself is far closer to that of “do not murder” (unlawful killing) than a blanket and absolute “do not kill” (anyone, ever, under any circumstances), else Moses was quite out of his gourd to record a blanket command against all killing whatsoever, then in the very next chapter delineate regulations for capital punishment, and later give guidance for proper conduct of warfare. Sounds like we essentially agree here.

But I’d still stand by my basic observations that rtsch generally carries the implication or nuance of murder (or what we call manslaughter), while there are other words more generally used for other lawful or unspecified killings, and that all modern scholarship I’m aware of across all theological spectrums certainly seems to see “do not murder” as a far better translation of Ex 20, reflecting its intent and meaning, than “do not kill.”

And I think this is the crux of our disagreement. As mentioned earlier (and I think you would agree?) you need to reject huge sections of the Bible, and a very pervasive theme that runs throughout, to maintain this position.

“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.”

“behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.”

“Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine.”

“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“And these will go away into everlasting punishment…”

And I could of course go on and on. Point is this is not just a one-time event or perspective we can ignore as the overzealous hostility of a single Bible author, some minor aspect that we can take or leave from Scripture without it affecting much else… this theme is pervasive from Genesis to Revelation, including from Christ, that the God described therein is a God who brings punishment.

Much more I could say, but two quick observations, and please correct me if I misunderstand or if I am misrepresenting you. These are my impressions, but I don’t want to misspeak about your position. But my impression is as follows…

Firstly, It seems to me, respectfully, that your understanding of God is not in any sense derived from the Bible. You seem to have an idea of who God is or must be, what a “just” God must be like, that you have derived from other sources, from which to reject large and significant swaths of scripture as erroneous. But the picture of God that you have, if I understand it, is not one that came from Scripture. At best, your perspective, derived from elsewhere, may be reinforced by selecting some Scriptures that resonate with your perspective, while rejecting others that do not so resonate. It sounds very much like Lewis’s description… “the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew.

Secondly, my bottom line is simply to ask, if the Bible is so corrupted as to be so full, pervasively, of these erroneous teachings of God as exacting violent, being angry, and punishing, then it what sense can we call it inspired in any sense whatsoever? Why should we trust as authoritative anything it says about God, if you are ready to reject nearly half of what it says about God? On what basis do you believe the other half to be relevatory?

The same Scripture that we turn to to find that God is loving, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, and lavish in kindness is the same that says he punishes. And it isn’t like it is two separate easily divisive sections, but they are enmeshed and intertwined. “abounding in love, but does not leave the guilty unpunished.” “These will go to everlasting punishment, but these to everlasting life,” “They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, , then the righteous will shine like the sun.” It isn’t a matter of throwing bath water out but keeping the baby, it is more like trying to remove a pound of flesh but not spilling a drop of blood.

To paraphrase what I’m hearing you saying, what I’m hearing is essentially…

“The Scripture is absolutely true, and reveals absolute , inspired, revelatory truth about God as he revealed specifically about himself about his very nature… except for all those vast and numerous parts that I disagree with…?”

I don’t mean to sound accusatory or antagonistic, but unless I misunderstand, this seems to be essentially what you are saying? Please help me if I misunderstand?


@Daniel_Fisher Mr Fisher, thanks for your considered discussion. I do think that God is bigger than the Bible; I also would like to perhaps give you a more positive response rather than a negative “God didn’t do evil.”

My schedule may clear up a bit toward the weekend, but it’s very tight this week, unfortunately. I think that Greg Boyd’s “Cross Vision” was helpful in my experience, with his “Benefit of the Doubt.”

Also, re punishing: George Macdonald’s impression of corrective punishment is perhaps more severe; I have listened again to “Great Divorce” in which Lewis incorporates this view strongly, and am nearly ready to post on it; it’s very deep, however, and would like to do that in installments, perhaps.

God bless.

Hi All,
Does anyone know where I can get a comprehensive summary of all the biblical source material for each book of the Bible? Something showing the earliest fragment that exists for each phrase?

Thanks Shawn

“Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by McDowell and son is actually a fairly exhaustive source as I recall. It probably is not detailed at all like the one below.

I would admit it’s not about every phrase, but it would give you a direction about which sources are available, from a conservative standpoint. I do think it’s a good book.

Very interesting question.

For the Greek NT this site has several links to information, but probably not in the format you requested.

The field of textural criticism for the OT and NT is probably too large to be reduced to a simple list.


I like how one commentator, I have forgotten who, put it. He said it was to show that the Kingdom is an “inaugurated but still contested” kingdom. That’s a nice twist on “already but not yet” and perfectly captures our pre-Eschaton reality.

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I’d perhaps consider that the violence demonstrated in this parable was a one off, contradicted by the rest of the gospels, if it weren’t for the numerous other parables (and plain statements) that end with something similar. This one is perhaps the most striking, but so many other statements and parables end with something similar (“bind him hand and feet and cast him into the darkness…” “depart from me into the everlasting fire…”) that i simply can’t see this one as being “outside the pattern.”

Randy, thanks for sharing that summary. I spent much of one semester researching this topic, and like you I found no shortage of unsatisfying solutions. Those who seem to fully recognize the problem (and don’t just view it as a gotcha raised by New Atheists or weak Christians) tend to have fewer suggested solutions.

Conservative scholars are in a tough place, since they’ve been drawn into fighting this battle on two fronts. They have long upheld Joshua as straightforward eyewitness testimony of historical events. A lot of energy has gone into contradicting the scholarly consensus that archaeology invalidates a face-value reading and that Joshua was compiled several centuries after the period in which its stories are set. In the last few decades, they have started fighting on another front to reject claims that God acts badly in these texts. The problem is that most progress on the second front is a retreat on the first front – and vice versa.

Anyway, that semester of research led to a paper (“When God Sees Red”) that attempted to offer a positive way forward instead of just critiquing other views. It’s been linked here before and is easily googlable. My general conclusion: Israel emerged in Canaan without a violent conquest. Exiled Israelites later compiled books like Deuteronomy and Joshua to speak prophetically to their own situation, not give history lessons about details they didn’t know.

I’m thankful my other class that semester was on Matthew (I was a part-time student with only two classes). Without Matthew’s creative approach to Scripture, I doubt I would have seen a way forward. The conquest accounts challenged how I approached Scripture more than anything I had faced from creation topics.

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I know this was addressed to Randy, but I can’t help but interject.

I would put it rather that…

God is absolutely true and just and loving.”

And that the greater violence is done to the sacred writ by departing from that … ( the situation with Job’s friends notwithstanding) … And from that latter afterthought we see that even this view is not left undisturbed by all the narratives.

We can talk all day about the bleak, apparent endings (for some) at the end of Jesus’ parables, but at the end of the day, we’re left looking at what he actually did.

[…and lived. He reached out to the worst. And told the elites that the prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. The last shall be first and the first shall … (never get in at all? …ever?!) … Jesus didn’t quite teach it that way as I recall, though there are those who would prefer his words that way, I guess.]

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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