Moral Difficulties in the Bible:
The Concessionary Morality Response
by Mike Austin
Some of the most difficult passages in the Bible have to do with God seemingly condoning and even commanding actions that, to many, are at least prima facie immoral. Passages dealing with slavery, the status of women, and the destruction of peoples such as the Canaanites and Amalekites have seemed morally problematic to both Christians and non-Christians, insofar as they are thought to be inconsistent or at least in tension with the claim that God is morally perfect. A variety of responses have been given with respect to such morally problematic passages. I will set aside several other explanations that have been given for how we are to deal with these perplexing passages. Perhaps the lives of the Canaanites and Amalekites were so bad as to not be worth living. Or perhaps some of the following possibilities described by Plantinga are actual:
….on the other side: how bad is the moral and spiritual corruption, blasphemy, infant sacrifice, temple prostitution and the like attributed to the Canaanites? Maybe it is worse, even much worse, than we think. (Earlier Christians may have been closer to the truth than we are presently inclined to think.) If so, perhaps God’s sentence upon these people is perfectly just. What about the infants and children? Perhaps, as William Craig says, they are spared a life of degradation and sin. Furthermore, Christians, of course, believe that our earthly career is a mere infinitesimal initial segment of our whole life; perhaps the suffering of these children is recompensed a thousand fold (Alvin Plantinga, “Response to Fales,” unpublished paper from the conference “My Ways are not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible”).
Some of the other explanations of these passages include the view that they fail to accurately report God’s commands, that the passages include metaphoric and hyperbolic language, or that they are to be read in some allegorical manner. Though I am open to some of these options, and think some may be better than the possibility I explore below, I want to set them aside and focus on one particular response, the Concessionary Morality Response…
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