Did God Really Command Genocide? By Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan: An Overview
By Mark W. Foreman
For Christians who take the scriptures seriously, perhaps no other passages are as difficult to explain as those in which God commands the destruction of entire populations of innocent persons. We are told, for example, in Joshua 10:40, “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” I Samuel 15:2-3 reads, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” In addition there are the imprecatory psalms such as Psalm 137 in which we read, “O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock” (vs. 8-9). Certainly such passages are difficult to read, much less to explain.
In recent years these passages, located primarily in the conquest narratives of the Old Testament, have become fodder for a host of critics of Christianity. For example, atheist Richard Dawkins refers to the God of the Old Testament as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser,” among other charges. Similar charges have been made by other critics and atheist philosophers such as Raymond Bradley, Wesley Moriston, Randal Rauser, Michael Tooley, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. All of these authors wonder how Christians can worship a God who would cruelly and brutally reign down death and destruction on the innocent, extinguishing entire civilizations.
Christian apologists Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan (hereafter C&F) have taken up the challenge of explaining these difficult passages in their new book Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014). This is not new territory for either of them. Paul Copan has written several articles and an earlier book, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), and Matt Flanagan has presented papers at numerous conferences on topics in Christian ethics. In the posts that follow I am going to offer a summary of each chapter of their book. This one is an overview of their whole project…
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