Archive for the ‘Old Testament Studies’ Category


When I was a young, naive freshman in a local Methodist college, I took an Introduction To the Old Testament class, thinking my faith would be strengthened by studying the O.T. Boy, was I wrong. We spent a good part of the semester learning that Moses didn’t actually write the Pentateuch. Instead, there were probably up to four different authors:

1. J- Yahwist
2. E- Elohimist
3. D- Deutoronomist
4. P- Priestly

I never understood why scholars could not understand that the same person could write in different styles, especially over a long period of time. I mean, my term papers were written with completely different style and vocabulary compared to my letters to my girlfriend. Why is that so hard to understand?

Worldviews, people… Worldviews matter. This quote took me back to that class, and the animosity of my professor by the end of the course. We really didn’t like each other. I got a B-, which surprised me considering how much chaos I caused in the class-lol.

Liberal theologians, for the most part, lack common sense. Much learning has made them mad…

“Here’s my main concern: Why do modern biblical scholars do not give the same freedom and flexibility to biblical authors that we allows ourselves? Look, I have been writing for about 20 years. If I go back and look at the themes I wrote about 20 years ago, the words I used, the way I thought about God, the names I used for God, and a whole host of other ideas, the “me” of 20 years ago writes nothing like the “me” of today.

Even if I wrote something today and then sat down tomorrow to write it again without looking, I am certain I would phrase things different, write with a different emphasis, and refer to God in different ways. This is true of all authors around the world and throughout time. Cannot this also be true of biblical authors? Of course it can!

I sometimes think these documentary theories are nothing more than scholarly inventions to give scholars something to write about who have become bored with the biblical text itself.”

— Jeremy Myers, from the Till He Comes blog


simul iustus et peccator,

Eric the JEDP hatin’ fool


At church last night, a question was asked about the moral implications of God’s ordering the destruction of the Canaanites by the Israelites in their entry into Canaan. This is a great question that probably most people have had at one time or the other. It would seem, on the face of things, that God was ordering genocide on an ethnic group, which is something appalling to most Americans. Our recent experience in Kosovo, and the Nazi Holocaust of WWII, strikes a moral cord in most of us. 

Here are the Biblical texts under scrutiny:

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

7 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. (1.)

What are we to do with this dilemma?

William Lane Craig, a Christian Apologist and philosopher, was asked the same question. Here is how he responded: (2.)

“According to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), when God called forth his people out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their forefathers, he directed them to kill all the Canaanite clans who were living in the land (Deut. 7.1-2; 20.16-18).  The destruction was to be complete: every man, woman, and child was to be killed.  The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s carrying out God’s command in city after city throughout Canaan.

These stories offend our moral sensibilities.  Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime.  The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

Dr. Craig’s point here is that the very sense of disgust we feel about the killing of people, are the results of Christianity and the Bible on our collective subconsciousness here in the West. The very principles we use to judge these things comes from the values we learn from the Bible. Think about that for a moment.

The command to kill all the Canaanite people is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion.”

Here is the Dawkins quote Dr. Craig is referring to:  

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.(3)

God’s judgement is anything but capricious.  When the Lord announces His intention to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, Abraham boldly asks,

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18.25).

Like a Middle Eastern merchant haggling for a bargain, Abraham continually lowers his price, and each time God meets it without hesitation, assuring Abraham that if there are even ten righteous persons in the city, He will not destroy it for their sake.

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples?  It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand.  How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?…

“…I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements.  According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.  Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself,  He has no moral duties to fulfill.  He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.  For example, I have no right to take an innocent life.  For me to do so would be murder.  But God has no such prohibition.  He can give and take life as He chooses.  We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.”  Human authorities  arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God.  God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second.  If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit.  How long they live and when they die is up to Him.

Here’s the Biblical reference:

Deuteronomy 32:39

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

39 “See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (1)

“So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives.  The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them.  Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?  No, it’s not.  Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.  The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.”

They were doing what God told them to do.

“On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature?  Well, let’s look at the case more closely.  It is perhaps significant that the story of Yahweh’s destruction of Sodom–along with his solemn assurances to Abraham that were there as many as ten righteous persons in Sodom, the city would not have been destroyed–forms part of the background to the conquest of Canaan and Yahweh’s command to destroy the cities there.  The implication is that the Canaanites are not righteous people but have come under God’s judgement.

In fact, prior to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God tells Abraham,

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).

Think of it!  God stays His judgement of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability!  This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgement and calling His people forth from Egypt.

By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice.  The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18).  God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.”

Here’s another reference:

Ezekiel 18:4

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. (1)

“But why take the lives of innocent children?  The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly  related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part.  In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4).  This command is part and parcel of the whole fabric of complex Jewish ritual law distinguishing clean and unclean practices.  To the contemporary Western mind many of the regulations in Old Testament law seem absolutely bizarre and pointless:  not to mix linen with wool, not to use the same vessels for meat and for milk products, etc.  The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds of mixing.  Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that.  These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.

…By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint.  For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal.  Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East.  Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation).  No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.

Moreover, my point above returns.  Nothing could so illustrate to the Israelis the seriousness of their calling as a people set apart for God alone.  Yahweh is not to be trifled with.  He means business, and if Israel apostasizes the same could happen to her. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.” 


Another good discussion of this same ethical issue is covered by the Stand To Reason blog:

Is God a Moral Monster?

This new book by Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, is a response to the critic’s challenges.  This is a common charge made by the “new atheists.”  Many Christians from a liberal theological perspective would tend to agree. And I suspect many evangelical Christians harbor concerns along the same lines that they never express.

Greg has said, “If you ask the hard question, you need to be willing to listen to the hard answer.”  This challenge to God’s moral character is an important one.  After all, His perfect moral character is in part what demands our worship and honor.  He is the ground for all morality.  These are key factors in the Christian worldview, so if God is a moral monster, there is serious reason to doubt Christianity is true.  It’s a hard question, and it deserves a hard answer.  But hard answers are rarely brief ones, and therein lies the obligation of the critic who poses the question:  to listen and carefully consider the answer given.

Paul Copan’s book gives a thorough answer to the general and many specific claims in this indictment of God’s character. He’s a jealous megalomaniac, child abuse and bullying misogyny, petty, condoning slavery, and massacre and ethnic cleansing.  One answer is to abandon the divine origin of the Old Testament, relegate it to mere human authorship that only reflects the cultural values of the ancient Israelites and ascribes these to their god.  That’s the easy answer.  Copan gives us the hard answer taking seriously the text’s claim for its divine origins as a self-revelation of the one, true God.

…For instance, was wiping out the Canaanites indiscriminate massacre of an entire society?  It’s certainly a harsh punishment that could appear to be unjust – until you consider the details of Canaanite society at the time.  Incest and human sacrifice were common religious practices.  It was a horribly violent culture.  The Old Testament tells us that God used the Israelites to carry out His judgment and punishment that seem more just when you factor in the Canaanite’s actions.  This was a horribly corrupt culture.

It wasn’t just xenophobic, because the very same Old Testament text tells us of God punishing Israel when they turned against Him.  Critics characterize this as petty jealousy on God’s part.  But if He is the true sovereign, as the Old Testament claims, and He made a conditional covenant (contract) with Israel (Mosaic Covenant), God’s reaction seems to be more reasonable when the conditions of the contract are broken.  Even in our own experience, we know there is appropriate and inappropriate jealousy.  A spouse has a right to be jealous if their partner shows attention to another that should be reserved for their loved one.  God has a unique claim on us as His creatures.  His jealousy is an appropriate response.

Copan also explains enlightening details about the Mosaic Covenant that illustrate God’s moral character.  It’s a legal document for the nation Israel. Other nations had their own.  The Mosaic Covenant reflects the historical character of these kinds of documents, but it also demonstrates tremendous improvement. Capitol punishment for some of the crimes in the Mosaic Law seem horribly harsh – until we realize that these were maximum sentences that could not be exceeded, not the actual punishments that were to be carried out.  The Mosaic Law limits how severely criminals could be punished, it doesn’t require these punishments.  It is also the only code of its time that applied equally to all citizens, not privileging a certain class with extra protections.  These are just a couple of examples of these important factors Copan brings out.”


The book by Copan is a hard read, but worth the effort. Check it out.

Finally, let’s look at one more article:

“…After crossing the Jordan River, we learn in the book of Joshua that the Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword…. [T]hey burned the city and all that was in it with fire” (Joshua 6:21,24). They also “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8:26), killing 12,000 men and women and hanging their king (8:25,29). In Makkedah and Libnah, the Israelites “let none remain” (Joshua 10:28,30). They struck Lachish “and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword” (10:32). The Israelites then conquered Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Hazor (10:33-39; 11:1-1). “So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded” (Joshua 11:12).

…God had the Israelites kill countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people throughout the land of Canaan. It was genocide in the sense that it was a plannedsystematic, limitedextermination of a number of nation states from a relatively small area in the Middle East (cf. “Genocide,” 2000; cf. also “Genocide,” 2012). But, it was not a war against a particular race (from the Greek genos) or ethnic group. Nor were the Israelites commanded to pursue and kill the Canaanite nations if they fled from Israel’s Promised Land. The Israelites were to drive out and dispossess the nations of their land (killing all who resisted the dispossession), but they were not instructed to annihilate a particular race or ethnic group from the face of the Earth.

Still, many find God’s commands to conquer and destroy the Canaanite nation states problematic. How could a loving God instruct one group of people to kill and conquer another group? America’s most well-known critic of Christianity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Paine (one of only a handful of America’s Founding Fathers who did not claim to be a Christian), called the God of the Old Testament “the Mars of the Jews, the fighting God of Israel,” Who was “boisterous, contemptible, and vulgar” (Paine, 1807).

Punishing Evildoers is Not Unloving

…Similar to how merciful parents, principals, policemen, and judges can justly administer punishment to rule-breakers and evildoers, so too can the all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the Universe. Loving parents and principals have administered corporal punishment appropriately to children for years (cf. Proverbs 13:24). Merciful policemen, who are constantly saving he lives of the innocent, have the authority (both from God and the government—Romans 13:1-4) to kill a wicked person who is murdering others. Just judges have the authority to sentence a depraved child rapist to death. Loving-kindness and corporal or capital punishment are not antithetical. Prior to conquering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites, saying,

You shall not hate your brother in your heart…. You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18,33-34; cf. Romans 13:9).

The faithful Jew was expected, as are Christians, to “not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) but rather “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). “Love,” after all, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Interestingly, however, the Israelite was commanded to punish (even kill) lawbreakers. Just five chapters after commanding the individual Israelite to “not take vengeance,” but “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), God twice said that murderers would receive the death penalty (Leviticus 24:21,17).

…The Canaanite nations were punished because of their extreme wickedness. God did not cast out the Canaanites for being a particular race or ethnic group. God did not send the Israelites into the land of Canaan to destroy a number of righteous nations. On the contrary, the Canaanite nations were horribly depraved. They practiced “abominable customs” (Leviticus 18:30) and did “detestable things” (Deuteronomy 18:9, NASB). They practiced idolatry, witchcraft, soothsaying, and sorcery. They attempted to cast spells upon people and call up the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).

Their “cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious” (Unger, 1954, p. 175). Their “deities…had no moral character whatever,” which “must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time,” including sensuous nudity, orgiastic nature-worship, snake worship, and even child sacrifice (Unger, p. 175; cf. Albright, 1940, p. 214). As Moses wrote, the inhabitants of Canaan would “burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30). The Canaanite nations were anything but “innocent.” In truth, “[t]hese Canaanite cults were utterly immoral, decadent, and corrupt, dangerously contaminating and thoroughly justifying the divine command to destroy their devotees” (Unger, 1988). They were so nefarious that God said they defiled the land and the land could stomach them no longer—“the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25).

The Longsuffering of God

Unlike the foolish, impulsive, quick-tempered reactions of many men (Proverbs 14:29), the Lord is “slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). He is “longsuffering…, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” the apostle Paul referred to God as “the God of patience” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering.

Though in Noah’s day, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “ever intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), “the Divine longsuffering waited” (1 Peter 3:20). (It seems as though God delayed flooding Earth for 120 years as His Spirit’s message of righteousness was preached to a wicked world—Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5.) In the days of Abraham, God ultimately decided to spare the iniquitous city of Sodom, not if 50 righteous people were found living therein, but only 10 righteous individuals. (4)


This was a long post, I know, but the implications here are important. We must vigorously explain and defend the Just, long-suffering, and Righteous nature of God.

To recap, let’s remember a few points:

  1. The very question of the treatment of the Canaanites is the result of the ethics of a Judeo-Christian heritage.
  2. God doesn’t issue moral commands to Himself, but to us. Sometimes what He commands would be immoral if we did it on our own, without His command. The Israelites were doing what they were told.
  3. God is long-suffering, and didn’t judge the Canaanites arbitrarily.
  4. The Canaanites had earned the judgment of God, just as all of us have.
  5. Yahweh was establishing a covenant community smack in the middle of a degenerate culture. Clear lines of separation had to be established. That’s why He gave the moral, ceremonial, and civil commands that He did. The promised Messiah Jesus depended on a chosen people following a holy God.
  6. “Aslan is not a tame lion.”
  7. A “good” God punishes sin.
  8. What are the implications when we say someone is “playing God” when they kill someone?

We need to admit to ourselves, and to others, that these are hard questions, and we need to be prepared to give the hard answers. Wrestling with the ethics of the Old Testament, and the nature of God, is an effort worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Be ready to give an answer.

1.  “Bible Gateway.” Bible Gateway. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <

2.  Craig, Wliliiam L. “Slaughter of the Canaanites.” Reasonable Faith, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <;.

3.  Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. pg. 51

4.  “Apologetics Press.” Apologetics Press. Apologetics Press, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <;.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

It’s easy to assume that just because the Old Testament doesn’t precisely condemn a practice, we can presume the practice is normative doctrine. Bill Pratt gives us some pointers on how to deal with OT texts.

  1. An OT narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
  2. An OT narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
  3. OT narratives record what happened – not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time.  Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral application.
  4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us.  Frequently, it is just the opposite.
  5. Most of the characters in OT narratives are far from perfect – as are their actions as well.
  6. We are not always told at the end of an OT narrative whether what happened was good or bad.  We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture.
  7. All OT narratives are selective and incomplete.  Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21:25).  What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
  8. OT narratives are not written to answer all of our theological questions.  They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways.
  9. OT narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
  10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

via How Do We Interpret the Old Testament Narratives? | Tough Questions Answered.

Great advice. I need to go back over these principles, and so do you.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams