Friday, May 3, 2013

Should Christians vote for Democrats?

by Chad Miller

In my writing, I typically focus on Christian apologetics but lately my thoughts have been consumed with the worldview war being raged in the political arena. While I still believe focusing on apologetics in Churches is absolutely essential, I am beginning to think the Church is losing its focus on important political issues. This apathetic approach to politics is having a serious impact on the culture and meanwhile there are innocent lives at stake.

Make no mistake about it, I have been 100% guilty of this in my own life. I have always voted and done my due diligence in that regard, especially on the abortion issue. However, I haven't always been quite as keen on watching the news, paying close attention to what was happening in government, and doing my best to inform others - even though the political arena directly impacts not only my life in the present, but more importantly my children in the future. I've known many Christians with presumably good intentions who vote for liberal politicians and because they have either been musicians I liked, authors who made good points in other areas, or friends whom I love, I was always willing to give them "Christian liberty" license. After all, we're all Christians and how we vote is up to our own conscience, right?


I'm not so sure about that...

When one considers everything at stake and how our votes truly impact human lives, our votes are tied directly to our accountability to God. How we vote is an integral part of our Christian stewardship. God in His sovereignty has chosen to allow American Christians to live in a culture much different than when the authors of Scripture lived. We are allowed to vote, run for office, campaign, and be actively involved in the direction of our country, provided we operate within the well placed restrictions of our Constitution. For Christians, we should first and foremost operate within the well placed restrictions of Scripture (which not coincidentally heavily influenced our founding fathers in framing our Constitution and Republic).

So what is the responsibility of the Christian voter? Does it matter which party we vote for? My contention is what party we vote for does matter. It matters a great deal. So is a vote for a Republican always a vote for Christian values? Unfortunately not. There are many Republicans who not only ignore Biblical principles, but even shun the conservative principles their own Party is supposed to uphold. There are many sharp divisions within the Republican Party on a lot of issues, but the Democrats seems to avoid this. While there are many issues the Democratic Party agrees on which are contrary to a Christian worldview, the only one I want to address in this post is the most blatant offense; abortion.

I knew about Barack Obama's stance on abortion before both elections and implored as many Christians as possible to NOT vote for him because of this (and a host of other anti-Christian, anti-constitutional, anti-liberty stances). I ran across this meme yesterday, and while many memes are clever ways at communicating a message without actually providing substance (or facts - be careful about sharing memes with quotes without fact checking them first), this meme is horrifying and accurate:

For anyone who is pro-life and to Christians in particular; if you find abortion and/or partial birth abortion morally repugnant, how can a vote for Obama or other Democrats be squared with that conviction? If you believe infants born alive during a botched abortion should receive immediate medical attention, how could you vote for Obama when he voted AGAINST that every time it passed his desk?

Make no mistake about it. This is what the Democratic platform is all about and not just President Obama. No matter how much a specific Democrat may profess to be pro life, they have to tow the Party line and cave to their supposed personal convictions, and the Party line on the abortion issue is 100% clear. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform states:

Protecting a Woman’s Right to Choose: The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

There's so much wrong there I could write a thesis on it. For brevity's sake, just contrast that with the 2012 Republican Party Platform on abortion:

Faithful to the "self-evident" truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Fiscal policy, immigration, foreign aid, healthcare, military, gender equality, gun control and many other issues are all important, and there can be disagreements between Christians on how to handle some of those issues without necessarily compromising Biblical integrity (though I believe strong Biblical arguments can be made against socialism)... but this is a human rights issue with no Biblical or moral ambiguity whatsoever, mdo different than slavery or human trafficking. Simply put, a vote for a Democrat is ultimately voting against the human rights of the most defenseless people one can find.

Even though the Bible is clear about where Christians should stand on the importance of the inherent value of human life, we have Christians who fill the voting booths to vote for their favorite Democratic candidate, presumably because they believe the greater good can be accomplished through the government. I've also heard "there was no solid conservative candidate on the ticket", though I can't imagine a situation where I would be forced to vote for Obama or other pro-choice Democrats. Romney was clearly not the most conservative candidate the Republicans could have chosen last year, and don't get me started on McCain in 2008. That is a separate issue and I'll merely say "shame on the Republican Party for continuing to advance candidates who don't stand for true constitutional principles".

However, I can still think of no valid excuse for the Christian to vote for a Democrat who as mentioned above will with very, very rare exception, cave on the abortion issue. Most Democrats simply do everything they can to radically advance the pro-choice cause while the very few pro-life Democrats will compromise their views for the sake of the Party. The Party not only advances abortion, but many other issues which run completely contrary to a Biblical worldview. For the sake of avoiding a full out manifesto, I'm not addressing those specifically at this time but instead focusing on abortion due to the importance of it specifically, as well as the major happenings in society right now (Kermit Gosnell case, Obama speaking at Planned Parenthood, undercover videos exposing the abortion industry, and many more).

Christians need to seriously think about this for 2014 when the elections come up and truly be aware of what is happening. Whether you live in a red state and your (D) vote may not seem to count for much, or live in a blue state where your vote for the pro-life candidate won't seem to matter... we need to understand it absolutely does. We are responsible and accountable to God for how we vote. We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to protect the least among us. If you are a Christian reading this and voted for Obama or other Democrats, I can't put it any way other than there is blood on your hands for those votes...

If you thought voting for Obama was a better overall pro-life vote (like the very confused Christian "progressive" Rachel Held Evans), how is that vote looking now, considering we're still at war, soldiers are still dying, unemployment is skyrocketing, we're drone bombing innocent people, we're steadily losing our civil liberties. and our President is the first sitting President to ever speak at a Planned Parenthood event (or any pro-choice organization)? It seems like the Democratic Party might not offer the utopia so-called Christian progressives are looking for. In fact, electing Democrats is consistently worse for the overall "culture of life" message since millions more are killed under Democratic policies than any other, as long as we can agree about the aborted babies being part of those killed. It seems most Christian liberals would at least acquiesce that abortion kills a child, but again, the focus of the left is not typically on the child at all (and I wonder why).

Make no mistake about it, I am NOT claiming the Republican Party offers this utopia either. That will only come when Christ comes to set things right once and for all. I'm simply asking anyone with intellectual integrity to compare the platforms of the two parties on the abortion issue and the overall culture of life. Who is more consistently pro-life? Who is making attempts to overturn Roe V Wade and making legislative moves which will dramatically reduce abortions? Fortunately many conservatives are beginning to line up with other culture of life issues (and conservative values) and not wanting the US entangled in foreign wars where we have no business being involved. Is supporting those politicians a valid option for the Christian liberal?

Sorry about that.. I meant Christian Progressive.

Instead of voting for a party who openly professes to be against the rights of the unborn, why not examine making inroads within the Republican Party? Which is more likely; to get the Democratic Party to overturn its longstanding and increasingly aggressive support for abortion, or get the Republican Party to examine its views on internventionist wars and other supposed life issues? Is it a possibility for Roe V Wade to be overturned and more pro-life legislation be put in place if all the professing Christians voted for actual pro life candidates? While we have our thinking caps on, is it possible government is not the be all/end all cure for poverty, disease, and starvation? Will wars cease and peace be achieved by any political means?

What the US government is supposed to do is protect the rights and liberties of its citizens. This especially includes protecting the lives of innocent children, and as Christians, this is of utmost importance and should eclipse any other soapbox we may have. Think about the millions of American babies being murdered. Think about what the Lord would have you do when you're in the voting booth. One of these days the ideas and thoughts of our hearts will be naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. If we don't think our votes will be held under the same scrutiny, we're in big trouble.

Chad Miller

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Issue with Answers in Genesis

by Chad Miller

When I say I have issues with Answers in Genesis (AiG), I'm not referring to their Young Earth Creation (YEC) interpretation of Genesis 1-11. My issues are with the considerable amount of time and effort they spend leveling false accusations against those who believe in Old Earth Creationism (OEC). AiG is the most widely followed YEC ministry, and unfortunately their divisive tactics have a significant impact on the Christian community, thus my focus on their ministry specifically. I’m not making the case for OEC or refuting YEC arguments on this post. Those arguments are handled elsewhere and there are plenty of good resources available.

*OEC and YEC throughout this post refer to Creation-ism and Creation-ist interchangeably*

I (like many OEC's) have YEC friends. The vast majority of my friends are YEC. Fortunately this is not a point of division or conflict and we're able to lock arms together to serve the Lord in ministry. We all understand we're not differing on our interpretation of passages related to the deity of Christ, the resurrection, or other first tier issues, but rather a third tier issue. Most importantly we understand this is an issue of interpretation; not inerrancy. That’s a very important distinction worth repeating:

This is an issue of interpretation; not inerrancy.

I’m not sure how many different ways this message can be communicated by various OEC's, yet AIG continues to falsely accuse OEC's of undermining inerrancy as well as attacking the cross, the Word of Christ, and the person of Christ Himself.

Those are extremely serious accusations... and this is coming from brothers in Christ toward other brothers in Christ.

If you're an avid watcher of TBN like I am (sarcasm font not available), you may have seen a recent roundtable discussion with Ray Comfort (YEC), Sean McDowell (OEC), Hugh Ross (OEC), Eric Hovind (YEC), John Bloom (OEC), and Ken Ham (YEC) discussing creation and evolution. One need only see the opening remarks of the discussion to quickly see the problem with the approach Ken Ham takes. He is not focused on coming together with other Christians to counter the secular worldview being forced upon us and our children. Rather, his sights are set squarely on his fellow brothers in Christ who do not agree with his interpretation of Genesis 1-11, accusing them of being compromisers and actual partakers of the secular worldview itself.

Everyone else on the panel opens up by standing together against the atheistic/Darwinistic worldview (though it eventually does turn into a YEC vs OEC debate - thanks Brother Ken). He opens up by stating his big issue is one of Biblical authority. A noble issue to be sure and one everyone on the panel would agree with, but his aim immediately focuses on the wrong target; other Christians. He accuses those who disagree with him of "allowing the culture to invade the Church" and quickly draws a direct comparison from those who attack the resurrection of Christ to those who question his YEC view. He accuses OEC’s of "unlocking the door to Biblical authority" and places the blame for "losing Biblical authority, losing the culture, and losing 2/3 of the young generation" squarely at their feet. Yet again, VERY serious charges!
and this is just in his opening remarks…

Elsewhere he has said:
"Christians who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to come to grips with the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible."
"The god of an old earth cannot therefore be the God of the Bible who is able to save us from sin and death."
"There’s no doubt — the god of an old earth destroys the Gospel"

I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but sadly it’s par for the course. The common themes of compromise, undermining Biblical authority, forcing false interpretations, and many other untrue charges are thick in AiG articles, publications, curriculum, speeches, etc. Unfortunately this mindset overflows into many of the Christians who follow their ministry.

Even in this recent "clarifying" post by AIG (not Ken Ham directly), they claim many of the statements above are taken out of context.

"Most old-earth creationists either do not recognize this truth or have chosen to ignore the dichotomy their belief creates. Also, theistic evolutionists generally accept the big bang theory, which creates additional problems."

AiG has a habit of lumping all OEC interpretations in with Theistic Evolution (TE) despite the fact this is clearly not the case. Ministries such as Reasons to Believe are very clear on their stance against Darwinian evolution and reject TE, yet AiG consistently goes after all shades of OEC with the ferocity of the Spanish Inquisition... except unlike the Spanish Inquisition, everyone expects the AiG Inquisition.

The author also claims adherents to an OEC view are in sin and need to be corrected by their YEC brothers:

"Consider the final words of the book of James. “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20). Of course, this must be handled with gentleness and respect. Paul wrote, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)."

Is that really what James and Paul had in mind in their epistles? Are OEC's in need of being saved from a multitude of sins and death of the soul as James mentions here? One need only read Galatians 5 and the rest of 6 to see this is clearly not applicable for Paul's admonition either. He continues...

"Our goal in pointing out the error of old-earth creationism is driven by a love for Christ’s church. We do not want to see them led into a serious error, and we desire to see our brothers and sisters remove the “high places” of old-earth beliefs. Still, we realize we are sinful and fallible. If our actions are ever motivated by our own pride instead of love for God and for fellow believers, then we would be in the wrong. If such a case arises, we hope someone would love us enough to respectfully point out these faults."

I'm not judging the motives of AiG, but I can judge their clear statements which cause division in the body of Christ. While they claim it is possible for an OEC to be a true Christian, their actions and even their words clearly say otherwise. If their motive is indeed love for their brothers, I can say as an OEC I feel zero love from Ken Ham or AiG in their attempts to save my soul from destruction... and as we all know, feelings are important, especially mine. (I really do need a sarcasm font)

Continuing on:
"Think about this carefully—if we don’t correct fellow believers who are in error, then we don’t truly love them. No sane parents would fail to correct their own child who runs dangerously into the street, because they love the child and don’t want harm to come to him or her. Similarly, we do not want to see our brothers and sisters led astray by worldly teachings that have done so much to undermine people’s trust in Scripture.

What we are saying to old-earth Christians is that they need to cling to the biblical view of God and jettison the faulty views of God demanded by their old-earth views. They need to accept biblical authority and all that comes with it, including the Father who loved us so much He sent His Son to die for our sins—not His own carelessness or ineptitude."

So OEC's are being "led astray", "undermining people's trust in scripture", "need to cling to the biblical view of God and jettison the faulty views of God", and "need to accept biblical authority"? Really? Notice the intentional bridge from OEC to TE in that last statement., implying the OEC view undermines the Gospel.
I do actually agree with him on approaching a brother when one believes another brother is in error, which is my motive for this post. If I ever see an OEC making any of these kinds of claims against YEC's, I will confront them in the same manner in which I am AiG in this post... probably moreso.

Again, I'm not offended by the YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11. AiG is entitled to their interpretation and I thoroughly acknowledge there is zero conflict with one holding to YEC and also maintaining strict orthodoxy (including Biblical inerrancy). What I do take issue with, and hopefully more of my YEC brothers and sisters will as well, are the extremely divisive tactics used by Ken Ham and AIG against their brothers and sisters in Christ. Hold fast to a YEC interpretation, but can we please stop this business of implying OEC's are out to destroy the Bible?

To continue reading this article, please click here

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What Was the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Was the most extensive judgment found anywhere in the Bible outside of the book of Revelation actually for the sin of inhospitality, not homosexuality?

by Greg Koukl

People find what they want in the Bible. If one looks hard enough, he can find "biblical" support for reincarnation, Eastern religions, Jesus as a guru, divorce for any reason, and flying saucers. Every cult of Christianity uses the Bible to validate its claims and so does some of the occult.

It's not surprising, then, that a recent trend in biblical scholarship holds that a careful reading of Genesis in its historical context offers no solid basis to conclude that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had anything to do with homosexuality.

This view may seem far-fetched to biblical conservatives, but it is taken very seriously in academic circles. It represents a significant challenge to the rank-and-file Christian who finds in the Genesis account a straight-forward condemnation of homosexual behavior.

My goal is to answer that challenge. I have no interest to malign, name-call, offend, attack, bash, belittle, or in any way demean a group of people. I want to determine one thing only: Why did God destroy these two cities? Did it have anything to do with homosexuality itself? In short, what was the sin—or sins—of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Genesis 18:16-19:29
Though the context of the account in question begins in Genesis 18:16 during God's conversation with Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre, the details of the encounter at Sodom itself are found in Genesis 19:4-13:
Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them." But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof."
But they said, "Stand aside." Furthermore, they said, "This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them." So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.
But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway.
Then the men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the Lord that the Lord has sent us to destroy it."
What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did God destroy the two cities? The traditional view is that homosexuality was the principle offense ("Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly").
Yale historian John Boswell offers four possible reasons for the destruction of Sodom:
(1) The Sodomites were destroyed for the general wickedness which had prompted the Lord to send angels to the city to investigate in the first place; (2) the city was destroyed because the people of Sodom had tried to rape the angels; (3) the city was destroyed because the men of Sodom had tried to engage in homosexual intercourse with the angels...; (4) the city was destroyed for inhospitable treatment of visitors sent from the Lord.[1]
John Boswell thinks that explanation (2) "is the most obvious of the four," though it's been "largely ignored by biblical scholars."[2] Boswell expands on explanation (4), the one he seems to favor as most consistent with "modern scholarship" since 1955:
Lot was violating the custom of entertaining unknown guests within the city walls at night without obtaining the permission of the elders of the city. When the men of Sodom gathered around to demand that the strangers be brought out to them, "that they might know them," they meant no more than to "know" who they were, and the city was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality, but for the sin of inhospitality to strangers.[3]
Englishman D. Sherwin Bailey also argues this way in Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955). The men of Sodom wanted to interrogate Lot's guests to see if they were spies. The sin of gang rape was also in view, not homosexuality. In a broader sense, the men of Sodom were inhospitable to Lot's guests.

Apparently, it did not occur to Boswell that possibilities (2) and (4) seem to be at odds. If "to know" the angels means merely to interrogate them, then there is no attempted rape, only an attempted interrogation. If, on the other hand, the men meant to have sexual relations with the visitors (the traditional view) and are guilty of attempted rape, then the interrogation explanation must be abandoned (rendering Boswell’s above summary of the views of modern scholarship somewhat incoherent).

Some of these explanations, however, are not mutually exclusive and may have been factors in their own way. For example, the general wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (1) could have included rape (2) and/or inhospitality (4).

My principle concern here is to determine if the biblical record indicates that (4) homosexuality factored in at all.

Clues from the Text
Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? We can find clues not just from the Genesis account, but also from the Prophets and the New Testament books 2 Peter and Jude. These give a sense of how ancient Jewish thinkers steeped in Jewish culture understood these texts.

First, Sodom and Gomorrah were judged because of grave sin. Genesis 18:20 says, "And the Lord said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.'" Indeed, not even ten righteous people could be found in the city.

Second, it seems the judgment of these cities was to serve as a lesson to Abraham and to others that wickedness would be punished. In 2 Peter 2:6 we learn that God condemned and destroyed the cities as "an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter."

Third, peculiar qualities of the sin are described by Jude and Peter. Jude 7 depicts the activity as "gross immorality" and going after "strange flesh."[4] Peter wrote that Lot was "oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men," and "by what he saw and heard...felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds." These people were "those who indulged the flesh in its corrupt desires and despised authority" (2 Peter 2:7-10).

Fourth, there are 27 references outside of Genesis where Sodom is mentioned. It is emblematic of gross immorality, deepest depravity, and ultimate judgment.

Piecing together the biblical evidence gives us a picture of Sodom's offense. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was some kind of activity—a grave, ongoing, lawless, sensuous activity—that Lot saw and heard and that tormented him as he witnessed it day after day. It was an activity in which the inhabitants indulged the flesh in corrupt desires by going after strange flesh, ultimately bringing upon them the most extensive judgment anywhere in the Bible outside of the book of Revelation.

What do we know about the conduct of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah that fits this description?

Just a Couple of Questions
Was the city destroyed because the men of Sodom tried to rape the angels (option (2) above)? The answer is obviously no. God's judgment could not have been for the rapacious attempt itself because His decision to destroy the cities was made days before the encounter (see Genesis 18:20). Further, Peter makes it clear that the wicked activity was ongoing ("day after day"), not a one-time incident. The outcry had already been going up to God for some time.[5]

Was this a mere interrogation? Though the Hebrew word yada ("to know")[6] has a variety of nuances, it is properly translated in the NASB as "have [sexual] relations with."[7] Though the word does not always have sexual connotations, it frequently does, and this translation is most consistent with the context of Genesis 9:5. There is no evidence that what the townsmen had in mind was a harmless interview. Lot's response—“Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly"—makes it clear they had other intentions.

In addition, the same verb is used in the immediate context to describe the daughters who had not "known" a man and who were offered to the mob instead. Are we to understand Lot to be saying, "Please don't question my guests. Here, talk to my daughters, instead. They've never been interviewed"?

Did God judge Sodom and Gomorrah for inhospitality? Is it true that God's judgment was not for homosexuality per se, but because the people of the town were discourteous to the visitors, violating sacred sanctuary customs by attempting to rape them? A couple of observations raise serious doubt.

First, the suggestion itself is an odd one. To say that the men of Sodom were inhospitable because of the attempted rape is much like saying a husband who's just beaten his wife is an insensitive spouse. It may be true, but it's hardly a meaningful observation given the greater crime.

Second—and more to the textual evidence—it doesn't fit the collective biblical description of the conduct that earned God's wrath: a corrupt, lawless, sensuous activity that Lot saw and heard day after day, in which the men went after strange flesh.

Third, are we to believe that God annihilated two whole cities because they had bad manners, even granting that such manners were much more important then than now? There's no textual evidence that inhospitality was a capital crime. However, homosexuality was punishable by death in Israel (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Does God ignore the capital crime, yet level two entire cities for a wrong that is not listed anywhere as a serious offense?

The Only One That Fits
The prevailing modern view of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is that the attempted rape of Lot's visitors violated the Mid-East's high code of hospitality (19:9). This inhospitality, however, is an inference, not a specific point made in the text itself.

Further, the inhospitality charge is dependent upon—and eclipsed by—the greater crime of rape, yet neither could be the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah because God planned to judge the cities long before either had been committed. What possibility is left? Only one.

We know the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were homosexual, "both young and old, all the people from every quarter" (19:6), to the point of disregarding available women (19:5-8). After they were struck sightless they still persisted (19:11). These men were totally given over to an overwhelming passion that did not abate even when they were supernaturally blinded by angels.

Homosexuality fits the biblical details. It was the sin that epitomized the gross wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah—the "grave," "ungodly," "lawless," "sensual conduct of unprincipled men" that tormented Lot as he "saw and heard" it "day after day," the "corrupt desire" of those that went after "strange flesh."

In their defense, some will cite Ezekiel 16:49-50: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.[8] Therefore I removed them when I saw it." No mention of homosexuality here.

Clearly, the general wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah was great. That's not in question. Our concern here is whether homosexuality was part of that wickedness. Our analysis of Genesis shows that homosexuality was the principle behavior at issue in that passage. Ezekiel simply enumerates additional sins. The prophet doesn't contradict Moses, but rather gives more detail.

Stinginess and arrogance alone did not draw God's wrath. Ezekiel anchored the list of crimes with the word "abominations." This word takes us right back to homosexuality. The conduct Moses refers to in Genesis 18 he later describes in Leviticus as an "abomination" in God’s eyes.

The Mosaic Law has two explicit citations on homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 says, "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female.[9] It is an abomination [toebah][10] ." Leviticus 20:13 says, "If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act [toebah]. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltiness is upon them."

John Boswell offers the standard rebuttal to what appears to be an obvious biblical prohibition of homosexuality:
The Hebrew word "toebah," here translated "abomination," does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft..., but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters.[11]
Leviticus, the suggestion goes, is not where we generally go for moral instruction. The sections quoted deal with the cult of worship: sacrifice, priesthood, ritual bathing, etc. These directives have to do with ritual purity, not moral purity. An observant Jew could not worship after ritual contamination until he had been ritually cleansed.

Others have added that many details of the Mosaic Law are archaic. Who concerns themselves with mixing wool and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11)? The death penalty itself doesn't mark homosexuality as particularly heinous. Disobedience to parents was also a capital crime, as was picking up sticks on the Sabbath, yet no one suggests these should be punishable offenses today.[12]

This rejoinder is filled with inconsistencies. First, even if this prohibition was restricted only to ritual purity and the cult of worship, then minimally it applies to Jewish clerics. Yet many who use this approach see no problem with homosexual rabbis and instead champion such "diversity" as a religious virtue. On the other hand, if the Torah's proscriptions no longer apply at all, then any distinction between the cultic and moral aspects of the Mosaic Law is moot; none of it pertains anyway.

Second, it's a serious error in thinking to conclude that if some of the Torah no longer applies, then none of it applies. Jewish thinker Dennis Prager observed, "It is one thing not to put a Torah punishment into practice and quite another to declare that a Torah sin is no longer a sin."[13] [emphasis in the original]

Third, it's true that much of the Law seems to deal with religious activity rather than universal morality. That observation in itself, however, is not enough to summarily dismiss the Torah as a source of binding moral instruction. Ritual purity and moral purity are not always distinct.

Context is king here. Note the positioning of the verses. The toebahof homosexuality is sandwiched between adultery (18:20), child sacrifice (18:21) and bestiality (18:23). Was Moses saying merely that if a priest committed adultery, had sex with an animal, or burned his child on Molech's altar he should be sure to wash up before he came to temple?

More to the point, these sections were not addressed to the priests, but to all the "sons of Israel" (18:2, 20:2). In addition to the prohibitions on adultery, child sacrifice, and bestiality just mentioned, Moses also prohibits spiritism (20:6) and incest (20:12).

The conclusion of Leviticus 18 contains these words:
But as for you [the "sons of Israel" (v. 2)], you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled. (18:26-27)
Moses spoke as clearly here as he did in Genesis. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of many things, but foremost among them was the sin of homosexuality. In this section of Leviticus, God gives directives not just for ritual purity, but commands to be observed by every Jew, and even by every visitor.

Homosexuality was wrong for the Jews. It was wrong for gentiles who visited the Jews ("aliens"). It was even an abomination that defiled the land when practiced by pagans who inhabited Canaan long before the Jews came.

Homosexuality is a defiling sin, regardless who practices it. It has no place before God among any people, in any age, then or now.

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Does the Bible Teach that a Rape Victim has to Marry her Rapist?

by Matt Flannagan

In our recent discussion on the Bible’s teachings on slavery John Loftus asked Madeleine, “if you were raped you should marry your rapist? Get real. … Would you want to be treated the way the Bible says women and slaves should be treated?” Loftus then dedicated a post on Debunking Christianity to Madeleine’s “stupidity” for her answer where he elaborated on his interpretation of various verses on the treatment of women in the comments section. 
Loftus is not alone in contending that the Bible teaches that rape victims had to marry their rapists. Michael Martin states that,
when rape is condemned in the Old Testament the woman’s rights and her psychological welfare are ignored.[15] For example: “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father fifty skelels of silver, and she shall be his wife, and he may not put her away all of his days (Deut:22; 28-29).” Here the victim of rape is as treated the property of the father. Since the rapist has despoiled the father’s property he must pay a bridal fee. The women apparently has no say in the matter and is forced to marry the person who raped her. Notice also if they are not discovered, no negative judgment is forthcoming. The implicit message seems to be that if you rape an unbetrothed virgin, be sure not to get caught.[1] [sic]
Martin is not alone is making this claim, I often hear this claim brought up in dialogues and discussions with those skeptical of the Christian faith. Not long ago a correspondent cited that most medieval commentators taught, on the basis of Deut 22:28-29, that a woman who had been raped was commanded by God to marry her rapist. In particular he referred me to Maimonides who wrote, “by this prohibition a man is forbidden to divorce a woman whom he has raped.”[2] 

In this post I want to address this line of argument. My response is two-fold, first I will argue that Martin’s translation of Deuteronomy is mistaken, second, I will suggest that the medieval commentators my correspondent referred to actually utilised a different definition of rape to that used today. My conclusion will be that this law does not command a woman to marry her rapist; it rather commands men who have sex with women to follow their sexual advances up with marital commitment, and teaches that failure to do so is forbidden by God.

Martin’s Translation of Deuteronomy 22:28-29
Martin cites Deut 22:28-29 as dealing with a situation where “a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her.” He immediately states, without argument, that this refers to acts of rape. Although he does not say, it appears this conclusion is based on the verb “seizes” in the English version he cites. Martin imports into this word the connotation of violent, coercive, abduction so that the sexual intercourse that follows is a rape. There are several problems with this claim.

First, and most obvious, the English word “seizes” is not in The Torah. The word in The Torah is tabas; in Hebrew, tabas “does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.”[3] While the word can refer to the capture of a city,[4] it is also used for “handling” the harp and flute,[5] the sword,[6] a sickle,[7] a shield,[8] oars or a bow,[9] “taking” God’s name[10] or dealing with the law of God.[11] The word simply means to “lay hold of,” “to take hold of something” or to “grasp it in hand.” The more formal King James translation interprets the passage as, “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her and lie with her.”

Second, there are good reasons in this context for interpreting the word in a manner where it does not have a connotation of force or violence. Here I will mention three.

The first reason is that the context strongly suggests it. Had the author intended to refer to rape then he would have used the word chazak which does carry the connotations Martin plays on. This is reinforced by the fact that three verses earlier the author does refer to a rape. The law immediately preceding this one begins, “But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her …” here the word used is chazak, which suggests a violent seizure is used. Bahsen notes, “Just three verses later (Deut. 25:28), the verb is changed to simply ‘take hold of’ her – indicating an action less intense and violent than the action dealt with in verse 25:25 (viz., rape).”[12]

The second reason is that Deut 22:28-29 actually repeats a law which has already been laid down in the book of Exodus. When one examines this law it is clear it does not refer to rape. The word “Deuteronomy” in Greek means “second law;” throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeats laws already laid down in the book of Exodus, sometimes expanding on them. The Decalogue, for example, which was delivered on Sinai in Exodus 20, is repeated again in Deuteronomy 5. The laws about releasing an ebed (or indentured servant) in Exodus 21:1 are repeated and expanded on in Deuteronomy 15:12-18. The same occurs with the law under discussion. Gordon Wenham points out that that Deut 22:28-29 is a repetition of a law spelled out in Exodus 22:15, which states “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.”[13] Here, the penalty for sleeping with an unbethrothed virgin is that the man must marry the woman which is why the man must pay the mohar or “bride-price” to the bride’s father. A mohar was security money (50 shekels) that the groom paid to the bride’s father. It was held in trust for the woman in case the man later abandoned her or divorced her without just cause.[14] Such money protected women from the poverty that could occur if they were abandoned with children. What is important, however, is that we are left in no doubt that in Exodus 22:15 the case deals, not with rape, but with what was traditionally called seduction.

The third reason is that, to interpret the law in Deut 21:28-29 as a rape is to make God the commander of a morally heinous command. Martin is correct, given what we know about the psychological harm that rape inflicts upon its victims to command that a woman marry her rapist is cruel and hence clashes with strong moral intuitions. Elsewhere I have defended the claim that if one interpretation of divine commands coheres better with our moral intuitions than another then that fact constitutes evidence for the former interpretation. All else being equal, an interpretation that coheres with our pre-theoretical moral intuitions is always preferable. This hermeneutical principle applies here.

The passage then does not refer to a rape. The Hebrew word does not, by itself, indicate rape and interpreting it this way both ignores the context where the word chazak is used to designate a rape. It also makes the second law inconsistent with the exposition of the same law in Exodus 22:15 and also with our prior moral discernment about what is right and wrong. Seduction, however, is consistent with the meaning of tabas, the context it is used in, the original law it was derived from and it coheres with our moral intuitions. These factors, to me, provide decisive reasons for rejecting Martin’s interpretation.

It is worth noting that the fact that this passage refers to a seduction and not rape is really not news. Bahnsen notes that, “one will find that many competent authorities in Biblical interpretation understand Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to apply to cases of seduction, not forcible rape;”[15] he lists several,
Meredith Kline: “The seducer of an unbetrothed virgin was obliged to take her as wife, paying the customary bride price and forfeiting the right of divorce” (Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, p. 111).

Matthew Henry: “. . . if he and the damsel did consent, he should be bound to marry her, and never to divorce her, how much soever she was below him and how unpleasing soever she might afterwards be to him” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, ad loc.).

J. A. Thompson: “Seduction of a young girl. Where the girl was not betrothed and no legal obligations had been entered into, the man was forced to pay the normal bride-price and marry the girl. He was not allowed, subsequently, to send her away (Deuteronomy: Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 237).

In Israel’s Laws and legal Precedents (1907), Charles Foster Kent (professor of Biblical Literature at Yale University) clearly distinguished between the law pertaining to rape in Dt. 22:25-27 and the law pertaining to seduction in Dt. 22:28-29 (pp. 117-118).

Keil and Delitzsch classify Deuteronomy 22:28-29 under the category of “Seduction of a virgin,” comment that the crime involved was ‘their deed” – implying consent of the part of both parties – and liken this law to that found in Exodus 22:16-17 (Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, p. 412).

John Calvin: “The remedy is, that he who has corrupted the girl should be compelled to marry her, and also to give her a dowry from his own property, lest, if he should afterwards cast her off, she should go away from her bed penniless” (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 3, pp. 83-84.

J. C. Connell: “Although she consented, it was still his responsibility to protect her from lifelong shame resulting from the sin of the moment by marrying her, not without payment of the regular dowry” (“Exodus,” New bible Commentary, ed. F. Davidson, p. 122).

Adam Clarke: “This was an exceedingly wise and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel inclined to take advantage of a young woman knew that he must marry her, and give her a dowry, if her parents consented” (The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, vol. 1, p. 414).

Alan Cole: “If a man seduces a virgin: . . . he must acknowledge her as his wife, unless her father refuses” (Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 173).
James Jordan: “the punishment for the seducer is that he must marry the girl, unless her father objects, and that he may never divorce her (according to Dt. 22:29)” (The Law of the Covenant, p. 148).

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.: “Exodus 22:16-17 takes up the problem of the seduction of a maiden who was not engaged . . .. Here the seducer must pay the ‘bride-price’ and agree to marry her” (Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 107).[16]
Hence a skeptic who was interested in what the passage actually says could easily have discovered what I have noted by consulting a commentary. 

Medieval Commentators
If many post enlightenment and modern commentators realise that this passage is about a seduction and not a rape how does one explain the fact, alluded to above, that many medieval commentators apparently interpreted the passage to refer to rape? Here one needs to be attentive to the fact that words change their meaning over time. Medieval writers utilised a wider definition of rape than modern people do. In the middle ages the word ‘rape’ could include not only what we call rape today but also what was called “seduction,” where a man seduces a virgin he is not married to with her consent.

Isidore De Seville, for example, stated “seduction [stuprum], or rape, properly speaking, is unlawful intercourse, and takes its name from its causing corruption: wherefore he that is guilty of rape is a seducer.”[17] Similarly, Thomas Aquinas wrote,
They [rape and seduction] coincide when a man employs force in order unlawfully to violate a virgin. This force is employed sometimes both towards the virgin and towards her father; and sometimes towards the father and not to the virgin, for instance if she allows herself to be taken away by force from her father’s house. Again, the force employed in rape differs in another way, because sometimes a maid is taken away by force from her parents’ house, and is forcibly violated: while sometimes, though taken away by force, she is not forcibly violated, but of her own consent, whether by act of fornication or by the act of marriage: for the conditions of rape remain no matter how force is employed.[18]
Hence it is not entirely accurate to read the word “rape” in Medieval commentaries as we understand it today.

In conclusion then, it is very doubtful that Deut 22:28-29 commands women who have been raped to marry their rapists.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Resources on the Same Sex Marriage question

Discussing Same-Sex Marriage (Audio) – "How do you make a reasonable argument against same-sex marriage rights? Greg answered that on a recent radio show."

Same-Sex Marriage Challenges and Responses – "Western civilization is shuddering under a tidal wave of activism in favor of same-sex marriage. Here is a careful response to their most compelling arguments."

What Is Marriage? – "One of the smartest men I know of, Robert P. George from Princeton University, with Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson have written an argument for the traditional definition of marriage. You can download the PDF and digest it."

Denying Same-sex Marriage Isn't Unequal Protection – "An Iowa court recently ruled in favor of six same-sex couples who claimed that denying them the right to marry violates the equal protection clause. This argument seems reasonable at first. Straight people can marry. Gays cannot. This is not equal protection. A little reflection, however, reveals how this view is mistaken.''

Judge Strikes Down Prop 8 – "Prop 8 makes a very rational classification on the basis of a relevant characteristic—that is, the gender of the participants. Men and women are different, and there's no getting around this. This fact has biological, emotional, psychological, and more ramifications when it comes to families and the creation and rearing of children. The fact is that both male and female are essential to marriage."

We're Arguing Definitions, Not Rights – "One common misconception in the same-sex marriage debate is the idea that the traditional legal definition of marriage is a violation of equal rights. Since this is an extremely emotionally charged accusation, it's difficult to get past it into a real discussion of the issue. Here's the approach I usually take…"

Liberal Support for Traditional Marriage – "This self-described liberal Democrat supports California's Proposition 8, which would constitutionally define marriage between one man and one woman because, as the piece so well explains, marriage, as a societal institution recognized by government, is about children."

Answering a Case for Same-Sex Marriage (Video)Alan Schlemon responds to Zach Wahls's video promoting same-sex marriage.

Marriage Is a Social Construction. - "What is marriage?  There are only two possible kinds of answers to this question:  Either marriage and family have a fixed, natural purpose (a natural “teleology”) or they do not.  If not, marriage is some kind of social construction, an invention of culture like knickers or bow ties, fashions that change with the times."
Marriage Is about Love - “As long as people love each other,” one person asserted, “it shouldn’t matter whether they are the same sex. What’s important in marriage is love.”
When the Bride Is a Groom This article was written in 1999 - "The goal is to remove any hint of social stigma attached to homosexuality. One way to accomplish that is to depict all moral concern about the issue as malice. If you think the behavior is wrong, then you're guilty of spreading hatred."

You Can't Marry Your Canary - "Restricting the definition of marriage is not inappropriate discrimination. As a matter of fact, the word, discrimination, doesn't even apply because there is no such thing legally, culturally, socially or linguistically as a marriage that is not between a man and a woman."
Inconsistent Same-Sex Marriage Advocates - "There’s no principled way to exclude polyamory from marriage, if one adopts the principles being argued by same-sex marriage advocates."

Same Sex Marriage Arguments  - "The real issue is whether or not marriage is a right. It's not. It's nor more a right than a drivers' license is a right. As far as goverment's recognition of marriage, there is no right to either on. They're civil arrangements that the goverment has an interest in."
Is Denying Same-sex Marriage Like Denying Interracial Marriage? - "Let me be blunt: denying same-sex couples from marriage is not the same as denying interracial couples from it. Although anti-miscegenation laws were immoral, the same mistake is not happening today. And despite the rhetorical force of making the comparison, merely claiming it’s the same does not make it so."

Forbidding "Gay Marriage"  - "Marriage seems to be something in particular, not something we can twist any way we want."

Gay Is Not The New Black  - "The California Supreme Court, like Gross, would have us believe that the homosexual struggle for a redefinition of marriage puts them in the same category as my ancestors. However, they would rather you didn't take a closer look, lest you see how flimsy the comparison turns out to be."

Tactics for Defending Traditional Marriage - "Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”

A Secular Case Against Same Sex Marriage  - An argument using statistics and facts to show why same sex marriage is not good for society.

Gay Is Not The New Black

by Voddie Baucham

It's hard to deny that homosexual marriage appears to be a foregone conclusion in America. This is a frightening prospect not only for those of us who understand marriage to be a testimony of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church, but also for all who value the family and its contribution to the well-being of society and human thriving. And while it's difficult to watch a coordinated, well-funded, well-connected propaganda strategy undermine thousands of years of human history, it's especially disconcerting to witness the use of the civil rights struggle as the vehicle for the strategy.

The idea that same-sex "marriage" is the next leg in the civil rights race is ubiquitous. One of the clearest examples of the conflation of homosexual "marriage" and civil rights is Michael Gross's article in The Advocate, in which he coins the now-popular phrase "Gay is the new black."1 Gross is not alone in his conflation of the two issues, however. At a 2005 banquet, Julian Bond, former head of the NAACP, said, "Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn't change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable."2

Nor is this kind of thinking exclusive to the political left. When asked by GQ magazine if he thought homosexuality was a choice, Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, replied:
Oh, no. I don't think I've ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there's a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can't simply say, oh, like, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being gay." It's like saying, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being black."3
Even the California Supreme Court bought in to this line of reasoning. In a February 2008 decision they reasoned:
Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual's sexual orientation---like a person's race or gender---does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.4 (emphasis added)
The California Supreme Court, like Gross, would have us believe that the homosexual struggle for a redefinition of marriage puts them in the same category as my ancestors. However, they would rather you didn't take a closer look, lest you see how flimsy the comparison turns out to be.

Unidentifiable Minority

The first problem with the idea of conflating "sexual orientation" and race is the fact that homosexuality is undetectable apart from self-identification. Determining whether or not a person is black, Native American, or female usually involves no more than visual verification. However, should doubt remain, blood tests, genetics, or a quick trip up the family tree would suffice. Not so with homosexuality. There is no evidence that can confirm or deny a person's claims regarding sexual orientation.5

Moreover, the homosexual community itself has made this identification even more complicated in an effort to distance itself from those whose same-sex behavior they find undesirable. The Jerry Sandusky case is a prime example. Sandusky is accused of molesting numerous young boys during and after his tenure at Penn State. However, try placing the label "homosexual" on his activities and the backlash will be swift and unequivocal. "Pedophiles are not homosexuals!" is the consistent refrain coming from the homosexual community, media, academia, and the psychological/medical establishment.6

Hence, it seems same-sex attraction alone isn't enough to identify a person as a homosexual. And what about LUGSin college, or same-sex relationships in prison? Are these people homosexual? How about men who are extremely effeminate but prefer women, or those who once were practicing homosexuals but have since come out of the lifestyle (i.e., 1 Cor. 6:9-11)? In short, it's impossible to identify who is or is not a homosexual. As a result, how do we know to whom the civil rights in question should be attributed? Should a man who isn't a homosexual (assuming we could determine such a thing) but tries to enter a same-sex union be treated the same as a woman who isn't Native American but tries to claim it to win sympathy, or casino rights, or votes?

But this isn't the only problem with the civil rights angle.

Unalterable Definition

An additional problem with the "gay is the new black" argument is the complete disconnect between same-sex "marriage" and anti-miscegenation laws. First, there is a categorical disconnect. Miscegenation literally means "the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types." Ironically, the fact that homosexuals cannot "interbreed" shines a spotlight on the problem inherent in their logic. How can forbidding people who actually have the ability to interbreed be the same thing as acknowledging the fact that two people categorically lack that ability?8

Second, there is a definitional disconnect. The very definition of marriage eliminates the possibility of including same-sex couples. The word marriage has a long and well-recorded history; it means "the union of a man and a woman." Even in cultures that practice polygamy, the definition involves a man and several women. Therefore, while anti-miscegenation laws denied people a legitimate right, the same cannot be said concerning the denial of marriage to same-sex couples; one cannot be denied a right to something that doesn't exist.

It should be noted that the right to marry is one of the most frequently denied rights we have. People who are already married, 12-year-olds, and people who are too closely related are just a few categories of people routinely and/or categorically denied the right to marry. Hence, the charge that it is wrong to deny any person a "fundamental right" rings hollow. There has always been, and, by necessity, will always be discrimination in marriage laws.

Third, there is a historical disconnect. As early as the time of Moses, recorded history is replete with interracial marriages. In our own history, the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas in the 17th century,9 along with the fact that anti-miscegenation laws were usually limited only to the intermarrying of certain "races" of people (i.e., black and white), stands as historical evidence of the legal and logical inconsistency of such laws. Thus, unlike same-sex "marriage" advocates, those fighting for the right to intermarry in the civil rights era had history on their side.

Fourth, there is a legal disconnect. One thing that seems to escape most people in this debate is the fact that homosexuals have never been denied the right to marry. They simply haven't had the right to redefine marriage. But don't take my word for it; listen to the Iowa Supreme Court in their decision in favor of same-sex "marriage": "It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex."

There it is: not only in black and white, but in a legal decision. Homosexuals haven't been deprived of any right. How, then, do those on the side of same-sex marriage continue to make the claim that this is a civil rights issue? The key is in the next paragraph:
[The] right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all. Under such a law, gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain the civil status and attendant benefits granted by the statute.
I feel the need to remind the reader that this is a legal decision, since phrases like "gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship" tend to sound out of place in such a document. Further, this is asinine logic. For example, following this line of reasoning, one could argue, "I have the right to join the military, but I am a pacifist. Therefore, I don't really have the right (since it would be repulsive to me). Therefore, we need to establish a pacifist branch of the military so that I can fulfill both my desire to join, and my desire not to fight."

However, this reasoning is critically important in order to make the next leap in logic. "[A] gay or lesbian person can only gain the same rights under the statute as a heterosexual person by negating the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class---their sexual orientation."

Unsustainable Precedent

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the civil rights argument is logical unsustainability. If sexual orientation/identity is the basis for (1) classification as a minority group, and (2) legal grounds for the redefinition of marriage, then what's to stop the "bisexual" from fighting for the ability to marry a man and a woman simultaneously since his "orientation" is, by definition, directed toward both sexes?10 What about the member of NAMBLA whose orientation is toward young boys?11 Where do we stop, and on what basis?

Homosexual advocates are loath to answer this question. In fact, they are adept at avoiding it (and are rarely pressed on the point). However, the further legal implications of court decisions about same-sex marriage are inevitable. Nowhere is this clearer than in Lawrence v. Texas, a decision that struck down anti-sodomy laws. In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy cited his 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.12
I have no legal training, and I recognize the limits of my ability to fully evaluate the implications of such a decision. However, I do take notice when Justice Scalia responds to this assertion by stating:
I have never heard of a law that attempted to restrict one's "right to define" certain concepts; and if the passage calls into question the government's power to regulate actions based on one's self-defined "concept of existence, etc.," it is the passage that ate the rule of law.13 (emphasis added)

Inescapable Confrontation

It is very important for those of us who oppose the idea of same-sex "marriage" to do so not because we wish to preserve our version of the American Dream, but because we view marriage as a living, breathing picture of the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22), and because we know that God has designed the family in a particular way. While the design of the family promotes human thriving (Gen 1:27-28), the testimony points people to their only hope in this life and the next. As a result, silence on this issue is not an option.

Unfortunately (and quite ironically), many Christians have been bullied into silence by the mere threat of censure from the homosexual lobby. "Oppose us and you're no better than Gov. Wallace, Hitler, and those homophobes who killed Matthew Shepard!" is their not-so-subtle refrain. Consequently, we spend so much time trying to prove we're not hate-filled murderers that we fail to recognize that the Emperor has no clothes. There is no legal, logical, moral, biblical, or historical reason to support same-sex "marriage." In fact, there are myriad reasons not to support it. I've only provided a few.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card

by Anthony Weber

If you have engaged in serious discussions with skeptics about God and the Old Testament, you know it won’t be long before someone will play the Amalekite card – and let’s be honest, it’s a game-changing card (read the war texts in my previous post).  

There’s a temptation to  fold at this point and hope that the next hand deals something better (“Hey, I know! Let’s talk about love!”). However, there is far more to the story (I should note her I am indebted to the writing of Christian apologists such as Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan and organizations such as the Christian Think Tank).

As a teacher, I often have parents call me because their child came home with a tale of woe featuring my ineptitude as a teacher and my complete failure as a human being.  How else to explain that “D”?  I offer a perspective they did not hear from little Johnny.  More often than not (I’m not perfect), we resolve the situation pretty quickly.  It turns out there was more to the story than they initially heard.
We have a tendency to judge the actions of others before we fully appreciate the complexity or depth of the situation. That even applies when the ‘other’ is God and the ‘full story’ is actual world history.  As this series unfolds, I will attempt to reveal the context and complexity more clearly.  Let’s start with some observations about the Amalekite culture.

Historians agree with biblical history that the Amalekites were apparently outstandingly bad by any standard of that time. According to the biblical text, they had quite a track record:

“…in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”  (Deuteronomy 12.31)

Note the issue was not merely that they worshipped their gods; all the nations around Israel served other gods, and they escaped judgment.  Egypt’s treatment of the Israelites was not ‘evil enough’ to warrant a war.  If God’s  only goal was to make every nation around Israel like Israel, he would have needed to attack everybody. The gods were not in and of themselves the issue.  Something unique was happening here.

In Leviticus 18, God gives a list of the things that had “defiled the land,” and for which He specifically was judging the inhabitants.  There were only two categories:  rampant sexual immortally (including beastiality and incest) and child sacrifice, both of which seem to be associated with temple prostitution and the worship rituals offered to their particular gods.  There are, of course, terrible consequences from incest:
“…delinquency, anxiety, regressive behaviors, nightmares, withdrawal from normal activities, internalizing and externalizing disorders, cruelty and self-injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor self-esteem, and age-inappropriate sexual behavior. A review of forty-five studies indicated two common patterns of psychological response to incest (Williams and Finkelhor 1993). The first are those associated with posttraumatic stress symptomology. The second is an increase in sexualized behaviors…
Long-term psychological sequelae of incest include depression, anxiety, psychiatric hospitalization, drug and alcohol use, suicidality, borderline personality disorder, somatization disorder, and eroticization (Schetky 1990; Silverman, Reinherz, and Giaconia 1996). Common, too, are learning difficulties, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders and conversion reactions, running away, prostitution, re-victimization, poor parenting, and an increased likelihood of becoming a perpetrator.”
As for child sacrifice, you can find numerous sources online that quote this description:
“Its origin (human sacrifice) must be sought, evidently, in Canaanite culture. When a disaster was threatening Carthage, the inhabitants of the town decided it was due to the anger of Kronos, to whom they had formerly sacrificed their finest children: instead, they had begun to offer sickly children, or children they had bought. Thereupon, they sacrificed two hundred children from the noblest families. There was a bronze statue of Kronos with outstretched arms, and the child was placed on its hands and rolled into the furnace….Funerary jars have been found with the bodies of young children distorted by suffocation as they struggled for life after having been buried alive as a sacrifice to Canaanite gods. Such young children have been found in the foundation pillars of Canaanite houses…”
In addition, as soon as Israel escaped Egypt–before they could even ‘catch their breath’–the Amalekites made a long journey and attacked Israel. Their first targets were the helpless: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.  When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God!” (Deuteronomy 25.17-19).

Historian Mike Woodruff notes, “ They were distant cousins of the Israelites who gained God’s ire by going out of their way to provoke him. They likely knew that the promise God had made was to bless everyone through the blessing of Israel, and they certainly heard of the way God was providing for the Jews; but the Amalekites did not fear God. Instead, they attacked the weakest of God’s people. After giving their promise not to attack, they waited for the Jewish slaves to file through their land on the way to Sinai and then attacked the stragglers—the sick, tired, and elderly. This actually became a bit of a pattern for the Amalekites. They preyed on the weak, and they never missed a chance to attack the Jews.”  

The behaviors we’ve looked at were not  widely shared by the other Ancient Near East cultures. This evil appears to have been specifically Canaanite/Amorite, and its recorded by both Christian and secular historians.  One writer noted: “By 1400 B.C. the Canaanite civilization and religion had become one of the weakest, most decadent, and most immoral cultures of the civilized world.” 

Honestly, can you look at history and say these people didn’t have it coming? The Amalekites were particularly bad dudes. They preyed on the weak; they burnt their children alive; they worshipped their gods by engaging in ritualized incest and beastiality. They were in a league of their own.

I’m a fan of Lee Child’s series of books starring Jack Reacher.  Reacher is a former military policeman with a strong sense of justice who could probably snap me in half.  In every story, he finds himself in a situation where somebody has to do something to stop really bad guys from exploiting and using other people.  Nobody else is strong enough or capable enough, so Reacher steps in.  There is one book in particular in which he uncovers an organization of terrorists whose list of atrocities is disturbing to say the least. When Reacher stops that kind of evil (and he usually kills the people involved) we cheer for him not because we love violence and death, but because somebody needed to step up and put an end to that kind of evil.  We cheer for both justice and mercy will prevail: justice for the perpetrators, and mercy for those who suffered.

Certainly what happens in the Old Testament occurs on a larger scale, but I think the analogy holds. The people with whom the Israelites  dealt were causing far more destruction than than the villains in Lee Child’s literary world. Somebody needed to bring justice and mercy- and sometimes that means killing the perpetrators of evil to bring an end to the suffering of their victims.

Of course, if the Israelites committed atrocities of their own, that’s still a huge problem. Justice would have to fall on them as well.  We will address this more fully as we continue this series with ” God of War; God of Justice.”

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Is the Old Testament God Evil?

Are the charges made by the New Atheists a distorted representation of Old Testament ethics or is God a moral monster, as the New Atheists says He is?

By Paul Copan



The God of the Bible is a good God who demonstrates His love for people by giving His Son for the salvation of those who believe (John 3:16). The New Atheists, however, think differently. They question God’s goodness by raising abundant complaints about Old Testament (OT) ethics. Richard Dawkins thinks that Yahweh is a moral monster: “What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh — and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us.” Yahweh’s commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is both “disgraceful” and tantamount to “child abuse and bullying.” Yahweh breaks into a “monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god,” resembling “nothing so much as sexual jealousy of the worst kind.” Add to this the killing of the Canaanites — an “ethnic cleansing” in which “bloodthirsty massacres” were carried out with “xenophobic relish.” Joshua’s destruction of Jericho is “morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland,” or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.” Beside all this, we have to contend with the “ubiquitous wierdness of the Bible” as well as the moral failures and hypocrisies of biblical characters: a drunken Lot seduced by and engaging in sexual relations with his daughters (Genesis 19:31–36); Abraham’s twice lying about his wife Sarah (Genesis 12:18,19; 20:1–18); Jephthah’s foolish vow that resulted in sacrificing his daughter as a burnt offering (Judges 11).1

According to Christopher Hitchens, the now-forgotten Canaanites were “pitilessly driven out of their homes to make room for the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel.” Moreoever, the OT contains “a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human animals.”2

Sam Harris boldly asserts that if the Bible is true, we should be stoning people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, worshipping graven images, and “other imaginary crimes.” Referring to Deuteronomy 13:6–11, Harris claims that the consistent Bible-believer should stone his son or daughter if she comes home from a yoga class a devotee of Krishna. Furthermore, once we recognize that slaves are human beings who are equally capable of suffering and happiness, we will understand that it is “patently evil to own them and treat them like farm equipment.” Indeed, we can be good and recognize right and wrong without God or the Bible: we can know objective moral truths without “the existence of a lawgiving God” and can judge Hitler to be morally reprehensible “without reference to scripture.”3

I argue that these charges made by the New Atheists are a distorted representation of OT ethics, which fail to consider issues such as the earliest creational ideals (Genesis 1,2), the warm moral ethos of the OT, the ancient Near East (ANE) context, the broader biblical canon, and the metaphysical context to undergird objective morality. I have attempted elsewhere to address at both scholarly and popular levels the various OT ethical questions — slavery, the Canaanite issue, killing Canaanites vs. Islamic jihad, “harsh” moral codes and “strange” levitical laws, Abraham’s offering Isaac, the imprecatory psalms, divine jealousy, divine egotism, and so forth.4 I only offer a broad overview here.

A Response to the New Atheists


Biblical scholar John Barton warns that there can be no “simple route” to dealing with OT ethics.5 John Goldingay sees Israel’s unfolding history as broken up into five distinct stages or contexts — wandering clan, theocratic nation, monarchy, afflicted remnant, and post-exilic community of promise. Each one of these requires distinct rather than uniform moral responses.6 Thus, a proper response calls for greater attention to a range of relevant factors the New Atheists’ crass hermeneutic and left-wing fundamentalism completely ignore.

1. Mosaic law and historical narratives

A plain reading of Israel’s priestly/legal codes reveals that they are embedded within a broader historical narrative. Unlike other ANE cuneiform legislation, God ultimately instructs Israel, not by laying down laws or principles, but by telling stories of real people as they relate to their Creator and Covenant Maker. Ideally, God’s moral character and His activity in Israel’s history give the nation a necessary ethical framework to shape its way of life. This is in contrast to the prologue/epilogue to Hammurabi’s Code, which, rather than offering historical narrative, contains lofty language about Hammurabi’s being endowed by the gods as a benevolent earthly sovereign to be a just ruler on earth.

As we will see below, the critics’ assumption that Israel’s holiness code offers an ultimate, universal ethic is misguided.

Dawkins’ claims that biblical characters are often deeply flawed may win him points in the “rhetoric” category, but he is not saying anything with which Christians disagree. Such moral blackballing loses him points when he ignores many moral, noble actions of the biblical characters — Abraham’s magnanimity toward Lot; Joseph’s moral integrity; David’s refusal to touch King Saul, despite the opportunities; Nathan’s courage to confront David the adulterer. Indeed, many biblical narratives tend to confirm our moral intuitions, which reveal how biblical characters are often a mixed moral bag.

Thus, Christopher Hitchens’ remarks about “the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel” are accurate. St. Paul observes as much in 1 Corinthians 10. Many of Israel’s stories involving stubbornness, treachery, and ingratitude are vivid negative role models — ones to be avoided. The OT’s descriptions (“is”) do not necessarily amount to prescriptions (“ought”).

2. The Mosaic law, human sin, and divine ideals

Bruce C. Birch observes that the ANE world — its slavery, polygamy, war, patriarchal structures, kingship, and ethnocentrism — is “totally alien” and “utterly unlike” our own social setting. He advises us to acknowledge this impediment: “these texts are rooted in a cultural context utterly unlike our own, with moral presuppositions and categories that are alien and in some cases repugnant to our modern sensibilities.”7 The new atheism ignores what Christians most likely affirm — that Mosaic legislation is not the Bible’s moral pinnacle but rather a springboard anticipating further development or, perhaps more accurately, a pointer back to the loftier moral ideals of Genesis 1 and 2 and Genesis 12:1–3. These ideals affirm the image of God in each person, lifelong monogamous marriage, and God’s concern for the nations. The moral implications from these foundational texts are monumental, though Israel’s history reveals a profound departure from these ideals.

Consequently, the believer need not justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code. After all, God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ANE context. Yet Yahweh desires to treat them as morally responsible agents who, it is hoped, gradually come to discover a better way. He does this rather than risk their repudiating a loftier ethic — a moral overhaul — that they cannot even understand and for which they are not culturally or morally prepared. As Goldingay puts it: “God starts with his people where they are; if they cannot cope with his highest way, he carves out a lower one.”8 This kind of progression, as we shall see, is not biblical relativism, as some allege. Indeed, we see unchangeable biblical ideals highlighted from the very beginning of the Scriptures (Genesis 1:26,27; 2:24), which are reaffirmed throughout.

3. Mosaic law, Cuneiform law, and moral improvements

Collections of cuneiform law include the laws of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C., during the Third Dynasty of Ur); the laws of Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1925 B.C.), who ruled the Sumerian city of Isin; the (Akkadian) laws of Eshnunna (c. 1800 B.C.), a city 100 miles north of Babylon; the laws of Hammurabi (1750 B.C.); and the Hittite laws (1650–1200 B.C.) of Asia Minor.9 Despite parallels between these and Mosaic law codes and even certain improvements in ANE codes over time, some significant differences also exist. We have in the Mosaic law some genuine, previously unheard-of improvements.

Slaves in Israel, unlike their ANE contemporaries, were given radical, unprecedented legal/human rights — even if not equaling that of free persons. As the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s essay on “Slavery” observes, “We have in the Bible the first appeals in world literature to treat slaves as human beings for their own sake and not just in the interests of their masters.” By comparison, “the idea of a slave as exclusively the object of rights and as a person outside regular society was apparently alien to the laws of the ANE,” where slaves were forcibly branded or tattooed for identification. Indeed, in “contrast to many ancient doctrines, the Hebrew law was relatively mild toward the slaves and recognized them as human beings subject to defense from intolerable acts, although not to the same extent as free persons.”10

Another unique feature of the Mosaic Law is its condemnation of kidnapping a person to sell as a slave — an act punishable by death (Exodus 21:16; cp 1 Timothy 1:10). This is a point lost on, or ignored by, those who compare slavery in Israel to that in the antebellum South. While Israel was commanded to offer safe harbor to foreign runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15,16), Hammurabi demanded the death penalty for those helping runaway slaves(§16).

As an aside, some have alleged that Paul’s returning the runaway Onesimus to his alleged owner Philemon is a step backward toward Hammurabi. This is a false charge. For one thing, there is scholarly debate on the question of whether or not Onesimus was a slave. For one thing, there are no “flight” verbs in this letter, and this “runaway slave” interpretation did not emerge until the fourth century.

Moreover, Paul had declared that in Christ there is “neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28), and he elsewhere appeals to Christian masters — who have their own heavenly Master — to treat their slaves justly, impartially, and without threatening (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). And if slaves can gain their freedom (1 Corinthians 7:21), Paul encouraged this. Surely, this is dramatic departure from Hammurabi.

Hebrew (debt) slaves — which we could compare to indentured servanthood during the founding of America — were to be granted eventual release in the seventh year (Leviticus 25:35–43) — a notable improvement over other ANE law codes. This release was to be accompanied with generous provisions and a gracious spirit (Deuteronomy 15:9). The motivating reason? “[Y]ou were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deuteronomy 15:12–18, NASB11, esp. verse 15). Even if the poverty could not be eradicated, Deuteronomy 15’s overriding, “revolutionary” goal is that there be no debt slavery in the land at all (verses 4,11).12

Concerning the ANE’s inferior sexual morality, we are familiar with the condemnation of the Canaanite female and male cult prostitutes (cp. Genesis 38:15,22,23; Deuteronomy 23:17,18; also Hosea 4:14). Many ANE cuneiform laws, however, permitted activities that undermined family integrity and stability by allowing men to engage in adulterous relations with slaves and prostitutes. The laws of Lipit-Ishtar of Lower Mesopotamia (1930 B.C.) take for granted the practice of prostitution (e.g., ¶ 27,30). In Hittite law (1650–1500 B.C.), “If a father and son sleep with the same female slave or prostitute, it is not an offence.” (¶ 194)

Not only do we find morally inferior cuneiform legislation, but also its attendant harsh, ruthless punishments.

For certain crimes, Hammurabi mandated that tongue, breast, hand, or ear be cut off (§§ 192,194,195,205). Beside punishments such as cutting off noses and ears, ancient Egyptian law permitted the beating of criminals (for, say, perjury or libel) with between 100 and 200 strokes.13 Contrast this with Deuteronomy 25:1–3, which sets a limit of 40 strokes for a criminal.

What of Scripture’s emphasis on lex talionis — an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? First, except for capital punishment (“life for life”), these texts (Exodus 21:23–25; Leviticus 24:17–22; Deuteronomy 19:16–21), are not taken literally. Each example calls for (monetary) compensation, not bodily mutilation. Later in the New Testament (NT), referring to this language that was being used as a pretext for personal vengeance outside the lawcourts, Jesus himself did not take such language literally (Matthew 5:38,39) — no more than He took literally the language of plucking out eyes and cutting off hands if they lead to sin (Matthew 5:29,30). Second, this principle served as a useful guide for exacting proportional punishment and compensation; this was designed to prevent blood feuds and disproportionate retaliatory acts.

Additionally, the increased complexity and stringency of Mosaic regulations is a divine response to Israel’s disobedience. From the beginning, the earliest legislation (Exodus 21–23) was intended to be simple and much less harsh — comparable to patriarchal religion (cp. Jeremiah 7:2,3; Galatians 3:19,22). However, the greater stringency of the ensuing laws is the result of three things: (a) Israel’s refusal to approach God at the mountain as a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), instead sending Moses as their mediator; (b) Aaron’s failure as high priest in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32), resulting in a tightening of priestly restrictions (Exodus 35 through Leviticus 16); (c) the people’s worship of the goat idols (Leviticus 17:1–9), resulting in more severe laws for the community (Leviticus 17:10–26:46).14 Consider how a rebellious child will often need external rules, severe deadlines, and close supervision to hold him over until (hopefully) an internal moral change takes place. Rules, though a stop-gap measure, are hardly ideal.

Although the New Atheists belittle the Mosaic Law for its ruthless strictness, it is an accommodation to a morally undeveloped ANE cultural mindset — with significant ethical improvements — as well as a response to the rebellious, covenant-breaking propensity of the Israelites.

4. The Mosaic law, Israel’s history, and varying ethical demands

I have noted the shift from an ancestral wandering clan to a theocratic nation, then to a monarchy/institutional state/kingdom, an afflicted remnant, and finally a post-exilic community/assembly of promise. Each stage offers enduring moral insights — faithfulness/covenant-keeping, trusting in God, showing mercy. Our focus, though, is on the varying ethical demands on God’s people. For example, in the first stage, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are apolitical characters (except for Abram’s rescuing Lot in response to an invasion/raid [Genesis 14]). After Israel’s 400-year wait, including bondage in Egypt, until the sin of the Amorites reaches full measure (Genesis 15:16), they became a nation. This required land to inhabit. Yahweh fought on Israel’s behalf while bringing just judgment on an irredeemably Canaanite culture and religion that had sunk hopelessly below any hope of moral return — with the rare exception of Rahab and her family and the Gibeonites at the end of Joshua 9. As Leviticus 18:28 declares, the land would “spew out” its inhabitants, and Israel itself was subject to the same judgment.

“Holy warfare” is perhaps the most emotionally charged point raised by the New Atheists. It is primarily located in the second stage — and not throughout Israel’s OT history. So let me offer a few comments here. First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh’s explicit command. Yahweh issued His unique command in light of a morally sufficient reason — the intractable wickedness of Canaanite culture and the moral and spiritual danger it posed.

Second, as I argue elsewhere,15 we have strong archaeological evidence that the targeted Canaanite cities such as Jericho and Ai were not population centers with women and children, but military forts or garrisons that protected noncombatant civilians in the hill country — namely, soldiers and political/military leaders — although occasionally female tavern keepers (e.g., Rahab) could be found in these citadels. Indeed, the terms “city” (‘ir) and “king” (melek) were typically used in Canaan during this period to refer, respectively, to “fortress/garrison” and “military leader.” In addition, Jericho probably had about 100 or fewer soldiers in this outpost (which is why the Israelites could encircle it seven times in one day and then do battle against it). So if Jericho was a fort, then “all” those killed therein were warriors — Rahab and her family being the exceptional noncombatants dwelling within this militarized camp. The same applies throughout the Book of Joshua. Moreover, the attacks on cities were more like “disabling raids,” not acts of utter decimation, as Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen argues: “these campaigns were essentially disabling raids: they were not territorial conquests with instant Hebrew occupation. The text is very clear about this.”16

Third, the “obliteration language” in Joshua (e.g., “he left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” [Joshua 10:40, NASB]) and in early Judges is clearly hyperbolic — another stock feature of ANE language. Consider how, despite such language, the latter part of Joshua itself (along with Judges 1) assumes plenty of Canaanites still inhabit the land (e.g., Joshua 23:12,13).

Fourth, the biblical language of the Canaanite “utter destruction” is identical to that of Judah’s destruction in the Babylonian exile. So utter annihilation or even genocide is completely inaccurate. Indeed, God threatened to “vomit” out Israel from the land just as he had vomited out the Canaanites (Leviticus 18:25,28; 20:22). In the Babylonian invasion of Judah (sixth-century B.C.), God threatened to “lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (Jeremiah 9:11). Indeed, God said, “I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin” (Jeremiah 25:9, NASB). God “threatened to stretch out My hand against you and destroy you” (Jeremiah 15:6, NASB; cp. Ezekiel 5:16) — to bring “disaster” against Judah (Jeremiah 6:19). In Isaiah 43:28, the Lord uses this term herem (“[consignment to the] ban”) in an exaggerated fashion: “So I will pollute the princes of the sanctuary, and I will consign Jacob to the ban and Israel to revilement” (NASB). The biblical text, supported by archaeological discovery, suggests that while Judah’s political and religious structures were ruined and that Judahites died in the conflict, the urban elite were deported to Babylon while many “poor of the land” remained behind to inhabit the towns of Judah. Clearly, Judah’s being “completely destroyed” and made an “everlasting ruin” (Jeremiah 25:9) was a significant literary exaggeration — which reinforces our point about the Canaanite “destruction.”

In Deuteronomy 7:2–5, we see from that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves.17

What of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15? Were they totally destroyed? Apart from keeping animals and king Agag alive, Saul said he had obeyed God (verse 20). What’s more, at the end of the book David is fighting an army of Amalekites, and over 400 soldiers escaped (30:17). Clearly, no “total destruction” was in view. The same is true of the Midianites in Numbers 31. After the seduction of Israel by Midian, “every male” Midianite was killed (verse 7). Is this literal? Not at all. We see in Judges 6:5 tells us that the Midianites (and their camels) were too numerous to count.

Fifth, we should take seriously the numerous references of “driving out” the Canaanites (e.g., Exodus 23:28; Leviticus 18:24; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 6:19; 7:1; 9:4; 18:12; Joshua 10:28, 30,32,35,37,39; 11:11,14) or “dispossessing” them of their land (Numbers 21:32; Deuteronomy 12:2; 19:1; etc.). We then read in Joshua of repeated affirmations that Joshua did all that Moses commanded (Joshua 11:12,14,15,20). But if he did so, and many Canaanite survivors remained, then clearly Moses did not intend this to be literal either.

Sixth, God’s difficult command regarding the Canaanites as a limited, unique salvation-historical situation is in some ways comparable to God’s difficult command to Abraham in Genesis 22. Yet, we should no more look to the divinely mandated attack on Canaanites as a universal ideal for international military engagement than we should look to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as a timeless standard for “family values.” Behind both of these hard commands, however, is the clear context of Yahweh’s loving intentions and faithful promises. In the first place, God had given Abraham the miracle child Isaac, through whom God promised to make Abraham the father of many. Previously, he saw God’s provision when he reluctantly let Ishmael and Hagar go into the wilderness — with God reassuring Abraham that Ishmael would become a great nation. Likewise, Abraham knew that God would somehow fulfill His covenant promises through Isaac — even if it meant that God would raise him from the dead. Thus Abraham informed his servants, “we will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5 [NRSV18]; cp. Hebrews 11:19).

With the second harsh command regarding the Canaanites, Yahweh has already promised to bring blessing to all the families of the earth without exclusion (Genesis 12:1–3; 22:17,18) and desires to include Israel’s most-hated enemies in this blessing (e.g., Isaiah 19:25). This should be set against the background of Yahweh’s enemy-loving character (Matthew 5:43–48; cp. Exodus 34:6) and worldwide salvific purposes. In both cases, we have a good, promise-making God who has morally sufficient reasons for issuing these commands.

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