Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Canaanite babies

i) Some Christian apologists defend the OT holy war commands by appealing to universal infant salvation. I'm skeptical about that postulate. However, it's pretty speculative either way. Certainly Calvinism has the internal resources to make that possible.

Keep in mind that denying universal infant salvation doesn't preclude God from saving some Canaanite babies. It's not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. (I'm using "babies" to cover anyone below the age of reason.)

ii) One objection to this appeal is that it's ad hoc. It superimposes on the texts something that isn't even hinted at. I'd like to comment on that objection.

iii) To begin with, suppose God planned to save Canaanite babies through the retroactive merit of the atonement. Would we expect Deuteronomy to say babies are saved by Jesus dying on the cross? Clearly that would be quite anachronistic. Indeed, it would be unintelligible to readers in the 2nd millennium BC. 

iv) In addition, the retroactive merit of the atonement is the way anyone was saved before the death of Christ. That's the way all OT saints were saved. To suggest that that's how Canaanite babies were saved is not carving out a special exception in their case. It's not concocting a mechanism just for them. Rather, that's a general principle.

v) In considering the silence of Scripture regarding the eternal fate of Canaanite babies, that silence isn't confined to them. What do the holy war commands say about the eternal fate of Jewish soldiers who die in battle? Precisely nothing. The holy war passages don't speak to that issue in reference to anyone. Not just Canaanite babies, but Jewish combatants. But surely some Jewish soldiers were devout Jews. Surely some of them were heavenbound. 

Indeed, it's a bit surprising that doesn't offer Jewish soldiers any hope beyond the grave. Perhaps that's to discourage belief that death in battle is a ticket to heaven.  

There are some OT texts that explicitly or implicitly teach the afterlife. But they don't figure in the conquest narratives or the holy war commands. So I don't think the silence of Scripture regarding the eternal fate of Canaanite babies is prejudicial. If so, that would be equally prejudicial to Jewish combatants who perish in holy war.

vi) Finally, there's nothing about Canaanite babies qua babies that essentially distinguishes them from other dying babies. So there's no antecedent reason, that I can see, why God would save non-Canaanite babies but not save Canaanite babies. 


  1. Steve, are there distinctions between "age of reason," "age of discretion" and "age of accountability" in your thinking? Many Christians use those terms interchangeably but I'm not sure they should be used as synonyms.

    1. Age of reason/discretion have specific reference to a certain cognitive threshold. That has a different nuance than the question of guilt–although they can be interrelated.