Saturday, July 13, 2019

Did God command genocide?

Genocide is the act of attempting to destroy a specific racial, cultural, and/religious identity. 
8:36 AM - 12 Jul 2019

Aaron Taylor
So would ordering all the Amalekites to be killed be classified as a call for genocide?

Yes. That's an instance of genocide by legal definition, as is the destruction of the tribes in Deuteronomy 20.
10:14 AM - 12 Jul 2019

i) Of course, somebody can always define a word a certain way, then say something in Scripture falls under that definition. That, however, says nothing about Scripture but how the word was defined. You could redefine "banana" to mean "God," then say that Christians worship a banana. 

ii) It's not as if we're required to submit to someone's tendentious or stipulative definition of "genocide". I didn't vote on that. I reserve the right to disregard tendentious definitions. You're not entitled to make me accept your definitions. 

iii) The definition is equivocal because the same word is used to denote three different concepts. It would be clearer to use a different word for each concept. 

iv) It becomes a loaded question. As defined, God commanded genocide in one respect but not another. Yet the word itself doesn't draw those distinctions–it's the same word for all three concepts. It is therefore inaccurate, even if you accept that definition, to say God commanded genocide–inasmuch as the definition is only partially true in regard to Scripture. The definition bundles together three different concepts. But it would be inaccurate to affirm the semantic bundle in regard to Scripture.

v) In addition, it means the odious connotations of one concept tar a different concept by association. Even assuming that it's intrinsically wrong to destroy a specific racial identity, there are situations where attempting to destroy a specific cultural or religious identity is praiseworthy. Take religions or cultures that practice human sacrifice, child sacrifice, torturing war captives, burning widows, honor killings, gang rape, sodomy, pederasty, female genital mutilation, &c. It isn't wrong to destroy those cultural and/or religious markers. To the contrary, their destruction makes the world a better place. 

vi) Notice that the definition doesn't say "violently" or "forcibly" destroy. But that would mean an intellectual critique of a specific cultural or religious identity is genocidal. That the attempt to discredit ideas through rational analysis is "genocide", even though there's nothing coercive about that exercise. 

vii) Suppose (voluntary) interracial mating became the norm. That would destroy specific racial identities. That might not be the intent, but it would have that side-effect. Does that mean interracial mating is genocidal? 


  1. Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan deal with his arguments in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, specifically Chapters 4-10 that deal with Hyperbolic language found in Eastern War documents and rhetoric.

  2. > "the odious connotations of one concept tar a different concept by association"

    This is the main thing going on. There's a vast difference between the Creator exercising his just rights to bring righteous judgment upon his own creatures, and the sort of thing we're talking about normally when human beings commit genocide. To bring those two things under the same label for polemical purpose is really just playing word games.

    1. I agree with Steve and you. How would you advise dealing with this in a public debate? -- the unbeliever could make a lot of debate points when exploiting this issue.

    2. I've discussed this on multiple occasions, but to be brief:

      i) Because human beings are social creatures, the innocent often suffer when the guilty are punished. That's unavoidable given how human lives are interconnected.

      The alternative is to never punish the guilty. But that would harm the innocent as well.

      ii) Sooner or later everyone dies one way or the other, including many children. To the extent that there's a theodical issue here, it's not that some children die by divine command rather than by divine providence, but human mortality in general. In other words, it goes to the problem of evil. It doesn't present a special problem, over and above the problem of evil. If we have theodicies that address the problem of evil, those are applicable to moral objections to OT holy war.

      iii) In addition, many atheist thinks admit that naturalism can't justify moral realism. So they can't raise moral objections to OT holy war.

  3. ISIS is a religious culture. I have no problem seeing it removed from the world. Is that "genocide"?

  4. "Four (or more) Steps to Making Sense of Biblical Violence"

    "The first point is to follow Augustine’s principle that Scripture must always be read so as to increase one’s love of God and neighbor. As a result, if a particular reading leads a person to dehumanize members of the human population, that’s a good reason to reconsider your reading."

    Too bad it's been shown Rauser's idea of neighbor-love isn't the same as the Bible's idea of neighbor-love.

    "Second, make sure that your hermeneutical lodestar is the Christ revealed in the Gospels, the one who declared, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” the one who called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us."

    1. I don't know what Rauser means by saying Jesus is supposed to be our "hermeneutical lodestar". What about the GHM as our hermenutical lodestar?

    2. Rauser's idea of who Jesus is isn't the same as the Jesus of the Gospels and NT. For example, Rauser subscribes to kenotic Christology.

    "Third, recognize that your most deep-seated moral intuitions are an important guide in exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological reflection. Are those intuitions fallible? Yes, of course. But then, all of our reasoning is fallible: we are human, after all. The fact remains, however, that our moral intuitions provide important guides as we weight the viability of particular readings. Thus, the visceral recoil from some hermeneutical and ethical proposals provides us, at the very least, with a prima facie reason to reconsider those proposals."

    1. Not everyone's moral intuitions are necessarily reliable guides. The moral intuitions of a psychopath or serial killer aren't reliable guides.

    2. The Bible itself warns us that our moral intuitions aren't always reliable guides, viz. original sin, the noetic effects of sin, the deceitfulness of the heart, the desires of the flesh.