Does the Bible Advocate Genocide?

I’m really impressed with this new book by Michael J. Kruger. Through a series of letters to his daughter Emma, Kruger explores 15 big issues that can sometimes trip up Christian young people. Chapter 14 deals with this question: “Some Parts of the Bible Seem Morally Troubling — How Can a Book Be from God If It Advocates Oppression or Genocide?” Atheists and other skeptics love to hurl that one in the face of Christians. God tells the Israelites to slaughter all these Canaanite peoples — how can that be moral? Let me just share part of Kruger’s answer:

If we are going to rightly understand the destruction of the Canaanites, several principles must be remembered. First, every human being on the planet deserves God’s judgment, not just the Canaanites. Right now, all humans everywhere — from the kind old lady who lives next door to the hardened criminal on death row — are deeply sinful…

…So what does this mean? This means that, at any moment, God could take the life of any human as judgment for his or her sins. And he would be totally justified in doing so. God owes salvation to no one…

God uses a variety of instruments to accomplish his judgment. Sure, God could just miraculously take all the lives of the Canaanites in a single instance. But he has a history of using various means to bring judgment. Throughout Scripture, such means have included natural disasters, disease and pestilence, drought, economic collapse, and, yes, even human armies. At numerous times throughout biblical history, God “raises up” a human army to accomplish his purposes. And in the Canaanite conquest, God used the nation of Israel as his instrument of judgment.

It is here that we come to a key difference between the Canaanite conquest and modern-day genocide. Yes, both involve great loss of life. And both involve human armies. But the former is done as an instrument of God’s righteous judgment, whereas the latter is humans murdering others for their own purposes. On the surface, there may be similarities. But they are decidedly not the same act.

An example might help. Imagine a scenario in which one human injects another human with a deadly toxin, causing that person to die. Is that murder? Well, it depends. If this were done by a criminal who wanted to knock off a rival, then the answer would be yes. But if this were done by an official at a federal prison who was authorized by the state to administer lethal injection, then the answer would be no. On the surface, the two acts might look the same. But everything comes down to whether the taking of life is properly authorized. The issue is not whether a life is taken but how and why it is taken.

Surviving Religion 101, pp.211-213

I hope to write a proper review next week. But for now, I can highly recommend it!

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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