Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide

Stanley Gundry (ed.) Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, 2003 Zondervan

The Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to kill the entire inhabitants of Canaan, man, woman and child, trouble many Christians. It is an issue that Christians find so embarassing that they tend not to write or comment about it. In this book four Evangelical scholars discuss these passages and offer theological perspectives on them.

While there are four essays here, fundamentally, there are basically two views. CS Cowles believes that the passages in which God commands genocide are uninspired, while the other three writers believe they are, as difficult as that might seem. Cowles argues "A God of love wouldn't do that," while the other three writers say "But the Bible says He did." I don't think Cowles ever gets to grips with the problem his views present to Biblical inspiration. He argues that we should see Scripture as Christ-centred and make His ministry and teaching central to our hermeneutic. The problem is that Jesus grounded his teaching in the Old Testament and based His authority in it. To undermine Scripture, is to undermine Christ. Furthermore, once we strip out these passages, where do we stop? I imagine those who reject the genocide passages will have a problem with Noah's flood. Maybe they might also have a difficulty with God commanding animal sacrifices; all those poor animals slaughtered. An Old Testament to their taste might be rather short.

The other three writers disagree among themselves as to how to relate the concept of holy war to the New Testament. Eugene Merrill, arguing from Dispensationalist presuppositions, holds that the holy war concept played a specific part in Israel's historical position and has no relevance to Christians today. While Gard and Longman do not see the need for Christians to fight a comparable holy war today, they feel that these passages must have some spiritual relevance today. Daniel Gard argues that the genocide passages echoe God's eschatological judgement on the wicked, while Tremper Longman argues that they can be related to spiritual warfare themes in Scripture. I think on the whole, Longman's essay is the best argued.

This is perhaps a bewildering problem, but we must keep in mind that if Jesus didn't have a problem with those passages, (and Cowles can find no word of His to prove He did) we should not.

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