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Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?


Back to Article[1]. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 248.

Back to Article[2]. Ibid., 242.

Back to Article[3]. Ibid., 243.

Back to Article[4]. Ibid., 247.

Back to Article[5]. Ibid., 241.

Back to Article[6]. Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), 206.

Back to Article[7]. Ibid., 265.

Back to Article[8]. Ibid., 267.

Back to Article[9]. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
(New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007), 101.

Back to Article[10]. Ibid., 102.

Back to Article[11]. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), ix.

Back to Article[12]. Ibid., 8.

Back to Article[13]. Sam Harris, The End of Faith (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 18.

Back to Article[14]. Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 18-19.

Back to Article[15]. Ibid., 23.

Back to Article[16]. Ibid., 24.

Back to Article[17]. John Barton, Ethics and the Old Testament (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 7. See Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 125, where he notes that there is no "clear-cut answer" on how to do biblical ethics.

Back to Article[18]. Bruce C. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 36.

Back to Article[19]. See Paul Copan, "That's Just Your Interpretation" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001); "How Do You Know You're Not Wrong?" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006); When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Practical Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008). I have begun writing more extensively on OT ethics in a forthcoming book.

Back to Article[20]. An example of such an approach is Walter C. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993). Noted in Robin Parry, Old Testament Story and Christian Ethics: The Rape of Dinah as a Case Study (Bletchly, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 61; see also comments by J. Gary Millar, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 28-9.

Back to Article[21]. John H. Sailhamer makes this point in The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993); Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995); at a popular level, see his NIV Compact Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

Back to Article[22]. Gerhard von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, trans. D. M. G. Stalker, Studies in Biblical Theology 9 (London: SCM, 1953), 11-24.

Back to Article[23]. Rifat Sonsino, Motive Clauses in Hebrew Law: Biblical Forms and Near Eastern Parallels (Chico, CA: Scholars, 1975), 174; he notes the "relative scarcity of motive clauses in cuneiform laws" in contrast to the "greater frequency in biblical legislation" (173).

Back to Article[24]. Christopher J. H. Wright, "The People of God and the State in the Old Testament," Themelios 16 (1990): 5-6.

Back to Article[25]. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper SF, 1996), 295; see also Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), chap. 5.

Back to Article[26]. Richard A. Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007).

Back to Article[27]. Craig Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001); Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 258.

Back to Article[28]. John Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics: Approaches and Explorations (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003). See also John Goldingay, Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981), chap. 2. J. W. Rogerson prefers "natural morality" to the more philosophically developed term "natural law." See his "Old Testament Ethics," in Text in Context, ed. A. D. H. Mayes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 117-18.

Back to Article[29]. Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 680.

Back to Article[30]. Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), chap. 3. See also David Damrosch, The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), chap. 6.

Back to Article[31]. In the narrative of Neh. 13:1-3, this passage is alluded to, but it serves the identical purpose when the Mosaic Law had been given-namely, when there was a danger of spiritual/theological compromise. But this hardly amounted to ethnic hatred. For instance, Ruth-from Moab-voluntarily identifies herself with Yahweh and his people; we could also point to Rahab from Jericho, who embraces Yahweh as her own. There was no theological reason to exclude them from Israel's covenant community.

Back to Article[32]. J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 70-81.

Back to Article[33]. Eckart Otto, Theologische Ethik des Alten Testaments (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1994).

Back to Article[34]. John Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics: Approaches and Explorations (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 71.

Back to Article[35]. Ibid., 73

Back to Article[36]. See Daniel Block, "Will the Real Gideon Please Stand Up? Narrative Style and Intention in Judges 6-9," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997): 353-66. Block (with Gordon Wenham following [Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narratives Ethically (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 119-27]) notes that the following characteristics call into question Gideon's effectiveness as Israel's deliverer: (a) his cynicism (6:13); (b) his demand for a sign (6:17); (c) the Baal shrine at the family house (6:25; the father calls him Jerubbaal-"let Baal prove himself to be great"-a name a worshiper of Baal would give to his child to honor the deity [6:32]); (d) his fanatical pro-Baal neighbors (6:30), (e) his reluctance to fight Midian despite being clothed with the Spirit (7:9-10); ( f ) his continued fear (7:9-10); (g) his appeal to the tribes to attack Midian when victory had been promised to the three hundred (7:7, 23); (h) the nonmention of Yahweh's involvement in chapter 8, except in flippant asides (8:7, 19, 23); (i) his ruthlessness towards Succoth and Penuel (8:16-17); ( j) his vendetta against Zebah and Zalmunna (8:19); and (k) his demand that his young son slay them (8:20-1). We could add that after his victory, he makes Baal-berith, the god of Shechem, the god for Israel (8:33). He also takes a Canaanite concubine. The ephod he makes sounds very much like the snare of the golden calf (8:27). However, in all this, we can be heartened by God's using frail human beings to bring about His purposes.

Regarding Solomon, the biblical narrator uses irony concerning Solomon's leadership as from the outset of his reign he violates the three Deuteronomistic prohibitions for the king (Deut. 17:14-20): marrying Pharaoh's daughter (1 Kings 3:1) and other foreign wives (11:1-8); accumulating (chariot) horses (10:26); accumulating silver and gold (10:27). By marrying Pharaoh's daughter and making an alliance with Egypt, he further violates the Deuteronomistic warning to avoid any dealings with Egypt (Deut. 17:16). Finally, he also worships at the high places (3:2-4) even though the tabernacle is in Jerusalem. See J. Daniel Hays, "Has the Narrator Come to Praise Solomon or to Bury Him? Narrative Subtlety in 1 Kings 1-11" Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28 (2003): 149-74.

Back to Article[37]. Goldingay, Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation, 63-4.

Back to Article[38]. Bruce C. Birch, "Old Testament Ethics," in The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible, ed. Leo G. Purdue (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 297.

Back to Article[39]. Note too that common ANE worship patterns-sacrifices, priesthood, holy mountains/places, festivals, purification rites, rituals-are found in the Law of Moses. Yahweh, however, takes traditional worship forms familiar to Israel and infuses them with new meaning and significance in light of his salvation-historical acts and covenant relationship with Israel. See Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).

Back to Article[40]. Alden Thompson, Who's Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 33.

Back to Article[41]. Ibid., 32.

Back to Article[42]. Ibid., 33-42.

Back to Article[43]. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down, 43.

Back to Article[44]. John Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), chap. 5.

Back to Article[45]. Some comments here taken from Joe M. Sprinkle, Biblical Law and Its Relevance (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004), chap. 3.

Back to Article[46]. Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 21-4, 65-7: "Proverbs' similarity to pagan literature is part and parcel of Scripture's incarnation within its historical milieu. Its theological significance does not depend on the originality of its individual sentences or sayings any more than the theological significance of the so-called Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23) rests on the originality of its individual commandments" (66). Waltke notes how Proverbs utilizes general revelation (various Egyptian wisdom sayings), but Proverbs names the covenant God who can be known and in whom true wisdom is anchored (66).

Back to Article[47]. Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 22-37.

Back to Article[48]. Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics, 168. Barton adds that the OT is unique in that death penalty for murder applies regardless of the status or nationality of the victim.

Back to Article[49]. Christopher J. H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995), 124.

Back to Article[50]. Muhammad A. Dandamayev, "Slavery (Old Testament)," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 65.

Back to Article[51]. All references to ANE legal texts are taken from William W. Hallo, ed., The Context of Scripture, vol. 2, Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (Leiden: Brill, 2003); Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Scholars, 1997). A fine summary about crimes and punishments related to women is Elisabeth Meier Tetlow, Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society, vol. 1, The Ancient Near East (New York: Continuum 2004).

Back to Article[52]. The Code of Hammurabi also makes provision for manumission. Some of my discussion here is taken from William J. Webb, "A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic," in Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005).

Back to Article[53]. Gordon McConville, Grace in the End: A Study in Deuteronomic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 148.

Back to Article[54]. Hittite law did not, however, permit sexual relations with a cow or sheep or pig or dog (¶¶187, 188, 199).

Back to Article[55]. Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 33.

Back to Article[56]. Parry, Old Testament Story, 68.

Back to Article[57]. On the surface, Deuteronomy 25:11-12 appears to suggest that a woman's hand must be cut off if she seizes the genitals of the man who is in a fight with her husband. If such a reading is correct, it would be the only biblical instance of punishment by mutilation; such would be the penalty, not simply for acting shamefully and humiliating the man, but also for her permanently damaging the man's private parts such that he could never father children (thus, P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976], 315-16). However, a more plausible interpretation comes from Jerome T. Walsh.  He makes an excellent case for depilation-"you shall shave [the hair of] her groin"-not mutilation. For instance the word translated "hand" here is kaph-the "palm" of a hand or some rounded concavity such as a dish, bowl, or spoon or even the arch of a foot-rather than the commonly-used yad ("hand").  To "cut off" a "palm"-as opposed to a hand-would be quite odd.  Furthermore, the verb qasas in the intensified piel form (ten occurrences) is rightly translated "cut off" or "[physically] sever."  However, here qasas appears in the milder qal form. Three other OT occurrences of qasas in the qal form mean "cut/shave [hair]." In our case, this would be the open concave region of the groin, and thus a shaving of pubic hair-a punishment of public humiliation not unusual in the ANE. (This form of humiliation is implied in 1 Sam. 10:4-5 [where "beards" is probably a euphemism for pubic hair]; cp. Isa. 3:17; 20:4; 20:4; Ezek. 16:37). Thus, the talionic punishment is public sexual humiliation (of the woman) for public sexual humiliation (of the man). See "You Shall Cut Off Her . . . Palm? A Reexamination of Deuteronomy 25:11-12," Journal of Semitic Studies 49 (2004): 47-8; also, Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 476-80.

Back to Article[58]. Tetlow, Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society, 12-13, 96-7, 136.

Back to Article[59]. David Lorton, "The Treatment of Criminals in Ancient Egypt," in The Treatment of Criminals in the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 1-64; see e.g., 25.

Back to Article[60]The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, ed. Donald B. Redford, s.v. "Crime and Punishment" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:318.

Back to Article[61]. Johannes Renger, "Wrongdoing and Its Sanctions: On 'Criminal' and 'Civil' Law in the Old Babylonian Period," in The Treatment of Criminals in the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 72; see also Christopher J. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 310.

Back to Article[62]. Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 93.

Back to Article[63]. Tacitus Annals 3.27 (or "laws were most numerous when the Republic was most corrupt").

Back to Article[64]. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 46-59; see also Sailhamer, Introduction to Theology, 272-89.

Back to Article[65]. Chart adapted from Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 47.

Back to Article[66]. This section slightly adapts from Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament, chap. 3.

Back to Article[67]. Gordon Wenham, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 137.

Back to Article[68]. Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 474-5; Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 149.

Back to Article[69]. Charles Taliaferro, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998), 317.

Back to Article[70]. Goldingay, Theological Diversity, 85. Goldingay goes on to talk about the next stage of the judges and monarchy: "being an institutional state means that God starts with his people where they are; if they cannot cope with his highest way, he carves out a lower one. When they do not respond to the spirit of Yahweh or when all sorts of spirits lead them into anarchy, he provides them with the institutional safeguard of earthly rulers" (86).

Back to Article[71]. Goldingay, Theological Diversity, chap. 5.

Back to Article[72]. Keeping and doing Yahweh's commandments is "your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?" (Deut. 4:5-8).

Back to Article[73]. Wenham, Story as Torah, 80. Some comments below taken from Wenham.

Back to Article[74]. Other male-favoring double standards exist: Males can initiate divorce, not women (Deut. 24:1-4; this changes in the NT [e.g., Mark 10:12; 1 Cor. 7:10-13]); women were expected to be virgins on their wedding day, though not necessarily men (Deut. 22:13-19).

Back to Article[75]. Wenham, Story as Torah, 86.

Back to Article[76]. E.g., Lamech (Gen. 4:19-24); Abraham's taking Hagar; Jacob.

Back to Article[77]. Wenham, Story as Torah, 86-7.

Back to Article[78]. Ibid., 104; Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics, 29-30; see also Parry, Old Testament Story, 65-6.

Back to Article[79]. Cp. Judah's hypocritical infidelity (Gen. 38:20-3); Job's covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1; cp. 31:10); Mal. 2:16.

Back to Article[80]. William J. Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 41-3. Another example of such a progression is from the death penalty for sexually promiscuous acts for OT Israel to the parallel of excommunication from the church in the NT (1 Cor. 5:1-3) (Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, 42-3).

Back to Article[81]. Goldingay, Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation, 60.

Back to Article[82]. Webb makes this point in his Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.

Back to Article[83]. McConville, Grace in the End, 148-9.

Back to Article[84]. Christopher Wright, "Response to Gordon McConville," in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig Bartholomew, et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 283. See Wright's fuller explanation in this chapter.

Back to Article[85]. Parry, Old Testament Story, 68.

Back to Article[86]. Gordon McConville, "Old Testament Laws and Canonical Intentionality," in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig Bartholomew, et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 263.

Back to Article[87]. Wenham, Story as Torah, 81. Interestingly, the last commandment of the Decalogue ("You shall not covet") directs our ethical perspective in the direction of the heart's dispositions and intentions-beyond property/theft laws.

Back to Article[88]. Goldingay, Theological Diversity, 163.

Back to Article[89]. Ibid., 153-4.

Back to Article[90]. Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 678-84.

Back to Article[91]. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down, 131.

Back to Article[92]. Wright, Old Testament Ethics, 300. Wright uses a three-fold paradigmatic approach to ethics-namely, the theological (God), the social (Israel), and the economic (land).

Back to Article[93]. Mignon R. Jacobs, "Toward an Old Testament Theology Concern for the Underprivileged," in Reading the Hebrew Bible for the New Millennium: Form, Concept, and Theological Perspective, vol. 1, Theological and Hermeneutical Studies, Studies in Antiquity and Christianity, ed. Wonil Kim, et al. (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000), 205-29.

Back to Article[94]. N. T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 181.

Back to Article[95]. Parry, Old Testament Story, 78.

Back to Article[96]. Goldingay points out that the OT tension of God's revealed ideals in the midst of fallen human culture is instructive for Christians who find themselves in the already/not-yet tensions of a realized eschatology (Approaches to Old Testament Interpretation, 62).

Back to Article[97]. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 132-3.

Back to Article[98]. Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 2003), 34.

Back to Article[99]. Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004); Jonathan Hill, What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? How It Shaped the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005); Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great about Christianity? (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 2007); and Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason (New York: Random House, 2006).

Back to Article[100]. Michael Foster, "The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the Rise of Modern Science," Mind 43 (1934): 446-68; "Christian Theology and the Rise of Modern Science," part 1, Mind 44 (1935): 439-83, and part 2, Mind 45 (1936): 1-27; Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1988); Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Christopher Kaiser, Creation and the History of Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981); A. R. Hall, The Scientific Revolution, 1500-1800: The Formation of the Modern Scientific Attitude (Boston: Beacon, 1954).

Back to Article[101]. Paul Davies, Are We Alone? (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 96.

Back to Article[102]. Dinesh D'Souza, "Atheism, Not Religion, Is the Real Force Behind the Mass Murders of History," Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 2007, (accessed Nov. 25, 2007).

Back to Article[103]. I have attempted to make such a case: Paul Copan, "The Moral Argument," in The Rationality of Theism, ed. Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser (London: Routledge, 2003); "The Moral Argument," in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Chad Meister and Paul Copan (London: Routledge, 2007); "The Moral Argument," in Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007). See also John M. Rist, Real Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Gordon Graham, Evil and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Robert M. Adams, Infinite and Finite Goods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Back to Article[104]. See Os Guinness and John Seel, No God But God (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Back to Article[105]. See, e.g., R. T. France, "Old Testament Prophecy and the Future of Israel: A Study of the Teaching of Jesus," Tyndale Bulletin 26 (1975): 53-78; Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004).

Back to Article[106]. I am grateful for the suggestions and comments of an anonymous referee, which helped strengthen-and lengthen!-this essay.

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