Biblical Genocide: The “Depravity” of Sin (Part 4)

In focus are common apologetic defenses of biblical genocide commanded by Yahweh, the Supreme deity of the ancient Hebrews.

Part 3 – Genocide, the Problem of Canaanite Children, and Collateral Damage
Part 5 – Reprobate Culture

An apologetic defense of Yahweh commanding the genocide of the Canaanites tribes in the land of Canaan is that moderners (contemporary twenty-first-century readers) do not fully understand the depravity of sin. According to Paul Copan,

“We sensitized Westerners wonder why God gets so angry with Israel. Why all the judgment and wrath? Why does the Old Testament seem so undemocratic? … Perhaps we need to be more open to the fact that some of our moral intuitions aren’t as finely tuned as they ought to be. The same may apply to our thoughts about what God should or shouldn’t have done in Canaan” (1).

Copan continues,

“Maybe the ideal ‘God’ in the Westerner’s mind is just too nice. We’ve lost sight of good and just while focusing on nice, tame, and manageable. We’ve ignored sternness and severity (which make us squirm), latching on to our own ideals of comfort and convenience. We’ve gotten rid of the God who presents a cosmic authority problem and substituted controllable gods of our own devising. We’ve focused on divine love at the expense of God’s anger at what ultimately destroys us or undermines our fundamental well-being” (2).

Copan is arguing that human beings have domesticated and tamed God to render God more palatable but they do so on fallible intuitions. This is true to an extent as one does discover a tendency to make God palatable (or made in their own human “image”). Indisputably, human intuitions are fallible otherwise they would probably be omniscient and perfect in knowledge. This argument is challenged because it does not justify behavior that violates those moral intuitions, whether the human mind is fallible or not.

Copan’s argument to lessen the impact of the divinely commanded genocide in the biblical texts is because “our moral intuitions aren’t as finely tuned as they ought to be” must be rejected. It is surely obvious on moral grounds that genocide is a moral evil. One does not need a perfectly functioning intuition, moral or other, to correctly hold this view, which is that exterminating an entire civilian population from infants to the elderly is wrong. Further, the biblical texts provide the reasons why the Hebrews are to engage in the extermination of the Canaanite tribes. Philosopher and theologian Wesley Morriston offers the following explanation,

“The OT texts themselves have quite a bit to say about what God’s reasons were [for the slaughter of the Canaanites]. So it will not be sufficient to make a blanket appeal to the transcendence of God and the cognitive limitations of human beings, arguing that—for all we know—God may have had reasons for issuing these commands that are too complicated or mysterious for us to understand. The reasons actually given in the relevant OT texts are not all that complicated or mysterious, and they will have to be defended” (3)


1. Copan, Paul. 2011. Is God a Moral Monster? Baker Books. p. 192.

2. Copan, Paul. 2011. Ibid. p. 192-193.

3. Morriston, Wesley. 2009. “Did God Command Genocide? A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist”. Philosophia Christi 11(1): 7-26. p. 9.



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