Violence in the scriptures


Violence in the scriptures

Summary: Several people have become concerned with how to understand ancient practices and stories of the Old and New Testament and their ethical implications. These questions have received a lot of attention from Christian apologists and other biblical scholars for hundreds of years. These articles help address these stories and practices in light of the Restored Gospel.

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Question: How can one approach reconciling confusing, seemingly disturbing, or otherwise troubling texts from the scriptures?

Read it in context

The scriptures contain a lot that we cannot understand at first without a lot of context. Biblical scholars have, for many decades, been trying to understand the original context of each of the Bible’s pericopes in order to understand God’s will with each verse. We advise readers to see this article in order to understand context. Once read in context, many passages that seem confusing now can be clarified with additional insights that highlight symbology, progress compared to contemporary civilizations, etc.

Read it holistically

When one can read the scriptures holistically, that is, noting everything that they have to say on a certain topic, the theology can make greater sense and one can know all that God has currently revealed on any given topic.

Description vs. Prescription

It should be noted and remembered that just because something is described in Scripture that such behavior may not always be prescribed. Readers should be careful to read the scriptures with this in mind. Just because the scriptures record something that is strange, offensive, or repulsive, does not mean that the scriptures are stating that someone ought to act similarly. It has been pointed out that some things mentioned in scripture are just the author pointing to examples of bad behavior that one need not follow (1 Cor. 10:1-12).

Adopt a solid hermeneutic

The bible has been read many ways by scholars over a long period of time. Hermeneutics are the general frameworks that people read the scriptures with in order to process information from it. Some readers process the bible very literally, historically accurate, always morally sound, etc. Others read the scriptures as interesting literature only and don’t have very set beliefs on anything regarding revelation and how it works. For our purposes, we will suggest one hermeneutic to read the scriptures (and the bible in particular). This we will do by looking at modern revelation and combining the views of two scholars of the bible: Paul Copan and Kenton Sparks. The two men actually hold views that are close to each other, yet Sparks stands a part from Copan in that—where Copan affirms that God was behind the inspiration of these less-than-ideal laws, Sparks sees no way to provide a “full-orbed, detailed explanation” to trace things back to God.[1] However both men affirm that the Old Testament contains less than ideal circumstances and that scripture does have a redemptive move to it. The author would agree with both men in that the Old Testament does move beyond its morally inferior context in sometimes startling ways, but that because they are less than ideal, they can stand in need of redemption—of Christ’s redeeming power.

First, modern revelation. We suggest readers see our discussion of the nature of revelation here.

Paul Copan on incremental steps for hardened hearts

The Law of Moses: Inferior and Provisional

On Palm Sunday in 1865, the brilliant Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to the tenacious, gritty Northern general Ulysses S. Grant—sometimes called “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. This day at the Appomattox Court House was the decisive end to a costly war. Well over six hundred thousand men were killed in the Civil War—2 percent of the United States’ population—and three million fought in it.

Despite the North’s victory, the Emancipation Proclamation that preceded it (January 1, 1863), and the attempt at Reconstruction in the South, many whites did not change their mind-set in regard to blacks. As a nation, we’ve found that proclamations and civil rights legislations may be law, but such legalities don’t eradicate racial prejudice from human minds. A good deal of time was required to make significant headway in the pursuit of racial justice.

Let’s switch gears. Imagine a Western nation or representatives from the West who think it best to export democracy to, say, Saudi Arabia. Think of the obstacles to overcome! A radical change of mind-set would be required, and simply changing laws wouldn’t alter the thinking in Saudi Arabia. In fact, you could probably imagine large-scale cultural opposition to such changes. When we journey back over the millennia into the ancient Near East, we enter a world that is foreign to us in many ways. Life in the ancient Near East wouldn’t just be alien to us—with all of its strange ways and assumptions. We would also see a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall. Within this context, God raised up a covenant nation and gave the people laws to live by; he helped to create a culture for them. In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures. As we’ll see with regard to servitude, punishments, and other structures, a range of regulations and statutes in Israel reveals a God who accommodates. Yet contrary to the common Neo-atheists’ caricatures, these laws weren’t the permanent, divine ideal for all persons everywhere. God informed his people that a new, enduring covenant would be necessary (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). By the Old Testament’s own admission, the Mosaic law was inferior and future looking. Does that mean that God’s ideals turn up only in the New Testament? No, the ideals are established at the very beginning (Gen. 1–2). The Old Testament makes clear that all humans are God’s image-bearers; they have dignity, worth, and moral responsibility. And God’s ideal for marriage is a one-flesh monogamous union between husband and wife. Also, certain prohibitions in the law of Moses against theft, adultery, murder, and idolatry have enduring relevance. Yet when we look at God’s dealings with fallen humans in the ancient Near East, these ideals were ignored and even deeply distorted. So God was at work in seeking to restore or move toward this ideal.

We know that many products on the market have a built-in, planned obsolescence. They’re designed for the short-term; they’re not intended to be long-lasting and permanent. The same goes for the law of Moses: it was never intended to be enduring. It looked forward to a new covenant (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). It’s not that the Mosaic law was bad and therefore needed to be replaced. The law was good (Rom. 7:12), but it was a temporary measure that was less than was less than ideal; it was in need of replacement and fulfillment.

Though a necessary part of God’s unfolding plan, the Sinai legislation wasn’t God’s final word. As the biblical scholar N. T. Wright affirms, “The Torah [law of Moses at Sinai] is given for a specific period of time, and is then set aside—not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished.”[2] This is the message of the New Testament book of Hebrews: the old Mosaic law and other Old Testament institutions and figures like Moses and Joshua were prefiguring “shadows” that would give way to “substance” and completion. Or as Paul put it in Galatians 3:24, the law was a “tutor” for Israel to prepare the way for Christ.

Incremental Steps toward the Ideal

How then did God address the patriarchal structures, primogeniture (rights of the firstborn), polygamy, warfare, servitude/slavery, and a number of other fallen social arrangements that were permitted because of the hardness of human hearts? He met Israel partway. As Jesus stated it in Matthew 19:8, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” We could apply this passage to many problematic structures within the ancient Near Eastern context: “Because of your hardness of “heart Moses permitted servitude and patriarchy and warfare and the like, but from the beginning it has not been this way.” They were not ideal and universal.

After God invited all Israelites—male and female, young and old—to be a nation of priests to God, he gave them a simple covenant code (Exod. 20:22– 23:19). Following on the heels of this legislation, Israel rebelled against God in the golden calf incident (Exod. 32). High priests would also have their own rebellion by participating in deviant, idolatrous worship (Lev. 10). As a result of Israel’s turning from God, he gave them more stringent laws (Jer. 7; cf. Gal. 3:19). In the New Testament, Paul assumes that God had been putting up with inferior, less-than-ideal societal structures and human disobedience:

• Acts 17:30: Previously, God “overlooked the times of ignorance” and is “now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.”

• Romans 3:25: God has now “demonstrate[d] His righteousness” in Christ, though “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”

Like two sides of the same coin, we have human hard-heartedness and divine forbearance. God put up with many aspects of human fallenness and adjusted accordingly. So Christopher Hitchens’s reaction to Mosaic laws (“we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human animals”) actually points us in the right direction in two ways. First, the Mosaic law was temporary and, as a whole, isn’t universal and binding upon all humans or all cultures. Second, Mosaic times were indeed “crude” and “uncultured” in many ways. So Sinai legislation makes a number of moral improvements without completely overhauling ancient Near Eastern social structures and assumptions. God “works with” Israel as he finds her. He meets his people where they are while seeking to show them a higher ideal in the context of ancient Near Eastern life. As one writer puts it, “If human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the ‘better way’ must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand.”[3] Given certain fixed assumptions in the ancient Near East, God didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for. He moved incrementally. As stated repeatedly in the Old Testament and reinforced in the New Testament, the law of Moses was far from ideal. Being the practical God he is, Yahweh (the Old Testament title for the covenant-making God) met his people where they were, but he didn’t want to leave them there. God didn’t banish all fallen, flawed, ingrained social structures when Israel wasn’t ready to handle the ideals. Taking into account the actual, God encoded more feasible laws, though he directed his people toward moral improvement. He condescended by giving Israel a jumping-off place, pointing them to a better path.

As we move through the Scriptures, we witness a moral advance—or, in many ways, a movement toward restoring the Genesis ideals. In fact, Israel’s laws reveal dramatic moral improvements over the practices of the other ancient Near Eastern peoples. God’s act of incrementally “humanizing” ancient Near Eastern structures for Israel meant diminished harshness and an elevated status of debt-servants, even if certain negative customs weren’t fully eliminated.[4]

So when we read in Joshua 10:22–27 that Joshua killed five Canaanite kings and hung their corpses on trees all day, we don’t have to explain away or justify such a practice. Such actions reflect a less morally refined condition. Yet these sorts of texts remind us that, in the unfolding of his purposes, God can use heroes such as Joshua within their context and work out his redemptive purposes despite them. And, as we’ll see later on, warfare accounts in Joshua are actually quite tame in comparison to the barbarity of other ancient Near Eastern accounts.

So rather than looking at Scripture from a post-Enlightenment critique (which, as we’ll see later, is itself rooted in the Christian influence on Western culture), we can observe that Scripture itself acknowledges the inferiority of certain Old Testament standards. The Old Testament offers national Israel various resources to guide them regarding what is morally ideal. God’s legislation is given to a less morally mature culture that has imbibed the morally inferior attitudes and sinful practices of the ancient Near East.

Note too that common ancient Near Eastern worship patterns and rituals—sacrifices, priesthood, holy mountains/places, festivals, purification rites, circumcision—are found in the law of Moses. For example, we find in Hittite law a sheep being substituted for a man.[5] In his providence, God appropriated certain symbols and rituals familiar to Israel and infused them with new meaning and significance in light of his saving, historical acts and his covenant relationship with Israel.[6] This “redemption” of ancient rituals and patterns and their incorporation into Israel’s own story reflect common human longings to connect with “the sacred” or “the transcendent” or to find grace and forgiveness. In God’s historical redemption of Israel and later with the coming of Christ, the Lamb of God, these kinds of rituals and symbols were fulfilled in history and were put in proper perspective. Instead of glossing over some of the inferior moral attitudes and practices we encounter in the Old Testament, we should freely acknowledge them. We can point out that they fall short of the ideals of Genesis 1–2 and affirm with our critics that we don’t have to advocate such practices for all societies. We can also show that any of the objectionable practices we find in the Old Testament have a contrary witness in the Old Testament as well.[7]

The Redemptive Movement of Scripture

The Old Testament’s laws exhibit a redemptive movement within Scripture. It’s easy to get stuck on this or that isolated verse—all the while failing to see the underlying redemptive spirit and movement of Scripture that unfold and progress. For example, William Webb’s book Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals[8] unpacks this “redemptive-movement” perspective found in Scripture. The contrast is the static interpretation that rigidly “parks” at certain texts without considering the larger movement of Scripture. Some people might ask, “Is this some sort of relativistic idea—that certain laws were right for Old Testament Israel but now there’s another standard that’s right for us?” Not at all! Keep in mind the following thoughts we’ve already touched on:

• God’s ultimate ideals regarding human equality and dignity as well as the creational standard of marriage made their appearance at the very beginning (Gen. 1–2).

• The ancient Near East displays a deviation from these ideals in fallen social structures and human hard-heartedness.

• Incremental steps are given to Old Testament Israel that tolerate certain moral deficiencies but encourage Israel to strive higher.

So the Old Testament isn’t affirming relativism—that was true in the Old Testament but not in the New Testament. God’s ideals were already in place at creation, but God accommodated himself to human hard-heartedness and fallen social structures. Half a loaf is better than none—something we take for granted in the give-and-take of the political process in the West. In other words, the idea that you can make progress toward the ideal, even if you can’t get there all at once, is a far cry from relativism. Rather, your eye is still set on the ideal, and you’re incrementally moving toward it, but the practicalities of life “on the ground” make it difficult to implement the ideal all at once. Likewise, the Sinai laws were moving in the right direction even if certain setbacks remained.


Israel’s History: Differing Stages, Different Demands

Israel’s story involves a number of stages or contexts.[9]

Stage #1: Ancestral wandering clan (mishpachah): Genesis 10:31–32

Stage #2: Theocratic people/nation (‘am, goy): Genesis 12:2; Exodus 1:9; 3:7; Judges 2:20

Stage #3: Monarchy, institutional state, or kingdom (mamlakah, malkut): 1 Samuel 24:20; 1 Chronicles 28:5

Stage #4: Afflicted remnant (she’erit): Jeremiah 42:4; Ezekiel 5:10

Stage #5: Postexilic community/assembly of promise (qahal): Ezra 2:64; Nehemiah 13:1

With these differing contexts come differing ethical demands. Each new situation calls for differing ethical responses or obligations corresponding to them. Don’t get the wrong idea, however. It’s not as though this view advocates “situation ethics”—that in some situations, say, adultery is wrong, but in other situations it might be the "loving thing to do". Rather, the Old Testament supplies us with plenty of permanent moral insights from each of these stages. So during the wandering clan stage, we gain enduring insights about commitments of mutual love and concern as well as the importance of reconciliation in overcoming conflict. The patriarchs trusted in a covenant-making God; this God called for full trust as he guided them through difficult, unforeseeable circumstances. And during Israel’s theocratic stage, an enduring insight is the need to acknowledge that all blessings and prosperity come from God’s hand—that they aren’t a right but a gift of grace. The proper response is gratitude and living holy lives in keeping with Israel’s calling.

Again, what we’re emphasizing is far from moral relativism; it’s just that along with these historical changes came differing ethical challenges. During the wandering clan stage, for instance, Abraham and the other patriarchs had only accidental or exceptional political involvements. And even when Abraham had to rescue Lot after a raid (Gen. 14), he refused to profit from political benefactors. Through a covenant-bond, Yahweh was the vulnerable patriarchs’ protector and supplier. After this, Israel had to wait 430 years and undergo bondage in Egypt until the bag of Amorite sins was filled to the point of bursting (Gen. 15:16). God certainly didn’t act hastily against the Canaanites! God delivered Israel out of slavery, providing a place for her to live and making her a political entity, a history-making nation. A theocracy was then formed with its own religious, social, and political environment.

To acquire land to live as a theocracy and eventually to pave the way for a coming Redeemer-Messiah, warfare (as a form of judgment on fully ripened sin) was involved. God used Israel to neutralize Canaanite military strongholds and drive out a people who were morally and spiritually corrupt—beyond redemption. The Canaanites had sunk below the hope of moral return, although God wouldn’t turn away those who recognized God’s justice and his power in delivering Israel from Egypt (such as Rahab and her family). This settling of the land was a situation quite different from the wandering clan stage, and it required a different response.

Later, when many of God’s people were exiled in Babylon, they were required to handle this situation differently than in the previous theocratic stage. They were to build gardens, settle down, have children, and pray for the welfare of Babylon—the very enemy that had displaced them by carrying them into exile (Jer. 29:4–7). Israel’s obligations and relationship to Gentile nations hardly remained fixed or static.[10]

Kenton Sparks on recognizing that scripture is in need of redemption and not immune from criticism

What we face, I think, is the ethical difficulty I mentioned earlier in passing: the problem of scripture is the problem of evil. Just as God's good and beautiful creation stands in need of redemption, so

Scripture -as God's word written within and in relation to that creation, by finite and fallen humans -stands in need of redemption. Scripture does more than witness explicitly to the fallenness of the created order and humanity. Scripture is implicitly, in itself, a product of and evidence for the fallen world that it describes.


Given what we have said so far, I would join other scholars in suggesting that a robust doctrine of Scripture should not presume that "the text is immune from criticism."[11]


Both humanity and Scripture are God's good works and serve a role in his redemptive work. And though this is true, both are marred by the effects of the Fall. The presence in Scripture of this distortion no more compromises its status as God's word than the distortion in humanity compromises its status as God's creation. The Fall's effect on humanity and Scripture remind us that both stand in need of redemption. In each case, we must render thoughtful judgments about where they are rightly ordered and where they reflect the Fall's disordering effects. When we make these judgments about Scripture, true, we follow the admonition of Augustine, who long ago taught that:

Anything in the divine writings that cannot be referred either to good, honest morals, or to the truth of the faith, you must know is said allegorically.... Those things ... which appear to the inexperienced to be sinful, and which are ascribed to God, or to men whose holiness is put before us as an example, are wholly allegorical, and the hidden kernel of meaning they contain is to be picked out as food for the nourishment of charity.[12]
While I do not fully agree with Augustine's allegorical solution, I very much agree with his sense of the problem. Scripture's natural meaning sometimes runs contrary to the Gospel and, where it does, begs for a hermeneutical explanation. Unlike Augustine, I would attribute these theological tensions to the fact that the Bible is both sacred and broken, which reflects God's choice to sanctify the broken, human voices of Scripture as his divine word.[13][14]

It should be mentioned that "broken" in Sparks' view is labeling what he sees as the identification of things in scripture that absolutely cannot be traced back to God in any sense. The author does agree with Sparks that it is not immune from criticism. "Broken", though, to the author of this article, is seen better as recognizing the following that makes up the suggested hermeneutic:

  1. A fallen world, morally inferior context in which certain laws are given.
  2. Laws that rise above the fallen and morally inferior context (and with it a need to read the scriptures contextually and holistically).
  3. A redemptive move from inferior to better moral law with differing historical contexts that called for differing needs.
  4. Because of less-than-ideal laws, a need for redemption and fulfillment in Christ. Also, since less then ideal, the laws don't remain entirely immune from criticism. Though they do deserve our careful attention including a contextual reading that helps us how they fulfill #2.
  5. Christ’s atonement that covered the sins of all of fallen mankind. God tolerated the fallen structures and hard-heartedness of the Israelites while promising to one day make a new heart of them. Because God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16; Doctrine and Covenants 1:21), and because these passages do not fully accord with the law of love, the Savior, through an act of grace, was needed to atone for the the sin of the Israelites. Thus the Savior can become part of the Latter-day Saint solution to the so-called Old Testament problem.

It’s the author’s belief that this hermeneutic shouldn’t be troubling to Latter-day Saints who have traditionally understood the law of Moses to be a “lesser” law. This understanding may deepen with continued study of the scriptures and the moral questions associated with some confusing (and sometimes very troubling if not properly understood) passages. This hermeneutic allows us to both believe in the inspiration of all scripture while also recognizing and acknowledging the fallen aspects of it.

Question: How can one reconcile scriptures in the Bible that appear to endorse genocide, pillage, and/or plunder?

There are many lenses that we should view the text through in order to see this picture accurately

This is the hardest moral question to answer about the Bible. Biblical scholars have dealt with the “Canaanite question” for many, many years. It goes back to the early Christian fathers such as Gregory of Nazianus[15] that dealt with reconciling the image of the conquest with the God of the New Testament. This article will attempt to succinctly detail the main points of reconciliation for this criticism. It will be written from the preferred perspective of the author but it will also provide an additional way of viewing the conquest that is consistent with the biblical and archaeological data. It should be considered among all perspectives on supposed “genocide” in the Old Testament. Before reading this article, we recommend readers see our article that addresses reading these passages and particularly the hermeneutic suggested to approaching them. This article will deal with the question in five parts

  1. Cultural – How did the Israelites view these texts when they wrote them? What sort of language would they employ to depict this scene?
  2. Archaeological – What do we see from archaeology as it regards the Canaanites? Were the cities torn down and is there evidence that such large amounts of death occurred?
  3. Moral – Were the Canaanites really that wicked? Does God actually poor out wrath such as this on people? What did the Israelites intend to do? Was what they intended to do correct?
  4. Additional Considerations – Wrapping up with particulars about the Canaanites
  5. Helpful tidbits – little bits of information that usually go unnoticed by critics.

We’ll turn to a wider array of scholars to address this question. Virtually all scholars are agreed on the general considerations of questions 1 and 2. Question 3 is where the real divergency takes place.

What’s the story?

The story that the criticism stems from takes up a major part of the Old Testament. The “Conquest Narrative” has parts that go from Numbers to Judges. The main narrative is summarized in its entirety in Joshua and is explained in this excellent video from the Bible Project. They introduce the general narrative and the concern over “genocide”.

We’ll dive into the points made in the video in a little more detail.

Cultural Lense

War was a cultural reality for Israel and members of the ancient near east. It was a fight or die situation for many of them. Most of Israel's battles were fought on the defensive. It has been pointed out that Israel defended against the Amalekites who attacked them while traveling (Exodus 17:8) and that the Canaanite king of Arad attacked and captured some of the Israelites (Numbers 21:1); Israel countered the efforts of the Midiantes to lead them away from Yahweh through sexual transgression and idolatry (Numbers 25,31) Sihon refused peace offers from Israel and attacked them (Deuteronomy 2, Numbers 21), and so on. By this moment in Israel’s history, they had become a theocratic people-nation that wanted to continue to show their counterparts their faith in Yahweh and his sovereignty as the only true God. The Canaanite command came at this unique part of history where war was their reality. God was giving a specific command for a specific purpose. The picture that we get from the whole of the biblical text tells a story of gradual infiltration, strategizing, victory here and there, and so on.

As initial groundwork for understanding this picture, we need to understand what the Israelites thought of these texts as they wrote them. Did they intend the text to be literal? How would they have understood them? How did God “speak unto them according to their language that they might come to understanding?” (2 Nephi 31:3). Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan give an answer to this, which summarizes the view of “most scholars generally”—that the Canaanite account contains “hagiographic hyperbole”:

The basic idea is that the accounts of Israel’s early battles in Canaan are narrated in a particular style, which is not intended to be literal in all of its details and contains a lot of hyperbole, formulaic language and literary expressions for rhetorical effect. We argue in our book that the evidence both from within the Bible and from other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts supports this conclusion.[16]

Paul Copan elaborated more in a different book:

Most Christians read Joshua’s conquest stories with the backdrop of Sunday school lessons via flannel graph or children’s illustrated Bible stories. The impression that’s left is a black-and-white rendition of a literal crush, kill, and destroy mission. A closer look at the biblical text reveals a lot more nuance—and a lot less bloodshed. In short, the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.

Like his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries[17], Joshua used the language of conventional warfare rhetoric. This language sounds like bragging and exaggeration to our ears. Notice first the sweeping language in Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Joshua used the rhetorical bravado language of his day, asserting that all the land was captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed (cf. 10:40–42; 11:16–23: “Joshua took the whole land . . . and gave . . . it for an inheritance to Israel”). Yet, as we will see, Joshua himself acknowledged that this wasn’t literally so.
Scholars readily agree that Judges is literarily linked to Joshua. Yet the early chapters of Judges (which, incidentally, repeat the death of Joshua) show that the task of taking over the land was far from complete. In Judges 2:3, God says, “I will not drive them out before you.” Earlier, Judges 1:21“21, 27–28 asserted that “[they] did not drive out the Jebusites”; “[they] did not take possession”; “they did not drive them out completely.” These nations remained “to this day” (Judg. 1:21). The peoples who had apparently been wiped out reappear in the story. Many Canaanite inhabitants simply stuck around. Some might accuse Joshua of being misleading or of getting it wrong. Not at all. He was speaking the language that everyone in his day would have understood. Rather than trying to deceive, Joshua was just saying he had fairly well trounced the enemy. On the one hand, Joshua says, “There were no Anakim left in the land” (Josh. 11:22); indeed, they were “utterly destroyed [haram]” in the hill country (11:21). Literally? Not according to the very same Joshua! In fact, Caleb later asked permission to drive out the Anakites from the hill country (14:12–15; cf. 15:13–19). Again, Joshua wasn’t being deceptive. Given the use of ancient Near Eastern hyperbole, he could say without contradiction that nations “remain among you”; he went on to warn Israel not to mention, swear by, serve, or bow down to their gods (Josh. 23:7, 12–13; cf. 15:63; 16:10; 17:13; Judg. 2:10–13). Again, though the land “had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23), chapters 13 and beyond tell us that much territory remained unpossessed (13:1). Tribe upon tribe failed to drive out the Canaanites (13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13, 18), and Joshua tells seven of the tribes, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (18:3). Furthermore, God told the Israelites that the process of driving out the Canaanites would be a gradual one, as Deuteronomy 7:22 anticipated and as Judges 2:20–23 reaffirmed. Whatever the reason behind Israel’s failure to drive them out—whether disobedience and/or God’s slow-but-sure approach—we’re still told by Joshua in sweeping terms that Israel wiped out all of the Canaanites. Just as we might say that a sports team “blew their opponents away” or “slaughtered” or “annihilated” them, the author (editor) likewise followed the rhetoric of his day.
Joshua’s conventional warfare rhetoric was common in many other ancient Near Eastern military accounts in the second and first millennia BC. The language is typically exaggerated and full of bravado, depicting total devastation. The knowing ancient Near Eastern reader recognized this as hyperbole; the accounts weren’t understood to be literally true.[18] This language, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen observes, has misled many Old Testament scholars in their assessments of the book of Joshua; some have concluded that the language of wholesale slaughter and total occupation—which didn’t (from all other indications) actually take place—proves that these accounts are falsehoods. But ancient Near Eastern accounts readily used “utterly/completely destroy” and other obliteration language even when the event didn’t literally happen that way. Let’s now return to the Old Testament text to press this point further. It’s true that Joshua 9–12 utilizes the typical ancient Near Eastern literary devices for warfare. But at the book’s end, Joshua matter-of-factly assumes the continued existence of Canaanite peoples that could pose a threat to Israel. He warns Israel against idolatry and getting entangled in their ways: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (Josh. 23:12–13). You get the idea.
Earlier in Deuteronomy 7:2–5, we find a similar tension. On the one hand, God tells Israel that they should “defeat” and “utterly destroy [haram]” the Canaanites (v. 2)—a holy consecration to destruction. On the other hand, he immediately goes on to say in the very next verses:

Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away “from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you. But thus, you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim [figures of Asherah, who was the Canaanite goddess of sexuality/sensuality], and burn their graven images with fire. (vv. 3–5)

If the Canaanites were to be completely obliterated, why this discussion about intermarriage or treaties? The final verse emphasizes that the ultimate issue was religious: Israel was to destroy altars, images, and sacred pillars. In other words, destroying Canaanite religion was more important than destroying Canaanite people.[19] This point was made earlier in Exodus 34:12–13: “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim.” In Deuteronomy 12:2–3, we read the same emphasis on destroying Canaanite religion: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. As Gary Millar writes, the concern of this destruction (herem) was “to see Israel established in a land purged of Canaanite idolatry as painlessly as possible.” The goal was to “remove what is subject to [herem] laws (the idols).” The root of the dilemma Israel faced wasn’t “the people themselves, but their idolatrous way of life.” Failure to remove the idolatry would put Israel in the position of the Canaanites and their idols before God. Israel would risk being consecrated to destruction. [20]

Even so, the Israelites didn’t do an effective job removing the snare of idolatry from the land (Ps. 106:34–35). Many of the Canaanites, as already noted, were still around “until this day,” and many of them became forced laborers in Israel (Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13; Judg. 1:19, 21, 27–35).[21]

So the first points that we can make are that

  • The language is not literally tied to all men, women, and children as can be seen by simply reading the entire narrative holistically.
  • The language is aimed at getting Canaanite religion and driving the people out. Evidence of this is the command to not intermarry or make treaties with the Canaanites after the battles. This is reinforced by the “sending of the wasp before you to drive them out”. Indeed, by the time that the Israelites arrived, most people would have fled before the judgement of God.
  • Large populations are left alive as is made clear by the end of the Book of Joshua and the beginning of the Book of Judges.
  • The language is typical of other ancient near eastern cultures

This general pattern of “incapacitation” and “driving out” is reinforced by the narrative of Judah later on in the Bible. An additional note on language is that the Hebrew term “haram” usually translated as “utterly destroy” is better translated as “remove completely. This reinforces the theme of “driving them out”, including their religion, and not “extermination”. That seems to be how Nephi interprets the story (more below).


We started with Culture and Language because it informs the archaeology on the issue. Indeed, there is a paucity of archaeological evidence to support the widespread, instantaneous, crush, kill, destroy, massacre that some critics and other uninformed people make. This should not be troubling though as the science should inform our theology (D&C 88: 77-79). Peter Enns summarized:

As I argue (along with biblical scholars in general) in The Bible Tells Me So, the hyperbolic nature of Israel’s accounts combined with the extremely unfavorable archaeological evidence for a conquest of any sort suggests that “the conquest” didn’t happen. The biblical accounts reflect later storytelling of perhaps ancient battles and tribal tensions (which may or may not have involved early Israelites.)[22]

The only point of disagreement for the author here is that the conquest “didn’t happen”. There is indeed evidence of destruction at this time in Israel’s history. Just not a lot.[23] Latter-day Saint Biblical Scholars David Rolph Seely, Dana Pike, and Richard Holzapfel summarized the theories that have stemmed from the paucity of archaeological evidence and also offer some valid pushback on them.Their rejections of the theories are disregarded but their summary of some of the archaeological evidence in favor of the conquest is informative:

It has become common among biblical scholars to downplay, if not eliminate all together, the biblical account of a large number of Israelite “outsiders” conquering Canaan as the explanations for the origins of the Israelites. Those who accept that at least a small group of people managed to escape Egyptian bondage and flee to Canaan see this groups’ experience as becoming normative for a much larger and diverse population that eventually became known as “Israel.” More extreme views deny that any outsiders from Egypt played a role in the formation of Israel in Canaan. Such view denies the historical value of the Old Testament, a position that is not warranted.

Based on archaeological evidence, the most common alternative theories explaining Israelite origins in Canaan are the “infiltration” theory, that mitigating pastoralists peacefully and gradually coalesced in the highlands of Canaan, and the theory of “internal emergence,” that the Israelites were really displaced Canaanites who, for various reasons, broke off from the city-state system and established themselves in the highlands. But neither of these latter theories explains the unique national account of Egyptian bondage contained in the Bible. Nor do scholars with such views generally accept the biblical depiction of Israelites as a covenant people in some ways distinct from others in the region. Rather, they propose a development of Israelite identify and practices that eventually differentiated them from others in the region. While there may well be portions of the Israelite population that arose in ways other than what the Bible depicts, the general biblical account is given primacy in this volume… One major reason for these alternative proposals is the challenge of matching the biblical account of the conquest with the current results of archaeological excavations in Israel. For example, most archaeologists accept the existence of a walled city at Jericho in the Middle Bronze II period (ending about 1550 B.C.), but suggest there were no walls and little or no population at Jericho during the 1200s, the period in which we think the Bible places Joshua’s conquest (a few archaeologists do suggest the Middle Bronze Age walls were standing in the 1200s). If one accepts that situation, then how does one interpret the narrative about conquering Jericho?

Similarly, archaeologists think the city of Ai was uninhabited in the 1200s. A different situation exists for cities like Lachish, Shechem, and Hazor. For example, the book of Joshua claims the Israelites “burnt Hazor with fire” (Josh 11:11). Excavators did find evidence that Hazor was destroyed about 1230 B.C., including a thick layer of ash resulting from a massive fire. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know from this evidence who was responsible for this destruction, whether Israelites, the Sea Peoples, or some other group. So even when archaeological evidence as is currently available and interpreted matches the basic account of Joshua—sometimes it does, sometimes it does not—the physical evidence alone is not conclusive as a testimony of the validity of biblical claims.

One set of data that indicated change at the end of the Late Bronze Age (1200 B.C.) is the evidence of a large increase in the number of small, unwalled settlements in the central hill country of Canaan that attest several new architectural features Some scholars see this as evidence of the emergence of Israel in the land. While this seems likely, such evidence still only tells us someone arrived, not who. This evidence does correlate well with the biblical depiction of where the Israelites settled and with the Merneptah inscription, which indicates a “people” named Israel lived in the land (see Inscription: The Merneptah Stela, page 150). Also, in a literary vein, the book of Joshua shares similar styles and claims (as well as some differences) with most ancient Near Eastern texts describing military victories.[24]

It should be noted that this volume was published in 2003 and since then archaeological evidence has still not given the amount of support to a literal interpretation of the entire biblical account but the evidence they cite to push against some of the ideas still stand.

Jeffrey Bradshaw makes similar points about archaeology (following the majority of biblical scholars) here.

Other scholars have made some intriguing discoveries regarding archaeology:

Scholar Paul Copan has made similar points about the archaeology as those made by Holzapfel, Seely, and Pike and summarized why it is difficult to pin some things down:

With its mention of gradual infiltration and occupation (Josh. 13:1–7; 16:10; 17:12), the biblical text leads us to expect what archaeology has confirmed—namely, that widespread destruction of cities didn’t take place and that gradual assimilation did.35 Only three cities (citadels or fortresses, as we’ve seen) were burned—Jericho, Ai, and Hazor (Josh. 6:24; 8:28; 11:13). All tangible aspects of the Canaanites’ culture—buildings and homes—would have remained very much intact (cf. Deut. 6:10–11: “cities which you did not build”). This makes a lot of sense if Israel was to settle down in the same region—a lot less clean-up!

Furthermore, if we had lived back in Israel in the Late Bronze Age (1400–1200 BC) and looked at an Israelite and a Canaanite standing next to each other, we wouldn’t have detected any noticeable differences between them; they would have been virtually indistinguishable in dress, homes, tableware, pottery, and even language (cf. 2 Kings 18:26, 28; Isa. 19:18). This shouldn’t be all that surprising, as the Egyptian influence on both these peoples was quite strong.

What’s more, Israel itself wasn’t a pure race. For example, Joseph married an Egyptian woman, Asenath, who gave birth to Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. 41:50); a “mixed multitude” came out of Egypt with them (Exod. 12:23; Num. 11:4); and other Gentiles like Rahab could be readily incorporated into Israel by intermarrying if they were willing to embrace the God of Israel. So how might Israelites distinguish themselves? Typically, by identifying their tribal or village and regional connections—for example, “Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite”(Judg. 3:15), “Izban of Bethlehem” (Judg. 12:8), “Elon the Zebulunite” (Judg. 12:11). On the religious front, again, the Scriptures lead us to expect what archaeology supports. Yes, like the Canaanites, the Israelites sacrificed, had priests, burned incense, and worshiped at a “shrine” (the tabernacle). And though the Israelites were called to remain distinct in their moral behavior, theology, and worship, they were often ensnared by the immorality and idolatry of the Canaanite peoples. For example, Israel mimicked the Phoenicians’ notorious practice of ritual infant sacrifice to the Baals and Asherahs and to Molech (e.g., 2 Kings 23:10; cf. Lev. 18:21; Deut. 18:10). However, archaeologists have discovered that by 1000 BC (during the Iron Age), Canaanites were no longer an identifiable entity in Israel. (I’m assuming that the exodus from Egypt took place sometime in the thirteenth century BC.)36 Around this time also, Israelites were worshiping a national God, whose dominant personal name was Yahweh (“the Lord”). An additional significant change from the Late Bronze to Iron Age was that town shrines in Canaan had been abandoned but not relocated elsewhere—say, to the hill villages. This suggests that a new people with a distinct theological bent had migrated here, had gradually occupied the territory, and had eventually become dominant.

We could point to a well-supported parallel scenario in the ancient Near East. The same kind of gradual infiltration took place by the Amorites, who had moved into Babylonia decades before 2000 BC. (Hammurabi himself was an Amorite who ruled Babylon.) They eventually occupied and controlled key cities and exerted political influence, which is attested by changes in many personal names in the literature and inscriptions. Babylonia’s culture didn’t change in its buildings, clothing, and ceramics, but a significant social shift took place. Likewise, we see the same gradual transition taking place in Canaan based on the same kinds of evidence archaeologists typically utilize. We’re reminded once again to avoid simplistic Sunday school versions of how Canaan came to be occupied by Israel.[25]

Moral Lense

We started with Culture/Language and Archaeology because they both now set the stage for the discussion of the morality of the conquest. This is the real point of divergency amongst scholars. Our summary of the issue so far includes several things:

  • The language is not literally tied to all men, women, and children as can be seen by simply reading the entire narrative holistically.
  • The language is aimed at getting Canaanite religion and driving the people out. Evidence of this is the command to not intermarry or make treaties with the Canaanites after the battles. This is reinforced by the “sending of the wasp before you to drive them out”. Indeed, by the time that the Israelites arrived, most people would have fled before the judgement of God.
  • Large populations are left alive as is made clear by the end of the Book of Joshua and the beginning of the Book of Judges.
  • The language is typical of other ancient near eastern cultures
  • The word translated as “utterly destroy”, Herem, is directed only at cities with combatants like the military encampments of Jericho, Ai, and so forth..
  • There is a general lack of archaeological evidence for the slash and burn type of conquest that is commonly depicted and instead one of gradual infiltration
  • Archaeology confirms what we learn from the biblical record.

But now the question has to be asked, were the Canaanites really that wicked? Does God actually poor out wrath such as this on people? What did the Israelites intend to do? Was what they intended to do correct? These questions are now examined.

We should probably first start with what the scriptures say about God’s wrath. Indeed the scriptures affirm many times that God’s wrath can be pored out on people for their wickedness. But only if they are actually wicked. So, was Canaan actually wicked? Paul Copan summarizes the verses that touch on it within the Bible and the basic history:

Were the Canaanites That Wicked? According to the biblical text, Yahweh was willing to wait about 430 years because the “sin of the Amorite [a Canaanite people group] has not yet reached its limit” (Gen 15:16 NET). In other words, in Abraham’s day, the time wasn’t ripe for judgement on the Canaanites; the moment wasn’t right for them to be driven out and for the land to “vomit them out” (Lev. 18:25 NET). Sodom and Gormorrah, on the other hand, were ready; not even ten righteous people could be found there (Genesis 18-19). Even earlier, at the time of Noah, humans had similarly hit moral rock bottom (Gen 6:11-13). Despite 120 years of Noah’s preaching (Gen 6:3; cf. 5:32; 7:6; 2 Peter 2:5), no one outside his family listened; his contemporaries were also ripe for judgement. But it was only after Israel’s lengthy enslavement in Egypt that the time was finally ripe for the Israelites to enter Canaan—“because of the wickedness of these nations” (Deut 9:4-5). [. . .] What kind of wickedness are we talking about? We’re familiar with the line, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In the case of the Canaanites, the Canaanites’ moral apples didn’t fall far from the tree of their pantheon of immoral gods and goddesses. So it the Canaanite deites engaged in incest, then it is not surprising that incest wasn’t treated as a serious moral wrong among the Canaanite people. As we’ve seen adultery (temple sex), bestiality, homosexual acts (also temple sex), and child sacrifice were also permitted (cf. Lev, 18:20-30). Humans are “imaging” beings, designed to reflect the likeness and glory of their Creator. If we worship[ the creaturely rather than the Creator, we’ll come to resemble or image the idols of our own devising and that in which we place our security.[26]The sexual acts of the gods and goddesses were imitated by the Canaanites high places, the more this would stimulate the fertility god Baal to have sex with his consort, Anath, which meant more semen (rain) produced to water the earth. Let’s add to this the bloodlust and violence of the Canaanite deities. Anath, the patroness of both sex and war, reminds us of the bloodthirsty goddess Kali of Hinduism, who drank her victim’s blood and sat surrounded by corpses; she is commonly depicted with a garland of skulls around her neck. The late archaeologist William Albright describes the Canaanite deity Anath’s massacre in the following gory scene:

“The blood was so deep that she waded in it up to her knees—nay, up to her heck. Under her feet were human heads, above her human hands flew like locusts. In her sensuous delight she decorated herself with suspended heads while she attached hands to her girdle. Her joy at the butchery is described in even more sadistic language. “Her liver swelled with laughter, her heart was full of joy, the liver of Anath (was full of) exultation(?)” Afterwards Anath “was satisfied and washed her hands in human gore before proceeding to other occupations[27]

Nephi also affirms that the Canaanites were wicked and that they were driven out by the Israelites:

32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. 33 And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. 34 Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.

35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.

The next question is about the purpose of the conquest. What does it actually accomplish then? Why the command in the first place? We’ve already established their wickedness. But the conquest narrative goes a bit deeper. The narrative is about taking possession of the land so that God’s people obtain their promise from him and rule as his people. It is this war over who holds reign in the common cosmological vision. Thus the need, in the view of Matthew Flanagan, John Walton, Paul Copan, John Goldingay, and others to destroy Canaanite religion instead of Canaanite people. If the Israelites could begin and end a cosmic war, then Israel could prepare the way for the Gospel to come to that land. The conquest also had the benefit of preventing oppression of the Israelites by Canaan after they had spent several years under the autocratic slavery of the Egyptians.

Does God command us to destroy the religion of others?

It is a common question, does God, then, want us to destroy the religion of others? The answer is an emphatic no! As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the command came at a specific time in Israel’s history, with a specific purpose, that was unique to the entire history of Israel. Richard Mouw:

We must also insist that not all commandments which are found in the Bible are to be obeyed by contemporary Christians. For example, God commanded Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded Jonah to preach in Nineveh; it would be silly to suppose that it is part of every Christian’s duty to obey these commandments[28]

What if innocents were actually killed during the conquest?

If non-combatants and/or other innocents were killed during the conquest, then this would be condemnable as it is murder and such was against Israel’s law (Exodus 20:13). If innocents were killed, they were taken to the God that gave them life (Job 1:21) and the perpetrator would likely be punished (whether by God and/or Israel). In summary on morality

  • God does pour out wrath on people if they are wicked and he has sufficient moral reason to do so
  • God did not intend to kill the Canaanites but “drive them out”.
  • God gave these commands at a very particular part of Israelite history and with a specific purpose. Thus, God limits this command to the Israelites and it is not extended to us.
  • The conquest sought to begin and end the cosmic warfare that would have happened.
  • The conquest sought also to prevent the oppression of Israel by Canaan after they had already been oppressed for a number of years under the Egyptians.
  • If any innocents were killed, this would have been a violation of Israel’s law and thus condemnable.

Specific Considerations About Canaan

The Midianites (Numbers 25, 31)

Some have misinterpreted a few aspects of the Midianites. Specifically, they claim that Israel defeated the Midianites because of racism and that they raped their women. We have addressed these in other articles

Jericho, Ai, Other Canaanite Cities

With regard to these polities, it is important to know:

  • There is no archaeological evidence of non-combatants living in this region during the time of the conquest.
  • The original language is stock for attacks against military outposts. Thus, when it says “men and women, young and old…”(Josh 6:21; 8:25) they are not referring to innocents. This is further evidenced by the Rahab pericope. Even more evidence is the story of the Amalekites (who also receive attention in criticism of killing in the bible) who receive the same language yet are spared as is evidenced by the end of the book of 1 Samuel where the story is recounted and even beyond that point (1 Samuel 27:8; 30:1; 1 Chron 4:43).

Helpful Tidbits


The story of Rahab (Joshua 2) is telling of the intent of destroying Canaanite religion. Here is a Canaanite woman that is actually an aid to two of Israel’s spies before the conquest. She was not killed, thus reinforcing the narrative of driving out and incapacitation.

The Gibeonites

The Gibeonites should be mentioned. They turned unto Israel’s God and were made entirely free of an sort of harm or action.

Potential For Peace Treaties Before Attack

We already mentioned Sihon who attacked Israel after they had already offered peace. Following instructions in Deuteronomy 20, the Israelites may have done this for other Canaanite cities. This is a minority view among scholars. But there are examples of this like the Gibeonites and there are other insinuations to offers of peace among the Canaanites. Joshua 11:19 reads, for example, “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

Biblical envisioning of the Canaanite Future

The Bible envisions that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through the Israelites (Genesis 12:3). Zechariah 9 offers the envisioning of redemption and salvation for the Jebusite, a Canaanite nation. A list of Israel’s enemies is given in Psalm 87: Egypt, Babylon, and Philistia. Their redemption is also envisioned. Isaiah prophesied that Egypt and Assyria would be incorporated into Israel (Isaiah 19:23-25). In the New Testament, Jesus reaches to a Canaanite woman in Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:22).

A Moral/Philosophical Note for Consideration from the Latter-day Saint Soteriological Point of View

Many people are-- very understandably-- troubled with the portrayal of many people losing their lives in the scriptures and other pericopes that appear to condone some form of murder. When taken from their mortal sojourn, it may be that God is showing mercy to people by allowing them not to make any more bad choices. That may allow us to see the scriptures in a new light. God is the creator of the universe including our spirits and bodies (2 Nephi 2:13) and it is his right to act upon us according to his will since he is the author of our life. When he causes destruction, he is acting in mercy by not allowing a person to sin more. Consider what Christ spoke to the Nephites before his appearance to them at Bountiful (3 Nephi 9:5-11):

5 And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them.

6 And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth;

7 Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them.

8 And behold, the city of Gadiandi, and the city of Gadiomnah, and the city of Jacob, and the city of Gimgimno, all these have I caused to be sunk, and made hills and valleys in the places thereof; and the inhabitants thereof have I buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them.

9 And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.

10 And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations.

11 And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.

This ethic is much, much more palatable from a Latter-day Saint’s soteriological point of view where no one is damned to hell (or in the Latter-day Saints' case: "outer darkness") unless under very, very harsh and unique circumstances and instead receive differing levels of glory based upon our works, the desires of our hearts, and our potential (or future potential) to receive the Gospel. Under this view, the Canaanite Conquest becomes much more reconcilable. Of course, the knowledge of the Three Kingdoms would have been anachronistic to the Israelites who fought against Canaan. That wouldn't come (even in seed) until New Testament times[29]. They would have been under the understanding of Sheol, which is similar to the Restored Gospel's concept of the Spirit World. However, the concept would obviously not be unknown to God who, in theory, had not revelaed the entire Plan of Salvation—including knowledge of the three degrees of glory—in its fullness.

Another Viable Perspective

It should be mentioned that these are not the only perspectives that have been taken on the conquest narratives. There is another viable perspective for Latter-day Saints. Perspectives are limited since few accord with the biblical and archaeological data and these should inform our theology (D&C 88:77-79). Some scholars take the view of the conquest being the result of “accommodation”. As a very general summary, these men and women define that term as God accommodating and allowing the view point of the Canaanites instead of inspiring. To them, the conquest narrative came without inspiration of God but allowance from God for their preservation in the scriptural text. This, they argue, is something that God allows to teach us from negative examples of behavior today. Among the most popular of these individuals are people such as Peter Enns, Kenton Spaks, and Gregory Boyd. These scholars have laid out their viewpoints in great detail to tease the nuance in it.

See also:

  • Peter Enns, “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne Publishing, 2015)
  • For Dr. Sparks’ viewpoints see “Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2012); “God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship”(Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2008)
  • Gregory Boyd, “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2” (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017)

Additional Reading and Video Content

Below is a list of resources that were consulted for the creation of this article and other potentially helpful miscellany. Also included are links to other articles addressing other supposed instances of “genocide” in the Bible.

  • Paul Copan, Matthew Flanagan, “Did God Command Genocide?” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014)
  • Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster?” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)
  • Jeff Chadwick, “Did Joshua ‘Utterly Destroy’ the Canaanites?” <> Interpreter Foundation, May 10, 2018 (accessed 13 February 2019)
  • Richard Holzapfel, Dana Pike, David Rolph Seely “Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament” (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2009)
  • Kenton Sparks, “Sacred Word Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012)
  • Kenton Sparks, “God’s Words in Human Words” (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2008)
  • Peter Enns, “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2015)
  • Christopher J.H. Wright, “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic Press, 2004)
  • The Bible Project, <>
  • Net Bible, <>
  • Adelle Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd Ed.” (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A Newsom, Pheme Perkins (ed.) “The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th ed” (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).

See also:

Question: Why does God act so violently in scripture and especially the Old Testament?

Introduction to Question

As Latter-day Saints turned their attention to the Old Testament for the 2022 Come Follow Me curriculum, our attention was drawn towards a problem that has vexed theologians and Christian philosophers for many years and that is the problem of scriptural violence. The problem can be best summarized by the following question: “What ethical principle(s) is (are) meant to be taught to modern believers by the existence of violence in the scriptures (and particularly the Old Testament) that is either commanded by God or personally effectuated by him?”

It’s no secret that the scriptures and especially the Old Testament can be gruesome. Theologian Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan writes that there are over 600 instances of human violence and over 1000 instances of divine violence scattered throughout the Bible.[30] There are crimes for which capital punishment is required and some of these can seem quite trivial. Among those crimes are blasphemy, cursing your parents, divination, and rebelliousness.

How could the Jesus of the New Testament be the God of the Old Testament? The same man that said to “forgive seventy times seven” is also the same one that appeared as vindictive as the God of the Old Testament?[31]

If you think you’re alone in asking these types of questions, think again. 4th century Christian theologian Gregory of Nazianzus struggled in reconciling the conquest of the Canaanites depicted in Deuteronomy and Joshua with the God revealed in Jesus in the New Testament.[32] 1st century Christian theologian Marcion of Sinope believed that the God of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament were distinct beings and that the God of the New was superior to the God of the Old. Marcion was pronounced a heretic and excommunicated from the Church around 144 A.D.[33] This is a problem which has haunted the Church for sometime.

For the Restored Church, we believe that this is fortunately not an insurmountable obstacle to it. We believe that the picture of God given in the Old Testament can be reconciled with the New Testament and other Restoration Scripture by drawing on all scriptural resources available to Latter-day Saints and the unique ideas that flow from them. We hope to outline those ideas in this article.

These ideas are gathered in part from the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets and apostles. We believe that when the Old Testament and other scripture is read with these ideas in mind, that we can discover the agapic God that we know behind the seemingly petty bravado of Jehovah.

These ideas are not all mutually exclusive, and our hope is that interested Latter-day Saints will use them in the combinations that help them make the most sense of the various instances of human and divine violence in the Old Testament and other scripture.

It’s rather likely that the ideas we propose here are not entirely new nor entirely unique to Latter-day Saints. The germs of these ideas have probably been articulated elsewhere. We tend to believe that most “new ideas” aren’t really new. There is perhaps only the first people to articulate and popularize them. The corpus of Christian theology is also simply too gargantuan and large to believe that any idea is newly-articulated.

Some of these ideas may not be as developed and well-defended as they need to be. They may be inchoate. But we hope that with whatever deficiencies may exist in these ideas that those deficiencies can be used as a means of stimulating reflection and, hopefully, improvement or more documented and well-thought-out defenses of them.

These ideas are not presented as the final word on this issue nor is the author married to these ideas. Rather, these are simply all the logical possibilities that the author sees for potentially reconciling this issue with faith. These ideas are free to be embraced, rejected, strengthened, or weakened as other readers/analysts see warranted and possible.

With that, let's get to our response.

Response to Question

Description vs. Prescription

The first thing to keep in mind is that there is a big distinction between the scriptures describing a certain behavior and prescribing it. Many people take almost all instances of violence in scripture as prescriptive when more are meant to be merely descriptive. In some cases, scripture is prescribing that you don't follow the same course of violent action as the people that it is describing.

Justification for Violent Action Can Be Both Inside and Outside of the Text

Many of the following ideas for why God either commands or personally effectuates violence in scripture require that certain conditions be met before that act of violence is justified. It is important to keep in mind that sufficient justification may occur and be described within the text of the scriptures or occur outside of the text of the scriptures and not be described within the text of the scriptures. By keeping this in mind, we won’t hastily jump to any conclusion that a particular instance of violence is unjustified.

Mere Justice

Are there certain evils that, when enacted, are properly responded to only through violence and other harsh punishment? Most of us would probably answer yes. This is what we'll call the idea of mere justice in responding to God's violence in the Old Testament and other scripture.

Christian scholar and apologist Paul Copan writes that "love is God's central attribute, and God's severity flows out of his love. God desires the ultimate well-being of humans, but he will sometimes have to say 'enough is enough.' He will have to act in judgement to stop dehumanization and other evils that undermine human flourishing."[34]

Copan then quotes eminent New Testament scholar and Anglican theologian N.T. Wright:

Face it: to deny God's wrath is, at bottom, to deny God's love. When God sees humans being enslaved . . . if God doesn't hate it, he is not a loving God. . . .When God sees innocent people being bombed because of someone's political agenda, if God doesn't hate it, he isn't a loving God. When God sees people lying and cheating and abusing one another, exploiting and grifting and preying on one another, if God were to say, "Never mind, I love you all anyway," he is neither good nor loving. The Bible doesn't speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God who made the world and loves it so passionately that he must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly his human creatures.[35]

The scriptures certainly treat murder as a type of action that deserves violence as the only just punishment. Genesis 9:6 reads "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." Modern revelation echoes this idea. Doctrine & Covenants 42:19 reads "And again, I say, thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die."

Preventative Clemency

The Book of Mormon presents a unique doctrine that we believe will be useful for anyone studying the Old Testament and other scripture. We’ll call it the doctrine of Preventative Clemency. 3 Nephi 8 records great destruction by Christ just prior to his appearance to the Nephites. 3 Nephi 9 records that the Savior could then be heard thundering decrees from heaven. He declares that he has buried the lands of Zarahemla, Moroni, Moronihah, Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, Gadianhi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen. Among the reasons given for destroying these lands, the Savior says that it was so that “the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them” (3 Nephi 9:5, 7-9, 11). You can see that the Lord is having clemency on these cities by not allowing them to damn themselves more by committing more murder and, perhaps, other heinous sins.

Given that murder has always been seen in scripture as an abominable sin even in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), and that murder is unforgivable (Doctrine & Covenants 42:18–19), it seems reasonable that God would not allow us to kill more so that we do not damn ourselves more.

This idea does not necessarily have to be limited to instances of future murder. Could there be sins that are just as heinous in the eyes of God like murder that might warrant preventative clemency? That remains a question ripe for exploration. These might include rape, child torture, child sacrifice, and other heinous acts.

This doctrine will be strengthened if we can show that perhaps our psychological dispositions change as we murder such that we are more likely to commit them in the future and likely damn ourselves more. We believe the strength has been found in the concept of neural plasticity identified by neuroscientists.

Defensive Violence

Closely related to the idea of preventative clemency is defensive violence. What differentiates this idea from preventative clemency is that defensive violence is taken when the violence hasn't yet occurred but must be countered with violence from the defender in order to preserve the defender's life. The scriptures record instances of the Lord helping his people in defensive battles. Israel defended against the Amalekites who attacked them while traveling (Exodus 17:8) and that the Canaanite king of Arad attacked and captured some of the Israelites (Numbers 21:1); Israel countered the efforts of the Midiantes to lead them away from Yahweh through sexual transgression and idolatry (Numbers 25, 31) Sihon refused peace offers from Israel and attacked them (Deuteronomy 2, Numbers 21), and so on.

Doctrine & Covenants 98:33–38 clarifies that in any case that the ancient Israelites needed to fight a battle against another, they were first to offer peace and reconciliation to their would-be attackers. This procedure of offering peace is given as a stipulation for other people to follow when they encounter potential death at the hands of another group of people:

33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;
35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;
36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.
37 And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.
38 Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

Important in this scripture is that the Lord via revelation endorses defensive violence when certain requirements are met. Defensive violence is a scriptural doctrine.

Moral Disappointment

Latter-day Saints hold that all humans had a pre-mortal existence as spirits in the presence of the heavenly hosts. According to the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, there is at least a part of our human spirit that has always existed into infinity past and will always exist into infinity future (Abraham 3:18). This part is called our intelligence in Latter-day Saint scripture. This intelligence is a self-conscious, spiritual, material entity (Doctrine & Covenants 131:7–8) that has apparently always existed (Doctrine & Covenants 93:29).

Well, during that time, it is certainly possible that a spirit or a large group of spirits can learn a lot about God’s laws and the way in which, by obedience to those laws, they can become like God. Could it be that the moral education we have received in perhaps eons past is sufficient enough to hold us deeply accountable for at least a portion of our actions such that we lose our lives for disobeying that moral law? This is what we’ll call God’s moral disappointment in his children.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:30–32 seems to teach this idea:

30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.

It is certainly the case that there is a part of our experience that required getting a body. Latter-day Saint scripture portrays the body as a coveted thing—crucial to our learning. Doctrine & Covenants 93:33–34 tells us that a fulness of joy can only be obtained when the spirit of a person and his or her body are inseparably connected. It is clear in scripture, though for reasons not fully explained, that bodies are wanted by both righteous and wicked spirits (Matthew 8:28–32; Doctrine & Covenants 45:17; 138:14–15, 18, 50). All this mentioned, it seems that there is something about wickedness and righteousness that is known by anyone no matter what stage of development they find themselves at. We obviously know from scripture that Satan and a third part of the hosts of heaven in the premortal life turned away from God because of their agency (Doctrine & Covenants 29:36–39). Thus there must be something of a moral and intellectual education that we can receive or perhaps have always held from all eternity and by which God can judge all of us as we enter this mortal life and have the Light of Christ placed within us (Moroni 7:16; Doctrine & Covenants 84:46).

Proximate Motivation

To add to this, we know that God’s ultimate destiny for his children is for them to become as he is (Doctrine & Covenants 132:19–20). We know that if one disobeys the moral Good, they can lose their status as a god (Alma 42:13, 22, 25). Could it be that the law of Moses and some of the violent punishments attached to it are meant to be the means of instilling the gravity and seriousness with which one should obey the law, given the high responsibility and award that awaits a person after this life? This is what we’ll call proximate motivation.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

We read again and again in the Bible and in modern scriptures of God’s anger with the wicked and of His acting in His wrath against those who violate His laws. How are anger and wrath evidence of His love? Joseph Smith taught that God “institute[d] laws whereby [the spirits that He would send into the world] could have a privilege to advance like himself.” God’s love is so perfect that He lovingly requires us to obey His commandments because He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is. For this reason, God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love. Every parent knows that you can love a child totally and completely while still being creatively angry and disappointed at that child’s self-defeating behavior.[36]

Under this idea/theory, the violence of the God of the Old Testament and the more non-violent God of the New are not two separate gods as Marcion theorized; but the same God acting under two different modes of pedagogy for helping his children know the seriousness with which they must take their future role as a god. The atonement and ministry of Jesus Christ broker a new mode of pedagogy to be installed. Christ became the new sacrifice and object of God's harshness and violence (instead of animals and humans as in the Old Testament) so that we could have a prolonged period of time to repent and become like God. Christ then asks us, in return for his suffering, for a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Generative Chastisement

Proverbs, Hebrews, and Helaman teach that God chastens us and even scourges us because he loves us (Proverbs 3:11–12; Hebrews 12:5–6; Helaman 15:3). This so that people will be humbled enough so that they will turn back to him. Could it be that these divine punishments serve ends to restore certain people’s connection back to God or provide them motivation to establish connection with him for the first time? Helaman 12:3 tells us that "except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him." Perhaps violence turns people to God and spurs them to believe in him and be in alignment with his will. This is what we’ll call generative chastisement.

The Lord told Brigham Young that "[m]y people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom."[37] The Lord told the Saints in August 1833 that "I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me."[38] In December 1833 he said that "they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son."[39] King Benjamin taught us that "the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."[40]

Ethical Deterrence

Going along well with the already-mentioned ideas is the idea of ethical deterrence. Violence against those that don't keep God's commandments will surely act as good motivation to not follow the deceased's same course of action and to keep God's commandments.

Scriptural Allergism

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf told a story about Solomon based in Ecclesiastes in the October 2018 General Conference of the Church:

The ancient King Solomon was one of the most outwardly successful human beings in history.[41] He seemed to have everything—money, power, adoration, honor. But after decades of self-indulgence and luxury, how did King Solomon sum up his life?

“All is vanity,”[42] he said.

This man, who had it all, ended up disillusioned, pessimistic, and unhappy, despite everything he had going for him.[43][44]

Only a little more than three minutes after broaching the story of Solomon and these words from him, Elder Uchtdorf triumphantly declares that “Solomon was wrong, my dear brothers and sisters–and life is not ‘vanity.’ To the contrary, it can be full of purpose, meaning, and peace.”[44]

It is true that there are times when scripture intends to give us a negative example of how to behave morally so that we can learn from it today. Such is almost certainly the case with the book of Judges and its chronicle of the fall of Israel. But could there be times when scripture intends to portray a given teaching or phenomena as divinely-approved or inspired and yet not actually be divinely approved or inspired? We think it is possible, and Elder Uchtdorf is at least one example of an orthodox, faithful Latter-day Saint who saw no problem with this possibility. Elder Uchtdorf recognizes the moral impracticality and, indeed, falsity of proclaiming that all is vanity. Jacob informs us that we were created with the end of keeping God’s commandments and glorifying him forever (Jacob 2:21). This is certainly in contradiction with a teaching that all is vanity. There remains the question: why would God allow a false teaching to be portrayed as inspired in scripture? As an answer to this, we propose an idea we’ll call scriptural allergism. Scriptural allergism is the affirmation of a small collection of propositions. We're almost certain that this set of ideas is not entirely our own.

We’ve already mentioned how Latter-day Saints believe that at least a part of our spirit is eternal both backwards and forwards and how there can be a moral law that we have known from all eternity past and will know to all eternity future that allows us to achieve mutual self-realization. Along with these propositions, scriptural allergism would affirm that God exists, that he reveals his will through mortal messengers such as prophets, that those prophets record their teachings in sacred texts, and that God allows seemingly false moral ideas to be incorporated into scripture (and even allowing those propositions to appear morally inspired) so that readers have an almost allergic reaction to those ideas given the moral law that they have written on their hearts and have known from all eternity past.

We hesitate to propose this idea because we can already sense that it will be exploited by those who wish to disregard any prophetic directive that doesn’t immediately appeal to their current, culturally-conditioned morals. Joseph Smith taught that "[i]f the Church knew all the commandments, one half they would condemn through prejudice and ignorance."[45] Thus, let us state here and emphasize that we believe it is the duty of any Christian (Latter-day Saint Christian or otherwise) to defend the moral teaching of scripture as correct as much as humanly possible. That said, we can believe it plausible that there may come a time where we simply won’t be able to, and that’s where an idea like scriptural allergism can apply.

The beauty of the doctrine is that it teaches us that God exalts the fallen to teach us exaltation. It reaches down to the depths and basest desires of humanity and uses it as a means of bringing us all collectively higher. That is where, perhaps counterintuitively, scriptural allergism finds its strength. Lehi tells us in his valedictory that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11). Perhaps the Old Testament serves as a kind of "opposition" to the New and other scripture. If we didn't have this stark portrayal of rather disturbing violence and other ethical dilemmas in the Old Testament, then perhaps we wouldn't more plainly recognize and appreciate the good and divinity of the light and moral progress demonstrated in the New Testament and other scripture.

This doctrine may find scriptural support in a particular interpretation of Mormon 9:31 in which Moroni exhorts us as follows: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been." The exact nature of the imperfection that Moroni is exhorting us not to condemn is not certain. A couple of verses later in Mormon 9:33, Moroni says that "if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record." Does Moroni, then, refer to moral imperfection in 9:31? Or perhaps a scribal imperfection? Moroni says that we need to learn to be "more wise" than Book of Mormon authors, and that language ("more wise") seems to lend itself more naturally to interpreting the passage as referring to morality rather than scribal practice. Correct interpretation of this passage remains uncertain, however.

Evidence in favor of scriptural allergism may be found in the fact that, in many cases, archaeological evidence for the type of violence described in scripture is lacking. But, as we've written elsewhere, the evidence of absence needs to be taken with caution if want to understand God and the scriptures:

There may be some unresolved difficulties when weighing science and scripture. We can take a lack of archaeological evidence for the Canaanite conquest as depicted in the Bible. Does the lack of evidence mean that the conquest didn’t happen as depicted in the Bible or that God made it so that that kind of evidence wasn’t available to us? It’s an unanswerable question and many like these will arise during the course of weighing scripture and science. Keep in mind that God not allowing the evidence to exist doesn’t necessarily make him deceitful nor a trickster. It just means that there needs to be a degree of evidentiary separation between him and us so that we can come into relationship freely with him instead of being coerced into it by overwhelming proof of his existence. Who really knows how exactly he could have bent time and space in order to make these miraculous events of scripture happen and then to not leave sufficient evidence of their happening? Who really knows exactly what level of evidence is sufficient for leading us a long a path of breadcrumbs to God vs. coercing us too forcefully into believing in his existence? Who knows whether God has chosen to remove evidence from us to allow faith or whether something just never occurred in the first place? We must be careful when weighing science with the scriptures.

To be clear, we are not claiming that one cannot know at all whether an event happened or not. We are simply saying that one must be very careful and methodical with how they come to the conclusion that a given event (in this case a violent one) never happened.

Moral Compromise

Another idea might go like this: we know that there are fallen social structures in the Old Testament. For instance, Leviticus clearly allows a form of chattel slavery—Israelites enslaving non-Israelites (Leviticus 25:44–46). Perhaps the instances of capital punishment for even trivial offenses can be a type of moral compromise. If you're going to be allowed to engage in morally repugnant activities, then you are going to be held to higher standards elsewhere. The penalty for not abiding by these little rules is death itself, given the atrocities that the Lord is allowing the Israelites to indulge in elsewhere.

You might not think that this is a very palatable idea, but Jesus already seems to teach this idea in the New Testament. He says in the Matthew 19:7–8:

7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Do you catch that? Jesus is saying that God compromised with humans to allow divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. It admittedly doesn't say that God stipulated harsher punishments elsewhere for other sins, but it does show that God conceded something to humans because of the hardness of their hearts—which can make this idea more plausible. God's compromise to Israel and giving them a less-than-ideal moral law—including the scriptures that support the idea—is explored and documented more on YouTube by Christian philosopher and apologist Michael Jones.

Blake Ostler on Categories and the I-Thou Relationship

Latter-day Saint theologian and philosopher Blake Ostler in his book Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement (2013) gave an interesting insight and possibility for understanding the God of the Old Testament and other scripture.

Ostler begins by citing the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant argued that humans come into the world with a set of categories that are pre-loaded and that make sense of all experience. Prior to any experience, there are categories that are ready to take in experience and interpret it; label it and categorize it. These categories include space, time, and quantity. Ostler next turns to Austrian-Israeli philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965) and his thought on the I-Thou relationship. Buber attempts to make sense of how persons can fully and properly relate to one another. Persons cannot be objects but must be full subjects. When two persons encounter each other as full subjects, they are part of the I-Thou relationship. When one of the persons becomes an object, the relationship between one person and the other becomes an I-It relationship. Fuller explanations are available at the hyperlinks.

Ostler says that in order to truly encounter God and treat God as a full subject—a true Thou—he must do things that break free of the categories that we impose on him—including moral categories. If he didn't, we would continue to ossify our relationship with him and treat him as an It.[46]

Ostler explains and explores this more on this podcast episode of Exploring Mormon Thought.

Other Theological/Doctrinal Questions

At least some of these solutions and some of the logical implications of them will naturally will bring up questions about how to conceive the purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ and how people will be judged in the next life. For example, say that we take the scriptural allergism approach to reconciling a thorny passage or two. What if a writer or group of people from Old Testament times or other scripture faked receiving revelation from God to hurt and kill innocent people who had never heard of the Gospel? How is God going to judge the innocent people? How will he judge the writer and people? Do either get a chance at the Celestial Kingdom? Does baptism for the dead cover the innocents? But what if baptism for the dead didn't exist or wasn't instituted until New Testament times (since there's no evidence of it in the Old Testament nor Book of Mormon)? Does the atonement cover them and offer them ability to receive ordinances necessary for salvation? Can it?

Much of the answers that might be offered to these questions, especially if such answers attempt to be exhaustive and definitive, will involve speculation that goes beyond scripture and attempting to articulate a formula for every situation (considering all the questions that we're attempting to answer and moving parts of a potential answer) would thus be irresponsible and perhaps bring more obfuscation and frustration than light. But here are some scriptural truths that, when considered, should bring us comfort and at least enough answers to be at peace with these questions.

  1. God is an all-knowing, perfect judge.
  2. God judges people factoring in all relevant considerations including the light people received before they came into this world (Doctrine & Covenants 93:30–32) and the light they receive and act in adherence to while in the world (Doctrine & Covenants 59:2).
  3. The atonement of Jesus Christ serves to provide a way for little and innocent children to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom.[47]
  4. That same redemption for children is offered to "all them that have no law" according to the same chapter: Moroni 8.[48] The atonement may cover those people that never received essential ordinances if not instituted during the mortal life of someone. It may also cover those that don't have the chance to receive ordinances via the vicarious work of those that are still living including New Testament Christians and modern Latter-day Saints.
  5. God condemns murder and has done so throughout the ages. Doctrine & Covenants 42:18–19 lists it as an unforgivable sin but does not describe the exact punishment ascribed to the sin of murder.
  6. Sin is to know what is right and fail to do it, according to James 4:17. It is to disobey the explicit law of God as defined by 1 John 3:5 and, apparently, 1 John 5:17.
  7. No one is damned to hell (or in the Latter-day Saints' case: "outer darkness") unless under very, very harsh and unique circumstances and instead receives differing levels of glory based upon their works, the desires of their hearts, and their potential (or future potential) to receive the Gospel. Under this view, the Canaanite Conquest, for example, becomes much more reconcilable. Of course, the knowledge of the Three Kingdoms would have been anachronistic to, for instance, the Israelites who fought against Canaan. That wouldn't come (even in seed) until New Testament times.[49] Ancient Israelites would have been under the understanding of Sheol, which is similar to the Restored Gospel's concept of the Spirit World. However, the concept of the Three Degrees of Glory would obviously not be unknown to God who, in theory, had not revealed his knowledge of the Plan of Salvation—including knowledge of the three degrees of glory—in its fullness.

But does God command us to be violent today?

One of the biggest reasons that people are concerned by the violence of God in scripture is that they rightly believe that scripture and the revelation of God is supposed to teach them something about ethics and morality. But they take this a step further and ask if the violence of God in scripture is supposed to tell them that they are supposed to be violent like God today.

Scripture tells us that vengeance is God's (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Mormon 3:15 Mormon 8:20). There are many other scriptural reasons to reject that God will command someone to be violent towards others today that can be found at the article below:


These ideas can perhaps find some more development and refinement as we continue to think, debate, pray, and do the work of the Restoration. We don’t expect this to be the final word on the question of scriptural violence. But we do think that it can show that Latter-day Saints have what we think are some unique resources to add to the conversation already in progress in other faiths.

Further Reading

  • Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.
  • Copan, Paul. Is God a Vindictive Bully? Reconciling Portrayals of God in the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022.

Question: What is the best way to understand servitude in the Old and New Testaments?

There is no scripture commanding servitude. There are a number that regulate its practice.

First, readers should see our suggested hermeneutic for reconciling difficult passages here.

Many have questioned the presence of passages that indicate the practice of slavery or servitude in the Old and New Testament. Many wonder what the best way to understand these passages is in light of the Restored Gospel. Does God endorse slavery? Is he okay with people being put into horribly unfair circumstances like this? How do I understand it and reconcile it?

Slavery in the bible is best understood both contextually and holistically while also keeping the nature of prophetic revelation in mind.

The Bible offers no record of God commanding the practice of slavery. It does, however offer motifs of celebration after subverting enemies into servitude. It also regulates the practice of slavery. That said, there is no explicit command not to practice it.

Much of the bible deals with liberating the Israelites from bondage. So, what exactly is the difference between regular slavery and Israelite slavery? Why can God allow the Israelites to escape from bondage while also allowing them to practice it? We address these questions below.

Latter-day Saint Old Testament scholars Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely address servitude in their book “Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament”:

Slavery was ubiquitous in antiquity, and the institution and practice of slavery lies beneath the surface of almost every book in the Bible. Slaves were considered property and therefore had few legal rights. Laws governing slaves and slavery are found in many law collections, including the Laws of Hammurabi. Few questioned the institution, simple accepting that people could be bought and sold just as animals and personal possessions were. Unlike American slavery, ancient slavery was not based on ethnicity. People became slaves by capture in war (Num 31:25-37), by default on debt (Exod 22:2), and sale by family members (2 King 4:1). Some people voluntarily sold themselves as slaves either to get out of debt or to find security (Lev 25:39; Deut 15:16-17). . .Several Hebrew words meaning “slave” are translated in the KJV as “servant” or “maid”. This means that Joseph was slave in Egypt and the Gibeonites became slaves to the Israelites (Josh 9:23). Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and all of the children of Israel are metaphorically called “slaves of Jehovah” when they are referred to as his “servants”. Likewise, the English word “handmaid” translates a Hebrew word that means slave—indicating that Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilpah were slaves to Sarah, Rachel, and Leah. . .A slave’s life was often hard, but certain types of slavery were more difficult than others. For example, slaves who worked in mines and in fields had short lives full of strenuous daily work. In some societies, court slaves were often educated, held responsible positions, and wielded certain authority over others. Many slaves who were part of a household performed domestic and agricultural duties. The law of Moses required even non-Hebrew slaves in Israelite households to observe the Sabbath (Exod 12:24; Deut 12:12,18). Women and children were most vulnerable to abuse in this system, including physical and sexual abuse; therefore, most of the laws in the Bible regulating slavery attempt to humanely define the relationship between slaves and masters (Lev 25:43-55; Deut 15:12-18). People could be freed from slavery and there is evidence that this practice of manumission was common. Built into the law of Moses was a system that freed Israelite slaves every seven years (Exod 21:2; Deut 15:12, 18) although it is doubtful this ideal was regularly practiced by all Israelites. Some Israelite prophets questioned debt slavery and attempted to end its practice (Jer 34:8-22; cf. Exod 21; Lev 25; Deut 15).[50]

William Hamblin elaborates on further protections that servants enjoyed:

The law provides the death penalty for those who kidnap people to sell them into slavery (Deuteronomy 24:7). Slaves could not be forced to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), a concept unique to the Bible, indicating that Hebrew slaves were better treated than those anywhere else in the Near East at the time. People sold into debt-slavery were to be freed after six years of servitude (21:2–4). All Israelite slaves were to be freed in the Jubilee year, thereby abolishing the possibility of perpetual servitude for the descendants of slaves (Leviticus 25:39–46). Although slaves could be beaten, a master killing a slave was considered guilty of murder and could be executed for his crime (Exodus 21:20), while a slave maimed by his master was to be freed (vv. 26–27). Runaway slaves were to be given protection and not returned to their masters (Deuteronomy 23:15–16). While we have no desire to be apolo­gists for slavery in any form, it should be noted that the status of slaves in Hebrew law was in many ways superior to that of surrounding societies. Indeed, “we find in the Bible the first appeals in world literature to treat slaves as human beings for their own sake,”[51][52]

The Old Testament has been seen as an improvement on the then-common form of slavery. The New Testament as an improvement on the Old Testament. As Evangelical apologist and biblical scholar Paul Copan notes:

The original ancient near eastern context of slavery showed that masters were typically brutal to their slaves; runaway slaves had to be returned to masters of pain of death. The Old Testament improves on this in a redemptive move toward an ultimate ethic: there were limited punishments in contrast to other ancient Near Eastern cultures; there was a more humanized attitude toward servants/slaves; and runaway foreign slaves were given refuge in Israel. The New Testament improves on the Old Testament. Slaves in the Roman Empire were incorporated into the body of Christ without distinction from masters (Gal 3:28); masters were to show concern for their slaves; slaves were encouraged to gain freedom (1 Cor: 7:20-22). Note, though, that the Roman Empire had institutionalized slavery—in contrast to the Old Testament’s humanized indentured servitude. So, the New Testament writers had to deal with a new setting, one that was a big moral step backward.[53]

So, what is this all indicating? Ultimately it means that the Old Testament covenant was never meant to be a universal ideal. These regulations, provided under the law of Moses, were provisional and temporary. In the latter days, the practice has been completely disavowed (D&C 101:79).

How should we explain this moving forward? Latter-day Saint Bible scholar Ben Spackman notes:

It’s easy to rule out a few responses due to their reductionist simplicity. Slavery wasn’t merely a one-time blip, but a fundamental part of the Old and New Testaments. This prevents us from saying “oh, that prophet was just acting as a man,” as if it were a one-off kind of thing. Nor can we say, “oh, *that* part isn’t inspired,” because it’s the “whole” thing. I also don’t think we want to be apologists for Biblical slavery, just because it’s in the Bible. We think, “they were prophets, they should have known.” And yet, they didn’t. Rather, we need to recalibrate our expectations about the nature of scripture. For example, scripture is not an encyclopedic repository of the platonically ideal unchanging ethics and doctrines. It is, rather, a human-but-inspired record (of sorts) of God’s line-upon-line, accommodationist dealings with fallen humans...Both the ideas of line-upon-line and accommodation imply progression, that God slowly brings us around. The New Testament “redeems” the Old in several distinct ways, evident both from things like the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is a new Moses and much more subtle things.[54]

We should understand the nature of prophetic revelation and how to read scripture. These are addressed in these articles.

The scriptures build on themselves, God has to accommodate revelation to the needs of a particular culture at a particular time while also trying to bring his children within to ultimate ideals and teach them the laws they need to follow for salvation. Scripture must be read both contextually and holistically to understand its message. It is, on the whole, divinely inspired, true, good, and beautiful. However, there are instances in which this type of accommodation has happened and where God builds upon it line upon line to approach the ultimate ideal--demonstrating the redemptive move of the scriptures towards better conditions.

Challenging Texts Regarding Slavery

There are several challenging texts of the Bible that discuss slavery and regulations surrounding it. We wish to provide commentary on these passages to aid readers in understanding and reconciliation.

Leaving Family Behind (Exodus 21:2-6)

2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.
5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

Commentary on this verse:

Nuzi was located near Kirkuk, Iraq, close to the Tigris River. Thousands of tablets—the Akkadian Nuzi texts—from the second millennium BC were found there. They mention legislation similar to this: if a slave entered a master’s home single, he left single. If he entered with a spouse, then he left on his marry way! Now, if a wife had been given to him by his master, then she (and any children from this union) belonged to the master.

According to this Exodus passage, if a man was given a wife by his master/employer and they had children, then he had a choice: he could either leave by himself when the seventh year of debt release came, or he could continue as a permanent servant to be with his wife and children. It’s a less-than-ideal setting to be sure, but let’s probe the text more deeply.

At first glance, this text seems to treat females (and children) unfairly. The (apparently) favored male can come into a service arrangement and then go out of it. Yet the wife he married while serving his employer and any children who came while he served were (so it seems) “stuck” in the master’s home and couldn’t leave. That’s not only male favoring; it strikes us as criminal! Wasn’t this an earlier version of slave families during the antebellum South (like Frederick Douglass’s) who were broken up and scattered by insensitive slaveowners?

Our first point in response is this: we’re not told specifically that this scenario could also apply to a woman, but we have good reason to think this situation wasn’t gender specific. (We’ll see shortly that Deuteronomy 15 makes explicit that this scenario applied to a woman as well.) This is another example of case law: “if such and such a scenario arises, then this is how to proceed.” Case law typically wasn’t gender specific. Furthermore, Israelite judges were quite capable of applying the law to male and female alike. An impoverished woman, who wasn’t given by her father as a prospective wife to a (widowed or divorced) man or his son (Exod. 21:7–11), could perform standard household tasks. And she could go free by this same law, just as a male servant could.7 Various scholars suggest that the Scripture text could be applied to females quite readily: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, she is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, she will go out free. . . . If her master gives her a husband, and they have sons or daughters, the husband and the children will belong to her master, and she will go out by herself.” The law makes perfect sense in light of this shift; its spirit isn’t violated by doing so.

Some critics, though, would rather fight than shift. Rather than applying these case-law scenarios to both men and women, they’d rather put up resistance in order to make this law look its very worst. But we have no compelling reason to do so. Again, Israel’s judges would have looked to this general passage for guidance regarding female servants. Simply because many verses in the law happen to use a masculine gender pronoun rather than alternating between “he” and “she” hardly means that women are thereby being excluded. As an aside, the term Hebrew (at this stage in Israel’s history) was broader than the term Israelite; the two terms would later be equated. The habiru were people not formally attached to established states like Egypt or Babylon; they were considered foreigners and noncitizens from the speaker’s perspective. So this passage may well refer to a non-Israelite. That means this servant—possibly a foreigner—was to be released after six years unless he preferred the security of his employer’s household. In this case, he could make the arrangement permanent. For now, we’ll assume that this passage refers to an Israelite servant, but we’ll revisit this issue when discussing Leviticus 25.

For our second point, let’s (for the moment) stick with a male servant/employee scenario. Let’s say his employer arranges for a marriage between him and a female employee. (In this case of debt-servitude, the employer’s family would now engage in marriage negotiations.) By taking the male servant into his home to work off a debt, the boss has made an investment. He would stand to suffer loss if someone walked out on the contract. Think in terms of military service. When someone signs up to serve for three or four years, he still owes the military, even if he gets married during this time. Likewise in Israel, for debts to be paid off, the male servant couldn’t just leave with his wife once he was married. He was still under contract, and he needed to honor this. And even when his contract was completed, he wasn’t allowed simply to walk away with his wife and kids. After all, they were still economic assets to his boss. What could the released man do? He had three options.

  1. He could wait for his wife and kids to finish their term of service while he worked elsewhere. His wife and kids weren’t stuck in the employer’s home the rest of their lives. They could be released when the wife worked off her debt. Yet if the now-free man worked elsewhere, this would mean (a) he would be separated from his family, and (b) his boss would no longer supply him with food, clothing, and shelter. On the other hand, if he lived with his family after release, he’d still have to pay for room and board. So this scenario created its own set of financial challenges.
  2. He could get a decent job elsewhere and save his shekels to pay his boss to release his wife and kids from contractual obligations. What a great option! Why not take this route? Because it would have been very difficult for the man to support himself and earn enough money for his family’s debt release.
  3. He could commit himself to working permanently for his employer—a life contract (Exod. 21:5–6). He could stay with his family and remain in fairly stable economic circumstances. He would formalize this arrangement in a legal ceremony before the judges (God) by having his ear pierced with an awl.
Before coming up with all sorts of modern Western solutions to solve these ancient Near Eastern problems, we should make greater efforts to better grasp the nature of Israelite servitude and the social and economic circumstances surrounding it. We’re talking about unfortunate circumstances during bleak economic times. Israel’s laws provided safety nets for protection, not oppression. It’s obvious that this arrangement was far different from the South’s chattel slavery, in which a slave wasn’t a temporarily indentured servant who voluntarily sold himself to live in another’s household to pay off his debts.[55]

The only error in this quote is to not recognize more similarity to the South's treatment of slaves. Leviticus 25:44–46 clearly endorses a form of chattel slavery. Israelites were allowed to own non-lsraelites as slaves in perpetuity:

44 Both thy bondmen, and they bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids
45 Moreover of the children of strangers that sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.

This text does not, however, endorse the abuse of slaves as was practiced in the south. The text of Leviticus expressly forbids the abuse of foreign slaves (Leviticus 19:33–34). Exodus also forbids the abuse of foreign slaves (Exodus 21:23–27). If the slave was abused, then he or she was automatically freed.

Beating Slaves to Death? (Exodus 21:20-21)

20 ¶ And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

The passage in question regards what happens when a master beats his slave. When the master has killed his slave with staff or rod, he was to be “punished”. How is not specified. Perhaps it depended given a situation. The original Hebrew verb “naqam” differentiates itself from the verb used which means “to put to death” used in verses before this. But the such a vague refererence to “punishment” without specification likely means that capital punishment was possible. Murder was a capital offense (Exodus 20:13). Naqam has the connotation of being avenged. If the master beat his servant, but the servant died a couple of days later, the master was given the benefit of the doubt. Laws given just a few verses later suggest that if a man injured the eye or teeth of his slaves, those slaves were to go free (Exodus 21:26-27). The phrase “for he is his money” is better translated as “for he hath suffered the loss.” The KJV translators erred on the side of literality in these verses. Maybe for good reason. There are a couple of different exegeses for this verse, all depending upon how we translate the Hebrew.

  1. If we keep the phrase “for he is his money”, this could mean that the slave is a unit of exchange or barter with others, reinforcing the slave as the owner’s property
  2. If we change the phrase to “for it is his money”, then this would require us to understand what it is. It could refer to the servant. But it may also mean money paid to the servant. This stems from the context of the preceding verses in which men who fight, one injuring the other and causing the other to take up his bed for a while, had to pay the injured man for his time in bed and cause a full recovery. The verse may be stipulating that the master had to help his servant. This reading may be strengthened by the eye and teeth laws of verses 26 and 27. This is the argument made by Paul Copan and Hittitologist Harry Hoffner Jr.
  3. If we render the translation “for he hath suffered the loss”. This could simply mean that the master has lost property in his investment.
  4. If we render the translation “for he is his property” then the reading is self-evident.

A Betrothed Servant Girl (Leviticus 19:20-21)

20 ¶ And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.

21 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering.

The passage is actually quite redeeming for the personhood of slaves. The Jewish Study Bible notes: If one's female slave is designated for marriage to another man, sexual relations with her are illicit. Only by legal technicality (since the woman is not yet free, she is not strictly "betrothed" in the legally binding sense) are the two exempt from the death penalty mandated for adultery (see 20.10 n.) but the offense against God must be expiated. The '"asham" sacrifice is prescribed (see 5.14-26) even though no desecration of the sacred has taken place, because the "l).ata't" sacrifice (see 4.1-35) does not atone for deliberate acts. 20: There shall be an indemnity. This translation is uncertain. A simpler one is: "a distinction shall be made." Thus the servant girl’s personhood is actually maintained with dignity with this law—protecting the weaker from the stronger.

Israel Possessing the Nations as Menservants and Maidservants in the Lord’s Land? (Isaiah 14:1-2)

1 For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.

2 And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.

This passage has restoration themes involved. Restoration themes often have verses describing God subduing his people’s enemies but aren’t necessarily to be taken as literal. According to the Jewish Study Bible, these verses introducing Isaiah’s poem were added during the Babylonian exile. God’s ultimate goal was to bless the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:3). As we will see in the following sections, slavery was something important to address and do away with somehow in the New Testament.

Jesus and Paul Silent on Slavery?

Some critics claim that Jesus and Paul were silent on the issue of slavery in the New Testament. There is some pushback to be offered to these claims. We start with the Savior. In Luke 4:18, the Savior proclaims the mission that he had been given.

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.

The NRSV renders these verses thusly:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, ¹⁹ to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The bulk of 4:18-19 comes from Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6. In those verses, The language of “release” echoes the jubilary language of Leviticus 25. The year of jubilee was prescribed as the year that slaves were released. This time came every 7 years. It is widely recognized that Isaiah 58 and 61 develop jubilary themes. Therefore, it may have been part of the Savior’s mission to abolish harmful servitude structures in the Roman Empire. But much more likely was that the Savior only preached against oppressive structures and sought only to reform them if they were oppressive. “Jesus didn’t necessarily create an economic reform plan for Israel, but he addressed heart attitudes of greed, envy, contentment, and generosity to undermine oppressive economic social structures.”[56] In the case of Paul, he attempted to make the distinction between master and servant irrelevant and condemn those that would abuse slaves. This is documented in several passages (Galations 3:28; Collosians 4:1; Ephesians 6:5-9; 1 Timothy 1:9-10 [translated “menstealers” in KJV but translated as “slavetraders” in most translations]). [57] He treated slaves as morally responsible people (Col 3:22-25). It has even been argued that he encouraged slaves to gain their freedom wherever possible (1 Cor 7:20-22). Scholarship is divided fairly evenly, however, on the correct interpretation of those verses.[58] Regardless, it is inaccurate to say that this issue was something that Paul and the Savior did not care about. But then why didn’t the Savior and Paul (or Peter [1 Peter 1:18-20]) try to immediately abolish slavery? Paul Copan lays out an argument:

Critics wonder why Paul (or Peter in 1 Peter 2:18–20) didn’t condemn slavery outright and tell masters to release their slaves. Yet we should first separate this question from other considerations, even if the New Atheists aren’t necessarily interested in nuance. Paul’s position on the status of slavery was clear on various points: (1) he repudiated slave trading; (2) he affirmed the full human dignity and equal spiritual status of slaves; and (3) he encouraged slaves to acquire their freedom whenever possible (1 Cor. 7:20–22). Paul’s revolutionary Christian affirmations helped to tear apart the fabric of the institution of slavery in Europe.

Paul reminded Christian masters that they, with their slaves, were fellow slaves of the same impartial Master; so they weren’t to mistreat them but rather deal with them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul called on human masters to grant “justice and fairness” to their slaves (Col. 4:1). In unprecedented fashion, Paul treated slaves as morally responsible persons (Col. 3:22–25) who, like their Christian masters, were brothers “and sisters in Christ. Paul called on human masters to grant “justice and fairness” to their slaves (Col. 4:1). In unprecedented fashion, Paul treated slaves as morally responsible persons (Col. 3:22–25) who, like their Christian masters, were brothers and part of Christ’s body (1 Tim. 6:2).[59] Christian slave and master alike belonged to Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). Spiritual status was more fundamental than social status.

Paul (and Peter) didn’t call for an uprising to overthrow slavery in Rome. They didn’t want the Christian faith to be perceived as opposed to social order and harmony. Hence, Christian slaves were told to do what was right; even if they were mistreated, their conscience would be clear (1 Peter 2:18–20). Obligations fell to these slaves, yes, without their prior agreement. So the path for early Christians to take was tricky, very much unlike the situation in Old Testament Israel. On the one hand, a slave uprising would do the gospel a disservice and prove a direct threat to an oppressive Roman establishment (e.g., “Masters, release your slaves!” or “Slaves, throw off your chains!”). Rome would meet any flagrant opposition with speedy, forceful, lethal opposition. So Peter’s admonition to unjustly treated slaves implies a suffering endured without retaliation. No, suffering in itself is not good (which would be a sadistic attitude to adopt and certainly not the view of Scripture); rather, the right response in the midst of suffering is commendable.

On the other hand, the early Christians undermined slavery indirectly and certainly rejected many common Greco-Roman assumptions about it, such as Aristotle’s (slaves were inherently inferior to masters, as were females to males). Just as Jesus bore unjust suffering for the redemption of others and entrusted himself to the One who judges justly (1 Peter 2: 20-24) so Christian slaves could bear hardship to show others—including their masters—the way of Christ and redemption through him, all the while entrusting themselves to God.[60] Thus, like yeast, such Christlike living could have a gradual leavening effect on society so that oppressive institutions like slavery could finally fall away. This is, in fact, what took place throughout Europe, as we’ll see in the final chapter.

This was also the type of incremental strategy taken by President Abraham Lincoln. Though he despised slavery and talked freely about this degrading institution, his first priority was to hold the Union together rather than try to abolish slavery immediately. Being an exceptional student of human nature, he recognized that political realities and predictable reactions required an incremental approach. The radical abolitionist route of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison would (and did!) simply create a social backlash against hard-core abolitionists and make emancipation all the more difficult.[61][62]

The Onesimus Question (Philemon)

Paul’s words in the lone chapter of Philemon have caused some concern over Paul’s degree of enthusiasm for dissolving slavery. They usually argue this on the basis of Paul not repudiating slavery explicitly. The exact correct way to interpret this passage remains debated today.[63] The difficulty of deciding proper exegesis is that we are getting so little information from Paul as to why Onesimus was there in prison with him and what Paul wanted Philemon to do once Onesimus returned to him. One plausible interpretation of the passage is that Paul is exhorting Philemon to accept Onesimus back as more than a slave but a fellow-brother in Christ—essentially making the master/servant distinction nil and reforming the social attitudes of the day towards slaves (Phil 1:16). This is strengthened by Paul’s acceptance of servants as leaders in the Church and his encouragement to find freedom wherever possible.

Not Preaching the Gospel to “Bond-Servants” (D&C 134:12)

12 We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

This scripture must be taken in context. Joseph Smith had two years prior disavowed the morality of slavery in Kirtland, the same place where this document was penned (Doctrine and Covenants 101:79). Those members of the Church that were living in Missouri when the statement was written were accused of trying to overturn the institution of slavery. Missouri at the time was a slave state and the inclusion of slaves and the attempt at overthrowing the institution doubtless would have inflamed prejudice against the nascent Church. This was written in response to those that threatened violence. The Church teaches that slavery is unequivocally wrong and threatens the fundamental rights of an individual.

Additional Video Content

Question: Did God endorse rape in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament text must be read holistically and contextually to understand actual cultural realities. Once done, one can see how claims regarding rape truncate the Bible’s actual view of women

Many critics of the Bible frequently claim that God endorses rape in the Bible. This issue has been dealt with by several Christian scholars and apologists in the past. There is no such endorsement of rape in the Old Testament by God. There are instances in which women are raped such as that of Dinah (Genesis 34), Tamar (2 Samuel 13), and the concubine in Judges 19 (these passages all portray rape negatively) and it does reflect some of the horrible issues they dealt with in that society, yet there is law against rape in the Bible and rape is always seen in a negative light in the passages that are typically cited in favor it. We must be careful to keep in mind the difference between speaking predictively, prescriptively, and descriptively. Only if truly speaking prescriptively is the Bible offending morality.

The claimed offending verses of the Old Testament (that supposedly endorse rape) are Exodus 22:16-17, Leviticus, Numbers 31:7-18, Deuteronomy 22:23-29, and Zechariah 14:1–2.[64]

Exodus 22:16-17 reads:

16 ¶ And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

Deuteronomy 22:23-29 reads:

23 ¶ If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
25 ¶ But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
26 But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
27 For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
28 ¶ If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

The misconception generally stems from misreading the phrase "lay hold on her". The NET notes the following about this:

tn The verb תָּפַשׂ (taphas) means “to sieze, grab.” In all other examples this action is done against another person’s will, as in being captured, arrested, attacked, or grabbed with insistence (e.g. 1Sam 23:26; 1Kgs 13:4; 18:40; 2Kgs 14:13; 25:6; Isa 3:6; Jer 26:8; 34:3; 37:13; 52:9; Ps 71:11; 2Chr 25:23.) So it may be that the man is forcing himself on her, which is what leads the NIV to translate the next verb as “rape,” although it is a neutral euphemism for sexual relations. However, this is the only case where the object of תָּפַשׂ is a woman and the verb also also refers to holding or handling objects such as musical instruments, weapons, or scrolls. So it possible that it has a specialized, but otherwise unattested nuance regarding sexual or romantic relations, as is true of other expressions. Several contextual clues point away from rape and toward a consensual relationship. (1) The verb which seems to express force is different from the verb of force in the rape case in v. 25. (2) The context distinguishes consequences based on whether the girl cried out, an expression of protest and a basis for distinguishing consent or force. But this case law does not mention her outcry which would have clarified a forcible act. While part of what is unique in this case is that the girl is not engaged, it is reasonable to expect the issue of consent to continue to apply. (3) The penalty is less than that of a man who slanders his new wife and certainly less than the sentence for rape. (4) The expression “and they are discovered” at the end of v. 28 uses the same wording as the expression in v. 22 which involves a consensual act. (5) Although from a separate context, the account of the rape of Dinah seems to express the Pentateuch’s negative attitude toward forcible rape, not in advocating for Simeon and Levi’s actions, but in the condemnation included in the line Gen 34:7 “because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.” This is very like the indictment in Deut 28:21 against the consenting woman, “because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.” (6) The penalty of not being allowed to divorce her sounds like v. 19, where the man is punished for disgracing his wife unfairly. His attempted divorce fails and he must provide for her thereafter (the probable point of not being allowed to divorce her.) Here too, if his holding her is not forced, but instead he has seduced her, he is not allowed to claim that his new wife is not pure (since he is the culprit) and so he must take responsibility for her, cannot divorce her, and must provide for her as a husband thereafter.[65]

The meaning of "humbled" here seems difficult to ascertain. It is translated as "humiliated" in the NET and "violated" in the NRSV. Depending on how we look at the preceding text will determine how this is translated.

At first glance the passages do seem to be repugnant and treat women like property. A contextual reading yields a more redeeming view. Evangelical bible scholar and Christian apologist Paul Copan writes:

Upon closer inspection, the context emphasizes the protection of women, not the insignificance of women. We should first distinguish among three scenarios in the Deuteronomy 22 passage:

  1. Adultery between two consenting adults—a man and an engaged woman (v. 23), which is a violation of marriage (“he has violated his neighbor’s wife”)
  2. The forcible rape of an engaged woman (v. 25), whose innocence is assumed.
  3. The seduction of an unengaged woman (v. 28), an expansion on the seduction passage of Exodus 22:16-17

In each case, the man is guilty. However, the critics’ argument focuses on verses 28-29: the rape victim is being treated like she is her father’s property. She’s been violated, and he rapist gets off by paying a bridal fee. No concern is shown for the girl at all. In fact, she’s apparently forced to marry the man who raped her! Are these charges warranted?

Regarding verses 28-29, various scholars see Exodus 22:16-17 as the backdrop to this scenario. Both passages are variations on the same theme Even if there is some pressure from the man, the young woman is complicit; though initially pressured (seduced), she doesn’t act against her will. The text says “they are discovered” (v.28), not “he is discovered.” [66] Both are culpable. Technically, this pressure/seduction could not be called forcible rape, falling under our contemporary category of statutory rape. Though the woman gave in, the man here would bear the brunt of the responsibility.

As it would have been more difficult for a woman to find a husband had she been sexually involved with another before marriage, her bride-price—a kind of economic security for her future—would have been in jeopardy. The man guilty of statutory rape seduced the unengaged woman; he wasn’t a dark-alley rapist whom the young woman tried to fight off or from whom she tried to run away. This passage is far from being demeaning to women.

Both passages suggest two courses of action:

  1. If the father and daughter agree to it, the seducer must marry the woman and provide for her all her life, without the possibility of divorce. The father (in conjunction with the daughter) has the final say-so in the arrangement. The girl isn’t required to marry the seducer.
  2. The girl’s father (the legal point person) has the right to refuse any such permanent arrangement as well as the right to demand the payment at would be given for a bride, even though the seducer doesn’t marry his daughter (since she has been sexually compromised, marriage to another man would be difficult if not impossible). The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. IN this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin[67][68]

In a similar vein, one article notes:

God’s punishment on the rapist of a virgin—a monetary fine and lifelong responsibility—was designed to deter rape by holding the rapist responsible for his actions. He ruined her life; it was his responsibility to support her for the rest of her life. This may not sound fair to modern ears, but we don’t live in the same culture they did. In 2 Samuel 13, Prince Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar. The horror and shame of being violated yet unmarried made Tamar beg him to marry her (her half-brother!), even after he had rejected her. And her full-brother, Absalom, was so disgusted with the situation that he murdered Amnon. That’s how highly virginity in women was prized back then.

Regarding Numbers 31, the same article notes:

Critics of the Bible also point to Numbers 31 (and similar passages) in which the Israelites were allowed to take female captives from nations they conquered. Critics say this is an example of the Bible’s condoning or even promoting rape. However, the passage says nothing about raping the captive women. It is wrong to assume that the captive women were to be raped. The soldiers were commanded to purify themselves and their captives (verse 19). Rape would have violated this command (see Leviticus 15:16–18). The women who were taken captive are never referred to as sexual objects. Did the captive women likely eventually marry amongst the Israelites? Yes. Is there any indication that rape or sex slavery was forced upon the women? Absolutely not.

We might also note Deuteronomy 21:11-14 which provided protocols for a situation such as the one depicted in Numbers 31.[69]The NRSV renders these verses as follows:

10 When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive,

11 suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry,

12 and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails,

13 discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.

14 But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes about these verses:

This procedure most likely originally applied to the Canaanite population (20.15–18n.). Female war captives routinely became concubines. This law accords such women dignity and protection against enslavement. 12–13: The rituals provide both captive and captor means to effect a transition from one status to another. 13: Full month, full period of mourning, as for Aaron and Moses (Num 20.29; Deut 34.8). Mourning, it is unclear whether the parents actually died in the war or are lost to her because of her captivity. The time to grieve implies legal respect for the female captive as a person. Go in to her, approach her sexually; consummation provides the legal means to become husband, and . . . wife. 14: Cf. Ex 21.7–8. Money, see 2.6n. Dishonored, “violated” sexually (22.24,29; Gen 34.2; Judg 19.24; 2 Sam 13.12).

Readers may wonder what the New Testament has to say about rape:

Rape is not directly addressed in the New Testament, but within the Jewish culture of the day, rape would have been considered sexual immorality. The Matthean account of the Gospel records that Jesus and the apostles spoke against sexual immorality, even offering it as justifiable grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32). Further, the New Testament is clear that Christians are to obey the laws of their governing authorities (Romans 13). Not only is rape morally wrong; it is also wrong according to the laws of the land. As such, anyone who would commit this crime should expect to pay the consequences, including arrest and imprisonment.[70]

Zechariah 14:1–2

Another passage that has been seen as endorsing rape is Zechariah 14:1&ndash2

1 Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

The phrase "and the women ravished" does refer to rape. The passage is unclear whether the Lord will command the people of other nations to rape women or if the rape of women will simply be what the people of other nations will do when the Lord gathers these nations against Israel. In other words, it's unclear whether the Lord will prescribe the course of action of the nations or if he's merely predicting it. It's clear that he'll stir up the nations against Israel, but exactly what they do may not be by his command. The same can be said of the similar-sounding verse in Isaiah 13:16.

This is one criticism that should help us remember that scripture should be read contextually and holistically to understand all that it has to say on any particular topic.

Question: Why would Elisha have two she-bears maul 42 children?

The text is making a lot of rhetorical points that go unnoticed without additional context

2 Kings has a short pericope that reads as follows:

23 ¶ And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.[71]

Some people have become concerned with this. Why would God kill innocent children who were just trying to have fun? How could Elisha be so cruel?

The text has a lot more going on that goes unnoticed without additional context. The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible offers the following commentary on these verses:

. 23–25: The episode of the cursing of the boys of Bethel who jeered at the prophet seems shocking to modern readers. For the ancient reader it demonstrated that it was dangerous to behave disrespectfully toward a man of God. 24: The narrator does not tell the content of Elisha’s curse, and whether or not he intended to kill the boys. Forty-two boys, “forty-two” is a number sometimes associated with death: Jehu kills forty-two victims (10.14), and the Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions forty-two judges of the dead.[72]

Also, the epithet ‘baldhead’ was one of “contempt in the East, applied to a person even with a bushy head of hair.”[73] Lepers had to shave their heads, so such a statement could easily have been a deliberate and malicious insult--something dangerous in a mob that can quickly get out of hand.[74]

The phrase “go up” likely was a reference to Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, being taken up to Heaven earlier in 2 Kings chapter 2:11-12. These youths were sarcastically taunting and insulting the Lord’s prophet by telling him to repeat Elijah’s translation.[75]

In summary we have:

a) A symbolic representation for death, indicating that there may be more symbolism being used behind the text.

b) Clear condemnation and mocking of the prophet, using culturally charged epithets to disparage the prophet.

c) No indication from the narrator as to what Elisha’s curse actually was. No indication as to whether he wanted this to happen.

d) A clear hint as to what the author’s intent was for the story: to teach ancient readers respect for the prophet.

Question: Why are Old Testament penalties for disobedience so harsh?

The Law of Moses was a very strict law that was designed to teach the Children of Israel obedience

The Law of Moses was a very strict law that was designed to teach the Children of Israel obedience. It was indeed quite harsh when compared to our modern standards, however for its time (in several aspects at least) it was step forward from the even harsher surrounding Near Eastern cultures. (See our article about viewing troubling texts from the OT here).

When Jesus Christ came to earth, He fulfilled the Law of Moses. God reminds us that his ways are not our ways in Isaiah 55꞉8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Capital punishment was required generally for five reasons in Israel:

  1. Sexual purity - Sexual acts were given perhaps the strictest boundaries. This applies for adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, incest, and rape
  2. The worship of other Gods - God's people had to maintain a theological purity. Worshipping other gods in the scriptures is most often compared to adultery and/or whoredoms. Anything that usurped the authority of Jehovah was strictly prohibited. This applies to divination, and sacrificing to false Gods.
  3. Common moral injustices - this applies to theft, murder, kidnapping, and human sacrifice.
  4. Maintaining sociological order - This applies to cursing and striking parents.
  5. Maintaining ritual purity- God wanted Israel to be a people that was set apart from the rest. They had to show it through moral advances, strict obedience, and setting the world aside. This applies to Sabbath breakers and some of the strict legislation set for the Israelite camp.

The following were defined as crimes worthy of capital punishment under the Mosaic Law:

  1. Adultery (Leviticus 20:10-21; Deuteronomy 22:13-21) - Sexual fidelity was paramount for keeping the family unit intact.
  2. Approaching the Ark of the Covenant (Numbers 4:15, 20; 1 Samuel 6:19-20; 2 Samuel 6: 6-7) - See "Approaching the Tabernacle."
  3. Approaching the Tabernacle (Numbers 1:48-51) - This applied to non-Israelites who encroached on the tabernacle. This doesn't mean that outsiders weren't welcome (Exodus 22:21), just that intruders that disrupted the communal interest in an obviously malicious way were to be punished.
  4. Bestiality (Exodus 22:19) - Prohibitions against sexual promiscuity and adventurism enforced the familial ideal
  5. Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-16,23) - God required the fidelity and faithfulness of the Israelites.
  6. Cursing your parents (Exodus 21:17) - This also enforced the familial ideals of Israel
  7. Disobeying the judge or priest that mediates a specific case (Deuteronomy 17:8-13) - As noted in the New Oxford Annotated Bible,
    In the pre-Deuteronomic period, legal cases in which there was an absence of physical evidence or of witnesses were remanded to the local sanctuary, where the parties to the dispute would swear a judicial oath at the altar (19.17; Ex 22.7-11; 1 Kings 8.31-32; note also Ex 21.6). These two laws (17.2-7,8-13) thus fill the judicial void created by Deuteronomy's prohibition of the local sanctuaries (ch 12). Now, any case that requires recourse to the altar is remanded to the central sanctuary; all other cases, even capital ones, may be tried locally (vv 2-7). 8. These cases must be referred to the central sanctuary because, in the absence of witnesses o evidence, local officials cannot make a ruling. Between one kind of bloodshed and another, the legal distinction between murder and manslaughter (Ex 21. 12-14; Num 35. 16-23). In each pair, he distinction is between premeditated or unintentional offenses. 9: The tribunal at the sanctuary includes both priestly and lay members. The account of Jehosophat's setting up tribunals throughout Judah composed of lay and clerical judges reflects this law (2 Chr 19. 5-11)."[76]
  8. Divination (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27) - Witchcraft was equivalent to usurping the power of Yahweh since it convinced people into worshipping other Gods. The worship of other Gods is frequently juxtaposed with themes of whoredom and adultery.
  9. False prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:1-11; Zechariah 13:3) - There had to be a way to know who was a true prophet of Jehovah.
  10. Fornication (Leviticus 21:9) - Sexual fidelity was the primordial factor that enforced Israel's familial ideals.
  11. Homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22) - The joining of man and woman ensured the continuation of species and the rising up of a righteous generation of followers to Jehovah.
  12. Human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2) - The practice was deplorable as it wasted God's creation and was a frequent practice of neighboring civilizations.
  13. Incest (Leviticus 18:6-17) - Another law creating strict boundaries around sex. The bounds that God placed on sexual practice were for the specific purpose of fulfilling the ideals of the Plan of Salvation--to bring righteous souls to the earth so that the could participate in the gift of mortality and becoming like God.
  14. Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16) - Self-evident. This law applied to everyone whether Israelite, non-Israelite, slave, freeman, etc.
  15. Murder (Exodus 21:12-14) - Self-evident. The taking of innocent life was a very serious threat to creational ideals.
  16. Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-27) - Self-evident.
  17. Rebelliousness (Deuteronomy 17:12) - Another law regarding familial unity and congruency. Rebelliousness upset the family order. Though the laws governing capital punishment here were casuistic.
  18. Sacrificing to false gods (Exodus 22:19, 20; Numbers 25:1-9; Deuteronomy 13: 7-19; 17:2-5; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; 1 Kings 14:9-16; 1 Kings 18:37-40) - Consecrating oneself to God was of the utmost importance. This applied only to Israelites who had covenanted to follow Yahweh and then sacrificed to someone else. Sacrificing to other gods is often juxtaposed with themes of whoredom and adultery.
  19. Striking your parents (Exodus 21:15) - Another law regarding familial ideals.
  20. Violating the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-15; 35:2) - Strict laws ensured that Israel learned obedience and consecrated themselves to God.

Some have claimed that there was a death penalty for mixing certain kinds of fabrics together.[77] It is true that there was a prohibition for this type of mixing given in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9-11. Yet neither scripture points to a penalty of death for their violation. Why these mixing laws were given has been difficult to explain for biblical scholars though there are a number of different theories.[78]

JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: "Filial insubordination is a grave offense because respect and obedience toward parents is regarded as the cornerstone of all order and authority"

From the The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy:

Verses 18–21 describe the procedure to be followed if a son is repeatedly insubordinate and his parents conclude that there is no hope of reforming him: they are to bring him before the town elders who will hear the case and, if they agree, order his execution. The law seeks to deter filial insubordination, but, by requiring that the case be judged by the elders, it also places limits on parental authority, as does the preceding law. Earlier, in the patriarchal period, it appears that the father’s authority over his children was absolute, like the patria potestas of early Roman law, even to the point of his being able to have them executed for wrongdoing; this is implied by Judah’s ability to order the execution of his daughter-in-law for adultery, with no trial (Gen. 38:24). The present law respects the parents’ right to discipline their son, but it prevents them from having him executed on their own authority. This may only be done by the community at large on the authority of the elders.

Ancient Near Eastern laws and documents also mention legal action by parents against misbehaving children. The grounds include such offenses against parents as disobedience, flight, repudiation, lawsuits against them, failure to respect and provide for them in their old age, and striking them. The punishments range from disinheritance to enslavement and mutilation.

Filial insubordination is a grave offense because respect and obedience toward parents is regarded as the cornerstone of all order and authority, especially in a tribal, patriarchal society like ancient Israel. If the death penalty specified by the present law is meant literally, it implies that biblical law regards insubordination and the danger it poses to the stability of society more severely than do other known ancient Near Eastern laws. The fact that Exodus 21:15 requires the death penalty for striking one’s parents, whereas the Laws of Hammurabi require only that the son’s hand be cut off, supports this inference. Nevertheless, some scholars, modern and ancient, believe that the death penalty stipulated in the present law is meant only rhetorically, in terrorem, to strengthen parental authority and deter the young from disobedience. As in the case of the apostate city (13:13–19), halakhic exegesis subjected the law to an exceedingly narrow reading, according to which it could hardly ever be carried out. Several rabbis held that it was never actually applied, but was stated in the Torah only for educational purposes. [79]

Question: Why would a loving God would kill innocent children in the flood of Noah's day?

LDS scripture shows God exercising incredible restraint and only issuing the flood when there was no other option

Hugh Nibley wrote:

In giving us a much fuller account than the Bible of how the Flood came about, the [Enoch material in the Book of Moses] settles the moral issue with several telling parts: 1. God’s reluctance to send the Flood and his great sorrow at the event. 2. The peculiar brand of wickedness that made the Flood mandatory. 3. The frank challenge of the wicked to have God do his worst. 4. The happy and beneficial side of the event—it did have a happy outcome.[80]

The Joseph Smith Translation portrays God, and even nature itself, as mourning and weeping at the great sinfulness of mankind (Moses 7꞉28,37,40,45).

The depiction of the scene is so grim that Enoch himself begins to weep, but the Lord tells him, “Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look,” after which Enoch sees a vision of the earth repopulated from his righteous descendant, Noah and salvation coming through Christ (including little children) (Moses 7꞉44–45, see also Moroni 8꞉19 on salvation of children).

Enoch pleaded with the Lord, and the Lord delayed the Flood to give humanity another chance (Moses 7꞉50–52).

In the JST, God didn’t unleash nature; he held it back as long as he could.

Thus, rather than seeing God as capricious or a type of genocidal maniac, LDS scripture shows him exercising incredible restraint and only issuing the flood when there was no other option. Further, God makes ample provision for the salvation of all his children, and in LDS theology would not condemn children to hell, but instead exalts them (Mosiah 3꞉18-21, Mosiah 15꞉25, D&C 29꞉46-47, D&C 74꞉7).

There is also concern about the actuality of the flood

It should be noted that scholars still debate the purpose and the actuality of the flood narrative in the Bible. Thus, God really might not have committed any such "genocide" at all. See here for more information regarding that.

Question: Why would a loving God kill the firstborn of Egypt?

This was God's last option, not His first. He took no delight in it.

This had nothing to do with God deriving some sort of pleasure from killing "innocent children for the actions of others." God didn't want to kill anyone. Over and over and over again Moses came to Pharaoh, asking him to let the children of Israel go. The Pharaoh refused the request every time. There were nine plagues the preceded the Passover; Pharaoh could have gotten the message, but he didn't. This was God's last option, not His first. He took no delight in it. The killing of the Passover lamb and the placement of its blood above the doorway was a symbolic representation of how Christ would save us through his sacrifice.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland: "it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much"

Elder Jeffery R. Holland,

Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. [81]

Question: Why would God send poisonous serpents to kill the Children of Israel?

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you."

In Numbers 21꞉5-9, God teaches the Children of Israel an important lesson not only about obedience, but about the future atonement of Jesus Christ.

5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Jesus Christ actually used this story to foreshadow his own crucifixion John 3꞉14-15:

14 ¶And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you." The snake on the pole is a representation of Christ and the atonement. Those that simply looked at it were saved from physical death. Those that look upon and accept Christ are saved from spiritual death. What is amazing is that there were people who simply wouldn't look at it, despite how easy it would have been to do so. They simply refused to believe.

Moses lifts up the bronze serpent to the Israelites.

Joseph Fielding Smith: "This was also in the similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ"

Joseph Fielding Smith:

When the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord gave them the passover. They were to take a lamb without blemish; they were not to break any of its bones. They were to kill it, cook it, and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. This feast they were to remember annually thereafter until Christ should come. This was also in the similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If you stop to consider it, it was at the time of the passover that our Lord was taken and crucified in fulfillment of the promises that had been made that he would come to be our Redeemer.[82]

Question: Did Nephi commit "cold blooded murder" when he killed Laban?

Nephi did not commit the equivalent of a first-degree murder under the laws of his day

Nephi's action against Laban (found in 1 Nephi 4:5–18) certainly seems like a gruesome and extreme scenario. However, this is an example of the problem of cultural differences — modern readers raised in Western culture often fail to connect with Nephi's time and place.

Hugh Nibley recalled:

When in 1946 this writer composed a little treatise called Lehi in the Desert from limited materials then available in Utah, he had never knowingly set eyes on a real Arab. Within the last five years Aneze tribesmen and citizens of Mecca, including even guides to the Holy Places, have been his students, in Provo, of all places, while Utah has suddenly been enriched with a magnificent Arabic library, thanks to the inspired efforts of Professor Aziz Atiya of the University of Utah. As if it were not enough for the mountain to come to Mohammed, those sons of the desert who came to Provo found themselves taking a required class in the Book of Mormon from [me]. Naturally [I] was more than curious to see how these young men would react to the Book of Mormon treatment of desert themes, and invited and even required them to report frankly on their impressions. To date, with only one exception, no fault has been found with Nephi on technical grounds. The one exception deserves the attention of all would-be critics of the Book of Mormon.

It was in the first class ever held in "Book of Mormon for Near Eastern Students," and the semester had barely begun when of course we ran smack into the story of how Nephi found Laban dead drunk in a dark alley and cut off his head — a grisly tale that upsets Nephi himself in telling it. As we rehearsed the somber episode, I could detect visible signs of annoyance among the Arab students — whispered remarks, head-shakings, and frowns of dissent. Finally, toward the end of the hour, a smart young man from Jordan could hold out no longer. "Mr. Nibley," he said, plainly speaking for the others, "there is one thing wrong here. It doesn't sound right. Why did this Nephi wait so long to cut off Laban's head?" Since I had been expecting the routine protests of shock and disgust with which Western critics react to the Laban story, I was stunned by this surprise attack — stunned with a new insight into the Book of Mormon as a message from another age and another culture. [83]

John Welch has also argued that Nephi's action should be understood as protected manslaughter rather than criminal homicide. [84] The biblical law of murder, under which Nephi and Laban operated, demanded a higher level of premeditation and hostility than Nephi exhibited or modern law requires. Other factors within the Book of Mormon as well as in Moses' killing of the Egyptian in Exodus 2 support his conclusion that Nephi did not commit the equivalent of a first-degree murder under the laws of his day.

Question: Why didn't God simply preserve Nephi's life using divine power instead of requiring him to kill Laban?

The Lord actually did preserve Nephi and his brothers two times from being killed by Laban

The Lord actually did preserve Nephi and his brothers from being killed by Laban....twice.

God is not a magician who waves his wand and removes all obstacles. He expects us to do as much as we can. For example, God could have caused Laban to have had a heart attack, or cirrhosis of the liver, and died before Nephi got there, but that is simply not how God works.

If Joseph were making the story up, then why not just have Nephi just find Laban already dead in the street? Nephi's account actually seems to have been written to deliberately provide all the proper legal justification for the act, according to ancient Israelite law. This may not appease the ethical concerns, but, the point is, how did Joseph Smith know ancient Israel law so well? This is evidence that it was written by someone familiar with the legal code of that time and place.

Jeffery R. Holland: "It is wrong to assume that Nephi in any way wished to take Laban’s life"

Jeffery R. Holland:

It is wrong to assume that Nephi in any way wished to take Laban’s life. He was a young man, and despite a 600 B.C. world full of tensions and retaliations, he had never “shed the blood of man.” (1 Ne. 4:10.) Nothing in his life seems to have conditioned him for this task. In fact the commandments he had been taught from childhood declared, “Thou shalt not kill”; and he recoiled, initially refusing to obey the prompting of the Spirit. . . .

Laban, lying before Nephi in a drunken stupor, has not been guiltless in his dealings with Lehi’s family. In what little we know of the man, Laban has at least: (1) been unfaithful in keeping the commandments of God; (2) falsely accused Laman of robbery; (3) coveted Lehi’s property as a greedy, “lustful” man; (4) stolen that property outright; and (5) sought twice to kill Nephi and/or his brothers. He was, by the Holy Spirit’s own declaration, a “wicked” man delivered unto Nephi by the very hand of the Lord. [85]

Question: Are the scriptures misogynistic/sexist?

Introduction to Criticism

Some have criticized the scriptures for being misogynistic and/or sexist.

Sexism and misogyny are defined and explored in this article on the FAIR Wiki.

The scriptures are in their majority positive, supportive, and enlightened about women.

Scriptural analysis

It may be helpful to do a small scriptural analysis to understand its view of women. At creation, God created man and woman in his own image and gave them both, equally, dominion over the earth (Gen 1: 27; Moses 2:27; 6:9; Abr. 4:27). Latter-day Saints understand this to be that mankind is literally created in the image of God and that God and man are the same species (The Family Proclamation, 2nd Paragraph).[86] Man and woman were pronounced “one flesh” (Gen 2: 24- 25). This was the original ideal: that man and woman were one flesh, one status, equals. There are a number of other scriptures that affirm this equality. A few of the more popular ones include:

  • 2 Nephi 26:33 “all are alike unto God”
  • Exodus 20:12 “honor thy father and thy mother”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:11 “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

There are many other texts that speak positively of women. It is obvious that the Lord has a high view of women and their role in the Plan of Salvation.

The Challenging Texts

There are a few texts that do challenge the casual reader. Upon closer examination, the more challenging texts can be viewed in a much better light. First, see our article on bible hermeneutic that may be helpful in reconciling certain passages here.

The Bride Price

Polygamy and Concubinage

Many have seen the bible’s allowing for polygamy to be disrespectful of women. Jacob’s admonition reflects the scripture’s view of polygamy best—that it is an abomination except when commanded (Jacob 2: 25-30). When commanded it has specific purposes.

General lack of female writers in the scriptures

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #391: Why Are So Few Women Mentioned in the Book of Mormon? (Video)

Some have questioned why it is that only male writers were allowed to take control of canonization of holy writ for most of the scriptural texts.

It's indisputably true that men make up most of the voices of scripture. Named women make up anywhere between 5 - 8.8 % (depending on adjusting for duplicate names, different ways of translating certain names, and names that might be used for either a man or woman) named characters in the Bible (many more unnamed women exist. See this list done by Wikipedia for an exhaustive listing of all women in the Bible). The Book of Mormon only mentions 6 women by name (Abish, Eve, Isabel, Sarah, Sariah, and Mary). The Doctrine and Covenants only mentions two women by name (Emma Smith and Vienna Jaques). The Pearl of Great Price mentions 12 by name—7 of which appear elsewhere in scripture (Adah, Egyptus, Emma Smith, Eve, Katharine Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Lucy Smith, Milcah, Naamah, Sophronia Smith, Sarai, and Zillah).

Why is this the case? A few potential reasons (some offered by Book of Mormon Central at the link) might be offered:

  1. In the case of the Book of Mormon, New Testament, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, they "do not contain the kinds of texts, like law books or social histories, that discuss women more often, like the Old Testament does."
  2. In the case of all books of scripture, "[l]iteracy is another factor we must take into account. Unlike many modern Western societies, where both men and women are literate, in the ancient Near East and pre-Columbian America, it was primarily men who were literate."
  3. In the case of the Book of Mormon especially (but perhaps applying to other scriptural editors, authors, and compilers), one element "that may help explain the lack of women... is Mormon’s occupation. As a military commander, Mormon devoted much of the Book of Mormon to depictions of war. Yet, like most women in much of the rest of the ancient world, pre-Columbian American women rarely participated in warfare. Thus, much of the book discusses an activity that women would not be directly involved with: war."
  4. After the Fall, the scriptures indicate that the Patriarchal order was confirmed to be passed down from father to son (D&C 107:40). Thus male prophets are the only ones that should have been receiving revelation from God and writing it down as scripture.

Becoming a “help meet” for Adam

Some are dismayed by Eve being designated as a “helpmeet” (Genesis 2:18; Moses 3:18; Abraham 5: 14, 21) for Adam and not being simply his equal. Some interpret "help" as something subordinate to Adam. The Hebrew word translated as "help" is עֵזֶר (ʿezer). According to NET Bible:

Traditionally “helper.” The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (ʿezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here. See further M. L. Rosenzweig, “A Helper Equal to Him,” Jud 139 (1986): 277-80.

The word translated as "meet" is k'negdo. Again from NET Bible:

The Hebrew expression כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (k'negdo) literally means “according to the opposite of him.” Translations such as “suitable [for]” (NASB, NIV), “matching,” “corresponding to” all capture the idea. (Translations that render the phrase simply “partner” [cf. NEB, NRSV], while not totally inaccurate, do not reflect the nuance of correspondence and/or suitability.) The man’s form and nature are matched by the woman’s as she reflects him and complements him. Together they correspond. In short, this prepositional phrase indicates that she has everything that God had invested in him

“and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16)

This is indeed a patriarchal scripture. It represents the Fall's tragic disintegration of the equality and oneness that God envisions for Adam and Eve at Creation—being "one flesh." This is why we get some fallen social structures in the Old Testament that God has erased now. God still maintains dignity and demands respect for the woman in the Law of Moses presented a little later on—in ways that move beyond contemporary treatment of women. This is discussed in more detail below.

Part of Joseph Smith's theology is to restore the equality of the genders and bring both of them into dominion over the entire universe as they enter into the covenant of marriage and thus become gods (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20).

”Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20: 17)

Some have pointed to the ten commandments as an example of misogyny. A woman is listed among a house, servants, an ox, an ass, and other things that belongs to a man. It is true that women were treated as a man's property. For instance, as discussed in this article, a father could sell his daughter into marriage in times of economic duress. However, he could not sell away his wife.[87] Women could not be sold like animals or houses.

It is important to make a distinction between the legal status of women in Israel and the moral, and religious one. While there are examples like these that may indeed indicate a lower legal status, women (and more particularly married women) were morally and religiously considered equals with men. The woman was considered an equal partner in dominion over the earth with their husband (Genesis 1:27-28) and the man's complement (Genesis 2:18). Israelites were commanded to honor and respect (תיראו "stand in fearful awe of") both their father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 19:3).

Exodus 21:7-11

7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.
9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

This passage establishes the rights of an indentured female who becomes a wife in the household where she serves.[88] This paragraph is troubling to modern readers, but given the way that marriages were contracted and the way people lived in the ancient world, it was a good provision for people who might want to find a better life for their daughter.[89] It is a case of casuistic law.[90] Casuistic law is a law given for particular circumstances—characterized by “if…then” statements and generally not ideal situations.[91] Thus, we are dealing with something that was given for an unideal situation, not a necessarily common one. It was a time when the family was in economic stress and the father wanted to provide the daughter a better life—as stated before.[92] Here, the father is arranging for a man with means to marry her—not to sell her into “sex slavery." The word אָמָה (ʾamah) refers to a female servant who would eventually become a concubine or wife; the sale price included the amount for the service as well as the bride price. The arrangement recognized her honor as an Israelite woman, one who could be a wife, even though she entered the household in service. The marriage was not automatic, as the conditions show, but her good treatment was safeguarded come what may. The law was a way, then, for a poor man to provide a better life for a daughter and give him the safety net that Verse 8 is either suggesting something in a contradictory way or two different things.[93] It states that if the man is not pleased by the woman that he must let her be redeemed. But the second part of the verse suggests that the man is the one at fault since he has dealt with her deceitfully. This is universally understood to mean that the man promised to make the woman his wife but then balked. To be redeemed has a couple of alternative interpretations:

The verb is a Hiphil perfect with vav (ו) consecutive from פָּדָה (padah, “to redeem”). Here in the apodosis the form is equivalent to an imperfect: “let someone redeem her” – perhaps her father if he can, or another. U. Cassuto says it can also mean she can redeem herself and dissolve the relationship (Exodus, 268).[94]

Verse 9 then states that if the man betroths the girl to his son, that he must provide all rights and privileges afforded to daughters in the family—to treat her as any normal daughter.

Verse 10 then states that if he takes another wife, that he is not to diminish the rights of the daughter to the food of the family, clothing, nor her marital rights (that her status as a woman cannot be diminished with the marriage of another besides her):

The translation of “food” does not quite do justice to the Hebrew word. It is “flesh.” The issue here is that the family she was to marry into is wealthy, they ate meat. She was not just to be given the basic food the ordinary people ate, but the fine foods that this family ate.[95]

Verse 11 then states that if neither verse 8 nor 9 happen, then she is to go free without having any redeeming fee (“without having to pay money” NET).

What about verse 7? She’s not allowed to go out like the menservants are? The author cannot ascertain this. The NRSV renders verse 2 “a male Hebrew servant”, though the NET keeps the reading from the KJV as just “Hebrew servant”. Net Bible notes that:

The interpretation of “Hebrew” in this verse is uncertain: (1) a gentilic ending, (2) a fellow Israelite, (3) or a class of mercenaries of the population (see W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:431). It seems likely that the term describes someone born a Hebrew, as opposed to a foreigner (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 210). The literature on this includes: M. P. Gray, “The Habiru-Hebrew Problem,” HUCA 29 (1958): 135-202.[96]

In any case, Deuteronomy 15:12 makes it explicitly clear that both males and female Hebrew slaves received this treatment. So, it either a) Affirmed the law or b) updated the law soon after being given. This shows a quick redemptive move towards fairer treatment.

Numbers 5: The Trial of Jealousy

A few critics have pointed to Numbers 5 as an example of promoting inferiority of women. The text concerns itself with a trial given to a woman for adultery. It is true that this legislation only concerned women. But as we have noted elsewhere, the law of Moses had a planned obsolescence. It was a lesser law that afforded certain improvements on the then-current moral code, taught strict obedience to God, and set the Israelites apart as a chosen people. With regards to this scripture in particular, there are several points to make about the legislation that show some of these purposes in action:

1. Adultery was universally condemned for all Israelites (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-28). Both men and women could suffer capital punishment for adultery in the Old Testament (Leviticus 20: 10-21).

2. The trial afforded women the opportunity to be tested for adultery. Other ancient near eastern law codes such as the Laws of Hammurabi allowed for men to accuse their women with or without witnesses. Their trial was to throw them into a river and see if they floated. Other cultures threw people into a tar pit and only if they were able to escape would be considered innocent.

3. The trial here required a miracle from God to prove a woman’s guilt and not a miracle to prove their innocence. This also stands in stark contrast to other contemporary law.

Thus, this law does rise above standard practice of the day. John 8 contains an update to this law and that of Leviticus by Jesus where he tells the adulterous woman simply to go and sin no more.

Impurity at Birth (Leviticus 12:1-8)

Leviticus 12 offers some legislation on the impurity of women after childbirth. The text stipulates that a woman will leave the Israelite camp and remain unclean. The period of uncleanness differs between the birth of a boy or girl. The woman is ceremonially impure for forty days after the birth of a boy but eighty days after the birth of a girl. Why is this? A few explanations have been proposed

  1. Leviticus 15 explains more clearly that women were separated for their issue of blood. The resulting blood that comes from a female child may have simply separated the two for longer. This was done for reasons relating to physical health of the child, mother, and the Israelite camp in general.
  2. Some scholars indicate that this was a kind of protection of females rather than a sign of inferiority.
  3. Some scholars suggest the motive may be to preserve Israel’s religious distinctiveness over against Canaanite religion, in which females engaged in religious sexual rites in their temples.

Either with a son or a daughter, the mother is to bring the identical offering; this is to be a purification offering (12:6)—not technically a sin offering—and its purpose is to take away the ritual (not moral) impurity.[97]

Women as war booty? (Deuteronomy 20:13-14)

13 And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.

War was a way of life in the Ancient Near East. War provided people the opportunity to defend territory and gain territory as necessary. The question was always what to do with the people and property left over. Deuteronomy 21: 11-14 provided protocols that prevented the unfair treatment of women. The woman is to come to the house of the man, shave her head, cut her nails, take off any garb of captivity, and be given time to mourn.

The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible notes about these verses:

This procedure most likely originally applied to the Canaanite population (20.15–18n.). Female war captives routinely became concubines. This law accords such women dignity and protection against enslavement. 12–13: The rituals provide both captive and captor means to effect a transition from one status to another. 13: Full month, full period of mourning, as for Aaron and Moses (Num 20.29; Deut 34.8). Mourning, it is unclear whether the parents actually died in the war or are lost to her because of her captivity. The time to grieve implies legal respect for the female captive as a person. Go in to her, approach her sexually; consummation provides the legal means to become husband, and . . . wife. 14: Cf. Ex 21.7–8. Money, see 2.6n. Dishonored, “violated” sexually (22.24,29; Gen 34.2; Judg 19.24; 2 Sam 13.12).

To emphasize what is happening in verse 14, if the man is not pleased by the woman, he is not to sell her into slavery for money, not make “merchandise of her” because he has taken chastity from her.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 - Female Mutilation?

11 ¶ When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets:

12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

A few notes on translation:

  1. The phrase "Strive together" is better translated as "fighting"
  2. "Secrets" is better translated as "private parts".
  3. The word commonly used for hand in Hebrew, "yad" (as is used in verse 11) is not used in verse 12 and instead the word for palm, "kaph" is used. "Kaph" usually refers to the palm but can also refer to the sole of a foot, the hip socket, the concave area of the female genitalia, or other bent or bendy objects.[98]
  4. The word translated to "cut off" is used in the Qal form, which is a softer use than the Piel or Pual forms which are emphatic. The Qal form of the verb can refer to clipping or shaving hair as is seen in Jer 9:26; 25:23; and 49:32.[99]

The interpretation of the passage that has the most explanatory power is the literal one: that the woman was punished by having her hand cut off. It is the view of the majority of scholars. Scholars who have taken this view usually see the differing words for hand as just being specific since the palm of the hand of the woman (Kaph captures the instrumentality of the hand) is that which seized the genitals of the man and there is a parallel Assyrian law that required that a finger of the woman were to be severed for such a situation. The passage is referring to altercations and focuses on the importance of the person's ability to reproduce in the future.[100] An equal law applicable to men is presented in Exodus 21: 22-25 and focuses on reproduction. In that passage, if a woman is given a miscarriage because of a fight, the woman's husband is able to ask for whatever fine he demands and a judge approves. If further damage is done to her (such as her ability to reproduce), then lex talionis is invoked.[101] This is the only time that explicit mention of mutilation is laid out in the Bible.[102] Compare this to other contemporary law codes such as that of the laws of Hammurabi that allowed for "cutting off of the tongue, breast, hand, or ear--or the accused being dragged around a field by cattle."[103] There is more disagreement on if injury to the man grabbed is assumed here since there is no explicit mention of it. This differs from the parallel Assyrian law which is fairly explicit that injury is assumed--though the context is different since it is explaining punishments for women when there is a fight primarily between her and her husband. This situation is different in that it is primarily between man and man and the woman intervenes. It does seem to have more explanatory power to assume that injury or perhaps milder harm did occur, however. How is a woman to disarm the man without injuring him or causing some sort of pain to him? Why simply grab him?

There are at least two alternate interpretations of this passage:

  1. Since "kaph" can refer to either the hip socket (Gen 32:26, 32) refer to the woman's vulva (Song of Sol 5:5), it may be argued that the passage can be read as a literal lex talionis retributive punishment: eye for eye and genitalia for genitalia. This assumes that injury to the man actually occurred and not that it was merely attempted. If his genitalia gets damaged, so should the woman's--according to this interpretation of the passage.
  2. Assuming the interpretation of "kaph" used previously and given that the Qal form of "cut" is used, and noting the fact that the act of shaving for humiliation is practiced in Babylon and Sumer (also described in 2 Sam 10:4-5; Isa. 7:20), at least three scholars (that the author seems to determine at this time) have argued that the passage is better interpreted as the woman being required to shave her pubic region--exchanging humiliation for humiliation. This assumes that no harm to the man was done.[104] It should be mentioned that this isn't the majority view. Virtually all translations render these verses the same. The view should still be considered by reading everything these scholars have placed into the argument.

The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children; they were their meat in the destruction of the of the daughter of my people (Lamentations 4:10)

This text describes a siege that Israel underwent when Jerusalem was invaded. The NRSV changes “pitiful” to “compassionate” in its translation. The rest of the verse is a common trope to simply describe cannibalism that came with the siege in an ironic way—reversing the natural order i.e. mothers feeding children instead of the other way around. Cannibalism was often the result of famine during a siege (2 Kings 6:28) and a punishment for violating the covenant (Deut 28: 53-57).

Head of a woman is the man (1 Cor 11:3)

Some have had difficulty with this verse from the New Testament. Paul begins an argument from 1-10 affirming a kind of hierarchy that has woman the bottom, then man, then Christ, then God. But the argument breaks at verse 10 when he states “Nevertheless”.[105] From verse 13-16 Paul emphasizes that in the Lord there is mutuality and reciprocity.[106]

Scholar Craig Keener explains these verses in context:

Because most Christians gathered in the wealthier homes, Christians of different social strata and backgrounds met together; “naked” hair held different social connotations for different women. To wealthier women, it signified at most ostentation; to most women from the east, it symbolized immodesty and, at worse, seduction. As in the case of some other issues (e.g., 11:21), Paul must here address a clash of social values: just as to many idol food connoted idolatry hence should be avoided for others’ sake, so uncovered hair to many connoted seduction and immodesty, hence should be avoided for others’ sake. A modern Western equivalent might be someone walking into a religious service in a bathing suit; although this might not disturb some California beach churches during the Jesus movement, newcomers with such informal attire might disrupt traditional churches in, say, New England.

[. . .]

Paul alludes to angels he mentioned earlier: Just as the Corinthians’ future judgment of angels should encourage them to judge rightly now (6:3), so the women’s future authority over angels should motivate them to use properly their authority over their heads now. (The future authority may reflect a restoration of authority in Gen 1:27–28, fitting the context in 11:7.) She has a “right” to do with her head as she wills, but like Paul, she must give up her “rights” (the sense of exousia in 9:4–6, 12, 18; cf. 8:9) for the common good."[107]

Paul is then, affirming the authority of women and not their inferiority.

Latter-day Saint scholar Lynne Wilson has given a Latter-day Saint look at these verses:

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Unveiling Women’s Veils of Authority"

Lynne Hilton Wilson,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (February, 23, 2018)
The Apostle Paul’s theological explanation for female veil wearing (1 Corinthians 11:2–13) highlights the woman’s head covering as an expression of female empowerment or “authority/exousia.” It appears that the Corinthian saints struggled with this tradition, as Paul preceded the discussion with, “but I would have you know/thelõ de” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Rather than merely restating the dress code for certain prayers, Paul laid out the doctrinal background underlying the imagery. He began with the order of creation from the Garden of Eden. God was the “kephale,” meaning source or origin of Christ, who was the source of man, who was the source of woman. Paul taught that God’s glory (referring to man) should pray unveiled, and by the same token, humanity’s glory (referring to woman) should address God with her head covered (1 Corinthians 11:7). The early church interpreted the relationship between Adam and Eve typologically. The Edenic couple typified Christ and his Church — the Bridegroom and Bride. In this typological scenario, Eve (or the Church) worked through the mediator Adam (or Christ). In either a symbolic or literal interpretation, Paul described this empowering veil as a sign of unique female authority to pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5). By covering her head, female saints received “power on her head” and could interact with angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). Paul concluded by emphasizing that men and women are completely interdependent — woman was created from man, while man is born of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11–12). In this regard we see an equal status between men and women in their relationship with the Lord. Their relationship focuses on their union with each other and God.

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”Let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34-35 ; 1 Timothy 2:11-15)

Paul’s writings in the New Testament have bothered some. 1 Cor 14: 34-35 states:

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

35 And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.[108]

These are explicitly patriarchal and implicitly sexist injunctions. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible sought to harmonize these verses by changing “speak” in verse 34 and 35 to “rule”—suggesting that Joseph meant to bring this in harmony with the doctrines of priesthood organization and not suggest that women could not preach, expound upon the scriptures, pray, and so forth (D&C 25:7).

Approached differently, scholars have provided solid reasoning that this passage was a later addition to the text. Reasons given for this are as follows:

  1. It disrupts the flow of the argument from v 33 to v 37
  2. It contradicts the assumption of Paul in 1 Cor 11:5 that women would prophesy in the Church.
  3. It reflects non-Pauline sentiments e.g. in verse 34 “as also saith the law”. Paul repudiates “the law” several times in his letters as it had been fulfilled.
  4. The verses sometimes appear after v 40 in a few manuscripts, suggesting that it was uncertain how to place the argument in the canon.[109]

The same argument goes for the near identical passage in 1 Timothy 2: 11-15.

Accepting this shouldn’t be difficult if we believe the words of Joseph Smith:

I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers.[110]
There are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelations of the Holy Ghost to me.[111]

”To deliver thee from the strange woman’’ (Proverbs 2:16; 6:24)

These two passages in Proverbs advise to stay away from strange women and an evil woman. Both of these are obviously connected to themes of chastity. "Strange" just means foreign. Evil just refers to evil. Women can be foreign and evil without being inherently of less moral worth like the definitions of sexism and/or misogyny imply.

Better to dwell in the wilderness than with an angry and contentious woman (Proverbs 21:19)

This passage is male perspective trying to contrast between a prudent woman with a contentious woman (Cf. 19:13-14; 21:4). On the main this passage is true. Contention is not of the Lord (3 Nephi 11:29).

More bitter than the woman…whose heart is in snares (Ecclesiastes 7:26)

Ecclesiastes 7:26 reads

And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseath God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.[112]

The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible notes about this verse:

The woman who is a trap, this verse is not a polemic against women in general but echoes in allegorical fashion the warnings of other wisdom writings against Folly, personified as a seductive woman (Prov 2, 16-19; 5.20; 6. 24-35;7.5-27; 23. 27-28). Wisdom is elusive, but Folly is on a hunt to catch people unawares.[113]

"The Weaker Vessell" 1 Peter 3:7

1 Peter 3:7 reads:

7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

Some have taken issue with the author's statement of women as "the weaker vessell." The verse is emphasizing respect of women i.e. "giving honour unto the wife". Research has indicated that "untrained men have greater upper and lower body strength than trained women athletes in terms of both absolute and relative strength."[114] and "[m]en are physically stronger than women, who have, on average, less total muscle mass, both in absolute terms and relative to total body mass. The greater muscle mass of men is the result of testosterone-induced muscular hypertrophy. Men also have denser, stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments."[115] The larger message of 1 Peter is actually trying to affirm the equality of women during the times of the Roman empire when the patriarch was expected to be submitted to and his gods worshipped by all of his household including his wife and slaves. Peter in this letter is trying to affirm the equality of women before their Christian husbands. The context provided by the narrator of this video may prove enlightening here:


This is another issue where it is good to keep in mind how to best read the scriptures. Once read thusly, they can reveal the greater designs that God has for his covenant people.

Question: Do the scriptures promote racism?

First Gabon Baptisms, photo by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

No, the scriptures contain explicit condemnation of disparaging those who are foreign.

Some have questioned if the scriptures sanction racism whether implicitly or explicitly. The scriptures contain specific language affirming the equality of all people before God. Just a small sampling:

  • Genesis 1:26-27 – Man is made in the image of God.
  • Exodus 22:21 – foreigners are to be given respect in Israel
  • Leviticus 19:33-34 – Foreigners are not to be vexed while sojourning in Israel.
  • Leviticus 25:39-42 – If foreigners are poor, they are to be hired with contracted, paid labor. Not slave labor.
  • Deuteronomy 24:7 – If someone kidnaps another to sell them into slavery, the thief was given capital punishment.
  • The Book of Ruth – Ruth, a Moabitess (Moabites receiving a restriction from entering the congregation of the Israelites) was permitted to enter the congregation and was even given the opportunity to canonize her writings that had the object of opposing the restriction of intermarrying with the Moabites.
  • 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 – The Lord is not a respector of persons.
  • Mark 12:31 – Love thy neighbor as thyself
  • Philippians 2:3-4 – let everyone esteem each other better than themselves.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:14 – A look towards Equality
  • 1 John 4: 19-21 – If a man says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.
  • Romans 1:16 – Both Jew and Gentile receive Gospel.
  • Romans 10:12-13 – No difference between Jew and Gentile
  • Mark 16:15 – The gospel should be preached to every creature.
  • Acts 17:26 – God hath made one blood of all nations.
  • 1 John 3:15-16 – Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.
  • John 7:24 – Judge not according to appearance.
  • Colossians 3:25 – there is no respect of persons.
  • Acts 10: 34-36 – God is no respector of persons.
  • 2 Nephi 26:29 – all are alike unto God.

The Challenging Texts

Interracial Marriage

The majority of the texts of the Bible for which racism is claimed have to do with interracial marriage. All passages that do have to do with marriage are not distinguishing based on race but rather the worship of other Gods. All idolatry and worshipping of other Gods in the Old Testament was strictly forbidden to all Israelites on the penalty of death (Exodus 20:5 22:20). This is the focus of every passage dealing with intermarriage.

  • Deuteronomy 7 (The Canaanites)

The text of Deuteronomy 7 consists of the Lord’s preliminary commands to Israel for the conquest of Canaan. Verse 3 states that

3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

As stated before, this had to do with idolatry and the worshipping of other Gods. The very next verse states:

4 For they will turn away they son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
  • Numbers 25 (Intermarriage with the Moabites)

Numbers 25 is another example of the discouragement of intermarriage based upon the fear of worship of other Gods. The chapter begins by indicating that Israel began to commit whoredoms with the daughters of Moab and that the Moabites seduced Israelite men into orgiastic adultery and worship of Baal (this becomes crucial to the Lord’s decision in Numbers 31 to kill them). God then commands that the heads of the Israelites to be arrested and executed (likely my impalement), and hung up to show the severe punishment brought for this idolatry. Moses issues another command: to kill any idolaters. Because the wrath of God is not turned away by following God’s command to execute a few, a plague follows (see 25:8-9; cf. 25:18; 31:8-16). The second story follows the beginning of this plague. Zimri, an Israelite man, marries Cozbi, a “Midianitish woman” (“Midianitish is translated simply as “Midianite” in the NIV, NET, and NRSV). Phinehas, an Israelite man, slays Zimri and Cozbi with a spear (translated as “javelin” in the KJV). The plague is turned away but it is recorded that roughly 24,000 had died. The Lord declares he (Phinehas) “hath turned my wrath away from the Children of Israel…” He then rewards him with a “covenant of peace” interpreted as a covenant of “everlasting priesthood.” By turning away the idolatry and harlotry away from Israel, God was pleased.

  • Nehemiah 13: 1-3, 23-30

Nehemiah contains prohibitions against Moabites and Ammonites from entering the congregation of the Lord. Both Deuteronomy and Nehemiah state that this prohibition is “forever.” Deuteronomy is the first to mention the prohibition against Moabites and Ammonites. Genesis 12:3 implies judgement on those who do wrong against Israel. Deuteronomy gives the actual rationale for the prohibition in 23:4

4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, and because they hired against thee Mesopotamia, to curse thee.

5 Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD they God loved thee.

The prohibition was not because Israel was racist. Rather, it was that Israel had to have the Moabites and/or Ammonites accept Yahweh and be genuine worshippers of him.[116] For instance, as has been noted elsewhere "[s]ome scholars believe that the book of Ruth was written (or, at least, finalized) during or just after [the fifth-fourth centuries before Christ." Ruth the Moabitess was allowed into the congregation and allowed to canonize her "protest or caution against overemphasis on racial purity. Ruth, a Moabite woman — the Moabites were despised neighbors of Israel — converts to the religion of the Israelites, marries into Israel, and becomes the ancestor of the royal house of David and, thereby, of the Messiah himself."[117]

The Jews as a “Chosen People”

Some have seen the Jews as being a “chosen people” as a type of ethnocentrism and racism. This is an interesting accusation considering they were trying to preserve the covenant that eventually blessed “all the families of the earth.” (Genesis 12:3; 28:14). This also disregards passages that provide explicit injunctions for the inclusion of foreigners among the Israelites such as has been listed above.

The Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman

Some have criticized the Savior for being a “racist” for the encounters with the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 and Mark 7. This has been addressed thoroughly by Evangelical apologist Tim Barnett.


Some have criticized certain passages of scripture that are claimed to promote anti-semitism. These passages include Matthew 23:31-35; 1st Thessalonians 2:14-16; Acts 2:22-36; 3:15; 10:39; John 8:44; Titus 1:10-11; Titus 15-16; and 2 Nephi 10:3. These passages have been used by Christians in the past to justify prejudiced sentiments and actions towards Jews. That cannot be disputed. What can be disputed is that there's is the only way to understand them. One way to interpret these passages is that they all relate specifically to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Readers have and should always normally separate the larger group of people from the people and specific actions they take. The Book of Mormon is actually one of the best guides in this regard as has been demonstrated by author Bradley J. Kramer.[118]

Regarding 2 Nephi 10:3-5 specifically, Kramer insightfully observes:

[D]uring the rare times when the prophets in the Book of Mormon do attempt to identify Jesus' killers, they do so sing vague terms such as "the world" or "wicked men" (1 Nephi 19:7-10), or they employ phrases that while they may appear at first to indict all Jews everywhere actually absolve the vast majority of Jews of any involvement in Jesus's [sic] death. Jacob's "they at Jerusalem" (2 Nephi 10:5), for example, may seem to some readers unfamiliar with Jewish history to prophesy that the Jews in general will crucify Jesus. These readers link this phrase with "the Jews" in verse 3 and see it as both affirming and intensifying Jewish culpability. To them, the statement that "there is none other nation on earth that would crucify God" seems to damn all Jews everywhere. However, only a relatively small percentage of the world's Jews in the first century lived in Jerusalem and the area around it. During the time of Jesus, most Jews were still residing in Babylon or were scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean, in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Ephesus. These "diaspora" Jews were the descendants of the vast number of Jews who did not return to their ancient homeland after the Persians defeated the Babylonians and instead took advantage of the new opportunities afforded them by their conquerors to spread themselves throughout the region. Indeed, David Klinghoffer, a Jewish historian and essayist, estimates that during Jesus's time there were about a million Jews living in "Jewish Palestine" while five million Jews were dispersed around the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East.[6] Other scholars, such as Samuel Sandmel, think that this 5 to 1 ratio could have been even higher, possibly even 10 to 1.[7] And Jerusalem was only one city in this "Jewish Palestine." As a result, "they at Jerusalem" instead of prophetically spreading the responsibility of Jesus's death to all Jews everywhere actually limits it to a smalls segment of the overall Jewish population...

But were all Jews living in the 1st century Jerusalem responsible for Jesus's death? Not according to the Book of Mormon. Just as the subject of 2 Nephi 10:5 prophetically reduces the number of Jews who will be involved in Jesus's death to a small fraction of the Jews living during the first third of the first century CE, its predicate softens what that involvement will be. Here, "they shall crucify him" of verse 3 becomes "they...will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified." In other words, not only will a small number of Jews contribute to Jesus's death sometime in the future but their contribution will also be small--possibly consisting only of an unwillingness to speak up against it or a reluctance to challenge publicly those pushing it. Furthermore, as the introductory phrase of 2 Nephi 10:5 points out, whatever these people will (or will not) do will occur not because of an informed, deep-seated, conscious conviction but "because of priestcrafts and iniquities." In other words, many of these first-century Jerusalemites will be manipulated, psychologically or physically, by corrupt priests and leaders. Consequently, it is these Jewish priests and leaders who bear most of the non-Roman responsibility for Jesus's death, not the general Jewish populace.

[. . .]

In this way, by analogy, the Book of Mormon renders a verdict as to who was responsible for Jesus's death. Ruling decision-makers, mostly Roman, are clearly guilty, as are to some degree their advisors, those who pressed for his death. However, the general population of Jerusalem was not. And neither were the vast majority of Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem. Some Jewish leaders at that time were most likely involved in Jesus's death in some way or other and therefore bear some guilt, but given the methods used to execute him, even they cannot, strictly speaking, be called Christ-killers. Since only Romans crucified people, that term can only be applied to Romans--not to Jews then and certainly not now.[119]

One may be able to hedge on Kramer's interpretation of Jacob 10:3-5. For example:

  • "Priestcrafts" could refer to Jewish leaders but it could also be referred to generally as those that set themselves up as a "'light unto the world,' in order to 'get gain and praise' without concern for the welfare of [God's people] (2 Nephi 26:29; cf. Alma 1:16; 3 Nephi 18:24)."[120]
  • "Iniquities" is ambiguous since it could refer to the priests, Roman leaders, the general populace, a small subsection of the general populace, or some other combination of them. Whose iniquities are we referring to? The question remains unanswerable.
  • The references to "nation" and "they at Jerusalem" could refer to 1st century AD Jerusalem but could also refer to 7th century BC Jerusalem with no diaspora Jews--thus the entire race of Jews could be condemned. Under this line of logic, the Lehites would have felt prejudice towards those at Jerusalem who chased them out of their land and thus Jacob here would be issuing a polemic against them. The Jews are those most guilty for being complict, orchestrating, and/or facilitating in any other way the death of Jesus. If one adopts this interpretation, then the only possible apologetic response would be to suggest that this is a hyperbolic yet mistaken indictment. This wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for Latter-day Saints since The Book of Mormon states that some mistakes may be present in the record. Are we really to going to claim that no other nation would crucify Jesus?

All this said, Kramer's argument still works within the syntactical structure of the verses as a fully-viable interpretive possibility--demonstrating that some measured skepticism should be had towards those that would seek to make these verses have only one possible interpretation: the most negative one possible.

”Dark mark” on Lamanites and the racist perception of the Nephites?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #57: What Does it Mean to be a White and Delightsome People? (Video)

Some have claimed that the “Dark mark” on the Lamanites (2 Nephi 5:21) is the result of a type of racism that the Nephites practiced against blacks. According to this reading of the Book of Mormon, Nephi says that the Lamanites were cursed by God with a literal skin of blackness and that their skins literally changed in their melanin content from lighter to darker. Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles specifically disavowed this interpretation of 2 Nephi 5 on behalf of the Church in January 2020.[121] Additionally, this is not the only possible interpretation of the verses. It does not hold the distinction of being even the most likely correct interpretation of these verses. Brant Gardner has marshaled a lot of evidence to suggest that these verses and others that refer to skin in the Book of Mormon refer to moral/spiritual purity that led to a change in countenance.[122] Ethan Sproat argues that references to skin color are in fact references to “a kind of authoritative garment. The relevant texts further lend themselves to associating such garment-skins with both the Nephite temple and competing Lamanite claims to kingship.”[123] Author Adam Stokes has provided Semitic background as potentially helpful interpretive aid to the Book of Mormon's passages on darkness/blackness.[124] Gerrit M. Steenblik argues that references to skin in the Book of Mormon refer to “an ancient Maya body paint tradition, chiefly for warfare, hunting, and nocturnal raiding. This discovery shifts possible explanations from the Old World to the New and suggests that any ‘mark’ upon Book of Mormon people may have been self-applied.”[125] Steenblik’s explanation enjoys a lot of popularity among scholars of the Book of Mormon. David M. Belnap has outlined other possibilities for interpreting and understanding these passages from the Book of Mormon in a long, beautiful paper in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship on the inclusive, anti-discriminatory message of the Book of Mormon.[126] Jan J. Martin argues "that all four of the Lamanite descriptors in 2 Nephi 5—cut off, cursed, skin of blackness, and loathsome—are best understood from within a covenant perspective, specifically from within the ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal covenant relationship that God made with Lehi's family."[127] Clifford P. Jones argues that the dark mark was "a sacrilegious, permanent mark made by incision (an ancient tattoo) which, under the law of Moses, represented rebellion against God and his laws."[128]

Another meaningful way to look at this might be to look at how Egyptians labeled their enemies. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt notes that, in their murals and other iconography, Egyptians used to colorize foreigners and their enemies as black even when they were not black since "[w]ithin the scheme of Egyptian/non-Egyptian skin color, black was not desirable for ordinary humans[.]" Black "marked out figures as foreign, as enemies of Egypt, and ultimately as representatives of chaos; black thereby contrasted with its positive meaning elsewhere."[129] Something similar may very well be going on in the Book of Mormon.

Even if we are speaking about a literal skin change, the Book of Mormon does not argue that the Nephites are inherently superior because of their white skin as racism entails. 2 Nephi 26:33 immediately refuted that. The skin was applied to the Lamanites because the Lord did not want the Lamanites to be sexually appealing to the Nephites and thus so that the Nephites would not have unbelieving posterity with the Lamanites. As anyone from the Lamanites repented, the curse was removed from them. This is about moral responsibility; not stratifying people according to different races and assigning them less or more inherent moral worth.

Obviously, there's not one way to interpret these texts and further revelation will be needed to clarify them; but this should be sufficient to demonstrate, against critics, that immediately going for a literal skin change interpretation and charging the Book of Mormon of racism has serious issues.

Another related criticism to this is that the supposed racism stems from Joseph Smith's racist 19th century worldview and that he was injecting it into the Book of Mormon. Though there are problems with this reading. The first is that the Book of Mormon does not imbibe in the 19th century conceptions of Native Americans. Author Jeremy Talmage has astutely observed that if the Book of Mormon were to assign any racial categorization to Native Americans, they would have been described as "red" and not "black".[130] The second is that, as non Latter-day Saint historian Max Perry Mueller observes, the Book of Mormon overturns many then-popular conceptions of race. To wit, the Book of Mormon does not see race as immutable. In Mueller's view, "the Book of Mormon taught its earliest believers that race was not real, that is, race was not a permanent part of God's vision for humanity."[131] The Book of Mormon says that if the Lamanites repented, they would be changed (under the literal interpretation) from their darker skin to their lighter skin (2 Nephi 5:22). This was a mark placed on the Lamanites and not a permanent race (and especially not like that conceived in antebellum America).

Darkness on the Canaanites (Moses 7)

Moses 7 is part of a vision of the prophet Enoch. Verses 8 and 22 have caused some concern for some. The texts state:

8 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.
22 And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

Author Stephen O. Smoot explains clearly why these verses should not be interpreted as referring to a literal change in skin color.

The text describes a curse of barrenness upon the land of the people of Canaan as well as a “blackness” covering the people. The curse applies only to the land, however, with no mention of a curse upon the pre-Flood Canaanites themselves. The “blackness” of the people of Canaan is never explicitly depicted in a racialized manner (that is, as speaking of skin color). Elsewhere in the text, “blackness” is used to describe the presence of Satan in contrast to the brilliant glory of God, suggesting that a spiritual or metaphorical reading of the “blackness” of the Canaanites and the descendants of Cain (Moses 7:22) is to be preferred. (See the commentary at 1:15.) Modern leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have officially rejected any racist interpretations of these and related passages of scripture that attempt to link personal worthiness and value in the eyes of God with skin color.[132]

Author Adam Stokes has also proposed alternative, informed, non-racist readings of the Book of Moses' passages at length.[133]

That race that was cursed according to the Priesthood (Abraham 1:24-27)

Some have held that the Book of Abraham preserves doctrines of the African race being cursed by God relevant to the priesthood. Stephen O. Smoot has pointed out the main problems with this interpretation.

These verses have in the past been (mis)read to justify a ban on men of African descent from holding the priesthood, even though the text says nothing about the curse and priesthood restriction being associated with skin color. From the immediate context it is apparent that the issue is more along the lines of rightful priesthood succession rather than skin color (compare Abraham 1:3–4, 25–27, 31). The racist reading of these verses that links worthiness to hold the priesthood with skin color has been officially rejected by modern leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[134]

Following along Smoot's line of thought, Latter-day Saint egyptologist John S. Thompson has demonstrated at considerable length and detail why the racist interpretation of the Book of Abraham is incorrect.[135]

As can be seen, claims of the scriptures being racist generally lack context and depth.

Question: Does the Bible endorse human sacrifice?

This page is still under construction. We welcome any suggestions for improving the content of this FAIR Answers Wiki page.

The Bible condemns, multiple times, any practice of human sacrifice or similar practices

Some have claimed that the Bible promotes human and infant sacrifice. This is contradicted by several passages in the Bible (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). Additionally, this is seen in a negative light in the Book of Mormon (Mormon 4:14). The carrying out of the sacrifice by Abraham was difficult for him and God and it can be seen that God had a different purpose for it.

The Challenging Texts

Passages that claim to be endorsing human sacrifice come from 2 Kings 3:27; Judges 11:30-40, and Exodus 22:29. Some of these have been addressed by Evangelical scholar and Christian apologist Paul Copan whom we quote below.

Paul Copan: “Infant sacrifice in Israel?”

Infant Sacrifice in Israel?

Not a few critics will point out that the Old Testament assumes that infant sacrifice was acceptable in Israelite society and demanded as an act of worship by the God of Israel. Some will showcase Abraham and Isaac (though hardly an infant) as one such example. Such criticisms are off the mark, however.

For one thing, the Mosaic law clearly condemns child sacrifice as morally abhorrent (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut 12:31; 18:10). As Susan Niditch points out in War in the Hebrew Bible, the “dominant voice” in the Old Testament “condemns child sacrifice” since it opposes God’s purposes and undermines Israelite society.

Let's look at a couple of passages that allegedly suggest that human sacrifice was acceptable.

Mesha, King of Moab: 2 Kings 3:27

Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land (2 Kings 3:27)

Here, Mesha, king of Moab, sacrifices his firstborn son on the wall of Kir Hareseth (in Moab). After this, the Israelite army withdrew because of “wrath.” Some think this is God’s wrath and that God is showing his approval of Mesha’s sacrifice of his son by responding in wrath against Israel. This view, however, has its problems:

  • This notion is at odds with clear condemnation of child sacrifice earlier in the Pentateuch (Deut 12: 31; 18:10) as well as repudiation of it within Kings itself (2 Kings 16:3; 17:7; 21:6).
  • The word fury or wrath (qetseph) isn’t divine wrath[136] Elsewhere in 2 Kings, a cognate word (coming from the same root as qetseph) clearly refers to human fury (5:11; 13:19).
  • Typically, commentators suggest several plausible interpretations: (1) This was Moab’s fury against Israel because their king, Mesha, forced by desperation, sacrificed his son; Mesha’s goal was to prompt Moab’s renewed determination to fight. (2) The Israelites were filled with horror or superstitious dread when they saw this human sacrifice, causing them to abandon the entire venture. (3) Even though Mesha, had failed in his attempt to break through the siege (perhaps to head north for reinforcements), he was still able to capture the king of Edom’s firstborn son, whom he sacrificed on the wall, which demoralized Edom’s army. The wrath of Edom’s army ended the war because they withdrew from the military coalition of Israel, Judah, and Edom.[137]

Jephthah’s Daughter: Judges 11:30-40

Israel’s judge Jephthah made a rash vow: “Whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon [who were oppressing Israel], it shall be the Lord’s and I will offer it up a burnt offering” (Judg. 11:31). Perhaps he was thinking it might be one of his servants, who would most likely come out to attend him. Yet he was horrified to see that “his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing” (v. 34).

Some Old Testament scholars argue that Jephthah didn’t literally sacrifice his daughter. Most, however, are convinced that the text asserts this. So let’s take for granted the worst-case scenario. Then come the inevitable questions: Wouldn’t Jephthah have clearly known that child sacrifice was immoral and that God judged the Canaanites for such practices? Why then did he go ahead with this sacrifice? Was it because God really did approve of child sacrifice after all?

We’ve already affirmed that is doesn’t mean ought in the Old Testament; just because something is described doesn’t mean it’s prescribed as a standard to follow. Certain behaviors are just bad examples that we shouldn’t follow (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-12). So let’s make the necessary changes and apply our questioner’s reasoning to another judge—Samson. As a judge of Israel, wouldn’t he have clearly known that touching unclean corpses was forbidden (Judg. 14: 8-9), especially given his (permanent) Nazarite vow (Num 6)? Wasn’t he fully aware that consorting with prostitutes was prohibited (Judg. 16:1)? You get the idea. Keep in mind that we’re talking about the era of Israel’s judges. To borrow from Charles Dickens, this was in large part the worst of times, an age of foolishness, the season of darkness, and the winter of despair. So critics should be careful about assuming Jephthah (or Samson) was in peak moral condition.

Some might wonder, “Didn’t the Spirit of the Lord’ come on Jephthah?” (Judg. 11:29). Yes, but we shouldn’t take this as a wholesale divine endorsement of all Jephthah did—no more so than the Spirit’s coming on Gideon (Judg. 11:29) was a seal of approval on his dabbling with idolatry (Judg. 8:24-27), or of Ehud’s, for that matter (Judg 3:26). Yes, these judges of Israel would surely have known idolatry was wrong. Likewise, “the Spirit of the Lord” came upon Samson to help Israel keep the Philistines at bay (Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14). Yet his plans to marry a Philistine woman, cavorting with a prostitute, and getting mixed up with Delilah all reveal a judge with exceedingly poor judgement! We can surely find a lesson in here somewhere about how God works despite human sin and failure.

The theology of Judges emphasizes a remarkable low point of Israelite morality and religion, with two vivid narratives at the book’s end to illustrate this (chaps. 17-21). Israel continually allowed itself to be “Canaanized.” And in light of Judges’ repeated theme, “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25; cf. 2:10-23), we shouldn’t be surprised that Israel’s leaders were also morally compromised. We don’t have to look hard for negative role models in Judges, when Israel was in the moral basement. The Jephthah story needs no explicit statement of God’s obvious disapproval.

Some might press the point: doesn’t the Old Testament refer to offering the firstborn to God (Exod. 22:29-30)? Following Ezekiel 20:25-26, they claim that God literally gave harmful (“not good”) statutes by which Israel could not “live”—commands involving sacrificing the firstborn child in the fire. They assert that Yahweh just didn’t like it when Israel sacrificed children to other gods! However, no such distinction is made; infant sacrifice—whether to Yahweh or to Baal or Molech—is still detestable. Yes, this was a common practice in Israel and Judah (e.g. 2 Kings 17:17; 23:10), and kings Ahaz, Manasseh, and others made their sons and daughters “pass through the fire” (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chron 33:6). But commonality here doesn’t imply acceptability. Exodus does refer to the “redemption”—not sacrifice—of the womb-opening first-born child; God himself redeemed his firstborn Israel by bringing them up from Egypt (Exod 13:13; cf. 4:23).

What then is Ezekiel talking about? The text clearly indicates that God gave the Sinai generation “statutes” (chuqqot) (e.g. Sabbath commands) by which an Israelite might “live” (20:12-13). Israel rejected these laws given at Sinai; they refused to follow them (v. 21). So God “withdrew [His] hand.” God responded to the second (or wilderness) generation as he does in Romans 1: he “gave them over to statues that were not good and laws they could not live by” (Ezek. 20:25 NIV). Ezekiel not only distinguishes this word statutes (the masculine plural chuqqim) from statutes elsewhere in the context (the feminine noun chuqqot). The text also involves quite a bit of irony. God sarcastically tells Israel to “go, serve everyone his idols” (Ezek 20:39); to put it another way, “go, sacrifice your children.” This ironic “statute” to stubborn Israel to continue in idolatry and infant sacrifice is comparable to God’s sarcasm in Amos 4:4: “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more” (NIV). The same is true of the prophet Micaiah, who tells the disobedient, Yahweh-ignoring king of Israel, “Go up and succeed, and the Lord will give it unto the hand of the king” (1 Kings 22:15). These are the sorts of sarcastic “commands” that aren’t “good” and by which Israel can’t “live”.[138]

The Value of Unborn Life

One of the big differences between Old Testament laws and their ancient Near Eastern counterparts is the value of human life. Despite this, it’s not unusual to hear that in ancient Israel unborn life wasn’t as valuable as life outside the womb. Indeed, certain proabortion advocates have sought theological justification for permitting abortion in the following passage:

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [some advocate an alternate reading: “she has a miscarriage”] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exod 21:22-25 NIV).

The key issue is this: should the Hebrew word yalad be translated “give birth prematurely” or “have a miscarriage”? If the mother miscarries, then the offender only has to pay a fine; the implication in this case is that the unborn child isn’t as valuable and therefore isn’t deserving of care normally given to a person outside the womb. Apparently, this Old Testament passage shows a low(er) regard for unborn life.

Let’s skip to another passage, Psalm 139, which strongly supports the value of the unborn:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My fame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (vv. 13-16 NIV)

Keep this text in mind as we go back to the Exodus 21 passage. Contrary to the above claims, Exodus 21 actually supports the value of unborn human life. The word yalad means “go forth” or “give birth,” describing a normal birth (Gen. 25:26; 38:28-30; Job 3:11; 10:18; Jer 1:5; 20:18). It’s always used of giving birth, not of a miscarriage. If the biblical text intended to refer to a miscarriage, the typical word for “miscarry/miscarriage” (shakal/shekol) was available (e.g., Gen 31;38; Exod 23:26; Job 21:10; Hosea 9:14). Miscarry isn’t used here.

Furthermore, yalad (“give birth”) is always used of a child that has recognizable human form or is capable of surviving outside the womb. The Hebrew word nepel is the typical word used of an unborn child, and the word golem, which means “fetus,” is used only once in the Old Testament in Psalm 139:16, which we just noted: God knew the psalmist’s “unformed body” or “unformed substance.”

This brings us to another question: Who is injured? The baby or the mother? The text is silent. It could be either, since the feminine pronoun is missing. The gist of the passage seems to be this:

If two men fight and hit a pregnant woman and the baby is born prematurely, but there is no serious injury [to the child or the mother], then the offender must be fined whatever the husband demands and the court allows. But if there is a serious injury [to the baby or the mother], you are to take life for life, eye for eye.

These verses then actually imply the intrinsic value of the unborn child—that the life of the offender may be taken if the mother’s or the child’s life is lost. The unborn child is given the same rights as an adult (Gen 9:6).

New Atheists and other critics often resort to caricatures or misrepresentations of the Old Testament laws. While Mosaic laws do not always reflect the ultimate or the ideal (which the Old Testament itself acknowledges), these laws and the mind-set they exhibit reveal a dramatic moral improvement and greater moral sensitivity than their ancient Near Eastern counterparts.[139]

Violence in the scriptures

Question: Do the scriptures endorse child abuse?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #412: How Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac Illuminates the Atonement (Video)

It is claimed that God’s command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is an example of divinely endorsed child abuse.

Some claim that God’s command of Abraham to slay Isaac is an example of divinely endorsed child abuse. Anyone who knows the story is aware that the story is not about abusing Isaac nor does it even insinuate such. Rather, it is about God’s desire for Abraham to be willing to follow him despite hard trials to follow in his life. It also foreshadows the offering of God’s only begotten son in the flesh—Jesus Christ—saving us in Gethsemane and on the cross.

It is also claimed that God’s sending of Christ to be crucified instead of himself is such an example

In the case of Christ, some secular critics claim that God is an abuser by sending his son to die on the cross. The short answer is that Christ was foreordained to come to earth to redeem all mankind. He voluntarily gave himself in the pre-mortal council to become our Savior (Moses 4:1-2; Rev 13:8; 1 Peter 19:21). Upon coming here to earth, his agency was not taken away from him. He had the ability to put down his life and to take it back up (John 10:18). It was God’s plan from the beginning, but the supernal gift and voluntary sacrifice of a loving Savior.

There are cases where the Bible may be endorsing corporal punishment, which many see as child abuse

There are scriptures in the Bible that some see as endorsing corporal punishment and many today see corporal punishment as child abuse.

One example of this is Proverbs 13:24

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Other examples can be found in Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 26:3, and Proverbs 29:15.

The meaning of these scriptures is unclear. Readers are encouraged to simply be aware of them and, by the Spirit, discern their proper interpretation for their own circumstances.

Further reading



  1. Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 48–49.
  2. N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 181
  3. Alden Thompson, Who's Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 33.
  4. Ibid., 32
  5. Hittite Laws 167. See Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
  6. See Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).
  7. Bruce C. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 43.
  8. William J. Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001).
  9. This section is slightly adapted from chapter 3 in John Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 245.
  10. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), Ebook loc. 91–108.
  11. My phrase "immune from criticism" is taken from Francis Watson, Text, Church, and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 173–87, 231. For similar sentiments, see Ellen F. Davis, "Critical Traditioning: Seeking an Inner Biblical Heremeneutic," The Art of Reading Scripture, ed. E.F. Davis and R.B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 163–80; Werner Jeanrond, Theological Hermeneutics: Development and Significance (London: SCM Press, 1994), 114–15; I. Howard Marshall, Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004); Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009); Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word of God: Engaging Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 35. Perhaps, too, Walther Moberly, "What is Theological Interpretation of Scripture?" JTI 3 (2009): 161–78.
  12. On Christian Doctrine, 3.10, 12 (NPNF1 2.560–62).
  13. By saying Scripture is "broken," I do not mean to suggest that it "does not work" or "cannot serve its purpose." Rather, I mean that Scripture, like everything created by God but touched by the Fall, is at the same time both beautiful and in need of repair. Nothing claimed here is in tension with "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). John's words are not a denial of sin's effect on Scripture. Rather, they merely restate the Jewish assumption that Scripture "always remains in force." See Barnabas Lindars, The Gospel of John (NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 374.
  14. Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word Broken Word, 46–48.
  15. Kenton Sparks, “Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2012) Kindle Loc 558
  16. Matthew Flanagan, Paul Copan Interview with Jonathan Merrit “Did God command genocide in the Bible?”<> (accessed 5 January 2019). See also Pete Enns, “The Canaanites weren’t the “worst sinners ever”: engaging Copan and Flannagan on Canaanite extermination” <> (accessed 5 January 2019) extermination/
  17. Copan lists many of those that used this type of rhetoric on page 328 of “Is God a Moral Monster?” This list includes Egypt’s Tuthmosis III, Hittite king Mursilly II, the “Bulletin” of Ramses II, the Merneptah Stele, Mesha of Moab, and Sennacherib the Assyrian Ruler.
  18. Christopher J. H. Wright, “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 474-75; and Iain Provan, V. Phillips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 149.
  19. Gordon J. Wenham, “Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003) 137.
  20. R. Gary Miller, “Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy” (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 157.
  21. Copan, Paul “Is God a Moral Monster?” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011) Ebook
  22. Pete Enns “Canaanite genocide: it’s OK because it wasn’t THAT bad (was it?)” <> (accessed 3 December 2018)
  23. Marc Brettler “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible”.
  24. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, David Rolph Seely “Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament” (Deseret Book Company: Salt Lake City, UT 2003) 160
  25. Paul Copan “Is God a Moral Monster?” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 351-52
  26. See G.K. Beale, “We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008)
  27. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968), 77. See also Richard M. Davidson, “Footsteps of Joshua” (Hagerstown, PA: Review and Herald, 1995), 95.
  28. Richard Mouw, “Biblical Revelation and Medical Decisions,” in On Moral Medicine, ed. Stephen E. Lammers and Allen Verhey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 56. As cited in Paul Copan, Matthew Flanagan Did God Really Command Genocide? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014) 53
  29. Cheryl A. Kirk-Douglas, "Heaven" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 564. "In the NT...Heaven, the seat of redemption and reconciliation, is beyond time; it may appear as a series (three or seven); and is foundational for this world where on experiences happiness, praise, and service."
  30. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Violence" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1358.
  31. Matthew 18:21–22
  32. Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2012), Kindle Loc 558.
  33. Diarmaid MacColloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (London: Penguin Books, 2011), 125–27; Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 73–80.
  34. Paul Copan, Is God a Vindictive Bully? Reconciling Portrayals of God in the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022), 5. Emphasis in original.
  35. N.T. Wright, "The Word of the Cross,", accessed March 26, 2023, As quoted in Copan, God a Vindictive Bully, 5–6.
  36. Dallin H. Oaks, "Love and Law," Ensign 39, no. 11 (November 2009): 27.
  37. Doctrine & Covenants 136:31
  38. Doctrine & Covenants 98:14–15. Emphasis added.
  39. Doctrine & Covenants 101:4. Emphasis added.
  40. Mosiah 3:19. Emphasis added.
  41. An poll listed Solomon as the fifth richest person to ever live. “According to the Bible, King Solomon ruled from 970 BC to 931 BC, and during this time he is said to have received 25 tons of gold for each of the 39 years of his reign, which would be worth billions of dollars in 2016. Along with impossible riches amassed from taxation and trade, the biblical ruler’s personal fortune could have surpassed $2 trillion in today’s money” (“The 20 Richest People of All Time,” Apr. 25, 2017,
  42. See Ecclesiastes 1:1–2.
  43. See Ecclesiastes 2:17.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Believe, Love, Do,” Ensign 48, no. 11 (November 2018): 46.
  45. History of the Church, 2:477; George Q. Cannon, in Conference Report, April 6, 1900, 57.
  46. Blake T. Ostler, Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 35–42.
  47. Moroni 8:12
  48. Moroni 8:22
  49. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Heaven," in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 564. "In the NT...Heaven, the seat of redemption and reconciliation, is beyond time; it may appear as a series (three or seven); and is foundational for this world where one experiences happiness, praise, and service."
  50. David Rolph Seely, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, and Dana Pike, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2009), 66.
  51. ABD, 6:65a.
  52. William J. Hamblin, "The Most Misunderstood Book: Christopher Hitchens on the Bible," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 21, no. 2 (2009): 47–95.
  53. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011).
  54. Benjamin Spackman, "Gospel Doctrine Lesson 40: Colossians and Philippians, but mostly Philemon," <> (10 November 2018).
  55. Copan, Is God A Moral Monster, 137–39.
  56. Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 151–52.
  57. Bible Hub, 1 Timothy 1:10 <> (26 February 2019).
  58. Gordon D. Fee, “The First Epistle to the Corintians – The Guiding Principle –Remain as One was When Called” in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 350.
  59. O’Brian, Ephesians, 455.
  60. I. Howard Marshall, “1 Peter,” IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 89–90; and Karen H. Jobes, “1 Peter,” Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 180–87.
  61. See Ronald C. White, Lincoln: A Biography (New York: Random House, 2009) which explores these themes in detail.
  62. Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 152–53.
  63. Margaret M. Mitchell, “Philemon,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 2100.
  64. Genesis 34, Deuteronomy 21:10–14, 22:20-21, Judges 19:22–26, Judges 21:10–24, Lamentations 5:11, and 2 Samuel 13:1–14 also have been said by scholars to be referring to and depicting rape. We advise the reader to examine those passages with a study bible. None contain something close to endorsements for rape. However, they may be used by critics to argue for an endorsement from the Bible on rape.
  65. Commentary on Deuteronomy 22:28, footnote 51 <> (accessed 30 December 2018)
  66. The Greek Old Testament translation gets this wrong. It mistranslates this passage, “he is discovered,” as though the man alone is guilty. The Hebrew indicates that both are culpable.
  67. Davidson, “Flame of Yahweh”, 359, 519
  68. See Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) Ebook loc 222–24.
  69. The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible provides reference to this in connection to Deuteronomy: "12–18: In contrast to ch 21, the women and children (and animals) are not killed but taken captive and (with other booty) brought before Moses, Eleazar, and the congregation. This may reflect the practice of holy war outlined in Deut 20.13–18, where a distinction is made between Canaanites and others more distant (e.g., Midianites)."
  70. “What does the Bible say about rape?” GotQuestions, accessed January 25, 2023,
  71. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “2 Kings 2: 23-25” <> (accessed 25 December 2018)
  72. Thomas Romer, Commentary on 2 Kings; “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible” (ed.) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (Oxford University Press: London, England 2010) 536
  73. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A., & and Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (electronic ed.) (2 Ki 2:23). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  74. Matthew Slick “Why did God kill 42 lads merely for saying Elisha was bald?” ( Since this article is found on the CARM website, and since the website contains a number of critical articles, and FairMormon policy is to not link to critical sites, readers are encouraged to search the title in their browsers if they wish to read the full article.
  75. Got Questions “Why did the Prophet Elisha curse the “youths” for making fun of his baldness (2 Kings 2:23-24)?” <> (accessed 25 December 2018)
  76. Bernard M. Levison, Commentary on Deuteronomy in "The New Oxford Annotated Bible" (ed.) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010) 278.
  77. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" 2013
  78. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 114–49. See also Bob Deffinbaugh "8. The Clean and Unclean-Part I (Leviticus 11)", accessed March 20, 2019,
  79. JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy
  80. Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, pp. 4–5.
  81. Jeffery R. Holland, "The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," April 2014 General Conference.
  82. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:22.
  83. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), xii.
  84. John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992). [119–141] link
  85. Jeffery R. Holland, "I Have a Question," Ensign (September 1976).
  86. Latter-day Saints are unique in proclaiming the divinity and reality of a heavenly consort of God to make this passage very literal.
  87. Ze'ev W. Falk, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001), 110.
  88. Carol Meyers Commentary on Exodus in “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible” (ed.) Michael Coogan, Mark Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 2010) 112
  89. Net Bible, Commentary on Exodus 21:7 <> See footnote 15
  90. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 114.
  91. Biblical Nuggets, “Casuistic Law” <> (accessed 6 January 2019)
  92. Copan, Is God a Moral Monster, 114.
  93. Net Bible “Exodus 21:7-11” footnote 16
  94. Net Bible, footnote 19
  95. Net Bible, footnote 24
  96. Net Bible, footnote 4
  97. Copan, Is God a Moral Monster, Ebook, 191 of 492. Copan cites Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 327.
  98. See NetBible Hebrew Note for Deuteronomy 25:12 <> (accessed 21January 2019)
  99. See Hebrew note for Deuteronomy 25:12 <> (accessed 21 January 2019). Paul Copan makes the argument for shaving and clipping and the translation of "kaph" in his book "Is God a Moral Monster?" (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI 2011) 224 Ebook
  100. Bernard M. Levinson commentary on Deuteronomy in "“The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible” 4th edition (ed.) Michael Coogan, Mark Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 2010) 291
  101. Lex talionis as invoked there i.e. "eye for eye" and other places is a law more of fair treatment of each other rather than a literal blow for blow situation. See for example Carol Meyers' commentary on Exodus in “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible,” eds. Michael Coogan, Mark Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 2010), 113. The possibility for this blow for blow retribution remains open, however.
  102. Levinson, Commentary on Deuteronomy.
  103. Copan, Is God a Moral Monster, 223.
  104. Ibid. 225-5. Copan cites Jerome T. Walsh, "You Shall Cut Off Her . . . Palm? A Reexamination of Deuteronomy 25:11-12," Journal of Semitic Studies 49 (2004): 47-48. Walsh iterated similar arguments in "The Law on Violent Intervention: Deuteronomy 25:11-12 Revisited," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 30, no. 3 (2006): 431-37; Also, Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 476-80.
  105. The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible states that “11-12 Nevertheless indicates that Paul breaks off the preceding argument and moves on to emphasize what is important: in the Lord there is mutuality and reciprocity between woman and man.
  106. Ibid., pg 2015
  107. Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pg. 92-94.
  108. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Holy Bible King James Version “1 Corinthians 14:34-35” <,35?lang=eng> (accessed 31 December 2018)
  109. See Laurence L. Welborn’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible” (ed.) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 2010) 2018-19
  110. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, chapter 17. See also D&C 88:77-79; Articles of Faith 1:8
  111. Joseph Smith, History of The Church, 5:422-427; Sunday, June 11th, 1843. See also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310
  112. Holy Bible King James Version “Ecclesiastes 7:26” <> (accessed 2 January 2019)
  113. Choon-Leong Seow Commentary on Ecclesiastes (or the Preacher) in “The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible” (ed.) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 2010) 944
  114. James R. Morrow and W. W. Hosler. "Strength Comparisons in Untrained Men and Trained Women Athletes," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 13, no. 3 (1981).
  115. Neel Burton M.D. "The Battle of the Sexes: No Clear Winner," <> (29 May 2019).
  116. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2011) Ebook loc 313. Copan cites Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, New American Commentary 2 (Nashville: B & H Publishing Company, 2008) 478; John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life, vol. 3 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 618.
  117. Daniel C. Peterson, "A note on race and ethnicity in the scriptures," Sic Et Non, June 8, 2020,
  118. Bradley J. Kramer, Gathered in One: How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019).
  119. Kramer, Gathered in One, 54–55, 57. Kramer cites the following in order: (6) David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 44. (7) Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005), 19–20.
  120. Terry B. Ball, "Priestcraft," Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 656.
  121. Gary E. Stevenson, "At NAACP Luncheon, Elder Stevenson Reiterates ‘All Are Alike Unto God’; Addresses Printing Error in ‘Come, Follow Me’ Regarding Race," LDS Living, January 21, 2020,
  122. Brant Gardner, “ What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by ‘Skin of Blackness’?” FAIR Publications, accessed March 20, 2022,
  123. Ethan Sproat, “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon: A Textual Exegesis,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015): 138–165.
  124. Adam Oliver Stokes, “’Skin’ or ‘Scales’ of Blackness? Semitic Context as Interpretive Aid for 2 Nephi 4:35 (LDS 5:21),” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27 (2018): 278–89. A helpful literature review was done around the time Stokes published. See Russell W. Stevenson, "Reckoning With Race in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 210–25.
  125. Gerrit M. Steenblik, “Demythicizing the Lamanites’ ‘Skin of Blackness’,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 49 (2021): 167–258.
  126. David M. Belnap, “The Inclusive, Anti-Discrimination Message of the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 195–370.
  127. Jan J. Martin, "The Prophet Nephi and the Covenantal Nature of Cut Off, Cursed, Skin of Blackness, and Loathsome," in They Shall Grow Together: The Bible in the Book of Mormon, ed. Charles Swift and Nicholas J. Frederick (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022), 108 (107–41).
  128. Clifford P. Jones, "Understanding the Lamanite Mark," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56 (2023): 172.
  129. Gay Robins, "Color Symbolism," in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, ed. Donald B. Redford (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:293.
  130. Jeremy Talmage, "Black, White, and Red All Over: Skin Color in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 28, no. 1 (2019): 49–50, 52–54, 67.
  131. Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 33. Cited in Talmage, "Skin Color," 49.
  132. Stephen O. Smoot, The Pearl of Great Price: A Study Edition for Latter-day Saints (Springville, UT: Book of Mormon Central, 2022), 38.
  133. Adam Stokes, "The People of Canaan: A New Reading of Moses 7," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 159–80.
  134. Ibid., 61.
  135. John S. Thompson, “'Being of that Lineage': Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54 (2022): 97–146.
  136. Iain W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, New International Bible Commentary 7 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson; Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1995), 186.
  137. See Baruc Maralit, “Why King Mesha Sacrificed his Oldest Son,” Biblical Archaeology Review 12 (Nov/Dec 1986): 62–63; John J. Bimson, “1 and 2 Kings,” in The New Bible Commentary, 4th ed., ed. Gordon Wenham (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 365; and Anson Rainey, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, eds. Anson Rainey and R. Steven Notley (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 205.
  138. John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life, 3 vols. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 3:796. For a good discussion of the Ezekiel text, see Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 636–41.
  139. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 96–100.

Question: Do the scriptures endorse murder?

The scriptures contain explicit references against murder

It is claimed that murder is endorsed by the scriptures. There are indeed many, many scriptures that depict violence of some sort in the scriptures. More than 600 passages of human violence and 1000 of divine violence may be found in the Bible alone.[1] A comprehensive treatment of each scripture to determine if it constitutes an endorsement of "murder" is outside the scope of this article. However we can suggest general things to keep in mind while reading the scriptures so that reconciliation can happen quickly and easily.

Considerations for any Case

The scriptures condemn the innocent taking of life

There is explicit mention against innocent killing in the scriptures. A small sampling includes:

  • Exodus 20:13
  • Deuteronomy 5:17
  • Matthew 5:21
  • Mark 10:19
  • Mosiah 13:21
  • D&C 42:18–19. According to this scripture, murder is an unforgivable sin.
  • D&C 59:6

A Moral/Philosophical Note for Consideration from the Latter-day Saint Soteriological Point of View

Many people are-- very understandably-- troubled with the portrayal of many people losing their lives in the scriptures and other pericopes that appear to condone some form of murder. When taken from their mortal sojourn, it may be that God is showing mercy to people by allowing them not to make any more bad choices. That may allow us to see the scriptures in a new light. God is the creator of the universe including our spirits and bodies (2 Nephi 2:13) and it is his right to act upon us according to his will since he is the author of our life. When he causes destruction, he is acting in mercy by not allowing a person to sin more. Consider what Christ spoke to the Nephites before his appearance to them at Bountiful (3 Nephi 9:5-11):

5 And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them.

6 And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth;

7 Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them.

8 And behold, the city of Gadiandi, and the city of Gadiomnah, and the city of Jacob, and the city of Gimgimno, all these have I caused to be sunk, and made hills and valleys in the places thereof; and the inhabitants thereof have I buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them.

9 And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.

10 And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations.

11 And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.

This ethic is much, much more palatable from a Latter-day Saint’s soteriological point of view where no one is damned to hell (or in the case of Latter-day Saints: "outer darkness") unless under very, very harsh and unique circumstances and instead given differing degrees of glory based on works, the desires of our hearts, and potential (or future potential) to accept the Gospel.

Of course, in the case of Old Testament violence (and that of the Book of Mormon[2], the knowledge of the Three Kingdoms would have been anachronistic to the ancient Israelites. That wouldn't come (even in seed) until New Testament times.[3]They would have been under the understanding of Sheol, which is similar to the Restored Gospel's concept of the Spirit World. However, the concept of three degrees of glory would obviously not be unknown to God who, in theory, would not have revelaed the entire Plan of Salvation—including knowledge of the three degrees of glory—in its fullness to the Israelites.

Scripture Should be Read Contextually and Holistically

No matter what text of the scriptures is claimed to support murder, it is important to remember three things:

  1. A good hermeneutic for reconciling the scriptures. See here for our suggested tools.
  2. Read scripture in context. Grab a thorough, scholarly commentary on the book in question and dive into it to see what you can know about it.
  3. Read scripture holistically. If scripture talks about anything, we should read everything that scripture has to say about that person, place, or thing. It helps us gain a composite understanding of how the prophets understood God’s word in a particular context and how we can understand it today through the lense of more modern revelation.

This is the pattern that we have followed for the other responses we have written for moral questions about the scriptures.

Several Challenging Texts

We have responded to several accusations of endorsement of violence which can be found in the following articles:

Capital Punishment


Canaanite Conquest

The Flood

Serpents and the Children of Israel

The Passover

Abraham and Jesus

Nephi and Laban

Doctrine and Covenants 98:31

Additional Reading


  1. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Violence" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1358.
  2. Though it can be found in seed. See Book of Mormon Central, "Why Does the Book of Mormon Warn that a Lake of Fire and Brimstone Awaits Sinners in the Afterlife?" KnoWhy #446 <> (accessed 21 September 2019). Latter-day Saints consider Jesus’ statement, “in my Father’s house are many mansions” to refer to varying degrees of reward. It is interesting to note that similar language recurs in the Book of Mormon in Enos 1:27 and Ether 12:32-37
  3. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Heaven" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 564. "In the NT...Heaven, the seat of redemption and reconciliation, is beyond time; it may appear as a series (three or seven); and is foundational for this world where one experiences happiness, praise, and service."