Violence in the scriptures

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How can we approach confusing, morally disturbing, or other troubling texts from the scriptures?

Read it in context

The scriptures contain a lot that we cannot always understand at first glance without context. Biblical scholars have, for many decades, been trying to understand the original context for the Bible. We advise readers to see "Tips for reading and understanding scripture" for suggestions along these lines for both the Bible and other Latter-day Saint scriptures.

Once read in context, with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, many passages that were confusing can become clearer. This is part of "studying it out in our minds" (see D&C 9꞉8).

Read it holistically

When we read the scriptures holistically—that is, being aware of everything that they have to say on a certain topic—their teachings can make more sense as we consider all that God has revealed on the topic.

Description vs. Prescription

We must remember that just because something is described in Scripture that such behavior may not always be prescribed. In other words, describing something is not recommending it to the readers as a course of action.

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. Some things mentioned in scripture are there to point out examples of bad behavior that one need not follow (1 Cor. 10꞉1-12). Sometimes the writer will say so directly; in other cases he expects us to draw the proper conclusion for ourselves because of the context.

Adopt a solid interpretive method

There are any ways to read scripture. Sometimes we need to use a different method than the one we are used to. As an example of how to do this, we will use both modern revelation and also combine the insights of two biblical scholars: Paul Copan and Kenton Sparks.

These two men have many views about bible passages that align with each othermdash;but Sparks stands apart from Copan in a key way. Copan agrees that God was inspired even the less-than-ideal laws, Sparks sees no way to provide a "full-orbed, detailed explanation" to trace things back to God.[1]

Despite this difference of opinion, both men agree that the Old Testament contains less-than-ideal circumstances and that scripture progresses by moving beyond its morally inferior context in sometimes startling ways. Despite this, because even that progress can be less than ideal, they still stand in need of redemption—of Christ’s redeeming power.

First, we will consider modern revelation. We suggest readers see "Understanding revelation" for more detail.

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 [of Adam and Eve]. 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. 1; Ezek. 6). 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. 12). 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. [Latter-day Saint readers can see Mosiah 13꞉29-31, 3꞉14-15, and 2 Nephi 25꞉24-25 for a detailed explanation that agrees with this.] It looked forward to a new covenant (Jer. 1; Ezek. 6). 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 deal; 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꞉2223꞉19). Following on the heels of this legislation, Israel rebelled against God in the golden calf incident (Exod. 2). High priests would also have their own rebellion by participating in deviant, idolatrous worship (Lev. 0). 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. [Latter-day Saint readers can again compare this with the Lord's similar strategy for us in D&C 1꞉24-28.] 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 "situational 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. 4), 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]

We will now see how our second author treats similar issues.

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] [Latter-day Saints will probably be less shocked by this idea than the author's conservative Protestant audience, who often hold views of biblical inerrancy. Latter-day Saints, meanwhile, have always understood—even from the title page of the Book of Mormon—that scripture is part of a human process, and so human errors will probably be inevitable (Ether 12꞉23-29, 1 Nephi 19꞉6, Mormon 8꞉17.]


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, [Latter-day Saints would likewise not find this a terribly compelling 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]

"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. This can lead to a type of progression:

  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 covers 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 sins of the Israelites. Thus the Savior can become part of the Latter-day Saint solution to the so-called Old Testament problem.

This approach allows us to both believe in the inspiration of all scripture while also recognizing and acknowledging the fallen aspects of it.


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

To see this picture accurately, we need several perspectives

This is the hardest moral question to answer about the Bible. Biblical scholars have dealt with the "Canaanite question" for many, many years. Concern about it goes back to the early Christian fathers, such as Gregory of Nazianus, who struggled with reconciling the image of the conquest with the God of the New Testament.[15]

We will consider five elements necessary to have a full perspective on this question:

  1. Cultural and language—How did the Israelites view these texts when they wrote them? What sort of language would they employ to depict this scene?
  2. Archaeology—What do we see from archaeology as it regards the Canaanites? Were the cities torn down and is there evidence that a genocide actually occurred?
  3. Morality—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. Miscellaneous points—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 differences in opinion occur.

What’s the story?

The story takes up a large chunk 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 now dive into the points made in the video in a little more detail.

1. Culture and language

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 5,31) Sihon refused peace offers from Israel and attacked them (Deuteronomy 2, Numbers 1), 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 command to displace the Canaanite came at this unique part of their history during which 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.

To begin, 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 elsewhere:

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, 1꞉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" (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 ({{s_short||Joshua|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 9Joshua 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 (Joshua 15꞉63; 16꞉10; 17꞉12-13; 1꞉19,21,27-35).[21]

So, we learn that:

  • The language does not mean that all men, women, and children were or should have been destroyed, as can be seen by simply reading the entire narrative.
  • The language is aimed at getting rid of 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).

2. Archaeology

We started with culture and language because they inform the archaeology. Indeed, there is a scant archaeological evidence to support the widespread, instantaneous, "crush, kill, destroy, massacre" scenario that some naive critics and other uninformed people imagine.

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]

Enns may be guilty of a bit of hyperbole himself when he says that the conquest "didn’t happen". There is 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 various proposed solutions to the lack of archaeological evidence, and also offer some valid pushback to some. 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 group's 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 the above was published in 2003, and the archaeological evidence to support the biblical account still has not appeared.

LDS author Jeffrey Bradshaw makes similar points about archaeology (following the majority of biblical scholars).[25]

Other scholars have made some intriguing discoveries regarding archaeology:

Copan has also discussed the archaeology in the same terms as 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. 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. 28#p26, 28 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). 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.[26]

3. Morality

Having considered culture, language, and archaeology, we can now discuss the morality of the conquest. This is the real point of debate among scholars.

The question has to be asked—Were the Canaanites really that wicked? Does God actually pour 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. 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 8꞉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; 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 creature 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.[27] 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 occupation.s[28]

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

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. 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. Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay. 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 (1 Nephi 17꞉32-35).

Interestingly, Nephi agrees with the modern bible scholars (the people were "driven out" and "scatter[ed] ... to destruction," rather than completely eradicated in a genocide.

What was the purpose of the Conquest?

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 reigns 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 (between the false pagan gods of the Canaanites, and the Only True God of Israel), 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?

Emphastically not! As mentioned above, the command came at a specific time in Israel’s history, with a specific purpose, under prophetic leadership, and was unique in 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.[29]

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 as 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).

Latter-day Saints have many more theological resources to deal with this problem than conservative Christians—children under age eight would receive exaltation through the grace of Christ ({{s}|Moroni|8|8-23}}, Mosiah 3꞉16, 3꞉21, D&C 29꞉46-47, 137꞉10) Older innocents would have an opportunity to hear and accept the gospel and receive all its blessings in the post-mortal spirit world (D&C 137꞉5-9).

4. Specific considerations about Canaan

Jericho, Ai, other Canaanite cities

With regard to these peoples, 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 contains the stock language 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.
  • The story of the Amalekites (who also receive attention in criticism of killing in the bible) offers further evidence—they receive the same stock, hyperbolic language yet are spared and continue to exist as a people long afterwards (1 Samuel 27꞉8; 30:1; 1 Chron 4꞉43).

5. Miscellaneous points

We consider now some peripheral matters that reinforce the evidence discussed above.

Potential for peace treaties before attack

We already mentioned Sihon who attacked Israel after they had already offered peace. Deuteronomy 20꞉10-12 instructed the Israelites to offer peace first:

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it.

So, the Israelites may have done this for other Canaanite cities. This is a minority view among scholars. But, there are examples of this, such as the Gibeonites Joshua 9, 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 foresees redemption and salvation for the Jebusites, 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).

None of this makes sense if the Canaanites were truly intended to be eradicated, or if they truly were.[30]

A specific Latter-day Saint perspective

We are—very understandably—grieved by the idea that so many might lose their lives to violence. It may be, however, in some cases that God is thereby showing mercy by preventing the wicked from making any more bad choices. Consider what Christ spoke to the Nephites before his appearance to them at Bountiful (3 Nephi 9꞉5-11):

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.

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; 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

In Latter-day Saint doctrine, even the profoundly wicked from the days of Noah have further opportunities to repent and grow. God weeps and grieves for their choices and destruction, while holding out hope in Christ for their future:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the [wicked] ... people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? ...

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them. ...

But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them. And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment (Moses 7꞉28-38)

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.[31]

Thus 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.

Why does God resort to violence in scripture, especially in the Old Testament?

Latter-day Saints and other Christians often come to ask: "What ethical principles are meant to be taught to modern believers by the existence of violence in the scriptures that is either commanded by God or personally enacted by him?"

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.[32] There are many crimes for which the prescribed punishment is death, even for what we might see as quite trivial offences, such as 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 God of the Old Testament?[33] One apostate Christian, Marcion of Sinope, went so far as to teach 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.[34]

For Latter-day Saints, the Old Testament can be reconciled with the New Testament and other Restoration Scripture by drawing on all scriptural resources available to us.

We here provide some ideas and "food for thought" that are not new nor unique to Latter-day Saints.

Justification for violent action can be both inside and outside a text

When God either commands or causes violence, certain conditions seem to be required first. The scriptures often provide us with enough background to see why a violent response was appropriate, but sometimes those reasons are not spelled out or are left unsaid.

Mere justice

Are there certain evils to which the proper response is violence or other harsh punishment? Most of us would probably answer, Yes. (One thinks of torture, rape, child abuse, slavery, or premeditated murder as possibilities.) Remember too that the ancient world did not have the resources to keep people in prison for lengthy terms. A prisoner in jail is one more mouth to feed, clothe, and house that the subsistence agriculture of the ancient world could ill afford.

This is what we'll call the idea of mere justice in responding to God's violence.

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."[35]

Copan then quotes 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.[36]

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."

Defensive violence

An important idea is defensive violence. Defensive violence counters violence or the threat of it with violence from the defender. 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 5, 31) Sihon refused peace offers from Israel and attacked them (Deuteronomy 2, Numbers 1), 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:

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. 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; 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; Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people. 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. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

The Lord thus permits defensive violence when certain requirements are met—there are many examples in the Book of Mormon (as well as some examples of violence which were not defensive, and thus condemned by God and his prophets [e.g., 3 Nephi 3꞉20-21]).

Moral disappointment

Latter-day Saints hold that all humans had a pre-mortal existence as spirits in the presence of God our Father. 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 infinite past and will always exist (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).

All humans thus have a premortal understanding of right and wrong, which continues into this life if we do not reject it (Moroni 7꞉14-16). Could it be that the moral education we have received is sufficient to require 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:

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. 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. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.

Proximate motivation

Could it be that the law of Moses and some of the violent punishments attached to it are meant to teach the seriousness with which we should obey these moral laws? 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.[37]

Under this theory, the violence of the God of the Old Testament and the more non-violent God of the New are the same God teaching his children the seriousness with which he regards sin because of its effect on their eternal future. The atonement and ministry of Jesus Christ are thus a 'new way' of teaching. Christ became the new sacrifice and object of the violen punishment that some sins deserve (instead of animals and humans as in the Old Testament) so that we could have a prolonged period of time to repent.

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). Hopefully this leads to humility and a decision to turn back to him. Divine punishment may, therefore, serve to restore some people’s connection to God or provide them motivation to establish connection 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 humbles them enough 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."[38] 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."[39] 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."[40] 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."[41]

Ethical deterrence

Not all humans will be motivated by a decision to turn to God. Violent punishment is, at the least, a deterrent to those sins, as well as a guarantee that any guilty of such crimes will not commit them a second time. An executed murderer does not murder again.

This is a less noble function, but it certainly matches one of the purposes of human legal punishments.

Scriptural teaching by negative example

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.[42] 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,"[43] he said.

This man, who had it all, ended up disillusioned, pessimistic, and unhappy, despite everything he had going for him.[44] [45]

After using these scriptural words from Solomon, Elder Uchtdorf then 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."[45]

Scripture sometimes intends to give us a negative example about moral behavior so that we can learn from it today. The Book of Mormon offers itself as one such example, urging us to "learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31).

This is likewise almost certainly the case with the book of Judges and its chronicle of the fall of Israel. 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).

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

Like all truth, this idea can be abused if we misuse it—it could be used as an excuse to disregard any prophetic directive that doesn’t immediately appeal to their views or desires. Joseph Smith taught that "[i]f the Church knew all the commandments, one half they would condemn through prejudice and ignorance."[46]

This idea is powerful, however, because it shows that God can use even the mistaken or fallen to teach us Lehi tells us that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2꞉11). Perhaps portions of 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 recognize and appreciate the good and divinity of the moral progress demonstrated in the New Testament and other scripture.

Blake Ostler on categories and the I-Thou relationship

Latter-day Saint theologian and philosopher Blake Ostler offers an interesting 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 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.

Ostler suggests 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.[47]

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 2꞉23-25 has a short account that reads:

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

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.[48]

Also, the epithet ‘baldhead’ was one of "contempt in the East, applied to a person even with a bushy head of hair."[49]

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.[50]

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.

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 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.

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 for five reasons in Israel:

  1. Sexual purity—Sexual acts were given perhaps the strictest boundaries. This applies for adultery, bestiality, homosexual acts, incest, and rape.
  2. The worship of other gods—God's people had to maintain 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 were to show it via 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 (20#p15, 20 Numbers 4꞉15, 20; 1 Samuel 6꞉19-20; 2 Samuel 6꞉6-7)
  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꞉10,23)—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 19꞉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 ((5-11#p 5-11 2 Chr 19꞉ 5-11).[51]

  1. 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.
  2. False prophecy (Deuteronomy 13꞉1-11; Zechariah 13꞉3) There had to be a way to know who was a true prophet of Jehovah.
  3. Fornication (Leviticus 21꞉9)—Sexual fidelity was the primordial factor that enforced Israel's familial ideals.
  4. Homosexual acts (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.
  5. Human sacrifice (Leviticus 20꞉2)—The practice was deplorable as it wasted God's creation and was a frequent practice of neighboring civilizations.
  6. 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.
  7. Kidnapping (Exodus 21꞉16)—Self-evident. This law applied to everyone whether Israelite, non-Israelite, slave, freeman, etc.
  8. Murder (Exodus 21꞉12-14)—Self-evident. The taking of innocent life was a very serious threat to creational ideals.
  9. Rape (Deuteronomy 22꞉25-27)—Self-evident.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Striking your parents (Exodus 21꞉15)—-Another law regarding familial ideals.
  13. 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.[52] 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.[53]

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. [54]

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.

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. [55]

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

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.

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. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 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. 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. 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:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 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 take even the most simple action urged by Moses, and man whom they had seen do many miracles already.

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.[56]

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. [57]

John Welch has also argued that Nephi's action should be understood as protected manslaughter rather than criminal homicide. [58] 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.

Laban himself was clearly guilty of at least two crimes, both of which carried the death penalty:

  • He had tried to have Nephi and his brothers killed (1 Nephi 3꞉25). Premeditaed murder for gain was a capital crime.
  • He had charged Laman with being a robber, and threatened to kill him (1 Nephi 3꞉13). To be a robber was a capital crime, and so the false charge put Laman at risk of death. (Laban's status as a millitary leader who could command soliders makes this charge and threat even more serious.)
The Mosaic law held that someone who knowingly made a false accusation against someone should suffer the penalty that the falsely accused would have suffered—in this case, death (Deuteronomy 19꞉19).[59]

Thirdly, Laban may have been part of the group that sought to kill Lehi and declared him a false prophet (also a capital crime).

FInally, Laban was a military leader in Jerusalem, which was soon to be overrun by the Babylonians. Laban's end in battle, or the torture and death with which the Babylonians would have punished a military leader were far more harsh that the end the Lord gave Laban—a painless stroke to the neck while he was passed out drunk. Had Laban been offered a choice, he would have taken the execution by Nephi in the dark Jerusalem streets.

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 and die 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.[60] 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. [61]

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 because humans are all too willing to use examples of divine violence as an excuse for their own violence.

Scripture tells us that vengeance is God's (Deuteronomy 32꞉35; Romans 12꞉19; Mormon 3꞉15 Mormon 8꞉20). Save in very specific circumstances (e.g., self-defence, or defence of another innocent), violence is not ours to inflict.

The scriptures condemn the taking of innocent life

A small sampling includes:

Human sacrifice?

Does the Bible endorse human sacrifice?

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 Challenging Texts

Passages that some claim endorse 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:

  • The word fury or wrath (qetseph) isn’t divine wrath[62] 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.[63]

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. 7꞉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. 20꞉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".[64]

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. 139꞉13-16 NIV)

Keep this text in mind as we go back to the Exodus 1 passage. Contrary to the above claims, Exodus 1 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 1; 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 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.[65]

Do the scriptures endorse child abuse?

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

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. Rather, it is about God’s desire for Abraham to be willing to follow him despite hard trials. It also foreshadows the offering of God’s only begotten son—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 to earth, his agency was not taken away from him. He had the ability to lay down his life and to take it back up (John 10꞉18). It was God’s plan from the beginning, through the supernal gift and voluntary sacrifice of a loving Savior.

To learn more about violence in the scriptures
  • Gregory Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017).
  • 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).
  • Richard Holzapfel, Dana Pike, David Rolph Seely Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2009).
  • Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne Publishing, 2015).
  • Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012); God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship(Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2008).
  • Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic Press, 2004).
  • 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).


  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), 18.
  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) /
  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). [citation needed]
  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. "[ Did Joshua Utterly Destroy the Canaanites?}"
  26. Paul Copan Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 351-52
  27. See G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008)
  28. 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.
  29. Richard Mouw, "Biblical Revelation and Medical Decisions," in On Moral Medicine, ed. Stephen E. Lammers and Allen Verhey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 56; cited in Paul Copan, Matthew Flanagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 53.
  30. Some scholars argue that the conquest is simply the result of "accommodation". These authors see accommodation 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. Prominent advocates of this view include Peter Enns, Kenton Spaks, and Gregory Boyd. See the "To learn more box" for references to their work.
  31. Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, pp. 4-5.
  32. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Violence" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1358.
  33. Matthew 18꞉21-22
  34. 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.
  35. 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).
  36. N.T. Wright, "The Word of the Cross,", accessed 26 March 2023; as quoted in Copan, Is God a Vindictive Bully?, 5–6.
  37. "Love and Law," Ensign/November 2009: 27. off-site.
  38. Doctrine & Covenants 136꞉31
  39. Doctrine & Covenants 98꞉14-15, (emphasis added).
  40. Doctrine & Covenants 101꞉4, (emphasis added).
  41. Mosiah 3꞉19, (emphasis added).
  42. An poll listed Solomon as the fifth richest person to ever live. "According to the Bible, King Solomon ruled from 0 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,
  43. See Ecclesiastes 1꞉1-2.
  44. See Ecclesiastes 2꞉17.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Believe, Love, Do," Ensign 48/11 (November 2018): 46. off-site
  46. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:477. Volume 2 link; George Q. Cannon, Conference Report (6 April 1900), 57..
  47. 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. Ostler explains and explores this more on this podcast episode of Exploring Mormon Thought
  48. 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.
  49. R. Jamieson, A. Fausset, A., and D. Brown "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible," (electronic ed.) (2 Ki 2:23), 1997; Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  50. Got Questions "Why did the Prophet Elisha curse the 'youths' for making fun of his baldness in (2 Kings 2꞉23-24)?"(accessed 25 December 2018)
  51. 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.
  52. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" 2013
  53. 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 1)", accessed 20 March 2019.
  54. JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, (emphasis added)
  55. Jeffery R. Holland, "The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," April 2014 General Conference.
  56. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:22.
  57. 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.
  58. John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992). [119–141] link.
  59. John W. Welch (1992): 136–137..
  60. John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992). [119–141] link.
  61. Jeffery R. Holland, "I Have a Question," Ensign (September 1976). off-site.
  62. Iain W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, New International Bible Commentary 7 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson; Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1995), 186.
  63. 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.
  64. 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.
  65. Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011) 96–100.