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Randal Rauser’s Interview: “Matthew Flannagan on God and Genocide”

April 15th, 2015 by Madeleine

Randal Rauser interviewing Matthew FlannaganWhen Matt was in San Diego for the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) meetings in November 2014, Randal Rauser interviewed him for his Podcast, The Tentative Apologist.

The interview was for episode 58 and is entitled “Matthew Flannagan on God and Genocide“; you can listen to it by following the link. (It is basically an interview about Matt and Paul Copan’s book, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.)

Rauser later reviewed Did God Really Command Genonide? here.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Hi Matt,

    Jesus said his burden is easy and I’m wondering why we have to bear such a heavy yoke. Didn’t come to give us relief from such a burden, by teaching us a way better than Moses and Joshua?

    Suppose Jesus did come to teach against not only genocide, but also war (‘just’ or otherwise), the use of violence for self-defence, the use of judicial force or violence to redress wrongs ‘legally’ (e.g. capital punishment, debtor’s prison, attachment of a debtor’s assets, debt-slavery etc.). Would this not provide some relief for you?

    From what I can understand of your argument, the point is not that God does actually presently command genocide or ethnic cleansing, but that he does have the option of doing so and we have to work through the consequences of this option. I wonder if there is an alternative approach: God does not change, and his character is pure good. However, our understanding of God and his character is what has changed as God reveals himself to us over time. So, an initial revelation of God and his will may be an imperfect and incomplete revelation, that has subsequently been clarified.

    For example consider the command to impose capital punishment on murderers, after due process of law. That such a command was given is beyond dispute, it is mentioned and confirmed many times in unambiguous language. Suppose, for the same of argument, Jesus comes to tell us that God is pure good, and that to throw stones at someone to kill, even on the guilty after due process of law, is a sin. He therefore cancels the former command. Now suppose that he also taught that the reason why we must not kill the guilty after due process of law is because God is kind and merciful to the guilty and forgives them, and requires us to be like him. He teaches that God’s way of dealing with murderers and other wrongdoers is to let the nature of his universe causing them to suffer corruption and to die from the poison of their own sins. He teaches that this new command is the perfect command. If all this is the case, what can we make of the former command? And of those who in good faith killed the guilty after due process of law in obedience to the command?

  • How does Flannagan reconcile his “hyperbole” interpretation of the divine extermination orders in the OT, with 1st Samuel 15:10-35, which says God removed Saul as King precisely because he did not carry out the absolute extermination order (vv. 2-3) in an absolute way?

  • Barry, seeing you have posted reviews of my book on several online cites where you raise this objection and claim I have offered no answer to it. I’ll respond this time

    You can see how I do this in pages p 109-117 of my book where I address and make a response to the very objection you cite.

    You of course should be aware of this because you have written several reviews of my book, I assume you read it before you reviewed it. Did you?

  • Matt,

    Yes, I read the book about Genocide by you and Copan before I reviewed it.

    However, I had accidentally missed the section where you responded to 1st Samuel 15. Missing something is admitted by countless Ph.d’s in the preface to their academic books, and they praise third persons among family and friends for having pointed out something wrong or something overlooked. So you lay readers should not blindly assume that because one of your critics missed something relevant, this critic could not possibly have anything significant to say. That kind of logic would require throwing out most academic books on biblical subjects, whose authors thank third-parties for correcting manuscripts and pointing out other flaws before publication.

    I work by myself, so when I fail to see one of my mistakes, I take the chance that it will remain in the post or published comments. People like you and I know perfectly well the tendency of the average lay-audience to draw hasty inferences and side with what feels good, long before they’ve seen all the evidence. Trump and American media would not be what they are, if most people in America had critical thinking skills.

    I also have a problem with the fact that I made a very comprehensive rebuttal to your thesis and posted it here, and despite the posting being successful, that post disappeared.

    For what reason did that post disappear, and what changes can I make that will make it more likely that an extensive critique of your book will stay posted at a site where you are active?

    Why are you and Copan so unwilling to engage in an academic debate online about the merits of your book? Isn’t the prospect of your possibly misleading Christians with historical/theological misrepresentations and faulty argument, a higher spiritual priority in your eyes, than say, the current speaking engagements or the need to fulfill present book deals? Truth is more important than goals, is it not?

    If nothing else, you engaged in hasty generalization when you pointed out that ANE peoples contemporary with Moses/Joshua exaggerated their war-victories.

    First, most of the scholars in the history of Christianity who speak on the issue of OT genocide took the “leave alive nothing that breathes” language literally and predictably appealed to God’s mysterious ways.

    Second, not all pagan exaggerations are equal. For example, Dr. Richard Hess, Christian and OT scholar, says the Hittites exaggerated far less than the Egyptians, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdKlQAiyhPo at time-code 45:00 ff) thus raising the question of whether the “kill them all” language in the bible was as exaggerated as you say it was.

    Third, you open pandora’s box when you attribute language of exaggeration to God himself (as you are doing since in 1st Samuel 15:1-3, the command to even slaughter “children and infants” is presented as something God himself is commanding)…How many other statements from God in the bible are exaggerations equal to pagan literature, despite appearing grave and ominous on the surface? Is god truly infinite? Perfect? Does god love all unbelievers equally? Would the followers of Moses have known that the most horrible list of unspeakable atrocities God threatens against Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-63 was mere exaggeration?

    Fourth, your theory that God’ s purpose for Saul was to simply wipe out any Amalekites who might be obstinately refusing to flee, cannot be harmonized with the divine purpose expressly stated in 15:3 (i.e., the current generation of Amalekites are to be attacked because of what their ancestors did to the exodusing Israelites more than 400 years previous. ). It is noteworthy that despite biblical mentions of Amalekite attacks after the Exodus, about which we can presume God and Samuel knew, the word from God to Samuel is careful to avoid using those allegedly more recent attacks as the motive for Saul’s retaliation. If the current generation of kids can be attacked for sins they didn’t commit, then this view of corporate responsibility makes it more difficult for the apologist to argue that individual present-generation Amalekites would have been spared as long as they fled. Saul therefore would have found the fleeing Amalekite mother and her kids no less deserving of death than the Amalekite military personnel standing guard and willing to oppose Saul directly.

    Fifth, W.L. Craig’s defense of inerrancy, which you use, blindly presupposes it’s truth. That is, Craig explicitly admits that because one view of the OT statements of God as harsh and genocidal cannot be harmonized with Jesus and the NT concept of love, then surely, some other understanding that allows such statements to harmonize must be the correct one. In other words, the view of inerrancy that you adopt is premised on the common fallacy of begging the question.

    Sixth, and perhaps worst of all, Wolterstorff’s model of bible inspiration, which you endorse, conflicts with the first half of 2nd Peter 1:21, which says “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will…” (2 Pet. 1:21 NAU). Wolterstorff’s speech/act, delegation and appropriation models infuse the human will into the act of writing scripture. The first part of that verse condemns most modern theologians and apologists who seem to agree, for no good reason, that the mechanical dictation theory must surely be wrong. Since many conservative commentaries, such as Keil and Delitzsch understand verses like Ezekiel 38:4 to be describing God as forcing people to sin against their wills, there is plenty of biblical and scholarly justification for the proposition that God’s inspiration of the biblical writers overrode the human will, and if this is true, then there is no human element in 1st Samuel 15:3, so the command there to slay also “children and babies” is solely God’s own view. Will you argue that God himself, whom the bible says IS truth, talks in exaggerated ways no less than the pagans whom this God apparently despised so much?

    A study of “moved” (i.e., men of God were moved (Greek: phero) by the Holy Spirit, 2nd Peter 1:21b) indicates, according to Friberg, Thayer and other lexicons, that in all cases, the “moving” was describing the mover as being the SOLE cause of the described action (bring in the sick, Mark 1:31/Acts 5:6; Peter is led to martyrdom where he doesn’t want to go, John 21:18, a ship is driven by a wind, Acts 27:16, Simon “bearing” Jesus’ cross, Luke 23:26, etc, etc. If this type of tyrranical control, derived as it is from study of cognate usage, be combined with the first half of 2nd Peter 1:21 (i.e., no prophecy of God came from human will), then this verse is refuting the model of biblical inspiration that you had rested your book’s entire thesis on.

    There are many more critiques that can be made, but these are sufficient to reasonably expect a Christian author, wishing to make sure he has’t misled his Christian audience, to respond in some fashion.

    Once again, I offer to discuss these issues with you in any online forum of your choosing, whether email, chat board or otherwise.

  • Matt,

    Coming straight to this site from Google, there was no evidence of my lengthy Feb. 2 comment.

    This webpage did not tell me that my prior Feb. 2 comment was “awaiting moderation” until after I had posted my most recent comment today.

    So that is why I interpreted the absence of my lengthy prior comment as evidence that somebody had deleted it. I have never had to wait more than 4 days for a website forum operator to approve a comment. February 2 was more than 4 days ago, so pardon me for interpreting the silence through the filter of my previous experience.