In the second century AD, Marcionism erupted onto the scene of the early church. Marcion was an early church theologian who rejected the God of the Old Testament as being responsible for the material realm, rather than the spiritual realm (which was attributed to the God of the New Testament). Therefore, he also rejected the Old Testament as being irrelevant for Christians. In fact, Marcion was the first to develop a New Testament canon, although his intent was for his canon to be the entirety of Scripture.
We see snippets of Marcionism today. The church has a difficult time seeing the relevance of the OT, and the significance of the story. We are familiar with the creation story, the flood story, the walls of Jericho falling down, David and Goliath, and some of the Messianic prophecies, but at the end of the day, most of us probably read the New Testament more frequently. But, we cannot give into the temptation to ignore the Old Testament.
Why not? What happens when we rip the Old Testament away from the Christian Scriptures? (Which, although we don’t literally rip the pages of the OT out of the Bible, at times it does seem as if we have practically removed the OT–at least large chunks of it–from the canon.)
We lose a massive window into the grand story of God and his people–a story that believers today are very much a part of. And, beyond that, it is a way to run away from the messiness of Scripture that makes us uneasy and confused.
Why do portions of the Old Testament make us uneasy and confused? In part, because the people of God–the Israelites–move into Canaan and kill a bunch of people. It causes us to ask questions such as: Is this really historical? Why not see if the Canaanites would be positively influenced by Israel, rather than assuming the opposite? Did God really command genocide?
In Did God Really Command Genocide?, Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan begin to work toward thoroughly answering this question. They’re not afraid to engage a tough question–Did God really command genocide?–and, they look at the question through various lenses–biblical, theological, philosophical, ethical, etc.
“We should think more deeply about difficult, ethically troubling Old Testament passages rather than gloss over them.” -Copan & Flannagan (p. 41)
From discussing what it means that the Bible is the Word of God at the start the book, to the interaction between the Crucial Moral Principle and Divine Command Theory throughout, to engagement with the topic of religion & violence to conclude, Copan and Flannagan cover a lot of ground.
Christopher J. H. Wright says in his endorsement that Did God Really Command Genocide? is “the most thorough and comprehensive treatment of the problem of violence in the Old Testament” that he has encountered. I agree that it is extremely thorough and comprehensive, but with the possibility of being a little overwhelming at times. There is just so much discussed, that it really causes you to think about a lot of things.
Copan and Flannagan make great progress in this book, and it will be vastly helpful to those who have long questioned violence in the OT. I wouldn’t particularly recommend Did God Really Command Genocide? to a general readership, but to those who really want to engage and begin working through this question.
Of course, the conversation is never complete. There is always more reading to do; there are always other points-of-view. For instance: I recently reviewed The Bible Tells Me So… by Peter Enns, and he would disagree with Copan and Flannagan (they note their disagreement with Enns within the book). Did God Really Command Genocide? will raise more questions in your mind, but that’s one of the ways that we make intellectual progress–by asking and seeking the answers to new questions.
*This book was provided free from Baker Books with my promise to post an unbiased review.