The LDS Church teaches that “Elohim” properly refers to Heavenly Father, and that “Jehovah” refers to Jesus. While Mormons believe that both Elohim and Jehovah are “united in purpose”, Mormonism claims that “Elohim” and “Jehovah” are actually two separate exalted beings. This is significant, because it would mean that there are actually numerous “gods”—more than just one! But Christians claim that Jehovah (Or Yahweh) and Elohim are the same being, the One True God, who is uncreated and unchanging. Christianity teaches that there only ever has been and will be One Creator God. If Christians are correct, then the notion of eternal progression and exaltation are abominable and idolatrous. The idea that the Father and Son progressed to their current position is a blasphemous claim to the Christian! Therefore, the true nature of Jehovah and Elohim is a significant question! So what does the Bible teach? Does the Bible indicate that Elohim and Jehovah are two different gods “united in purpose”? Or does Scripture teach that Jehovah and Elohim are different names for the same being?
This is an update to an old post from my free blog from many yearn ago. It deals with certain aspects of Mormon’s and Jehovah’s Witness’s understanding of a “bifurcation” (of sorts). Enjoy, I may re-edit this in the weeks coming. This edit is a shortening of the older debate (which itself references an even older discussion. I am thinking this was the late 90’s or early 2000s):
I recommend a book that will assist you in your understanding of Bart Ehrman, it is entitled, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. Learning possibility aside, you believe that YHWH represents Jesus, and Elohim represents Heavenly Father, right? I will elucidate with an old debate:
You Jeff, are not arguing against me when I speak of sex in heaven, you are speaking or arguing against personalities further up the LDS-chain of command than yourself (I have posted this before):
Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.48:
The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fulness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fulness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this.
An endless eternity of celestial sex is what that last sentence meant. Okay, I will leave you to argue with your ex-president in an LDS book Doctrines of Salvation.
How many Jesus’ are there?? Lets do a little Bible study in Genesis. I will post some scripture from Genesis 18 and 19. The pink highlights are what we are going to read (pink is for Jehovah’s Witnesses, green is for Mormons… I will now have to add a bit of green to these verses as I can use them with LDS).
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So again, with your understanding of who Elohim and YHWH is, as before, your theology is less fit for what the bible displays as clearly Trinitarian. How can Jesus be three people, and then also speak to Himself in heaven while on earth? I mean, you say YHWH is Jesus, orthodox Christianity says this is one name for God (1x1x1=1), Elohim is another.
No Christian doctrine depends on the longer version of the 1 John:7-8. It never has, and Ehrman doesn’t reject the Trinity for this verse either. He does so because he is a philosophical naturalist. Matthew 28:19-20 states the concept of one God (“in name,” GK singular) expressed in three persons (“of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) just as clearly as those words in 1 John.
According to you Jesus is “a” God, as well as other “persons before Heavenly Father as well as after Heavenly Father. However, the Old Testament states:
“See now that I, I am He, and there is no God besides Me” (Deuteronomy 32:39 NASB)
“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me” (Isaiah 43:10 NASB)
“Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8 NASB)
“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5 NASB)
However, Heavenly Father’s parents on another earth may themselves not have achieved exultation, whereas a person who at one time (on another planet in the myriad of Mormon worlds with possible gods that inhabit them) could have owned a brothel, but later was sealed in a temple ceremony and repented of his way may be an even more powerful God than Heavenly Father. Odd.
Just in case people here do not understand what Bot is doing, he is arguing against one infinite God and arguing for an infinite amount of finite Gods.
DIETY OF CHRIST
According to LDS theology, Jesus did not exist at one point in history… at least until Heavenly Father had a bit of foreplay with one of his wives and maybe a martini or two (Brigham Young was the only distributor of alcohol in Utah for some time… he’s exulted, right?) and a long night of hot – steamy… well, you get the point, Jesus was born. This is not the belief of any Christian, the apostles, the church fathers, and the like. Only LDS believe this, not the church even for the first 100 years believed this, as the Scriptures make clear. Jesus created the space/time continuum, he was not pre-dated by DNA, matter, gods, or the like.
Heavenly Father didn’t create the eye, or the pancreas, these predate Heavenly Father, and were passed on to him via his parents “sexing it up.” And the DNA for eyes and pancreas’s were passed to them via an act of sex, and so on ad-infinitum.
Jesus and Heavenly Father were born into a cosmos that enforced its natural laws (both physical and moral) on Jesus and Heavenly Father, whereas these forces were created by God and didn’t pre-date God. The former is not deity, the later is.
IRR has a good short article where they answer the following:
The Hebrew word elohim is grammatically a plural form, and in a couple hundred occurrences in the Old Testament does mean “gods.” However, about 2,600 times elohim functions as a singular noun. We know this for four reasons
Also, LDS struggle with the following a tad:
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One of the best books I have read on the topic of the Trinity is by an ex-Oneness Pentecostal, Robert Bowman,
The rest of this book will be concerned with the biblical material relating to the Trinity, considering the arguments advanced by JWs to show that it is unbiblical.
We begin with the biblical teaching that there is one God. The JWs affirm that monotheism is the biblical teaching (p. 12), citing several Scriptures in support (p. 13). And trinitarians could not agree more. There is only one God, and this God is one. The oneness of God is the first plank in the trinitarian platform. For this reason I would agree with the booklet’s argument that the plural form elohim for God in the Old Testament cannot be evidence of the Trinity (pp. 13-14).
The Trinity and the Oneness of God
But two problems need attention. First, JWs claim that the Bible’s affirmations of monotheism mean “that God is one Person—a unique, unpartitioned Being who has no equal” (p. 13). As has already been explained, trinitarians do not regard the three persons as “partitions” of God, or the Son and Spirit as beings outside God yet equal to him. Indeed, if “person” is defined to mean an individual personal being, then trinitarians will agree that in that sense “God is one Person.” Thus, in arguing as if these truths contradicted the Trinity, the JWs show they have misconstrued the doctrine. In fact, that God is one “Person” in this sense does not prove that he is not also three “persons” in the sense meant by trinitarians.
Second, biblical monotheism does not simply mean that the being of the Almighty God is one being. That is true enough, but the Bible also teaches simply that there is one God. The Bible is quite emphatic on this point, repeating it often in both the Old Testament (Deut. 4:35, 39; 32:39; 2 Sam. 22:32; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 14, 21-22; 46:9) and the New Testament (Rom. 3:30; 16:27; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; James 2:19; Jude 25). And the very meaning of the word monotheism is the belief in one God.
It is therefore important to note that the JWs flatly deny this most basic of biblical teachings. Although they admit that there is only one Almighty God, they claim that there are, in addition to that God, and not counting the many false gods worshiped by idolaters, many creatures rightly recognized in the Bible as “gods” in the sense of “mighty ones” (p. 28). These “gods” include Jesus Christ, angels, human judges, and Satan. The JWs take this position to justify allowing the Bible to call Jesus “a god” without honoring him as Jehovah God.
The question must therefore be asked whether Witnesses can escape the charge that they are polytheists (believers in many gods). The usual reply is that while they believe there are many gods, they worship only one God, Jehovah. But this belief is not monotheism, either. The usual term for the belief that there are many gods but only one who is to be worshiped is heno theism.
The more important question, of course, is whether the Bible supports the JWs’ view. The explicit, direct statements of the Bible that there is only one God (cited above) cannot fairly be interpreted to mean that there are many gods but only one who is almighty, or only one who is to be worshiped, or only one who is named Jehovah. There is only one Almighty God Jehovah, and he alone is to be worshiped—but the Bible also states flatly that he is the only God.
More precisely, the Bible says that there is only one true God (John 17:3; see also 2 Chron. 15:3; Jer. 10:10; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:20), in contrast to all other gods, false gods, who are not gods at all (Deut. 32:21; 1 Sam. 12:21; Ps. 96:5; Isa. 37:19; 41:23-24, 29; Jer. 2:11; 5:7; 16:20; 1 Cor. 8:4; 10:19-20). There are, then, two categories of “gods”: true Gods (of which there is only one, Jehovah) and false gods (of which there are unfortunately many).
The JWs, however, in agreement with most antitrinitarian groups today that claim to believe in the Bible, cannot agree that there is only one true God, despite the Bible’s saying so in just those words, because then they would have to admit that Jesus is that God. Therefore, they appeal to a few isolated texts in the Bible that they claim honor creatures with the title gods without implying that they are false gods. We must next consider these texts briefly.
Are Angels Gods?
There are two kinds of creatures that the JWs claim are honored as gods in Scripture—angels and men. We begin with angels. The usual prooftext in support of this claim is Psalm 8:5, which the NWT renders, “You also proceeded to make him [man] a little less than godlike ones.” The word translated “godlike ones” here is elohim, the usual word for “God,” but (because plural) also translatable as “gods.” Since Hebrews 2:7 quotes this verse as saying, “You made him a little lower than angels” (NWT), the Witnesses conclude that Psalm 8:5 is calling angels “gods.”
There are numerous objections to this line of reasoning, only some of which can be mentioned here. First, it is questionable that in its original context elohim in Psalm 8:5 should be understood to refer to angels and translated “gods” or “godlike ones.” This is because in context this psalm is speaking of man’s place in creation in terms that closely parallel Genesis 1. Psalm 8:3 speaks of the creation of the heavens, moon, and stars (cf. Gen. 1:1, 8, 16). Verse 4 asks how God can consider man significant when compared with the grandeur of creation. The answer given is that man rules over creation—over the inhabitants of the land, sky, and sea (vv. 6-8; cf. Gen. 1:26-28). What links this question and answer in Psalm 8 is the statement that God made man “a little lower than elohim,” which parallels in thought the Genesis statement that man was created “in the image of elohim,” that is, in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). This makes it quite reasonable to conclude that in its own context Psalm 8:5 is meant to be understood as saying that man is a little lower than God, not angels.
If this view is correct, why does Hebrews 2:7 have the word angels rather than God? The simple answer is that the author of Hebrews was quoting from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament prepared by Jewish scholars and in common use in the first century. The fact that the writer of Hebrews quoted the Septuagint does not imply that the Septuagint rendering he quoted was a literal or accurate word-for-word translation of the Hebrew text (after all, “angels” is certainly not a literal translation of “gods”). Rather, Hebrews 2:7 is a paraphrase of Psalm 8:5 that, while introducing a new understanding of it, does not contradict it. Psalm 8 says that the son of man (meaning mankind) was made a little lower than God; Hebrews 2 says that the Son of Man (meaning Christ) was made a little lower than the angels. The psalm speaks of man’s exalted status, while Hebrews speaks of Christ’s temporary humbling. Since the angels are, of course, lower than God, and since Christ’s humbled status was that of a man, what Hebrews says does not contradict Psalm 8:5, though it does go beyond it.
It must be admitted that this is not the only way of reading Hebrews 2:7 and Psalm 8:5. It is just possible that Hebrews 2:7 does implicitly understand Psalm 8:5 to be calling angels “gods.” If this were correct, it would not mean that angels were truly gods. It might then be argued that the point of Psalm 8:5 was that man was made just a little lower than the spiritual creatures so often wrongly worshiped by men as gods. This would fit the context of Hebrews 2:7 also, since from Hebrews 1:5 through the end of chapter 2 the author argues for the superiority of the Son over angels. That is, Hebrews might be taken to imply that even God’s angels can be idolized if they are wrongly exalted or worshiped as gods (which some early heretics were doing [cf. Col. 2:18]).
Moreover, this interpretation would also fit Hebrews 1:6, which quotes Psalm 97:7 as saying that all of God’s angels should worship the Son. Psalm 97:7 in Hebrew is a command to the “gods” (identified in the immediate context as idols) to worship Jehovah. Thus, Hebrews 1:6 testifies at once both to the fact that angels, if they are considered gods at all, are false gods, and that Jesus Christ is worshiped by angels as Jehovah the true God.
There are other reasons for denying that angels are truly gods in a positive sense. The Bible flatly states that demonic spirits are not gods (1 Cor. 10:20; Gal. 4:8). Since demons are just as much spirits, and presumably are just as much “mighty ones” (though wicked) as the holy angels, it follows that angels cannot be gods by virtue of their being “mighty ones. “
Furthermore, the translation of elohim in Psalm 8:5 as “godlike ones” runs into the problem of contradicting the Bible, which flatly and repeatedly states that none are like God (Exod. 8:10; 9:14; 15:11; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:23; 1 Chron. 17:20; Ps. 86:8; Isa. 40:18, 25; 44:7; 46:5, 9; Jer. 10:6-7; Mic. 7:18), though creatures may reflect God’s moral qualities (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:2).
Finally, even if angels were gods in some positive sense, that would not explain in what sense Jesus Christ is called “God,” since he is not an angel—he is God’s Son (Heb. 1:4-5); is worshiped by all the angels (Heb. 1:6); is the God who reigns, not a spirit messenger (Heb. 1:7-9); and is the Lord who created everything, not an angel created to serve (Heb. 1:10-13).
Before leaving this question, it should be noted in passing that Satan is called “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4 Niv), but clearly in the sense of a false god, one who is wrongly allowed to usurp the place of the true God in the present age. That is the point of 2 Corinthians 4:4, not that Satan is a mighty one.
Are Mighty Men Gods?
The Witnesses claim that not only mighty angels, but also mighty men, are called “gods” in Scripture in recognition of their might. This claim, however, is open to even more difficult objections than the claim that angels are gods.
The Bible explicitly denies that powerful men, such as kings and dictators and military leaders, are gods (Ezek. 28:2, 9; see also Isa. 31:3; 2 Thess. 2:4). In fact, frequently in Scripture “man” and “God” are used as opposite categories, parallel with “flesh” and “spirit” (Num. 23:19; Isa. 31:3; Hos. 11:9; Matt. 19:26; John 10:33; Acts 12:22; 1 Cor. 14:2). In this light, texts that are alleged to call men “gods” in a positive sense ought to be studied carefully and alternative interpretations followed where context permits.
The usual text cited in this connection, as in the JW booklet, is Psalm 82:6, “I said, you are gods,” which is quoted by Jesus in John 10:34. This verse has commonly been interpreted (by trinitarians as well as antitrinitarians, though with different conclusions drawn) to be calling Israelite judges “gods” by virtue of their honorable office of representing God to the people in judgment. Assuming this interpretation to be correct, the verse would not then be saying that judges really are gods in the sense of “mighty ones.” Rather, it would simply be saying that as judges in Israel they represented God. This representative sense of “gods” would then have to be distinguished from a qualitative sense, in which creatures are called “gods” as a description of the kind of beings they are.
There are good reasons, however, to think that the Israelite judges are being called “gods” not to honor them but to expose them as false gods. This may be seen best by a close reading of the entire psalm.
In Psalm 82:1 Jehovah God is spoken of by the psalmist in the third person: “God takes His stand… He judges…” (NAss). The psalmist says, “God [elohimi takes his stand in the assembly of God [el]; he judges in the midst of the gods [elohimr (my translation). Here we are confronted with two elohim: God, and the judges, called by the psalmist “gods.”
In verses 2-5 God’s judgment against the Israelite judges is pronounced. They are unjust, show partiality to the wicked, allow the wicked to abuse the poor and helpless, and by their unjust judgment are destroying the foundations of life on earth.
Then in verse 6 we read, “I said, ‘You are gods….‘” This is a reference back to the psalmist’s calling the judges “gods” in verse 1: “…He judges in the midst of the gods.” The succeeding lines make clear that although the psalmist referred to the wicked judges as “gods,” they were not really gods at all and proved themselves not up to the task of being gods. This is made clear in two ways.
First, the second line of verse 6 adds, “And all of you are sons of the Most High.” What can this mean? The similar expression “sons of God” is used in the Old Testament only of angels (Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1), unless one interprets Genesis 6:1-4 to be speaking of a godly line of men. The Israelite judges were neither angels nor godly men. Hosea 1:10 speaks prophetically of Gentiles becoming “sons of the living God,” but this has reference to Gentiles becoming Christians and thus adopted children of God (Rom. 9:26). The judges were not Christians, either. The easiest, if not only, explanation is that they are called “sons of the Most High” in irony. That is, the psalmist calls them “sons of the Most High” not because they really were, but because they thought of themselves as such, and to show up that attitude as ridiculous (see a similar use of irony by Paul in 1 Cor. 4:8). If this is correct, it would imply that they were also called “gods” in irony. Thus the thought would be that these human judges thought of themselves as gods, immortal beings with the power of life and death.
The next lines, in Psalm 82:7, confirm such an interpretation: the judges are told that they are ordinary men who will die. The clear implication is that though they seemed to rule over the life and death of their fellow Israelites, they were no more gods than anyone else, because—like even the greatest of men—they will die.
Then, in verse 8, the psalmist addresses God in the second person, “Arise, 0 God, judge the earth!…” (NASB). In other words, the judges have proved themselves to be false gods; now let the true God come and judge the world in righteousness.
This way of reading Psalm 82 does not conflict with or undermine Christ’s argument in John 10:34-36. When he says, “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came…” (John 10:35 NASB), nothing in the text demands that the “gods” be anything but false gods. Jesus’ argument may be paraphrased and expanded as follows:
Is it not written in the Law which you call your own, “I said, `You are gods”? The psalmist, whom you regard as one of your own, and yourselves as worthy successors to him, called those wicked judges, against whom the word of God came in judgment, “gods.” And yet the Scripture cannot be broken; it must have some fulfillment. Therefore these worthless judges must have been called “gods” for a reason, to point to some worthy human judge who is rightly called God. Now the Father has witnessed to my holy calling and sent me into the world to fulfill everything he has purposed. That being so, how can you, who claim to follow in the tradition of the psalmist, possibly be justified in rejecting the fulfillment of his words by accusing me of blasphemy for calling myself the Son of God? How can you escape being associated with those wicked judges who judged unjustly by your unjust judgment of me?
By this interpretation, Jesus is saying that what the Israelite judges were called in irony and condemnation, he is in reality and in holiness; he does what they could not do and is what they could not be. This kind of positive fulfillment in Christ contrasted with a human failure in the Old Testament occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, notably the contrast between the sinner Adam and the righteous Christ (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45).
To summarize, the judges called “gods” in Psalm 82 could not have been really gods, because the Bible denies that mighty or authoritative men are gods. If they are called “gods” in a positive sense, it is strictly a figurative expression for their standing in God’s place in judging his people. But more likely they are called “gods” in irony, to expose them as wicked judges who were completely inadequate to the task of exercising divine judgment. However one interprets Psalm 82, then, there is no basis for teaching that there are creatures who may be described qualitatively as gods.
We conclude, then, that the biblical statements that there is only one God are not contradicted or modified one bit by the prooftexts cited by JWs to prove that creatures may be honored as gods. There is one Creator, and all else is created; one Eternal, and all else temporal; one Sovereign Lord, and all else undeserving servants; one God, and all else worshipers. Anything else is a denial of biblical monotheism.
Robert M. Bowman, Why You Should Believe In The Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 49-58.
An In-Depth four-part-series on the Trinity in Christian theology.
Here is a quick run-down of the issue before getting to the earlier post, as the following is an update of sorts from WINTERY KNIGHT:
1. The nations of Canaan were evil, harming others, and needed to be stopped. They had carried out incest with children/grandchildren and performed child sacrifice by fire. (Lev 18:6-30, Deut 12:31, Deut 18:9-10, Psalm 106:35, 37-38) They launched unprovoked attacks on Israel (Ex 17:8-9, Num 21:1, Num 21:2-23, 33) and even guerrilla attacks against Israel’s “stragglers in the rear of the march when you were exhausted and tired.” (Deut 25:18)
2. Warfare language was likely rhetorical. There are five reasons to support the rhetorical nature of language such as “completely destroy” (Hebrew תחרימו, literally “ban”) in Deut 20:17. It likely meant a destruction of armed soldiers, buildings, and religious icons.
Semitic language professor and NIV, NAB, and ESV bible translator Richard Hess argues that Hebrew “ban” is “stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders” and “need not require that there really were children, senior citizens, or women there who were put to death” even when followed by the terms “men and women” (Joshua 8:25) or “young and old” (Joshua 8:25).
In Israel’s destruction of enemies we see phrases like “left no survivor” and “utterly destroyed all who breathed” (Joshua 10:40, Judges 1:8). But in Joshua 21:12-13 the author has no problem telling us these people were still there afterward: “if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you… God will no longer drive out these nations”. In 1 Sam 15:3-4 Israel was to “strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death–man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.” In 15:8 Saul “executed all Agag’s people” and Agag himself was killed in 15:33. But later in 1 Sam 27:8 we’re told they’re still there and ” had been living in that land for a long time”. Hundreds of years later in Esther 3:1 we’re even told Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag.
Most verses on the subject speak of “driving out” and “dispossessing” the land rather than language suggestive of genocide. E.g. Num 33:51-53, in “the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images, all their molten images, and demolish their high places. You must dispossess the inhabitants of the land and live in it, for I have given you the land to possess it.” It’s the same story in Lev 18:25, Num 23:31-32, Deut 6:19, 9:4, 18:12, Joshua 3:10, and 23:9.
Jer 4:20 suggests inhabitants fled before armies arrived: “At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks”
Deut 7:22 specifically says that Israel was forbidden to “destroy them all at once” and instead they would be expelled “little by little”.
So either all of these verses contradict one another, or the conquest language was rhetorical.
3. Many of the “cities” were probably military outposts. For example with Jericho and Ai, Richard Hess argues there are no references to noncombatants (apart from Rahab), no archaeological evidence of non-military use, the term melek (Hebrew מלכי) for “king” of the cities often meant mean a military leader in Canaan (e.g. in Joshua 2:2), they were located at defensive positions, and Jericho and Ai weren’t described as a large city as Gibeon and Hazor explicitly were……
War/Conquest Texts (as a genre) Include Hyperbole And Exaggeration
I did not put the footnotes into this excerpt… you will have to purchase the book to follow through. I left out a few pages (104-107) that are titled three implications of this reading. Very interesting and again the book is worth a read. Chapter 9 is titled “Objections from the Biblical Text to the Hyperbolic Interpretation.” So for the skeptical, again, the entire book is worth your attention. This is posted for a pastor and for a professor I know… enjoy. (BTW, here is a quick synopsis of Jericho referencing Copan’s great book, Is God a Moral Monster, at Tough Questions Answered.)
A Hyperbolic Reading of Joshua
Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 84-104, 107-108.
7 ~ The Question of Genocide and the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Joshua
Earlier, we noted philosopher Raymond Bradley’s quoting from Joshua 6-12, in which we read that Joshua “utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old,” that “he utterly destroyed every person who was in it,” “he left no survivor,” and “there was no one left who breathed.” We have cited Bradley’s assessment of Israel’s/God’s “genocidal policies.” We’ve also noted that thinkers such as philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and zoologist Richard Dawkins cite Joshua to make the same argument. Bradley, Sinnott-Armstrong, and Dawkins do have a point when they say that if we read such verses in isolation from the rest of the narrative and do so in a straightforward, literal way, it appears that Israel committed genocide at God’s command, slaughtering every last inhabitant of the land of Canaan.
There are, however, good reasons why these passages should not be read in a straightforward, literal way. Nicholas Wolterstorff, who taught philosophical theology at Yale, puts forward two strong arguments for rejecting the kind of literalistic reading that Bradley and his atheistic comrades-in-arms promote. First, it’s quite implausible that those who authorized the final form of the text were affirming that all Canaanites were exterminated at God’s command. Second, the accounts that appear to say otherwise are utilizing extensive hyperbole and are not intended to be taken literally. In this chapter and the next, we’ll develop and defend these arguments. If Wolterstorff’s arguments are correct—and there are a number of biblical scholars who take this view—then the author(s) of the biblical text aren’t affirming that God commanded genocide.
An Argument against Literalism
Wolterstorff’s first argument rejects a literalistic reading of these Joshua texts: “A careful reading of the text in its literary context makes it implausible to interpret it as claiming that Yahweh ordered extermination.” What is this literary context? “Joshua as we have it today was intended as a component in the larger sequence consisting of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings…. I propose that we interpret the book of Joshua as a component within this larger sequence—in particular, that we interpret it as preceded by Deuteronomy and succeeded by Judges.” Jews and Christians accept the final form of Joshua as part of a sequence in a larger canonical arrangement. When reading it this way, certain features of the narrative become apparent. The first feature is that a tension exists between early chapters of Joshua and the opening chapters of Judges, which is the literary sequel to Joshua: Joshua 6-11 summarizes several battles and concludes with, “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (11:23). Scholars readily agree that Judges is literately linked to Joshua. Yet the early chapters of Judges, which, incidentally, repeat the death and burial of Joshua, show a different picture:
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” Judah said to his brother Simeon, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; then I too will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek. (Judg. 1:1-4)
On the surface Joshua appears to affirm that all the land was conquered, yet Judges proceeds on the assumption that it has not been and still needs to be.
Similarly, Joshua 10-11 appears to state that Joshua exterminated all the Canaanites in the land. Repeatedly, the text states that Joshua left “no survivors” and “destroyed everything that breathed” in “the entire land” and “put all the inhabitants to the sword.” Alongside these general claims, the book of Joshua identifies several specific places and cities where Joshua exterminated “everyone” and left no survivors. These include Hebron (10:36), Debir (10:38), the hill country, the Negev, and the western foothills (10:40).
In contrast, the first chapter of Judges affirms eight times that the Israelites had failed to conquer the land or the cities; they could not drive the inhabitants out. The narrator states that the Canaanites lived in the Negev, in the hill country (v. 9), in Debir (v. 11), in Hebron (v. 10), and in the western foothills (v. 9). Moreover, they did so in such numbers and strength that they had to be driven out by force with great difficulty. These are the same cities noted in Joshua 10, which claims all inhabitants had been annihilated with no remaining survivors. The opening section of Judges finishes with the angel of the Lord at Bokim rebuking them for failing to drive out the inhabitants of these areas (Judg. 2:1-5).6 And further along in the text, the affirmation that Joshua did not destroy all the Canaanites in the land becomes even more explicit: “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died”; the text continues: “The LORD had left those nations, not driving them out at once, and had not handed them over to Joshua” (vv. 21,23 NRSV). Contrast this with the sweeping affirmation made in Joshua 11:23: “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war” (NASB).
We see other passages that seem to suggest extermination—only to be told shortly afterward that nothing of the sort happened:
At the end of the book, Joshua refers to “these nations . . . which remain among you” (23:7 NASB), and he warns against clinging to “the rest of these nations” (v. 12 NASB).
So, on the surface, Joshua appears to affirm that these cities were conquered and their inhabitants completely exterminated. Judges proceeds, however, on the assumption that they are yet to be conquered and the Canaanites still live there in significant numbers, although Joshua gives indications of this as well. Yet Joshua and Judges sit side by side in the biblical canon, the latter being a continuation of the narrative of the former. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay makes this observation: “While Joshua does speak of Israel’s utterly destroying the Canaanites, even these accounts can give a misleading impression. When a city is in danger of falling, people do not simply wait there to be killed; they get out. . . . That may be one reason why peoples that have been annihilated have no trouble reappearing later in the story; after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword, its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’ (Judg. 1:8, 21).”
Finally, the account of what God commanded differs in the two narratives. Joshua states: “He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded” (Josh. 10:40) and “exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses” (11:20). However, when this command is retroactively referred to in Judges 2:1, there is no mention of genocide or annihilation. Instead we read of how God had promised to drive them out and of God’s commands not to make treaties with the Canaanites but to destroy their shrines. This silence is significant in the context. If God had commanded genocide, then it is odd that only instructions concerning treaties and shrines were mentioned (a theme we also see in Deut. 7:1-6). So there are obvious tensions between a surface reading of Joshua and Judges (a sequel to Joshua). However, these tensions do not merely occur between Joshua and Judges. The same tension occurs within the book of Joshua itself. Chapter 11 finishes in this manner: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (v. 23). Note that the conquered region is the same land that is later divided among the Israelite tribes.
However, when the text turns to giving an account of these tribal divisions only a chapter (or so) later, God says, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over” (13:1). Then, in the next five chapters, it is stressed repeatedly that the land was not yet conquered, and the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. As we have seen, when we examine the allotment given to Judah, we see Caleb asking permission to drive the Anakim from the hill countries (14:12), describing how he has to defeat the Anakim living in Hebron, and, after this, marching against the people “living-in Debir” (15:13-19).
Similarly, it is evident with several of the other allotments that the people still had to drive out Canaanites entrenched in the area and were not always successful in doing so. We read, for example, that the Ephraimites and Manassites “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim” (16:10). Similarly, chapter 17 states, “Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely” (vv. 12-13). We read that “when the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor” (19:47). Here we see the same land said to be subdued and conquered by Joshua in battles where he exterminated and left alive nothing that breathed. This land was yet to be occupied by the tribes of Israel and was still occupied by Canaanites, who were often heavily armed and deeply entrenched (17:16-18).
So a surface reading of the passages that Bradley and Sinnott-Armstrong cite not only seems to contradict Judges, but also the preceding chapters of the book of Joshua itself.
Biblical scholar Brevard Childs notes the apparent contradiction:
Critical scholars have long since pointed out the tension—it is usually called a contradiction—in the portrayal of the conquest of the land. On the one hand, the conquest is pictured in the main source of Josh. 1-12 as a unified assault against the inhabitants of the land under the leadership of Joshua which succeeded in conquering the entire land (11.23; 18.1; 22.43). On the other hand, there is a conflicting view of the conquest represented by Judges 1 and its parallels in Joshua (15.13-19, 63; 16.10; 17.11-13; 19.47) which appears to picture the conquest as undertaken by individual tribes, extending over a long period beyond the age of Joshua, and unsuccessful in driving out the Canaanites from much of the land.
More recently, Kenneth Kitchen has taken issue with Childs’s picture of Joshua 1-12. He notes that, when one takes into account the rhetorical flourishes common to ancient Near Eastern war accounts of this sort, a careful reading of Joshua 1-12 makes it clear that it does not portray Israel as actually occupying or conquering the areas mentioned. Kitchen notes that after crossing the Jordan, the Israelites set up camp in Gilgal “on the east border of Jericho” (Josh. 4:19). He points out that after every battle in the next six chapters, the text explicitly states that they returned to Gilgal:
The conflict with Canaanite city-state rulers in the southern part of Canaan is worth close observation. After the battle for Gibeon, we see the Hebrews advance upon six towns in order, attacking and capturing them, killing their local kings and such of the inhabitants as had not gotten clear, and moving on, not holding on to these places. Twice over (10:15, 43), it is clearly stated that their strike force returned to base camp at Gilgal. So there was no sweeping takeover and occupation of this region at this point. And no total destruction of the towns attacked.
What happened in the south was repeated up north. Hazor was both leader and famed center for the north Canaanite kinglets. Thus, as in the south, the Hebrew force defeated the opposition; captured their towns, killed rulers and less mobile inhabitants, and symbolically burned Hazor, and Hazor only, to emphasize its end to its local supremacy. Again Israel did not attempt to immediately hold on to Galilee; they remained based at Gilgal (cf. 14:6).
Kitchen notes that “the first indication of a real move in occupation outward beyond Gilgal comes in 18:4.” This is “after the first allotment (14-17) of lands-to-be-occupied had been made,” and as we saw above, the Israelites did not find occupying these allotments easy. He concludes, “These campaigns were essentially disabling raids: they were not territorial conquests with instant Hebrew occupation. The text is very clear about this.”
Joshua as we have it today, then, occurs in a literary context in which the language of “killing all who breathed,” “putting all inhabitants to the sword,” and “leaving no survivors” is followed up by a narrative that affirms straightforwardly that the Canaanites were not literally wiped out or exterminated in this manner. Moreover the text of Joshua itself mixes and juxtaposes these two pictures of the entrance into Canaan. If one reads the whole narrative as a sequence, these are not subtle contrasts; they are, in Wolterstorff’s words, “flamboyant” ones.
It is worth emphasizing how “flamboyant” these tensions are. Joshua 6-11 rhythmically and repeatedly emphasizes that Joshua “put all the inhabitants to the sword” and “left no survivors.” It additionally spells out specific places this occurred. The section finishes in this manner: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (11:23). Yet, at the same time, after every battle it is stressed that Israel returned to base camp at Gilgal. So there was no sweeping takeover and occupation of this region at that point.
Then, in the next five chapters, it is stressed repeatedly that the land was not yet conquered, and the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. Furthermore, the very same regions were still occupied by the Canaanites who remained heavily armed and deeply entrenched in the cities. This is then followed by the opening chapters of Judges, which affirm eight times (in a single chapter) that the Israelites had failed to conquer the land or the cities and had failed to drive the inhabitants out. As we noted earlier, the account finishes with the angel of the Lord at Bokim rebuking them for failing to drive the inhabitants out. While one might contend a human author could make an editorial error, it is unlikely that an intelligent editor or arranger would have missed something this blatant. Wolterstorff concludes: “Those whose occupation it is to try to determine the origins of these writings will suggest that the editors had contradictory records, oral traditions, and so forth to work with. No doubt this is correct. But those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not mindless; they could see, as well as you and I can see, the tensions and contradictions—surface or real—that I have pointed to. So what is going on?” Wolterstorff’s point is that regardless of what sources or strata of tradition are alleged to be behind the final form of Joshua, those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence would have been well aware of the obvious tensions in the passages mentioned above. Moreover, they were not mindless or stupid. Consequently, it is unlikely, when read in this context, that those who authorized the final form of Joshua were using the text to assert literally that Joshua carried out an extermination of all the inhabitants of Canaan at God’s command. Evidently, something else is going on.
The Use of Sources and Not-So-Intelligent Editors
Some critics have objected that this argument from Wolterstorff relies on the uninformed claim that if an editor put two contradictory sources together, the editor was either truly intellectually challenged or not affirming both in a literal sense. These critics object that Wolterstorff offers an utterly false dichotomy.
Consider, though, what the objector is implying by this “false dichotomy” charge. The critic suggests that the final editors of the text could be affirming both that Israel killed every single person in Canaan and that Israel did not do this, which, of course, makes no sense.
To back up their claim that the final editors are including blatantly contradictory materials, critics may appeal to influential positions proposed from within the camp of “source criticism.” The argument states that the ancient editors weren’t bothered by such contradictions in the way we moderns are. The ancient editors’ literary modus operandi—which included political or aesthetic considerations—was to faithfully preserve the source material despite its obviously contradictory nature when taken literally. Consider the political motivation: different groups of people with divergent traditions came together as one group, and so the traditions were woven together not for the sake of consistency but to reflect the unity of the group. The goal was to preserve the distinctiveness of the material and also to unite the people. Ancient editors cared about the material not because they thought it was “inerrant” but because it reflected the different traditions of the various peoples within that group.
Or maybe an editor would take a well-known tradition that was also subversive to establishment orthodoxy; he might add elements to it in order to make it conform to the official position. Ecclesiastes could be an example here, where the message of “the Teacher” contradicts long-standing orthodoxy, but a later editor deliberately contradicts its message by adding passages to subvert the original message (Eccles. 12:9-14).
The problem is that even if it is correct that genuine contradictions exist in the text, this charge fails to show that Wolterstorff’s argument relies on a false dichotomy. For one thing, the editor isn’t assuming that both affirmations—say, extermination and nonextermination—are literally true. The editor preserves them to show unity, which doesn’t counter Wolterstorff’s assumption; in fact, Wolterstorff would readily affirm this. The editor clearly has something else in mind in preserving statements that affirm both extermination and nonextermination.
What about the even clearer example of Ecclesiastes, in which we find two “voices”; there is the cynical “Preacher/Teacher” and the godly editor, who in the end exhorts the reader to “fear God and keep His commandments” (12:9-14 NASB). The final editor is not assuming both positions are true. He repudiates the voice of the Preacher, who did say some provocative and even wise things (vv. 9-11). But the second voice stands to affirm a hope-filled stance that is quite distinct from the Preacher’s message of cynicism, emptiness, and despair.
How indeed could Wolterstorff argue that even a half-intelligent editor would knowingly affirm both that Joshua exterminated every person in Canaan and that after he did so, abundant numbers of Canaanites were still alive? Ancient standards of accuracy or aesthetics are relevant here. Whatever differences they had from us, it is clear that ancient Near Easterners knew that if an enemy left absolutely no survivor in a city, then the people of that city were dead. It doesn’t make sense to affirm otherwise.
Wolterstorff’s first argument, therefore, appears sound. When the passages Bradley cites are read in context, it seems quite implausible to affirm that the final editor and arranger of Joshua was using this text to assert that absolute (or something approximating) extermination took place at God’s command. Something else is going on.
8 ~ Genocide and an Argument for “Hagiographic Hyperbole”
If those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not using the text to affirm that genocide occurred at God’s command, what then is going on? This brings us to Wolterstorff’s second line of argument. He uses the term hagiography (“holy writing”)—which refers to certain idealized, sometimes exaggerated accounts of events. In the United States, for example, we have a hagiography of the Pilgrims interacting with noble savages, Washington chopping down a cherry tree, and Washington crossing the Delaware—events that may reflect historical realities but are “sanitized” or “air-brushed” to remove any defect, messiness, or nuance. These might have the benefit of teaching a moral lesson, and the storytelling is not intended to tell us exactly what occurred historically. Some literary liberties are being taken.
Nicholas Wolterstorff suggests that hagiography—though properly clarified and qualified—serves as a helpful way of looking at Joshua’s exploits:
The book of Joshua has to be read as a theologically oriented narration, stylized and hyperbolic at important points, of Israel’s early skirmishes in the promised land, with the story of these battles being framed by descriptions of two great ritualized events. The story as a whole celebrates Joshua as the great leader of his people, faithful to Yahweh, worthy successor of Moses. If we strip the word “hagiography” of its negative connotations, we can call it a hagiographic account of Joshua’s exploits. The book is not to be read as claiming that Joshua conquered the entire promised land, nor is it to be read as claiming that Joshua exterminated with the edge of the sword the entire population of all the cities on the command of Yahweh to do so. The candor of the opening chapter of Judges, and of Yahweh’s declaration to Joshua in his old age that “very much of the land still remains to be possessed,” are closer to a literal statement of how things actually went.
Wolterstorff alludes to several features and literary figures of speech in the text to support this view. He notes that the early chapters of Judges, by and large, read like “down-to-earth history.” However, he continues, anyone carefully reading the book of Joshua will recognize in it certain stylistic renderings—”formulaic phrasings” and “formulaic convention[s]” —and stylized language like “utterly destroy,” “put to the edge of the sword,” “leave alive nothing that breathes,” and “man and woman, young and old,” as well as “the highly ritualized character of some of the major events described.” “The book is framed by its opening narration of the ritualized crossing of the Jordan and by its closing narration of the equally ritualized ceremony of blessing and cursing that took place at Shechem; and the conquest narrative begins with the ritualized destruction of Jericho.” A related ritualistic feature is “the mysterious sacral category of being devoted to destruction.” However, the most significant is the use of formulaic language:
Anyone who reads the book of Joshua in one sitting cannot fail to be struck by the prominent employment of formulaic phrasings…. Far more important is the formulaic clause, “struck down all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword.”
The first time one reads that Joshua struck down all the inhabitants of a city with the edge of the sword, namely, in the story of the conquest of Jericho (6:21), one makes nothing of it. But the phrasing—or close variants thereon—gets repeated, seven times in close succession in chapter 10, two more times in chapter 11, and several times in other chapters. The repetition makes it unmistakable that we are dealing here with a formulaic literary convention.
So while the accounts in Judges appear as “down-to-earth history,” the passages in Joshua referring to “leaving alive none that breathes” and “putting all inhabitants to the sword” appear in contexts full of ritualistic, stylized, formulaic language. It therefore looks like something other than a mere literal description of what occurred. In light of these facts, Wolterstorff argues that Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history, a highly stylized, exaggerated account of the events designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what literally happened.
Ancient Near Eastern Conquest Accounts
Wolterstorff’s thesis has been substantially confirmed in a study he cites in a footnote. In a comprehensive comparative study of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, Lawson Younger Jr. documents that Joshua employs the same stylistic, rhetorical, and literary conventions of other war reports of the same period.’ Three conclusions of Younger’s research are pertinent.
The first is that comparisons between the book of Joshua and other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts demonstrate some important stylistic parallels. According to Ziony Zevit, “when the composition and rhetoric of the Joshua narratives in chapters 9-12 are compared to the conventions of writing about conquests in Egyptian, Hittite, Akkadian, Moabite, and Aramaic texts, they are revealed to be very similar.” Younger notes similarities in the preface, structure, and even the way the treaty with the Gibeonites is recorded in Joshua and various ancient Near Eastern accounts. Joshua follows this convention in describing numerous battles occurring in a single day or within a single campaign. Like Joshua, ancient Near Eastern accounts also repeatedly make reference to the enemy “melting with fear.” Even the way post-battle pursuits are set out and described shows similarities with comparable pursuits in ancient Near Eastern literature. Commenting on the structure of the campaigns mentioned in Joshua 9-12, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen reminds us:
This kind of report profile is familiar to readers of ancient Near Eastern military reports, not least in the second millennium. Most striking is the example of the campaign annals of Tuthmosis III of Egypt in his Years 22-42 (ca. 14581438)…. The pharaoh there gives a very full account of his initial victory at Megiddo, by contrast with the far more summary and stylized reports of the ensuing sixteen subsequent campaigns. Just like Joshua against up to seven kings in south Canaan and four-plus up north.
He adds, “The Ten Year Annals of the Hittite king Mursil II (later fourteenth century) are also instructive. Exactly like the ‘prefaces’ in the two Joshua war reports (10:1-4; 11:1-5), detailing hostility by a number of foreign rulers against Joshua and Israel as the reason for the wars, so in his annals Mursil II gives us a long “preface” on the hostility of neighboring rulers and people groups that lead to his campaigns.” Kitchen offers other examples. He observes that the same formulaic style found in Joshua is also used in two of the Amarna letters—a correspondence written in Akkadian between Egyptian administrators in Canaan and Amurru and two particular pharaohs, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten (fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC). Similarly, before his major campaigns, “Joshua is commissioned by YHWH not to fear (cf. 5:13-15; 10:8; 11:6). So also by Ptah and Amun were Merenptah in Egypt, and Tuthmosis IV long before him; and likewise Mursil II of the Hittites by his gods (Ten-Year Annals, etc.), all in the second millennium, besides such kings as Assurbanipal of Assyria down to the seventh century.”
Second, Younger also notes that such accounts are “figurative” and utilize what he calls a “transmission code”: a common, frequently stylized, stereotyped, and frequently hyperbolic way of recording history. The literary motif of divine intervention is an example. Both The 10 Year Annals of Mursil (also known as “Mursili”) and Sargon’s Letter to the God record a divine intervention where the god sends hailstones on the enemy Tuthmosis III has a similar story regarding a meteor—or what appears to have been a meteor shower. Younger observes that these accounts are very similar to parallel accounts in Joshua 10 where God rains hailstones on Israel’s enemies. Similarly, Younger points out that in many ancient Near Eastern texts, “one can discern a literary technique in which a deity is implored to maintain daylight long enough for there to be a victory,” which has obvious parallels to Joshua 10:13-14. The numbers of armies and enemy casualties are rhetorically exaggerated. The fact that similar events are narrated in multiple different accounts suggests they are “a notable ingredient of the transmission code for conquest accounts” — that is, they are part of the common hyperbolic rhetoric of warfare rather than descriptions of what actually occurred.
Third and most significantly for this discussion, part of this “transmission code” is that victories are narrated in an exaggerated hyperbolic fashion in terms of total conquest, complete annihilation, and destruction of the enemy, killing everyone, leaving no survivors, etc. Kitchen offers illuminating examples:
The type of rhetoric in question was a regular feature of military reports in the second and first millennia, as others have made very clear…. In the later fifteenth century Tuthmosis III could boast “the numerous army of Mitanni, was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) non-existent” —whereas, in fact, the forces of Mitanni lived to fight many another day, in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Some centuries later, about 840/830, Mesha king of Moab could boast that “Israel has utterly perished for always”—a rather premature judgment at that date, by over a century! And so on, ad libitum. It is in this frame of reference that the Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.
Younger offers numerous other examples. Merneptah’s Stele (thirteenth century BC) describes a skirmish with Israel as follows, “Yanoam is nonexistent; Israel is wasted, his seed is not.” Here a skirmish in which Egypt prevailed is described in terms of the total annihilation of Israel. Sennacherib uses similar hyperbole, “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.” Mursil(i) II records making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).” Mesha (whom Kitchen cited as stating “Israel has utterly perished for always”) describes victories in terms of his fighting against a town, taking it, and then killing all the inhabitants of the town. Similarly, The Bulletin of Ramses II, a historical narrative of Egyptian military campaigns into Syria, narrates Egypt’s considerably-less-than-decisive victory at the battle of Kadesh with the following rhetoric: “He took no note of the millions of foreigners; he regarded them as chaff…. His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched Foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him, their infantry and their chariotry falling on their faces one upon the other. His majesty slaughtered and slew them in their places…; and his majesty was alone, none other with him.” Numerous other examples could be provided. The hyperbolic use of language similar to that in Joshua is strikingly evident. Though instances could be multiplied, but the point is that such accounts contain extensive hyperbole and are not intended to be taken as literal descriptions of what occurred.
Rhetorical Function and Ideology
Some critics will disagree with this hyperbolic interpretation of Joshua, but we should consider the point of hyperbole itself in such contexts. One conclusion Younger draws from his study is that the transmission code employed in Joshua 9-12 reflects the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. This ideology means “victory must be described in black and white terms since there is only a ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ relationship.” Such rhetoric was used to inspire fear and obedience in those subjects who heard it. If the reader only heard such rhetoric as exaggeration, then the rhetoric would not have had the effect it was intended to have.
This inference is mistaken, firstly, because it is false that hyperbolic rhetoric must be taken literally in order to inspire fear and obedience. Suppose a boxer before a boxing match states that he is going to murder his opponent and make his children orphans. This sort of rhetoric is designed to inspire fear and intimidate. Does it follow that it is intended to be taken literally? Similarly, school bullies tell potential victims that if they “narc” on them, the bullies will “kill them and smash their heads in.” Do the victims have to believe they will literally be killed and have their heads actually smashed in to get the message?
Secondly, this objection fails to grasp the reasons Younger proffers for Joshua 9-12 reflecting the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Younger states: “Can one conclude that since the text of Joshua 9-12 manifests the same transmission code as other texts of ancient Near Eastern history writing, it is the product of the same underlying ideology? The indications from this study seem to point to an affirmative answer.” Younger concludes that Joshua 9-12 has the same ideology as other ancient Near Eastern accounts because it uses the same rhetorical transmission code—a code Younger documents as containing “extensive use of hyperbole.” He concludes: “Israelite ideology had certain similarities with the ‘Imperialistic’ ideologies of the ancient Near East,” which included “a similar view of the enemy, the calculated terror, the high use of hyperbole . . . and the use of stereotyped syntagms [linguistic units in ordered words/phrases like “utterly destroyed”] to transmit the high-redundance message of the ideology.’
Younger is clear on his meaning of hyperbole—namely, using “exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis and/or heightened effect,” adding that “more is said than is literally meant.” In fact, even when Younger talks of how victory must be described “in black and white terms,” he cites an example of the “figurative aspect” of such accounts and part of the “extensive use of hyperbole.”
Consequently, the critic cannot cite Younger’s conclusions (about Joshua reflecting the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts) as evidence that the rhetoric in these texts was intended to be taken literally. The whole reason Younger concludes that these texts reflect this ideology is because they follow the same rhetorical conventions common to such accounts, conventions that were not meant to be taken literally.
Younger’s study shows quite conclusively that Joshua is written in accord with the rhetoric and conventions of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Such accounts narrate history in a highly rhetorical, stereotyped, figurative fashion and utilize substantial hyperbole, narrating battles in terms of total annihilation of everyone. To read these accounts as though the author were literally affirming that total extermination had taken place is simply to misread them. Younger states, “It is evident that the syntagms… (they completely destroyed it and everyone in it,’ he left no survivors’), etc. are to be understood as hyperbole. Just like other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, the biblical narrative utilizes hyperbolic, stereotyped syntagms to build up the account.” Younger suggests this misreading has led scholars like Brevard Childs to mistakenly see contradictions between Joshua and the early chapters of the book of Judges. “Thus when the figurative nature of the account is considered there are really no grounds for concluding that Judges 1 presents a different view of the conquest from that of Joshua or that it must be an older account.” And Kitchen states that Old Testament scholars have read into the book of Joshua “a whole myth of their own making, to the effect that the book of Joshua presents a sweeping, total conquest and occupation of Canaan by Joshua, which can then be falsely pitted against the narratives in Judges.” This myth is “based on the failure to recognize and understand ancient use of rhetorical summations. The ‘ails’ are qualified in the Hebrew narrative itself.”
Several other considerations can be added to bolster this point. One is the fact that such hyperbolic language is clearly being used within the book of Joshua itself, which we noted earlier. In Joshua 10:20 (NASB), for example, we are told that Joshua and the sons of Israel had been “slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were destroyed.” Immediately, however, the text affirms that the “survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities.” In this context, the language of total destruction is clearly hyperbolic.
A similar phenomenon seems to occur in the account of the battle of Ai. After Joshua’s troops feign a retreat, the text states that “all the men of Ai” are pressed to chase them (Josh. 8:16). “Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. hey left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel” (v. 17). Joshua lures the pursuers into a trap “so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives” (v. 22). Then, after noting the capture of Ai’s military ruler (v. 23), the text immediately states: “When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword…” (v. 24). Taken literally, this is patently absurd. If there were no survivors or fugitives, whom were the Israelites chasing?
The account of the battle of Ai ends with the summary, “Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai” (v. 25), yet earlier in the same account it says, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there” (7:3). The text also describes Israel being routed when the men of Ai “killed about thirty-six of them” (v. 5). Clearly the casualty figures cannot be literally correct here. However, they are quite consistent with the conclusions drawn by Daniel Fouts that exaggerated numbers are common forms of hyperbole in ancient Near Eastern battle accounts. Archaeology suggests smaller numbers as well. Old Testament scholar Richard Hess notes that as with the “city [‘ir]” of Ai or other “cities” raided by the Israelites, Jericho was not a population center but a small, strategic military settlement or citadel. It was led by a commander or “king [melek],” also housing religious and political personnel. Jericho probably held a hundred or fewer men. This is why all of Israel could circle it seven times and then do battle against it on the same day!
Even if the numbers are not hyperbolic, matters seem complicated by the Hebrew term `eleph, commonly rendered “thousand.” A possible interpretation is that these numbers may not be as high as our translations indicate. This term can also mean “unit,” “troop,” or “squad,” without specifying the exact number. However, the massive numbers in biblical war texts fit quite nicely within the genre of ancient Near Eastern war texts with many examples of extraordinarily high numbers; thus we consider the hyperbolic numbers to be more plausible.
Similar hyperbole occurs in other biblical books, using the same phraseology we find in Joshua of “utterly destroying [haram]” populations “with the sword.” First Chronicles 4:41 states: “They attacked [nakah] the Hamites in their dwellings and also the Meunites who were there and completely destroyed [haram] them.” But only a few verses later, we read that the survivors fled to Amalek where they were later all “destroyed [nakah]” a second time (v. 43 NASB)!
Later in 2 Chronicles 36:16-17, the author narrates the fall of –Jerusalem: “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.” Only a few verses later, however, the narrator states, “He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power” (v. 20).
Similarly, compare verse 19: “They [the Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” With verse 18, “He [king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon] carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’S temple and the treasures of the king and his officials.” Taken literally this is absurd. How could they carry off all the treasure from the palaces and temple if everything of value had been destroyed? But this was not intended to be taken literally. This account was written to a post-exilic audience who knew full well that not every one of the Judahites had been killed. They, as the descendants of the survivors, knew that Judah had been exiled and was later restored under Cyrus: a fact pointed out only a few verses later (cf. vv. 21-23).
One finds the same language of killing all inhabitants with the sword also used hyperbolically in Judges. Judges 1:8 states, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.” A few verses later, however, the text states: “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites” (v. 21).
Similar language is used hyperbolically in the prophetic writings. In the context of the Babylonian invasion and Judah’s exile (sixth century BC), God said he would “lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (Jer. 9:11). Indeed, God said, “I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin” (25:9). Note that this is the same verb (haram) used for “utterly destroying” the Canaanites. In Jeremiah, God threatened to “stretch out My hand against you and destroy you” (15:6 NASB; cf. Ezek. 5:16)—to bring “disaster” against Judah (Jer. 6:19). However, the biblical text suggests that while Judah’s political and religious structures were ruined or disabled, and that Judahites died in the conflict, the “urban elite” were deported to Babylon while many “poor of the land” remained behind. Similarly, in Isaiah God says, “I consigned Jacob to destruction [herem] and Israel to scorn” (43:28). Then in the very next verse (44:1), God tells “Jacob,” whom he has “chosen,” that God will restore his people and bring them out of exile under a new covenant in which he will pour out his Spirit upon them.
As a final example, consider the “covenant curses” of Deuteronomy 28. Verse 20 warns: “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin.” But this is followed by the threat that “the LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land” (v. 21). And once again we see the language of still further destruction: “The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed…. All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed” (v. 24, 45).
But the text goes on to state that though Israel has been “destroyed,” they will face further perils in exile: “Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known…. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life” (vv. 64-66). Those who were said to be destroyed are alive in exile.
The same kind of language used to describe the fate of the Canaanites is frequently used hyperbolically throughout the Bible. In all these cases, the language of destroying “all” is seen to be qualified by the fact that a significant number (in fact) fled, escaped, and survived. Kitchen notes that in ancient rhetorical summaries of this sort, “the ‘ails’ are qualified by the Hebrew narrative itself. In 10:20 we learn that Joshua and his forces massively slew their foes ‘until they were finished off’…, but in the same breath the text states that ‘the remnant that survived got away into their defended towns.’ Thus the absolute wording is immediately qualified by exceptions — ‘the quick and the dead,’ as one might say of pedestrians trying to cross our busy highways!”
When we study the evidence, three things emerge. First, Joshua 1-11 occurs in a context where the so-called genocidal language of exterminating all and leaving no survivors occurs alongside a narrative that affirms matter-of-factly that large numbers of people were not killed and many survived. Second, as Wolterstorff comments, “Those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not mindless,” and so it is unlikely they intended to affirm both these pictures as literally true. The biblical author clearly has something else in mind. Third, while Judges reads more like “down-to-earth history” (though not without mention of both destruction and many survivors [e.g., 1:8, 21]), a careful reading of Joshua reveals it to be full of ritualistic, stylized accounts and formulaic language. This third point is supported by research into ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Such studies show the following:
1 Such accounts are highly hyperbolic, hagiographic, and figurative, and follow a common transmission code;
2 Comparisons between these accounts and the early chapters of Joshua suggest Joshua is written according to the same literary conventions and transmission code;
3 Part of this transmission code is to hyperbolically portray a victory in absolute terms of totally destroying the enemy or in terms of miraculous divine intervention: “such statements are rhetoric indicative of military victory,” not literal descriptions of what occurred;
4 The same language and phraseology has a well-attested hyperbolic use in Joshua and elsewhere throughout Scripture.
Taken together, these points give persuasive reasons for thinking that one should interpret the extermination language in Joshua 1-12 as offering a highly figurative and hyperbolic account of what occurred. It seems sensible to conclude that the language of “leaving alive nothing that breathes,” “leaving no survivors,” and “put[ting] all inhabitants to the sword” is not meant to be taken literally.
After comparing the figures of speech and rhetoric used in numerous Hittite, Assyrian, and Egyptian conquest accounts with those of Joshua, Younger concludes, “The syntagms (…‘they completely destroyed everyone in it’) and (. . .’he left no survivors’) are obvious hyperbole. This is also true for these: (…‘Not sparing anyone who breathed’), and (…‘until they exterminated them’). That these are figurative is clear from numerous ancient Near Eastern texts.” (See such hyperbole in Mark 1:5: Is all Judea/Jerusalem emptied?)
Do you want to see some theological white-washing (postmodern approaches to the Bible) of important issues facing the Church… that is, salvation through Christ Jesus… here Josh C. posted the following:
If faith without works is dead, and if works are acknowledged as a necessary result of faith, then quite frankly, what does it matter when God “justifies” us? This to me seems a matter of pure theory, in some ways unknowable by human beings. And yet it has divided masses of Christians who could otherwise be joining hand in hand to obey Jesus’ commandments in a world that needs such things. Real Christians have been stymied in the doing of real works for the sake of purely abstract mental constructs of which no man will ever have full knowledge. I find this an insult to the very spirit of Christianity. Jesus’ clear and unavoidable command of obedience, and his clear and unavoidable wish and prayer for unity, has been disavowed in favor of defeating other Christians on the battlefield of metaphysical abstractions! Nonsense.
I responded simply by saying: ‘I hope your OP was not about Catholic doctrine compared to Protestant.”
Stephen C. commented later by noting that,
Fighting 16th century debates that no one cares about any more is an utter waste of time and a slanderous representation of our Lord and his intents for his church and its testimony in the world.
To which Josh C. thumbed up (Facebook ya’ know). Here I responded with the following:
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was to merely remove Adam’s sin from us. And now they work towards building up their salvation through good works (differing levels of heaven for LDS or an opportunity to serve on a new earth for J-Dubs). Apologists and theologians rightly show that this is a misrepresentation of salvation in the Scriptures. So while I will invite these theological and dangerous cults into my home and discuss these issues… I cannot point out that infant Baptism in the Catholic Church removes Adam’s original sin and now Catholics get the opportunity to work towards lessening of time in Purgatory? That is an unimportant theological issue?
Josh clarifies a bit…
I think there are people on all sides who get it wrong. The point isn’t “there aren’t issues.” The point is people claiming to know with absolute certainty what I do not believe, even with the Bible, they can know. Even worse, and my main point, is the using of these debate points to divide people and break fellowship.
I understand about not dividing in issues of policy, politics, and relations. I also understand there are “Evangelical Catholics” who reject Mariology and the like. Fine. I treat everyone as individuals.
BUT, as an organisation, if a person were to believe doctrine as taught by the Roman Catholic Faith, or Eastern Orthodoxy… I would be as adamant as the Reformers that this doctrine is in the spirit of anti-Christ, as, it opposes the finished work of Calvary.
Grace is another word for salvation and our status in sight of God being clothed with Jesus righteousness. Mary is not full of grace to be able to share with sinners. That is Christ’s (God’s) position alone to fill.
Am I suppose to not be able to express what the Bible teaches? Or how Jerome in the Latin Vulgate mistranslated a word and a pillar of Catholic doctrine is build on that false edifice (that the Greek corrects).
If that truth[s] divide, then so be it, but I am still close to my wife’s family ~ and her uncle, Father Joe, still asks me to convert at every family gathering (of which my wife is the oldest of about 44 grandkids/great-grandkids).
But on essential doctrine I do not budge. Sorry.
In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love
Dennis Prager discusses the very recent change to Catholic dogma by the SJW Pope — Pope Francis. I didn’t include a caller from a woman that goes to a Latin Mass perish… she said her priest rebuked the Pope’s change. I suspect these churches will grow. Looking forward to hearing input from my conservative minded Catholic friends and family. The ARTICLE Prager was reading from is partially excerpted below:
In a move that should surprise no one, Pope Francis has once again appeared to contradict two millennia of clear and consistent scriptural and Catholic teaching. The Vatican has announced that the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be changed to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” given the “inviolability and dignity of the person” as understood “in the light of the Gospel.”
There has always been disagreement among Catholics about whether capital punishment is, in practice, the morally best way to uphold justice and social order. However, the Church has always taught, clearly and consistently, that the death penalty is in principle consistent with both natural law and the Gospel. This is taught throughout scripture—from Genesis 9 to Romans 13 and many points in between—and the Church maintains that scripture cannot teach moral error. It was taught by the Fathers of the Church, including those Fathers who opposed the application of capital punishment in practice. It was taught by the Doctors of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s greatest theologian; St. Alphonsus Liguori, her greatest moral theologian; and St. Robert Bellarmine, who, more than any other Doctor, illuminated how Christian teaching applies to modern political circumstances.
It was clearly and consistently taught by the popes up to and including Pope Benedict XVI. That Christians can in principle legitimately resort to the death penalty is taught by the Roman Catechism promulgated by Pope St. Pius V, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine promulgated by Pope St. Pius X, and the 1992 and 1997 versions of the most recent Catechism promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II—this last despite the fact that John Paul was famously opposed to applying capital punishment in practice. Pope St. Innocent I and Pope Innocent III taught that acceptance of the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy. Pope Pius XII explicitly endorsed the death penalty on several occasions. This is why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as John Paul’s chief doctrinal officer, explicitly affirmed in a 2004 memorandum:
If a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment… he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities… to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible… to have recourse to capital punishment.
Joseph Bessette and I document this traditional teaching at length in our recent book. For reasons I have set out in a more recent article, the traditional teaching clearly meets the criteria for an infallible and irreformable teaching of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium. It is no surprise that so many popes have been careful to uphold it, nor that Bellarmine judged it “heretical” to maintain that Christians cannot in theory apply capital punishment.
So, has Pope Francis now contradicted this teaching? On the one hand, the letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announcing the change asserts that it constitutes “an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” Nor does the new language introduced into the catechism clearly and explicitly state that the death penalty is intrinsically contrary to either natural law or the Gospel.
On the other hand, the Catechism as John Paul left it had already taken the doctrinal considerations as far as they could be taken in an abolitionist direction, consistent with past teaching. That is why, when holding that the cases in which capital punishment is called for are “very rare, if not practically non-existent,” John Paul’s Catechism appeals to prudentialconsiderations concerning what is strictly necessary in order to protect society.
Pope Francis, by contrast, wants the Catechism to teach that capital punishment ought never to be used (rather than “very rarely” used), and he justifies this change not on prudential grounds, but “so as to better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point.” The implication is that Pope Francis thinks that considerations of doctrine or principle rule out the use of capital punishment in an absolute way. Moreover, to say, as the pope does, that the death penalty conflicts with “the inviolability and dignity of the person” insinuates that the practice is intrinsically contrary to natural law. And to say, as the pope does, that “the light of the Gospel” rules out capital punishment insinuates that it is intrinsically contrary to Christian morality.
To say either of these things is precisely to contradict past teaching. Nor does the letter from the CDF explain how the new teaching can be made consistent with the teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and previous popes. Merely asserting that the new language “develops” rather than “contradicts” past teaching does not make it so. The CDF is not Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, and a pope is not Humpty Dumpty, able by fiat to make words mean whatever he wants them to. Slapping the label “development” onto a contradiction doesn’t transform it into a non-contradiction….
The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity.
If Pope Francis really is claiming that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, then either scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes were wrong—or Pope Francis is. There is no third alternative. Nor is there any doubt about who would be wrong in that case. The Church has always acknowledged that popes can make doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra—Pope Honorius I and Pope John XXII being the best-known examples of popes who actually did so. The Church also explicitly teaches that the faithful may, and sometimes should, openly and respectfully criticize popes when they do teach error. The 1990 CDF document Donum Veritatis sets out norms governing the legitimate criticism of magisterial documents that exhibit “deficiencies.” It would seem that Catholic theologians are now in a situation that calls for application of these norms.
…We must first examine the actual change, with close attention to the very choice of words in which condemnation of the death penalty is articulated. A close examination is required because very much may be at stake in terms of Catholic teaching, Catholic doctrinal tradition, the practice of the moral law, and the affects this change might have on the future of the pro-life movement.
Here are the three versions of the Catechism regarding the death penalty. The first 1992 edition taught:
2266: Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.
The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When the punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally, punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267: If non-lethal means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
The 1997 2nd edition, Art. 2267, reaffirmed: “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor…,” but added: “assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined.” Consistent with the 1992 version it stated: “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”
Then the following paragraph was added:
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68
This paragraph was added to reflect the teaching of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (EV) to which footnote 68 refers as the Church has progressively come to disfavor capital punishment. The moral licitness and even practice of the death penalty is upheld by the Church, while at the same time the 1997 Catechism encourages “non-lethal means” as such punishments are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” The premise for the growing disfavoring of the application of capital punishment is well articulated in EV, Art 9: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.” Simply put, the Church seeks to build a culture of life that includes respect even for those who commit the worst atrocities. Even so, John Paul II’s desire to advance respect for the lives of those who commit murder may have opened the door to the present pontiff’s change to the Catechism.
The Bergoglio Text
Here is the change Pope Francis has made to the CCC, Art. 2267:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
Footnote 1 refers to Francis’s October 2017 address at a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Both versions of the CCC have been scrapped and replaced with the above text. Most troubling is the complete absence of any recognition that the “traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.” One may argue that the previous versions merely paid lip service to that tradition. However, that’s just the point! When it comes to doctrinal proclamations words are everything! At least the first two versions of the CCC did not ignore the fact that the application of the death penalty finds support in the Judeo/Christian religion as revealed by God…
The Church has never taught that the lives of those who commit heinous crimes are “inviolable” or that the death penalty is “not permitted.” This is all new. The culture of life may be advanced by the Bergoglio innovation, as well as the practice of the Gospel—but a junk theology has been foisted on the People of God in order to get us there.
Nowadays, many people, particularly those living in Western civilization, no longer regard their society as morally superior to any other. In this video, Dennis Prager lays out how this view does not spring from intellectual rigor, but from intellectual laziness.
SEE ALSO: Dennis Prager deals with the misconceptions related to skeptics charge against Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Many of these Torah verses are ripped from their historical and hermeneutic context (CARM Deuteronomy)
This viewpoint has come under attack as of late. Here is a good “definition” from CARM:
Penal Substitution is a theological viewpoint within Christianity that maintains Jesus was legally punished in place of the sinners. That is, He took the place of the sinner. It is “penal” in that Christ suffered the penalty of the Law, taking the “penalty” of the Law. It was substitutionary in that Christ took our place on the cross when He bore our sins (1 Pet. 2:24) and became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21)….. Though there are varying views of the atonement, the Vicarious Substitutionary Atonement (Penal Substutionary Atonement) best explains the Scripture and most importantly, it probably relates the satisfaction of Law as a relates to the holiness of God.
Just wanted to share this comment on Scripture from a 1987 book I am reading. Front and back cover follow the quote, click to enlarge.
2. Light and Salt
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Christ reminded the disciples of their twofold obligation: they were to be salt and light. The illustration of salt implies both the concept of a covenant people and a moral conscience in the culture at large. In the Old Testament salt was symbolic of a covenant (Num. 18:19). in ancient Greek and Arab societies, legal agreements were confirmed by eating bread dipped in salt. Jesus is suggesting that we who are his disciples are the salt of the earth—we are his covenant people. Salt was also utilized in ancient cultures for preserving and flavoring meat. Jesus seems to be implying that we are also a moral preservative and ethical conscience to ‘the society in which we live. As representatives of his righteous standards, we should be involved in preserving Judeo-Christian values as foundational for the health of the society in which we live.
Jesus also refers to us as the light of the world. Most commentators interpret this to mean that we have an evangelistic obligation to society. We are to shed the light of the gospel on the dark world around us. While this is certainly true, Jesus is also speaking of the light of our “good deeds” (v. 16). We are to be a moral conscience (salt), but at the same time we are to demonstrate that moral standard through our good deeds (light). In other words, we have no right to call for justice unless we are ourselves just in dealing with others….
Richard John Neuhaus, Gen. Ed., The Bible, Politics, and Democracy (Grand Rapids, MI: William J. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 10-11; from chpt 1, “The Bible, Politics, and Democracy,” by Edward Dobson.
Many members of the Protestant church today do not understand properly their origins and the nature of their predecessors “protest” against the Roman Catholic Church. When asked about the respective differences, they may respond with some stereotypical answers such as, “I don’t worship Mary,” “I believe in justification by faith, not works,” or “The bread and wine of the Lord’s supper don’t really turn into the body of Jesus.” In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains the real, serious points of doctrine at stake during Martin Luther’s timeframe and the Reformation, paying careful attention to the doctrine of justification and its place in Roman Catholic thought.
Would it surprise you to learn that current Roman Catholic doctrine declares all Protestants accursed? Remarkably, if probed, most Protestants would respond in disbelief to this proposition. Yet, it holds true, and the Roman church maintains the same stance today as it took in the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent. The major area of dispute at the council regarded the doctrine of justification, notably the role of faith in it. A thorough, clear understanding of justification remains imperative for a proper understanding of the differences between historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and Dr. Sproul provides this clarification in today’s lesson.
Many people in contemporary culture shrink at the idea of double imputation inherent in the Protestant understanding of justification. That God would place others’ sins on His own Son while simultaneously declaring the guilty righteous on account of the merit of Christ defies reason and creates a form of “cosmic child abuse,” they say. Yet, this position demonstrates a serious flaw in reasoning, for the Father does not abuse His Son. On the contrary, our own wrongdoing rests upon Christ’s shoulders at the cross, and He bears this burden willingly for the sake of His flock. Furthermore, a position against double imputation seriously underestimates the love of God for His children. As Dr. Sproul will show in this lesson, it is a love that delivers sinners from the place of despair, and brings them into salvation.
Secular culture and even some professing evangelicals often describe God as an all-forgiving, cuddly being intent on accepting all people from all walks of life into his ever-accepting arms. As such, it advocates freedom to act in whatever way feels right, for if God is a god of love, surely He will never discriminate. This picture misses the mark absolutely. On the contrary, the heavenly Lord of Hosts demands rigid moral discipline from His creation. Although God alone acts in the justification of His children, after they enter into a state of grace He requires that they cooperate and fulfill his mandates and laws. Dr. Sproul explores the consequences of entering into a state of grace by the process of justification in this final lesson on Luther and the Reformation.
In this third part of the summer “Family Series,” Pastor Jackson touches on where the parent/child relationship excels and fails Biblically, giving handy Scriptural reminders and useful tools to inculcate these “weighty measures” place on children and especially parents.
Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), a sixteenth century German theologian, born Zacharias Baer in Breslau (now Wroc?aw, Poland). Like all young scholars of that era he gave himself a Latin name from ursus, meaning bear. He is best known as a professor of theology at the University of Heidelberg and co-author with Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587) of the Heidelberg Catechism…. (THEOPEDIA)
The Heidelberg Catechism is a document used in Reformed churches to help teach church doctrine. It takes the form of a series of questions and answers to help the reader better understand the material. It has been translated into many languages and is regarded as the most influential Reformed catechism.
Elector Frederick III, sovereign of the Palatinate from 1559 to 1576, appointed Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, to write a Reformed catechism based on input from the leading Reformed scholars of the time. One of its aims was to counteract the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding theology, basing each statement on the text of the Bible…… (THEOPEDIA)