A recent string of popular-level books written by the New Atheists have leveled the accusation that the God of the Old Testament is nothing but a bully, a murderer, and a cosmic child abuser. This viewpoint is even making inroads into the church. How are Christians to respond to such accusations? And how are we to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two testaments?
In this timely and readable book, apologist Paul Copan takes on some of the most vexing accusations of our time,
God is arrogant and jealous God punishes people too harshly God is guilty of ethnic cleansing God oppresses women God endorses slavery Christianity causes violence and more
Copan not only answers God's critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both.
Paul Copan is a Christian theologian, analytic philosopher, apologist, and author. He is currently a professor at the Palm Beach Atlantic University and holds the endowed Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics.
From 1980-1984, he attended Columbia International University and earned a B.A. degree in biblical studies. Copan attended Trinity International University, where he received his M.A. in philosophy of religion, as well as his M.Div. at Trinity International. Copan received the Prof. C.B. Bjuge Award for a thesis that “evidences creative scholarship in the field of Biblical and Systematic Theology.”
In May 2000, Copan received his Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His dissertation topic was "The Moral Dimensions of Michael Martin’s Atheology: A Critical Assessment."
The Goodreads description for this book essentially reproduces the cover copy, but that does accurately summarize the subject matter of the book. While the Bible asserts that God's essential nature is loving towards humans, and that He is just and fair in dealing with us, there are texts that can appear to present challenges for that picture. A standard argument made by critics of theism in general, and of the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular, is that the God portrayed in the Bible is clearly a monster unworthy of worship; and most of this criticism is focused on the Old Testament. While the cover copy and book text focuses on answering the accusations from the current so-called "New Atheist" movement, this whole array of accusations against the biblical God have actually been around for generations (in some cases going back to pagan Roman polemicists such as Celsus). And to be fair, these are not only challenges raised by Christian-hating bigots skimming the Biblical text in search of mud to sling; a serious reading of the text by most Christians necessarily raises questions as to how apparent moral contradictions should be understood. Not surprisingly, thinking Christians have grappled with these questions for centuries --not simply defensively, to answer critics, but to understand fully the positive witness of Scripture to how we should regard God. Although no diverse group of thinkers ever agrees in every detail about everything, some basic understandings have developed.
What Copan (who is a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic Univ.) has done here is bring together the results of this study of the text, with particular reference to recent scholarship, in one focused volume. He expresses his own conclusions; but he interacts constantly with the findings of other scholars, Christian and non-Christian, cited with endnotes. (The book doesn't have a biliography, but the mostly bibliographical notes fill 16 and 1/2 pages; this is a serious, impressively documented study.) Another strength of the book is that it makes use of modern knowledge to illuminate the world of the ancient Near East, placing the Old Testament in its cultural context (which is significantly different from ours, in ways that significantly affect interpretation and application). Copan organizes his treatment in four parts. Part 1 (two chapters) introduces New Atheist thought, and summarizes the New Atheist critique of the Judeo-Christian God. In the three chapters of Part 2, the author addresses criticisms of God's supposed vanity, the references to Divine "jealousy," and the command in Genesis to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (which was never carried out, and never intended to be). The Mosaic Law is the focus of Part 3, the longest section with 13 chapters, with particular attention to the questions of sexism, slavery, and genocidal warfare, each of which are addressed in multiple chapters. Finally, the last section devotes a chapter to the questions of whether, without a theistic position, morality can be, first, known (Copan answers yes to that, as I would) and second, convincingly defended (he makes a case that there the answer is no) and another chapter to the role of the Christ-event as a retrospective lens for fully understanding the Old Testament as it's ultimately meant to be. (He also makes some reference in earlier parts of the book to the New Testament, specifically to its treatment of slavery and in dealing with the morality of God allowing the crucifixion of Christ.)
Not surprisingly, in a book with 222 pages of actual text, I have a few disagreements with Copan here and there on the interpretation of particular Old Testaments verses. However, I'm in agreement with the general lines of his theses here. One central point is that God's perfect will for a loving human society based on equality and sharing is revealed in the Garden of Eden, but that hierarchy, selfishness, sexism and exploitation were introduced by humans in the Fall, against God's will, and ingrained in humanly created social and cultural structures which were not amenable to instant reform. The Old Testament, then, is largely a record of God meeting humans where they were at, and at the same time moving them in a direction of greater egalitarianism, mutuality, justice and respect for human dignity. In this light, the Mosaic Law is not to be understood as a permanently binding code for all people at all times, only for ancient Israel at a particular point in its history; it makes considerable concession to the hardness of human hearts at the time (and I see a clear statement of this in Ezekiel 20:25, though Copan does not), but it contains the principles that serve as seeds of more developed understanding. And the author also takes seriously the position that the full revelation of God's sacrificial love, and its implications for our own ethics, only becomes clear in the ministry of Christ. (Which is why it's not correct to characterize the pre-Christian Old Testament as "Christian.") This is, of course, only a bare thumbnail sketch of the developed discussion in the book; it isn't a substitute for it.
One weakness of the book is the lack of any indexing. However, it is intended for possible group study; and to that end, it has some ten pages of appended discussion questions for each chapter (which would give participants a chance to disagree with the book in places as well as to agree, but more importantly would get them thinking on their own). IMO, this is an extremely constructive feature, and I'd like to see this book widely discussed in churches and Christian groups! I believe it would be a valuable resource for Christian biblical literacy and serious engagement with the Bible.
What about non-Christians? Will it magically cause every skeptic to embrace the God of the Bible? No; you can't rationally argue people into believing positions they aren't psychologically ready to accept, nor into abandoning positions and prejudices they didn't rationally adopt in the first place. But for open-minded skeptics who are willing to consider, or at least honestly explore, other viewpoints, it could induce some re-evaluation of their thinking --or at least a realization that there are other legitimate ways to think about it.
Thank God for Atheists. They asked the questions that we as Christians should have been asking. This book contains some of the many answers that have been given. This book is really a book on Old Testament background and theology but with a much more catchy title. It's a book I wish that I had when I went to Bible College and Seminary. I'm on page 115.
I read this book a second time with somewhat lower expectations than I had the first time around and have decided to give it two stars instead of one. I think Copan's criticism of the "New Atheists" misrepresentations of what the Bible says was well stated and many of his explanations of how some difficult Old Testament texts should be understood (i.e. - laws about voluntary servitude and marriage that were intended to protect the weak) were pretty good. I still have the same criticisms as in my original review (see below), but overall the book is better than I originally thought.
MY ORIGINAL REVIEW
I am a Christian who believes the Bible, including the Old Testament. I came to this book with high hopes after reading an interview the author gave to a magazine. While I appreciate Copan's desire to defend God as he is represented in the Old Testament, I was very disappointed with his effort. Many of his statements were unsubstantiated and/or fell outside what I would consider orthodox Christian faith.
I actually thought God came off looking worse than what the "new atheists" would try to paint him. Too much of the book made God out as having to compromise his moral standards because he was incapable of making his people understand or obey them. In essence, Copan is left defending a weak, less than morally upright god.
It was also disappointing that the author tried to argue that the Old Testament doesn't really mean some of the harsh things it says, especially about the Israelite conquest of Canaan. The conquest of Canaan is the part of the Old Testament that I find most difficult to understand and this book did nothing to help me. Copan's answer is that only military strongholds (where there were no women or children involved) were attacked and that the Israelites assimilated the land rather than destroying or driving the existing peoples out of Canaan. Even if this is true it doesn't solve the problem. The Old Testament clearly portrays God as being angry with Israel for disobeying his command to completely destroy/drive out the people who were already living in Canaan. A proper defense must somehow account for why it was right for God to command the complete destruction of the people living in Canaan at the time of the conquest and book doesn't even come close to doing so.
This book primarily covers hard questions from the Old Testament, with topics like Isaac as a sacrifice, dietary laws, treatment of women, slavery, and the conquest of the Canaanites. It's also a response to the New Atheist movement, and it goes beyond that, linking to the New Testament, and the basic roots of morality and ethics.
I read this as an ebook, picking it up off and on casually in spurts over several months. By the end I had greatly enjoyed it, and I saw no reason not to give it 5 stars. There’s flaws, and it could have gone deeper, but for what it is, it does a good job.
In a book that purports to discuss morality, one must wonder why Copan wasted two entire chapters (7 and 8) on the ancient dietary laws of the Israelites. Wouldn't it be more practical and helpful to instruct the Hebrews about microbes, disease and proper sanitation? And let's not forget that any dietary prohibition contradicts Genesis 1:29 (And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat).
The first few chapters have Copan attempting (and failing miserably, mind you. Try applying his arguments to any human leader and you'll see just how far he gets before tripping over his own shoelaces) to paint his god as a gracious master. Nonsense. There is no justice or mercy in demanding that the Israelites obey him "lest they be utterly destroyed." It's blackmail. A wife-beater would find myriad "reasons" to continue to abuse his wife from reading Copan's book.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (the verses instructing the Israelites to murder disobedient children) is likewise given the revisionist mumbo-jumbo treatment. The parents are expected to "confer" with the elders before the execution. But such a meeting would be purely for show. The outcome is already a given (and parents are permitted to lie about their children, slandering them as drunkards and gluttons).
Moreover, it is utterly unjust to punish children for what their parents did (this is even picked up by authors of the Old Testament in the tomes of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Why would a perfect judge impose such patently absurd and unfair rules? Well, according to Copan, these verses (Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 34:6-7) don't even exist. On page 94 he references Deuteronomy 24:16, which does state that children are not to be punished for the moral failings of their parents. But this was written in the 7th century BC, well AFTER the majority of the OT.
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.)
In Chapter 6, Copan attempts to soften the blows that slavery, harsh corporal and capital punishments, and orders to slaughter neighbouring tribes by stating "Well, they were stubborn, and god did the best he could do with the Jews at the time." Come again? Is this really the best an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being can do? Let's ignore the mass infanticide and genocide that supposedly occurred during the Noahic flood (which never happened). Copan no doubt believes that god created humanity, and could have done so in any way he so chose. Therefore, he could have made the entire human race loving and compassionate. Instead, he fashions barbarians that would cause Ghengis Khan to turn bright crimson with embarrassment. I don't recall too many dictators (save the fictional YHWH) who slaughtered so freely without invoking god or placing themselves upon a "divine" throne with an infinite and unaccountable mandate.
In summary, instead of taking the moral issues in the Old Testament seriously, Copan attempts to trivialise the accounts provided in his own holy book (which goes against Revelation 22:18-19
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book)
and even attempts to redefine genocide (while simultaneously inserting his own interpolations into the text) by stating that "it's not genocide because a few women and children escaped the Israelites' wrath." This is abhorrently unctuous and deplorable. By that definition, the Holocaust wasn't genocide because Hitler did not succeed in slaughtering all of the Jews. Simply claiming that the Israelites were "better than the surrounding tribes at the time) doesn't come close to cutting it. If the edicts of the OT god are not the edicts of a moral monster, then morality has lost all its meaning. Simple semantic sophistry won't even make it past a rudimentary logic or debating course. Copan is clearly preaching to the sorely convinced (despite his desire for this book to be a response to the new atheists).
Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan Is God a Moral Compromiser by Thom Stark (available for free online)
For anyone interested in this question, this book is a fantastic place to start. While he does not spend a great deal of time discussing new atheism, he does use some of their diatribes as a springboard for discussion (a popular thing to do these days, it seems..).
Copan begins with the jealous, praise-greedy God of the Old Testament. I would say that those who have attended church pretty regularly will probably have heard the explanations Copan gives for God's seeming rage, jealousy, and "bullying".
For me, the book really took off in Part three, when he expounds on life in the Ancient Near East and Israel. Again, for church attenders, the general argument that "life was different back then" will be familiar, but the specifics were fascinating! And each example revealed a God deeply concerned about human beings, whether slave or free.
Concerning slavery: it is a grave error to equate servanthood in the OT with the more recent phenomenon of slavery in the South. Servants in the OT were given the option of working off their debts, and were released every seven years, completely debt free. And the point of it all? That "there will be NO poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you...". And there were VERY specific rules of how they were to be treated, and it was always with dignity. God adapted His ideals to the cultural context that Israel was living in. "The Sinai legislation makes a number of improvements without completely overhauling ancient near eastern societal structures or assumptions". All of the rules concerning servants were to prevent abuse in God's debt-free plan, not to institutionalize servitude.
And then we come to the Canaanite "genocide". A while back I read Peter Enns's The Bible Tells Me So. In it, he makes the statement that Bible scholars all agree that the Canaanite conquest did not happen. At the time, I made myself a note to look into this because it seemed that it could not be that simple. Scholars usually don't agree on anything. (:D) It turns out that the answer is much more nuanced than a flat rejection of the conquest.
Several quick points that stuck out to me:
1) God was not concerned about wiping out the Canaanites as much as he was concerned about wiping out their negative moral influence (infant sacrifice, sexual religious orgies, etc). A careful reading (which Copan does for us :p), reveals that God gave commands for after the battle. Commands like, "Don't intermarry with the Canaanites". Why would He do that unless He expected them to still be around? "Wiping out" the Canaanites was much more nuanced than a killing rampage. In fact, the "conquest" was more like an infiltration. Anyway, so many really good points here. Read the book!
2) Was the God of the Israelites (and the Israelites themselves) xenophobic? Nope. God was seeking to "bless ALL nations" through Israel.
3) Is the warfare portrayed in Joshua a stamp of approval on "holy wars"? Nope. In fact, there were several times when the Israelites thought that it might be and took matters into their own hands. And every time they undertook a military campaign on their own volition, they were soundly defeated. Every. Time. Another point to remember is that some of the wars were defensive.
Is every question answered? No, but again, excellent place to start. Atheist complaints are shown to be blown out of proportion or lacking in historical understanding. It makes me think of a quote by Thomas Nagel that I recently came across:
"It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that."
Защо богът в Стария завет е толкова жесток? Това е реален въпрос, който много хора си задават. Ако напишеш в Google "Why is the Old Testament God", търсачката автоматично добавя: so violent, so cruel, so mean. В известния български роман "Хайка за вълци" на Ивайло Петров, един от главните герои, Киро Джелебов, се ужасява като чете семейната Библия. "Какъв е този жесток, ненаситен, кървав бог? (...) Измислили са го хората, защото са разбрали, че са слаби и трябва някой да ги пази и направлява. Добре, но защо са измислили такъв бог? Той иска от хората да му вярват, а сам не им вярва, иска примирение, а отмъщава. Друг бог трябваше да си измислят, този е безбожен! Този се грижи само за себе си, за славата и властта си, а човеците обезличава, за да му служат и да го величаят. Йов, Авраам и много други като тях са обезличени и не са никакви мъже, щом безропотно понасят страданията си, за да угодят на капризите му. Авраам е престъпник, вдига с чиста съвест ножа върху сина си, за да докаже вярата си, а каква е тази вяра, дето се доказва с престъпление? Ако е истински баща, той трябва да се принесе в жертва заради сина си или да отмъсти за него. А той е готов да отдаде най-свещеното си, за да угоди на своя бог и да получи щастие, слава и благоденствие от него", мисли си Киро Джелебов и под това въздействие решава да убие най-големия си враг - Стоян Кралев, което отразява и сред записките накрая на своята Библия, като записва собственоръчно - "Киро Джелебов уби Стоян Кралев на 24 декември 1965 година".
В последните няколко години популярните атеисти като Ричард Докинс се фокусират основно върху морала на старозаветния бог. Очевидно това им е любимата тема. Те казват: няма нужда да доказваме, че Бог съществува или не съществува - достатъчно е само да прочетеш Библията с отворени очи и тогава ще видиш, че вашият Бог не просто не заслужава да бъде обичан - просто трудно било дори да почиташ такъв тип бог - отмъстителен, ревнив и жесток. Старозаветният бог, казват те, е не просто зъл - ами със заповедите си към Израел да изтребват ханаанците е сравним дори с Хитлер и Сталин.
Как можеш да обичаш такъв бог? И ако го обичаш, няма ли да се превърнеш в жесток човек по образа на жестокия си господар?
В книгата "Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God", Пол Копън разглежда този въпрос. Жесток ли е наистина Бог? Книгата е грамотно и обосновано написана. Доста често авторът влиза в полемика с т.нар. последователи на "Нов атеизъм". Това понятие е задължително за да опишем атеисти като Ричард Докинс или Кристофър Хитчънс. Тези нови атеисти са различни както от атеистите в миналото, така и от съвременните атеисти-философи. Модерните атеисти-философи влизат често в полемика с последователите на този "Нов атеизъм" и смятат, че аргументите им са повърхностни. Най-често "новите атеисти" са природно интелигентни, но са грамотни само в своята си област (да кажем - еволюционна биология) и не са грамотни в областта на философията или историята.
Въпреки това техните атаки срещу Бога на Стария завет имат нужда от своето обяснение. Налага се, защото много християни не са подготвени за подобен род нападки. Младите и новоповярвал��те християни се стряскат. Често пъти те попадат на цитат от Библията, който им се струва зловещ и се разколебават във вярата. По-опитните християни не знаят също какво да отговорят - за тях е достатъчно да кажат, че преди Исус хората са живели под гняв, а след това - под благодат. Но това много дразни нехристияните - какъв е този гняв, ще попитат те, нима вашият Бог е толкова злобен и отмъстителен, че се налага да убие собствения си син? Гневливият Бог иска мъст и той ще я получи на всяка цена - дори ако трябва да убие родното си чедо.
И все пак има надежда - книгата на Пол Копан е стъпка в правилната посока.
Авторът правилно отбелязва, че новите атеисти пренебрегват цитатите в Стария завет, които показват Бог в положителна светлина - той е готов да даде милост дори и при много големи престъпления. От друга страна авторът правилно отбелязва, че новите атеисти са нетърпеливи по отношение на това да изучат културата на Близкия Изток в миналото - култура, която е изключително отдалечена от нашето време и която трудно можем да разберем в днешни дни.
С помощта на много аргументи, позовавайки се на много други автори, Копан успява да докаже, че както Старият, така и Новият завет представя идеалите на Бог за света. Идеали като липса на болка, победа над греха, изчезване на войните, равенство между мъж и жена. Независимо от тези идеали Бог не може да ги наложи на култури, които не са готови да ги приемат веднага. Затова Бог е склонен и способен да допусне някои компромиси и да въведе правила според конкретната ситуация. Типичен пример е законът за развода - в Новия завет Исус казва, че законът е бил даден само поради коравосърдечието на народа, но това никога не е била Божията воля. Това обаче не значи, подчертава Копан, че е имало лош закон, който е бил заменен от по-добър закон. Напротив - имало е закон, който е бил добър за конкретната ситуация, но който не е универсален. Копан успява да докаже ясно и категорично, че древен Израел е имал много по-морални закони и много по-хуманен живот от своите съседи. Що се касае до другите народи - книгата доказва ясно и категорично, че Бог въздава тежко възмездие само в краен случай - едва когато греховете на народите узреят до степен, до който животът става непоносим. И дори когато се налага, той не го прави с удоволствие.
Авторът успява да постави и още един много важен акцент - това, че дадено нещо съществува в Библията, не означава, че на него стои Божия печат, че е нормално. Напротив - Авраам, Моисей, Давид са имали своите морални слабости. Библията показва, че Бог ще постигне своите идеали въпреки слабостите на всички хора.
Книгата определено си струва, обаче не е за следобедно или вечерно четене. Тя е написана на доста висок стил, но ако се интересувате от Стария завет и можете да отделите една или две седмици специално време за нея, дайте й шанс. Книгата носи добра вест за всички тези християни, които са отбягвали Стария завет заради насилието.
Is God a Moral Monster? is one of the best theological books I have read. Paul Copan takes on Neo-Atheists' claims of a petty, malicious Old Testament God. Copan takes the time to explain many of the Old Testament's seemingly inexplicable and tedious laws. He delves into God requesting the sacrifice of Isaac, and all of the dietary laws that perplex us modern-day readers.
Copan doesn't shy away from any topic. He counters claims of barbarism, misogyny, slavery, and divinely prescribed genocide. None of his answers are simple, and he never uses the escape hatch "God's ways are higher than our ways." He carefully explains why these laws were put in place, what the culture of the time was, and how the laws in the Bible compare with laws from surrounding cultures at the time.
The writing can get a little technical at times, but for the most part this is a theological book written in layman's language. It will be great for pastors or anyone who is interested in why God did the things he did in the Old Testament.
Paul Copan responds to the New Atheist stance that the God of the Old Testament is a “moral monster.” I agreed with only about half of Copan’s conclusions, but his book was well-written, informative, and fun to read.
Copan begins by attempting to make sense of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. I loved the short discussion comparing the two times that God called Abraham: The first time to come to the promised land, the second time to sacrifice his son. Because of similar language, Copan argues that Abraham “couldn’t have missed the connection being made … God is clearly reminding him of his promise of blessing in Genesis 12 even while he’s being commanded to do what seems to be utterly opposed to that promise.” Outside of this, though, the Abraham/Isaac story is one of those sections of Copan’s book that just didn’t work for me. It doesn’t seem to matter how it’s explained to me, as soon as someone tries to pull this story down from the level of mythology and make me imagine it to be a true story that really happened, I start to feel queasy. I’d have a few choice words for God if he told me to kill my son. If Copan doesn’t mind, I’ll continue to classify this Bible passage as “storied theology,” where it’s much more palatable.
Copan spends several chapters talking about Israel’s slavery laws, and this section is superb. Was this law ideal? Certainly not. But there are three points I’d like to bring out here:
 We are discussing the Law of God, not what actually transpired among imperfect people. Yep, they kept slaves against the rules. The law was not faithfully followed.  Copan points out again and again that Israel’s laws were a great improvement over the surrounding nations. God held Israel to a higher standard.  Although this point gets little press time in the book, as the law evolved, it became more and more humane. Compare, for example, the Book of the Covenant, quoted by the Elohist in Exodus 21, with the Priesthood writings in Leviticus 19, and finally with the Deuteronomist’s instructions in Deut 22.
Yes, the Old Testament law seems archaic and brutal by today’s standards. Yet it’s clear Israel was learning and was trying to become Godly. Perhaps slowly approaching the standard God had in mind. Buy the book and, if you read nothing else, study chapters 11-14.
Next, Copan tackles what I feel are the most troublesome issues; genocide and ethnic cleansing. Particularly, the conquest of Canaan. Copan points out (rightly) that the Bible’s claims of utter annihilation are highly exaggerated, and that archaeological evidence hints that no such mass conquest took place. For the most part, Israel peacefully settled into Canaan without warfare and without driving out its inhabitants. But whether or not the conquest really happened, the fact remains that the Word of God graphically describes these holy wars in quite unholy terms, and claims that God commanded this inhumanity. Read, for example, Numbers 31:17-18, where God gives instruction regarding Midianite captives: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Copan tries to soften the command, explaining that the non-virgin women were seducing Israel’s men and the boys would grow up to become warriors, but nothing can soften that one.
Copan presents a word game at this point. Moses commanded the armies to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites and not to “leave alive anything that breathes.” Joshua didn’t do this; we have lots of evidence of Canaanite people remaining afterward. Yet if you read Joshua 11:12, it says Joshua did as he was told; he utterly destroyed them as Moses commanded. Ergo, since Joshua didn’t kill ‘em all, but the Word of God says he did what he was told, then we can apparently consider Moses’ original command as hyperbole…the rhetoric of war. God didn’t really sanction genocide.
Well, whatever. Copan’s next attempt to justify this evil by reminding us that God is the author of life and has a rightful claim on it falls flat for me. If any kids were killed, they would go straight to heaven anyway, he says. The danger of that kind of thinking hardly needs discussion!
Though well-researched and thought-provoking, I finished the book with the feeling that Copan tried his best to tackle an impossible topic. I think it’s a four-star attempt and a fun book; I can’t judge the loser of a debate merely because he was given an indefensible position, right?
I'll be honest - I only made it about 2/3 of the way through this book. While I've enjoyed Copan's philosophical work, this defense of apparent Old Testament atrocities fails on nearly every page - both factually and morally. Copan's defenses of events such as the Canaanite genocide and Israelite slavery practices not only reveal a misunderstanding of how the text should be read, but even if they did not, also fail at defending them. As a fellow Christian to Copan, Thom Stark shows in his response, "Is God A Moral Compromiser?" that Copan is far out of his depth on this topic.
While his defenses may work to convince the typical "new atheist" or "sunday school Christian", they will not work in the slightest to convince anyone who is even remotely interested in biblical scholarship, ancient near east history, or even ethics. Contrary to Copan's goal, after reading his thoughts on the practices of ancient Israelite society, I'm even more inclined to think that God is a "moral monster".
“New Atheists and other critics often resort to caricatures or misrepresentations of the Old Testament laws. While Mosaic laws do not always reflect the ultimate or the ideal (which the Old Testament itself acknowledges), these laws and the mind-set they exhibit reveal a dramatic moral improvement and greater moral sensitivity than their ancient Near Eastern counterparts.”
The Old Testament is tricky, and I empathize with people who just can’t seem to get past some harsh passages that seem to invalidate the Christian faith and the idea of a loving and gracious God. Even after reading this book, tension is still there for me when I read some difficult, confusing passages.
Copan takes an honest look at the most commonly challenged passages and really helps me make sense of them. I don’t feel like he just explains things away or leaves stones unturned. It is thorough and honest.
If you have left the faith or are doubting what you believe, would you consider reading this book? I would love to talk about it with you. I don’t have all the answers, but I think, upon careful study and, most importantly, placing the challenging verses in their proper cultural and literary contexts, we can arrive at a peace and honestly a greater love for the merciful and gracious yet powerful and just God of the Bible.
If you've spent any amount of time on the web letting your light shine (Matt 5:16), you have no doubt encountered some of whom call themselves, the New Atheists. These are an angry sort, who delight in blaspheming our God and his Holy Scriptures, with emotional accusations of barbarity and injustice, which they attribute to His words and actions as recorded in the Old Testament.
This is how Dawkins describes him. "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." Needless to say, Dawkins isn't a fan!
So as Christians, how should we respond to these charges? The problem is that if we are honest with ourselves, most of us struggle with many of the same passages and ideas that the New Atheists voice. We are left wondering, yet fearing to look as though we are guilty of doubting God and his Word, we simply bury our feelings and stand behind, "Well if God said it, then that settles it." Which isn't always a bad thing, unless it's used to hide our doubts and fears. How much better would it be to seek for the answers in his word, proving to us, and them that our God is both Great and Good.
This is exactly what Paul Copan sets out to do in his book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. This book is an excellent go-to resource for all of those challenging concepts and passages. Paul writes in a very informative, yet readable style, suitable for seekers of all levels. Here are some of the challenges he covers, that the New Atheists have presented.
Canaanite "genocide" the binding of Isaac a jealous, egocentric deity ethnocentrism/racism chattel slavery bride-price women as inferior to men harsh laws in Israel the Mosaic law as perfect and permanently binding for all nations the irrelevance of God for morality (page22)
I really like this book. I found it both informative and challenging. Many of the "difficulties" I thought I had all figured out, until I read his explanations. Paul states that many of the problems Christians face, stem from an overly simple, surface reading of the Old Testament, much like a children's Sunday School lesson. By looking deeper into the text, and into the historical background of the cultures of the Ancient Near East, many of these difficulties can be put into their proper perspectives. Yes, most of our problems come from trying to read an ancient text in a modern time. Things don't always translate one to one. Not that everything can be neatly packaged for everyone, but with some willingness to explore the issues thoroughly, acceptable answers can be found.
Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God is a book that all of us would do well to have on hand while engaging in evangelism and apologetics.
I have struggled to articulate to myself why this book was so unsatisfying. Ultimately I think it comes down to Copan's failure to articulate a holistic vision of God and His justice at the beginning. Instead, he prevaricates and pussyfoots around difficult passages with the Old Testament, sometimes taking the (to me, unhelpful) step of alleging that the plain meaning of the text is not as "bad" as it appears to be - for example, bringing up the unproven assertion that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter.
Sometimes his "takes" on different passages are helpful, sometimes they are not. I had read somewhere that Copan subscribed to Divine Command Theory - that something is good because God says it is, rather than being good by its own nature, something which God subsequently recognizes. I believe that morality ultimately rests on the character of the knowable God, and I suppose Copan does as well. Why, then, does he not present a more - for lack of a better term - hairy-chested defense of God's works in the Old Testament?
To be fair, Copan concludes with a relatively strong section about God's nature and how the revelation of Jesus Christ helps us answer the unanswerable questions about human atrocities (some of which are recorded in the Old Testament).
After reading this book I immediately started listening to N.T. Wright's "Evil and the Justice of God," which is exceptionally written and argued. To be sure, it is not doing exactly what Copan is attempting in this book. But I put them both in the general category of theodicy, and Wright succeeds where Copan stumbles - in portraying God's fundamentally loving and fundamentally just nature as the ultimate answer, which we can see only dimly, to all our questions.
In my opinion, this book, while extensive with its Biblical basis and textual notes, offered a naive hermeneutic in regards to the titular question “Is God a moral monster?”.
Copan retorts against the New Atheists in his arguments about why God is a Loving, Merciful, and Generous God toward His people, but does it at the expense of looking ridiculous. His language against the New Atheists seems unprofessional, facetious, and goofy as he refutes their claims about Divine Violence. Furthermore, the arguments he presents is “conservative” and does not flush out his ideas of inerrancy, and the verified historical and archaeological events/records to demonstrate a posture of understanding on all sides (across the spiritual and ecclesiastical spectrum). It seems for Copan that to embrace a more liberal heuristic would be to give traction and control to the New Atheists’ arguments. However, he did present a new way for me to look at hyperbolic language in the Old Testament; yet, does not give the reader a gauge when the Text is hyperbolic or not. In his favor, he does remark on almost all the questions people could raise about Divine Violence in the Old Testament.
Overall, this book is great for a conservative Scriptural basis on Divine Violence, yet may leave you wanting for a more robust argument.
Copan does two things, he answers criticisms made by the New Atheists, he also gives context to some of the parts of the Old Testament that don't make a lot of sense in today's society.
Dispelling the atheists criticisms isn't hard, they often have an elementary understanding of what they are criticising and that is enough for their purposes.
Putting context to the stranger things in the Old Testament is a bit more work, a lot of it involves looking at different translations of words and how we may misunderstand what they would have meant in the original language. He also puts many of the stories and laws in context of the culture and the time and compares it to the other cultures at that time in the Middle East. Then he put some of the stories in context of what the intent of the author is rather than taking the literal meaning. He does these things while also looking at the archaeological record to try to trace what can and cannot be taken literally.
For anyone who has wondered about some of the stranger laws or stories in the Old Testament, this book gives a great deal of insight and a lot to think about.
Copan tackles one of the most difficult issues for any Christian: what is a Christian to do with the many passages in the Old Testament that make God appear a cosmic tyrant (or a "moral monster" as per the title of the book)? He does an admiral job. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that any Christian who wants answers to such questions could pick it up, read it and understand. It is not for teachers/pastors/theologians only.
On the other hand, this book's greatest strength may also be its biggest weakness. There are a few points where Copan seems to move through an argument too quickly. Some of the critiques from the skeptic that Copan mentions deserve a much fuller treatment. This is most apparent where Copan strays away from the questions of Old Testament interpretation and into other areas. I believe he wanted to turn a corner from answering questions on the Old Testament to providing a positive support for Christian faith (this is what part four is about) but I do not believe the two meager chapters doing this were sufficient.
One argument that is unsatisfying is when Copan addresses God commanding the killing of all Canaanites, including infants. Most Christians believe that all infants who die automatically go into God's presence; Copan himself adheres to this. Thus, those infants who died may actually have been saved since if they had lived and grown in Canaanite culture they would have worshiped idols, become depraved and gone to hell. The problem for the Christian, the problem Copan seeks to answer, is if this is true then why do we consider it a sin for a woman to kill her children out of fear they may grow up and become atheists? After all, isn't she saving them in the same way the Canaanite infants were saved? Copan's answer to this question is too brief, basically arguing the killer of the infant is not in the same position as the Israelites sent into Canaan by God. I believe there is a lot more to address here. Greg Boyd actually critiqued Copan on this very point in his blog a few days ago: http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/baby-uni...
Overall, this is a very helpful book that provides answers for Christians on the Old Testament. Copan sets forward a strong theology of progressive revelation, seeing a "redemptive curve" in the text (a la William Webb's Slaves, Women and Homosexuals). I recommend this for those with questions on the Old Testament.
One postscript: Copan makes some arguments in various points for apologetic reasons that I think an evangelical theologian would not be able to make. I mean, it seems apologists can get away with things that theologians cannot. It seems the same is true with Bible scholars: a Bible scholar can hint at something like "open theism" when a text points that direction, but if a theologian goes that way, they get crushed! I am not sure why this is, but it is interesting.
Does the Old Testament really want me to kill my neighbor, take over his land and steal his (hot) wife?
Some people read the Bible this way, and God has been accused of being horrible things.
In the wake of any new movement, there is bound to be a whole host of reactions to it. This book, Is God A Moral Monster? is part of the discussion brought on by the New Atheists and their accusations against the Old Testament and against God.
The New Atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and company have made quite a living off of accusing Christianity of most of the world's evil. With books like God is not Great and out there suggesting that the Old Testament is evil, it is no surprise that somebody would take up the argument.
That somebody is Paul Copan, who is the chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Copan makes the counter case and defends the Old Testament against all sorts of accusations, such as that it teaches slavery is good, war is ok and God hates women.
The only problem with the book is that Copan sounds like he is rehashing old arguments and trying to get the Old Testament "off the hook" rather than trying to actually deal with the text at hand. He seems more interested in explaining why the New Atheists are wrong rather than engage in exegesis that might challenge his worldview.
Don't get me wrong, Copan has many decent points. His main point is a solid one that should be underscored: the New Atheists don't understand Christianity and they don't understand the Old Testament. Much of the New Atheists argumentation is based on shoddy historical and sociological work and claims more for exaggeration than for actual science. I don't expect a scientist to be able to do a decent job at doing theology (or historical research, sociology, etc). Copan does a great job and pulling the rug from underneath the New Atheists feet and send them back to their studies to do more work.
But Copan has more work to do himself.
The problem with a book like this is that it often wants to defend the account before actually dealing with the account.
A case in point is Copan's argumentation about slavery in the Old Testament. He argues as many have, that OT slavery was not like Antebellum slavery in the Unted States South. But when he gets to the more difficult texts, he goes back to this understanding and creates an alternative meaning to the text.
He also has a problem engaging with other disciplines, such as archaeology. When he does cite a case, it is to back up his position and he never seems to bring up those troubling cases where archaeology does not back up the text.
Overall, this book is good for somebody who wants to see some of the flaws in the New Atheists' work.
Copan's writing is clear and accessible, but I didn't find it too engaging (but that may say more about me than the book).
I recommend it for pastors and for Christians who want some more understanding of the OT.
This is a necessary read for every Christian. To adequately defend the attacks from the atheists, or those of other religions against the seemingly harsh nature of God and his laws in the OT, this book will help you to put together a solid defense.
Its a bit slow going at times because the author defends subject matter from various angles so we can get a grasp of the likely explanations for all of the supposed child abuse, weird food restrictions and clothing restrictions, wars, massacres, ethnic cleansing, misogeny, & rape. Most of the answers I thought we reasonable explanations.
'Is God a Moral Monster' is a well meaning book that is unfortunately full of logical fallacies and tremendously unconvincing arguments attempting to justify biblical slavery and other moral issues pertaining to general theodicy.
I went into this piece with high hopes since from the outset it appeared to be sophisticated in its scholarly approach to answering the most contentious moral queries in the Bible. In some sense, it is a sophisticated look at such questions, if we're comparing it to Frank Turek's books that is. But on the other hand, whilst it is well written and ingenuous in its search for reason in the disagreeable and repudiative acts and dictations of God in the Old Testament, it utterly fails to reconcile them.
At the beginning of the book he rightly addresses the bad arguments of New Atheism (which I’ve written an article about, if you’d be interested in reading or listening to that). It is a point I am in agreement with Copan on. The New Atheists weren’t the best example of philosophical argumentation, even though by my estimation they still had utility as I point out in said article - read here: https://medium.com/@jamesbergman_9579...
I could go into comprehensive detail on the many logical inconsistencies and bending-backwards "rebuttals" of God's moral degeneracy in the Old Testament, but here are some of the notes I took that surprised me because of how nonsensical they were:
Copan attempts to suggest that our existence on earth is somehow this "gracious gift" that we should be on our knees pleading with thankfulness for. I would say this is a version of non-consensual bondage that we are subjected to - we were not given the choice to exist - doesn't this alone debunk the conception that humans possess free will under God? The author says this is instead a privilege, not bondage ... Is it? For some, perhaps (if they happen to be born somewhere where they have access to clear water and loving parents, etc), but for the many that are placed on earth in utter squalor or born homosexual (under God's own will), where is their assistance or sympathy in the latter case specifically when they are born (apparently) sick as a homosexual but commanded to be "well" (i.e., to not express their version of love)? There are so many issues with this entire subtopic of the Christian ethos and God's proclaimed "benevolent" character.
Copan also resorts to many strawman fallacies when he writes, for example, of Richard Dawkins' point that human beings are perhaps wired to subscribe to supernatural myths due to our evolutionary predispositions towards something more than the disappointment of existence. Copan says this is the genetic fallacy that Dawkins is using here, but as far as I’m concerned, Dawkins was never submitting that biological trait to be a knock down argument, but part of the cumulative case against belief in the supernatural. Copan is mischaracterizing Dawkins’ point here and capitalising on it as if it was intended to be independent.
Copan also embarrassingly says that if religious people have sacrificed themselves for transcendence, surely that would indicate that their claim is somehow valid? Copan makes a crucial logical error here. Does this mean that jihad bombers are correct about their faith since they are prepared to die for it? One may say: "Surely this poses at the very least a good reason to believe them in some sense?" - I would respond with "No". Be weary of being so "open-minded" that your brains fall out in the process. Like Copan's intellectualism throughout this piece, its theological gymnastics and bending backwards to really suggest that because someone died for a belief that in any way awards it serious investigation. Testimony is infamously unreliable and should not be taken seriously on claims that quite literally suggest that the laws of nature have been suspended for God to sacrifice himself to himself for a weekend because apparently the Old Testament wasn't enough even though God, a divine entity, could not make it so. Again, a plethora of issues pertain to this subtopic as well.
Regarding another claim Copan posited; that we are “naturally religious creatures". I must say that I repudiate this tone of statement. As far as I’m concerned, coming from a psychology background as well as having an interest in these philosophical topics, I view our receptivity to the beyond (ie, transcendent, God, spirituality) as a reflection of our mortality and how fearful we are to admit that we will die in complete meaninglessness, with the cosmos offering no consolation in the slightest towards our egotistical sense of authority over nature and our fanatical wish for reality to be more exciting and affirming than it really is. See TMT (Terror Management Theory), it’s one explanation out of many that can be used collectively in understanding this viewpoint. We're not special, get over it.
Lastly, (I promise), I found myself in total negation of Copan trying to justify the story of Abraham and Isaac, plus Job etc. Same with his writing on slavery: that it was a debt that was "voluntarily" paid off. Let me ask this: Who, that may be reading this, would actually like to be my slave or servant to pay off a debt? Is this really the best option that God could think of? - give me a break. I don’t buy that at all, pardon the pun. The author has to bend over backwards and use semantics to try and justify why this (terrible and unethical) system of "debt" existed in the first place. He also compares slavery to other ideals at the time, but he shouldn’t even need to do this since I’d assume God’s instructions transcend mere comparison of other secular cultures. God would hypothetically ban slavery, or being in “debt” and suggest ( at the very least) a system resembling modern times. We really have to sit back and ask the following: Is this REALLY the best God, a "divine and timeless" entity, could think of and achieve? At the very least, could the commandment "Don't own people" be on the list too? I suppose, on reflection, even His commandments are pathetic, such as to not eat shellfish or to not wear certain fabrics, etc. I wonder if God (probably a man, let's be honest) was just trolling us because of how absurd these orders are. As mentioned, semantics are Copan's and other theologians tactics in regards to slavery in the Old Testament. Apparently in Numbers God commanded that the virgins ought to be "saved" not for carnality but because they have not yet been used and abused by their peers ... is this not incredibly condescending to the readers' intelligence? "Save them for yourselves" - this isn't a blatant appeal to sex? Let's just pretend it isn't - surely if this is true this statement could not have (at the very least) been written with a little more conciseness, you know, to avoid confusion for the next 2,000 years? I suppose not, considering the Bible as a whole is predicated on unfalsifiable and vague statements which is, after all, entirely characterised by "divine" scriptures in general, as far as I can tell.
Overall, this book is clearly written with some level of ingenious scholarly attempt but it falls flat in its justification of why God is not a moral monster. Would I recommend? Not really, it's just poorly argued, unfortunately. I'm glad I read it though, it confirms that one of the "best" apologetics books on the subject clearly can't refute the critics of these outdated and overrated texts within the Bible.
Within our modern cultural bubble, we are guided by the current rules of our society. Had we been born outside of the West or several millennia prior, we would most certainly speak and think differently. When it comes to understanding ancient people groups in history we tend to forget that values, customs, and the economy would had looked drastically unfamiliar to us. For the Semitic people living during the time of the Torah, they too were the result of their cultural bubble and those of their regional neighbors.
Because Christianity (in my view) has influenced the world over the last two millennia, it is challenging to reconcile the actions of this ancient people group in the Near East. However, the author Paul Copan in his book, “Is God A Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” reminds his 21st Century readers in an objective way, the world in which the ancient Israelites find themselves. While their global economic and cultural structure was their reality, the God of Abraham worked within their unprincipled system. Their God worked within His volunteered restraint of His free-willed creatures, all the while revolutionizing how people approached Him vs. other/false spirits, issues of forced labor, the role of women in society, and more. Whether you are a bible student or you take an interest in the subject matter, Copan applies proper hermeneutics when deciphering between descriptive text and proscriptive elements within the framework of the ancient Israelites. Good read!
Generally well done. Copan is philosophically sharp, historically knowledgeable, and exegetically skilled. I find his general approach quite helpful, especially w/respect to the conquest.
To be fair, his use of the New Atheists as foils is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel since such folk are usually beyond incompetent theologically and biblically, but those are the arguments and perspectives that are out there. Copan is at least good about making sure he is always responding to real arguments that people have made instead of generalized or made-up objections.
I think Copan's arguments are sometimes a bit of a stretch. Some of the novel readings he argues for I found compelling, e.g. that the law allegedly requiring a woman's hand to be cut off is not actually commanding amputation, some I did not find to be compelling, e.g. that Onesimus was not actually a slave, but Philemon's biological brother!
Despite some of these imperfections, Copan's book is a well-written, competent, and accessible volume that addresses many of the moral objections to the God of the scriptures.
This makes a great reference book for people with doubts and questions about the God of the Bible.
It covers questions of morality, genocide, war, weird customs, etc.
I did a read-through, and although I do not agree with every point in this book, I found a lot of the information insightful. It was especially helpful to hear the arguments from New Atheists and read how Copan combats their ideas with scripture and historical context.
I would definitely use this as a reference book in future.
Really helpful commentary on slavery and the conquests in the OT. Shows careful analysis of the text reveals that these terms don't entail all that we, in our modern context, might assume.
However, much of his integration of his exegesis depends on a 'redemptive trajectory hermeneutic', which I find dissatisfying in several ways. He utilizes this to argue that much of the OT Law was written as accommodation to inferior cultural norms of the time. However, that seems to me to misunderstand Jesus' comment about divorce being granted because of the hardness of their hearts (Matt 19). Hardness of hearts in divorce seems to be more about their selfishness/inability to reconcile in marriage, rather than about accommodating to norms about divorce in the ANE. Moreover, this hermenuetic seems to allow the author's own extra-biblical assumptions about the superiority of modern sensibilities to ancient ones to be pass under the radar. For example, even after properly explaining what the OT means by slave, and the protections built in, he then presumes our economic system (no slaves) is superior to that of the OT. That seems to fall back in the fallacy of equating OT Law with ANE slavery, or worse, US antebellum chattel slavery. And I'm not sure that our 'solutions' for debt are more equitable and caring than the system laid out in OT.
Two more significant over critiques of his presentation of the Law. The Law as accommodation to cultural norms needs to take into account the way Psalm 119 celebrates the goodness and perfection of God's Law. Seems to present as more than just a compromise document. Second, the redemptive trajectory argument seems to separate the function of these particular laws from the overall purpose of the Law--to be fulfilled in Jesus. Thus, even though Copan helpfully ties interpretation of OT ethics to the reality of Jesus Christ in his conclusion, earlier sections present God's Law as though it could create a just and peaceable society apart from God's Messiah. The OT Law could not accomplish that, because that was not its purpose (as the author of Hebrews asserts).
The book is framed as a response to the New Atheists. It is encouraging to see how out-of-date such arguments feel.
Overall, extremely helped with some exegetical particulars, though very much needing help from elsewhere to pull all the pieces together.
More of the same, honestly. There is not one single piece of new information or excusing of anything proposed by these so-called "Neo-Atheists". I do not recommend this book to Christians because it will only serve to embarrass you with it's less-than-stellar addressing of serious bible accusations put forth by today's atheist crowd.
The argumentation is put forth in an academic, but readable, format however, as already noted, there's nothing new here to see. The author expects you to concede his opinion, after he spends two chapters trying to tear apart his "opposition" (a point I make because I think it's shameful an approach), and the general opinion of the Church. The excuses or reasons given do not actually answer atheists' questions, except for maybe the quote-mining atheist next door who just likes to argue. However, intelligent opponents of this will see through the sham and destroy these arguments without much thought -- I know, I was able to do so chapter after chapter, sadly.
The logic contained in "Professor" (is that his actual title? I do not know) Paul Copan's book is, at best, contrived & faulty and, at worst, disingenuous & dishonest. I read this book at the recommendation of Dr. William Lane Craig when he referenced this volume in a debate with Dr. Sam Harris. Dr. Craig should probably stop doing so (except he won't -- he sees it as a "fantastic answer to atheistic claims about morality and God").
Oh, and then Copan returns to his original premise (the first two chapters, really) and tries to further discredit the opposition by using the same, tired approach of "without God, there would be no morality" or, as Dr. Craig puts it, "without God, there is no objective moral truth", a point that has received much debate in the last two centuries and to which the opposition has very admirably replied (if one view things honestly). Again: same old, same old.
In truth, for me, this book raised more questions than it answered (none -- I've heard all of these responses, or given or taught them, over the years). Truly a disappointing read...
Very well written and methodical in addressing concerns our modern sensibilities have with Old Testament laws and events. Just as modern day issues have complexities that may only make sense within the culture at this time so do the events of the Old Testament need to be understood by the cultural reference of the writers of that time. Reading and condemning of Old Testament scripture and of God based upon modern cultural sensibilities does a disservice to the reader (who may prematurely declare their own moral supremacy over God) and to Christianity in general.
I read this over the span of two months regularly checking the scriptural references to confirm the authors conclusions. Additionally for the first time I used the blue letter Bible to verify the authors conversations on how particular passages were translated. This led to wrestling over several passages that required analyzing the context of each word in the original language and cross check the other instances of that word in scripture. One such passage was regarding Issacs potential sacrifice by Abraham. Read the book for additional context here.
I read the kindle version and will be purchasing a physical copy to keep as a reference because of how well it clarified these difficult texts.
The more challenges brought to my Christian faith the more the Bible has to offer in meeting these objections and strengthening my faith. Praise the Lord!
A good read, where the author attempts to explain some of the more difficult concepts from the OT for Western readers to grasp. For the most part he handled many of the texts well, placing them within their proper historical context, (which sheds much light and answers half the questions right off the bat). He deals with things lie slavery, womens' rights, and the destruction of the Canaanites. I thought his answers were good, although some of the time I felt like he was bending things a bit too much to make them far less harsh. The OT climate was one of much brutality and warfare. It is hard to explain the eradication of an entire race of people without the harsh reality that God had them wiped out because they were evil. Copan seems to dance around a lot of the issues (like God's wrath against sin) and offers alternative interpretations that I found unconvincing most of the time. All in all, however, it was a good read, and a fine resource to have for dealing with skeptics and atheists.
The question this book proposes is clearly a resounding ‘NO’ and Coplan doesn’t waste too much time in communicating that. Copan makes it very clear from the outset that the objections, which are summarised in the question ‘Is God a moral monster’ are mainly matters of ignorance, interpretation & context. It is clear throughout the book that the issues of contextual ignorance (or arrogance) involve the historical, cultural, sociological, covenantal, theological and even down to the political context.
This ignorance - mainly from the New Atheist’s - doesn't delegitimise the objections, however a lot of time and energy could be saved if those making the objections understood the bible better and the presuppositions of theology as a discipline. Personally I have been confronted by my own ignorance in this area and have been greatly helped by Coplan’s arguments.
There are some great lessons to be reinforced as we listen to the objections of the new atheist. They seem to simply read off the text and object to what ever they think it means. Given, this is how our culture is beginning to interpret texts generally. However this idea of relative truth must be challenged. We must insist that, ‘what is true for you is NOT necessarily true at all’. Christians understand that our hearts are corrupt and deceitful and we must work hard at interpreting God’s word and work within its context as the author intended it.
Principally, Coplan does just this. He addresses street level questions by whimsically drawing out the character of God that emanates from the pages of scripture. He brings the very being of God to bare on these objections.
The book is clearly a defence (polemical), however the tone is confident and positive and the defensive nature doesn’t over power the book. He combines solid apologetics with just enough biblical theology to be truthful and faithful to all of scripture, without losing the Old Testament focus.
Because he covers so much ground, jumping from point to point, question to objection - which is a great strength of the book - on occasion, some of his arguments aren’t as water tight as they could have been. At times he rushes over points making them sound simplistic and some will accuse him of special pleading.
Fundamentally Coplan draws out and returns to a number of principles that undergird the books content. These principles help orient the reader to approach the Old Testament well.
1. The picture painted in the Old Testament, particularly God’s law and the narratives don���t represent God’s ‘ideal’ but is rather move Israel on the ‘redemptive movement’ of Scripture. A lot of these laws and events are not ideals to be replicated, defended or admired. Coplan encourages us to look back to Genesis 1 & 2 and forward to Jesus for our ideal situations.
2. The ancient near eastern culture that the Old Testament inhabits needs to be understood (sometimes in detail) in order to understand the context and meaning of the Old Testament. This understanding also helps us see the radical nature of God, his law and his people in contrast to the brutality and injustice of the surrounding nations.
I heard about this book when William Lane Craig made mention of it during his debate with one of the "Four Horsemen," of atheism. Now, the Horsemen's popularity has perplexed me. They are obviously intelligent men, and deserve respect in their respective fields of study, but their understanding of Christianity is, in my opinion, wafer thin, and I really do feel that it leaves gaping holes and inconsistencies in nearly all of their condemnations. So it was nice to see that Copan has a similar impression, and that he even confirms that serious, intellectual, atheists often cringe when the Horsemen wade into the fray.
The Bible is a big book. With so much material, you can easily snip pieces out of context to weave whatever narrative you want (its even easier if you weave in random bits from other faith traditions, as the Horsemen love to do). As such, I feel that the only honest way to understand and deepen one's faith is to focus on studying the entire Bible, cover to cover, and to try and understand the whole narrative, from the garden, all the way through to the time described in John's Revelation.
Copan's book then, helps Christians come to terms with the history of the vine they were grafted into. This book gives much needed historical context, brings clarity to oft misunderstood passages, and gives Christians a clear and much more approachable path to reconciliation with the Old Testament.
The prevailing thread that I felt throughout the book was Copan's patient insistence that God works with His people, within the sociological framework of the time and place they live in, to craft an eternal message. Anyone who believes that Christians have license to engage in armed conquest because of the Old Testament is mistaken, just like anyone who thinks Israel should have washed the Philistines' feet is missing the bigger picture. The Bible contains the entire arc, from the fall, to failure under the law, to fulfillment of the law and freedom in Christ our Savior. Anything less is but a glimpse.
I found Copan's apologetics to be well researched, thought out, and articulated. They were a bit short though; there were times where the author moved on just as I felt we were starting to scratch the surface. Double the number of pages would have earned a fifth star.
While I found Copan's writing to be extremely informative on Old Testament context history and culture, unfortunately the very question posed on the front of the book was never answered directly. Is God a Moral Monster? I guess we will never know. I was lent this book from a friend after a conversation about doubts that I had been having for several years prior regarding God's goodness. Although I have since come out of that period of doubting, I can say that sadly this book would not have helped. It leaves a number of important philosophical questions unanswered, and even untouched. I understand that the book was focusing on Old Testament ethics, and admittedly this was fascinating and helpful. This being the case, I wish that maybe the title of the book had simply been "Making Sense of the Old Testament God."
For the most part, I found myself agreeing with Copan. Having context behind why certain Jewish traditions existed was interesting and considering how these Jewish laws would have played out through the lens of others in that time was eye-opening as well. I think Copan's critique of modern society may be a bit lacking, but overall I did not sense malice in his writing.
There were, however, passages with which I fiercely disagree- possibly at times because I was incorrectly inferring something that Copan was not trying to communicate, but at other times because the lines of logic would lead to some troubling places if followed through to their end.
If you're picking up the book with the hopes of finding a definitive answer on whether or not God is a moral monster, go ahead and set it back down. Do know, however, there there is a lot of other valuable insight to be gleaned from these pages.