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Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,855 ratings  ·  210 reviews
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 portray ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published December 2010 by Baker Books
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Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Both Christians and non-Christians who are sincerely interested in understanding the Old Testament
Shelves: biblical-studies
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 cle ...more
John Barbour
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked 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.
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 star
Paul Kurtz
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 ...more
Ben Zajdel
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. N
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
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 "bullyi
Winston Jen
Jul 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
The Worst Fruits of Spin-Doctoring Made Manifest

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
Lee Harmon
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 argu
Brandon Lehr
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ficti
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ma
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
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 ...more
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
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, th
Bob Price
May 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
May 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
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 respon ...more
Kendall Davis
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 argument
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Overall I liked this book. Recently I had some questions put to me about the massacres, slavery, and polygamy in the Old Testament. And while I had some answers I thought I should read up on it a bit to get some more clarity. This book covered a large number of topics including the ones I was looking for.

Here are some of the interesting points I took from this book...

- Instances where God gave instructions to the Israelites to "kill everything that breathed" including (sometimes specif
Feb 11, 2011 rated it liked it
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 i
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
L. R. Bouligny Bouligny
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Paul Copan contends that the New Atheism has as one of its key tenets that one of the major justifications for denying the existence of a God and particular the God of Christian faith is that to believe in such a God is to believe in a God far inferior morally to his creatures.

Copan then deals in detail with the passages that critics like Christopher Hitchens highlight to make this argument--the sacrifice of Isaac, genocide against the Canaanites, the treatment of women, slavery, and more.

In the
Feb 13, 2011 rated it liked it
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, ethni
Mark A Powell
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Many people struggle to understand some of God’s commands and actions, especially in the Old Testament. Copan takes an in-depth look at laws concerning slavery, punishment, and warfare, examining them from the full scope of both Scripture and ancient history. Copan does not try to easily explain away or dismiss these issues, but rather seeks to give them proper context and definition. The result is thoughtful and helpful in understanding God’s work in the Old Testament.
Mark Clements
Apr 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Copan brings up some very interesting points of explanation but really wouldn't satisfy someone who wasn't at least open to or friendly toward the OT.

I appreciated what he was saying and found the information helpful.
Mark Kennedy
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 con ...more
Jon Pentecost
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'
Ian Hammond
Nov 27, 2019 rated it liked it
His argument is that God, in giving the Old Testament, was seeking to incrementally move humanity in a better direction. He argues that what is found in the Old Testament is much better than the surrounding contemporary societies and that it was intended to be temporary, as one stage of development leading to a greater good.

I think Copan convincingly argues the "annihilation" commands in the Bible were actually intentionally hyperbolic in their expressions (this is seen in ANE literature and th
Leah  Hickman
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
With all its talk of violence and the wrath of God, the Old Testament often seems to give a picture of God that is inconsistent with the Christ of the New Testament. In this book, Copan addresses this apparent inconsistency by tackling some of the hardest theological questions that arise in the Old Testament historical accounts.

Through his well-researched depiction of the Ancient Near East, Copan helps explain the Israelites' historical and cultural context, and he uses that context to clarify
Jarl Øystein
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: apologetics
Well written and thorough arguments that show how wrong and superficial the accusations by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are about the christian God. They just didn't read the context, that's for sure. The claims by Richard Dawkins (In The God Delusion) that “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, inf ...more
Josh Long
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A literary achievement for Christian apologetics. In one thorough but concise socio-historical and exegetical sweep, Copan essentially reduces all the superficial criticisms of Neo-atheism, regarding the old testament and it's particularly challenging topics. Slavery, misogyny, child abuse and genocide are all apparently* discussed in the old testament and every Christian should know where to start in explaining these scary themes. This is a perfect place to start.
Brooke Turner
Jul 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Liked the book-it helped resolve some tough questions I have had about the Old Testament and life in Ancient Near East. It is pretty readable although I started to tire of it half way through. It is one I’m glad I have on my shelf, as I have no doubt I’ll continue to go back to it as I lead and teach the Bible. Great resource.
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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.

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