The Truth about the God of the Old Testament

Copan Is God a Moral Monster

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, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Atheist Richard Dawkins’ infamous description of Yahweh in his book The God Delusion is enough to make most Christians’ blood boil. Unfortunately, we are not always well-equipped to calmly and reasonably respond to such vitriol. Dr. Paul Copan, a well-respected professor of philosophy, author, and speaker, notes that Christians shouldn’t ignore the charges of Neo-atheists like Dawkins. Rather, “As people of the Book, Christians should honestly reflect on such matters.”

Copan’s recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, is one of my new favorites. Written for a lay audience, the provocatively titled work responds to atheists’ most frequent attacks against the Old Testament God:

  • God’s supposed arrogance and jealousy
  • The binding of Isaac
  • Strange Levitical laws
  • “Imaginary crimes” and excessive punishments
  • Treatment of women as inferiors
  • Slavery in Israel
  • The killing of the Canaanites

Right away Copan exposes a hole in atheists’ arguments: a tendency to skim the surface of biblical topics without looking deeply at the whole text and its historical context. He writes,

The Neo-atheists are often profoundly ignorant of what they criticize, and they typically receive the greatest laughs and cheers from the philosophically and theologically challenged….Their arguments against God’s existence aren’t intellectually rigorous—although they want to give that impression.

Misunderstanding God’s intentions and the nature of the ancient Near East, as well as failure (deliberate or otherwise) to constructively integrate passages throughout Scripture can lead people—both skeptics and believers—to develop a lopsided and fallacious view of God.

In going deeper, Copan demonstrates that the Old Testament reveals an infinitely patient and kind God who metes out justice fairly and vigorously defends the weak, oppressed, and alien. One of the things I appreciate most about Copan’s book is that he not only responds to atheists’ accusations, he helps readers better see God’s goodness and kindness. I wish I could share with you every gem I’ve come across in Is God a Moral Monster? but, I’ll stick to one example: the position and treatment of women in the Old Testament.

Sadly, chauvinism has reared its ugly head within the church—but is such behavior condoned and supported by Scripture? No, it is not. As Copan points out, from the very beginning, God established the equality of men and women as an ideal state. Both genders bear His image (Genesis 1:26–27). Following the Fall and the rise of patriarchal societies, God established laws in Israel that granted women rights and protection unprecedented in the ancient Near East. What may seem like unfair regulations at first glance (to modern eyes) are rules that prevented Israelite men from taking advantage of and abusing women. (Copan addresses several particularly difficult passages to show how, on closer inspection, they support a positive view of women, not negative.)

Mosaic laws aside, the Old Testament is replete with examples of strong female characters (think Sarah, Rebekah, Deborah, and Esther—just to name a few). Proverbs even portrays wisdom as a woman. Yet God never places women on pedestals; they are to be held responsible for their own actions, too. As a woman myself, it means a lot to me to see evidence of God’s regard for His daughters throughout the entire Scriptures. He values us highly and accords us respect and dignity.

In a recent interview with Reasons to Believe’s own philosopher, Kenneth Samples, Copan says he was inspired to write Is God a Moral Monster? in response to the accusations of atheists like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris:

I’m trying to not shrink from the issues; I’m trying to be straightforward and frank about some of the challenges, some of the misunderstandings of these texts, and looking at the toughest texts that people will level at the God of the Old Testament.

In my view, Dr. Copan does an excellent job of addressing Old Testament difficulties with fair-mindedness, gentleness, and respect. I’d recommend the book to anyone, especially Richard Dawkins.

— Maureen

Resources: Be sure to catch Ken’s interviews with Paul Copan on Straight Thinking.

About Guest Contributor

MaureenMaureen Moser is an editor and blogger for Reasons to Believe (RTB), an organization dedicated to integrating science and faith. She is the managing editor for RTB’s print newsletter and scholar blogs and has completed editorial work on numerous RTB resources, including Christian Endgame and the Impact Events devotionals. A blessed wife and mother, Maureen is also an adventurous cook and a lover of Star Wars, Jane Austen, and peppermint tea.

Maureen’s article originally appeared at Reasons To Believe  and Take Two Blog.

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15 thoughts on “The Truth about the God of the Old Testament

  1. This book sounds like a great reference, and may directly address some of the most troubling things that I have perceived about the teachings in the Bible. I would like to read it and see if some of my anger is quelled.

  2. Loved the post. I could add to the chauvinism aspect by pointing out that while men in Israel were to keep their hair short, the Nazarite vow commanded them to grow it long. In essence, to be holy warriors, men must symbolically become women. Interesting.

  3. Great post! Jesus spent a lot of time with women and talked to them to the point of forgiving their sins in public, even when it was unpopular (Mary Magdalene, the adulterer woman, the woman from the well), and the first person to see him resurrected was a woman. Why would these gospel authors mention the roles on women if they were not significant during those times? Even Pilate’s wife had an opinion about executing Jesus.

  4. Irrespective of what defense is offered it must be stressed that when ANY atheist criticizes the actions of YAHWEH they do so merely to illustrate that this so-called divine protector is a complete and utter fiction.
    He is not real.
    Neither is Moses, the Exodus or Noah and his flood.

    To believe otherwise of any atheist is to demonstrate such a profound level of ignorance that is wholly deserving of any ridicule.

  5. “Copan demonstrates that the Old Testament reveals an infinitely patient and kind God who metes out justice fairly and vigorously defends the weak, oppressed, and alien”…. And LOVES ABORTION!

    If one actually reads scripture (something the vast majority of Christians never actually do) it’s perfectly clear that the particular Middle Eastern god Christians idolise is not only a prejudiced, insecure and jealous mass-murderer but also a definitive advocate FOR abortion; personally and passionately performing many terminations and ordering countless more.

    In Hosea 9:11-16, the son of Beeri prays for his god to intervene in earthly affairs and wreak havoc on the unborn of an entire population. “Give them, 0 Lord: what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts… Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.” To paraphrase, Hosea pleads that the people of Ephraim can no longer have children, to which the Christian god dutifully obeys and makes all their unborn children miscarry. Now, terminating a pregnancy unnaturally is unmistakably what we today call an abortion.

    In Hosea 13:16 the Christian god is utterly diabolical as he dashes to “pieces” the infants of Samaria and orders “their pregnant women [to be] ripped open by swords.” This, self-evidently, describes mass abortions of such barbarity that it’s hard to even fathom.

    In Numbers 5:11-21 a bizarre and abusive ritual is described which is to be performed by a priest on any woman suspected of adultery; a ritual which results in an abortion. In the text a potion is mixed and the accused woman is brought before the priest who says, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband may the Lord cause you to become a curseamong your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell.” As clear as day this is a definitive description of an induced abortion; an act where poison is forcibly given to ruin the foetus and rid a woman of another man’s child.

    In Numbers 31:17 Moses commands “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every women that hath known man by lying with him.” In other words, kill all women that are or could be pregnant, which is plainly abortion for the foetus.

    In 2 Kings 15:16 the Christian god again orders pregnant women to be “ripped open,” which is both abortionand homicide on a mass scale. “At that time Menahem destroyed the town of Tappuah and all the surrounding countryside as far as Tirzah, because its citizens refused to surrender. He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women.”

    In total there are twenty-six separate instances where the Middle Eastern god Christians worship performs abortions on demand, conducts infanticide (the intentional killing of new-borns), and murders toddlers en masse; acts recounted from 1 Samuel 15:3 to Isaiah 13:15-18 where this god not only smashes babies to death but also rapes their mothers. In a word the Christian god is a heinous baby-killing, foetus-destroying monster, and as it turns out his son is also no friend of the unborn. In the Gospel of the Egyptians Jesus not only demands total abstinence but preaches for the outright separation of the sexes, stating that “sorrow” and what he repeatedly calls “error” will remain with man for just “As long as women bear children.” The statement is quite explicit: don’t ever get pregnant, and if you do then abortion is better than birth.

  6. Professor Richard Dawkins: Doctor of Science, University of Oxford.

    He holds honorary doctorates in science from the
    University of Huddersfield,
    University of Westminster,
    Durham University,
    the University of Hull,
    the University of Antwerp,
    The University of Oslo,
    and honorary doctorates from the
    University of Aberdeen,
    Open University,
    the Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
    and the University of Valencia.

    He also holds honorary doctorates of letters from the University of St Andrews
    the Australian National University (HonLittD, 1996),

    Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997
    and the Royal Society in 2001.

    Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford, and Professorial Fellow of New College

    He is one of the patrons of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

    Now, isn’t that slightly more representative than “Atheist Richard Dawkins”? (Atheist is not a title)

  7. Reblogged this on A Christian Warrior and commented:
    A few good thoughts.
    To me God as shown in the Old Testament, is one who wants to protect His people, punishes those who hurt them and reminds them who there God is. If they do not follow the path He has for them then they must take the consequences of there actions.

  8. What you deem ‘vitriol’ was very much intended to be humorous by Dawkins for anyone who has read the OT. Hence, the laughter it tends to generate. And atheists in general (and New Atheists in particular) tend to be quite literate in all these so-called sophisticated and intellectually rigorous theological arguments (according to vitriolic evidence that Copan seems to have missed in his rush to condemn atheists rather than their well-reasoned, evidence-based counter-arguments, I should clarify).

  9. Along these lines I am currently reading a great book titled “Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary ‘Freethinker’ From a Lapsed Agnostic.” by Bo Jinn. I can’t seem to find it listed as a hard copy book, but I have it on the Kindle edition.

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