Is the Old Testament God a Moral Monster?

Interview with apologist Paul Copan about his new book

The response to the book has been remarkable. Several prominent blogs have highlighted it as “the best defense of Old Testament ethics.” Scot McKnight at Patheos.com has done a series on my book, and I continue to be interviewed on radio programs and by prominent bloggers. I am regularly speaking on this topic of Old Testament ethics—including a lecture next week at Tyndale University in Toronto.

Have you ever read the Old Testament . . .  all of it?

It’s riddled with episodes of God becoming angry, God being filled with hot-boiling wrath, God changing His mind, God commanding Israel to destroy other nations — including the women and children, God creating “seemingly” crazy unreasonable laws, God allowing injustices, etc. etc.

Right?

All of this has given atheists, agnostics, and those hostile to Christianity ample ammunition to try and discredit the faith.

At the end of the 19th century, Enlightenment thinkers like Robert Ingersoll argued that the God of the Old Testament was a savage, unjust, awful Person. And that no one in their right mind could be a Christian as a result.

We have reincarnations of Ingersoll in people like Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins (a.k.a. “The New Atheists”) who employ the same logic and line of reasoning in support of atheism. (Ingersoll was agnostic, but his arguments contra the Hebrew/Christian God are identical to that of Maher, Hitchens, and Dawkins.)

Paul Copan has written a new book that takes dead aim at the logic used by such people and refutes it squarely and sharply. For that reason alone I applaud him and his work. The book? Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

While the book packs a strong academic punch, it’s written in such a way that any reader can understand it.

If the truth be told, I’ve been waiting for someone to write this book for many years.

I had the opportunity to interview Paul to give you a flavor of what his book is like. It follows.

Disclaimer: the person conducting this interview is not responsible for the various questions asked, quotes made, or implications therein. I hereby solemnly declare before God, angels, and mortals that I believe in the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, the 66 books of what we call “the Bible” or “biblical canon.” I believe that they are fully inspired, true, and reliable. I’m playing devil’s advocate in part of this interview because of what the book in question sets out to do. Continue on at your own risk.

1) What motivated you to write this book?

Old Testament ethical questions—especially that of “slavery” and “genocide” ranking at the top—have been an ongoing problem for Christians and non-Christians alike. Much misunderstanding exists about the world of the ancient Near East, confusion due to biblical translations, and the like. To make matters worse, the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and so on) have recently highlighted these themes, calling God a “moral monster” or “not great.” More people are asking questions about these themes, and nothing accessible and wide-ranging was available offering succinct, biblically researched responses to these matters. So I decided to tackle these matters, first in journal-article form and then my Moral Monster book.

2) A noble and needed goal, indeed. With my next set of questions, I’m going to play Robert Ingersoll/Bill Maher/Richard Dawkins-esque “devil’s advocate.” So here goes:

Consider the following passage in the Law of Moses:

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Doesn’t this make clear that the Old Testament was written by a man? Come on now. How is this consistent with a good, loving, reasonable God? If God wrote this, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a God like that. So what did God have in His mind when He authored this Law? And how does it reflect His nature? What say you?
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