Facing the music: genocide is just genocide

Kenton Sparks contributes a humdinger of a post today, the second post in a seven-part series entitled “After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age.” 

He begins with a starkly stated proposition: 

The factual contradictions within Scripture or between Scripture and extrabiblical sources cited in my previous blog are not, in my view, the most serious difficulties that Christians face in the Bible. More troublesome are those cases where a biblical text espouses ethical values that not only contradict other biblical texts but strike us as down-right sinister or evil. 

He then goes on to highlight the clear incongruence between Mat 5.43-45 and Deu 20.16-18. 

Says Sparks, “These words from the lips of Jesus and the Law of Moses are profoundly different. How can one biblical text admonish us to love our enemies and another command Israel to commit genocide against ethnic groups because they have a different religion?” 

I am quite familiar with most of the involved justifications for the ritual act of consecration-by-destruction, or “ban” as it used to be called, known as ḥerem. In my undergraduate Apologetics class (or was it Deuteronomy?) I devoted a paper to arguing how truly ethical and even merciful it was for God to want those men, women, children, and babies murdered. 

Sparks notes that many apologists, such as myself in that paper long ago, have argued that the shock we feel when reading about the ḥerem is merely a clash between modern ethics and older sensibilities. However, it’s important to note that the clash with the ethics of the Hexateuch begins not with us in (post-)modernity but occurred with the very onset of Christianity. It is clearly Jesus’ ethic that clashes with ethics that justify ḥerem. Sparks reminds us that even the early church struggled to justify the ritual slaughter of human beings; he specifically notes Gregory of Nyssa, but I’d also like to point out that the kernel of Marcionism was popped in the heat of that friction long before.

Sparks points out how important it is for evangelicalism to admit and come to grips with these tensions: 

Even if conservative Evangelicals can create eccentric scenarios that seem to preserve the doctrine of Biblicistic inerrancy, the straightforward evidence against this doctrine is so palpable that the doctrine should never be granted any kind of fundamental status in the Christian faith.

I hope you read the whole post.

Tagged with:
Recent Posts: