Genocide

Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 2)

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A Biblical Apology

How shall we defend the OT commands to “Holy War,” which in some ways seem to resemble the Islamic calls to Jihad? To begin with, we must ensure that our underlying interpretive framework is biblical. As one writer has observed, “The life situation and presuppositions of the reader profoundly affect the way in which the text is interpreted.”11 Therefore, let’s establish the context and nature of God’s commands. Then, we can offer several arguments to justify these commands.

The Context of God’s Commands

The context of the command is a sinful world under God’s curse (Gen 3:8ff). If we remember this fact, then the real question is not, “Why would God exterminate the Canaanites?” but rather “Why has God withheld judgment from so many other sinful nations?” Furthermore, God’s promise to redeem the world necessitates the destruction and removal of evil (Gen 3:15; Matt. 6:10; 2 Pet 3:13). Thus, “Holy war and the description of God as warrior need to be evaluated in the context of God’s redemptive efforts on behalf of a fallen world.”12

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Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 1)

Twelve Hittite gods of the Underworld

Since the 9/11 attack on twin towers, many Christians have been quick to contrast the violent tactics of Islamic Jihad with the gentler tendencies of Christian evangelism. For example, in an article entitled, “Christian or Muslim: What’s the difference?” Lutheran scholar Alvin Schmidt has argued,

Jihad is totally contrary to what Christ taught when he told Peter to put away his sword, or when he told individuals to turn the other cheek. Unlike Muslims, Christians have no command to advance their religion by killing unbelievers. Quite the opposite.1

The problem with Dr. Schmidt’s article is the same problem that characterizes the arguments of other Christian apologists. It’s not what they say. It’s what they leave unsaid. They’re quick to point out many NT passages that portray the gentleness of Christian evangelism. But they often fail to acknowledge several Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to use violence against entire populations of people in an effort to get control of the land of Canaan. Allow me to cite a few examples:

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The Problem of Genocide in the Old Testament

Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin Mar/Apr 2013. All rights reserved.

Troubling headlines

Recent incidents of genocide (the systematic killing of ethnic or religious groups) and ethnic cleansing (the forced deportation of ethnic or religious groups):

  • 1991 450,000 Palestinians expelled by Kuwait in retaliation for the PLO’s support of Saddam Hussein
  • 1993 170,000 Croatians and non-Serbs murdered or deported by Serbian rebels led by Slobodan Miloševic
  • 1999 800,000 Albanians flee their homes during the Kosovo War
  • 1994 As many as 1,000,000 Tutsi killed by Hutus in the Rwandan genocide
  • 2000 200,000 East Timorese killed or expelled from Indonesia after voting for independence in a 1999 referendum
  • 2003 450,000 from various black ethnic groups killed and another 2 million expelled from the Darfur region of Sudan
  • 2008 200,000 Karen and 120,000 other refugees displaced from their Burma (Myanmar) homes, fleeing to Thailand
  • 2012 400,000 people displaced in dispute between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims of Assam, India

Problem: How should a believer respond to accusations about genocide in the Old Testament? Does the Bible encourage genocide for religious purposes?

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