John Piper on Why “It’s Right for God to Slaughter Women and Children Anytime He Pleases” and Why I Have Some Major Problems with That

Author and pastor John Piper, in a relatively recent interview on his website Desiring God: God-Centered Resources from the Ministry of John Piper, discusses the vexing problem of God ordering the mass killing of every Canaanite man, woman, and child.

Here is the opening quote.

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

Words fail me. Apparently, Piper sees no problem.

What’s more, Piper feels his thinking applies to all deaths everywhere.

“God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs….

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.

God is not beholden to us at all. He doesn’t owe us anything.”

Words fail me even more.

Certainly everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion (and what would the internet be without it), and people are always free to accept or reject what others say.

Actually, on one level, it is helpful that Piper is willing to offer his views so clearly in a public forum. Characterizing God this way is, in my estimation, its own refutation, and in the end will serve the truth more than obscure it.

But still, Piper’s position raises some serious issues that won’t stay buried for long, and are worth drawing out–at the very least so people can to work through the issue themselves and not be swayed by a public figure taking such a strong stand, or conclude that Piper represents the only option before us.

Each of these issues outlined below, to be sure, engenders it’s own discussion–and I can only be very brief here–but they are part and parcel of the broader discussion of God’s violence in the Old Testament.

1. It is unguarded to make a general principle of God’s character on the basis of the treatment of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. Of course, Piper would likely retort that all of Scripture is God-breathed, does not mislead us, and reveals the character of God. But then he would need to address squarely Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that “death to our enemies” is no longer valid.

The insider-outsider premise that undergirds Canaanite slaughter (and the killing of many of Israel’s enemies in the Old Testament–see #3) is the very thing Jesus squashed: “My kingdom is not of this world.” That alone should give Piper pause from venturing forward with his assessment of God’s character on the basis of how Canaanites are dealt with.

2. Following on #1, “the Bible said it, that settles it” answer to God’s violence in the Old Testament not only runs into problems with respect to the New Testament but the Old Testament as well. There is a fair amount of theological diversity in the Old Testament regarding the nature of God’s judgment on the nations that would need to be taken into account. (For example, compare Jonah and Nahum on the fate of Assyria; the glorious fate of Egypt in Isaiah 19:23-25.) To make one view on such a thorny issue the model for how God acts throughout time runs the danger of privileging certain texts that support one’s theology.

3. Related to #s 1 and 2, Piper would also need to address the historical reality of the ancient tribal setting of these Old Testament stories. I realize that for a literalist like Piper, this point is wholly out of bounds, for it requires that we allow what we have learned archaeologically about the ancient world of the Bible to influence how we understand the Bible.

Still, for those interested, we know that the rhetoric of a patron high god fighting for his people and insuring their military successes (and failures if they are unfaithful) is a common ancient manner of envisioning the activity of the divine realm vis-a-vis politics. I suspect Piper may not have much use for such information, but placing the biblical accounts of military conquests next to those of other ancient peoples leads to the following reasonable and commonly accepted conclusion:  how Israel described God’s activities was influenced by cultural givens and therefore not to be applied willy-nilly for all time and places.

4. Following on #3, Piper would need to take seriously the conclusion drawn overwhelmingly by archaeologists that the systematic slaughter of the population of Canaan around 1200 BC did not happen. As with many issues surrounding archaeology, there is further discussion to be had, and I am guessing that Piper will not be swayed by what archaeologists say.

Nevertheless, there were likely only a few small battles in a few places (like Hazor). The stories of mass extermination of Canaanites that God ordered (Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 20:10-20) do not depict brute historical events, but Israel’s culturally influenced way of making an important theological statement (see #5). If that is true, it complicates Piper’s assumption that one can point to the book of Joshua and say “God is like this.”

5. It is not at all clear that these biblical stories were even written to depict “what God did.” Recent work has made the case that the book of Joshua is not a “conquest narrative.” Rather, using conquest as a narrative setting, Joshua is a statement about what it means to be an insider or an outsider to their community.

The conquest stories are symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth. For example, the fact that Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, is spared but the Israelite family man Achan and his family are treated as Canaanites (Joshua 6-7) is designed to make people think long and hard about what insider and outsider even means. (See Douglas S. Earl The Joshua Delusion?: Rethinking Genocide in the Bible and Daniel Hawk Every Promise Fulfilled: Contesting Plots in Joshua.)

6. More practically speaking–and without intending to implicate Piper–history bears witness that those who envision God the way Piper does are only one small step away from forming their own Christian Taliban to be God’s agents of wrath in this life.

Some kill abortion doctors and gays, but more commonly the end result of such thinking is a brand of Christianity that is agitated, judgmental, suspicious, and ready to draw blood whenever a perceived offense to God is committed. A faith in God that is governed by such a posture toward others is something Jesus clearly taught against.

7. Piper would need to engage the common response that the killing of a population to take their land is resolutely condemned not only in modern culture but among Christians around the world. In other words, Piper would need to address the ethical implications of a God who does what every fiber of our being and shared experience says is wrong–shedding innocent blood to take their land and resources.

8. According to Deuteronomy 20:10-20, God orders the Israelites to kill every living thing within the borders of  Canaan, but that is only half the marching order. An equally disturbing fate awaits those in cites outside of the borders of Canaan.

First Israel is to offer terms of peace. If they accept, the people are enslaved. If they refuse, the men are to be killed but the women, children, livestock, and anything else are kept as booty. To be consistent, one would need to think that, “God is enslaving people every day. He will make 50,000 slaves today. Slavery and freedom are in God’s hand. God decides whether you will be slave or free.”

9. How does Piper or anyone know, really, that all deaths are “willed” by God? Nothing in the Bible can compellingly be interpreted this way, and the whole matter seems to be more a matter of mystery than theological certitude. I suspect that perhaps Piper is pre-committed to this view by virtue of a Calvinist premise of God’s “sovereignty.”  But sovereignty, even in a Calvinist sense, does not imply that God is necessarily “taking life everyday.”

10. Finally, I am not sure how this sort of view of God translates into effective ministry. I don’t think it is pastorally effective (not to mention theologically sound) to tell people: “God is the sovereign God of the universe and he may snuff out your life or the life of your loved ones at any time by cancer, a bullet, kidnap/murder, slow starvation, a plane flying into a building, etc. He isn’t beholden to you. He doesn’t owe you anything if you drop dead.”

Piper’s hyper-literalistic defense of Canaanite genocide may score some points (temporarily) against atheist attacks on the Bible, but how will this play with real people who are struggling to find ways to make it through life day to day? Is not “God is love…the very hairs of your head are numbered…cast your cares on him…he desires that no one perish…you are his sheep” more in keeping with building up God’s people?


The morality of God killing Canaanites has been joyfully thrown in the face of Christians in recent years by such prominent atheists as Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, which is what Piper is reacting to. But Canaanite genocide has been a topic of concern ever since the earliest theologians of the church began to wrestle with it in the 2nd century. It has always been and remains a tough issue for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.

I feel that Piper’s comments in his interview obscure the genuine complexities of this important conversation and leave us with a God that, at the end of the day, I contend is not the God of the gospel but the very caricature of God we should avoid.

  • Don Johnson

    Amen. Preach it!

  • Mark Chenoweth

    Excellent! I wonder if there is a way to combine what you are saying but also retain Origen’s beautiful commentary on Joshua. I don’t think it’s an either-or approach. But this is a different issue. Much more discussion needs to be given to this. But I don’t think that just because allegory isn’t historical-critical-exegesis means its useless.

    Also, do you think Paul Copan/Matt Flannegan’s, possibly even Tremper Longman’s and John Goldingay’s approach to OT violence is useful at all?

    • peteenns

      Remind me what JG says…..

      And Origen….wasn’t he a heretic? :-)

      • http://divinesalve.blogspotcom David Miller

        Origen’s method of biblical interpretation was never declared heretical. To the contrary, it was adopted by large parts of the church as the dominant form of biblical interpretation for quite some time.

        • Qqq

          Origen’s method perhaps is not the problem…except when it led him to castrate himself per Christ’s words about cutting off your hand if it is an occasion of sin. Origen did a fundy on that and castrated himself.
          His other problems involved seeing John the Baptist as jumping in the womb at Christ’s approach because Origen held that John the Baptist pre existed perhaps as Elijah ? and knew Christ centuries before as the Word. Then he had a problem with hell….as not really being forever.

          • DanVincent

            “Then he had a problem with hell….as not really being forever.” And this is obviously the straw that breaks the camel’s back for you? Many more than just Origen had that “problem” in his day. In fact, it can be argued that it was the prevalent belief at the time among the church fathers that God’s judgment is corrective and loving, not punitive.

  • Doug


    Since you posted on this and mentioned the idea a week or so ago, AND since I saw you gave a favorable recommendation of Brian Godawa’s Noah Primeval novel, I though I would see what you think of this. Michael Heiser has suggested that the extermination of the particular people groups that were targeted for destruction were all, in one way or another (marriage, treaties, genetics), associated with the Nephilim. (I think there is even a short exchange he has with Greg Boyd on this issue somewhere). God not only didn’t command, but he absolutely forbade the extermination of Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, all tribes related to Abraham, or put another way, NOT related to the nephilim. God simply doesn’t do what Piper says he can (and does) do: kill anyone he wants whenever he wants. He is bound by more than his sovereignty (which I completely affirm). He is also bound by justice (which even applies to the Nephilim; Gen 15:16). In other words, Heiser is suggesting that one way or another, we need to read this problem though the lens of Genesis 6:1-4 as well as Numbers 13. I’ve not really seen anyone else put this view into print, because frankly, the whole church father reading of Genesis 6:1-4 is laughed at in our day. I’m sure you have thoughts …

    • peteenns

      Interesting thought, Doug. I haven’t thought about the nephilim option, but I will look into it.

      • Brian Godawa

        Pete, This is Brian Godawa and I thank you for your endorsement of Noah Primeval! :-) Now, you have to read the prequel that is out Enoch Primordial.

        But What Doug says is true. Heiser’s book “The Myth that is True” was a MAJOR influence on my Noah novel and the entire series in fact. Heiser is an excellent scholar, you will respect his work, I’m sure. But an early draft of “The Myth that is True” is at Heiser’s website for $15 I think. I think you will find his work FASCINATING. He is a big ANE context guy like yourself.

        And as Doug says, it seemed to make the most sense out of the text that seemed to apply herem exclusively to the cities or groups that had anakim giant clans in them. It blew my mind.

        • peteenns

          Thanks, Brian. I know Mike. We have corresponded.

    • Mike Heiser

      Brian Godawa sent me a heads up on Peter’s piece today. Just read through it. I agree with Peter, though there is a lot more to this. I think Piper jumped the predestinarian shark a long time ago. In view of your note to Peter, I should say that I’ll be commenting on Peter’s post and will lay out my view of this. Short version: the “insider” vs. “outsider” literary notion is important, but it’s only part of the rationale. The other is the issue of “nephilim bloodlines” — but in itself is also mythic (i.e., the bloodline issue and the unusual height [which I do not view as oafishly spectacular] are factors that, for the biblical writer and his worldview, meant that the Canaanite opponents were allied with (and even spawned by) corrupt foreign deities whom Yahweh had set over the nations in Deut 32:8-9 (cp. 4:19-20) and who were in the crosshairs of judgment in Psalm 82. This doesn’t mean these nephilim descendants were literally spawned (though I can’t speak with authority on what an elohim-being can or cannot do); it more likely means that these wars are cast in religious terms — the forces of cosmic good and evil playing out in battle on earth. It’s no accident in my view that you can take a map and overlap the places where herem occurs with the regional whereabouts of these bloodline clans. I think there’s a point there that has been missed in every discussion of this I’ve read — because no one takes the nephilim stuff seriously. It’s in the text for a reason.

      • peteenns

        Interesting thought, Mike. Thanks for posting it. Unless this is too involved, I am intrigued by your comment about the map. Can you briefly lay out where we learn about the regional whereabouts of the nephilim bloodlines? Is there more to it than the references to the Anakim in Canaan Num 13/Deut 1, Josh 11 and 14? I always thought of the Anakim a way of trumping up the drama, not as the reason for justifying the killing, esp. since not all Canaanites were Anakim (or am I wrong?).That being said, I am all ears.

    • Joshua

      I have always been a big advocate of the Nephilim viewpoint, which is very clear in Scripture, but I never understand why it does not get more attention–especially as it relates to Noah’s flood and the extermination of certain tribes in the Old Testament. I believe that the Nephilim were a demonic plot to corrupt the human gene pool in order to prevent the birth of the Messiah, as he was promised as “the seed of the woman.” in Genesis 3. Likewise, the Nephilim appear again after the Egyptian captivity, and could have easily corrupted Abraham’s offspring if the Lord had not commanded their extermination. The Nephilim also explain the existence of Goliath and the tribe that he was from, as well as many of the ancient culture’s traditions of “gods” intermingling with humans (e.g. Titans).

  • Greg D

    Piper has written some good stuff. But, his view on God’s uncaring and sweeping destruction upon people is way off theologically. Piper’s views are reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s views on the tsunami that killed thousands of people in Asia. And Falwell’s view on AIDS killing millions of homosexuals. Is Piper really any different than these buffoons? A year or so ago Piper claimed that a tornado that hit a church where pro-gay clergy were meeting was the hand of God. This is one of the reasons why I haven’t been able to jump onto the Piper bandwagon, never mind his neo-Reformed exclusive theology. Thanks Dr. Enns for clarifying the Bible’s view on this.

  • Jon G


    While I haven’t heard the Piper interview, and I agree with your assesment of the problems in the OT genocide occurences, based on the quotes that you have given from Piper I don’t think you are properly representing him. It seems to me that he is making a statement on the “right” of God to take life and not the “character” of God for taking life (although the use of the term “slaughter” in the first quote was a poor one on Piper’s part).

    It seems to me that he is painting a scenario similar to a gardener having the right to kill one of his plants…it sucks for the plant, but the plant is there because the gardener chose for it to be and can use it for whatever purposes the gardener chooses – including killing it for food. In other words, this is God’s world, not ours.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that I don’t have a problem with God killing people in the OT, or in the present for that matter, and I don’t think God wants any of us to suffer death…but Piper is talking about God’s (and our) rights, not motives. What are we “owed” by God is what Piper is asking and he’s answering with “nothing”.

    • peteenns

      But God acts on that “right” to kill, which is a statement of his character, now?

      • Jon G

        I don’t know that he does act on that “right” to kill. I’m simply saying that Piper’s position is that we shouldn’t assume that we have a right to life – therefore any act of God removing life can’t be seen as unjustifiable. It seems to me that you are taking Piper’s stance on the “right” and placing it in the context of the “reason”…the two are not interchangeable.

        Personally, and my opinion carries no weight because I’m not an OT expert, I don’t think God ordained genocide in the OT. I suspect it was more a case of the OT writers justifying their political positions by anthropomorphizing God than anything else. To my own mind, I’ve been thinking that the talk about removing the Canaanites from the land is an ancient idiom for “cleansing the temple”. It seems like that image is pervasive in the OT and what is the promised land if not the place where Heaven and Earth come together to house God’s presence? Sounds like temple imagery to me.

        • peteenns

          Jon, in agreement with you, as one of my OT profs at WTS used to say, “God let his children tell the story.” That’s why God is expressed in categories familiar to a tribal culture. Even the NT does this by such things as referring to God with the pagan word theos.

    • Brian Mahon


      Just a thought on “I don’t think God wants any of us to suffer death,” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of all His saints” (Psa 116.15). While God despises death as the consequence of sin, yet because of the death of Christ, which the Lord willed (cf. Isa 53.10a), the sins of all who believe in Christ have been dealt with such that we have been delivered not only from sin but death also. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, death has died for the believer and, so, exists now in service of the believer (so Psa 116.15, “precious,” and “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Phil 1.21).

      As it pertains to the sovereignty of God over life and death, I think this is plain in Scripture. A passage that immediately comes to mind is Psa 139.16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them,” or Hebrews 9.27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” or by inference from what Dr. Enns concluded with, specifically, “the very hairs of your head are numbered,” which I take to be intentionally insignificant in the grand scheme of things for God to concern Himself with (and yet remarkably, as Sovereign, He does!), and if the hairs of our head, how much more the moment of our conception and dying.

      One more thing: it is not as if the Canaanites didn’t have fair warning, or act in rebellion for several hundred years against the longsuffering kindness of the Lord intended to lead to repentance. It is not a fairness issue. Fair for sinners is death, per God’s stipulation in the garden. Piper is right. God owes no man life. Every moment of life is indebted to sovereign mercy. And, thinking biblically-theologically, the promised Land or Canaan was to be conquered and indwelled by the son of God, that is, Israel (cf. Exod 4.22) as an eschatological advance or recapitulation of the original garden wherein the original son, Adam (with his wife), resided. Now we know how that turned out. A serpent came into the garden and tempted Adam and Eve. Instead of killing the serpent, they loved the serpent by their disobedience — and in turn, rejected God in unbelief. In Genesis 3.15, God not only promises an offspring from the women who will crush the head of the serpent, but a perpetual war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent until that godly offspring, that is Christ, should wonderfully inaugurate His eternal reign in the new creation. What God does there is make a division, a distinction if you will between the people of God and the people of the devil or serpent (Jesus does the same, John 8). So it is today. You are either a child of God or of the devil, and if of God, then by the sovereign grace of God in Christ, for all are born as the seed of the serpent. So Abel, on the one hand, and Cain, on the other. So Enoch, but Lamech. And the seed of the serpent, those dead in sins, essentially dominated the world such that in all the world only Noah was found to be righteous at the time of the flood. The reason I belabor this is that as Israel moves to enter Canaan, there are not one but perhaps hundreds of thousands of serpents in the land. And God does not want another Eden incident. This son, Israel, is to put that foot squarely on the serpent’s head, that is, all the seed of the serpent living in Canaan. Of course, according to God’s Word, they too fail even as Adam and are exiled out of the land, as Adam out of the garden. And why? Because like Adam they disobeyed, they broke faith, they sinned against the Lord. Under the Old Covenant, the majority of God’s people were, in their hearts, like the Canaanites themselves — dead, hardened, unbelieving. The point, then, is that it was not unfair for God or immoral for God to sovereignly command the destruction of the Canaanites, or, as Piper notes, any human being, for every human being is a sinner, a seed of the serpent, and God is being faithful to Himself by upholding His Word, “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Again, life is grace and mercy, not something owed. And this is intended to bring us to repentance (Rom 2.4).

      Where Adam and Israel failed, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, triumphed. Though He was sinless, He was exiled on the cross for our sake. He was not spared, that we might be spared. He was forsaken, that we might not ever be forsaken. He was exiled, that we might be reconciled to God. He bore our sin and guilt and shame and the just wrath of God against us as sinners, and He drank it to the dregs until it could declare, “it is finished!” And it is no coincidence that His cross stood atop a mount called Golgotha, or the place of the Skull — “He shall crush your head and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen 3.15). The only one to merit life by His own life, died in order that those who deserve death, repentant and believing Canaanites like Rahab and us all, might live in Him forever.

      • Dragoness Eclectic

        I stopped reading at “Fair for sinners is death, per God’s stipulation in the garden.” because such theology holds no water for me. Both Jesus and the prophet Ezekial before him have said that the son is not to blame for the sins of the father, but is held to account for his own sins alone. If God is a Just God, He cannot condemn a person for the actions of his remote ancestor; that is madness.

        I do not believe that we are all accountable for Adam’s sin. We may be suffering the consequences of Adam’s sin, as the children of abusers carry the mental and physical scars dealt out by their abusers, but we are no more guilty of Adam’s sin than abused children are guilty of their abuser’s conduct. This is assuming that Adam’s sin is anything more than a “just so” story to explain why we have to work for a living and why people who know right from wrong can still chose wrong.

    • Josh

      Is there any man innocent before God? We have all sinned whether father or son and the payment for sin is death(perish).
      God not willing that any should “perish” is referring to physical death or spiritual death?

  • Jon G

    HAH! Reading my post I was immaturely pleased to see how close “Peter” and “Piper” were to each other! I promise to grow up one day! :-)

  • Jeff Martin

    Dr. Enns,

    What do you make of Achan’s family in Joshua 7 where they are burned and stoned, including his sons and daughters? And then it says, “the LORD turned from his burning anger”. Do you think the Israelites took the punishment too far or was this something that God wanted since it caused him to turn from his wrath instead of get more angry?

    • peteenns

      I think it means that, after they were dead, God stopped being angry. I don’t see an indication that stoning was taking things too far. By the way it’s worth mentioning that Achan and family are treated like Canaanites: every living thing was killed.

  • Don L.

    A couple thoughts come to mind. The first is that this recent interview is actually two and a half years old, so I’m wondering what the reasoning is behind critiquing him now. The second is that Piper grounds God’s giving and taking of life within the context of human sinfulness and his sovereign right to judge. In contrast, sin is not even mentioned in this post, either in presenting Piper’s view or in the reply to him.

    To be sure, more could be said on this topic than what Piper said that would make his teaching more helpful and comprehensive, but I can’t help but think that if we discuss the Canaanite slaughter without talking about God’s judgment of sin, and thus God’s holiness, we also present an incomplete picture of God that we should avoid.

    • peteenns

      I hear what you’re saying, Don, but here is the problem as I see it. Everybody sins, not just the Canaanites. Yet, only the Canaanites are slaughtered and lose their homeland. The Canaanites weren’t worse sinners; they were just occupying the wrong land. The relavant texts make very clear that the reason for the killing is that the Canaanites are occupying the land God promised to Abraham, and as an impure people who would lead the Israelites astray must be exterminated. I have a difficult time saying that Jesus would have spoken like that.

      • Paul Duggan

        Who claims Jesus would have spoken like that, or that that is relevant?

        Isn’t the issue “did God actually speak like that”?

        Further, you say the relevant texts only indicate the reason the land would be seized by Israel is for the promise given, and not for any exceptional sinfulness.

        two points

        1. Levitcus 18 and 20 indicate the cannanites were grossly immoral, requiring bestiality and incest in some circumstances, and killing their children as offerings to molech. Yes, you and I are sinners, but I hope not that way.

        2. Why is “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” not a relevant text. The indication from it, is that while the Canaanites are sinners, God is not intervening to destroy them yet because their wickedness has not reached its full flower yet.

        • peteenns

          Paul, the perennial issue here is whether killing one’s enemies (Canaanites weren’t the only ones) through national conflicts is the way of Jesus, who said “love your enemies” “go into all the nations and make disciples” (not take their land) and “my kingdom is not of this world.” What Jesus says is not only relevant, but the point.

          On your two points, isn’t everyone a sinner and guilty before God?

          Doesn’t seem like God is waiting for the Amorites to get really sinful so he can nail them? Why not warn them that judgment is coming, as Jonah did to Nineveh?

          • Paul Duggan

            “On your two points, isn’t everyone a sinner and guilty before God?”

            I think i answered that: 1) Yes 2) but there is a fullness of wickedness that seems to bring God’s a particular judgment in biblical history: Israel herself is subject to it in exile, and again in 70AD (which Jesus seems ok with) 3) this is also a matter of structural social evil. Canaan didn’t just tolerate bestiality, law required it (IIRC, from Wenham)

            “Doesn’t seem like God is waiting for the Amorites to get really sinful so he can nail them?”

            Is that how you actually read Genesis 12?

            “Why not warn them that judgment is coming, as Jonah did to Nineveh?”

            Who says he didn’t, effectively, by Abraham’s presence in the land, creating worship sites and testifying to the true God. (and by destroying all the people of Sodom for great wickedness too: including lack of hospitality and arrogance along with the rape stuff)

          • peteenns

            Paul, I am not sure where to begin unraveling this already knotted thread. I think, to truly engage, we may have to back track so I can look at some of your assumptions about how the Bible works and what we should expect from it. I suspect we re at a different place.

            “Fullness of wickedness”? Israel is not “fully wicked” and subject to mass execution in the exile or AD 70, but guilty of breaking the covenant and dispersed. And other nations were engaged in reprehensible behaviors, including child sacrifice. It is quite clear, I think, that the Canaanite massacre can’t be explained as “well, they were really, really wicked–so much so they really, really deserved to be killed–even children and livestock.” If you want some justification you might be in better shape looking to levitical purity laws, in which case Canaan becomes sacred space where no unclean thing can be permitted to dwell, although then one might still question why God didn’t enact some process of evangelizing them. Assuming that such forewarnings happened is simply making things up to support your interpretation.

            As for Genesis 12, perhaps you interpret it as an act of God’s patience? The midrashim handle the flood story the same way. But that is only possible. Are you also assuming that Gen 12 was written before the Canaanite issue came into view? That is your prerogative, but many see these narratives as written in retrospect (as in Abraham’s journey to Egypt, also in chapter 12, “foreshadows” Israel’s similar journey later).

          • Ryan

            I’m not sure you’re representing Piper fairly, or Jesus, for that matter. It was Jesus who taught the parable in Luke 19, concluding: ““He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

          • peteenns

            Ryan, parables are meant to evoke, not represent reality. I would be open, however, to seeing how I am misrepresenting Piper. I do not want to do that.

          • Jonathan

            While I have much appreciation for John Piper, he isn’t exactly the most reliable proponent for Reformed and covenant theology. Meredith Kline was far more helpful on this issue. The sin of the Canaanites may have been the reason that they were vomitted from the land…but if it had been on any other land then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

            It would be helpful to see some interaction between what’s going on here and the works of the Reformed biblical theologians. Piper is popular and an easy target. He is too often mistaken as being representative of Reformed theology.

          • peteenns

            Thanks, Jonathan. Personally, I don’t find Kline very helpful on this issue, but I agree about your assessment of Piper.

          • Ryan Copeland

            Dr. Enns,
            you said “the perennial issue here is whether killing one’s enemies (Canaanites weren’t the only ones) through national conflicts is the way of Jesus, who said “love your enemies” “go into all the nations and make disciples” (not take their land) and “my kingdom is not of this world.” What Jesus says is not only relevant, but the point.”

            You are mixing up two covenants here. The ‘old’ covenant where God commanded the Israelites to ‘Love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy’ and the ‘new’ covenant that Jesus came to fulfill. Read Matt. 5 again. Jesus quotes the old law here (vv 38-44) and then turns and says “But I say to you, love your enemies”. He’s changing the law here. In the OT God did command his people to kill their enemies so they would stay pure and faithful to him, yet they didn’t. They were an adulterous whore. It’s interesting that God actually says Israel is the most wicked, vile nation ever, yet this is who he chose to make his covenant with. Israel made the Cannanites look like mother Theresa, yet God still holds to his promise of redemption for ALL of Israel, But NOT before the ‘fullness of the gentiles comes in’. Also not before Sodom and Syria are restored to glory. I am getting off topic here, but not that far off. God is doing a redemptive work here, He is restoring ALL things, so if, when, and how he chooses to take our breath doesn’t matter in the long run, Our lives are but a vapor. God will restore all things. That is the beauty and truth of Scripture.

          • peteenns

            Ryan, I don’t think I’m “mixing up two covenants.” I am addressing how those two covenants relate to each other, how Jesus can render null and void what God said to do in the OT. Also, killing Canaanites to keep Israel pure does not solve the dilemma–it IS the dilemma.

          • Eric

            I’m still undecided on this entire issue, but I do feel compelled to comment on the following statement: “The ‘old’ covenant where God commanded the Israelites to ‘Love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy’.”

            That is not what the Old Covenant stated explicitly. In fact, even though you can draw the conclusion that it was implied in places of the OT, there are many places where love of adversary is overtly expressed and even preferred (e.g. the Jonah story, Ex 23:4-5, Pr 25:21). Also, we must consider God’s declaration in Ezekiel (twice) that He doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked, but that they repent and live. It’s a misrepresentation of the OT to place on God a character that is inconsistent with that revealed by Jesus. Exodus 34:6-7 is perhaps the penultimate revelation of God’s character: He’s loving, merciful, compassionate, slow to anger and forgiving. While He may not leave the guilty unpunished, He offers them forgiveness of rebellion, sin and wickedness. This is what Jesus came and revealed to humanity.

        • Leanne

          Didn’t even Abraham once try to kill his own child (Isaac) too?

          • Ryan

            I’m not sure that “evoke” and “represent reality” need to be separated in all cases, but surely what Jesus evokes here is the same judgment of God that the conquest of Canaan evokes, a reality that each person will face? In other words, Jesus isn’t, in a simple way, against dealing death to God’s enemies, but confirms that God will indeed destroy his enemies, human and supernatural. Paul even roots our personal ethic of non-retaliation and abandonment of revenge in the assurance that God will judge those who do evil to us. But, perhaps I’m misunderstanding your objection- is it the employment of human agents in judgment that you’re objecting to?

            As for Piper, given my reading of his work, he would never simply counsel someone to prepare for an arbitrary loss of life, attributing it to God. He counsels people to trust in God as a loving heavenly Father, if indeed they trust in Christ, knowing that He is able to order all things for their ultimate good. Perhaps it was not your intention, but it seemed that you portrayed Piper as callous and uncaring towards those he teaches.

          • Bryan

            Paul, I think that you are attempting to construct social distinctions with an us/them category, i.e. Israel vs pagan nations by portraying Israel’s neighbors as savage peoples while Israel is civil. You are missing Pete’s point through this thread and that is that the scriptures contain polyvalent material on a number of theological issues. If the Israelite’s fit so neatly in the ‘civilized’ category then why does Jephtah in Judges 11 offer his daughter as a sacrifice to “Yahweh”? Why does Ezekiel maintain in chapter 20 that God gave Israel laws that were too burdensome- so much so that God laments requiring the firstborn children for sacrifice? Levinson maintains, through archaeology, that a mutltitude of children’s skulls were found in Carthage. Do the Israelites still fit into the nice neat clear cut category that you place them in? This is not so easy.
            In addition, I will add that as far as the impact a literal reading like this might have on our present society is concerning. I live in Indiana and was very much aware of the presence of the Michigan militia who, until they were disbanded and arrested by the FBI, wanted to execute certain government officials that they deemed were threatening. I can still remember reading the article in the paper where one of the wives of the arrested members said, “and this all started with a Bible study at home.” You don’t think these texts can be destructive when read a certain way? I’m sure the Michigan militia loved this material.

      • Don L.

        Yes, everyone sins, and therefore everyone is liable to judgment, and Piper’s point is simply that God is not unfair to do so. I think he’s correct, and I wouldn’t take Piper’s view and make further assumptions beyond that, any more than people take your views and assume that you have to throw out inspiration altogether.

        As for why God would show mercy to Israel and not to the Canaanites, that’s what Paul was answering in Romans 9: Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. All are sinners, but God chose Israel, and not the Canaanites.

        • peteenns

          Don, Piper’s point is that God is in the right to kill Canaanite men, women, and children because he is sovereign, and if he ant to take their land by wiping them out and give it to the Israelites, he can because he is God. He then extrapolates from that that all manner of death, and every death, is God’s doing. I also disagree with you on what Paul is doing in Romans 9. In the context of the book’s rhetoric, Canaanite genocide is not the concern but Gentile inclusion.

          • Don L.

            Again, you represent Piper’s point without bringing in sin and judgment, and I believe this is a serious misrepresentation. Rather than ask, “Would Jesus have spoken like this?” perhaps we should ask, “Does God have the right to judge sinners with death?”

          • peteenns

            I believe I did discuss sin in my last comment to you, Don. Also, look at Deut 20:18 where the reason for the killing is given. It is not “judgment of sin” but if God leaves the Canaanites there they might lead astray the Israelites to false worship. So, to insure that doesn’t happen, they are instructed to kill every living thing, including children.

    • Ryan

      “Everybody sins, not just the Canaanites. Yet, only the Canaanites are slaughtered and lose their homeland. ”

      Isn’t it pretty much intrinsic to the definition of grace that the “chosen” people weren’t chosen on any basis of sinning or not sinning? Slaughter is the natural outworking if God chooses to withhold His grace, is it not? I mean, the classical answer to the revulsion of this thought is that one does not have a sufficiently deep view of God’s holiness.

      And isn’t a world where every human dies naturally pretty much baked into the evolutionary creationism paradigm (with a tentative understanding of potential eternal life, suggested by the Tree of life)?

      • peteenns

        Ryan, we would need to go back and read all those texts to see whether grace to the other nations is the operative concept, or whether bringing grace into the discussion is a theological imposition. Also, according to the marching orders in Deut 20:10-20, grace is not a word I would use to describe the treatment of non-Canaanites.

  • Anne

    Thanks for this thought-provoking blog. This makes me want to avoid all Piper books, though I probably won’t, because I try to find some redeeming quality in most stuff I read. I just can’t see how someone can reconcile a New Testament view of a loving God with the view of God held by Piper.

  • Mickey

    Well isn’t God ultimately responsible for the deaths of the Canaanites (which is obvious in Scripture) as well as the deaths of everyone else (also obvious in Scripture)?

    I get that it’s a complex thing, and that God is mysterious and we don’t know for sure what He was up to in those days. And I get that it’s hard to reconcile ‘Warrior Yahweh’ with ‘Hippie Jesus’. But you can’t really argue with the fact that God is in charge of when we die.

    Piper’s comment comes off as trite, sure. But it’s true, isn’t it?

    • Dean

      It’s pretty easy, I’ll take hippie Jesus any day of the week. Jesus said if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. If you take the Bible “seriously” then that should actually mean something. The problem with Piper and the neo-Reformed is that they love Paul and they love Moses, but they can’t stand most of what Jesus had to say. Does that sound familiar?

  • Ahmed

    Thank you for such an insightful post!

    I started leaning towards the view that the bible is a narrative that shows the evolution of human concept of God. Point #3 is fascinating because it cements this idea in my mind that the Israelites had ancient (to,them) concepts of God that still stuck with them and by the time we get to Jesus (who I believe is the ultimate and highest revelation of God and clearest expression of the will of God) that violent concept takes a dramatic turn.

  • Rod

    I agree with basically everything you said, but is not there evidence that the Israelites were on the defensive from their oppressors, and that the conquering rhethoric is more out of self-defense/revolution?

    • peteenns

      I think both are true—which raises the question why God would take part in a system where HAVING to kill people of other tribe, nations, and religions was necessary.

  • Dianna

    This is potentially wading into a discussion I don’t currently have the chops for, but I have to wonder if this “God takes lives every day” has any effect on Piper’s hardline stance on abortion. After all, if it’s God taking the lives and in charge of all of them, why, then, is Piper so convinced and adamant that abortion is a plague on the human race? It sort of goes without saying, but this sort of hardline elevation of God’s sovereignty over and above human free will complicates the idea of abortion.

  • Dave

    #7: Manifest Destiny. A short read of our history as a nation tells us that we have believed (incorrectly) that God had a plan that included taking whatever European Christians needed to do to native cultures in order to have this city “set on a hill” called the United States. I am as patriotic as the next person, but hang my head in shame at how this kind of thinking has played itself out in our history.

    • peteenns

      Indeed, Dave. Throughout Christian history we see Christians in positions of political power who justify the slaughter of peoples on the basis of the OT. The atrocity hit home to me when I read the account of De Las Casas on the Spanish “settlement” of the “West Indies.” They found calm assurance from the OT that God wants the faithful to kill sinners.

  • Tiffany

    Hi Dr. Enns,

    Thank you for this very interesting post. This issue has troubled me greatly over the years. Can you help me to understand — what’s the alternative, if we don’t view these passages in the light Dr. Piper suggests? How else can they be interpreted? It seems like there are little clues throughout, but no clear picture on how to formulate a different view.

    Thank you,

    • peteenns

      That is a subtle question, Tiffany, and a good one. Maybe you could start with the two books I mention in the post. Also, Kent Sparks’s recent Sacred Word, Broken Word has some thoughts on this and other issues.

      • Mark Erickson

        Yes, it is very subtle and requires much sophisticated theology to stay on the razor’s edge of non-literal but god-inspired belief in the bible. But even you can’t stay on the razor’s edge very long: “the ethical implications of a God who does what every fiber of our being and shared experience says is wrong”. The ethical implication I draw from this is that our being and shared experiences determine morality. Who needs God to be good? Nobody.

  • E.G.

    As usual, Mark Twain often has the most ferocious satirical take on this. I assume that he was responding to the Pipers of his day:

    • peteenns

      Or, as comedian Lewis Black said (edited for content and length), “Having a son seems to have mellowed him [the God of the Old Testament].”

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    • Darren Hallam

      After reading the thread, I do not believe that Enns thinks the Bible has mistakes in it. Rather, I believe he feels that the mistakes are made by those who insist that the storys the Bible contain must be factual (i.e. really happened) I know people who state if the Bible is not 100% factual, then it is totally false. How so?

      Is not a lesson just as valuable regardless of it being factual or not? I for one do not believe that the Bible is a lesson in History nearly as much as a lesson in Spiritual proggression. This would explain why Jesus taught a seemingly different truth than that of Moses. I believe the biggest mistake is trying to reconcile the differences and fabricating a God from the result. God is Love. Love never changes. Love is Light and where there is Light their is Peace. If anything in the Bible does not depict Love, then it is our understanding that must change. The Lesson is in the Message, regardless if it is factual or not.

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  • Blake C

    Dr. Enns,
    I used to be a Piper-phile and unfortunately he influenced a lot of my foundational thinking about God’s sovereignty. Romans 9 quickly comes to mind for me (and possibly Piper) here, “Who are you, oh man?”

    That verse always seems to be a conversation stopper. Surely there’s a better way to think about Rom 9 and Caananite slaughter than to say it’s God’s right. But what is the better way?

    • peteenns

      Blake, it might be to read some other treatments on how to understand Joshua (I linked two books) and also what Romans 9 is after, which can be addressed by reading widely some commentaries. I know that’s not a final answer, so to speak, what what Paul is doing rhetorically with these remnant passages in this section of Romans is worthy of patient study.

    • Michael Kreger

      Rom 9 isn’t a conversation-stopper for me, when I’m confronted with a Calvinist. I simply ask him to look up the antecedent for Rom 9. That stops HIM in his tracks. The antecedent, of course, is Jeremiah 18:1-6. Calvinists don’t mind those first six verses, and that is where they stop, because it matches the Romans text. I ask them to continue through verse 17, in which God declares that He will change His mind regarding the election of a nation based on the behavior of that nation. Yet even after God says this, the fatalists insist that their doom is sealed (v.12). At which point God goes off on them, completely exasperated by their foolishness (v.13-17). In other words, those who claim that we are doomed by God to one fate or the other are fools, ignorant of the nature of God. Since they are generally control freaks, they have made God in their own image, and declared that He is in ABSOLUTE control of everything that happens (Piper believes that if suicide bomber kills me, God did it) rather than in ULTIMATE control of everything that happens (God wins in the end, and unpardoned sinners receive their just condemnation, even if it appears that God is losing right now).

      That generally ends the conversation.

      • peteenns

        Ouch :-)

  • Justin

    These comments by Piper, no doubt, are due to the fact that he is a nominalist-calvinist: whatever “God does” is right/good! God’s power is emphasized first, not his goodness…

    • Michael Kreger

      Exactly. Notice how often the Calvinists use the word “sovereign,” and consider how Calvin acted in his own lifetime. And not only do Calvinists elevate sovereignty beyond all biblical reason, they totally misunderstand God’s sovereignty into the bargain, as I already said above. Twice we are given a window into God’s throne room. Neither time are the angels calling to each other, “Sovereign, sovereign, sovereign! Lord God Almighty. ” No. They are calling to each other about God’s HOLINESS.

      Calvinists have tied themselves a Gordian knot. Since they believe that God is absolute sovereign, and that God’s choices are immutable, they are forced to believe that everything that happens MUST be God’s will, and that we are little more than Pinnochio in Stromboli’s theater. Animated, yes. Sentient, yes (well, MOST of us). But still just puppets on a string all the same. Yet while they believe that every criminal act must have been God’s will or else it could not have happened (see Piper’s suicide bomber), they also believe that God cannot sin. So they have to dream up a way that God can “will” that evil be done on the earth without being sullied by the evil that He willed to happen. It’s all very complicated. How can we break or go against God’s will if NOTHING can happen without God willing it to be so? The simple solution to this complicated mess (Gordian knots always have a simple solution) is that the Calvinists have quite a bit of it all wrong right at the core of their belief system. God does NOT “will” for evil to be done on the earth. And while God makes choices regarding us, we have been granted the ability break God’s will (not without cost), or to submit to that will. Even more amazing, we have been given the ability to prevail upon God to change His mind. What an amazing thought! Yet it fits with what we know of God’s personality: that He created us for the purpose of having a REAL relationship with us; to walk in the garden with us as friends. Think Geppetto, not Stromboli. God, above all, is the ultimate GOOD more than He is the ultimate SOVEREIGN, even while He IS ultimately sovereign (as in, “I read the back of the book and we win”).

  • Kitty

    A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. A man who was a follower of Piper told me “God gave you bone cancer.” I had just had surgery and was beginning a chemo/radiation regimen. It was supposed to be an encouragement that God is sovereign but in reality that comment and this man’s explanation led to the greatest crisis of my faith.

    I’m not a theologian but it was months later when I was screaming at God as to WHY??? A lady who also had the same type of cancer I have reminded me of Luke 11:11-13 ““Which of you fathers, if your son asks forf a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God didn’t sit up in heaven and decide to hurl the lightening bolt of bone cancer my way. Like some capricious bully. I have a sick body and that’s all. Jesus is closer today than at any other time. I will never step foot in another “Piperesque” church because often God is portrayed as more of a Greek god, than Jesus of the NT, imo.

    • peteenns

      Thank you, Kitty. This is more eloquent and meaningful than my post.

    • Bryan

      Kitty, I loved your reply. Comments like that make my day. Thanks.

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  • Matt Dabbs

    Piper’s conclusion is the necessary conclusion of his Calvinist convictions. There is a youtube clip where Piper endorses the view that God ordained the position of every dust particle in the universe across all of time and space. Since, in his view, God controls every single particle that exists and every single outcome it only makes sense that every single murder, every single death, every single abortion, every single everything is done by God’s hand. Piper is being consistent and is willing to “go all the way” with his beliefs. Not saying I agree with him…it seems to me his beliefs have backed him in a corner so he either has to deny all his other convictions or else take it to this extreme. He can’t find any alternative.

    • peteenns

      I am sure you are right, Matt. I gave a slight nod to this in my post where I suggest that Piper is simply following through with his Calvinist pre-commitments, though, being no stranger to that world, Piper’s take on it is moving in unhelpful directions.

    • Dean

      This is definitely the case, and at least Piper is honest and up front about it which is nice. But the logical conclusion which flows from his position as you have described is something so terrible and confusing that I simply cannot accept it, I’m not sure how anyone can. I read a post on a blog two years ago that had a real impact on me and ultimately brought me where I am today theologically. The blog suggested (critically) that “Calvinist justice” would require Jewish children who were murdered in the holocaust to go directly from the gas chambers to be with Hitler in hell for eternity, all for God’s glory, all for His good pleasure. I think that single idea contributed more to me being an Open Theist today than anything else I’ve read since.

      • Mark Erickson

        Then you should move on to the Problem of Evil and see if you should move on to a Deist.

    • Ryan

      My own belief (as a sort of Calvinist) is that there is an essential paradox between God’s sovereignty and human free will. There is real sovereignty and there is real free will.

      Why doesn’t this cause cognitive dissonance?

      Because I find this paradox right at the heart of (entirely secular) modern science / philosophy, too: we have a belief in a deterministic universe of some sought (because the alternative makes science impossible), yet our most fundamental core experience of daily life is that we have free will and can make (limited ) choices.

      • Ryan

        Oops, a terrible homophone there. Blame cold medication.

  • Matt Dabbs

    I am curious how Piper would harmonize his view with 1 Cor 15 that talks about the victory of God over death and how death is God’s enemy. What does the Victory of God even mean if Piper is right? I can’t see how Paul and Piper can both be right on this one.

    • Josh

      There are two deaths spiritual and physical?

  • Keith Dager

    I certainly agree with Peter Enn’s critique. There are too many holier than thous who appropriate a certain passage of the Bible, usually Old Testament, to broadly apply as THE canon of Christian faith. These “angry birds, basically, use Scripture as a tool box and lumber yard. They look looking for just the tools and wood to build a fence around their own prejudices and fears so their beliefs won’t be “invaded” by wiser thinking.

    That above being said, I would point to the flood/Noah story as another difficulty I have with the OT Scripture. Was Noah the ONLY righteous man on earth then? REALLY??? Were his wife and his kids equally righteous, or just lucky to be part of the family? Assuming some other people had some degree of good hearts and characters, then why were innocents drowned? Also just curious… how’d the human race end up still having fingers and functioning brain (given the need for incest among Noah’s family to repopulate earth)? Okay. We get that God had reason then to be very frustrated with his creation of Man. My problem with the Noah tale and much of OT scripture is that treated Mankind as a race, not as individuals, and not even all Mankind, just Israelites. It’s like a dog breeder trying to create a hybrid breed, like a “Goldendoodle”. Sounds like a good idea on paper, but if the new breed turns out to have a crazed personality or looks hideous, then breeders just slaughter the prodigy all the breed, but wait… this one litter (Noah) looks worth keeping to try to bring out the potential traits of this breed that we breeders think is desirable. Was that God then? Has God Himself changed, or just our ability to perceive and accept his message?

    • Mark Erickson

      Absent further public revelation, there is no way to tell the difference between the two cases in your last question.

  • jared

    Good thoughts. These are difficult issues and you articulate the problems well. One thing I would caution, archeological debates are indecisive. The minimalists rule the day because the deconstructionist view gets the public airtime, but there are dynamic arguments both for and against historicity — to some degree — on these things. I’m not a strict literalist and am fascinated from a theological perspective by the view of Joshua presented in the article, but I do think we should caution being swept up in whatever worldview is popular. But overall, a good critique. If nothing else, the call to be more pastoral is solid word.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Jared. As I mention in the post, archaeological matters are up for debate, but regarding the conquest, there is little serious debate that the biblical account in Joshua is a problem. Of course, in general, your point is correct and well taken.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this post Dr. Enns. I am currently working through how I can make peace with the violence in the OT as a Christ-follower who is a pacifist, committed to non-violence, but one who also considers myself a calvinist. I found your thoughts rather helpful. I assume it seems impossible to some, that calvanism and non-violence aren’t at odds, but this is where I am at as I’m not convinced these two things are necessarily at odds with one another. Alas, I am a young student continuing to learn and ask questions so perhaps I am wrong on one or the other or both, but all this to stay I very much appreciate the very plausible option of looking at the literature and language of these OT passages in the way you’ve laid out.

  • soku

    Dr. Enns, have you read Thom Stark’s work on this subject? I find it to be great.

    He’s written a lot about this over at his website and on various other website but he gives a nice rebuttal of the various responses used to defend the Canaanite genocide in chapter 6 in “The Human Faces of God.”

    He also gives a (to me) decisive refutation of Paul Copan’s defenses of the genocides (in his book “Is God a Moral Monster?) in his free ebook “Is God a Moral Compromiser?”

    He has also written an extensive critical review of “The Joshua Delusion”:

    Some other interesting work on this subject in by the theologian Randal Rauser in his article “Let Nothing That Breathes Remain Alive” ( and the philosopher Wes Morriston in “Did God Command Genocide?: A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist”( and “Ethical Criticism of the Bible: The Case of Divinely Mandated Genocide” (it used to be floating around free online but I can’t find it anymore).

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  • Graham

    I don’t agree with every point of this article, but I do agree on one point: I think it’s showing Piper’s Calvinism, and I believe here it’s gotten too strong, as well as Piper’s views on the sovereignty of God being too strong too.

  • Norman


    Lately you appear to be way out ahead of the crowd and doing so from a leadership position. I admire this post here and especially your willingness to raise the idea and possibilities of alternative ways of understanding difficult scripture. These stories that should make us cringe ought to stimulate us to deeper investigations but typically as inerrant abiding Christians we swallow them literally hook line and stinker.

    I think with this post you have possibly shaken people loose just a little more from a propensity toward reading the scriptures without thinking deeply and critically enough about them. Our good instincts should have raised red flags concerning these issues long ago but it just goes to show that when the emperor has no clothes; we are expected to play along pretending not to notice. I see this post as an excellent example of how to break these barriers down.

    I’m sure God sovereignly willed for Piper to insert foot in mouth in order to demonstrate the futility of Calvinistic thinking. I tend to agree with a previous poster above who points out that these types are constructing God in their own image which happens to be “authoritarian”. I don’t think you were too far off on the Christian “Taliban” analogy as history does bear it out.

  • Jacques

    Here is what scriptures say:

    God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

    This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

    • peteenns

      Perhaps, perhaps not. Do a search on the word “all” (preferably in Heb/Grk) and you will see that “all” doesn’t always mean “every single thing” but many or a lot, or just used for rhetorical effect to emphasize a point. I don’t say that to dismiss your point, or certainly not to dismiss the Bible, but to understand it.

      • John Shakespeare

        Actually, this is a point usually made by Calvinists when they want to avoid the Bible’s statements regarding God loving all, Jesus dying for all, etc. I said it myself many times when I was a Calvinist.

        • Mark Erickson

          And isn’t that the rub? This point can be used for and against both sides. Not a very good point then, I’d say.

    • Michael Kreger

      It is one thing to say that God works all things according to His will. It is quite another to say that God ordains all things to happen exactly as they happen; that everything that happens is the will of God. The first statement says that God takes all things into account and works with them as He wishes to do. It does NOT mean that everything that happens is God’s will. The first statement simply is another way of saying “all things work together for good to those who love God, and who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t mean that evil things are God’s will. It means that God can take evil things and make them work for good. It was not God’s will for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, but God took the evil that they did and turned it around for good. The second statement makes God to be the author of evil; a moral monstrosity who is the author of sin and also the one who sits in condemnation of those who only do what He decreed that they do; and it is completely incompatible with biblical Christianity. Which might be why Calvinists so frequently seem to be starting fights where there used to be peace; why they leave destruction in their wake (physically as well as spiritually, as I have seen in my visits around England, France, Switzerland, and Germany).

      I once read a Calvinist (a pastor on MacArthur’s staff) who was decrying the fact that every movement of Calvinism seems to end up in the cesspool of ultracalvinism (though I am hard-pressed to see the difference between the two; the second is the logical end state of the first). Well, I say, if you keep following the same road and ending up at the same place, and you don’t LIKE that place, maybe you should stop following the same road!

      • Mark Erickson

        “It means that God can take evil things and make them work for good.” Okay, I’ll grant you that. But what about the times when God could make evil things good, but doesn’t? Doesn’t that mean that God is the author of unusable evil, at least by omission?

  • Steve Douglas

    I want to be Pete Enns when I grow up.

  • Andrew Vogel

    Thanks for leading the discussion Dr. Enns. There’s no space for a full reaction to your post, but I wonder what you do with Genesis 15:16. By limiting yourself to a single story perspective (the one you described above where it’s incompatible with a loving God) I wonder if you are betraying the narrative you typically argue so strongly for.

    What I mean is that what is presented in Joshua is a narrative of the story for a specific purpose. Piper might look to Genesis 15:16 as a reason that satisfies our theodicy questions, which the Joshua narrative never even mentions because it has a different purpose.

    • peteenns

      How do you see Gen 15:16 justifying Deut 20:10-20?

      • Andrew Vogel

        Honestly, I don’t know. But Genesis 15:16 does give a reason whereas Deut 20:10-20 just says what to do. That should be worth something considering how sensitive narratives are to perspective.

        • peteenns

          It’s just that the offense in Gen is not explained, and all nations sin. Also, the question reamins whether whatever the sin of the people was, infants can really be held accountable. Which brings us back to Deut 20:18 and the reason given for the Canaanite extermination: they might influence the Israelites toward worshipping false gods.

  • Dan Bruce

    One’s position on this topic comes down to one’s belief about God. If one’s belief is that God is good, and that He is just in his judgements, then any command He gives to kill even women and children is Godly. As humans, we are commanded not to murder one another, but when God commanded the Israelites to execute His justice by killing everyone including women and children (and He did so as an all-knowing being with a complete knowledge that is superior to man’s knowledge), it is not for us to question, but to accept. This is one of those situations that reminds us that God’s ways are not man’s ways. However, in wartime we humans (and Christians) actually do something similar when we send men and women into combat to to defend our families and freedoms, knowing that enemy women and children non-combatants will be killed in the process. It is important to remember that God was just as grieved to have to command that people be killed as we are when we send our armed forces to do the same and they do it. As a combat veteran, I can assure you that killing in wartime is not done gleefully, even if it is done legally.

    • peteenns

      Dan, I think you are getting off on the wrong foot in your opening assumption. A key factor to bring into this discussion is the nature of biblical literature and what we can and should expect from it and conversely what we cannot.

      • Dan Bruce

        It still comes back to belief. If you believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God, then you have to take what God says about himself as it is written and in its entirety. The alternative is to explain away anything you don’t like and become your own god.

        • peteenns

          Yes, take it in its entirety, but understand it in context, intelligently, with the full faculties of our reasoning powers. Literalism is not the default proper Christian hermeneutic, a point the history of church until fairly recently has amply demonstrated.

          • Dan Bruce

            In context, so long as the context selected does not nullify the words of God by substituting a manmade interpretation that changes the meaning. If the end result is that you have to throw away part of the Bible, then more understanding is needed.

          • peteenns

            Manmade interpretation? Is there any way of avoiding it?

          • Dan Bruce

            You asked, “Manmade interpretation? Is there any way of avoiding it?”

            Actually, there is, and also a way to minimize it at the least. Just realize that the Bible interprets the Bible. If you keep it in the biblical context, you will usually be okay. The problem comes when an extra-biblical context (such as the customs and assumptions of today’s world) are projected back onto the original biblical context.

          • peteenns

            This runs into some deep difficulties when you apply this approach to how the NT uses the OT, and also when you compare Chronciles to Kings.

  • Ryan Burgett

    I can’t see God’s perfect will ever being to slaughter. Mankind has chosen since the days of Adam and Eve to live under the laws of nature. This is what God allowed the children of Israel to experience in the OT. But rather than it being an expression of his will, I see it as a concession on his part. The law of nature is an eye for an eye, you hurt me I hurt you, you blow up my home I blow up yours. It was most clearly expressed in Genesis 9, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Looking at the world in terms of this fallen, natural law, the Israelites were only giving the grotesquely violent people of Canaan what they deserved. God merely gave them permission to carry out what in this world we call “justice.” But Jesus, who is the complete revelation of God, presented to the world a better way. His kingdom is an upside-down kingdom where mercy reigns because all wrath and judgment was paid for on the cross. While the world apart from Christ will continue to live under the old natural laws (Romans 13), we who follow Christ live differently. John Piper does not seem to understand the basic concept of progressive revelation, and obviously does not believe Jesus’ words in John 14.

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  • Ross B

    Peter, your thoughts and insights have become extremely valuable to me. Thank you. I wonder what your reaction would be to Greg Boyd’s latest message related to violence in the OT:
    Also, for those who have mentioned Romans 9, I found his discussion of that section in one of his books, Is God to Blame, very helpful.

    • peteenns

      Ross, I will try to listen soon. I know Greg and consider him a friend and am familiar with his position on this.

  • Jacques

    One thing seems certain, you aren’t sure yourself. That doesnt mean the scriptures aren’t consistant, if one hasn’t come to see the sureness of it.

    Why exercise any measure of doubt? Is it really that unreasonable that all things are working together according to his wise council? Do you mean that God is subject to evil? ..subject to men?

    Not at all, as ALL things work together in the end to bring him glory.. ON PURPOSE!

    God is in full, not in part.

    • John Inglis

      God being in full, not in part, is not the issue. Taking God in full does not inexorably lead to Piper’s view. Indeed, I would contend that Piper is the one taking God only in part.

  • James

    I dream of the day evangelicals recognize the need of a multilevel approach to biblical interpretation. Yes, God is absolute sovereign because he is Creator and Redeemer. On another level he gave humans freedom of moral choice and even may have made creation free enough to create itself to some extent. Science helps us understand the mechanics of that. Archaology and critical studies help us understand the times to which the OT refers. Plato helped early Christians form a sacramental view of the relation between earth and heaven and Augustine showed us the allegorical method may have a place after all. Aquinas helped us appreciate the contribution of Aristotle in cultivating virtue and Luther and Calvin brought us back to the basics of the gospel. God may even use Piper to help us regain a sense of the transcendence and glory of God. Frankly, I’m disappointed so many evangelicals are still tied to literalism as though the words themselves are their own interpretation. Are we afraid the swift, sharp, powerful Word of God will return void if we handle it in any way?

    • peteenns

      My short answer, which I’ve given elsewhere, is that there is a lot fo fear surrounding “getting the Bible right,” and that is primarily a sociological and even psychological issue (which is not to demean the issue). This is where Chris Smith is very helpful.

  • Marshall

    If a terrorist blows up my house I’m not going to blame it on God.

  • Jon hughes

    One of the problems here is that we are 21st Century ‘Westerners’, who didn’t fight in the two world wars, don’t by and large know poverty and deprivation; and most of us visiting this blog are cerebral types, operating from the comfort of our armchairs.

    So it doesn’t surprise me that we take issue with what Piper says.

    Our brethren elsewhere in the world, and at other times in history, would not have the same difficulty in accepting Piper’s perspective. If real persecution hit, we would through necessity transfer from armchair enthusiasts to New Testament Christians (a process that would include the prospect of martyrdom for our faith).

    We’re too sanitised to get a proper perspective on this. Perhaps the above is what we *really* need in the West, in order to get a proper perspective. By the way, I’m writing this from my armchair too…

    • Aaron Blumer

      Yes, Jon. … not to mention profoundly ignorant of history. Piper’s view on this is an ancient, ancient view. Enn’s attitude is one that could only exist post-Enlightenment and well into Modernism.

      • peteenns

        Aaron, I think you need to read some history yourself, beginning with the church fathers and how they handled Canaanite genocide, which is the opposite of Piper’s view. Ironically, the Fundamentalist view is beholden to the Enlightenment, even if it is in reaction to it.

  • Andy

    The idea that God is the puppet master of all human disasters and crimes for his glory is bizarre to me. The idea of God ultimately orchestrating the desolation and poverty of billions of people.
    I seem to recollect that Jesus told us to pray God’s willl be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    Onto the Genocide in the OT questions….
    I am interested Pete, do you believe that the idea of God viewing humanity through the ‘lens’ of the law, rather than a lens of grace (through Christ) plays a role in this discussion…or do you believe that God’s ideal desire has been to deal with humanity the way that Jesus’ life reveals?

    Do you believe that Ancient Israel’s understanding of its unique role in relationship with Yahweh, was not God’s ideal?

    How do you understand New Testament depictions of God’s wrath, e.g. Ananias and Sapphira, hell…

    If understanding the genocide passages of the OT involves a messy mix of metaphor, history, myth, cultural accommodation etc (as I believe), how do you personally make sense of atonement theology…given that so much of it has its origins in the exodus and violent ancient sacrificial practices?

    • Marshall

      There’s Annanaias getting yelled at by The Rock Himself who isn’t showing an ounce of sympathy for an old man who after all did sell his property and make I suppose a significant donation, because he kept back something perhaps because his beloved wife was fearful at this extravagant commitment. And of course there’s Peter’s pastoral comments to Sapphira, an old woman from whom has been taken even the little that she has. Are we surprised by two massive strokes?

      If you read Joshua without Deuteronomy, you see that Joshua added to God’s directions for Jericho. After that and the following an act of misappropriation God does get wrathful, but perhaps he’s saying: if that’s the way you roll, then roll with it and see where it gets you … endless war with all the neighbors. As when Israel asks for a king to straighten things out God says, bad idea but if you insist. Recall that actually the Book of Joshua may be the earlier text, isn’t it?

      Seems to me this isn’t God’s Wrath but the kind of disobedience that got us kicked out of the Garden in the first place.

  • Rick Hensley

    Calling Piper “hyper-literalistic” betrays the very problem behind this article. What a dangerous course to take, to describe Joshua as something less than historical. If it is hyper-literalistic to believe the events of Joshua occurred as presented in narrative form, then join me to the “hyper-literalistic” crowd. I am much more comfortable starting there, than finding some nuanced, symbolic meaning to a text, in order to render it more palatable to the senses. Disturbing.

    • peteenns

      Rick, you are free to remain where you are comfortable.

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  • renmandfx

    So, if God preordained every event down to the location of ever molecule throughout time….

    That means He preordained the fall into sin just so he could murder his own son at our hands?

    Why not just preordain that we all remain holy and pure?

    • renmandfx

      oooo…one more thought:

      why not just keep us perpetually perfect puppets????

  • Nate Johnson

    Ok, well, I’m somewhat taken back by the “hyper-literalist” label put on Piper. I don’t think labeling gets us anywhere, especially when terms are not defined. Piper is no rigid fundamentalist; unfortunately, one wouldn’t know that by reading many of these posts. He takes a grammatical/historical approach, and I’m quite sure he would not frown on an academic discussion concerning comparative literature. I’m surprised by the attempts to isolate Piper as a ‘certain kind’ of Calvinist; after all, Calvin’s defense of election seems rooted in a similar vein, e.g. “…he has a right to distribute this treasure to whom he pleases” (III, XXII,10). Divine rights nomenclature is common parlance for a Calvinist. All Piper is saying is that the Creator has rights of existence over the creature. Calvin himself hones in on the ‘rights verbiage’ of the creator (III, XXII, 8, 11). Furthermore I was dissappointed in Dr. Enns’ hermenuetical high road of taking ANE culture into consideration suggesting that Piper would be too much of a “hyper-literalist” to bother. I very much doubt it; rather, I think Piper would question Dr. Enns’ interpretive jumps from the study of the surrounding cultures and its application to Joshua – which is an entirely different thing than dismissing the data. Lastly, I think many are unfairly pigeon holing Piper as though this all he has to say. Rich in the Reformed tradition is the multi-level perspectives – which do no damage to secondary causes. Piper is being criticized as though what he laid down was exhaustive; it wasn’t; it was a basic ‘rights claim’ of Creator over creature. Throw in Murry, Stonehouse and others on the two-fold division of God’s will, e.g., The Free Offer of the Gospel, and excursus after excursus could be written on the love of God.

  • Jeremy Spainhour

    The problem with both Enns’ response is that neither can be supported by a text-centered approach. We have the text, and the history which the text puts forth is ultimately irretrievable. There is no higher criterion for Scripture–whether ethical (contra Enns’ points 7 and 8), historical (contra points 3, 4, and even 5, since the point with 5 is simply to show that the narratival purpose of the story renders its historicity at least unnecessary), utilitarian (contra points 6 and (again) 8)–than Scripture itself.

    Enns’ argument seems to collapse on itself in at least two ways. First of all, with regard to point 2, Enns points us to the theological diversity of the text regarding God’s judgment on the nations. But neither Piper nor Scripture itself suggest that God always chooses to kill man, women and child in the case of judgment. What is presupposed is that God is free, fundamentally free, to kill or to spare life. As such, one would expect theological diversity. But Enns seems to want to look at the theological diversity and choose which act of God to use to absolutize his character, and so relegate God to an ethic (this is a trend in popular theology today), thereby depersonalizing him, stripping him of he self-determining personhood. But in the text we are presented with a God who acts both in terrible judgment and amazing grace. Both must be preserved. Theological diversity must stay theologically diverse. That God is free to kill and spare life, free to act in judgment and mercy, is what makes the final word of God in Christ Jesus so utterly awesome and humbling. Indeed, it is this theological diversity that makes his love so provocative.

    Secondly, with regard to point 5, Enns points out that the biblical stories were not written to depict “what God did” and that they were “symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth.” I see at least two problems with this argument. First of all, the “theological truth” Enns describes about “what it means to be an insider or an outsider to their community” is not a theological truth at all (what is theology without a theos?); it is, at best, a sociological ‘truth’. And besides, if this is about what it means to be an insider or outsider to their community, what does it teach us about outsiders with reference to God, with reference to theology? That they are expendable? That they deserve to die? How does this escape the original problem? Second of all, even if the narratives are entirely symbolic, it does not mean we are supposed to understand these so-called “theological truths” in a realm of abstraction. God’s self-revelation through these stories is meant to describe his relatedness to the world and the people of it. And in his relatedness to it—whether in story or in history—he killed man, woman, and child in the Canaanite conquest. Looking at the story literarily, how could one attempt to argue that such an atrocious act was a necessary means of getting to a much more banal point? Genocide will stick out to readers of every era. It cannot be simply overlooked. What we have in the story is a God before whom we are apparently guilty before proven innocent, before whom we stand as men, women, and children with a death sentence, before whom we have no entitlement to life.

    This ultimately brings me to Enn’s first point, which I think was almost right. Jesus’ teaching does not relativize the Canaanite conquest such that we can no longer learn anything about the character of God by reading and believing the story. What we learn about the character of God is that “Now, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). There “was” condemnation before because then there was no one was “in Christ Jesus.” The wrath of God that was poured out on people throughout the Old Testament (btw, almost always with reference to his covenant, whether those at odds with the covenant people or the covenant people at odds with the covenant itself) was all funneled onto the Jewish peasant king on a Roman stake. The wrath of God has now been satisfied and has nowhere to go (until Christ returns), which is why Enns’ point 10 sorely misses the theological and pastoral treasure that is freedom and forgiveness and fearlessness in Christ. What we don’t have in the Bible is a sort of equation by which we can conclude one nice, neat statement about God’s character. We have instead the acts of God. It is through God’s acts that he speaks to us about our sinfulness and his righteousness, about his world and our corruption of it, which is crystal clear by the time Jesus arrives in the 1st century. This makes his final word to us in Christ all the more surprising. The reason we can still worship a God who would put man, woman, and child on the other end of an Israelite sword is that this same God places himself on the other end of a pagan sword, indeed, on the other end of every man’s sword.

    • peteenns

      So, bottom line, you have no problem with God wiping out children, along with women and men, so Israel can occupy their land?

  • Mark Erickson

    Now for my own reply. #5 is a hoot – not a conquest narrative, but a narrative setting of conquest, eh? The default assumption should be that the ancient Jews wrote the Hebrew bible to state what G-d did. That is the plain meaning of the texts and there are myriad similar examples from other ancient cultures. Anyone claiming the text is symbolic or allegorical needs to offer quite a bit of proof, which given the when and how of the writting down (and editing) of the OT, seems to be impossible to me. Robert Price has a great podcast that addresses the forced allegory issue using parables as an example. Imputing symbolism and allegory is almost always an after-the-fact just-so story. Check it out:

  • Chris

    This its a total misunderstanding of Piper’s position which I can correct in one sentence. Piper said that GOD is within his rights to take life whenever he wants, not people who think they speak for God.

    Now to elaborate: Piper was responding to God’s right to order those slaughters not the rights of the people involved. There is a dramatic difference between those two things which is made obvious by Piper’s word choice. Anyone responding to Piper in the manner of this author cannot be trusted because they are either purposely dishonest in order to push an agenda or incompetent. considering that this author declares Piper to be once step away from an abortion-doctor murderer, I choose under former.

    • peteenns

      Read the quoted line that appears in my title. Piper doesn’t say God has the right but that he is right.

  • David

    “More practically speaking–and without intending to implicate Piper–history bears witness that those who envision God the way Piper does are only one small step away from forming their own Christian Taliban to be God’s agents of wrath in this life.
    Some kill abortion doctors and gays, but more commonly the end result of such thinking is a brand of Christianity that is agitated, judgmental, suspicious, and ready to draw blood whenever a perceived offense to God is committed. A faith in God that is governed by such a posture toward others is something Jesus clearly taught against.”

    If killing abortion doctors and gays is what people who think like Piper do, why is Piper so mild-mannered and respectful? I believe as Piper does, and I am abhorred at the rare acts of violence perpetrated by professing Christians. See, God does not owe us anything and He can take our life whenever He sees fit. But He instead made an unnecessary, deeply painful sacrifice on our behalf, and now we owe Him everything. He demands that we love Him, love others, and go make disciples of all nations, in that order.

    How one can be a Christian without understanding that last part is beyond me, but it seems that those who would claim to kill in God’s name are distorting the Bible to make it fit their own selfish sense of morality. They are ignoring a defining piece of Christianity: Love God and others. The author of this blog post is also guilty of distorting the Bible in an attempt to make it fit his own sense of morality. It’s what people who murder abortion doctors and gay people do. Granted, this author is not committing acts of violence, but he is distorting the Bible. And the Bible has some rather powerful words about people who distort the Bible to mislead people.

    • peteenns

      David, as I said, I am not implicating Piper, or even people who happen to benefit from his ministry. But, as I am sure you know, the history of the church is littered with examples of the very thing I am speaking of here.

  • Ronald Taska

    Everyone is not entitled to his/her opinion when that opinion is not supported by evidence and reason. Your ten-point reply is quite helpful regarding this difficult question. Thanks and keep up the good work. Unfortunately, most of these discussions are not resolved by quoting evidence and reason. These issues usually are resolved by psychological issues or needs such as the wish to have the certainty of an inerrant Bible or the wish to have life after death or ….

    • peteenns

      I would have to agree with you, Ronald.

  • Matt Parkins

    While I think you’re absolutely on the right track with most of this, I’m drawn to point #8 which seems to be missing the obvious. I’ve written about it here:

    • peteenns

      Matt, I read your piece. Nice job. Do I understand you right that you feel Canaanite genocide breaks the commandments do not kill and steal? That is true only if the 10 Commandments is mean to be implemented outside of Israel. My opinion is that they, like the others commands in Exodus and Deut., are Israel centered.

      • HASM

        The Ten Commandments were given to the humanity, God has a higher understanding than us and has greater reasons, who knows, maybe if not for the killing then something bad would be happening now? maybe you would be a slave digging for metal? God can do anything he wants when he wants just like you could do anything you wanted to if you were the administrator of a game, He can also choose to place you in a infinite dark place forever and you cannot escape or do suicide, just being there. Terrible thought but do not be scared God is full of love and justice and his every action is right.

  • Ricky

    Seems like a simple case of the Problem of Evil. While the Problem of Evil is not simple, the worldviews of evil are simple. I feel that evil is there because of free will, for spiritual growth, or to prevent a greater evil. The evil in the Old Testament was to prevent the rise of an immoral people. I say that if God decides everything then that would take away free will. Without free will, God is dictator and not a benevolent God. There’s a difference in God knowing what’s going happen and God willing everything to happen.

    • peteenns

      But Ricky, the problem is that the reason for Canaanite genocide that the BIble itself gives is not to prevent the rise of an immoral people. If you;re interested, that is one of the topics in my latest post.

  • Nick Mitchell

    Hi Peter,

    I enjoyed reading your post. It was extremely helpful finding this blog. One thought I’ve been having for a while when trying to relate Yahweh and Jesus, if you will, is the thought that perhaps the more fierce warrior-like Yahweh depicted in the O.T. is who the warring tribe of Israel needed God to be so that is who they wrote him as, though this doesn’t mean it is definitively God’s character. I’ve been asking fellow Christians (and having the idea shot down) and searching the web for this idea but hadn’t seen anything really in the ball park until reading this. I appreciate your perspective and would love to hear any short elaboration you can give in response. I also dig the quote you shared in a comment response from your former professor that God let his children tell the story.


  • Joseph

    “Piper would need to address the ethical implications of a God who does what every fiber of our being and shared experience says is wrong–shedding innocent blood to take their land and resources.”

    For reasons you suggest above, I’m not even sure Piper is scoring temporary points against Dawkins et al. The more people like Piper describe the Christian God in terms that reasonable people find monstrous, the more the New Atheists can argue that God is a monster and no reasonable person should worship Him. Piper may be mobilizing his base, but he’s also playing right into Dawkins’ hands.

    • peteenns

      Good point. He may be more scoring points with inerrantists.

      • Don Johnson

        He is willing to state the logical consequences of his convictions. For this he is to be commended as not being wishy-washy, but the logical consequences of his convictions lead me to think that his convictions might not be ones I wish to hold.

  • CoolHandlNC

    If God is just because whatever God does or wills is just, then the concept of justice has no meaning whatsoever. And a God who creates to torture and destroy just because he can is in no way worthy of worship or even regard. The fact that we are even able to perceive and cry against the injustice of the slaughter of the innocent implies that either Piper’s characterization of God is incorrect, or that we are better than God, or that God does not exist. I pick option #1. I understand option #3. Option #2 is a notion both dangerous and depressing.

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  • Shawn

    Although I don’t have time to read this all, I’m not sure if I even have to. I think there’s a broad misunderstanding of why Jesus came, which was to preach repentance, not to die, so that everyone can basically do as they please, without any consequences.

    Jesus did not come to preach forgiveness, unless the perpetrator actually repents. 1 Corinthians 5:5 states that if a person fails to repent, to hand them over to Satan, and Jesus confirmed this when he said to treat them as a Heathen and Publican (tax collector). in Matt 17:18, I think it is.

    You cannot cherry-pick scriptures. Perhaps it tickles your and your audiences ears to do so, but without reading the (exhausting) article in it’s entirety, I will say that I do see his point, and I agree, that God does allow certain tragedies to happen for a reason. Whether it be to punish the wicked, or to direct the path of the righteous, etc…

    To claim that God is wrong, and how dare he, is putting our own finite wisdom above his infinite wisdom, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Your little lungs are too small to box with God.


  • Bill Blankschaen

    As your tagline notes, you are indeed rethinking biblical christianity. For better or worse.
    I think the latter.

  • Jason

    What Piper is advocating is occasionalism – the idea that God is the direct cause of all things that happen. It’s got more in common with Islamic theology than Christian.

  • Allie

    I have to disagree.
    First of all, if God doesn’t have the right to take life, then who does? Obviously not us. He took his own Son’s life to save his people- was that then wrong? If we question his authority, we put the whole Gospel at stake.
    Second of all, in point number 6, you state that people like Piper “are only one small step away from forming their own Christian Taliban to be God’s agents of wrath in this life”, but that is exactly opposite to what Piper was saying! His point was that God has the authority to take life. He never said that humans also have that privilege.
    And lastly, God can, in a HOLY and RIGHTEOUS way take life– firstly because he is the Creator of it; secondly because he owes us nothing, and all we deserve is eternal death anyway! We should not look on it as cruel or unjust to take life, we should view it as all-loving and merciful that he grants it to us in the first place! He is such a good God!

  • george

    God had the Caananites killed off because they were fatalists, like Calvinists.

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  • Doctor Science

    I just posted a reply/follow-up at Obsidian Wings: Redeeming God in Canaan.

  • Frank Viola

    I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post, Peter. On one level, it’s a good supplement to David Lamb’s “God Behaving Badly” and Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?” (I had the pleasure of interviewing both authors recently, pelting them with tougher questions that their books don’t address and they did a great job under the fire). We now have strong Old Testament scholarship that sheds light on God’s oft-misunderstood actions in the OT and a shredding of the modern arguments of the likes of Robert Ingersoll, Bill Maher, Christipher Hitchen, and Richard Dawkins. These works take their gun away from them.


    Psalm 115:1

  • Megan

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and practical response to this issue. I especially appreciate your last point about how a stance like Piper’s practically affects those of us who are “struggling to find ways to make it through life day to day”. I have struggled deeply with my faith for many years, because essentially, I’ve been taught repeatedly that being a Christian means that you must joyfully accept the explanation that “Gods ways are not your ways…and the fact that they include the slaughter of entire populations isn’t your problem”. As someone who works in a field where I see the effects of violence daily, this stance has shaken my view of who God is and has been really destructive. I appreciate very much that there is a thoughtful dialogue going on within the church (although it’s taken me years to find it) that takes these concerns seriously and seeks the truth of Scripture, even if it means asking uncomfortable questions. Thank you- I know that being outspoken about such things is likely to come with many difficulties.

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  • Steve McKinzie

    Of course, Canaanite genocide disturbs me, as does Saul’s annihilation of the Amalekites or God’s devastating destruction of Sodom. I cannot pretend to understand completely how such things can be — that is, how our Lord can be both just and merciful, in all ways and in all circumstances respecting what He commands or orders to occur.

    Nevertheless, I am loath, Dr. Enns, — and I add this with respect for you and your reflections — to explain away such difficulties with arguments that unintentionally undermine the legitimacy and accuracy of Scripture.

    And if I may add, Piper is in the main correct about all of this. He is not really an ultra-literalist, if I understand your meaning aright, although he may take the account more straightforwardly than some. He is simply an old Calvinist. In what he says here about these matters, he has my full and complete support.
    Respectfully yours, Steve McKinzie

  • John Warren

    “’death to our enemies’ is no longer valid’? What about when Jesus returns? There’s going to be a lot of death.

  • John Warren

    “Still, for those interested, we know that the rhetoric of a patron high god fighting for his people and insuring their military successes (and failures if they are unfaithful) is a common ancient manner of envisioning the activity of the divine realm vis-a-vis politics. I suspect Piper may not have much use for such information”
    Piper is educated. You don’t think he knows about ancient Near Eastern religions and their comparisons and contrasts with Hebrew thought as recorded in the Bible? Why belittle the guy, just because you vehemently disagree with his position? I cry, “Foul!” And I’m a Universalist.

  • John Warren

    “conclusion drawn overwhelmingly by archaeologists that the systematic slaughter of the population of Canaan around 1200 BC did not happen”. They should look back further to when the Occupation of Canann happened–1400 BC.

  • John Warren

    You’re not the only one left speechless. “6. More practically speaking–and without intending to implicate Piper–history bears witness that those who envision God the way Piper does are only one small step away from forming their own Christian Taliban to be God’s agents of wrath in this life.” This is rank hypocrisy. What do you think such a statement will do other than to implicate Piper?

  • Richard Bradley

    I think that this issue pertaining to genocide in the OT is wrongly framed around the idea of God’s sovereignty, as it appears Piper is doing based on the comments you provided. It think it would be more correct and accurate to frame this discussion along the following line.
    Scripture teaches us that God has the authority and power to do as He pleases, “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35). However, Scripture also just as clearly teaches that God also is holy and righteous in all His judgments (Psalm 19:9) and all His works are true (Daniel 4:37). He created Man according to His purposes and plans. God has demonstrated His love for mankind through the death of his only begotten Son, AND God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone who dies (Ezekiel 18:32).
    Consequently, just because He has the authority and power to do as He pleases does not automatically follow that He can, or will just willy-nilly kill indiscriminately. To make that claim, as it appears from your quotes of John Piper that he may in fact be saying that God does, would be to accuse God of being capricious, which the last time I read Christian doctrine was considered to be a heresy.

  • Susan Burns

    This thread is probably no longer read but I wanted to comment anyway. Some learned Rabbi (can’t remember which one) said that the leviathan and the bullock engage in battle – each one lifting the other. The leviathan lifts with its fins and the bullock with horns. Each battle raises both higher and higher until they reach heaven. IMHO the leviathan is liberal represented by Jesus (fish) and the bullock is conservative represented by Moses (horns). Each is important in human evolution.

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  • Marc

    If I ever met Piper I would ask him one single question: Why is it not OK for a human father to let the child they brought into the world starve but it’s OK for God do do it (27’000 times every day)?

    • HASM

      Because the human father does not have anything to do with his childs life as he did not give it to him, unlike God.

      • will

        you’ve obviously never been a father! What utter tosh you write HASM.

  • Brian

    Yeah, it’s just an old an outdated cultural thing, Peter. Or, maybe, just maybe, God is holy and just. Not a monster; not your 80 year old grandpa, but devine and just judge.
    “And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” Rev. 14:20

    • peteenns

      Who approves of virgins as spoils of war….

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  • Karen Winslow

    Dear Peter and friends,
    A quick look through the comments did not show reference to Frank Spina’s book, THE FAITH OF THE OUTSIDER (Eerdmans, 2007) and his chapter on Joshua (Rachab and Achan). This is a careful theological understanding of the book of Joshua and is absolutely crucial to the discussion. The Canaanite prostitute is enfolded into the People of God through faith and wits, while the Judahite Achan is expelled (killed) for disobedience. Throughout the OT, we find multiple stories of outsiders “showing up” insiders in regards to faith confessions and preserving life. This provides tension and balance to stories of violence against “idolators” or people who happen to be living in the wrong place, showing the pedogogical and theological (vs historical) nature of the text.

  • jim reiher

    I have not read every single entry above, so apologies if I repeat anything.

    re Origen: he did not cut off his private parts because of the verse “if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away”. No. He cut himself because of the verse “some men are born eunuchs and others are made eunuchs by the hands of men…”

    also: if I am remembering rightly, he was 18 at the time. And he did regret it later.

    And his method of interpretation was not seen as wrong for most of the churches history (allegorical interpretation) rather what was considered wrong was the conclusions he sometimes reached. He was almost an Arian before Arias. Though… if that makes him a heretic or not… well … that is another question! I mean he lived about 200 years before the church worked out the doctrine of the Trinity anyway… he was grappling and he was a great mind… so of course it made lesser minds nervous. He was read widely from his time to about 400 (until Jerome convinced the church to declare him a heretic!) And Jerome had his own problems… not least of all his academic jealously of Origen’s popularity, and his disagreement with some of Origens views.

  • Darren Hallam

    Who says there isn’t a God. I stumbled on to your blog and read this thread with great interest. In short I agree with you 100% I do not believe that any attempt of taking the Old Testatment literal will result in anything that is factual. Bold words, but your thread gives great reasoning for this. A God cannot be Loving, Kind, Compassionate and most of all Just, by destroying and bringing to ruin 100′s of thousands of people. Some thing that Satan can not even hold a candle to.

    So, we are left with a dilemma? We either accept the premise (God killing 100,000′s) and not being 100% total uncondionally love but rather vindictive, cruel and petty. Or we reject the premise and look for anything that can prove that God is LOVE! And nothing but love. The entire Bible can be taken as a series of Parables, each being a timely lesson at he given time and place.

    An excellent book on this same subject, which I recommend highly is by Paul R Smith, titled: Integral Christianity – The Spirits Call to Evolve.

    We must never try to mold God to our own level of understanding, because without much care, Spiritual growth is thwarted.

    • HASM

      Yes God is full of unconditional love for us, but is also full of justice, and no one can ever see the right justice that we deserve except him for he knows everything we have done, but we dont because we forget unlike Him. Not to mention He also can see how much your actions hurt others and do the most correct action possible according on that. Good luck further in life and I think that some stories in the Bible are not to be literally taken as In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Because according to me that simply means (In the beginning = Time) (God created heavens = Space) (and the earth = Matter) get it?

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  • Nick Hill

    Peter, have you read the following books: David Lamb’s “God Behaving Badly” and Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?” What do you think of how they deal with the issue. Thanks.

    • peteenns

      I think Thom Stark’s critiques of Copan are crippling. Lamb, I feel, stops far too short.

      • Matt

        Which straw man do you endorse?

  • OreOluwa

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts; I too am grateful for places in the world where we can respectfully disagree. It seems to me from your points that you’ve lost sight of the distinctiveness of God Almighty from humankind.

    Isaiah 55:9
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    Job 1:21
    And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

    For one to say that as God issued commands to the Israelites in the Old Testament in the execution of His specific judgments, those commands remain for people today is frightfully wrong. However, I do not understand how one can extend the limitations of finite beings to the infinite God who is love (1 John 4:16) – yes indeed – and gives, takes and restores as He pleases.

    Acts 17:28a
    For in him we live and move and have our being.

    God’s Blessings

  • Rivkah

    I just stumbled on this site as I was Google searching a work by John Piper, but I feel the need to comment. I apologize if this has already been mentioned – I don’t have time to read through the entire comment section.

    We must not forget the basis of the Scriptures and the Gospel – the idea that Adam, and through him the human race, rebelled against God and brought upon himself (and all of us) the penalty God had promised for disobedience, namely death. In Genesis 2:17, God is recorded as saying, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Death is the punishment God must deal out to those who have rebelled, because he is a just and good God and cannot allow evil in his presence. The only way any of us can be reconciled with him is through his taking that punishment on himself, rather than dealing it out to us. That is the message of the gospel. But apart from that saving work, all of us deserve to die. That is our right, that is what we have earned. If you have read the book of Romans, you will recognize these verses:

    “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things [sin] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:32

    “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” -Romans 3:23

    “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

    So, according to the Scriptures, God should justly kill us all, right where we stand. We have rebelled, we continue in rebellion, and we have no desire to obey his good and just laws. We have earned the wages of sin, which is death. John Piper is right – God is just to kill human beings. It should not shock us. What should shock us is that he does not kill us all right now. He lets us live. And more than that, HE died so that he would not have to kill all of us. Isn’t that amazing? It is, indeed, almost beyond belief. I deserve to die. We all do.

    I feel like you must have cut out part of what John Piper have said – he surely also mentioned sin and how we deserve its wages. I have heard and read much of his work – I know that is what he believes. So it seems you may be misrepresenting him in that way.

    Anyway, that is all I wished to say. I hope you will at least consider the Scriptures I have brought up.


    • Tony Jiang

      “God should justly kill us all, right where we stand. We have rebelled,
      we continue in rebellion, and we have no desire to obey his good and
      just laws.”
      so we should be killed just for being born

      • W

        This sort of thing is why I don’t really consider myself a Calvinist anymore. …Or attempt to search for a systematic soteriology.

    • Daniel

      “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” -Romans 3:23

      That’s only half of a sentence. Read the next part.

      • NotADr

        Actually, you should read verse 22. The next part you speak about where it says “all are justified…” is talking about those mentioned in v.22 – those that put their faith in Jesus…not just anyone.

  • Kilsally

    Everything must die due to the fall of the first Adam – massacre, tsunami, sickness, old age, accident makes no difference

    • bill long

      Would you kill babies if Gold you to?

      • Rob

        Not a chance. He can throw me hell for disobedience as long as I have the conscience he supposedly gave me intact to remember that I couldn’t stomach killing a helpless and undeveloped, unassuming, basically vegetating baby.

  • HASM

    In this post I will explain: Canaan killing, Satans next plan to deceive us, and why we all have to suffer because Adam sinned: 1st before explaining I want to say that God created every thing, feeling and emotion and everything there is not only physically but mentally, so he has every right to take it and you cannot say any damn thing, also you are right now complaining and thinking its “unfair” but remember, God also created the definition “unfair”. Next to the explanation: God clearly said several times that every being must only have sexual intercourse with the same type. That also counts for humans. So in the days of Noah, the angels went on earth and had sexual intercourse with humans, so the result was nephilim, the human-angelic-demonic giants that are written about in several other ancient books, genetically invalid unclean, beings. So legally they could not enter heaven for they were not in the image of God anymore. There was only one man and his family who were not genetically corrupted and had a healthy DNA. God saw it and saved him while killing all others in order to save the humanity, then after the killing of unclean beings Noah started all over again and we are existing now born not nephilim but genetically clean, in the image of God, so that said, the people in Canaan were also genetically unclean and had to be eliminated, so God used Isrealites in order to do it. Remember that what ever God does whether it be bad or good has an ultimate purpose and positive impact on the future of earth. In the next few years we expect Satan to strike once again because of the Biblical saying “At the end of times, there will be like in the days of Noah”, which means Satan will try to deceive us and trick us into his deception, not many people know this, but you know evolution, spiderman, batman, superman? They are all satanic programmes used to pre-program the humanity to think that human bodies can and will develop into something Higher and Better, so in the end of times demons will come in form of aliens and claim that they are there to save us while they really are there to trick us into changing our genetics by saying we can be superhumans and they will introduce a method of doing it which whoever accepts is doomed for eternity, for Satan knows that whoever is genetically changed is not in the image of God and therefore will go to hell together with Satan, which is after all his goal of his existence, to get everyone with him to the abyss. I want to tell you about sin also, which many atheist complain about “Why does everyone have to be punished if only Adam sinned?” It’s simple, the Y chromosome in the DNA is always the same and always passed on to the next generation from the beginning, the first person with the chromosome was Adam, so when he sinned it got saved, the event got saved into his DNA, and now it has been passed on to the entire humanity and you cannot enter heaven with sin and therefore Jesus came to save us from it, accept Jesus and you will be saved, for Jesus also said about DNA when he said that “he has not sin because is not of this world” not of Adam. Also God says that after salvation He will give us new bodies of light, pure, we will shine as he does, wrapping ourselves in light. You dont know if you will live very long, accept Jesus before it’s too late for you and you will be doomed for eternity, screaming every second of it. Greetings.

    • Dogert58

      sounds like fun

  • endtimes

    apparently words don’t fail you…wink

  • endtimes

    I would have valued your exposition more had you not repeatedly “spoken” for Piper by way of his assumptive positions and responses – “Apparently P sees no problem …”, “P feels this…”, “P would likely retort…”, “I suspect P would not have much use …”, ” I am guessing that P …”. I also bristle at polarizing labels (“hyper literalist”) and inferring P is “pre-committed to this view…”. Maybe he is, maybe not, but for me that kind characterization implies the responder is taking a higher ground …. i.e. not bound by such fixed positions. My points aren’t primarily directed to arguing for one view or another, but rather literary “land mines” that interrupt my processing of what someone is addressing. Just my two cents.

  • Mo86

    God is the author of life. So not only does He have the right to take any life He chooses, but He must also render righteous judgment upon sinful human beings. And especially those as sinful as the Canaanites.

    • Jim

      That works as long as you don’t think about it too hard. The Canaanites had no clue who Yahweh was. God had several options to deal with this:

      1: reveal himself to them as a giant pillar of fire or cloud, as he did to the Israelites, most (if not all) of them would have repented immediately.

      2: come up with some elaborate scheme where he impregnates a virgin to give birth to himself, waits 30 years, gets himself killed, raises himself from the dead, and saves everyone.

      3: just kill them all for now (via a method that seems not at all unlike what every other barbarian tribe does) and come up with a better plan a 1000 years later.

      Yeah, option 3 seems best there.

  • Gabriel Amorim

    I believe you only scratched the surface at points 9 and 10. Piper seems to be talking about the Sovereignty of God. The very concept of the Jewish-Christian God implies a being who is ultimately in control of everything. Every single event is ordained and orchestrated by Him. And He does it in a way that we are still responsible for our acts because when we do wrong, we are willing to do it. Ultimately He uses everything to reveal Himself to us, bringing glory to Himself. If you re-listen to Piper from this perspective (which I believe is biblical) you will find coherence all the way through. And, in fact, it’s nothing new, but pure Christian orthodoxy.

    • Jim

      >Every single event is ordained and orchestrated by Him. And He does it
      in a way that we are still responsible for our acts because when we do
      wrong, we are willing to do it.

      Willing to do it because God orchestrated them to be that way. Humanity is irrelevant in this view…it’s all God. The good, the evil, all of it.

      • Rob

        Does anyone else think this is completely inane and puerile? Someone draws attention to a disconcerting subject that calls into question the ethics of God and the apparent capriousness and double standards he’s depicted as having in our known records (the compendium of scripture/canon) and we get more daffy and dippy and flaky circular logic for responses . I’d like bible adherents to actually investigate the historical origins of their doctrines and the long held tenets before they blindly defend them. A lot of thorough, objective, unbiased (without Christian predisposition), and honest (neutral truth seeking) research will yield that ideologies like these spawn from a long lineage of human tradition, institutionalization, and indoctrinations.

        • Rob

          The problem is that Christians can’t accept the inconsistencies about God, so they have this bad propensity to bend and contort the whole of scripture to rationalize the glaring issues as opposed to acknowledge the obvious. 1. God expresses regret; read the deluge story in Genesis. 2. He’s changed his mind; read about Moses intercession on behalf of Israel. 3. He’s not always fair and he favors @ times. Israel was given multiple chances to “repent” on account of their predecessors such as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and God’s determination to honor his promises tho their ancestors , while other nations weren’t afforded the same leniency and even their innocent parties (such as children and infants) were ordered to be killed off; read Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. Even Paul admits “not all have sinned in the likeness of Adam” yet every subsequent human being suffers the consequences for his encroachment. On the flip side Jesus dies and all people are forgiven on account of him should they accept the terms. I’m not for nor against God. I’ve never had any of the experiences of theophany or theurgy described in the bible so I can neither confirm nor deny the claims of the book. Science can’t disprove miracles because, by nature the miraculous is that which defies and seems to supercede or bypass physical limitations, therefore a true observer and scientist would give quarter to the possibility of aberrations, anomalies, abnormalities, exceptions, and the inexplicable. But I’ve also never witnessed a miracle, and shabby answers like this don’t do much for swaying my convictions. Pauline writings receive entire Lit lectures on rhetorical writing, but then Christians today churn out incogent junk like this.

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