Ask the Alliance: How do we explain the OT wars?

:::Ask the Alliance Question #7:::

question-mark-300x199Question submitted by Jacob: “I just read a post about wars and religion, and I agree that religion is often blamed for wars unjustly or misused by those in power to start conflicts. My question is, as a Christian, how do we explain the many wars in the Old Testament where God decimated many peoples and cities? Clearly, those were wars of religion, and atheists and non-Christians will be quick to point that out.”

Jacob, thank you for your question. Here are some responses from The Christian Apologetics Alliance.

Carson Weitnauer:

I would recommend two resources for Jacob:
Is God A Moral Monster? by Paul Copan and
“Did God Command Canaanite Genocide?” by Matthew Flannagan (a chapter in True Reason).

While googling for a link to Copan’s book, we happened upon a relevant video lecture by Copan.


If you think about it, the question can be boiled down to this: Why does God command evil things? I used to try to look at the verses and, of course, I always find that God did not command anything evil. I have decided that is a waste of time, however, because the problem is more fundamental than that.

We do not believe only that God is good, but that He is necessarily good and that all good things come from Him. We do not believe this because we read the Bible, or looked at the world and found everything fit with our personal feelings. We believe this, ultimately, because it is a fact proven by reason that God exists and is good. For examples of these proofs see Feser’s book on Aquinas (2009). God cannot command evil because He is good.

You want to point out to the atheist that he is attacking the wrong target. He cannot prove that God is evil through the scriptures without refuting these arguments. If the scriptures show an evil God, but reason shows God is necessarily good, it is more reasonable to readjust our interpretation of the scriptures to fit the irrefutable facts of reason than to reject reason itself.

How do we interpret the wars? There are so many different wars I cannot address them all here, but we can know our interpretation of the scriptures is entirely based on reason only when we find that God is good in them. You never have to look at a specific example to know that.

Also, point out to the atheist that he has been approaching the scriptures assuming some moral system is superior to our reason based system. Why would we give up a system of morality proven by reason for a system the atheist has? Typically an atheist has a system based upon feelings – not on facts – so we as Christians are in a superior position.

If you are unaware of these proofs, there is nothing wrong with having faith (i.e. trust) in the experts who have proven God’s existence and goodness. The atheist does, after all, have faith in experts as well. There are also more detailed explanations for specific examples, but this will suffice for all arguments which involve God being evil.

Works Cited

Feser, Edward. Aquinas: a beginner’s guide. Oneworld Pubns Ltd, 2009.

Matt Fig:

In thinking about how to approach this question I feel overwhelmed. There are so many things that could be said here; I bet a book could be written in response!  We could sort-of break this into sub-topics.

1. What do we mean by “explain the wars” here? Do we mean to justify them, as in, to accept that God commanded these wars and then justify this command as good or right? Contrast with God’s promising to spare S&G if only a few righteous were found. Perhaps someone can take this on in terms of God’s righteous judgment of a wholly corrupt people. 

2. What is the occurrence of these wars, if taken at face-value, supposed to show in regards to the central, saving truth of Christianity? If God did command the slaughter of all people in those nations, does that mean Jesus didn’t rise from the grave in triumph over sin and death?

3. Can one rationally condemn anything done for any reason, given atheism? One could point out the underlying unsupportability of moral outrage at religious wars in a cold, uncaring universe and ask if this alternative to understanding human history seems less brutish to our sensibilities. Perhaps the MA could be introduced here. 

4. One could take the tack that these stories are probably ANE hyperbole anyway, and thus not to be understood in the literal sense. One might point out that, as Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Thus the Christian religion itself, as differentiated from those individuals who claim it, cannot be said to rightly be the “cause” of wars.

5. What about the wars and persecutions initiated by atheist regimes, particularly the communist regimes of the last 100 years? What is good for the goose is good for the gander, if we are going to look at it! Examples, explications….

6. If we are going to assess whether a particular religion or worldview has been good for the world, why only look at the negative? Perhaps we should also look at the positive: the founding of many of the worlds oldest universities by the church, the same for hospitals, the red cross, missions to feed the poor, etc. Compare this to atheist-founded hospitals, universities, charities, and so on.

As for references, of course Paul Copan’s book, but also this response by WLC: Slaughter of the Canaanites at

Chris Lee:

I don’t know how well this fits in here, my senior pastor did some notes in 2001 regarding “Holy War” (or Wars of Judgment) and “Just War” (or Wars of Defense).

I think I would go down the same line as Matt Fig:
1. God would spare Sodom and Gemorrah and Rahab and anyone else repentant.

I might also add:
7. God is just and all of our actions warrant far worse consequences (including death). That God is patient and willing to wait, even 400 years, is extremely patient and merciful.

8. Hypothetically if a person had the ability to time-travel and/or look down the corridors of time and see the results, let’s say you could do this and you found out for a certain group of people, every last one was savage and destructive and had absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Moreover, they had the effect of destroying other cultures around them.

If you had the ability to do things to them, what would you do?

We thank you for asking, Jacob! We hope the discussion continues in the comments. :)


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3 thoughts on “Ask the Alliance: How do we explain the OT wars?”

  1. I think that the task of defending a god ordering soldiers to kill babies while telling us to oppose abortion is absurd and hopeless.

    Following a question of a young German atheist, I outlined different ways in which the “terror texts” can be seen.

    I think it is important for Christians to stop putting all their hope in the approach of folks like William Lane Craig or Paul Copan.
    Their willingness to salvage the Chicago statement of inerrancy at all costs leads them to pseudo-scholarship in this area.

    I cannot count the number of people who lost their faith and become resentful atheists due to books such as that of Copan because they were convinced they are the very best Christianity has to offer.

  2. Occam’s Razor: God demanding that the Israelites annihilate other nations directly supports the fledgling nation’s requirement for land and security. The demand is a reflection of this requirement, not due to any particular moral issue with the annihilated cultures.

    1. Most mythological tales reflect the cultural and economic pressures of the environment in which they are created.

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