Did God Really Command Genocide?

By Jon Kauffman

I just finished reading “Did God Really Command Genocide?” by Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan.1.

Copan and Flanagan made interesting and convincing arguments that God did not command genocide when he told the Israelites to conquer the promised land.

They begin by exploring the possibility of God commanding his people to kill innocent men, women, and children. Were the Canaanites innocent? Did Israel drive out the Canaanites or kill them all.

They continue exploring how the book of Joshua would have been viewed by people of that day and demonstrate the hyperbolic nature of the book of Joshua.

Back Cover

Reconciling a Violent Old Testament God with A Loving Jesus

Would a good, kind, and loving deity ever command the wholesale slaughter of nations? We often avoid reading difficult Old Testament passages that make us squeamish and quickly jump to the enemy-loving, forgiving Jesus of the New Testament. And yet, the question remains.

In the tradition of his popular Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan teams up with Matthew Flannagan to tackle some of the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture. Together they help the Christian and nonbeliever alike understand the biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical implications of Old Testament warfare passages.


“Copan and Flannagan address the arguments of the atheists who use divine violence in the Bible to undermine belief and confidence in God. Not only are they adept at biblical interpretation and philosophy as they effectively counter this challenge, but they also write in a deeply compelling way that will appeal to both students and laypeople.”

—Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“In their wide-ranging book, Copan and Flannagan go beyond standard treatments of Old Testament warfare; they incorporate biblical, theological, philosophical, ethical, legal, and historical perspectives on a much-debated but often-misunderstood topic. This volume makes important strides forward in laying out a case for the coherence of divine command theory in connection with these Yahweh-war texts.”

—William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology

“This is a very lucid and helpful discussion of this troubling topic.”

—Gordon Wenham, professor of Old Testament, Trinity College Bristol

“This brave, hard-nosed, and wide-ranging study constitutes a serious attempt at facing all the varied aspects of a question that troubles so many people. Well done!”

—John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

“As a full-scale follow-up to the excellent popular treatment of the topic in Is God a Moral Monster?, this book provides the most thorough and comprehensive treatment of the problem of violence in the Old Testament that I have encountered. The authors tackle the aggressive charges of the new atheists, as well as other equally sceptical but less strident critics of ‘the God of the Old Testament.’ And they do so with a blend of careful biblical exegesis and incisive moral argumentation. The book reaches deep but remains readable, and the summaries at the end of every chapter are a great help in following the case as it is steadily built up. All of us who, in teaching or preaching the Old Testament, are constantly bombarded with ‘But what about the Canaanites?’ will be very grateful for these rich resources for a well-informed, gracious, and biblically faithful reply.”

—Christopher J. H. Wright, International Ministries Director, Langham Partnership; author of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God and The God I Don’t Understand

“Does your god order you to slaughter your enemies? Did God’s command to the Israelites to kill the Canaanites set a pattern for human behaviour? Do Joshua’s wars justify the Crusades? Does the Bible promote violence against dissenters and opponents, as the Qur’an does? Reading the Bible as a modern book leads to false conclusions, the authors show clearly. Comparing writings from Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, and the Hittites with biblical texts, they demonstrate the common use of exaggerated language—so that ‘all’ may not mean ‘every single person,’ for example—bringing clearer understanding of God’s apparently genocidal commands about the Canaanites. Carefully argued, with clear examples and helpful summaries, these chapters give Christians sound bases for defending and sharing their faith in the God of love, justice, and forgiveness. This is an instructive and very welcome antidote to much current thought.”

—Alan Millard, Rankin Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages, University of Liverpool


Copan and Flanagan made extremely strong arguments for their position throughout most of the book. In the final chapter, they discuss “Turning the Other Cheek, Pacifism, and Just War.”

Copan and Flanagan attempt to prove that Christians can use violence in War. Their case is very weak. They take biblical passages and stories out of context and do not demonstrate that Jesus would approve of Christians fighting in War. For an upcoming blog post, I plan to discuss their arguments.

Book is available at Amazon2.

.Paul Copan (Ph.D., Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has authored and edited thirty scholarly and popular books, including Is God a Moral Monster?

Matthew Flannagan (Ph.D., University of Otago) is a researcher and a teaching pastor at Takanini Community Church in Auckland, New Zealand. He is also a contributing author to several books.

1.Paul Copan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God. (BakerBooks, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014)


Does Just War Exist?

Greatest Heresy of All Time? Just War Doctrine?

Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Matthew 8:5-13

Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate

Copyright © 2021 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.

Edited: 2/23/2022

Author: Jon

Jon Kauffman graduated from Goshen College, earning a BA in Religion. Jon attended a Mennonite Church while growing up and currently attends the Salvation Army Church. Jon works as a drafter at TrueNorth Steel, Fargo, ND.

6 thoughts on “Did God Really Command Genocide?”

  1. Jon,

    I have not read the book you feature here, or, really, any others on this topic. My focus is simply elsewhere, and so I have really a somewhat dim and mostly pop level awareness of the issue.

    That said, it’s not my first time to consider it.

    My ancient language skills do not include Hebrew, and for that matter, like most folx (I expect), by far most of my academic study in the Bible focused on the New Testament, and Jesus particularly.

    So, there. Lotsa disclaimer here. I can’t speak very intelligently to the issue and certainly not to the position the book you feature takes. However, the names you post who endorse this book are names I know and respect. So, I figure the thesis is worthy of our attention, even without reading it.

    Now to the business I want to get to:

    I read your post several days ago, and I didn’t have an immediate response. But there is this slow burn I have with it. Some nagging notions which MAYBE you can address, since you read the book and since you express interest in this topic from time to time.

    I simply do not see the ancient texts white-washing the killing of Israel’s enemies or sinners within. I think it is POSSIBLE, yes, but as is, I don’t see it and am not inclined to try. I have, of course, had my readings of other texts on other topics challenged mightily by scholars before, and so I am open-minded, but still not inclined.

    What I am saying is that I currently hold a view that the genocide (or something very much akin to it) happened the way it appears in my various conservative, English translations. And while I believe Jesus brings salvation completely by OTHER means, the original Joshua son of Nun, brought salvation through slaughter of others.

    I also see how incongruent that appears. The two Joshuas seem almost diametrically opposed in every way except their trust in the same, never changing God. Something of a paradox, it seems.

    I sit loose with this, but it is where I sit.

    How do I explain this?

    Well, I certainly dont run around trying to iron it out for others, since I don’t have it iron clad for myself.

    But, I do have these nagging ideas about how it might be resolved, ideas maybe you can help with – either refute or support.

    For one thing, my training leads me to look for Jesus in the Old Testament, to turn every stone (even some really odd ones) to discover Jesus there through and through. I recently discovered God was with Joseph when he was in prison. And, yes, obviously the text tells us this in Gen. 39:21-23, but it hit me recently, the baker and cupbearer were also there with Joe. And what do you find in the baker’s oven and the bearer’s cup? Bread and wine – body and blood.

    I never read anyone explain that before (even if they have). But I found it.

    So, where is Jesus in the Genocide?

    Jesus is the one being killed, killed by God’s people no less! God’s people dishing out their worst and God taking it all on himself. It’s a twist, but it’s there, and I wonder if we aren’t meant to live with that, to even find salvation in it, to find love in it.


    I don’t know, but I am not inclined to give up on it. Sorta like, I KNOW my redeemer lives. I can’t prove it, but I know it.


    Still open-minded, but not inclined.

    What do you think?


    1. Once you understand that Canaanites are The Serpent Seed from The Garden, that is, Satan’s literal and spiritual offspring then Joshua’s actions fall precisely into place and there was only a regional cleansing, not a genocide.

      Did Eve Have Sex With The Devil or Did She Just Eat Some Fruit?: see isthefathercallingyoutohisson.wordpress.com

      Liked by 1 person

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