A Question for Piper's Critics3
[Please take a minute and read this excellent article by Andrew Wilson.]
A Question for Piper’s Critics
Andrew Wilson / 8-28-13
The question is familiar, at least to anyone who has met a biblically literate sceptic: "How can God wipe out men, women and children in the Old Testament?" This answer, from John Piper, shocks many with its bluntness and its implicit theology: "It's right for God to slaughter women and children any time he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die." Eeek.
Unsurprisingly, that answer has produced expostulations of anger, astonishment and scornful criticism, not just of Piper but of Calvinism, inerrancy, biblical conservatism and anything else with which Piper is associated. Pete Enns shakes his head in pitying disbelief. Brian Zahn compares it to suicide bombing while shouting “Allah Akbar”, and says it entirely deserves the scorn sceptics will undoubtedly pour upon it. Many of us, intuitively inclined to give Piper the benefit of the doubt but nonetheless prompted to wince by the direct and robust way in which he answers, may find ourselves torn, either because we suspect he might be wrong, or (more uncomfortably) because we suspect he might be right but hope he isn’t. So without attempting to resolve or engage with all the issues here - and I’ve written or linked to numerous articles on this over the last year or so, as well as establishing my pacifist credentials on several occasions - here’s a question that Piper’s critics on this issue need to think seriously about. How many acts of slaughter constitute a mass slaughter?
“Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)
“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Sam 6:7)
“Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” (Acts 5:9-10)
“And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (Lev 10:2)
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:29-30)
One man’s household?
“And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.” (Josh 7:15)
“And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” (Jdg 14:19)
“And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” (2 Kin 2:24)
“And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow.” (1 Sam 6:19)
Two hundred and fifty?
“And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” (Num 16:35)
“And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.” (Ex 14:27-28; cf. v7)
“And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” (Ex 32:28)
The entire city of Sodom?
“On the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 18:29)
Twenty three thousand?
“We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (1 Cor 10:8)
All the firstborn sons in Egypt?
“At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” (Ex 12:29)
One hundred and eighty five thousand?
“And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” (Isa 37:36)
The known world (minus eight)?
“He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” (Gen 7:23)
You’ll notice that these examples come from both Old and New Testaments, and most of the Old Testament ones are quoted in the New. You’ll also notice that if we were to strike them (and the many other texts like them) from the record, we’d have no flood, no exodus, no judgments in the wilderness, no conquest narratives, and no historically reliable account of the patriarchs, the united monarchy, the divided kingdom, the exile of Israel and Judah, or the early church. Assuming we’re not prepared to go there, my question is: where, and on what basis, do we draw the line between “acceptable acts of divine judgment” and “indefensible acts of mass slaughter”? There are plenty of other questions, of course - acceptable to whom? is it ever legitimate for God to kill someone for their sin? who decides when it is or isn’t? isn’t what Jesus said about hell fiercer than any of these stories? why does Paul say that people who sin deserve to die? and so on - but one is enough for now.