David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

Israel and the Canaanites

Does God's Old Testament command to the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites justify the extermination of people of other races or other religions today?

In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites. Does that mean that people today are justified in killing others in the name of God? Someone wrote in response to our page on this subject:

Should I use this as a springboard towards advocating the extermination of any non-Christian peoples / races / religions who harm or impede the advancement of Christianity?

No, it is not possible to take these passages in the Old Testament as justification for killing other people in the name of God.

First of all, there is the general rule, stated in the Ten Commandments: 'Do not murder.' (Exodus chapter 20 verse 13). Of course, the Ten Commandments were given before the Israelites went into the land of Canaan.

The whole problem with the killing of the Canaanites is that it is an exception to the rule. If the rule was that it was quite OK to kill your enemies, then no-one would make a big fuss about the killing of the Canaanites. It is precisely because this seems to fly in the face of God's character and what we understand to be right that it is a problem.

We also need to recognize that although God does not change, there is a difference between the way he dealt with people in the Old Testament and the way he deals with people since the New Testament:

In the Old Testament, God's main way of dealing with people was through Israel as a nation. In the New Testament (and subsequently) it is through the Church. There are sometimes legitimate reasons why nations need to go to war, and sometimes there were legitimate reasons for Israel to go to war in the Old Testament. However, with the Church, God's purposes are different: the Church is not a nation, and is not supposed to fight. (Yes, we all know that the Church has not been particularly good at keeping this rule.)

So there is no way that the unique historical exception of the Israelites and the Canaanites in the Old Testament can be used to sanction the use of violence by one group of people against another today.

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