Monday, November 4, 2013

Is God a Bloodthirsty Killer?

As long ago as the year 177, the philosopher Celsus attacked Christianity using the argument that the Old Testament describes a murdering, bloodthirsty God who is very different from the loving, merciful God Christians like to talk about. The argument has remained in the arsenal of critics ever since. Steve Wells, the author of the Skeptics Annotated Bible, has been particularly influential in popularizing this argument on his blog Dwindling in Unbelief and in his book Drunk With Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible. Wells seems to take pleasure in the apparent shock value of comparing the number of people that God has killed or ordered killed vs. the number that Satan has. In his book Drunk With Blood, Wells explains his purpose in making these comparisons. On the first page he writes, “It is my hope that as God’s killings become better known, people will know better than to believe in the Bible.” According to Well’s calculations; God is responsible for 2,476,636 deaths in the Bible while Satan is responsible for 60. Wells argues that if the prophesies of Revelation are included, the Bible presents 24,634,205 scriptural deaths at the hand of God verses 60 at the hand of Satan.

Is Wells correct about these numbers? If so, is it a good argument against believing in the God of the Bible?

Wells uses estimates to develop the numbers, as the Bible often does not record exact figures in these cases. I have not bothered to evaluate the estimates but it is clear even from a cursory reading that the Bible attributes far more loss of human life to the agency or command of God than to anyone else. If this is shocking, it is only because of a deficiency in the popular understanding of God’s character and holiness. In fact, the actual number of deaths attributable to God is far higher than Wells estimates. Death is the result of God’s judgment of sin (Gen. 2:17, Rom. 5:12, Jas. 1:15). Every funeral home, every cemetery, and every mausoleum is a testimony to the sinfulness of humankind and the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). It is therefore wise to live tempered by the knowledge that we too will die and face judgment (Eccl. 7:2, 11:9). The sovereign God determines when our earthly lives will end (1 Sam. 2:6, Job 14:5). Therefore, in an ultimate sense, God has taken the life of every person who has ever died.

Since Wells seems to be correct that God takes human life and even sometimes uses other humans to do so, is it true that God is immoral? Is his argument against Christianity persuasive?

Although it may have emotional appeal, it is not a very strong argument. As Dr. William Lane Craig observed, “it [is] ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so [there is] no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong. As Doug Wilson has aptly said of the Canaanite slaughter from a naturalistic point of view, “The universe doesn’t care.” So at most, the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency in affirming both the goodness of God and the historicity of the conquest of Canaan. It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists.”

The argument must assume some standard of morality by which to judge God. Atheistic materialism can support no such standard. Ironically, the standard often assumed is the moral standard derived from the Bible. If the argument is intended to charge God with moral inconsistency then it is necessary that each of the events be considered within the broader context of the biblical teaching.

First, the Bible teaches that God is the creator and His character is the source of truth, love, and justice. As a result, it is not possible to appeal to any moral standard outside of God without first denying the biblical understanding of who He is. It is impossible within a Christian worldview to define any moral standard apart from God Himself. God, Himself, is the ultimate basis upon which any judgment of truth or morals can be made. We simply have no standard by which we could judge what He Himself does. Whatsoever He does is assuredly just on the basis that He does it. On this basis, the argument ultimately degenerates into more basic questions of apologetics, namely, is the Bible true and does God exist.

Second, the most violent Old Testament events that these critics call attention to occur within a particular context within the broader story of God’s plan to redeem a people for His own glory. None of those whose life God takes was “innocent” or undeserving. Rather than be shocked by their judgment, we should be amazed at His patience with us. The transgression of men and women brought about curse and only the guilty fall under its power.

Furthermore, God in His gracious love has saved from this curse those who by faith are united to Christ who paid the penalty of death we deserved while we were still His enemies (Gal. 3:13, Rom. 5:8). Keep in mind that God repeatedly warns people that He will judge sin. The coming judgment is usually not immediate, giving people an opportunity to repent. Eventually, the judgment comes, but in each case, God spared a remnant of faithful people. These historical events are a foreshadowing of God’s final judgment and salvation. We do well to recognize that we are currently living in a period of restraint whereby we have an opportunity to join to the faithful remnant. It is because of God’s grace that He records His terrible judgments for our instruction.

God is not bloodthirsty but He is holy. Well's argument is only persuasive if we, who are sinners, are bold enough to put ourselves in a position to judge God rather than accepting His judgment and appealing to His loving mercy with faith and repentance.


  1. Second, the most violent Old Testament events that these critics call attention to occur within a particular context within the broader story of God’s plan to redeem a people for His own glory.

    It sounds as though you're saying that God has no problem killing people by the thousands or millions, so long as it feeds his ego. Are you sure you want to take this approach? Normally, when people do something that benefits them personally, but hurts people around them, that's considered a bad thing.

    1. Thanks arensb,

      "the most violent Old Testament events that these critics call attention to occur within a particular context within the broader story of God’s plan to redeem a people for His own glory."

      That is exactly right. I am certainly not arguing that God is capricious or egotistical. My point is that all of us deserve judgment and have no basis to judge a Holy God. In my teaching and preaching I obviously expand upon this to show the Love of God in Christ.

    2. Actually, the first part of my comment, the one in italics, I was quoting your post. That was just to give some context.

      But if you agree that God kills people by the thousands to feed his desire for glory, how is that not egotistical? And would you be willing to make the same excuse for anyone else?

    3. Yes, I realize you were quoting the article. The point is that this is the broader context in which the events must be understood.

      I would not say God kills people to "feed His desire for glory". In an ultimate sense all who die have chosen death when they rejected the author of Life. It is not egotistical because God's actions in judgment are righteous. The explanation (not excuse) does not apply to anyone else because there are none others who are righteous.

  2. We deserve death becasue we have sinned (broken God's arbitrary rules - Euthyphro dilemma) and fall short of the glory of God (Glory he won't let anyone else share in if he has anything to say about it). This is a bit like claiming that a child deserves to die becasue it misbehaves - dispite being told not to- and becasue it is not as physically strong as it's parents.

    Anyone who actively seeks to be glorified or praised is rightly distained. I see no reason why this rather repugnant trait should be less offensive in a being that should have absolutely no emotional need for it. God as described in the bible is impossibly insecure, selfish, self-praising, cruel, violent and petty. You believe all of this is fine for God because he made everything and might makes right. I would have to dissent.

    Whatever else Christianity may be about, it has exactly nothing to do with what is morality.

    Also, I wouldn't be too quick to invoke Craig. He thinks God did the Cannanite children a favour by having them murdered. It should always give you pause when you realise that you are on the same page as a person who is so poisoned by a twisted ideology that he spends his time being an apologist for genocide and the slaughter of babies.

  3. "Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doest well. The devils also believe, and tremble"

    - Yaakov (James)