This is the third and final review of Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? You can find the first two parts here and here. To sum it up, I can easily recommend Copan’s book to you. It’s chock full of helpful insights and context for some of the most stringent objections to the teachings, culture and imagined contradictions that most skeptics level against the Old Testament.
Copan deals in depth responding to criticisms of the Old Testament in areas like:
- Does the OT belittle or denigrate women?
- Does the OT advocate slavery?
- Was the killing of the people groups in Promise Land by the Israelites mass genocide, and how is that ethical?
- Is all religion violent?
These are just a few of the topics Copan addresses. He does so by examining scripture in depth and in context. I was deeply appreciate of how he covered so much biblical material in a way that is both easily readable and understandable. His responses to critics were gracious, well-reasoned and constantly centered on the teachings of scripture. His sense of humor also shows through consistently in little comments here and there.
However, I was bothered by his consistent use of apologetic terms for the law of the Old Testament, known as the Mosaic law. Though the Old and New Testaments view of the scriptures is that they are inspired by God and “perfect,” Copan finds fault with the Old Testament law calling it “inferior,” “not ideal,” and “not perfect.”
Take these references:
By the Old Testament’s own admission, the Mosaic law was inferior and future looking. (59)
The law of Moses, though not ideal, presents a remarkable improvement when it comes to punishments. (121)
Israel’s laws weren’t perfect, to be sure. But when we compare them to other ancient Near Eastern law codes…, the general impression noted by scholars is a range of… improvements in Israel.
To his credit, he did qualify these statements by saying the the Mosaic law was put in place to prepare humanity for the coming of Christ. It was only a babysitter, so to speak. However, Copan’s consistent use of terminology like the above erodes many of his arguments and appeals to the context of the scriptures.
It’s interesting that I read Copan’s book while I was in the process of reading through the Bible in a year. When read in context and chronologically, one can see the beauty, grace and perfection of God’s Word in the Old Testament. I agree with Copan that it is not the final word, but I am not willing to say it’s inferior or not ideal. It was the perfect Word for an imperfect people and culture that served perfectly to lead them to faith in a perfect God.
There were some sections that just radiated with power and brilliance. I found the section titled An Untamable God in chapter 17 particularly good.
We sensitized Westerners wonder why God gets so angry with Israel… We live in a time when we’re very alert to racial discrimination and intolerance, but we aren’t as sensitized to sexual sin as past generations were. We live in a time that sees death as the ultimate evil. Perhaps, we need to be more open to the fact that some of our moral intuitions aren’t as finely tuned as they ought to be. (192)
I totally agree. I also think Copan should apply this idea of being overly sensitized to his own material when at times he seems too quick to apologize for the laws of Israel. It’s interesting that he quotes C.S. Lewis on the idea of chronological snobbery earlier in the book and then seems to set himself up to judge the Mosaic law (though not nearly as harshly as the critics he responds to) as inferior by modern culture’s own standard of morality.
Lewis said “the uncriticial acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.”
There should be no need for us to apologize how God works in the past. There are many issues about God’s work that we simply can’t explain in a tidy, logical package. We don’t understand how His mysterious ways in our lives today, much less the past.
On the whole, Copan’s book is an excellent resources to respond to critics and provide believers with more understanding about difficult issues related to the Old Testament.
Maybe the ideal “God” in the Westerner’s mind is just too nice. We’ve lost sight of good and just while focusing on nice, tame, and manageable. We’ve ignored sternness and severity (which makes us squirm; consider Romans 11.22), latching on to our own ideals of comfort and convenience. We’ve gotten rid of the God who presents a cosmic authority problem and substituted controllable gods of our own devising. We’ve focused on divine love at the expense of God’s anger at what ultimately destroys us or undermines our fundamental well-being. (193)