Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? is an outstanding resource for understanding and responsinding to  difficult texts in the Old Testament. In the second part of this ongoing review, I wanted to express some concern about his introduction to the otherwise excellent chapter “Child Abuse and Bullying: God’s Ways and the Binding of Isaac.”

This chapter expounds on Genesis 22, where God asks Abraham – the ancient progenitor of Israel – to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Critics have loudly pointed to this passage as an example of the contradictions of scripture (elsewhere human sacrifice is prohibited and clearly condemned) and even claimed it shows God as a capricious, malevolent and divine bully.

Once Copan begins his exposition of Genesis 22, his explanation and response to such accusations is not only sound, but he demonstrates that the incident also reveals the heart of God’s love, for in sparing Isaac through providing a ram, the text profoundly hints at a time in the future where an innocent Son would not be spared but that His death would actually provide for the salvation of all.

However, Copan begins the chapter needlessly contrasting Abraham and Moses. Here’s his line of thought: Abraham’s actions in actually going through with the sacrifice reveal his great faith. Abraham operated solely in obedience to God’s commands, trusting what he knew of God’s character through his relationship with Him. Moses, Copan claims, was not allowed to enter the Promised Land due to his acts of faithlessness in spite of having God’s word now written in the law. So Copan elevates Abraham’s faith over Moses’ and uses it to show that Abraham’s pre-law faith is a better example for us than Moses’ failure in faith even though he had the law.

Here’s my concern:

Yes, Abraham is the example of being justified by faith alone for Christians. He had NO written law, so yes, he is a great example for us of a person who God counts his faith alone in Him as being sufficient for justification.

However, I do not think we can say that Moses failed whereas Abraham succeeded. Abraham, after all, had many faithless moments in his life. Both Moses and Abraham are mentioned in the great New Testament chapter of faith in Hebrews 11.

In fact, other scriptures uplift Moses’ faith and importance, hardly describing him as a failure of faith:

  • “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later..” (Hebrews 3.5)
  • Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. (Acts 3.22)
  • And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face..” (Deuteronomy 34.10)

With that said, the chapter really is well-done as he explains that God’s command to Abraham about Isaac’s sacrifice is actually of huge significance and reveals God’s love rather than Him being a divine bully. I just found Copan’s introductory material contrasting Abraham and Moses unnecessary and even questionable in its interpretation. I’m looking forward to reading further. As with any book, read with discernment.

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