When God established his theocracy, the penalty for apostasy was death. Not only that, but if your wife or child was the apostate, you had to throw the first stone:
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. (Deuteronomy 13:6-11)
Thankfully, we don’t live in God’s theocracy anymore, but Bible-believing Christians are stuck defending passages like this one. How do they do it?
In the last few posts, I have been evaluating arguments from the best defense I have found: Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?. Here’s what he has to say.
In a democratic society like ours, all of this sounds intolerant. We’re to respect the freedom of religion of others, aren’t we? Yet Israel had bound herself to Yahweh [God], who had made a covenant with Israel–like a husband to a wife.
I looked at the husband/wife analogy in the last post, so let’s skip ahead.
The point of Deuteronomy 13:6-16 is that of a false teacher who tries to “entice” the community by commanding worship of other deities (“let us go serve other gods”). (page 92, emphases mine)
I respect Dr. Copan. I really do. He tries very hard. But once in a while he is so committed to defending the indefensible that he tries too hard.
First, the apostate in question is not a “false teacher.” The scenario in the passage is not one of teaching at all. If a friend were to invite you to attend church, would you thereby consider him a teacher? No: the pastor would be the teacher. You and your friend would be worshipers or seekers, not teachers.
Second, the apostate is not trying to “entice the community.” The passage explicitly says the enticement is being done “secretly,” perhaps by your child. If your ten-year-old daughter whispers, “Daddy, I’ve been thinking we should worship Baal. I think he’s cool,” would you say she’s “enticing the community?”
Third, the apostate is not “commanding” anything. The passage is about secret enticement, a private suggestion. There is no command.
What was Dr. Copan thinking? Was he just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it would stick?
Of course, those not wanting to embrace Israel’s God or obey his requirements were free to leave Israel and live in another nation.
Really? Just like that? An Israelite is supposed to knock on the door of a neighboring country and expect a friendly welcome after his people have waged a God-commanded war of genocide or enslavement on its citizens? Good luck with that.
And does anyone else see how hateful this is? Even Donald Trump doesn’t say Muslims should leave America, only that they should not be allowed to immigrate “until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Some Christians justify this passage by saying that in a theocracy, apostasy is treason. If that’s true and you value religious freedom, it only points out why theocracy is such a bad idea and the very premise of the passage is rotten.
Even so, apostasy does not have to mean treason. It can be an opportunity for those still in the faith to reach higher. God could have said, “If the wife you love secretly entices you to worship other gods, love her and care for her all the more, to draw her back to Me.” In fact, in the New Testament, that is exactly the sort of strategy he did use (1 Peter 3:1).
Last month, two Danish pranksters conducted a social experiment. They read passages similar to Deuteronomy 13 to people on the street, but claimed the passages were from the Quran. People responded, “How could anyone believe in this?!” When it was revealed that the passages were actually from the Bible, … well … watch the video.