Philosophical Reflections on the Binding of Isaac

04 Oct
from Google Images

from Google Images

For the sake of argument, let’s assume Genesis 22:2, “Take, now, your son…” is an absolute command by God, and Abraham must do as he is told. Is the ‘command’ of God immoral?[1] Certainly the new atheists of our day believe God is making an immoral request, as understood from Dr. Richard Dawkins’ question concerning the event, “But what kind of morals could one derive from this appalling story?”[2] The question then becomes, is the taking of innocent life always wrong?

Later God would give the Ten Commandments to Moses as a basis for the constitutional law for the nation of Israel. The sixth commandment is “You shall not murder” (Deuteronomy 5:17). If God claims the taking of innocent life is murder, is he commanding Abraham to do in Genesis 22:2 what he commands everyone else not to do in Deuteronomy 5:17? Is God inconsistent and contradictory? Consider the following logical arguments:

  1. God’s command to do X obligates Y to do X
  2. It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.
  3. God commanded Abraham to take an innocent life.[3]

Do all three of these arguments hold true 100% of the time without fail? I think it can be shown that it would be wrong to believe so. Although we can say (at least Christians would agree) that argument #1 is always true. We must do what God commands us to do. It is always wrong not to obey God, because he has shown himself in the Bible to be a wise and loving God. Moreover, we are able to immediately see that argument #3 wasn’t true in the text, because God prevented Abraham from completing the task. In other words, God intended something different from what he revealed to Abraham. Consider my last few blogposts in that I’ve been arguing that God was revealing to Abraham the inadequacy of the worldview he embraced in common with the nations around him, and, in doing so, God was replacing Abraham’s worldview with a more accurate understanding of the relationship between God and man.

This leaves us with argument #2 to consider. Is it always wrong to kill the innocent? This seems like a ridiculous question in the face of our modern distaste for terrorist attacks against the innocent. The nations of our modern world almost universally decry what is being done by terrorists in their efforts to reach their political goals. Yet, a second look at this second argument should show us that to hold too tightly to this point of view would be wrong. For example, was it wrong for President George Bush, after hearing that terrorists had flown planes into both the World Tower buildings and into the Pentagon, to issue a command to shoot down any other planes that were known to have been hijacked, knowing any innocent people aboard such planes would be killed also? Was it wrong for a few of the passengers on the 4th hijacked plane flying over Pennsylvania, who had overcome the terrorists aboard, to crash that plane, knowing that they and all other innocent passengers aboard would be killed?

I think most of us can agree that sometimes the taking of innocent life is warranted when the effect serves a greater good. Knowing this, argument #2 affects the logic of argument #3. The greater good resulting from the binding of Isaac was that human sacrifice was never warranted to gain God’s favor. God never intended that the sacrifice of Isaac would be completed (argument #3), and his purpose in using Isaac was to serve the greater good in showing all mankind that human sacrifice was wrong. The limitations we have placed upon argument #2 also affect argument #1, in that it compels Abraham (and all mankind) to allow God the freedom to be God. In other words trust him to be the wise and loving God he shows himself to be in the Bible.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Ealing, Bantam Press, 2006), page 243

[3] These statements are taken directly out of Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster, page 49

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Posted by on October 4, 2015 in apologetics


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