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No, Christianity hasn’t had a bad influence on history. Christian beliefs and practices—that is, those consistent with Christ’s teachings—have produced countless positive by-products in history. This is true even though evil actions of erring Christians, especially prominent leaders (some probably not even truly Christian), are regularly recorded in history books, leading many to believe that Christianity’s influence has been mostly harmful. Commonly cited examples are the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the medieval witch persecutions, the executions of Hus and Savonarola, and the Roman Catholic Church’s silencing of Galileo. These acts were sinful and morally wrong—highly inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.
Edward D. Andrews NOTE: Alvin J. Schmidt’s answer should not have been a simple “No.” It should have been a “Yes and no.” Christians have killed other Christians by the millions for simply believing differently. Christians have conquered pagan lands with the sword in one hand and a Bible in the other, and to reject Christianity meant death. This would be like telling black people that ‘yes, slavery was bad, but at least we taught you how to read.’ This would be like telling the American Indians, yes slaughtering your people was bad, conquering you was bad, but we brought you into the modern-day world. Now, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, and especially Catholics have molested more children than any pagan on the planet in the entire history of humanity. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic Priests have molested millions of children over the past one thousand years. Many of the Popes, Bishops, and Cardinals have had concubines and illegitimate children. In this one short paragraph, we have covered sheer horror. So, the answer is yes, Christianity has greatly had a bad influence on humanity and history. But we could literally list tens of thousands of ways that Christianity has had a great influence on humanity and history. Nevertheless, this does not negate the bad. But bad doctors have done bad, bad teachers have done bad, and bad persons from every segment of society have done bad. This does not mean the group in and of itself is bad, or the people are intrinsically bad, or that they have not done much good. God’s Word tells us that all imperfect humans are mentally bent toward evil. (Gen 6:5; 8:21) that our hearts are treacherous and unknowable. (Jer. 17:9), and our natural desire is to do bad. (Rom. 7) Pseudo-Christians have done terrible things, as has everyone else because of human imperfection. But what we have in true Christianity can offset these things. We have a moral compass inside of us that helps us determine right from wrong. (Rom. 2:14) If it is ignored, it will grow calloused, unfeeling, and no longer work. It is the Spirit-inspired Word of God that cultivates that moral compass. In Christian apologetics, one needs to offer full disclosure and not brush past the bad.
Christianity has had numerous positive influences on history. Largely unknown in today’s world, even to countless Christians, it elevated the sanctity of human life. In ancient Rome and other pagan societies, human life was cheap and expendable. The early Christians, motivated by the gospel, opposed abortion, infanticide, child abandonment, suicide, and gladiatorial contests—all legal and widely practiced in the Roman era. Fifty years after the legalization of Christianity in a.d. 313, the now-Christianized Roman emperors outlawed these inhuman acts. Infanticide and child abandonment are still illegal in most Western countries, and while abortion has unfortunately made a comeback in the West, nobody has yet suggested that gladiators be brought back for popular entertainment.
In the fourth century Christianity introduced hospitals to the world. Greeks and Romans had no such institutions of compassion. Christians, moved by Christ’s words “I was sick and you looked after me” (Mt 25:36), built hospices as early as 325 and hospitals in 369—first in the East and then in the West. The names of numerous hospitals still reflect this Christian origin: St. John’s Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital, etc.
Before Christianity appeared, women were practically slaves, having little or no freedom and dignity. Not so in the Christian church! Women were baptized and instructed along with men and took communion along with men. Adultery was no longer defined in terms of a woman’s marital status; a married man having sex with a single woman now was also guilty of adultery. Christianity permitted a woman to reject a male suitor and inherit property. She no longer had to worship her husband’s pagan gods.
Here are other positive effects:
- Countries where Christianity has had the greatest presence were the first to abolish slavery. By contrast, slavery is still present in many Islamic countries.
- The principle that no man is above the law originated with St. Ambrose. In 390 he demanded that Emperor Theodosius repent for wantonly killing 7,000 people. He told the emperor he wasn’t above the law. In 1215 the Magna Carta expanded this Christian concept of liberty and justice.
- Christian teachings resulted in economic, political, and religious freedom.
- Universities grew out of the church’s medieval monasteries.
- Christian theology, not pagan pantheism, motivated early scientists to explore God’s natural world.
- Christianity inspired the invention of the musical scale and great musical compositions.
Finally, Christianity’s influence is present in many of the West’s social institutions and in its nomenclature, literature, and education, shaping much in the daily lives of people—both Christians and non-Christians.
Deuteronomy 4:34 God’s selection of Israel as a special people to the exclusion of all others can be explained only on the basis of His grace and hidden purposes. There was nothing in Israel, or even the nation’s founding ancestor Abraham, that commended them to the Lord. Merit or deserving qualities have nothing to do with God’s sovereign choice of nations and individuals, out of all the options available to Him (7:6–9; cp. Ex 19:5–6). The vessel has no right to ask the potter why he has shaped him thus (Rm 9:14–26).
Deuteronomy 4:41 “Across the Jordan to the east” is a technical geographical term referring to what is now known as the kingdom of Jordan, or traditionally Transjordan (see 1:1).
Deuteronomy 5:2 On the name Horeb, see the Introduction and note on 1:6.
Deuteronomy 5:9 These words reflect the OT concept of the corporate nature of community and family life. All members are implicated in the blessing and judgment of even one member (2:34). It is well known that the sins of one generation have repercussions for generations to come (Ex 20:5). The impact of David’s sin on his children is a classic case in point (2 Sm 12:10; 13:28). Also see note on 4:24.
Deuteronomy 5:14 The male and female servants mentioned here are not slaves in the sense of personal property. They were either hired persons or, more likely, bond-servants who had come under the control of a fellow Israelite to whom they owed a certain amount of service in exchange for a loan that rescued them from financial difficulty (Ex 21:1–6; Dt 15:12–18).
Deuteronomy 5:22 The subject of this statement is the Lord and not Moses. Elsewhere the OT speaks of God’s writing the Ten Commandments with His own finger—an obvious figure of speech—underscoring the fact that God is the ultimate author of Scripture (Ex 32:15–16; 34:1). This wording is unique, however, for ordinarily God is said to write or speak through human beings (2 Pt 1:20–21).
Deuteronomy 6:4 The claim that the Lord alone is God is sometimes used as evidence for the composition of Dt at a time long after that of Moses. OT monotheism, the argument runs, was a late development in the history of Israel’s religion, perhaps as late as Amos (eighth century) and other writing prophets. This claim assumes an evolutionary view of how religions developed. This assumption runs counter to the biblical view that holds that idolatry and polytheism are corruptions of authentic worship of God (Rm 1:18–23). In addition, historical evidence can be brought to bear that runs counter to evolutionary accounts of how religions develop. There is no reason to deny monotheism to the Mosaic period, which was foundational for Israelite faith.
Deuteronomy 6:7 The expectation here is not that Scripture should be taught to children in every waking moment, to the exclusion of anything else. By means of a figure of speech Moses uses opposites—sitting and walking, lying down and rising up—to suggest that any time is appropriate for instruction in the ways of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 6:10–11 This information about what lies ahead in Canaan is not at variance with other instruction about destroying the cultures and peoples of that land. Those instructions avoid any reference to material facilities, such as houses and walls (7:1–5). The cities, cisterns and other features could be left standing to facilitate Israel’s occupation.
Deuteronomy 6:15 On God’s jealousy, see note on 4:24.
Deuteronomy 6:16 The words do not mean to test the Lord in the sense of tempting Him to do evil. The Hebrew verb (nāsâ) means to put to the test or challenge. This was what the Israelites had done in the desert (Ex 17:7) in their exasperation over lack of food and water. To test God is to manifest a lack of faith.
Deuteronomy 7:2 This is a directive for so-called “holy war,” a conflict led by the Lord against hostile and irredeemable foes who have an implacable resistance to God and His people (1:30).
Deuteronomy 7:6 God, in His sovereign grace, makes decisions based upon His omniscient wisdom in line with plans and purposes known, and knowable, only to Him. What seems arbitrary and even unfair to us must be understood as the best possible action for God to take. This was true of His election (choice) of Israel, but one people out of the myriads from which He could have chosen. To impose human “standards” of fairness on a righteous and all wise God is the height of arrogance. He is answerable to no man (Rm 9:20; see Ex 19:5–6; Dt 4:34; 14:2; 26:18.)
Deuteronomy 7:7 In a covenant context such as this, love does not refer to the emotional or providential aspect of God’s character. In those senses, He loves all people equally (cp. Mt 5:45; Jn 3:16). Here the term is synonymous with choice. The Lord is saying that He chose Israel simply because He chose her; His “love” is His loyalty to the covenant He has granted. This sheds light on the difficult statement “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau” (Mal 1:2–3; cp. Rm 9:13). “Love” and “hate” do not signify emotions of attraction or revulsion but are expressions of the presence or absence of a special bond of loyalty (cp. Lk 14:26).
Deuteronomy 7:16 In fulfillment of God’s directive for holy war (v. 2) the Israelites must destroy the Canaanite peoples. The reason for such severe action is made clear when the command to destroy the wicked is followed immediately by the prohibition from worshiping their gods. To allow the Canaanites to survive would be to leave Israel vulnerable to idolatry (2:34).
Deuteronomy 7:20 The ability of hornets to drive away whole armies is understandable, given the devastation of Egypt wrought by plagues of gnats, flies, and locusts. On the other hand, hornets (Hb tsirʿa) might more accurately be translated “panic” as suggested by Ex 23:27–28.
Deuteronomy 8:3 The assumption that all Israel had to eat for 40 years was manna is unfounded. On special occasions they ate quail (Nm 11:31–34) and since they were a pastoral people they obviously maintained and consumed sheep, cattle and other domesticated animals. We today have no idea of the nourishment value, or even the taste, of manna (but see Nm 11:7), and it may not have been as undesirable as some believe. The real issue, of course, is whether or not God could provide for His people in such a miraculous manner; that question is a matter not of science but of faith (cp. Jn 6:31).
Deuteronomy 8:15 Though, to this day, springs issuing pure and refreshing water from rocky crevices may be found in Sinai and the Negev, the reference here is clearly to a supernatural supply (cp. Ex 17:6; Nm 20:11). Like the manna (vv. 3, 16), the provision of water is declared to be outside the normal course of nature.
Deuteronomy 8:19 If one worships another “false” god or an imaginary one, the result is the same: a departure from faith in the true and living God (4:28).
Deuteronomy 9:1 It is possible that the total population of the seven Canaanite nations, plus that of neighboring nations, exceeded that of Israel, despite the fact that Israel counted more than 600,000 men alone (Nm 2:32). On the other hand, the statement that the nations were greater and more numerous (Hb ʿatsum) than the Israelites could be either a reflection of the misguided perception of the Israelites themselves (Nm 13:28, 33), or Moses’ use of dramatic exaggeration to emphasize the challenge they faced.
Deuteronomy 9:8 On the name Horeb, see note on 1:6.
Deuteronomy 9:10 The reference to the finger of God is an obvious anthropomorphism, or use of a human comparison to describe a divine activity. “God is Spirit” (Jn 4:24) and has no bodily parts. The figure is used to make the point that the Ten Commandments, at least, were composed by the Lord Himself and not by Moses (Dt 4:13; 5:22).
Deuteronomy 9:14 The Lord’s threat to destroy wicked Israel appears to contradict His promise to the patriarchs that their descendants would endure forever (Gn 17:19). However, as one of those descendants Moses was qualified to be the Lord’s instrument in establishing a new Israel if need be. It is clear from the passage that the Lord is testing Moses and would not, in fact, carry out the threat (Dt 9:25–29).
Deuteronomy 9:18 Moses’ statement that he neither ate nor drank for 40 days presupposes supernatural sustenance, of the kind Jesus received when he, too, fasted 40 days in the Judean desert (Mt 4:1–11; cp. Dt 8:3). Those to whom God is a living reality do not find such claims impossible, but receive them by faith.
Deuteronomy 10:4 The Lord wrote the same words on the second set of tablets as on the first. This action attests the truth of “verbal plenary inspiration,” the understanding that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn 10:35)—its very words are inspired and inviolable in the original. It was not sufficient to replicate the ideas in the first tables of commandments. Their exact words must be repeated and faithfully recorded (see Jr 36:28, 32).
Deuteronomy 10:6 Numbers 20:28 implies that Aaron was buried on Mount Hor, though it does not explicitly say so. This passage locates the burial place at Moserah, but since the modern site has not been identified it is impossible to prove a contradiction. Quite likely Hor was located in a region called Moserah.
Deuteronomy 10:15 See notes on 4:34 and 7:6.
Deuteronomy 10:22 To describe Israel as being as numerous as the stars when its population was little more than 2 million is to employ hyperbole, a deliberate exaggeration designed to glorify God and affirm His faithfulness to His promises (Gn 15:5).
Deuteronomy 11:6 History records many instances of chasms opening up in the surface of the earth as a result of earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters. That such a thing could occur in the Sinai in Moses’ time is not beyond belief. But the timing and precise location of the event are what is significant in the biblical record. If one believes in the God of the Bible there is nothing inherently problematic about the incident recorded of Dathan and Abiram (Nm 16:31–33).
Deuteronomy 11:9 Anyone who has traveled to the Holy Land might take issue with the description of it as “flowing with milk and honey,” but that response overlooks the land’s complete agricultural history. The term is a stock phrase that combines products derived from agriculture (milk) and those that are natural, that is, obtained apart from human labor (honey). As such, it illustrates the land’s fruitfulness. Compared to the arid and bare deserts of the Sinai, Canaan was a virtual Eden. Archaeological research has revealed that the region was more cultivated and forested in ancient times than in recent centuries, due to elaborate systems of water retention and irrigation. Under Turkish occupation the land was stripped for lumber and became more arid, but reforestation by the Israelis has brought back much of the country’s original character.
Deuteronomy 11:19 Taken literally, this passage would suggest that nothing was to occur in family life except the verbal communication of the law. But Moses’ intention here is to impress upon parents that their very lifestyle as well as their words is to be instructive for their children (see 6:7).
Deuteronomy 11:24 To tread the foot on the land symbolized its domination and occupation. The meaning is not that Israelite territory would be limited to those areas in which the people actually walked. Rather, their claim to any part of it was sufficient to assert ownership of the whole (Gn 13:17; Jos 1:3).
Deuteronomy 11:26 The curse in view here is certainly not the use of profanity or anything of the kind but is the technical language of covenant relationship. Blessing comes by obedience and cursing by disobedience. Disobedience resulted in such things as illness, lack of rain, loss of harvest, deportation, or even death. Curses are not arbitrary and capricious acts of God but the penalty for violating a pledge made by the people themselves (cp. Ex 19:8; 24:3, 7; Dt 28:1–68).
Deuteronomy 11:30 Though the term “across the Jordan” is normally a technical way of referring to the Transjordan (1:1; 4:41), here it refers to Canaan which lies on the other side of the river from the speaker’s point of view. The mention of the mountains Gerizim and Ebal makes this clear. The expression also verifies that Moses is in the Transjordan at the time he issues these instructions.
Deuteronomy 12:2–3 Moses reiterates the Lord’s directive to destroy all non-Israelite places of worship. To modern ears such words are neither “politically correct” nor in the spirit of ecumenism. The elimination of pagan sanctuaries, however, was the logical and essential consequence of acknowledging Yahweh as the one and only God—One who spoke of Himself as a “jealous” God who would tolerate no rivals (5:4–5; 6:15).
Deuteronomy 12:5 The command to worship God in only one place seems to be at variance with Ex 20:24–26, which permits altars at many places, and with later practice in which prophets who were loyal to God offered sacrifice at authorized high places (e.g. 1 Sm 9:11–14; 1 Kg 18:30). What this passage mandates, however, is community worship, especially in connection with the annual festivals. It does not address the matter of local worship in Israel’s towns and villages.
Deuteronomy 12:10 To move across the Jordan suggests a westerly direction from Moses’ location, which in turn supports the view that Dt was composed in the Transjordan. This accords with the Mosaic authorship and early date of Dt but would be inconsistent with a late date and Palestinian setting for the book (1:1; 4:41).
Deuteronomy 12:16 The prohibition against eating blood is not merely a ritual or dietary taboo. Blood stands for life in the OT (cp. Gn 9:4–6; Lv 17:10–16; Dt 12:23), and life, whether animal or human, is sacred. As such, it belongs to the Lord and must be poured out upon the altar or the ground as a sign of its being returned to Him (Lv 3:2; Dt 12:24).
Deuteronomy 12:29 see Nm 31:13–24; Dt 1:30; 2:21; 7:16.
Deuteronomy 13:2 False prophets occasionally uttered prophecies that came to pass, as this instruction recognizes. This does not contradict the test of a true prophet propounded in 18:20–22. That test is a negative one; it states that if what a prophet predicts does not occur, Israel need not fear him. More importantly, this directive refers to prophets who would entice Israel to the worship of false gods. That, in any case, is the sign of a false prophet regardless of whether or not he is able to predict future events. Often mere common sense allows one accurately to gauge the outcome of current trends; it is no sure sign that a person is an authentic prophet of the Lord. The two passages dealing with criteria concerning false prophets are not inconsistent with one another.
Deuteronomy 13:5 The death penalty for these false prophets who arise from within Israel seems unduly harsh until we recognize that they are guilty of nothing less than high treason when they encourage the people to defect from the Lord and embrace other gods. Such measures cannot be entertained today, of course, but they were quite appropriate to the OT theocratic community.
Deuteronomy 13:15 To destroy a whole city because of the idolatry of a few may seem unfair and a miscarriage of justice. However, the modern dichotomy between the individual and his community was unknown in the world of ancient Israel. The sin of the few became the responsibility of all (Gn 18:22–33; Jos 7:10–26). Presumably the citizens of the city in question here had done nothing to expose or punish the sin of the idolatrous offenders.
Deuteronomy 14:18 Inclusion of the bat in the list of unclean birds, though not technically correct according to modern speciation or taxonomy, is consistent with the intent of the passage: to forbid the eating of large flying creatures. Establishing a second category with only one representative would have been unnecessary and confusing in a culture in which biological distinctions followed rules different from those of the modern world.
Deuteronomy 14:21 The permission given to foreigners to eat meat prohibited to Israelites was not because of a superior attitude on the part of the Israelites but because they were not allowed to come in contact with a corpse (Nm 9:6; 19:11–22). Foreigners, not governed by such restrictions, were free to eat.
Deuteronomy 15:3–4 In matters of loans and repayment, Israelites and foreigners were governed by different laws. If an Israelite were in debt to a fellow Israelite, he could work off his debt and at the end of seven years it would be declared paid in full, whether or not the amount of the loan had actually been compensated. A foreigner, however, would receive no such grace and must pay the creditor all that he owed him.
Deuteronomy 15:4 This is not a prophecy that there would be no poor, for elsewhere it is made very clear that there would always be poor people among them (v. 11; Mk 14:7). The idea is that there need not be any poor if the members of the community practiced the mutual charity that was their obligation under the Lord’s covenant.
Deuteronomy 15:12 The only way a Hebrew was “sold” to another Hebrew was through his or her own volition. This passage has nothing to do with slavery or the ownership by one person of another. The law permitted one who had become financially destitute to work off his indebtedness by placing himself into an indentured position whereby his labor for the creditor paid off his financial obligations.
Deuteronomy 15:17 This treatment, painful as it must have been, was entirely voluntary on the part of the person submitting to it. Furthermore, it displays a level of commitment to service to the master that would not be undertaken lightly. In any event, the practice does not contradict prohibitions elsewhere regarding mutilation (cp. Lv 19:28; 1 Kg 18:28) since all those instances related to pagan ritual.
Deuteronomy 16:3, 8 The contradiction relative to the number of days on which unleavened bread must be eaten (seven and six respectively) is only apparent. Clearly v. 8 refers to the six days leading up to the solemn assembly on the seventh, when unleavened bread also could not be eaten. This equals the seven days of v. 3.
Deuteronomy 16:16 The absence of reference to females does not mean they were disqualified from attending the festivals; it only indicates that they were not required to do so. In the patriarchal era of the OT, headship of the family was vested in the father. On festive occasions and other major community assemblies, fathers and other adult males represented their families (vv. 11, 14).
Deuteronomy 16:22 The prohibition against setting up sacred stone pillars has to be understood in its context. Here these objects are associated with the rituals of pagan worship (v. 21). The pentateuchal narrative includes instances when such monuments were erected as memorials, and even as elements in Israel’s worship of the Lord (Gn 28:18; 31:13, 45; Ex 24:4). As with many apparent contradictions or discrepancies is Scripture, this one ceases to be such when its context is taken into consideration.
Deuteronomy 17:5 A pluralistic, inclusivist culture finds the religious intolerance exhibited here repulsive. It goes against the idea that each person should be permitted to worship any god he wishes (or none at all), and in any way he wishes. Israel’s covenant community, however, recognized only one God and He was jealous (or zealous) about His uniqueness and His claim to exclusive worship (4:24; 5:9). To a holy God, the worship of other “gods” was a defiant act of rebellion that could not be tolerated (13:5).
Deuteronomy 17:15 Israel was commanded to permit itself no foreign rulers. This is a token of the fact that Israel was a people set apart by the Lord to be—through both declaration and example—His unique representative among the nations. To be ruled by a foreign king would open the door to contamination of Israel’s faith through the influence of pagan religion. Ultimately it would lead to the dissipation of God’s purpose in bringing salvation to all nations through a pure and separated people.
Deuteronomy 17:16–17 The command to avoid the amassing of horses and wives was clearly disobeyed by all the kings of Israel, beginning with David and epitomized by Solomon (1 Kg 4:26; 10:26–29; 11:3–4). This is not an example of contradiction in the Bible. It illustrates the discrepancy between God’s ideal standards and the human incapacity or unwillingness to obey them. Scripture upholds no one as a perfect exemplar of obedience to God’s command, except Jesus Christ (2 Co 5:21; Heb 4:14; 1 Pt 2:22).
Deuteronomy 18:2 The lack of inheritance for the Levites might be thought inconsistent with the provision granting them 48 cities throughout the land (Nm 35:1–8). The inheritance in view here, however, is that of territory. The Levites were not allocated a contiguous block of land, as were the other tribes. Their towns included only a limited agricultural perimeter (Nm 35:3–5), so they were almost totally dependent on the gifts of the people.
Deuteronomy 18:9 It is unfair to characterize Israel as narrowminded for calling the religious practices of the Canaanites detestable. Both the Bible and archaeological evidence attest to the depravity of Canaanite worship, which incorporated temple prostitution, child sacrifice, mutilation and other inhumane features. But it was detestable chiefly because it pandered to nonexistent gods, in defiance of the one true God who reveals Himself through His word and actions, not through ritualistic practice.
Deuteronomy 18:15–19 Moses relates the Lord’s promise that He would raise up a (true) prophet like him. This is not arrogant self-promotion. One hallmark of the inspiration of Scripture is the fact that authors sometimes speak favorably of themselves, something they would not be likely to do unless compelled by God’s Spirit (cp. Nm 12:3, 7; Dt 34:10). Considering the hardships and opposition Moses had endured, and his foundational role in establishing Israel’s covenantal faith, it is understandable that the Lord would hold him up as a model for future occupants of the prophetic office.
One of the earliest exhortations to the people of God about the dangers of occult involvement, this passage lists nine kinds of religious practices to avoid: (1) making a child sacrifice to false gods; (2) predicting the future or seeking hidden treasures through the aid of divining rods, (3) guiding one’s affairs by the stars; (4) using Ouija boards, crystals, etc.; (5) practicing sorcery; (6) placing oneself into a trance or attempting to alter one’s state of consciousness; (7) attending séances; (8) mixing potions; and (9) becoming a spiritualist medium, or one who attempts to communicate with the dead. Persons involved in occultism do not entrust their lives, present or future, to God but rather seek to rule their affairs through forbidden means.
Some Muslims believe this verse refers to the coming of Muhammad. But in Acts 7:37 Stephen unequivocally identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Deuteronomy 18:20 See note on 13:5.
Deuteronomy 18:22 The test of fulfilled prophecy must obviously be effective only for a prediction made in the near future, during the lifetime of the prophet himself and those who heard him. Not one long-range OT prophecy has ever been shown not to have been fulfilled, even if the fulfillment took a form that was unexpected (e.g., the prophecies of Messiah that were fulfilled in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ, and not in the appearance of a political or military leader).
Deuteronomy 19:1 The Lord’s destruction of the nations of Canaan and Israel’s appropriation of their properties might appear arbitrary and unfair. But these nations were living in the land previously promised to the descendants of Abraham (Gn 12:1; 13:17; 15:18–21), and their possession of it was illegitimate according to the plan of God. Secondly, the Canaanites were a people who had placed themselves beyond redemption through their implacable defiance of God, persisting in their abominable social and religious practices (see notes on Dt 1:30; 2:21, 34; 7:2; Rm 1:22–28).
Deuteronomy 19:6 Under the system of blood vengeance, a family member of a person whose life was taken by another could pursue and execute the murderer. This was not the random act of a vigilante, for the community had procedures by which it regulated the process (vv. 15–20). Underlying this system was the sense of corporate solidarity, in which every member of a family was considered to be part of the body. That which injures one member injures all. In the modern Western world, in which the individual has come to be regarded as sovereign, the concept of community solidarity is not well appreciated.
Deuteronomy 19:9–10 The addition of three cities of refuge to the original six attests to the mercy and justice of the Lord, Who ensures that an accused felon would have reasonable access to one of them. Again, it must be noted that the avenger had to follow due process. One unable to flee the avenger quickly must not suffer vengeance without an opportunity for a fair hearing before the court (v. 15).
Deuteronomy 19:13 Lack of pity, in this instruction, does not mean lack of human compassion and sensitivity. The idea is that the criminal should not be allowed to evade justice because of the sympathy of the community. Painful as it may be, the punishment must fit the crime and be fully carried out.
Deuteronomy 19:21 The measure-for-measure justice this directive advocates, known as lex talionis, need not be taken to mean, for example, that if a person should blind another person his or her eye should be blinded in turn. The principle is that a punishment must always be commensurate with a crime. It should neither exceed, nor be less than, the gravity of the offense (Lv 24:19–20). In the context of surrounding cultures where vengeance had no limits, lex talionis, was a standard far more just.
Deuteronomy 20:1 The Lord’s presence with his people in their warfare does not mean He sanctions every war or takes an active role in it. The passage is describing “holy war” (sometimes called “Yahweh war”), a conflict initiated by the Lord, empowered by Him, and resulting in His appropriation of its spoils. Such warfare was undertaken to destroy peoples who were irretrievably beyond redemption and who were likely to contaminate Israel’s faith with their idolatrous practices (see 1:30; 7:2, 16; 19:1).
Deuteronomy 20:5–8 These various exemptions from military service may seem unfair to other fighters, but they are in the interest of the whole army. Any soldier distracted by thoughts of home, occupation and family is unable to give full attention to his military duties and can become more of a liability than an asset to the cause. The mention of houses and fields is an indication that the complete conquest of Canaan would not be instantaneous but would occupy a period of time during which some Israelites would be able to establish themselves in the land; the book of Joshua reveals this to be the case. It is interesting that these exemptions are similar to the excuses offered by those who, in Jesus’ parable, did not come to the master’s banquet (Lk 14:18–20), with the implication that receiving the kingdom of God was a parallel to the conquest of the promised land.
Deuteronomy 20:11 Cities outside Canaan were granted a certain leniency because they were not among the nations under God’s “ban” (mandate of total destruction). Apparently, unlike the Canaanites proper, they were not considered irredeemably hardened against the Lord and his people. If they surrendered they would not be exterminated but would become vassals (subservient peoples) of Israel. This was a way of asserting the Lord’s proper and deserved sovereignty as God of all the earth (cp. Jos 9:22–27).
Deuteronomy 20:16–17 The destiny of the various Canaanite peoples was complete annihilation. They were to be placed under the ban (Hb cherem), the wrath of God enacted against persons beyond redemption (see 1:30; 12:2).
Deuteronomy 20:19 The anomaly of trees being spared while human beings were slaughtered lies precisely in the fact that human beings sin and therefore are culpable whereas trees, not being sentient, are “innocent.” This underscores the awfulness of sin and explains God’s abhorrence of it and need to punish it.
Deuteronomy 21:3–4 This means of addressing the crime of homicide operates on the basis of circumstantial evidence. When a perpetrator is not known, the assumption is that he is from the town nearest to the scene of the crime. The whole town is therefore implicated and its presumed guilt must be atoned for by appropriate sacrifices (v. 6). No sin is guiltless before God, and it must be dealt with even in anonymous cases. Again, the principle of corporate solidarity is at work (see notes on 5:9; 19:6).
Deuteronomy 21:11–14 In warfare against non-Canaanite nations, the Israelites could take prisoners (cp. 20:11), including young women as wives. This is not a requirement of the Law, or an action the Lord necessarily endorsed; it was a permission granted to make more tolerable a practice common at the time. A captive wife would surely live under conditions more favorable than those for a woman not so chosen. If her captor later rejected her as wife, she could not be made a slave.
Deuteronomy 21:15 Polygamy, while tolerated by the Law, was certainly never prescribed nor sanctioned. Monogamy is the standard to which God’s people were to conform. This is clear in both the OT (Gn 2:24) and NT (Mt 19:4–6). As is often the case, the instruction was designed not to prescribe a cultural norm but to regulate existing practice in a more humane way.
Deuteronomy 21:16 The wife who is “hated” (Hb text) is not the object of her husband’s loathing disdain. The verb expresses the idea of being secondary in his affections. Jacob’s preference for Rachel over Leah (Gn 29:18, 30) and Elkanah’s favor toward Hannah rather than Peninnah (1 Sm 1:5) are examples. (On the meaning of “hate” in this sense, see note on Dt 7:7.)
Deuteronomy 21:17 The child of the less-loved but first wife must be granted the double portion that fell to the first-born son. This is a prime example of the principle of fair treatment in human relationships that distinguishes Israel’s social practice from that of surrounding cultures. Israel’s faith raised its family and community life to a higher plane than that of its neighbors.
Deuteronomy 21:21 The execution of a wayward and incorrigible son is inconceivable in modern secular society, which lacks the standards of a theocratic (ruled by God) community. The possibility described here dramatizes the heavy responsibility borne by Israelite parents to see that their offspring held to the standards demanded of the people of God. Parents were expected to be God’s agents of authority and discipline at the family level, ensuring that no dysfunctional and destructive influences entered the community of faith on their account.
Deuteronomy 21:23 The hanging on a tree here was not crucifixion, nor was it even the cause of death (v. 22). Its purpose was to put to shame a person who had committed a capital offense, both because of the heinousness of his crime and to serve as a deterrent to others. Such an individual was the special object of God’s curse, the focus of His wrath that otherwise would be poured out on the community as a whole (cp. 2 Sm 4:12; 21:9; Gl 3:13).
Deuteronomy 22:1–4 The elevated level of OT law and ethics, as compared to that of the ancient Near East in general, abhors not only aggressive wrongdoing but also passive indifference in the face of opportunities to do good. This is in line with James’ injunction that “for the person who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, it is a sin” (James 4:17).
Deuteronomy 22:5 Cross dressing, considered by some of little consequence today, was strictly forbidden in Israel because it obliterated the lines of distinction inherent in God’s creation of man and woman.
Deuteronomy 22:9–11 The purpose of this passage as a whole is to establish the principle of separation, in light of the possibility that Israel might permit a mixture of Canaanite religious and cultural practice to assimilate with the faith of Yahweh. Subsequent biblical history records that Israel failed to keep itself from such corruption, and so came under judgment. Paul cites this text in his argument against a Christian’s marriage with unbelievers (2 Co 6:14).
Alvin J. Schmidt
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)