Literal Inerrancy and Child Sacrifice?
There is nothing more perverse or heart-wrenchingly evil than an intentional act to harm a child. There are truly no words to capture such brokenness. Child sacrifice is the vilest act in the existence of humanity, the utmost perversion of worship imaginable. Child sacrifice is a depraved devotion.
“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Gen 22:1
This bible verse literally reads, “God said…” This bible story presents child sacrifice as a God-inspired idea, God’s literal spoken word to Abraham. God Himself requested child sacrifice.
So, Abraham, on God’s word, headed off to murder his son.
As the story goes, three days later Abraham is on a mountaintop and has, “…bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Gen 22:9-10
Have you ever heard anyone say they are “standing on the word of God?” Yeah, that’s what Abraham was literally doing at that moment. Knife in hand, standing on the word of God, moments away from slaughtering his boy.
I wonder how he planned to do it, how he pre-meditated this murder? Would he slit his son’s throat, or puncture his heart?
I haven’t researched how human sacrifice was done in those days, but I just graphically described two options so we wouldn’t read this part of the story as some mythic metaphor. No, this was child sacrifice. Child sacrifice is satanic. And, as the Bible literally tells us, Abraham was fully participating in this satanic act on God’s say so.
And then God seems to change His mind.
Or, maybe the thought didn’t originate with God in the first place. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Either way, God sends an angel to intervene. And thankfully Abraham was paying attention. Otherwise, this story could have become disturbing.
“To Abraham, not unfamiliar with the various ways in which among his heathen ancestors, the deity was propitiated, the testing question comes, ‘Is he prepared to obey his God as fully as the people around him obey their god?” – Translated from, The Early Religion of Israel, by Robertson.
Did you know that the demonic inspiration of child sacrifice was a culturally accepted and expected form of devotion in the day of Abraham? In the narrative Abraham was familiar with, in the land of Canaan where he lived, the sacrifice of the firstborn was customary. In times of trouble, the Canaanites offered their best and dearest to the gods, “the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul.” (Micah 6:7)
Abraham lived in a culture that demanded these types of demonic acts. And Abraham, under the influence of the culture of his day, was no different than his “heathen ancestors.” He also attributed these demonic inspirations to his God.
Think about it, Abraham heard “take your son” and “sacrifice him” with seeming clarity. There was no apparent internal wrestling match, no “God is that really you?” Nope, to Abraham, this request was not only possible but seemingly expected. Abraham, and the writer of this story, seem to be fine with the idea that God would make such demonic requests of His people…
In my formative years, I was instructed to read the bible as infallible and through the lens of literal inerrancy as though my faith and very salvation depended on it.
Every word was infallible; “trustworthy, without error.”
And every word was literal; “true, not exaggerated, actual, factual, not figurative or metaphorical.”
I was taught that through reading scripture this way, I could know the nature of God by simply believing the words as they were written. Essentially, if the words read, “God said,” then whatever comes next will reveal the nature of God…
For years this literal inerrant approach to scripture had me reading the story of Abraham and Isaac and wrestling with the nature of God’s goodness instead of the nature of man’s fallen thinking.
As though a good god is a god who would partner with the idea of child sacrifice to, in some way, test his kids. As though Abrahams’s demonic belief in child sacrifice is meant to define what God is like instead of what Abraham was like; what a fallen mindset is like, what we, humanity, are capable of attributing to the nature of God.
You see, Abraham not only believed that God would demand the sacrifice of Isaac. He expected it. Abraham believed that bull-&%$# about God, and he lived enslaved to that narrative, that paradigm.
Thankfully, I don’t read this story like I used to. Now I read it through “God, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself not counting our broken thoughts about God against us…” (See 2 Cor 5:19)
The story of Abraham and Issac isn’t a confusing literal invitation to believe that God could one day come knocking on our door making some demonic request in order to test our faith. This story isn’t some inerrant description of a good God who on occasion will test us by asking of us evil things.
This is a story about humanity’s capacity to believe evil things about the nature of God and then, on behalf of our desperate devotion, pursue those evil things to their horrific conclusions.
This is a story about a self-righteous earning system that ultimately leads to desperate acts of devotion culminating in death.
And then, ultimately, and beautifully, this is a story about a truly uncompromisingly good and loving God who will walk with us into the depths of our depraved delusions so He can set us free from living enslaved to the horrors of our broken understanding and the fruits thereof.
Guys, God isn’t in the ‘requesting evil of us to test us’ business, He’s in the setting us free business.
But a literal inerrant approach to scripture will cut us off from reading Abraham and Isaac this way. Why? Because it literally tells us child sacrifice was God’s idea.
If we read this bible story through a doctrine of literal inerrancy, which I did for the first 30 years of my life, we can’t help but wrestle with a couple of heartrending, trust jeopardizing conclusions.
Either God approves of child sacrifice, but in this instance, He intervened, which is a terrifying thought.
Or, it’s in God’s nature to request perversely evil things of us in order to test our unquestioning obedience to anything He asks, including slaughtering our kids, which is also a terrifying thought.
The first conclusion, God approves of child sacrifice? Yeah, it’s taught today from pulpits around the world under the banner of ‘good news.’ For so many, the gospel of salvation is built upon the altar of divine child sacrifice; a sacrifice in which God, the Father, because He is righteousness, requires child sacrifice before He can save us. Therefore He doesn’t intervene but instead forsakes His Son on a cross.
The second conclusion, the one I grew up with, teaches that, while God isn’t pro-child sacrifice, He will request perversely evil things of us in order to test our faith. You can hear this behavior-focused message every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Of course, it’s not articulated this way. No, instead it’s presented as though Abrahams’s faith was proven in his willingness to kill his son instead of in his belief that God would raise him from the dead. And it’s decorated with the religious justification that, because God intervened, He didn’t actually want Abraham to kill his son.
This teaching is horrifically problematic and obviously so. You see, for Abraham to pass this perverted faith test, he first had to convince God he was willing to murder his son. The only way Abraham convinces God of this is through practicing what we would today refer to as premeditated murder.
This contradicts what Jesus taught and what we know to be true in our hearts, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (See Matt 5:28)
Abraham was well past a ‘glance’ or brief thought about murder, he was three days travel, a bundle of wood, an altar, a bound son, and a knife in hand. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham was believing God for resurrection life. This means he had already committed the murder in his heart.
To me, reading this bible story through the doctrine of literal inerrancy leaves little room for anything other than a God who at least once was pro-child sacrifice or a God who will ask us to commit perverse evil in our hearts in order to test our faith. Either interpretation greatly compromises the nature of God’s good love while elevating the fallen beliefs Abraham was striving under.
They also contradict what took place on the cross. The Father never left Jesus, He didn’t look away, “…he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (See Psalm 22:24) No, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our desperate devotions and depraved ideas about the nature of God against us. (See 2 Cor 5:19)
But if we can read this story through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, suddenly it’s a beautiful story about a fella by the name of Abraham who believed a pretty big lie about the nature of God. And about a God who loved Abraham so much that He climbed inside his delusion to set him free.
After all, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (see Gal 5:1) And it’s always been that way because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (See Heb 13:8)
Jason Clark is a writer, producer, speaker, and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children, Madeleine, Ethan, and Eva.