10 June 2008

People burned to death by God

In a previous post, I asked the question: Is it wrong to burn people to death? From the comments, it is clear that the answer depends upon whether you are a Bible-believer or not. So far no believer has answered the question, whereas every non-believer has answered clearly: It is wrong always and everywhere to burn to death anyone for any reason.

Of course there is a reason believers refuse the answer the question: God likes burning people to death. He sees nothing wrong with it. In fact, he does it himself sometimes. Here are a few examples from the Bible.

  1. God burned and smashed the people in Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone from heaven. (So there's fire and brimstone in heaven?)
    The LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. Genesis 19:24

  2. Aaron's sons were caught burning incense without a license, so God burned them to death. (Aaron, the lousy father that he was, just watched and said nothing.)
    And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Leviticus 10:1-2

  3. The Israelites complained (the Bible doesn't say about what) and God heard it (he had his hearing aid on), so he burned them to death. (What else would any self-respecting God do?).
    And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." Numbers 11:1

  4. God burns to death another 250 for burning incense. (What is it about incense that pisses God off? And do the Catholics know about this?)
    And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense. Numbers 16:35

  5. 102 men (in two shifts of 51 each) are burned to death by God to prove that Elijah is a man of God. (Who else could magically burn people to death?)
    If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. ... And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. 2 Kings 1:10-12

So the moral of the story is this: Don't complain, burn incense, or hang around men of God. (Otherwise God might burn you to death, too.)


v_quixotic said...

Steve, Jason also said that burning people today is wrong. but Jesus suggests I will burn in the not too distant future:

John 15:6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Don't Jesus' 'men' know that burning is immoral these days?

Anon said...

Thanks for the post Steve. I think this may be the road to go because apparently some believers think what evil men do can at least sometimes be justified by societal norms.

God however should clearly be above passing norms since he is eternal and knew right from wrong well before humanity did. So if God does something, it seems to indicate that he thinks it's moral to do.

I will categorically state that it is wrong to burn people. God and his followers cannot state this though because their God has done so in the past (and told others to do so). So for God and his followers, sometimes burning is moral, sometimes it isn't. It all depends on the time, the place, the circumstances. This sort of relativism is dangerous, in my opinion. It allows for people to justify the worst of actions.

Maybe the Israelites thought burning people alive was okay precisely because God was okay with it?? In any case, it's true societal normas change here on Earth. Why should God's morality change?

Jason said...

The issue that's still being ignored is that it wasn't wrong to execute by burning back then. It wasn't a universal wrong. How many other ways can it be said? Similarly, historians don't condemn the Code of Hammurabi for it's promotion of "cruelty" or "immorality" for the simple reason history isn't judged based on the morals of today. History is judged by the standards of the day.

The only logical justification to condemn an action or behaviour in history is if it can be proven it was considered immoral at the time. Was burning by execution immoral at the time the law was given by God?

Brian_E said...

And you continue to ignore the fact that your OMNISCIENT GOD should have a better understanding of right and wrong than the primitives of the time. You continually try and excuse the behavior of your god because of the mentality of society at the time. What kind of example was god setting by condemning people to death by fire (for all the stupid reasons listed above)? Was he encouraging this society to 'grow up', or handle their problems in a more civilized fashion? I think not! Rather he sets the tone for a barbarian society to thrive for centuries. What a kind and loving god you've got there.

Steve Wells said...

OK. I think it's time to give up on Jason. He doesn't know if it's right or wrong, cruel or merciful, to burn people to death or to cut out the hearts of young virgins to appease the gods.

But there are a couple billion other Bible believers out there. If any happen to stop by, I'd like to hear what they think about this. Is it wrong to burn people to death? Did God command us to burn people? Did he sometimes do it himself? Or was the Bible mistaken about these things?

Jason said...

I do know if it's right or wrong, Steve. Perhaps you missed my posts about the matter. Burning by execution was acceptable 4000 years ago, it's not acceptable today. History proves this.

But as I'm being asked in a roundabout way to stop posting comments on the matter, I shall take my leave. Toodles.

Steve Wells said...

I do know if it's right or wrong, Steve. Perhaps you missed my posts about the matter.

No, I've seen your posts, Jason. And you've never answered the question (Is it wrong to burn people to death?).

Burning by execution was acceptable 4000 years ago, it's not acceptable today.

So you don't know if it's right or wrong to burn people to death. Your answer is: It depends; it was right then (when God commanded us to do it), but it is wrong now (since he -- according to you anyway -- doesn't tell us to do it any more).

But as I'm being asked in a roundabout way to stop posting comments on the matter, I shall take my leave. Toodles.

I'm not asking you to leave, directly or indirectly. You're the only believer with guts enough to hang out here. So I'd prefer that you stay. But I don't expect a straight answer on this question (you know, the one about burning people to death).

So stay or go. It is entirely your choice. I am not asking you to leave.

mello said...

Burning by execution was acceptable 4000 years ago, it's not acceptable today.

some would say that 'burning by execution' was a method employed well into the 1800's. at some point in the early twentieth century, most people seemed to lose interest in this method. perhaps it was too labor and/or resource intensive?

Jason said...


"Execution by burning is wrong today" (Tue Jun 10, 04:50:00 PM 2008 - Is It Wrong to Burn People to Death)

I answered the question. You didn't read my posts. A little more diligence on your part would be appreciated.

Anon said...

I don't know if you're still reading this, Jason, but I see the arguments on morality that you made here on your Bible Discussions blog, in the series of posts. Maybe you, or any other Christians who are reading this, can comment on how this might relate to the issue at hand (the morality of God or others burning people) or related issues that have come up.

In the series "Can We Be Good Without God", in part 2, you seem to say morality stems from God, which is what I believe most Christian apologists believe. Even in non-believers, God has instilled the sense of right and wrong. You wrote:

A code of morality must have an objective scale of reference to measure good and evil and to determine the boundary between them, in the same way that we need a thermometer to measure temperature. Otherwise, terms such as "good" and "evil" are no more than words. By what yardstick do we measure them if we do not believe in God? Public opinion is fickle, individual conscience is subjective, the laws of nature say nothing about moral issues. The only reliable yardstick is found in the Bible which reveals the character and will of God. That provides a reference point which alone is perfect, unchanging, and transcendent. That is the reality by which all other views of reality must be measured.

This seems to say that, since God reveals his will and character, that burning people is okay because he does so himself and commands others to do so in some circumstances. Is this correct?

Even people who do not know God receive their moral compass from God. You say, even the "Gentiles', that is people who had not heard of the law of Moses, still possessed a knowledge of right and wrong. They had a conscience, they were aware of moral values. This is sometimes called "general revelation'. [...] Without this knowledge of right and wrong "written on their hearts", there could be no ordered society, no civilisation, no cultural achievements.

This seems to indicate there is no morality without God. Would you agree with this? Or is there a different relationship between God and morality that I misunderstood from your blog?

Then there is the question of old law vs. new law:

The sixth commandment states 'You shall not murder' A devout Israelite could claim to have obeyed this simply by not murdering anyone, even though he might heartily have wished his enemies dead. Which is not the kind of morality that God wants. He does not want an adjustment of behaviour, but a change of heart.

Jesus, you argue, acomplished this: he did not simply provide his followers with a list of do's and don'ts. In fact he was sharply critical of a morality founded on a rule-book mentality [...] The morality which really mattered was achieved by transforming people's hearts, changing their underlying motives. [...] The old Law had represented strict justice: "You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye and tooth for tooth" (Matthew 5:38). That is natural justice, to give enemies exactly what they deserve. But Jesus replaces justice with a dignified submission to injustice. [...] The followers of Jesus [...] will turn their enemies into their friends and neutralise their animosity. They must never allow the spirit of revenge to motivate their dealings with others.

So it sounds like Jesus disagreed with the spirit and the letter of the old law. To me, it sounds judgmental either of their moral code or of God's law. Instead of killing your enemies, for example, you should reach out to them as friends and try to convince them to change their ways. What does this say about God, who instead of trying to talk things through with the complaining Israelites in Numbers 11:1, simply burned them instead?

Can morality exist without God? In matters of personal morality the humanist can look to no higher authority than his own conscience or the shifting sands of public opinion. [...] In contrast the Gospel directs us to a power which lies outside human life—a power that can forgive, transform and raise the dead. That power is God Himself, without whom there can be no true goodness.

This makes it sound like good comes from God, but the description of the A.D. God is different from the one we find for the B.C. God in the Old Testament. Is the two apparent approaches of God to law and punishment why you say Jason that morality depends on the society? It seems to contradict the rest of your argument, but it would explain why God acts one way in the Old Testament and another in the New.

You do list some people without faith who aren't necessarily immoral: There are many exceptions in our own society, as there were in the first century—people who have no faith in God, nor any hope of life beyond this one and yet still try to live by high standards and devote themselves to the pursuit of truth, to serving their fellows, to helping refugees and the victims of war, tyranny and famine. But you say this is both "noble and tragic" since their good deeds aren't done in view of the life to come. I appreciate the fact that you admit that someone who is doing the right thing without the promise of an afterlife is noble. I disagree with your assessment of tragic though, although I understand your perspective as a former Christian.

So I guess I have two questions, after reading Jason's thoughts in his blog (which I found well-written and thought out overall, even though I disagreed with much of it):

1) Does morality come from God, either directly or indirectly? If so, why would this God-given morality appear to change through the centuries?

2) Are the God of the Old Testament (who burned people and left a set of rules and punishments for his followers) and the God of the New Testament (who taught people to love their neighbor, turn the other cheek, and who felt motivating people to be good was more important than regulating behavior) one in the same?

Do any Christians (Jason or others), or any non-Christians, have any thoughts on this? I don't see how, if morality comes from God, he could burn people.

Brian_E said...


Anon, I applaud your research and diligence with this troll. He consistently dodges questions while criticizing other for dodging his (irrelevant and designed to derail the topic) questions.

Although while he has been shown to be a fool time and time again, he appears to have the tenacity of a computer bot and constantly speaks up even after he's been conquered and dismissed.

I wish you luck with this.

Steve Wells said...

I didn't ask you if it was wrong today, Jason. I asked you if it is wrong. You've never answered.

Jason said...

As my last post on this topic, I would suggest you all take some time to read this discussion on judging history by the standard's of today.

Perhaps you'll be a little more open to hear what people other then myself have to say on the matter.

Steve Wells said...

It is not about "judging history" (whatever that might mean); it's about what is right or wrong.

Slave owners in the south prior to the Civil War may thought slavery was perfectly moral. It was a common opinion at the time, and we are all affected by the times in which we live. So we shouldn't judge them too harshly for their mistaken beliefs. But slavery is wrong no matter what the slave owner may believe about it. It was wrong then; it is wrong now; it is wrong always and everywhere for one person to own another.

The sad thing about Bible believers is that they cannot say this about slavery, burning people to death, stoning to death friends and relatives who believe incorrectly, etc. The believer has to say that these things are sometimes OK (mandatory even) because God said so in the Bible. A believer must sacrifice morality to the immoral God of the Bible.

And that's why you can't answer the question, Jason.

Milo said...

I wrote this before reading your last post. :)


You are missing the point. We are not judging history by the standards of today, we are judging God by his own standards. Leviticus 20:14, God did not say "put them to death by the manner of execution acceptable in your day". His command was to burn alive the man, his wife, and his mother in law. Is that God's command or not? Legally wrong and morally wrong are two different things. Just because it was legal at the time to burn people doesn't mean it was moral.

Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Does that make him a bad man? "We don't judge history by the standards of today". So we should cut TJ some slack in judging him.

Can we judge the Almighty in the same way? No. God has always known that slavery is wrong. He cannot change his mind according to changing historical conditions. Likewise the morality of burning people alive does not change.

The bible often describes bad behavior by humans. That does not mean that God endorses that bad behavior. In this instance you can use "standards of the day" to evaluate the situation. The distinction made by the verses quoted in this post is God is the one actually behaving badly. He, himself, burns people alive. No excuses for an omniscient, benevolent deity.

It appears that God can commit any atrocity and violate his own rules of moral conduct and remain good because God makes the rules. Might makes right! Jason, I think you are deliberately misunderstanding the question because there have been many excellent comments that have explained it well and you continue to evade an answer.

RR said...

“I do know if it's right or wrong, Steve. Perhaps you missed my posts about the matter. Burning by execution was acceptable 4000 years ago, it's not acceptable today. History proves this.”

what kind of nonsensical argument is that jason? I thought the big-G was above "societal norms"... If not, that means god takes his cue's on "what's acceptable" and "what's not" FROM MANKIND.

Your argument supports the reality that: MANKIND created god … not the other way around. His behavior seems to oddly “sanctify” the behavior of the era: from stoning non-virgins on a wedding night, to kids who talk back to their parents. ALL of these things are considered abhorrent today.

I can't waste my time with this... Anyone who believes some 'entity' out there created the universe (there is NO evidence for this proposition)... and that he inspired a book... and that that book is the bible is demonstrable mentally unstable.

Normal, rational homo sapiens need 'reasons' -- concrete, logical reasons for believing things about the world. Lending credence to a bunch of ancient myths, stories and hearsay is NOT reasonable. It's not reasonable to believe in the book of mormon, the koran or the bible ... and anyone who believes in one will say the same about believers in the other two. How someone who (I believe) denounces the Koran and book of morman as gibberish cannot see the same thing in the bible is beyond reason…

Again: it is mental illness to think "I found the one, true book" that explains it all... especially when it is filled with bronze-age barbarism.

sconnor said...

But as I'm being asked in a roundabout way to stop posting comments on the matter, I shall take my leave. Toodles.

Awwwwwww, no one wants to play with the creepy, weird, little booger-faced kid, who eats paste and babbles like Tom Cruise about his Christadelphian, cuckoo, religion.

Jason and his brother, praying


Cristiano SamZZ said...

"The issue that's still being ignored is that it wasn't wrong to execute by burning back then"

So if something is not wrong according to the moral of the time, then how about abortion?

In places where abortion is legal, then god is ok with abortion. But in places where abortion is illegal, god disapprovers abortion.

And that goes with everything else.

What about female genital mutilation in Africa? It's a common tradition there. God must approve that too.

You see, the way you think, god has no opinion whatsoever. It's man who makes the decisions and god is pretty much useless...

So you and we atheists are not that different after all... :D

Milo said...

God burns people in hell for eternity so I guess burning a few on earth is no big deal.

Aaron said...

We make the mistake of given God human qualities. The fact that he is God makes Him above the Laws set for man. He makes the laws. Wrong and right is based on what he says they are. God choses some to go to heaven and some to burn in hell. He made us, and will do with us what he feels is just. We in out limited mortallity in time and space, can't determine what is right. God who is eternal and knows all things has to decide who dies and who lives on a daily basis.

sconnor said...

All hail the great Aaron; the newest and smartest prophet of god. He knows how god works. He knows what god thinks. He knows what god decides. It's obvious, by Aaron's well-written and well-thought out post, that he is either, perspicaciously, intellectual; a super-genius, and has studied comparative religions, for decades or he and his god have had intense and intimate, detailed, conversations, on a daily basis. Hell, with Aaron's profound knowledge of god's mind, it's probably both. Thanks for sharing your sagacious epiphanies and enlightened revelations -- surely, your divine awareness and astute scholarship will change the course of human spirituality and will rock the world to it's very, core. I for one say, AMEN, AARON, AMEN!


Milo said...

If your version of God is correct, how do we know the Bible isn't a hoax? We base our faith on a God that is Good. An arbitrary tyrant such as you describe could fill the bible with lies meant to trick us and lead to war, hate, and evil. Oh, wait......maybe you are right about God.

Anon said...

Thanks brian_e for the compliment. I honestly was not going out and looking for something to use against Jason. I just like exploring what I believe and what others believe, which is why I came to SAB in the first place. Vague feelings about what I do or don't like or believe become a lot more well-defined after I read and post about them.

Jason, it's too bad we can't have a more open discussion on the topic. The points you made on your blog are interesting, but they seemed at least in part to contradict what you've said on here. Your arguments on here seem to come down to there being no moral absolutes, and God not being responsible for humanity's morals. I would think if God existed, created the universe, and handed down laws in the Bible, then morality would come from him. Only you know whether or not you agree with this or not.

Aaron, I agree with you in part. People do tend to give God human qualities. But I tend to think that when they do so, they're letting him off the hook.

You say God alone knows morality. Then why wouldn't he tell us what is and isn't moral? How can we expected as humans to follow God's morality if he alone understands it? It seems like it's unfair to punish people with burning, etc. for being imperfect when he made them that way. Would you agree with this?