The news broke over so many media outlets I couldn’t even keep up. The trending headline? A genetic study had disproved a biblical claim.
At hand was the destruction of the Canaanites. The Bible records God calling for their destruction. A new genetic study found that they had most certainly not been destroyed as traces of Canaanite ancestry were discovered in modern Lebanese. Translation: the Canaanites went on to become modern-day Lebanese.
Conclusion? Since, according to the Bible, God had ordered the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites, the Bible is clearly wrong. As is written in the book of Deuteronomy, “Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 20:17, NIV).
They weren’t destroyed, so the Bible is finally caught in a true-blue, card-carrying, inescapable error.
A Pulse headline read, “The Bible got it wrong: Ancient Canaanites survived and their DNA lives in modern-day Lebanese.” The Daily Mail breathlessly announced, “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out.”
There’s just one little problem.
The Bible never said that the Canaanites were exterminated. Yes, God called for their punishment, but their destruction was never understood to be an annihilation (a careful reading of the biblical text notes that it was just to involve the major city military strongholds, not the outlying areas, which were more civilian in nature). And even that language was commonly used ancient, near-eastern hyperbole. For example, you would commonly read among the cultures of that day how they had destroyed “everyone,” but then following this would read a discussion of what they were going to do with the survivors and prisoners.
(For an exploration of why God would order such a thing – which is an important conversation – I would suggest a series given at Mecklenburg Community Church titled “The Bloody Bible,” which has an entire installment on the Canaanite affair.)
But to the point of the DNA study headlines, the Bible says that even that level of military advance was not fully obeyed by the people of Israel. They were simply driven out of the land. The Bible even notes later in Judges that some “Israelites lived among the Canaanites” (Judges 3:5, NIV).
So was the Bible proven wrong?
It was just proven right.
As one, and only one, mind you, revised article later added, “The Bible claims elsewhere that the purge was not successful, an account backed up now by a scientific study.”
Genetic testing proved exactly what the Bible described.
So instead of “Bible’s Veracity Bolstered by Genetic Study,” we read, “Bible Disproved by Genetic Study.”
And that really was “fake news.”
James Emery White
Chris Graham, “Study Shows Ancient Canaanites Survived Divine Call in Bible for Them to Be Wiped Out,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2017, read online.
Sheryl Lynn, “Media Get It Wrong on Bible Account of Canaanites; Only One Issues Correction,” The Christian Post, August 1, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.