A while back I did a post called The Faith of Abraham where I discussed the considerable challenges surrounding the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice Isaac. I have been in conversation recently with a blogger from Wheat and Tares about this story because it really bothers him — to the point where he has come up with ways to discount it as truly having come from God. As the discussion went on we agreed to ‘take it public’ because its such an interesting topic for discussion. His response to my post is found here. He then posted it on W&T today.
One thing I’ve long believed is that this story largely defines the difference between what it generally means to be “conservative” vs. “liberal” when it comes to religion. Maybe I’m over emphasizing this, but this tends to be a pretty good litmus test. Further, this particular story and the discussion that follows is a fairly straightforward example of why I self-identify as a “conservative” despite being quite literally 25% atheist and only 75% believer. Those that know me know that I believe that liberal theology is a rational non-starter. It doesn’t even make it out the rational gate for me and this is a great example of why.
Summary of Liberal Friend’s Argument
First, let me summarize his argument, though I hope you’ll all go read his full post yourselves.
His first argument is that it’s inconsistent for God to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac when God teaches against this elsewhere. He goes on to say:
If I believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why would he tell Abraham to kill his son, and not tell me to do the same? This is not a consistent God.
He than quotes Nephi about “likening the scriptures unto ourselves” and draws the conclusion that this is not a scripture we should liken until ourselves because if we actually did kill our own children, we’d be rightly jailed as monsters.
Next he quotes from Jewish Midrash to back up his view that Abraham was not commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, but made that all up himself and that the key point was really that God stopped him from doing so.
Finally he quotes a scripture to back up his position, namely Jeremiah 32:35 emphasizing a few parts:
And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
I skip a few of his arguments, but I think the above captures his basic argument. But please review his whole post to be sure you understand where he is coming from.
His Argument is a Non Sequitur
The above argument needs to stand on its own and frankly it does not. The big obvious problem with it is that he has failed to separate the difference between actually sacrificing a child vs. testing someone via a command to sacrifice a child. This is a glaring problem with his argument at a rational level. Indeed his whole argument is an obvious non sequitur if we’re talking about pure logic.
The most obvious example of this – and only scriptural example — is the quote from Jeremiah. My friend, after making this quote, goes on to say:
Did you catch that? God says that child sacrifice was NOT commanded by him, NEITHER CAME IT INTO MY MIND. Has God forgotten the story of Abraham? Is it better to say that God is consistent, and never wanted child sacrifice? Is Jeremiah lying? I’d love to hear some orthodox folks interpret this.
But it’s incredibly obvious that there is nothing at all logically inconsistent with this quote — which is about actually sacrificing children — and the story of Abraham which isn’t. Because obviously as per the Genesis story, God never did actaully intend for Abraham to sacrific Isaac and therefore it never actually did come into God’s mind to have Abraham perform a child sacrific. Non Sequitur. End of rational argument. 
The Power of Narratives
In all honesty I think what my friend is really trying to do is create a narrative argument. He seems to have mistaken narrative for logic. But so much of what we human beings argue over is narrative and not logic, so perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. 
Essentially I think his real argument is that if God would not consider real child sacrifice, does this not suggest the possibility – or even probability – that God would therefore not consider testing someone on child sacrifice either? (Or more to the point, he is asserting this is the case as an assumption.)
Now obviously the issue here is that Jeremiah 32:35 may imply that God would not testing Abraham via child sacrifice but it also may not imply that. So how is my friend coming up with the idea that Jeremiah 32:35 supports his case? Well, really an appeal to intuition and nothing more. And presumably different people will come up with different answers and all will be equally legitimate if we assume that there is no other scriptural or authoritative way to resolve the question.
The Liberal Interpretation of Jeremiah is Casually Incorrect and Therefore Bad Scholarship
So this presents a bit of a problem for my friend’s argument because he has to first show Jeremiah 32:35 implies God would not test someone via child sacrifice as opposed to the orthodox reading that it actually only implies God would not go through with a child sacrifice. And since Jeremiah lives long after Abraham and presumably is very familiar with that story, my friend’s argument that child sacrifice “neither came into [God's] mind” is casually backward. God — and Jeremiah — have not forgotten the story of Abraham. It’s a famous story even in Jeremiah’s time. So Jeremiah is actually making this statement in light of the well-known story of Abraham and Isaac.
So if we want to determine if the liberal or orthodox reading of Jeremiah 32:35 is more correct, the proper scholarly approach is not to read Jeremiah as a contradiction to the Genesis account of Abraham but to read it as compatible with the Genesis account of Abrham. So good scholarship supports the orthodox reading, not the liberal reading.
So the Jeremiah passage cannot be marshalled even as a narrative against the Genesis account because the correct scholarly way to look at the Jeremiah passage is to assume the difference between a test and the actual thing — as per the orthodox reading.
This is also seems to be a case of begging the question, by the way. He’s really using Jeremiah 32:35 to decide the correct way to read Jeremiah 32:35.
This suggests to me that what my friend is actually doing is starting with the assumption that God would not test Abraham through sacrificing Isaac and then – given this assumption — he chooses to use Jeremiah 32:35 to discount the Genesis account. Thus the starting assumption and the conclusion are one and the same and the rest of the argument is logically unnecessary. It’s a circular argument.
Appealing to Revelation: What Do the Scriptures Actually Say?
But why is my friend appealing to scripture at all if he’s really starting out with the assumption he is then trying to prove using scripture?
Well, I think the reason is because the question we are really asking is “Would God test Abraham through child sacrifice?” And to answer this question we really need to have God tell us the answer. That is to say, we need a revelation. And so my friend is trying to find the best support possible amongst accepted scripture (i.e. revelation) he can find for his starting assumption that Abraham was not tested by God.
To me his approach seems like post facto justification, but this idea of appealing to revelation for an answer to this question about God’s nature does in fact make sense to me.
Liberal Theological Use of Scripture is Really Non-Use of Scripture
One of the things that I find the most troubling with Liberal Theology is that it cherry picks scripture to a degree that seems to me to undermine they very concept of scriptural authority and appeal to revelation. 
As I pointed out, my friend is starting with the assumption God would not test Abraham in this way. So for him, this is a done deal. He has already decided. But what if we are open to that possibility — no matter how improbable it seems. How would we go about finding out whether or not God would test someone in this way?
Well obviously we’d have to appeal to revelation. And where would we look for such a revelation? Well it would sort of make sense to see what the scriptures say. And what do we find when we consult the scriptures? Why we find the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. In other words the scriptures do teach that God may test someone in this way, at least under some circumstances and the story of Abraham is the scriptural answer to the question.
The New Testament Confirms the Genesis Account of Abraham and Isaac
What makes this even more difficult for the liberal view-point is that it’s not just the Old Testament that teaches that God is open to testing people in this way. If it were only the Old Testament, perhaps we could dismiss it on the grounds of Article of Faith 8. But as it turns out it’s this story is also confirmed as true by the New Testament in Hebrews 11:17-19:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Did you notice that? Paul (well, psuedo-Paul) here uses this account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a quintessential example of what it means to have faith in God. And did you also notice what he claims Abraham was probably thinking? According to “Paul”, Abraham had so much faith in God’s promises that his seed would come through Isaac that he believed that even if God did have him go through with the sacrifice, Isaac would be raised from the dead and his seed would still come through Isaac. He just knew God could be trust to fulfill his promises and he knew God’s power was even over death itself.
Now we can imagine if the story had in fact gone that way. Instead of God commanding Abraham to not sacrifice Isaac and providing a ram in a thicket for him, what if Abraham had gone through with it and Isaac has been sacrificed. And then Isaac is raised from the dead and lives the rest of his life and has great seed, just as promised. Now this would have made a pretty good story in its own right because it would be a powerful reminder of God’s true power. Even death is meaningless to God.
To me, this is the inherent problem with trying to moralize God in the liberal way. God just isn’t a mortal human being. The same rules just don’t apply to Him precisely because he can do things like raise people from the dead. Given that added assumption — that God can raise the dead — it is much easier to see why Abraham really was right to trust God in this way. Nothing is impossible with God. The laws of physics need not apply for all God cares. And death is not the end for God like it is for us. So the moral calculus of God must of necessity be different from our own because of this.
The Book of Mormon Confirms the Genesis Account of Abraham and Isaac
What makes this Abraham story all the more powerful is that it’s not even just the Old and New Testament that have confirmed this story just as Genesis relates it. It’s also confirmed by the Book of Mormon in Jacob 4:5. This means we can no longer appeal to Article of Faith 8.
5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.
Compare the vagueness of my friends use of Jeremiah to the utter clarity of Jacob. Could it be any more clear? God is the one that commanded Abraham. It was not Abraham making something up in his head, as my friend believes. And it even tells us theologically why God did this — as a similitude of Jesus!
The Doctrine and Covenants Confirms the Genesis Account of Abraham and Isaac
But wait! I’m still not done, because the Doctrine and Covenants supports the Genesis account too in D&C 132:36 and its God speaking to boot!
36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
Okay, now we literally have God Himself taking on my friend’s very own argument. God is not only confirming He counted Abraham’s act as a righteous example of faith, but He’s also specifically using a variant of my friends argument — showing that potentially this was a commandment at odds with another scripture — yet it wasn’t for Abraham to make that judgment. It was for Abraham to obey on faith and it was up to God to make everything work out. So just how much more clear could we be here that you can’t just quote a scripture like Jeremiah 32:35 — which mind you doesn’t even specifically state what my friend wants it to state — as a counter to literally every other book of scripture (save only the Pearl of Great Price.)
The Modern Prophets Confirm the Genesis Account of Abraham and Isaac
But in the LDS Church we do not place ancient prophets above modern ones. So if we appeal to modern prophets what do we find? That they confirm the Genesis account, of course! This is abundantly obvious but just as a few examples, the modern prophets have confirmed the Genesis account in primary manuals and seminary manuals. Both recent prophets and the currently living prophet have confirmed it as well in conference talks acting in their priesthood office.
What Revelation Did My Friend Appeal To?
So let’s be clear. The Genesis account of God testing Abraham is quite possibly the single best testified account of any story in scripture. It is confirmed by every book of scripture save only The Pearl of Great Price and has been confirmed probably hundreds or thousands of times by now by modern prophets.
So none of these can possibly be the source of revelation my friend is appealing to. And in fact we knew that anyhow because my friend has already decided in advance that God would not test Abraham in this way and then sought the best scriptural evidence — though considerably weaker than the alternative reading — to support his view.
So if my friend’s revelation is non-scriptural and doesn’t come from modern prophets, where does it come from?
The only option left seems to me to be personal revelation. If that is the case then it seems to me that he is setting up his personal revelation as above every other book of scripture and all modern prophets. This is why I find his argument ultimately undermining to the very concept of scriptural authority.
Further, if I bought in to my friend’s argument, it seems pretty clear to me that the whole concept of revelation as reliable to any degree must also be undermined. To know God’s will on this subject I literally have to ignore every book of scripture and all modern prophets!
Further, my own praying and seeking God’s will on the subject has failed to bring me to my friend’s view-point, so I personally can’t even appeal to personal revelation and find the answer it would seem. Instead, to know God’s will, I have to know to go to liberals and ask their opinion, because that is in fact the single best reliable source of revelation it would seem.
The Problem of Liberal Theology
So this is a perfect example of why liberal theology is a rational non-starter for me. It seems to me that the scriptures and modern revelation are meaningless to this liberal approach. It simply does not matter what the scriptures say. It doesn’t matter what the modern prophets teach either. Within this liberal theological approach, the only thing that matters is personal revelation – and only then if you happen to be a theological liberal.
And because that was the true source of the key starting assumption — which assumption is identical to the conclusion — it is incredibly obvious that there is no possible basis on which to argue with my friend over. He’s either going to accept his personal revelation on this subject and the rest of my scriptural arguments are meaningless — or he’s going to accept the scriptures as true revelations and abandon his personal revelation. The scriptures — with their unanimous support for the Genesis Abraham account — literally leave no other choice here.
Which brings me to my main point about the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. If you take the scriptures seriously to any degree at all you will have to accept the Abraham account in Genesis and therefore you will find both the scriptures and the modern prophets to be mutually exclusive from the theologically liberal approach.
The Liberal Reading of Abraham Sacrificing Isaac is Actually a Misreading of the Genesis Account
What is interesting about the liberal approach to the story of Abraham is that while it is an appeal to personal revelation, the personal revelation it appeals to is the personal moral sense based on what Jonathan Haidt calls WEIRD sensibilities. (i.e. Western Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic) WEIRD sensibilities are a very narrow slice of humanity both modernly and over the course of history. I find much value in them, by the way, but not the point of deciding they are the prime source of God’s revelations.
In any case my friend does not hide that his personal moral sense is the true source of his argument:
First of all, what’s wrong with making rules to discern revelation based on the morality of the content? If God tells me to commit adultery, kill someone, do drugs, embezzle money, am I not supposed to question the morality of the revelation? I see nothing wrong with discerning rules based on morality. Tell me why I’m wrong here.
Okay, let’s be honest. Compared to his scriptural argument this is really a pretty good intuitive argument, isn’t it? So I feel it should be addressed also. But here I think we need a bit more clarification first, because I’m not so sure using morality for ‘discernment’ is a problem in and of itself.
The idea he seems to be expressing here is that if you ‘feel’ a personal revelation from God and if it tells you to do something immoral, you discount it. Indeed, I get the feeling that this principle is the prime principle of theological liberalisms approach to revelation. Morality comes first and God will never ask anyone to do anything that is (seemingly) immoral.
But does revelation always come that way? (Or is my friend assuming it only comes that way?)
As it turns out, liberals are misreading the Genesis account of Abraham and Isaac. They are making the false assumption that this is a tale about how to discern revelations from God when they come as inspiration as “feelings.” But the account is not about either how to discern revelations from God nor about receiving inspiration through feelings.
In fact, the question of discernment is not present at all! The account straightforwardly tells us that God has in fact told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. That’s because the author of the account isn’t even thinking about the question of discernment – probably because he believes it should be obvious by now that Abraham knows God’s voice when he hears Him. So the author doesn’t even attempt to address the idea that this might be a false revelation precisely because the story is specifically about a true revelation. There is no need to take time on how Abraham knew it to be true because that’s not what the story is about.
And there is no reason to assume this revelation was an inspiration that came through a feeling. We are just told God made it known by some means that Abraham found authentic. At a minimum we seem to be told that Abraham hears the voice of God talking to him. If we are to go from other scriptural accounts, its possible even more than this was implied (Abraham’s last voice from God included a physical presense, for example). But we are not told this for certain.
To Understand The Point of the Genesis Account We Have to Assume God has Commanded It
The problem here is the difference in sensibilities between ancient readers and modern readers. In the times of the original telling of this story child sacrifice was not uncommon. To the original audience, the idea that a god might ask for a child sacrifice was believable, where as for us it is not. For that matter, the original audience for the Abraham story did not have the millenia of post-Abraham scripture to help ime understand God would not actually go through with a sacrifice of a child. My friend is failing to read the story on its own terms because of this.
How might we modernize this story for today’s audience? Well obviously the question of discerning if this is a revelation from God must be immediately addressed due to our different view of what God may ask of us due to later scriptures (such as Jeremiah 32:35!)
So to rewrite this story for a modern audience that matches the intent of the Genesis account, would be to make the message delivered by an angel who then lets Abraham perform any form of confirmation required to confirm this is a real angel.
Imagine this as a Hollywood movie for a moment. Abraham is disbelieving at first, so he tries to shake hands with the angel (as per D&C 129:4) to make sure it’s not a false spirit or hallucination. And he finds he can in fact shake hands with the angel. The angel is physically real! So Abraham doubts the angel is really an angel at all and figures it must be some sort of trick. (The angel is glowing brilliantly, so it must be some high tech trick!) So the angel proceeds to do miracles for Abraham. Abraham even has the angel perform miracles in front of scientists and the Great Randi and all are completely and utterly stumped. These are real miracles! This really is an angel from God!
And thus, having confirmed that this is a true angel from God, the angel then asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Now we’ve made the story read for a modern audience the way it read for an ancient audience.
The reason this is the correct way to modernize the tale is because this now puts us on par with the point of the original story. The original story isn’t about discernment, as my friends wants to believe, but is about whether you should trust God in all circumstances no matter what.
So I would pose this question to my friend? Replace yourself in the above Hollywood movie. This is now happening to you. Would you obey God to do something you feel is immoral if you knew for certain it was God.
That’s the question this story is trying to get us to ask. Not about how to discern revelation.
And what is the scriptural (in all books of scripture as I pointed out above) answer to this question?
The scriptures teach that the correct answer is to obey God!
Theological Liberalism is Rationally DOA
To summarize my point then, the story of Abraham can’t be discounted in the way my friend is trying to do it. While he appeals to Midrash and scripture, Midrash is not recognized as authoritative and the scripture he picks is best interpreted as compatible with the Abraham account in Genesis. The Abraham story is confirmed by all books of scripture and by a long string of modern prophets. So for my friend to throw all that out as nothing more than ‘prophetic fallibility’ is really to place his own personal revelations above fallibility in the most dramatic way imaginable. You simply can’t get a better attested story in scripture with a better attested to interpretation of it coming directly from God.
And this undermines the key point my friend keeps making — that God is consistent! How much more inconsistent could God possibly be than for my friend’s interpretation to turn out to be correct? It would mean the same God that teaches us to read the scriptures and liken them to ourselves suddenly only allowed his true will to come through WEIRD sensibilties. In what sense is this a consistent God?
But my friend is unsatisfied with this answer and I guess I don’t blame him. The whole point of my original post — which he claims is a ‘thud’ in its conclusion — is that there is no satisfying answer available.
The problem is that this story isn’t meant to be comfortable and thus is not supposed to have a comfortable answer that my friend will ever find acceptable. I cannot change that fact. The fact is that the scriptures strongly teach us that obedience to God trumps our personal moral feelings. This is either true or it isn’t.
If it’s true, then theological liberalism has no foundation at all and is simply a false notion. If it isn’t true, then frankly revelation is wholly unreliable and so religion has no foundation at all and is simply a false notion — theological liberalism included.
That is why theological liberalism is a rational non-starter for me personal. My brain is incapable of believing in it because it seems wholly irrational to me. It’s wrong either way as far as I can tell. Because when I view theological liberalism through the eye of my personal atheism (that 25% of me that is in fact an atheist) theological liberalism seems like an obvious case of simply papering over the utter bankruptcy of the notion of revelation and thus the notion of God.
And indeed, I suppose that is one of the reasons why I believe the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac actually exists in scripture — to challenge theological liberalism. So the story does have a purpose after all.
Why Might God Have Done This? Answers to My Friends Questions
In his post, my friend lists a number of questions for orthodox believers that he believes are challenging. I will not answer them directly.
- Question: Is God consistent? Is God the same yesterday, today, and forever? If so, why would God make such an inconsistent demand of Abraham?
Answer: As I’ve pointed out in this post, you have misread and misunderstood the scriptures. The point the scriptures overwhelmingly make is that we are to obey God period. As God says in D&C 132:36, it doesn’t matter if you can find a scripture that you think contradicts God’s new revelations to you. Because what the scriptures are teaching is that God is consistent in that He wants us to always obey current revelation to us! Besides, your view of God seems profoundly inconsisent to me by comparison. Your view of God would have us entirely ignore all scripture, all modern prophets, and even my own personal revelations in favor of a modern liberal “WEIRD” view-point. Please show me any case of God teaching this previously. How was I to know God meant for me to abandon every prophetic means to find His will?
- Question: If this story is true, why would God be so cruel to Isaac? Can you imagine the psychological trauma Isaac must have felt? How can a loving God be so cruel to Isaac?
Answer 1: This story is not meant to be comfortable. It does (as does all scripture), for certain, teach that God does and will test us in ways we find morally unacceptable. It does not attempt to morally justify this to us, it just tells us this is the case. Because you are refusing to accept the story unless you are first given a moral justification for it, you are, of course, never going to accept the story as true and there is no possible way to rationally change your mind because your starting with the assumption that God would never do this.
Answer 2: Actually, there is a more straightforward answer here. The fact is that we live on this earth and it’s full of trails of faith equivalent to Abraham’s. People have all sorts of evil things happen to them in mortality. I, for one, have not always had a very joyful life, I’m afraid, and have my faith sorely tested. Unfortunately we’re here on earth living a moral life and that’s a fact. So either God does test us in this way or there is no God. That’s what the ‘problem of evil’ is all about. God has, however, told us through modern revelation why he’s doing this and why it is morally justified. To receive the ultimate reward we must be tested in ultimate ways. There is no other way to reach the ultimate reward. You will either find that answer satisfying or you won’t. There is no other possible moral justification for the fact that we are here being tested just like Abraham — in psychologically traumatic ways. I believe that is why the story of Abraham is given no moral justification other than that Abraham was to be rewarded by God and that was enough for Abraham.
- Question: Why is Isaac completely ignored in the interpretation of the story? Some biblical commentators note that Sarah dies quickly after this incident–they speculate that Sarah might have died of a broken heart for Abraham’s senseless act. Such a god does seem to be cruel, not loving. Such a god seems to act capriciously like Zeus, or Molech, or Baal. Is this really the revelation of our Heavenly Father?
Answer: I see no reason to respond to wild speculation, so I won’t. I will say, however, that the story of Abraham and Isaac is drastically different from Zeus or Molech in at least one important regard: God did not have Abraham go through with it.
- Question: Is there a point where this example of Abraham’s faith is too extreme? If it is not too extreme, would you kill your son if God told you to do it?
Answer: This is the question God is asking you to answer for yourself. You will not be called upon to go through this particular test in this particular way. But you may be asked to “sacrifice” a child in some other way due to tragedy or circumstance. These sorts of losses and sacrifices are part and parcel to life in morality. God is trying to get us to think about that in advance. That’s the point of the story.
 The difference between a test and the actual thing. This happens in life in parenting contexts. It is not uncommon for a parent to tell a child they can go do something that the parent knows they will not choose to do or to tell a child they must now do something that the parent doesn’t really intend to force them to do more than to get a small taste.
For example, I’ve seen as a suggested parental technique for getting a child to say in their bed at night to tell them that if they get up again, they’ll have to sleep on the porch. When the child inevitably does get up again, the parents then put him out on the porch with a pillow and blanket. The child now realizes they really do prefer their bed and the parents let the child back in.
I have done something like this ibefore. One of my children, when he’s lashing out, loves to say he’d rather live with different parents. To which we call my parents and have him talk on the phone with them and start to make arrangements for him to move in with them. If he were to ever go through with it, we’ve arranged with my parents to take him for a while and parent him to prove the point that no parent is going to let him do whatever he wants. It would not take long for him to change his mind and come back home. But obviously we do not really intend to have him permanently move in. It’s really just a way of testing his resolve and proving to him that he has no intentions of finding new parents.
Now maybe you disagree with this parental approach, but that’s not the point. The point is that you in no way confuse the test with the actuality and they are not the same in your mind. Thus my friends conflation of a test of a sacrifice with actual child sacrifice is logically incorrect from the get go.
 Making narrative arguments: The problems of my friends scriptural argument is also a really good example of how the vast majority of arguments we humans make are non-rational and instead really about a story or narrative. This is so universally true that I feel this needs to be addressed.
At some level, the argument my friend is making isn’t really a logical argument at all, it’s a narrative. He’s trying to take a story that makes him (and everyone!) uncomfortable and he’s trying to figure out how to deal with it in a way that fits his moral worldview which does not allow for God to test someone in this way. In fact, this is the premier rational assumption he’s actually starting with. Give that rational assumption as true, he’s then building a narrative to make it sound as viable as possible. That narrative is to show that others besides himself have reinterpreted this scripture and then he conflated a test to the actual thing to find a scripture that (given that conflation) possibly — but not necessarily — can be interpreted to be at odds with the original Genesis account.
At some level, we have to understand that he’s actually begging the question. He’s starting with the assumption the Abraham story can’t be true and then making an argument based on that assumption that the story can’t be true.
Again, it is incredibly common for people to make arguments like this. Pay attention and you’ll see that probably 99% of all political arguments are non-rational arguments but really just form moral narratives like this. A prime example of this is the abortion debate. If we start with the assumption an unborn fetus is a person, then abortion is murder. If we start with the assumption that it’s just a part of the woman’s body — morally equivalent to any other body part — then abortion is not murder and stopping a woman from having an abortion is the moral equivalent to passing laws that say women can’t do their nails or cut their hair. The whole argument is contained within the assumptions and since there is no rational basis by which to decide which assumption is ‘correct’ (not including an appeal to revelation, of course) there really isn’t anything to argue about. Yet people will spend their lives arguing over it anyhow and not once will it occur to them that they are really not having a rational argument at all.
 Chery picking scripture. I will grant that even conservative readings cherry pick to some degree. But the battle cry of liberal theology has long been the over literal readings by conservatives, so clearly we’re talking about largely differing degrees. And for that matter, the Brethren Aligned approach (a most common form of religous conservatism in the LDS Church) is to interpret scripture in light of the teachings of modern prophets. So the belief is that we’re dealing with prophetic cherry picking, which is believed to not be the same as human cherry picking. The New Testament authors, for example, do amazing amounts of Old Testament cherry picking. But they’re authorized to do so and I am not personally authorized in that way.