What’s God So Mad About, Anyway? (or, why is God so mad at an evolving creation?)

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

How often do we read about God’s anger, wrath, etc. in the Old Testament?

What are the kinds of things–specifically–that make God angry?

What does God do to the offenders because of his anger?

I’ve been wondering about this since I started thinking more seriously about evolution a few years ago. Why? Because according the Genesis 3 and Romand 5, death is a result of God being angry about something.

According to an evolutionary model, death (and the violence that goes with it) is part of the natural way of things. In fact, death is evolution’s friend. Without it to weed out the weaklings, you wouldn’t have the survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, the wrath of God that leads to death means death is unnatural, imposed onto the world. I think this is one of the biggest conflict areas between Christianity and evolution. Why is God so mad with an evolving creation?

So, that got me thinking more specifically about God’s anger in the Old Testament (that and reading through the prophetic literature last summer).

Take the Adam and Eve story. Death was God’s punishment for Adam and Eve disobeying God in the garden by eating the forbidden fruit.  Of course, this raises the follow-up question: why was death the proper punishment?

Same for the flood. People become sinful, and it gets so bad that God regrets he ever populated the earth. Drowning everyone seems to be the only solution.

If you skim through the Old Testament page by page you see that God is angry quite often and imposing physical discomfort or death seems to be his preferred method of resolving the matter. Here, too, the question is why? You may answer, “because of sin.” OK, but what exactly did the people do to warrant death, etc.?  ”Sin” is the easy answer. But what were they doing that was sinful and why was death so often the best solution?

I’ve never done it before, but it would be an interesting project to catalogue every instance of divine wrath/anger, etc. in the Old Testament and give (1) the passage, (2) the offending party, (3) the precise offense, and (4) the divine reaction (either threatened or carried out).

I would be very happy to welcome serious comments engaging this issue.

And here’s the flip side of that issue. In the New Testament, God seems different. Some of the things that God commanded the Old Testament, where disobedience resulted in some form of punishment or death, seem to have gone by the wayside in the New Testament.

I know God is not a senile old uncle in the New Testament, but he is less–well, reactionary about certain things. Comedian Lewis Black wonders if having a son mellowed God out a bit. You might not like the joke but you can get the point.

I would welcome thoughtful comments on this idea, too: how does the wrath of God in the Old Testament compare to the New?

These aren’t new questions, of course, but I do sometimes wonder if we are too casual about all this.

  • JenG

    When God is “angry” and then does something mean about it in the OT, is that just the author/editor/Israel’s perception of events or actually what God is really up to? I wonder if, in allowing for the humanness of scripture, we can allow that death, woe and floods are not actually God’s doing but just a big, all be it divinely allowed for, misunderstanding…

    • http://www.rethinkingao.com Mike Beidler

      I’ve been thinking along the same lines, JenG, that God’s judgment may not actually be God’s but the Israelites’ perception of the “bad times” being inflicted upon them. In this way, Israel performs some self-reflection (perhaps at the behest of the Holy Spirit) and recognizes sinful behavior that may (or may not) have resulted in said perceived judgment. Just thinking out loud …

  • Heather G

    Peter –
    This would be a huge project for any one person. But if various readers want to collectively collaborate and share together, here is a collaborative document that anyone can write on and add their contribution:
    http://tinyurl.com/Gods-wrath-investigation

    If someone vandalizes it, it’s easy to roll it back and see edits that various parties have made – so it works well as a public online workspace.

  • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    First of all, I think the joke is funny. Then again, I thoroughly enjoy the South Park episode where they go through the history of Mormonism (granted, I grew up Mormon, so it “speaks” to me).

    That being said, I’ve been accused for being a Marcionite several times because of my beliefs when it comes to God/Jesus and the “discrepancies” we find in the two testaments. I used to think that God was just royally pissed off before and then chilled out, like you mentioned in the article, but the more I started asking questions and began thinking outside of the box (thanks to various N.T. Wright books, Greg Boyd, and “Inspiration…”), I realized that if we have been capable of viewing God wrong for generations (in the way we have interpreted scripture, evolution, etc), then how were the people writing about God not capable of getting things wrong, as well?

    I understand I’m treading on some dangerous territory here for some people, but I believe that when you look at stories like Elijah calling down fire but Jesus rebuking his disciples for wanting to do the same, that raises a question. Same with scriptures such as John 10:10 and Hebrews 1:3, among a myriad of other instances where we see Jesus being the model for how we view God.

    I know this doesn’t answer every question, but if our standard is supposed to be Jesus…then why is this not unthinkable? It’s not a matter of being “offended” by how God is portrayed in the Old Testament; it’s a matter of thinking that it is completely possible that the writers of the Old Testament viewed God in a manner that was similar to the pagan gods that surrounded them, due to their lack of revelation of not only Jesus, but “ha-satan”. I mean, if I remember correctly, many Jews (and Christians) view the Devil as one of God’s messengers and cohorts. Wouldn’t that immediately paint our view of God differently compared to the one where Jesus came to destroy his works?

    Just food for thought. I’m only a few months into this whole…thinking outside of the “evangelical/Protestant” box. I have a multitude of questions, but an infinite amount of peace in the matter. :)

    • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

      Also, I ask for a bit of grace towards my comment; I’m not a trained theologian or even one who is “widely” trained in the ways of hermeneutics. I’m merely a 23 year old college student who preaches Christ crucified and wants to see people walk in freedom. That’s all.

      • peteenns

        We all could use a bit of grace with tour comments–and posts :-)

    • David Hull

      David M… I agree with you that Jesus in the flesh is supposed to be our standard, ” Whoever says ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:6), yet this is not the complete portrait of Jesus that we have in the NT. The Gospels demonstrate the earthly ministry of Jesus yet he will return as judge of all of humanity, something that is attested to throughout the sermons in Acts, various Pauline epistles, and the book of Revelation.

      Thus, the OT portrait of God as judge does not vary greatly from the portrait given in the NT, the time frame of judgment has predominantly shifted from temporal to eschatological (at the end of time). Also, in the middle of the OT and NT is the cross, and we need to ponder how the wrath of God was dealt with by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and its implications.

      I think that perhaps one of the complications with regarding the OT purely as the Israelites perspective comparable to their ANE neighbors is the doctrine that what we know of God is what He has chosen to reveal of Himself. Is it possible that God accommodated himself to their understanding, language, imagery etc. Sure. However, if God’s character does not change then the dramatic shift that people claim to be present regarding his wrath is problematic.

      Anyways, these are just a couple of thoughts… I am more than happy to receive pushback and critique. Blessings!

      • http://hamiltonmj1983.wordpress.com Matthew James Hamilton

        “Is it possible that God accommodated himself to their understanding, language, imagery etc. Sure. However, if God’s character does not change then the dramatic shift that people claim to be present regarding his wrath is problematic.”

        Is the dramatic shift regarding his wrath have to do with his actual wrath, or simply the different authors’ perceptions of it?

        Neither humans nor human language are perfect; how can we expect our descriptions, characterizations, and concepts to perfectly describe a perfect God? What did the Israelites know? They knew war and warfare. Therefore, they described God as a warrior, and used this idea of his battle prowess and his wrath in (and out of; compare the mythic battles of Yahweh in Psalms and Isaiah) history to describe his saving action in history.

  • Brent

    I think the way we read scripture is one important factor in all this. Jesus said, ‘if you’ve seen me, you’ve see the father.’ For me, this means that Jesus is the most perfect revelation of God’s character. Therefore, any idea we have about God’s character that is incompatible with Jesus’ character should be deeply questioned. Given how central non-violence was to Jesus’ character and Gospel message, this, to me, makes all of the violent portrayals of God in the OT suspect. Indeed, I’ve come to think much of the purpose of these portrayals is as negative object lessons of what God is not like. This is, I think, close to Greg Boyd’s position on this.

    A second thought to go along with this: God’s ‘violent’ actions is the that God is never capricious in these judgments. Rather, they are nearly always portrayed as following as natural consequences of the choices of free agents. God doesn’t punish Adam and Eve with death so much as death follows as a natural consequence of their actions. God’s judgments then, can be seen not so much an intentional, agent-drive actions of God but rather natural consequences that follow if/when God withdraws his supernatural protection. I admit there are some passages that don’t fit well into this model (even in the NT – Ananias and Saphira, anyone?), but I’ve found it super helpful.

    • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

      Brent- In the New Testament, you don’t see God killing Ananias and Saphira. It merely states they died. I’ve heard that Peter spoke a curse over them (Proverbs 18:21), that they merely had heart-attacks, etc. But I believe to attribute that to God is eisegesis at best. :)

      • Brent

        Yeah, I’m with you, David M. Just noting that is one of the more bizarre and more difficult passages for this way of thinking. But I can see from you longer comment above that we are on the same page. The problem, as you note, is that it requires we (sometimes radically) change the way we read scripture. You can’t completely get there by arguing on a case-by-case basis with each scriptural passage, listing each and using scripture to show that it doesn’t really portray God as violent. Some clearly do. So you have to get there, I think, my submitting scripture to Jesus-as-God and by showing there is at least some evidence that violent portrayals of God in the OT are not to be taken as direct evidence of God’s character (Boyd takes this approach in Satan and Problem of Evil)

        • Jon G

          I actually think the point (or a major point) of this story is often missed when we try to see if their deaths were “justifiable”. We can debate the rightness or wrongness of who did what, but I think it is very important to realize WHERE they died. The NT makes a point of God’s presence now being amongst His people…that we are the temple, that our bodies (as a gathering) are now the holy place in which He lives. I think that they died because they sinned WITHIN GOD’S UNRESTRICTED PRESENCE. My understanding of God’s holiness precludes that God and Sin cannot occupy the same space…that one will leave (God) or the other gets destroyed (Sin).

          Typically a statement like this gets pushback about Jesus constantly being around sinners, and I probably don’t have time here to get into all that, but I view Jesus’ body as the temple in which the Father’s spirit dwelt (I’m not a Trinitarian) and so, in a way, Jesus actually acted as a curtain between sinners and the ‘holy of holies’. I think there is ample evidence in the OT about God’s spirit leaving or casting out sinners from temples in order to maintain the temple’s holiness or preserve the sinner’s existence (or both) as well as sinlessness being a prerequisite for entering into God’s presence (think about priestly cleansing). Eden, The Israelites being ordered to not mingle with other peoples (stay pure), the tabernacle/temple rituals, cleansing the Promised Land, being evicted from the Promised Land, God’s spirit entering and leaving Saul and David based on their purity, etc. All of these are examples of ‘temples’ (the place on Earth where God resides) having an underlying framework of God working out of His holiness and Sin undermines His work. He is SO holy, that Sin is destroyed in His presence (He won’t be tainted by it) or He leaves in order to protect the sinner from being destroyed (see Mark 3:28-30). I believe the Incarnation to be a way of bridging this gap. Jesus, as the Father in the flesh, was now able to take his holiness (inside the temple) amongst the people who were too sinful and, on their own, unable to enter the temple without destroying themselves. And by us now being “in Christ” we can share that experience.

          I also speculate (this is a rough idea that needs flushing out) that this idea works with the number of incidents in which Jesus seemed exhausted and drained after healings and always pulling back to pray and meditate on his own (see Mark 1,6:46,Matthew 14:22-23, etc. )…their sickness was making it’s way into his heart and pulling away for prayer was his way of recleansing the Temple. Sin and sickness are overlapping ideas in the Bible (See Mark 2). Through his many healings, Sin was breaking in and Jesus’ prayer and meditation was cleaning it out. His body was the intermediary dividing the sin from the spirit. This is why, in Mark 7:14-23, Jesus explains that what is on the outside can’t defile what is on the inside…that defilement comes from the inside (the heart). His body being amongst the sinners wouldn’t defile the Holy Father within, only by allowing their sickness to enter him (somehow) and get destroyed, was Jesus weakened and requiring rest. Think about Michael Clark Duncan in The Green Mile sucking evil/disease into himself and then needing rest. And he needed to eject the evil from his body or else it would kill him. I think that’s kind of what Jesus was doing when he went away to pray.

          I know this all sounds fanciful, and I’m not a theologian, and maybe I’m not tying up all the loosed ends…but it just seems to me that we aren’t getting all the facts when we ignore the idea that Jesus was the Temple in which the Father’s spirit was working amongst His sinful people.

      • Heather G

        I think it’s eisegesis to attribute it to Peter…. and historically, the church has never understood it as anything other than God’s doing.

        • Heather G

          You know, this sudden revisionist perspective on Ananias and Sapphira – that Peter’s ‘clumsy words’ killed them (a perspective of the name-it, claim-it crowd) has been suddenly popping up in every corner of the internet. Who is this teaching originating with – it’s suddenly being spoken of by all my friends…

          • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

            Well, I’m definitely not in that “crowd”, but there is power that comes from the things we say. Call yourself fat and ugly long enough, and you’ll believe it, you know? I know it’s not the same example, but there is something to mull over.

            That being said, there is no mention of God ever killing them, so while the “speaking death over them” idea may not fit in with you, just because something is historical doesn’t mean it’s true. Geocentrism and the Bible is proof of that.

          • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

            Also, I’m not trying to be pretentious here. I just had to face what the Bible was saying, and while we all are capable of eisegetical interpretations, it’s just as much of eisegesis to say God did it to say that Peter spoke a curse over them is all. Hopefully I’m not coming off too strong. :(

  • http://ctktexas.com Patrick lafferty

    Luke 19:27. Neither mellow nor non-violent–and yet, Jesus. Discuss.

    • Brent

      Patrick: that’s not Jesus. It’s a part of a parable Jesus’ told. Parables are stories meant for a specific purpose, usually to illustrate a single point. So we can’t take that as an endorsement of violence on Jesus’ part. He was just telling a story people would understand and relate to.

      • http://ctktexas.com Patrick Lafferty

        Brent, it’s my error in quoting it without comment–possibly the worst thing one can do when posting to a thread. For that I apologize. But I referenced that text not because I thought Jesus was endorsing human violence, but because this notion that God’s more fiery statements of judgment in the OT are merely the product of an antiquarian view of God which Jesus has now come to expunge would seem to paper over the kind of fiery statements about judgment Jesus surely voiced. Of course, Jesus brings a clarity to God’s nature and intentions; He overturns errant extrapolations that had become encrusted within 2nd temple Judaism. To say though that Jesus does away with the conception of God as, in part, wrathful is 1) not true and 2) entirely antithetical to the very idea of the Cross. I find Dr Enns’ proposal compelling that some OT idiom reflects a way of seeing God and thinking of God that Jesus came to clear up. But to insist that Jesus has so revised our view of God to exclude His willingness to exert wrath as a function of justice is an exegetical bridge too far. Why God is angry is a worthy question. That God is angry at sin is not in question. The parable I referenced confirms that. Thanks for responding to my inadequate initial comment.

  • http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog unkleE

    For what it’s worth, I believe the Bible is progressive revelation where God reveals as much as people at the time could understand and accept. When our children were young, we had to use simple direction like gently slapping their hand if they touched a power point (not sure if we’d do that now, but that was back in the 70s). But as they got older and more understanding, we tried to explain things; older still and we trusted them to make the right choices. I wonder whether it’s the same with God.

  • Derek

    I think that we essentially see the holiness of God revealed in the OT, and the love of God expressed in the NT – John 3:16. Moreover, I think that the holiness of God provides a beautiful backdrop to the cross of Christ.

    Jesus is portrayed as that same Holy God in the NT as well. We see in Rev. 14:19-20, echoing Isa. 63:3, Jesus treading the wine press of God’s wrath – His white garment being stained red from the juices (blood) of His enemies.

    • peteenns

      A question that might come up, Derek, is why does holiness require God to put so many people to death.

      • Klasie Kraalogies

        Exactly!

        It is like torturing your kids physically because they did not clean the dishes properly for the umpteenth time.

        And then, not only death but hell / eternal separation / annihilation to follow. It doesn’t compute.

      • Jon G

        Pete, please see my response to David M above…perhaps reports of “God putting people to death” is really a way of describing the author’s view that the barrier between the “sinful” and the “holy” was crossed inappropriately. That the “sinner” was not properly insulated from God’s holiness and entered into it unprotected. I think this is really evident in the story of Uzzah touching the Ark of the Covenant, but less obviously in the exile from Eden, entering and exiting the Promised Land, the priests cleanliness rituals prior to entering the Holy of Holies, Annanais and Saphira (lying in the temple which was the body of believers), etc. I don’t know how much of this “literally” happened, but I think it is the Biblical authors’ way of claiming that God is too holy to be approached without cleansing of one’s sin or insulation via some temple structure (like Jesus’ body).

    • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

      And that all depends on your eschatological interpretation. For those who hold to an entirely futuristic approach, this is in your line of thinking. I personally fall into a partial-preteristic mindset where I am still wrestling through Revelation, but lean towards nearly all of it being fulfilled.

  • http://hopaulius.wordpress.com hopaulius

    Answers here will necessarily be over-simplified. But I think the wrath of God in the Old Testament is how the Hebrews, and later the Jews, rescued monotheism from human catastrophe. The peoples surrounding them constructed myths in which their national god was at war with other people’s gods. So if catastrophe befell them, it meant that their god had been defeated. The Hebrews were unwilling to concede that there was any power greater than their God. So when catastrophe befell them, they turned inward: what did we do to bring this upon ourselves? How have we made God angry? Now it’s true also that other peoples felt this way about natural catastrophes, such as drought, earthquake, famine, etc. But it came to a head for the Israelites first when they were defeated by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians. They were unwilling to say, “Well, now Marduk must have defeated YHWH, so let’s worship Marduk.” (Although some probably did.) Instead, they interpreted their history to show that they themselves had been unfaithful to YHWH, and YHWH had delivered then into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. This is how the Israelites transcended the notion of a local deity, and expanded their understanding of the divine presence. Or, if you will, this his how God helped them to understand that God is not limited to a place or a tribe, but is the God of the universe.

    • peteenns

      Doesn’t the Mesha Inscription present a similar view of god? I definitely track with you, though, hopaulius.

  • Alex

    Those of you inclined to the position that God’s bad OT behaviour has more to do with man’s ideas of God, than of his actual character (fully revealed in his Son), are I believe, moving towards the truth. I don’t really know what the answer is and would follow any ensuing discussion with interest. OT perspectives of God’s character are certainly one of the major stumbling blocks for seekers, atheists, and even may I say, believers. Lets think about this, a great idea!

    • peteenns

      Yup, that’s one reason why I brought it up.

  • Tim

    Pete,

    I would suggest that the Old Testament has more than one perspective on what makes God angry and what he does about it. Some authors portrayed him as more long-suffering and forgiving while others portrayed him as wrathful and quick to inflict draconian judgement. One writing that comes to mind is the story of Jonah, which in satiric form criticizes some of the more fiery passages in the OT depicting God as all-to-quick to destroy offending gentile nations.

    • peteenns

      I agree, though…. God’s mercy usually just goes to the Israelites and and Jonah’s perspective on Nineveh is off set by Nahum.

  • http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org John Marcott

    Eternal punishment! You don’t see people being struck dead on the spot in the New Testament (as much – Acts) because the NT is less narrative. But even our most core texts, say the sermon on the mount, are filled with references to beware of Divine Punishment. I used to try to defend a more loving version of God in the NT, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see how we can get around wrath, punishment, death, etc. One could even argue that it is amplified on an apocalyptic worldview….

    • peteenns

      But it seems that the object of the punishment is Jewish resistance to God’s message, a la Jeremiah?

  • Rob Barrett

    Hi Pete,
    This is the primary subject of my book: “Disloyalty and Destruction: Religion and Politics in Deuteronomy and the Modern World” (LHBOTS 511). While I don’t take on the entire subject of YHWH’s use of destructive force, I do try to look at significant portions of Deuteronomy. I must say I was rather surprised myself to see how tightly both YHWH’s anger and destruction are connected to the problem of “other gods”. In this (substantial) thread of the OT tradition, YHWH’s anger is focused quite tightly. This is helpful for differentiating the Deuteronomic ideas of divine anger and the many things we might link to wrath. The next problem, then, is to figure out how “other gods” should be understood. This is no easy thing and I grapple with it throughout the rest of the book.

    • peteenns

      Very helpful, Rob. This is no doubt relevant for the monarchic history and the prophets, too. God also kills, though, for other reasons that might be labeled “holiness”–flood, touching the ark of the covenant, etc. And I suppose you’re going to make me buy your book now, huh…. :-)

      • Rob Barrett

        Not necessarily…the thesis (which unfortunately lacks the fascinating comparison between modern battlefield leafleting and the curses of Deut 28! though it still examines the logic of siege warfare, which I found very helpful), still provides a reasonable starting point and is freely available: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/2141/1/2141_149.PDF

        You are absolutely right that there are important and contrasting perspectives on God’s destructive force outside of Deuteronomy and its kin. Deuteronomy provided a good starting point because it tends to offer rational explanations for things more often than many other texts. The work only begins there, however.

        Another key part of Deuteronomy’s perspective is that God’s wrath there is national and absolute, not individual and proportional. It’s all about destroying the entire nation of Israel when the following of “other gods” goes too far. Since there is such a tendency for us modern individualists to transfer the theology to our own personal life dynamics, this point must be stressed.

  • Joe

    I’ve become more and more persuaded by the perspective of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr (among others) that Scripture reveals a ‘two steps forward, one step backward’ pattern. Scripture, as you rightly argue in I & I, reflects both divine and human influence. Divine activity doesn’t displace human activity (and vice versa). I think it is possible to square Rohr’s views with an evangelical view of the inspiration of the Bible if one believes that God’s ways and intentions are even expressed in the ‘problems’ (i.e., places where ancient Israelites projected their own interpretation of divine activity and character). We need to identify the primary trajectory of the Bible – God’s economy of grace, forgiveness, and inclusion – so that we can identify the backward steps. As an example, in Deuteronomy 7, we see that although the ‘majority report’ points to God’s order of genocide, yet even in this chapter we see a hint of the main storyline: God chooses people out of his sheer love for them. This is the dominant characteristic of God’s full self-revelation in Jesus Christ. The cross, once and for all, reveals that there is no such thing as sacred / redemptive violence. God’s way of salvation is enacted through redemptive suffering. I highly recommend Rohr’s book, ‘Things Hidden: Scripture and Spirituality.’

    • peteenns

      Joe, you might also be interested in Kent Spark’s recent book, Sacred Word, Broken Word, which sounds a similar theme.

      • Joe

        Pete,
        I do appreciate Sparks’ book, and agree that there is much here in common with Rohr. I do think there are differences that could be significant, though. From my impression of Sparks, it seemed as if the ‘negative’ texts in the OT are associated with the fallenness of sin. The Bible, in a sense, needs to be redeemed, along with the rest of us. By contrast, Rohr implies more of a developmental, and non-dualistic model. It is, in a sense, natural / expected, that Israel would naturally want to claim God exclusively for themselves, and thus, set God opposed to all their enemies. This is a developmental stage that points ahead. We must first know that we are unconditionally loved (election) before we are able to be generous in extending love to others (and endorse the view that God is actually an inclusive God). But the problem is that Israel hadn’t move to the next developmental stage by the time of Christ. People today who use Scripture to emphasize God’s ‘OT-like’ judgment, as opposed to his generous grace, aren’t necessarily full of sin. It is more as if they are stuck in an earlier developmental stage.

  • Jeff

    In contrast to the “not killing God” of the New Testament Romans 1-3 tends to support it. Romans 1:18 – “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against any disloyalty (my translation) and injustice of people who by their injustice suppress the truth.” and then Romans 2:5 – “a day of wrath”.

    I believe the flood and other mass killings reveals the days of wrath of what people deserve, and the stories of mercy shown are those where God was patient. The flood has similarities to the cross in that God poured out his wrath upon sin in a grand act of justice. Romans 3:25 hints that the forbearance was actually injust because it was letting guilty people go free. Please do not hear me say that God is pouring out his wrath on his Son, I specifically said on sin which was transfered onto Christ as our substitute.

    I think Jesus also said that certain towns were gonna get it worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.

    • Matt Thornton

      Is it helpful to distinguish between instances of wrath that are collective (e.g. flood) with those that are individual (e.g. touching the ark)?

      Seems that the standard for a ‘just’ collective killing would be far higher.

      Dunno, though – hard to wrap one’s head around a ‘jealous’ God for whom genocide was a tool, and the lack of similar actions in post-OT times. Said another way, the question of why God *stopped* killing might be just as interesting!

      Best,
      Matt

  • Marshall

    David M, I’m with you, and I am very glad to hear somebody else put this forward. Ananias is an old man concerned about his wife’s security, called on the carpet and roasted on both sides for a minor legalism; easy enough to imagine a stroke. There’s Saphira with her husband dead (and her security gone) and Peter roasts her, just to add to her grief. This isn’t God’s grace; this is Peter acting from self-important dickishness. The way he will do. Of course throughout the Bible God is making good use of bad behavior, and Jesus chose Peter for good reason. I’m willing to believe.

    But the point is, certainly a lot of what we attribute to God is retrospective self-justification. (Joshua 1 & 6; what the LORD actually said … “Go Barefoot!”). People seem to think about Wrath as the opposite of Forgiveness (… penal substitution) but if my kids were as stiff-necked, I would be angry with them a good deal, without ever letting go of my unconditional love. And it isn’t “wrathful” to clear away the old wreckage in order to develop something new … Ezra 3:12-13. Hard cheese on us old wrecks, but there you are.

  • Jim

    Maybe God just discovered Prozac during the inter-testament period. (@ Derek, it seems like John of Patmos was more of an old school OT prophet like Daniel or Enoch (if pseudepigrapha counts), and this might have apocalyptically screwed with his visions.) In any case, did God then briefly lose His Prozac pills (say around 30 CE) and revert back to His OT habits re: Penal Substitution (or Satisfaction-Doctrine) dogma. Or does this OT-style thinking also need to be re-evaluated as well? I know that some will say that Jesus was the God that the Israelites followed in the Exodus (based on a line or so from Paul), but that’s even weirder theology than a constantly pissed off old Father. Possibly I’m infected with the Marcion virus too?

    Oh yeah regarding Ananias and Sapphira, does it seem logical that Peter, who was forgiven for denying Jesus three times, would then turn around and oversee a plot to fry An and Sapp for denying to turn over the final portion of their real estate sales profits? Sounds to me like some orthodox corruption of the real story (i.e. we want all your money) crept in sometime in the second or third century. Man, this Marcion virus is infecting my thinking.

    • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

      See, it’s hard, because we see that Peter still gets a lot of theological reformation down the road… So it’s hard to say one way or another. I just personally feel uncomfortable attributing it to God due to who I see in Jesus. I have no issues suggesting it was a health-related cause.

  • Jon T.

    God no longer deals w/ man by way of the law but through the new covenant realized in the person of Jesus, the mediator of that new covenant which is about worshipping God in spirit and in truth, not in letters or the keeping of (Mosaic) law, sabbath days, and festivals, which were types and shadows of what was to come, namely Jesus Christ. God’s character of love and mercy, justice, etc. has never changed, yet He has changed his mind many times in His dealings w/ man. The law brought death, faith in Jesus brings life for we are no longer under law. Death (spiritual and physical) came as a result of Adam’s sin, and is part of evolution, but not its cause. Do we believe that death precedes life? Or am I way off here? God will kill again, through Jesus as his Second Coming, those who oppose him and later cast into a lake of fire those who are wicked. Is this a problem for you as well?

  • Jim

    I guess the idea that “God will kill again, through Jesus at his Second Coming, those who oppose him and later cast into a lake of fire those who are wicked” is problematic for me for a few reasons. First, this implies that Christ’s sacrifice was not really good enough to compete with obedience and Johnny Edwards fundy-style justice. Second, the hot lake idea comes from a book that did not unanimously make it into the canon and that has never been clearly established to be written by the apostle John, who stressed that “God is love” elsewhere. Just my opinion however.

    The idea that the Father had to beat the crap out of his Son but even that wasn’t good enough and He still has to lake-fry lots of people because He is still so offended by sin seems … well … a little pagan to me. I suppose God’s ways are higher than our ways. Maybe I’m just suppressing my inner-OT and maybe beating his Son and smashing to bits everything He created even after all the eons of time it took to get here is just one of those higher ways that I seem to have missed.

  • Jon T.

    Perhaps what is missing is the anticipation of the renewal of God’s creation in new heavens and a new earth? Throughout Scripture God is doing something, acting on His behalf and mindful of us as well. If we can figure that out then we can have some hope for tomorrow.

  • Jim

    By the way, love this post by Peter – a lot of (controversial) stuff to consider re the OT-NT inter-relationship. It’s a very timely subject in my opinion, and needs re-evaluation as biblical scholarship provides new information .

  • Jim

    Jon, appreciated your comments too.

  • Larry

    Peter, in synagogue we just finished reading about the 10th plague, and it would take mental gymnastics to conclude that every first-born in Egypt merited death. Ditto for every victim of a so-called “act of God” in the modern world. The question you raise is, I think, essential for every person of faith to wrestle with. If there’s an answer, it’s the “no answer” of the Book of Job, and if we’re not troubled by the Book of Job, we should be.

    Bad things happen to good people, and if we assume that God is all powerful, then this is the will of God. There’s no way to dance around this subject. I’ll speak personally. I have faith in the existence of a loving, wise and just God who commits acts on Earth that violate everything we know about love, wisdom and justice. This makes me a living, walking, breathing contradiction in terms, and as I see it, this goes to the essence of belief. Anyone who can see light at the end of this tunnel is a tzaddik. Anyone not troubled by this is (in my humble opinion, and with deep apologies to anyone this offends) missing something.

  • Jon T.

    Thanks Jim. Hey Larry, in Job God says that He was acting alone, in creation, and that He took counsel from no one before acting. So it seems God is somewhat unpredictable, does as He pleases to our finite understanding, yet He spoke through the prophets and is now speaking and working through His son Jesus (Heb. 1) to restore and reconcile His creation back to Himself. As to the death of every first born in Egypt didn’t God forwarn them of what was to come? Let’s take your example a step further. God, through the angel of death, essentially killed every first born because of pharoah’s stubborness which God caused him to have! Nothing fair or just about that, yet that is the narrative. A sobering one indeed.

    • Larry

      Jon, I think we’re seeing this the same way. Sure, plague 10 is narrative, and I don’t read the Bible as a literally true account of historic events. But it’s hard to read plague 10 without asking if this is the sort of thing God is capable of … and if so, why? Presumably, God could have freed the Israelites from slavery without all that carnage. The reason given for the plagues was so that God could demonstrate God’s power and so that God’s name would be known across the Earth. But again, God could have done this in a nice way.

      In answer to your question: God did warn Pharaoh what was coming, but I don’t think the Egyptian people were warned. Also, I don’t know what good a warning would have done. Egypt was not a democracy; it’s not like anyone voted for Pharaoh. Moreover, would a warning have made it fair or just to kill the first born? Normally, we’re not free to do whatever we want just because we issue a warning in advance!

      I like what you said about our understanding of God notwithstanding the unpredictability, and I get what you say about Heb. 1, which relates to similar texts in my own tradition.

      • Matt Thornton

        God also hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so it seems that the deck was stacked in favor of the plague.

  • M.Berry

    If God doesn’t change, but his behavior between the New and Old Testaments does, then the most simple explanation for this puzzle is that the writings of the bible reflect, more than anything else, what the authors believed about God. The writings reflect changing cultures and changing belief systems.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      What happens when we apply Ockham’s sharp little instrument here?

  • Andrew

    First comment, but have enjoyed your posts Peter. Always enjoy someone eager to challenge themselves and search for truth. I think this question really goes to the heart of why the traditional (or I’ll say Orthodox Christian) framework relating the Old and New Testaments never really made sense. A couple of major issues that affect the dominant thesis are:
    i) Jesus wasn’t the Messiah in terms of being the Davidic Messiah prophesied in the OT, and early Christians never really came to terms about how to deal with that connumdrum (Paul I suppose tries to, but that gets complicated). One can argue that the authors of Mark and John actually saw Jesus as more of a Messiah in lines with how the Samaritans envisioned he would be-a revealer of truth-than a restorer of the House of Israel.
    ii) Despite the Genesis story, the Jews had no concept of ‘original sin.’ They also didn’t believe that the act of sacrifice ‘absolved’ them of sins (so many Christians wrongly conclude this and then go on to the idea of Jesus as blood sacrifice et al); only the firm repentance of the sinner accomplished that. What the blood of animals did was ‘purify’ . . purified altars and temples which is where people communicated with God. The sacrifice of something valuable on the part of the sinner was also a component, but the actual sacrifical ACT didn’t do anything in terms of achieving forgiveness by God. Thus the whole idea of the God being royally pissed off at Sin so much that he sent Jesus as the payment, would’ve made no sense to Jesus and the Jews of his time. Thus rationalizing the acts of God in the OT to Him being angry at original sin/’the Fall’ doesn’t cut it.
    The OT is by and large a collection of extremely ethnocentric or nationalist religious stories-I think hopaulius hit the nail on the head by describing the stories of God’s wrath as the Hebrews looking for reasons as to their strife and defeats while retaining monotheism. At the same time, you see through the words of the Prophets an evolving view of God, which speaks more to the hearts and actions of man and less to pleasing God so you can defeat your enemies (this of course is a simplification but I don’t want to write a book here).
    I think Jesus took this to the logical conclusion and saw himself as an anti-Temple Messenger (meaning, he saw the whole emphasis on ‘cleanliness’ in Judaism as vulnerable to corruption and more importantly unnecessary) who also proclaimed God reigning in the present world (in this I agree with the likes of Borg and Crossan although I don’t agree with all of their conclusions) and believed that people could access God directly, without intermediaries. I think what little evidence we have of the views of the early Jewish Christian (non-Pauline) community, found in the letter of James and a handful of writings from some Church fathers, shows that they also saw Jesus in this light; a Son of God but who saved through the greatness of his selfless example and his focus on the Law as how people treated one another. In some ways it’s similar to Paul’s proclamation of a ‘new Law’ of love but I think in Jesus’s mind it wasn’t a new law as much as the Law that was always there. My apologies it’s hard to not start writing on this topic and get into long-winded posts that veer off-course!

  • Andrew

    Ah, and I forgot to add the Resurrection to that last paragraph about the belief of the Jewish Christians, as God showing that death/evil could be conquered, and that goodness would ultimately prevail.

  • Jon T.

    Andrew–Are you aware of Luke 1:32? ” He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Paul tells us in Galatians that those who have like faith of Abraham will participate in God’s blessings through him and to Israel. May I say that all the fulfillments of God’s covenants in the OT and promises to the church in the NT will be fulfilled during the kingdom age, the very thing Jesus preached on and was the anticipation (the kingdom that is) of the disciples and the church. If we don’t keep the big picture in mind we can get lost in the details. Look up John 20:31. John the apostle wrote his gospel to show that Jesus was in fact Israel’s Messiah. Christ means Messiah, and was Jesus’ title, not his last name! Jesus is the Christ/Messiah. As to the Resurrection, yes, human death can only be overcome through the resurrection of the dead as Jesus demonstrates and Paul enumerates throughout his writings.

    • Andrew

      Jon,
      Thank you for your response. I think we are coming from different starting points here in terms of the scriptural framework. For example, I think it’s safe to say that a majority of biblical scholars believe (and I concur) that the virgin birth narratives of Luke and Matthew were developed relatively late in the Gospel tradition (post 50 ad) and that their references to OT scriptural fulfillment are post-diction. I don’t think the actual apostles had any knowledge or idea of those stories that begin both Matthew and Luke, and looking at the external and internal evidence (vocabulary used/grammer for starters) I think one would be hard pressed to claim that the original versions of Matthew and Luke contained those narratives. Thus, I don’t think the earliest tradition connected Jesus as the Davidic Messiah of the OT clearly like it was later developed decades later.
      As for Paul, Paul’s theology and his understanding of the Christian message I believe differed from that of Jesus; I don’t think there as much of a dichotomy as some have suggested, but I think it’s imperative Paul is read in his rather unique historical context, as a well educated Jew (undoubtedly influenced by neoPlatonic ideas) grasping with how the law of Moses had failed, in his mind, to deliver righteousness to the Jewish people and specifically, had prevented himself from committing atrocities (even while again in his mind) he adhered to the Law fully. Concurrently, Paul’s understanding of Jesus’s Messiahship (not sure if that’s a word!) went hand in hand with his belief that Jesus’s 2nd coming was imminent in his lifetime (which we know did not occur)

      I understand this is an evangelical blog (I do not come from that tradition myself), so many here may not engage in biblical higher/historical criticism to the extent I do, but I hope to contribute to the discussion.

  • http://hopaulius.wordpress.com hopaulius

    This is a good, non-rancorous, thoughtful discussion. It reminds me, however, how difficult it is, perhaps especially for Christians, to conceive as God as anything other than a great human being, subject to the full panoply of human emotions, and bound in time to boot.

  • arty

    The questions posed in the article make me consider the following additional question: If I really believed in God, and in the reality of the divine wrath, would I/should I have the nerve to ask?

  • Jim

    Thanks Andrew for your insights and for highlighting the point that the term Messiah meant something different to the first century audience than it does in Christianity today. As well, John 20.31 in some translations reads “may continue to believe” rather than “may come to believe”. The first century Jesus followers had to deal with the situation that their Messiah had been executed and in a manner that was considered to be a curse by Pentateuch rules, a double disqualification. Secondly, they were also dealing with the fact that Jesus hadn’t returned as they though he had implied (also in Paul’s comments in 1 Thess around 5o CE).

    These discussions on the Messiah are pertinent to the post theme in my opinion, especially as one of Jesus’ goals was to reveal the Father and by extension, his character (i.e. mad or not that tense). On many fronts, the trajectory from OT to NT is not that clear, unless you impose the constraint that God dictated these documents and then try to force them to. Possibly it is time to stop trying to fuse them?

  • rvs

    Christopher Hitchens, one of my favorite atheists, points out that the commonplace notion of hell as a place of eternal torment arrived with Jesus of Nazareth. That is, God’s violence seems more epic in the NT, as in forever-and-ever epic.

    • Andrew

      RVS: I actually think, just like many Christians read Paul through Medieval and post-Reformation lenses, many people read the Gospels with post-Dante Inferno lenses concerning the afterlife. Our modern conceptions of heaven and hell really are not in the NT, specifically in the Gospels. Jesus speaks of ‘everlasting life’ in John but that could go in numerous metaphorical directions like the rest of that Gospel’s language, and it appears from the Synoptics that Jesus followed the Pharisee belief of an one-time Resurrection of the Dead for the righteous.

      Additionally, mentions of ‘hell’ or Gehenna in the Jewish framework didn’t speak to everlasting punishment; Gehenna (Valley of Hinnom) was an ‘everlasting fire’ used to burn garbage, but once garbage got tossed there it disintegrated, it didn’t just stay burning on the heap. The conception of Gehenna in 2nd temple Judaism also was thought to be more of a purgatory until the Resurrection, and if you’d done wrong your time in that purgatory was not as pleasant as those who’d done right. So there are several ways it could taken, and that’s even using a more literal interpretive framework. Ideas of ‘everlasting hells and heavens’ people went straight to after they died were derived more from Greek pagan notions of the afterlife (Hades) and those fused together to form the standard heaven and hell. Long story short; I don’t think it’s fair to say hell ie eternal torment started with Jesus as Jesus likely didn’t convey such a concept.

      • Larry

        Matthew 25:46?

        • Andrew

          Well for starters, I think Matthew 25, like the rest of the Mount of Olives discourses, shows the Gospels writers taking Jesus’s words and then adding on/embellishing on them a great deal to reflect the concerns of the post 70 Jewish diaspora following the fall of Jerusalem (for example, I and many biblical scholars think practically all of Mark 13 is a separate piece of apocalyptic literature with proclamations that the historical Jesus never said). These early Christian communities, particularly the primarily Jewish community of Matthew, were really between a rock and a hard place . . .post 70 Judaism was coalescing and the vast diversity within the faith that existed at the time of Jesus was evaporating. You also had the pagan Gentiles who increasingly viewed Christians with mistrust and suspicion (and who at that time engaged in sporadic persecution as well). So Matthew added to Mark 13 more material designed to say to the community “persevere; remain committed to the way of Jesus and you will be vindicated while your persecutors will get their day in court.” I’m not going to say none of it goes back to Jesus historically . . I certainly don’t think Jesus never talked about judgement. But I think a lot got added and developed in the decades following and particularly post 70.

          And I hate to say that about Matthew 25 as that has long been one of my favorite parables in all of the Gospels. So . . . that stated, even if Mat 25 is accepted as being adapted from an actual Jesus parable, it’s speaking of a final judgment; a one-time, one-night only event (see Pharasitic Resurrection of the Dead). Also, the ‘eternal fire’ refers to the Valley of Hinnom. Things thrown on that fire became nothing; they just die. They don’t eternally roast (the line at the end referring to ‘everlasting punishment’ is from the Book of Daniel inserted by the author for emphasis).

          But good point raised and asked Larry! Please know I don’t mean to state my views as Gospel (pun intended!) . . .they are simply one man’s analysis.

          • Larry

            Interesting, glad I asked. Can you point me to some supporting material on this? When you talk about separate pieces of apocalyptic literature, were these added by the author of Matthew, or afterwards (like the ending of Mark)? Also, I’ve not heard about Christian persecution of Jewish Christians at any point as early as late 1st – early 2nd century, so if you could point me to source material about this, I’d be grateful.

            Thanks for your patience and clarity.

          • Andrew

            I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply the Matthewan community was being persecuted by fellow Christians; it was that they were being persecuted and/or pushed away by their fellow Jews along with the Gentile pagans.
            In terms of when and what material was added . . the frustrating aspect of biblical scholarship; no-one knows for sure! If one follows the imperfect but still most plausible Markan priority for the Synoptic problem, Mark 13 REALLY sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of theology, language used, themes and events dealt with etc (and there is the big postdiction account of the destruction of the Temple). And then it goes straight into the Passion narrative. I think it makes sense that the author of Matthew would take Mark, Q, and other unknown sources (and they were likely several others) and in that process embellish on that apocalyptic narrative for a community feeling under persecution. And again, no-one can say for certain what came from the earlier or later tradition here; the best we can do is make educated guesses.

            Which is why one treads carefully. And treading carefully is also a necessity when reading up on early Christian/NT history. I find that most authors let their own personal biases, by they agnostic skeptic or apologetic, eventually shine through their work. So my best advice would be to simply read as much as possible and be skeptical of all assumptions, even if they end up being correct. Off the top of my head, I can name you some authors I’ve found helpful (would take me more time to retrieve actual titles) Remember, doesn’t mean I always agree with their conclusions, but they at least show credible scholarship: Richard B Tyson, Luke Timothy Johnson, Raymond Brown, Bart Erhman, Delton Burkett, John Dominic Crossan, NT Wright, James M Robinson, Ulrich Luz (did some great Matthew commentary) . . and most importantly, the sources themselves. Earlychristianwritings.com has practically all of the early Christian writings in various translations PLUS commentaries . . you can spend days on there.

    • Josh T.

      RVS, whatever the proper interpretation of what Jesus meant by Gehenna (people disagree about this), it is silly to suggest that he is the originator of it. There (as I understand it) a variety of interpretations of what that meant that predated Jesus.

      And Andrew, according to Scot McKnight (and some other sources), there appears to be no ancient evidence for the “garbage dump” version of Gehenna. I’ve read elsewhere that the reference to garbage dump is made no earlier than around AD 1200 in a Rabbi’s commentary on a psalm.

      • Andrew

        Good catch Josh: I haven’t read Mr. McKnight’s commentary, and I know there is a lack of external evidence for it. Perhaps it did refer to an actual place where there was consistent fire (garbage dump or otherwise) or was simply a component of Jewish folklore. I still contend that throwing into Gehenna either meant a) Simply dying with no chance to join in the Resurrection when it occurred or the view more in line with rabbinical Judaism b) It was a place of suffering for the wicked until they atoned for their sins. Neither refer to a place of torment/fiery torture for all eternity.

        • Josh T.

          If you’re interested in seeing some various discussions about hell, Scot’s Jesus Creed blog has addressed it here and there, and the comment sections are always interesting.

          Personally, I’m an N.T. Wright fan, so I find it disappointing that he likes to use the garbage dump imagery so much, given what Scot has said about lack of support. I guess everybody has their blind spots. At the very least, there are plenty of Old Testament references to Topheth or the Valley of Hinnom (both are Gehenna) as pictures of God’s judgment.

      • rvs

        Thanks for these discussions, guys, here and above. I now have a better sense of some of the issues. I like this blog. Christ–it is my suggestion–has the most authoritative things to say on hell, different in kind, not degree, from other hell-philosophizing, banter, and/or mongering in the ancient world.

  • Jeff

    This is a pretty orthodox point – but I don’t think it’s being represented much above but think it needs to be part of the conversation (I’m not attached to this but think it’s a factor): if we understand death as a separation from God that seems appropriate, to me, as a response to sin if God is holy. It’s not an “extreme” – God simply has nothing to do with sin. And, I think sin should be defined essentially as anything opposed to the nature of God. God, in effect, defines sin – it is everything contrary to him and his character and love. So, humanity cannot exist in the presence of God while living in sin – until that sin is forgiven. It is not extreme when viewed in that way, it seems to me (“the wages of sin is death”; “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” – Isa. 59). Hell is not – as many seem to think – an evil punishment God thought up; so much as it is an extension of sin and death. It is, as C.S. Lewis put it, God giving humans what they want – separation from him – which is separation from all that is loving and being left of ourselves – but more than that it is for those who choose this contrary to choosing God (that they do not want heaven even if offered to them – as described so well in The Great Divorce). I think that’s not far from what the Scriptures teach.

    As to death that is in the world – physical death may well reflect the concept of God subjecting the world to futility (Romans 8:18-23) in hopes that it would be redeemed. Physical death reminds us – even if not a direct consequence of sin – that living for ourselves, apart from and in rebellion against God, that this way is futile. In that sense physical death is a gift of grace. That we are reminded over and over and over that without God there is no hope. It is similar (not a perfect analogy) to a parent allowing their child at times to “learn the hard way” and see the consequences of a bad decision; or a parent getting a child to see consequences in the bad decisions of others. Thus, Death and futility in the world reminds us that on our own, we have no hope; it drives us to turn to God – the one place we will find hope – and that means turning to Jesus.

  • Jim V

    To address the “evolution = death good” / “christianity = death bad” dichotomy, I always assumed that death was part and parcel of the creation from the beginning. Why create a “garden” where the two humans are immortal if the whole earth is a garden where everything is immortal. Also, everyone in the story seems to understand what the word “death” means, so they must have some knowledge of it. Even if most of us don’t take the creation stories literally, within the universe created by the author, death beginning only upon their sin doesn’t make a lot of sense. The story presumes the existence of much of this.
    I’ve also viewed most of the OT through this lense – death, destruction, horrific events are commonplace. To me the Bible reads as if God holds these things back for his chosen people (protects them from the norm), but if they get out of line, then he lets it all go. This would seem to me to be logical given the authors everyday experiences as well. Their lives certainly couldn’t have been peaceful, uneventful most of the time where bad things were rare and attributed only to rare sinful events. No matter how you look at history, the Israelites/Judeans were an enourmously “lucky” people. Their culture and ethnic group survived (albeit not unchanged) numerous events that other groups didn’t.

    • Bev Mitchell

      Jim V,

      “To address the “evolution = death good” / “christianity = death bad” dichotomy”

      At the risk of wandering a bit off topic I too think this apparent dichotomy is near the centre of the problem for many. As far as matériel for life is concerned, this is a resource limited world. Whatever metaphysical reasons we may offer for this state of affairs, this is the way things are. If we are to have both life and reproduction, we must have death, given this kind of world. Recycling is the way this is accomplished. Efficient recycling requires all kinds of interesting biology, most of which makes for poor dinner table conversation. Our theology usually bypasses these important facts when they should be engaged. It could be that the way we see things working so that life flourishes in a resource-limited world is God’s answer to spiritual opposition to life itself. The Bible is far from silent about where this opposition might come from, but we seldom want to deal explicitly with this subject either.

      BTW, should any biologically inclined readers wish to indulge in a wonderful natural history of life’s recycling prowess, check out Bernd Heinrich’s very engaging and factual “Life Everlasting”. Warning: not recommended for the squeamish.

      • Jim V

        I guess that is my point, though. I don’t see the dichotomy there if we accept that death existed prior to “the Fall” and that any discussion of death as a result must mean something more that simple physical death. Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to the authors/editors of the Gen 1-3, but the stories continually beg the question – why set aside something if everything is a garden. It makes more sense to see the world as something where death – evil or not – is pre-existent to sin. That to me makes it fine to believe in a world where God intentionally created death to be a function of its existence. Now, to be fair, death as a natural function of evolutionary process to me is very different from the other forms of death common to mankind – death by murder, war, cruelty and human activity (or inactivity) in general. Even the most atheists would not say that those forms of death, however common, are to be accepted as part of the evolutionary process – the norm, so to speak. The Bible, however, seems to be saying that, in fact, they are the norm and that only a god can protect you from that norm.

  • James

    I’m surprised no one mentioned Covenant as grid used by biblical writers to interpret all God’s actions including wrath. He is the Great King before whom grateful subjects bow in humble praise. The stipulations of covenant spell out in detail the shape of human obesence. Blessing and cursing as reward and punishment are meted out in justice. This is reading the text diachronically (NT in light of OT). We must also read synchronically (OT in light of NT) in order to complete the picture canonically. It is amazing mercy ultimately trumps justice in both OT and NT narratives where even death is not the end or final judgment. The NT clarifies the gracious end to which covenant points–resurrection as final victory through Christ. Pulling the strands of the grand story together, we are bowled over by God’s love that reaches unconditionally to all he has made. God’s apparent madness at sin and unfaithfulness in both Testaments must be interpreted in this blinding light.

  • Andy

    Peter thank you for opening up this vital question. Here’s some thoughts that I have on this discussion. Romans seems to reveal God’s wrath as God withdrawing from a situation because the humans have rejected God’s will and letting cosmic chaos ensue. I’m not sure if this is the only expression of God’s wrath but it does cast God’s wrath in a different light to the traditional perception of many Christians. Boyd speaks of a spiritual battle that has existed in our universe before humans entered the scene. What if Eden is a glimpse of God’s incarnate presence? God desiring to bring hope, love and healing to those outside the garden through his people, Israel. What if we were under God’s wrath since the time of the ‘fall’ until now because God withdrew his presence because we decided to do things our way. What if God’s wrath is satisfied on the cross meaning that his incarnate presence is with us in his Holy Spirit and he will never leave us? What if God’s wrath is revealed at the judgement when God gives people who have rejected him what they want? I’m not sure if this is a complete picture of God’s wrath (I believe the Bible also reveals a very active and passionate hatred for injustice….) but these ideas have been helping me make more sense of God’s wrath.

  • michael lawless

    There is a wonderful book called “God’s Problem” by Bart Ehrman that addresses the problem of suffering. but as a side note he takes you through the major sections of the OT and you can see how the “evolution of thought” changed with the passage of time. The Jewish people were constantly having to change their theology to fit their circumstances. First it started out as “punishment for disobedience”. Deuteronomy 11:26 plainly says this. There is another idea that comes along is “redemptive suffering”. or suffering that will being God’s people back to himself. 2 Kings 17:5-18 gives this idea. but once you get into the minor prophets, the theology changes. in the early books of the OT all suffering comes from God, in the later books, suffering comes directly from God and as a result of human sin against humans, this was during the early part of second temple Judaism which is obviously after the return from the babylonian exile. Hosea and Amos are the two best known for their human/God reason for suffering. But with the influx of ideas from the zoro astrian king of persia, just like their beliefs on the afterlife changed so too, once again, did their beliefs on suffering change. Because so much crap had happened to them, they thought “God couldnt be responsible for all of this, so we need a new supernatural being to blame it on”. enter the Hasatan, the adversary. satan. and that idea carried through the time of Jesus. It is not so much making sense of “God’s wrath” its more of a finite peoples grappling with what is going on in their lives and in their world. it is them trying to make sense of suffering. we still do it today. there is a wonderful documentary called “God on trial” where Jews put God on trial during the holocaust. they cover many of these issues. :) i love this stuff, this is why i am studying to be an OT scholar!!! lol

  • Jon T.

    Andrew, in response to your insightful post 1/22 @ 5:46pm regarding the earliest tradition not connecting Jesus as the Davidic Messiah of the OT but as a later developement. It seems to me, however, that clues are given in the OT concerning the One (Jesus) who would come and reveal the things of God to Israel and thus to the rest. Gen. 3:15 begins this thought w/ God telling Eve her descendant (seed) would crush the head of the serpent. Moses in Deut. 18:15-19 gives further insight that God would send someone from among them and he would speak God’s words to them, all that God commands him. Isa. 9:6,7 is another clue and promise that God would establish the throne of David forevermore through the Prince of Peace. Isa. 16:5 says that a ‘judge’ will sit on David’s throne seeking justice and righteousness. Getting more specific, Psalm 2 speaks of the future reign of the Lord’s annointed (son). In Matt. 26:63,64 Jesus admits before Caiaphas the High Priest that he is the Christ, Israel’s Messiah. And lastly this interesting verse…Luke 24:44, Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” I get what you are saying but i submit that the Jews were not diligent to know what God had revealed in the OT writings, long ago by the prophets, concerning His coming Son who was the Christ/Messiah. The ancient narrative may not seem clear or bold about God’s master plan for man/creation, but it’s certainly there and finds its fulfillment now and in the future in the person and work of Messiah Jesus, the Risen, glorified, highly exalted son of God.

  • Jon Hughes

    Rvelation 19:11-21 sounds pretty violent and wrathful to me. Perhaps it’s found in the O.T. in other versions ;-)

  • Jon T.

    The coming wrath of Rev. is all throughout the OT major and minor prophets and is seen in many places by the wording, “the day of the Lord.” The OT is full of this wrath to come at the Second Advent, or Second Coming and soon return of Christ.

  • Ken

    Some things are common to both testaments – God’s wrath is usually if not always preceded by an offer of mercy, and God exhibited extraordinary mercy and patience before some of the OT judgments fell. God, as ‘owner of the project’, has the right to take back what he gave in the first place, namely human life, all the more so if men gives themselves completely to evil.

    Also worth mentioning is the fact that the NT is a new and better covenant, and although there is some continuity with the old, extends mercy even wider. God’s wrath in the NT is more obviously seen in handing man and his society over to mental and moral disintegration, as per Rom. 1, but I think it a mistake to set the two testaments against each other. The Ananias and Sapphira incident, which was the first ‘but’ in church history (i..e showing something had gone wrong) serves as an object lesson in taking sin amongst believers seriously, as here too God was only taking back his own property. The fact you so rarely here the idea of God being feared today shows perhaps we have got the balance of wrath and mercy wrong, overly concentrating on the latter and forgetting the former.

  • Jim

    Jon; I see where you are coming from in your comment above to Andrew, however the talking serpent scenario in Gen 3.15 seems more like a story with a theological point rather than actual history. And who recorded these words as a precise prophecy? Are these words a clear prophecy of Jesus, or is this something we read into this verse with our Christian glasses?

    I am also not very clear on what OT scriptures were being referenced in Luke 24.44 and I wish there had been more elaboration. For example in reference to last months holiday, if one reads the whole Isa 7 chapter you get a different impression than the one presented on the Hallmark cards. I sometimes wonder if I was living back in the first century whether I would have been more inclined to go with the Pharisees if I was basing my world view solely on a literal interpretation of the OT.

    I also wonder if a link between the Jewish apocalyptic concept of Messiah and Jesus as the son of God is as clear when we take off our orthodox Christian glasses. I am not saying that the OT scriptures do not point forward to Jesus, but that they are not very clear in this regard. This link was very important to the early Christians as the movement had its origins in Judaism, but I’m not sure of the relevance now.

    Other than for those who are Jewish or for those who are interested in studying OT history, I’m wondering what value the OT has for Christians today? In my view trying to fuse the OT with the NT has resulted in a lot of confusion including the image of an angry vengeful God. To me, it seems better (and far safer) to leave the OT in the hands of of capable OT scholars than fundamentalists.

  • Jim

    The point that the book of Revelation and the OT major and minor prophets have a clear link is very insightful. It was one of the difficulties that Revelation faced in becoming part of the the new covenant canon since it was heavily based on the old covenant (other than references to Jesus as the Messiah at the beginning of the book). The author appears to have been well versed in the OT prophets. For John of Patmos, the fourth beast of Daniel (Rome, the new Babylon) and its inhabitants were to be the primary focus of God’s wrath. Unfortunately for John, within a few centuries Rome became a major center for Christianity.

  • Luke Allison

    Greg Boyd’s newest book arriving in the Spring, “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God”, is apparently going to be his attempt at addressing this issue.

    If anyone has read God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, it deals with the “warfare worldview” and how this factors into the images of God seen in the Hebrew Scripture.

  • Jim

    Luke, thanks for the heads-up.
    @Peter Enns – did you have a New Year’s resolution of reaching 100 comments for a single post?

  • Scott Caulley

    I haven’t read all eighty-two comments (to date), so at the risk of repeating, I want to add a perspective that may not have been mentioned. I, too, harbor the suspicion that the differences between the OT and NT views/presentations of God are colored by the writers’ varied experiences of God (as several readers have suggested), and of life and faith. An analogous phenomenon (at least I think it is analogous) takes place with the development of views of the Spirit. In the OT, the Spirit is the “Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of prophecy” (but not the “Holy Spirit” in an absolute sense). In Second Temple literature, the Spirit is understood in terms of wisdom and sometimes pre-existent Torah. In the NT, the Holy Spirit is identified as the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God’s Son and of “sonship”, even the Spirit of Jesus. This so-called “domestication” of the Spirit is perhaps a phenomenon within early Christian circles that might also provide a model for/parallel to the “Christianizing” of God.

  • James

    I think we must rely heavily on the teaching of Jesus in John 14-16 for a trinitarian understanding of the person and work of the Spirit. He is personal agency of God in Christ for us as we work and wait for kingdom fulfilment.

  • Scott Canion

    I didn’t read all the posts, so perhaps this has come up somewhere, but it seems that most everyone is focusing on OT examples where death was a direct act of God, but what about all the peripheral death surrounding God’s punishments of Israel (and alternately Israel’s enemies) where God allows them to be conquered and exiled. Should we just attribute this to the acts of men and nations, even though it happens as a result of God’s judgment?
    Also, related to death as divine judgment in the NT, Acts gives us Ananias and Sapphira, whose story it seems to me, is intended by Luke to function in the narrative as divine judgment, as well as the judgment on Herod after he accepted the declaration of others that he was like God. However death in the NT mostly takes on a voluntary, sacrificial, martyr shape as God’s people, following the example of Jesus, are the ones who willingly give up their lives.

  • Scott Canion

    One other thing to consider is that God’s wrath in the NT is being delayed because of His mercy, not circumvented by man or disposed of by God.

  • Bryan

    I am aware that a possible reading of Genesis is that of a polemical device used to deter potential followers of Asherah towards Yahweh, advocating the pure form of the state religion. Death would seem to be the logical connection, for the sake of purity, if this reading is correct. This doesn’t speak for numerous other instances but at least serves as a possibility.

    How much do we allow the OT to be read as a collection of various constructs of God without reverting to an extreme form of historical criticism which might deny an inspired form of revelation? I am aware of scholars who attempt to unite the OT and NT material by placing these under the categories of law and grace. I’m not so easily satisfied here.

    If Jesus offers a much better construction of God, namely, one who is not provoked to issue death, then what do we do with all of the OT references which are contrary to this? How can we honestly say that death best represents God’s will when things go wrong? Why not just “zap” the Pharisees and remove the problem just as it was done in the OT rather than dealing with these characters?

    I guess my questions revolve around how to deal with the topic of death as it relates to a sociological understanding or a purely revelatory understanding? The OT and NT are clearly at odds with one another.

  • gingoro

    Given mankind’s evolutionary origin and the existence of many behaviors (that is sinful or seem sinful to us) in the animal predecessors of mankind, God may have needed to shout to get our attention and to drive home necessary lessons. One more idea to add to the mix above.
    DaveW

  • Ken

    Bryan – in asking if Jesus offers us a better contruction of God, are you ultimately trying to find a God to suit your preferences? We all tend to want a ‘nice’ God, but shouldn’t we accept God as he has revealed himself in one bible, and not set the OT against the NT? There is only one God, not an OT God and a NT God. What God is like is seen in the whole bible, even though on the face of it the NT seems to emphasis the mercy element rather than the severity element. The state of the contemporary church has meant for me the severity element has only become apparent relatively late in my Christian experience, but it is surely better to acknowledge God as he really is rather than some grandfatherly figure ‘who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life’.

  • Jim

    Ken, you could be right, however this presupposes that the Bible (consisting of many individual works over many centuries) actually describes God homogeneously and accurately. I sometimes wonder if God had actually “dictated” a book about Himself, whether it would even look anything like the Bible. I would speculate that it would probably be much clearer than the Bible is, and possibly less constrained to a particular time and culture (my opinion).

    In looking over the comments again today, maybe Scott was on to something with his comments on the Holy Spirit. This is a realm that is a bit difficult to verify scientifically but is something that in my opinion begs a lot more discussion and may even transcend the Bible in terms of current relevance.

    I really liked the discussion on this post even if some of us (like me) dragged it down rabbit trails, and I found every comment to be very meaningful to me personally.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Allow me to take you way out on a limb here. Let’s go back to Genesis 3. If we look at Adam and Eve’s behavior, it becomes clear that contrary to the teachings of some, they were not perfect in our understanding of perfect. Rather they were perfect the way that a small child is perfect. They didn’t even have any body modesty and hadn’t begun using the materials in their environment to create things for themselves. In fact, the idea of Adam and Eve as children was fairly common among early church fathers. Into this comes the serpent – “the cleverest of all the creatures”. Is it not possible that what we see happening in the story of the fall is actually an act of abuse by a smarter, more powerful creature against two children? Consider the reaction of Adam and Eve – it’s very similar to what we see with children who experience traumatic abuse: the shame, the hiding, the pointing fingers, the guilt. Now consider that the bible is told from the human’s point of view. God is angry. Wouldn’t children in such a situation believe that the anger was directed at themselves and view the fallout as rightful punishment?

    Of course, humanity proceeds to behave abysmally all on their own. We create terrible suffering for ourselves and worship all sorts of horrid idols and gods. Which again, is not all that different from what many people who have experienced trauma do. God watches what has become of his creation and not unlike Job and several of the prophets say about their own life, begins to think that perhaps it would have been better if we had never been born.

    I think that we need to understand God’s actions throughout the OT as being somewhat akin to what a parent of a child with a drug addiction must do; set very clear boundaries, be willing to allow them to suffer catastrophic losses and sometimes strategically enable poor behavior as a means to establish trust and relationship which otherwise would be rejected. It seems to me that God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a gradual drawing his children back to himself and re-orienting us to himself. The progress made and the shape that the progress takes reflects humanity and where we have been far more than it reflects God and his desires.

    I think that in the NT, we see more of the true heart of God. As other’s have pointed out – Jesus says that if we see him, we see God. Also, there’s a tradition in Christian thought of Jesus as the True Man. He shows us who God is, but also who we are. Going back to the idea of the fall occurring while humanity was still very young, part of the problem we’ve had and the reason eating the fruit of the tree was so damaging was because we didn’t yet know or understand who we were. We were completely unprepared to handle living as God – knowing good and evil – and probably didn’t really understand God. Jesus shows us God, but also who we were made to be. By declaring the problem of sin something of a non-issue and telling us to ground our identity in Christ, the Christian truth leads us back to who we were created to be. (In EO tradition, the idea of Christianity as therapeutic is central.)

    As for death, I go back and forth between it being a spiritual death – as in we died to spiritual realities. Or it could be death as an end rather than a moving on became our reality.

    So, again – going way out on a limb here. But you asked! ;)

    • Larry

      Rebecca, this is brilliant stuff. As a Jew, I’m not going to see the move to the NT as progress — from a Jewish perspective, there’s a lot in NT that doesn’t feel like a move forward. But I appreciate your perspective. Also, your analogy that God is like a parent of a troubled child is spot on from my perspective too. I do not think I know the answer to any question that’s been raised here, but I suspect that some answers may begin, as you have done, with the relationship between God and all of humanity across time. I’ll keep wrestling with these questions, if only because the ultimate answer (which I never expect to find) must also address God’s relationship with each of us individually. My tradition, like yours, addresses the individual. But it’s difficult to contemplate the extent of human suffering and see on an individual level the qualities of justice and mercy as we understand them.

      I expect to struggle with these questions all of my life. Your post brought me a moment’s light in the struggle. Thank you.

  • Tom R.

    Rebecca, I think your right about Adam and Eve as children. The abuse by a smarter, more powerful creature may be reading too much into the story. After all, they were given a direct command not to eat of the tree.
    As for the death in the story, I view it as a lost opportunity for eternal life. God says he ate from the tree of knowledge and now if he eats from the tree of life… So God puts them out of the Garden and they loose the chance to live forever. Gilgamesh has the same lost opportunity theme. After the death of his friend Gilgamesh goes on a quest for eternal life but after he finds the fruit that give it to him a snake steals it before he can eat it. The opportunity is lost.

  • Jim

    I too think that Rebecca’s synopsis of Adam and Eve as children was very insightful. It does however leave me with a question regarding what kind of parent would leave their children in a situation where they could be manipulated by a con artist? Whoever came up with the Adam and Eve story sure set it up for lots (~2.5 K years) of debate. It was also nice to read Larry’s response since with his Jewish background, he hasn’t been tainted with the original sin dogma.

    • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

      Re the tree. Again, I’m going to take you way out on a limb, but this is something I’ve spent an excessive amount of time thinking/studying/meditating/praying on. The tree was put there, so it must have been there for some good purpose. I think that the tree represents a level of development which Adam and Eve hadn’t reached yet. Again, going back to the idea of children, it would be unhealthy for children to live without any awareness of or exposure to adults living their own lives. It was something of a reminder that there was more than Adam and Eve’s way of being, concerns and activities in this world. If that makes sense.

      Now, again – going way out on a limb here – the serpent. I could go really deep into this, but for the sake of conversation and something like brevity, I’ll simply say that the serpent’s actions were the unanticipated factor. It is my understanding that what can be redeemed is allowed as a possibility, so the serpents actions were not precluded as a possibility. But it required such a breach of the proper order of things as to be highly unlikely. (Yes, I’m fiddling with open theism here. Sue me.) If we go with the traditional idea of the serpent as Satan and Satan’s role as accuser, what we see is Satan doing with Adam and Eve the sort of thing which it was his job to do with God – offer alternative explanations of reality. For God, these accusations could well be like puzzles to work out. But by bringing his accusations to Adam and Eve, Satan is essentially inviting them into a game which they were completely unprepared to play.

      And yes, I know that not only am I going out on a limb, but I’m raising all sorts of interesting issues. Like God’s omniscience. I think God exists outside of time – knowing all things. But can chose to enter into time to experience creation as it exists in time. Which I think allows for both the sort of open theism which is easy enough to see in scripture and God’s all knowing nature. But we could spend all day running down those sort of rabbit trails. I’m just offering an explanation for the whole tree and fall thing which I think works.

  • Jon T.

    Kuddos Rebecca! Jesus stated not to suffer the children to come to him for such is the kingdom of heaven and later Paul stating that child like faith is all that is required to come to the knowledge that God’s loves us.

  • Jon T.

    Kuddos Rebecca! They must have been brilliant ‘children’ in that they created w/ maturity or age, like the rest of creation, w/ the capacity to reproduce. Adam names the animals at what, two days of age?! Just pointing out there are numerous nuances to the narrative that go in multiple directions, spiritually and otherwise.

    • http://theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

      To be clear, I’m not a literalist. I think that there is some loose correlary to reality which is reflected in the creation stories. For example, I think that perhaps God breathing into Adam could represent a point in our evolution when our brains were developed enough to have whatever it is that allows us to be image bearers. I think that Adam naming the animals would likely represent the aquisition of language as well as the recognition of man as different from other animals. And of course, reproduction is needed for life to continue. I think it’s telling that the first reaction of humans to “having their eyes opened” is to develop shame about this most basic of things – our very bodies and implicitely our sexuality. If there’s anything which tends to trip us humans up, it’s this uncomfortable relationship we have with our sexuality. But prior to the fall, it seems likely that our sexuality would have been not an adult thing, but simply part of who we are. We still see this in some tribal people where sexuality is very open and children aren’t sheilded from it at all. It’s not an abusive thing and the kids will play-act at mimicking the sexual behavior of the adults around them. But it’s more like our kids using their play kitchen to make meals than any serious attempt to be like the adults. So, I don’t think that our idea of sex as toxic and inimicable to childhood is applicable to Adam and Eve. I think it’s entirely possible for them to be both children and reproducing creatures. Hopefully I’m explaining this correctly.

  • Hanan

    >”On the other hand, the wrath of God that leads to death means death is unnatural, imposed onto the world. I think this is one of the biggest conflict areas between Christianity and evolution.”

    And for us Jews it’s not? :P

  • Jim

    Thanks once again Rebecca; it’s obvious you that have given this a lot of deep thought. I’m not so intellectual – if I would have been in the garden and a serpent was saying something, I would have said “hey look everybody, a talking snake’”.
    Appreciated your thoughts lots.

  • Pete

    Interesting discussion but has anyone considered the purpose of each testament? It’s silly to think that the Bible fully and completely describes ALL of God’s activity, so why does it focus on these specific stories?

    If the purpose of the Law was to reveal that we needed God’s mercy in Jesus (Romans 7:7-13) then it stands to reason that much of the focus of books educating us about the Law would focus on the Law and the consequences for disobeying it.

    By contrast, a testament written to then reveal God’s mercy and grace through Jesus would focus on that over and above punishment–and perhaps moreso due to the already ingrained idea of punishment it was contrasting. In other words, it’s not that God’s character or actions changed, it’s only that the focus of each testament was different: the Old testament focusing on Law, disobedience, and wrath; the New Testament focusing on grace, forgiveness and redemption.

    As a (loose) metaphor, imagine if I wrote two books on mexico–one about the culture and one about cuisine. In the first book I might mention food preparation briefly, but not nearly as much as peoples, history and traditions. In the second book I would possibly mention peoples, history and traditions, but not nearly as much as food preparation. And yet both would be about Mexico (and neither would paint a complete picture).

  • Tom A

    I think the problem can be resolved in understand that the Bible is not written by one person. As Russell Brand puts it: “The Holy Spirit ain’t got a pen.” All joking aside, if we realize the perspective both testaments are written from, we’ll learn a TON about who God really is and how our perspective relates to theirs.

    It seems, in the Old Testament, that the Jews were out, looking for God, trying to please Him (but not really), and running off the fact that He “rescued them from slavery in Egypt”. In the New Testament, you see the opposite happen–God comes and finds mankind, takes pleasure in us, and shows us that reality isn’t a badly written deus ex machina play. He’s been here the entire time, viewing us in a higher respect that we viewed ourselves.

    The Jews saw God as an angry, vindictive, mob boss. They expected the Messiah to be a political ruler and a follower of the Law of Moses who would come to permanently separate the nation of Israel apart from the others. But in glaring contrast, the Messiah was a King in Heaven who acted like a servant on earth. He stood in defiance against legalism (John 8, Mark 3:1-6, etc.) and said “the entire Law is fulfilled in love.” And instead of separating Israel, he brought the entirety of creation into favor. Thus, we should hold the Old Testament with a great deal of skepticism. Did the Jews really know God? Before Jesus, Paul seems to think not (Romans 3:10-12).

    I think it’s also important to recognize that, although the Old Testament is longer than the New, there are ~9 explicit references to Satan, whereas there are over 200 in the New Testament. Certainly that must say something about the significant difference between both perspectives.

  • Jon T.

    Gal. 3:8-14 says, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with [n]Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” We are under grace which comes by faith today, we are not under the (Mosaic) Law, which was about types and showdows of what was to come, namely Jesus Christ. To say the Hebrews/Jews ot the OT had no understanding of Messiah or of God’s master plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, the one who would come from among them, as Moses said in Deut. 18:15ff is to misunderstand what God was doing in the OT versus the NT. Jesus, during his ministry, plainly told his audience that he was the one Moses spoke of and that he came to fullfill the law and the prophets and to set the captives free!

  • Mark

    There is so much apparent symbolism and so many anthropomorphism’s in scripture that no one in their right mind should reasonably accept it all as literal—not without a whole lot of indoctrination. Yet, many Christians continue to read what is obviously allegorical as literal. I have found this to be true with Mormons as well. Almost all are willing to accept some small amount of poetry and symbolism, but, are generally suspicious of reading the Bible as anything other than 100% true. For Mormons this is peculiar because they believe that the Bible was wrongly translated and is inferior to the Book of Mormon. However, they also believe that once you correct for its errors through the divinely revealed truth of the Book of Mormon, everything else is absolutely correct.

    Both Mormons and Evangelicals in that regard share the same assumption, that it is primarily the work of God through the Holy Spirit that is the source of truth, the mind alone cannot be trusted. How do “they” determine that it is the mind alone at work when questioning doctrine? By determining that it isn’t consistent with “their” interpretation! That there is a glaring circularity to the logic seems not to matter. Faith is the substance of relationship, not reason and study.

    Paul is frequently quoted when justification for faith, feeling or experience need the necessary support in order to carry the day. “The wisdom of the wise is foolishness to God” has given license to elevate foolishness to the standard of doctrine. Often ignoring that Paul was a highly literate man in a largely illiterate culture—one that used the wisdom of the Greeks, as well as his own people to make his case for both Jew and Gentile regarding Jesus as the Christ.

    None of these debates would be possible, however, without scholarship; linguists, historians, archaeologists etc. The bits and pieces of manuscripts from different times and places that make up the Bible would remain a mystery without scholars and scientists. That is unless mystical processes are the primary way in which scripture is understood, as in Joseph Smith’s; “peep stone, golden plates and magic hat”. But, if the Bible really is the word of God, a good many unknown people, including secular people have played a fundamental role in making the Bible universally available and understandable.

    From this perspective, faith, education and then revelation reflect the appropriate order in scripture. This was true for Moses who spent eighty years in study, Jesus, thirty years, and his disciples, three years give or take. For Paul the period of study was the bulk of his life, even after salvation, before his true ministry began.

    What does this mean? That as knowledge increases so does understanding—and we currently have more knowledge than at any other time. With faith and hard work, there should be new revelations and new truths, a deeper revelation of the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

  • Ken Van Dellen

    I wondered about an aspect of that recently myself. In the OT, there are all those rules. Very rigid and demanding. In the NT, things seem much more relaxed. Think about what Jesus did and allowed. It wasn’t as if “anything goes,” but certainly not “if you do that you will be punished.”


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