When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God

Today’s post, the first of three, is written by Dr. Eric Seibert, Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College. Much of Seibert’s work is centered on addressing the problematic portrayals of God in the Old Testament, especially his violence. He is the author of Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Fortress 2009) and The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy (Fortress 2012). Seibert is also a licensed minister in the Brethren in Christ Church and formerly the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Initiative at Messiah College. He is currently working on his fourth book, Disarming the Church: Why Christians Must Forsake Violence to Follow Jesus (Cascade).

The basic premise of my recent book, The Violence of Scripture, is quite simple: the Bible should never be used to harm others. One might imagine such a “profound” truth to be self-evident and hardly worthy of a book length treatment. But the sad reality is that the “good book” has been bad news for far too many people.

The Bible has been used to inflict enormous pain upon others and to endorse all kinds of evil. It has been used to hurt and even kill people. Specifically, it has been used to justify warfare, oppress women, condemn gays and lesbians, support slavery, and legitimate colonization, to name just a few of its troubling legacies. When the Bible is used for such evil ends, there is no mistaking the fact that something has gone terribly wrong.

Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided  interpreters.  And this certainly is part of the problem. But, unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this.  It runs right through the pages of Scripture itself.

To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us. I realize this may sound blasphemous to some people and flies in the face of everything they have been taught to believe about the Bible. When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach. We are taught to read, revere, and embrace the Bible. We are not taught to challenge its values, ethics, or portrayals of God.

But this way of reading the Bible is problematic, to say the least. At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept. Rather than seeing this as a sign of disrespect, we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness.

Unfortunately, the Church does not often help us know what to do when we encounter problems in Scripture. Time and again we are told that Bible reading is one of the main avenues for spiritual growth, and I certainly do not wish to dispute that. But what happens when people dig into the Bible and find things there that are not only unsavory, but downright unhealthy for them?

What happens when reading the Bible pushes people away from God rather than leads them closer to God?

If we feel compelled to accept what we read at face value, and are forbidden from asking honest questions about the troublesome texts we encounter, we run the risk of using the Bible in ways that may harm others (not to mention ourselves!). For example, if we accept the patriarchy embedded in biblical texts as normative and God-ordained, we may easily find justification in the Bible to treat women as second-class citizens.

Similarly, if we embrace the many positive portrayals of violence in the text (more on this in the next post), we may find ourselves approving of certain acts of violence and war. If we regard Israel’s conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua as unproblematic, we may find it much easier to legitimize the colonization of indigenous populations.

Thus, if we are going to keep the Bible from harming others, we need to learn to have problems with it. We need to protest what is objectionable and condemn what is immoral. Otherwise, we run the risk of perpetuating the violent legacy of Scripture by making the “good book” behave in very bad ways.

 

  • Jay

    and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Revelation 22:19

    The word of God is perfect, His ways are higher than ours. So stop thinking that you, mere grass, know better than the God of the Universe.

    • Andrew

      Jay, the ironic thing is that passage is written by the author of Revelations as a warning to forgers and people who would change/alter the text, as it was so common in the period of people writing ‘holy’ scripture! Which leads to the truth that people need to understand; God didn’t write the Bible, human beings did. Which doesn’t mean the Bible can’t offer divinely-inspired words and insights/knowledge (particularly if you believe in Jesus Christ as God incarnate), but it is by no means ‘perfect.’
      That is idolatry of the Bible which came during the Reformation and still permeates today in conservative Christian churches, even though Luther and co’s theology of the Bible was created at a time when they were completely ignorant of how the Bible was created (ever considered that the Catholic Church . . you know, the guys who COMPILED the Bible, never made it the defacto lawbook of everything Christian, because they knew there had been no bolts of lightening or commands from the sky while they were deciding what to include and not to include; it was just a bunch of old theologians and clergy sitting around a table having debates . . must have been fun!).

      Ironic also that despite the Reformers insistence that the Bible was the be-all end-all of Christian knowledge and necessity, even they engaged in the time-honored practice of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible should be included/focused on and which should be ignored . . oh and dabbled in a little rewrites too; see ML’s rejection of the Book of James and his insertion of ‘faith ALONE’ in his biblical translation . . even the biblical literalists couldn’t help but tweak with the Bible! Proving utmost and foremost . .the Bible is man’s word on God, not God’s word on man.

      • Chuck Sigler

        Andrew, “God didn’t write the Bible, human beings did. . . .” This starting point leads to this interpretative view of the biblical text “. . . . Which doesn’t mean the Bible can’t offer divinely-inspired words and insights/knowledge (particularly if you believe in Jesus Christ as God incarnate), but it is by no means ‘perfect.’” And seems to illustrate the concern I wrote of in my comment regarding the weakening of the core biblical value of the authority of Scripture.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

          But why is that a problem? I mean, if it makes people more moral, ethical, and caring human beings to be critical of “God’s word”, isn’t that a good thing?

          • Evangelical

            You can’t “make people moral”. People are immoral and sinful, this is the first truth revealed in Genesis 3. The third chapter of thousands. The Bible must be infallible, because it must be from God because only….let me rewrite that. ONLY….God is life.

            ONLY GOD IS LIFE.

            Man is sin, and DEATH.

            Therefore anything from Man, whether a drug, a chemical, an idea, is also DEATH.

            If you don’t understand this you are without the Holy Spirit, and better pray for Jesus to take over.

    • John

      Jay, it’s pretty ironic that you quote from the book of Revelation as being authoritative, when it wasn’t recognized as Scripture by a number of early church Fathers. http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon5.html

      • Evangelical

        Really? The overwhelming majority say Revelation is true, most of the rest just mention it’s disputed (but not by them) and a smallest of minority don’t mention it. None of them dispute it however!

        Isn’t the holy spirit enough for you to confirm the Scripture? You must not have the holy spirit then.

    • http://www.andrewcort.com Andrew Cort

      If we delve into the symbolic language of scripture and mythology that was common to the ancient world, we find that the Bible is deliberately and consciously talking passed our literal minds, using imagery and allegories and parables to teach the soul about revelation and enlightenment. It is not about “history”, it is not a confusing and smarmy lesson in “morality” and who God wants us to kill. The only “slaughter” being talked about is the slaughter of our own negativity, our internal hatreds, our internal violence. It IS inspired, I daresay it IS perfect – but it all takes place within, it is NOT LITERAL and was never meant to be. The authors of the Bible were quite aware that donkeys don’t talk.

      • Evangelical

        Um no, there is history, there is literal in the Bible. The idea it’s all “metaphorical” is idiotic, and historically the ancients covered up their sins, not exposed them to broad daylight as the Bible does time and again. The Bible is therefore nothing like past documents.

    • Cracker McPastey

      You’re right. The word is perfect.

      *off to enslave virgins & foreign peoples & stone homosexuals*

    • Alison

      Jay, the Bible describes God as all-knowing and all-powerful (omnipotent and omnipresent), it does not, to my knowledge, describe God as perfect.

      In fact, the Bible is full of stories of Jesus and God changing their minds. Jesus says he won’t do anything about the wedding running out of wine and then does, performing his first miracle. God is continually whittled down in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah about whether or not God will spare the city and for how many righteous people. God clearly made humans imperfectly and had to change the original plan about the Garden of Eden. Is it possible for a perfect God to bargain? To change one’s mind? To take on wagers (Book of Job)? To mess up with God’s intended creation (humans in the garden)?

      If we are unwilling to ask and to wrestle with these questions, then we have a faith hardly worthy of the name.

  • peteenns

    Jay, the passage you cite refers to the book of Revelation, not, say Canaanite genocide in the OT. I also think that Seibert’s point is not that he knows “better than the God of the universe” but that the violence of God poses certain theological challenges, not the least of which comes from Jesus himself on the Sermon on the Mount.

    • Robert

      How does the OT violence compare to other forms of warfare? Though I tend towards the pacifist approach, can I expect those that never encountered the teachings of Jesus (or Jesus Himself) to be so inclined? Is there a pacifist assumption underlying your argument?

      • http://www.fightingpreacher.org John Renken

        There is. It is only with a pacifist approach that you can make the claims he is making.

    • http://activefaith.wordpress.com Stephen Enjaian

      Dr. Enns, your answer to Jay illustrates why Dr. Seibert’s (and your) logic breaks down. If we accept the premise that violence by God in the Bible provides justification for more violence, then Jesus’ actions in Revelation pose a serious challenge to the view of God that Dr. Seibert attempts to construct. It does not help Dr. Seibert’s position to invoke Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, because in Revelation 19 Jesus is right there in the thick of it, killing a massive number of people. No matter how you read Revelation, there’s no good news there for people who end up opposing Jesus.

      • peteenns

        Stephen, are you suggesting that Revelation has somehow slipped our minds and we need it pointed out? Are you also taking Revelation as a literal description of future events? Are you aware of the genre of apocalyptic in antiquity?

        • http://activefaith.wordpress.com Stephen Enjaian

          Yes, I’m aware of interpreting Revelation as another genre, and no, I’m not suggesting that Revelation has slipped your mind. I am asking questions (as is Cameron), that you are not answering. For example, as in my other comment: when Dr. Seibert calls his critique of the Bible “an act of profound faithfulness,” my question was, “faithfulness to what?” Also, on what basis does Dr. Seibert (or you), make the claim that some parts are “good” and others not?

        • Jon Hughes

          Pete,

          I think Stephen makes a good point. It is passages like Revelation 19 that seem to be problematic for the approach of Bible teachers like Greg Boyd (who I enjoy reading, by the way).

          Could you explain how the apocalyptic nature of Revelation negates the violence depicted in it?

          • peteenns

            Justice of the gods (and kings who rule on earth for them) in antiquity is regularly described in terms of violence. The Bible participates in those ancient conventions, particularly Revelation, where human destruction (and cosmic upheaval) are part of the literary/theological convention. I don’t think our doctrine of God should be shaped or dominated by the idiom of Revelation without a lot of thought behind it. By saying so, I am not suggesting there is no just judgment by God, both now and later, nor do I think Jesus is was a pacifist. But Jesus was fully human, too, and participated in the conventions of his day, and his appeal to gehenna as a descriptor of God impending judgment upon Israel (not all humanity) is a prime example.

            As with most things, the issue of God’s violence in the Bible vis-a-vis God’s nature is a challenging theological and hermeneutical discussion–as it has been ever since Jesus forbade killing one’s enemies and the earliest theologians of the church. We need to move beyond prooftexting(not suggesting you would disagree, Jon).

            That is my short answer.

  • Pingback: Thinking through violence in the Old Testament « Old School Script

  • Jedidiah Slaboda

    Thank you for working through these issues.

    These questions are not just being asked by young Evangelicals. There is a 93 year old member of my church who asks me every time I visit her about some part of the Old Testament that she cannot accept in the simplistic way she was taught to accept the Bible as the word of God. She reads the Bible every day and has done so her entire adult life but she worries that she might not be a Christian because she is troubled so deeply by the violence of the Old Testament.

    Earlier this week when she asked me how I could accept Exodus and Leviticus I told her I try to read them looking for signs of the person and work of Jesus Christ. She said that she wouldn’t know how to do that. Maybe instead of encouraging Christians to read the whole Bible, we ought to make sure they have internalized the Gospels (and Acts) first.

    • http://chadarhodes.blogspot.com Chad

      Yes, Yes, Yes. Christ must be the interpretative key to the OT.

    • Eric Seibert

      Jedidiah, it makes me really sad to hear the negative impact the church’s simplistic teaching about the Bible has had on this woman. The Church can–and should–do better (and I am speaking as one who is deeply committed to the Church)! It is a shame that she would be worried that she is not a Christian because OT violence troubles her. As I see it, the fact that she is so bothered by this is an indication that her faith is alive and well, and that her reading of the Bible is serious and engaged. May her tribe increase!

    • Evangelical

      Maybe you need to stop confining Jesus as a pacifist and death and war as “injustice”. There is nothing wrong with violence, violence against the Germans for their genocide of Jews and Christians was JUST….it was a GOOD THING. Because violence is a part of the fallen world, it is an expression of our freedom from God…it is the inevitable result of our rebellion and God is not afraid to use violence against us. But He has a better plan and sent the spirit of peace in which Jesus Christ came to further the job, but even those who won’t answer to peace…violence will fall upon them.

      It simply is not our position as Christians to resort to violence because Jesus at this time still is the spirit of Peace….that does not yet change.

      • agnostic

        someone needs to wipe this Evangelical TROLL of the discussion board!!!!!!

  • http://www.12lions.com Cameron

    What standard or hermeneutic is used to determine which parts of the Bible to challenge? Why should I use Jesus’ sermon on the mount to challenge violence in the OT and not the other way around? How and why do we decide which ethical endorsements of the Bible are actually unethical?

    • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

      Exactly. I see trying to deal with the difficult parts of the OT by relating them to Christ and ignoring everything that doesn’t relate (a common practice at my church) as a different form of “picking and choosing”.

      • Dean

        I don’t see what you’re doing as picking and choosing at all. As a Christian, Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and to say that the Bible only makes sense when you read it through the lens of what Jesus did and taught seems pretty legitimate to me. What is odd is this revelation only came to me in the past two years or so and I’ve been a practicing Christian pretty much my entire life. What makes no sense about the neo-Reformed crowd is that they’d much rather take their cues about what God is like from Moses, Paul or John. It’s convenient if all you’re looking for is to affirm your own presuppositions about what God is like, but I think it provides all sorts of problems if you claim to worship Jesus as God incarnate.

      • peteenns

        We all pick and choose, folks.

        • http://www.12lions.com Cameron

          Isn’t that just another way of saying, “well, we all have presuppositions” which you’ve specifically decried in your previous posts?

          Why should I pick what you pick? How do you determine what to pick?

          • peteenns

            No, it’s entirely different.

        • Richard Worden Wilson

          So, PeteEnns, when you comment saying “We all pick and choose, folks,” it sounds like you have concluded that we all might have a right or responsibility to “pick and choose.” Are you speaking descriptively or prescriptively? The question of whether we should consider ourselves over or under the scriptures seems relevant here. ISTM that many who desire to emphasize the self-sacrificing character of God manifested in Christ over the self-exalting character of Yahweh God in the OT do so by undermining or dismissing the validity of the characterizations of Yahweh by the OT authors simultaneously devalue if not obliterate the authority of all NT characterizations of God. I’m sorry, but you either must validate all biblical representations of God or you invalidate all biblical characterizations of God, including those manifest in Christ. Man up. Oh, BTW, I consider myself, as a follower of Christ, to be a Christian pacifist.

          • peteenns

            I am speaking descriptively.

          • Stephen

            Dr. Enns, forgive me if I misrepresent you, but I think we descriptively pick and choose, AND prescriptively, and I think that is one thing I am learning from your books and others’. Scripture is beautifully and powerfully complex and contains many points of view and writers’ experience of God. To develop a functioning idea of who God is and how God operates we naturally pick and choose what can develop into a simple understanding of God we can begin to understand. As our experience and knowledge (hopefully) grows, we begin to see new angles, develop new understandings and complexities we couldn’t understand before. And we are able to incorporate other voices in Scripture that couldn’t have fit before. I think at some point in many ways we are left with a harmonized yet mysterious understanding; but never a full one. It’s always one that has either consciously or subconsciously picked and chosen; but in community and by God’s Spirit we come to know more deeply. Failing to see that seems near-sighted and self-limiting.

    • http://activefaith.wordpress.com Stephen Enjaian

      Cameron, you raise a good point that no one here, including Dr. Enns, even attempts to answer. Dr. Seibert says that “we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness.” Faithfulness to what? On what basis does he choose his view of God? Why does he choose one passage over another to make his claim that some parts are “good” and others not?

      His claims become seriously conflicted in light of Jesus’ statement in Luke 24:44 that the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms were about Him. If Dr. Seibert is right, then Jesus might have added, “Oh, by the way, that doesn’t count those awful imprecatory Psalms. And that part where Moses wrote about God killing all those Egyptian babies, why I would have to critique that as an act of profound faithfulness!”

    • peteenns

      Cameron, many people have thought about this issue deeply and provided equally penetrating answers, beginning with 2nd century theologians. You are not raising an insightful criticism here.

      • http://www.12lions.com Cameron

        Sorry, I did not see this comment before I left my second comment. It’s not a criticism, it’s an honest question. I’m not trying to persuade anyone that their position is wrong in this area – I’m trying to understand how you address the questions I raised within the context of the positions you hold or appear sympathetic towards.

    • Eric Seibert

      Cameron, you are raising some important questions. I have argued at some length (in Disturbing Divine Behavior) that we ought to use a Christocentric hermeneutic to evaluate the trustworthiness of various portrayals of God in the Bible. This is based on the premise that God’s moral character is most clearly and fully revealed in the person of Jesus. Since we see God, the actual God, most clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus, we can use this as a guide for evaluating textual portrayals of God in the Bible. Portrayals of God that correspond with the God Jesus reveals help us see God more clearly while those that conflict with the God Jesus reveals hinder our efforts since they distort God’s character in various ways.

      In my most recent book, I have argued that we should engage in an ethical critique of what we read in the Bible. To help us do this responsibly, I suggest we should read the Bible in ways that increase our love for God and others, that promote justice, and that value all people. Criteria like these provide helpful guidelines for determining what is ethical and what is not. Whenever we read in ways that result in harm to others, we are surely not reading in ways that please God. Rather, we should read in ways that promote life, exhibit grace, foster compassion, and discourage violence.

      • Jim V

        With all due respect, Dr. Seibert, but why use the Christocentric hermeneutic? Why use any hermeneutic? Wouldn’t academic integrity demand that we simply question the OT (and NT) stories using what we know to be more modern/progressive moral principals? What about Jesus’ somewhat racist retort to the gentile woman in Matthew 15:21-28? How does a Christocentric hermeneutic that is based on a person who would say these things then provide any moral compass for dealing with the OT? How do you discern whether your Christocentric hermeneutic is being unduly influenced by moder/progressive principals that are too extreme? When other scholars criticize the use of a Christocentric hermeneutic because Christ is a fabricated person whose cultural flaws still shine through the polished translations of the NT, what is your logic for continuing to use the Christocentric hermeneutic?

      • http://www.12lions.com Cameron

        This is late coming since I just now saw this, but thanks for getting back to me.

  • Chuck Sigler

    I see what he says, but disagree with his conclusion. I think the issue is clearly one of interpretation of Scripture, from beginning to end.

    “Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided interpreters. And this certainly is part of the problem. But, unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this. It runs right through the pages of Scripture itself. . . . To put it bluntly: not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good, or good for us. . . .

    “If we feel compelled to accept what we read at face value, and are forbidden from asking honest questions about the troublesome texts we encounter, we run the risk of using the Bible in ways that may harm others (not to mention ourselves!). For example, if we accept the patriarchy embedded in biblical texts as normative and God-ordained, we may easily find justification in the Bible to treat women as second-class citizens.”

    The problem is “accepting what we read at face value” and not asking honest questions about the troublesome texts. AND we have to acknowledge that what appear as “troublesome texts” are equally a product of OUR current culture and values. Even with the given example about patriarchy, yes it is legitimate to raise the point that if the “patriarchy embedded in biblical texts” is accepted as a normative and God-ordained way of men and women interacting in modern culture, we have an ethical and theological problem applying what Scripture says to our culture. But saying “the patriarchy embedded in the biblical texts” has already made an interpretative judgment by referring to biblical texts describing the interaction of men and women as “patriarchal.” At least since Gerda Lerner and “The Creation of Patriarchy” the term patriarchy carries a negative, moral judgment when applied to male-female relationships.

    Yes, ask honest questions about troublesome texts. But don’t forget that what makes them troublesome is often that they conflict with the cultural and moral values we bring to the text. There is a danger that “not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good, or good for us” can become a justification for weakening the core biblical value/presupposition of the authority of Scripture.

    • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

      This is roughly what I was thinking while reading this post. I certainly agree that we should not “feel compelled to accept what we read at face value” and wrestle with difficult texts, but he seems to take this concept a bit too far, almost to the point of “crossing out” the parts of scripture we disagree with. And, as you say, much of this disagreement can be culturally founded. Even as we critique and analyze scripture, we also have to let it critique and analyze us, our presuppositions, and our interpretive culture.

    • Mary

      Chuck:

      “AND we have to acknowledge that what appear as “troublesome texts” are equally a product of OUR current culture and values. ”

      I hear this all the time, and I think it is a fundamentally flawed argument. Why? Because there are certain moral values that are timeless and equal, not only for now, but also for the past and the future. We all should know them and we shouldn’t need a book to tell us these things. We know that murder, rape, slavery, and human sacrifice are wrong in any era. Restricting human rights is wrong too. And all of these things are either commanded by God or condoned by God, according to the OT. And it isn’t just a matter of interpretation. These things are explicit in the Bible.

      Morality is based on empathy, and this is why Jesus said to love others as yourself. This is grown-up morality. For example, as children we were taught that certain things were wrong and our motivation to be good was based on the fear of punishment. When we got older it was explained to us why. We learned to understand that certain things were wrong because they hurt others and indirectly ourselves as well.

      It disturbs me greatly that many Christians have put their conscience and their empathy aside for strict adherence to an immoral and cruel doctrine presented in the bible based mostly on their fear of being wrong and going to hell. This is not mature spirituality. Based on the fact that we have a God-given conscience, WE KNOW CERTAIN THINGS ARE WRONG PERIOD. There should be no debate.

      One of the ways that you can get a good man to do evil things is to tell him that God either condones it or commands it. We have seen this happen over and over. And it will happen again unless we acknowledge and deal with these “troublesome” texts.

      • John

        Very well put, Mary!

      • Jim V

        While I understand your concern here, especially with those verses of the OT that reflect the patriarchal society in which the OT was written, I have to object to your statement “WE KNOW CERTAIN THINGS ARE WRONG PERIOD.” How do we know? Our moral principals have evolved over the past 200 years, let alone the past 2,000. A simple example is one you bring up – slavery. We view it today as a reprehensible condition of a human, but when we provide examples of it, we usually use harsh examples: women used for sex, families being split up, brutality by the master, etc., etc. What if there was a society of gentle slave owners – who never used the female slaves for sex, never physically punished (or punished in any way) the slaves, kept families together, and would even view all these things as his or her moral duty? Would that type of slavery be more acceptable today? Of course not. But how do we respond to the Marxist who claims that most forms of employment today are tantamount to slavery. We may say that this is ridiculous, but he or she may have some good points. If the moral principals for our society eventually evolve to the point that what we call employment today is the equivalent of slavery, then can we say that people who lived in the year 2013 and everything they wrote about employment was immoral? The future populace would say “yes” according to your view because “we know certain things are wrong period.” Right and wrong can and will change – how then do we determine, based on your premise, what are the “certain things” that we stand by as right and wrong? Aren’t we just coming up with our own list of “fundamentals?”

        • Mary

          Jim:

          You are trying to cloud the issue. Again the only commandment we need is “Love others as yourself.” You are suggesting that I am coming a place of relative values. I am not.

          Yes, I am sure that there have been gentle slave owners. That still does not make it right. Abraham Lincoln first realized in his own heart that slavery was wrong when he witnessed an auction where a husband and wife were being sold separately. He saw the anguish on their faces as they were split up never to see each other again. I doubt it mattered much to them whether their owners were “gentle.”

          Are you aware that the bible says that a person can beat their slave as brutally as they want as long as he doesn’t kill him?

          “Right and wrong can and will change – how then do we determine, based on your premise, what are the “certain things” that we stand by as right and wrong? Aren’t we just coming up with our own list of “fundamentals?”

          Right and wrong do not change and it bothers me that a Christian (I am assuming) would say that.

          Again you need to look at the Golden Rule as to how to treat people. You have to look in your heart.

          There is a really easy way of seeing what is wrong. No Christian I know has any trouble picking out what is wrong with extremist Islam theology. What is wrong for them is wrong for us too. Islam is a sister religion to ours. They draw from the same OT traditions that we do.

          Not long ago a poor Muslim girl was forced to marry her rapist. She commited suicide. That law is in the Bible too.

          It may be in the future that people will see that certain things that we condone today are wrong. They may be right or wrong about that. But to suggest that every issue that is not dealt with in the Bible is somehow less of an issue and equate it with moral relatism is well, wrong.

          • Mary

            Sorry, meant “relativism?

          • Mary

            Ooops! Didn’t mean to put a question mark after “relativism” Need new glasses LOL

          • Matt Thornton

            I find your insistence of looking to the commandment to love neighbors and looking to your own heart refreshing! Most of the time, the test of “would I want to be treated this way?” is as simple as it is effective.

            Kudos for keeping the important issues in the center.

      • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

        Mary, thanks for your thoughts.
        I think we are talking past one another to a certain extent. Your first objection was to my flawed argument that what appear as “troublesome texts” in the Bible are equally a product of OUR current culture and values. Using an example of a “troublesome text” not mentioned or discussed in this blog is the Genesis creation account which is framed in the language of creation occurring within six twenty-four hour days. There are literalist Christians who see the only legitimate option for a Christian to interpret Genesis is to say that God created the heavens and the earth in six twenty-four hour days. This literalist interpretation of Genesis was not controversial two or three hundred years ago, as it is today. I’m not trying to pull the conversation further away from Dr. Seibert’s original topic, but simply use this as an example of a troublesome text that has essentially become one as humanity developed a scientific understanding of the heavens and the earth that was in conflict with a six twenty-four hour day view of biblical creation. I don’t believe that my statement was a fundamentally flawed argument. As I said in conclusion to my post, saying that “not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good or good for us” can become a justification for weakening what I believe is a core biblical value or presupposition of the authority of Scripture over the lives of people who say they are Christians.
        I agree with you that there are certain timeless moral values. If by “equal”, you mean that they are believed by most, if not all, past and present cultures or civilizations. C. S. Lewis makes a similar argument for objective moral value in his book, “The Abolition of Man.” He said there are is a set of moral values that have been shared by almost every culture, which he then referred to as the Tao, “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”
        But if this is true, then morality cannot be based simply on empathy; if empathy is: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” (Merriam-Webster definition) Morality, as the Tao of C. S. Lewis, would be based upon something more solid; more lasting; more eternal than just empathy.
        And I don’t think Jesus said to love others as yourself because he believed merely that morality is based upon empathy. That would be an interpretation that you bring to reading that passage. What Jesus did say is that loving your neighbor as yourself was the second greatest commandment after loving God with your whole heart; and that all of the “Law and the Prophets” (all of the Old Testament), hangs on these two commands (Matthew 22:40). In other words, all of the other commandments in the Old Testament are summed up in these two. Jesus didn’t negate or minimize the authority of the Old Testament. So when we find troublesome texts, such as those that have a seeming conflict between loving your neighbor and violence, my approach would be NOT to assume that as a consequence, “not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good or good for us.” But rather, to ask how it could be that the authoritative Word of God says both things. If Christ ultimately condemns genocide, what are You saying to us, Lord in the descriptions of apparent genocidal behavior in the conquest of Canaan?
        It also disturbs me that Christians put their conscience and empathy aside out of a fear of going to hell. That’s not the gospel message of Christ. But if we have a God-given” conscience; and know that certain things are wrong period, how is it that there is ANY debate about the differences? Would you grant that at least some of the individuals who hold beliefs different than you sincerely think that what they believe are true? By what standard can we judge between two opposing beliefs on what constitutes “violence” that is opposed to loving your neighbor as yourself? This tendency towards drifting into a kind of moral relativism is one of the reasons that I begin by presuming the authority of the Bible as special revelation from God. And even granting that the actions of the Israelites as they conquered Canaan can be seen as genocide, I wouldn’t seek to weaken that authority. Certainly there would have to be a rethinking of how I apply those texts in my life and culture. And I heartily agree with your conclusion, “One of the ways that you can get a good man to do evil things is to tell him that God either condones it or commands it. We have seen this happen over and over. And it will happen again unless we acknowledge and deal with these ‘troublesome’ texts.”

  • kevinleroy

    Theological problems for whom? Jesus isn’t always just a big fluffy bunny. The violence in Scripture is problematic for us as humans. But when you look at it in light of Sin being the true problem, I think we can start to understand. We also have to accept some things by faith and we may never have true answers this side of the New Kingdom.

    • John

      Ah yes, the “We’ll understand bye and bye, once we die” gambit. A convenient escape route away from having to deal with the implications of troublesome texts. Oh, and of course, the violence in the Bible is only a problem for us from a human perspective. God is allowed a different standard of morality and conduct than us. Might makes right. I supposed the Holocaust isn’t troublesome, when you have a God’s-eye view? Non-fluffy-bunny Jesus says it’s all cool with him. Please!

      • Brad

        “Non-fluffy-bunny Jesus says it’s all cool with him. Please!” Exactly.

  • http://anonymoustheologian.wordpress.com Christopher Baca

    I think this article, written by a friend of mine is relevant. It’s not by me, so I promise I’m not self-promoting! The core question that the article asks (and I think all of us should, as well) is “Can a believer possess a ‘better’ ethic than Scripture?”

    http://onetheology.com/2013/01/09/got-15-if-so-you-too-can-rape-an-unbetrothed-virgin/

    • Mary

      Very good article. Thanks for the link.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ

    I’ve been learning to re-read the OT Incarnationally through Jesus’ revelation of God and God’s love in the NT. To read the OT apart from Jesus is to give a very different picture of God (which is how I originally learned to read it in my “literal” days of interpretation). To some extent Webb’s Redemptive Hermeneutic would encourage this, but then again, it relativises each generation’s “cultural interpretations” of the bible (including the NT). In place of Webb I’d rather pursue a contextual reading of the bible based upon a more accurate understanding of ancient cultures stripped from mine own biases, expectations, and epistemologies as noted by Chuck in his post above. In that way I don’t consider the OT writers as simplistic automatons scribing God’s revelation, but intricately involved with apprehending God’s presence, person, and portrayal.

    • Chuck Sigler

      Russ, I’d agree with what you say. I’ve also read some of Webb and have similar concerns with his work.

    • John

      How is ‘reading the Old Testament incarnationally through Jesus’ not just a convenient way to skate over all the rough patches therein?

  • Andrew

    Chris: I think that’s an a very good article and points out something I see often “well if the Bible is not all right, how can I know what’s right” etc. The good thing is God continue to works through us and guide us in the development of improved ethical frameworks (manifested by Jesus), and our “culturally conditioned” notions of rape, child abuse, human rights, rules of war etc. are overall far superior to what was the norm thousands of years ago. To think that God’s revelation stopped almost 1700 years ago when the first Biblical canon was agreed upon, is bizarre thinking. Did God dictate tablets, start bush fires, raise from the dead, inspire prophecies of the future . . .and then just check out? “Eh, the humans have their Bible, now I’ll just hang around until the End Times . .” Such a view of God is certainly not ‘biblical!

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Totally agree. I only recently started challenging stuff in the bible, being honest about “hey, this is genocide- that’s horrible and I’m not okay with it”- and I feel like I’m not allowed to even say that.

    But I challenge the bible precisely BECAUSE I believe it. I have enough confidence in Christianity that I don’t think asking a simple question is going to send the whole thing crumbling down.

    • peteenns

      This is a key point, I think. Evangelicalism has a hard time with this.

  • Jim

    @Andrew – regarding the Rev 22:19 addition/subtraction math, I recall that you mentioned a few weeks ago that “many biblical scholars think all of Mark 13 is a separate piece of apocalyptic literature with proclamations that the historical Jesus never said”.
    Can you recommend any reference(s) dealing with Mark 13 as a possible later insert (I’m not a bible scholar).
    Thanks

    • Andrew

      Jim,
      While I certainly don’t agree with everything the Jesus Seminar purports, I do think agree with Robert Funk’s take on Mark 13 in ‘The Five Gospels” (and other non-JS scholars agree) See here for a summary of the position and it includes both online and offline resources if you wish to pursue further: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/mark.html

      • Jim

        Andrew, many thanks for your help. Your earlier post caught my eye because it came on the day I was going to order Ehrman’s “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium’. I’m trying to work through how apocalyptic is apocalyptic.

        • Andrew

          I don’t agree with Ehrman’s thesis of an Apocalyptic Jesus, but it’s a legitimate debate of the text and its meaning within its time-frame. I think too many of Jesus’s preachings/parables don’t gel within an overall apocalyptic framework for that to have been the crux of his message, especially when one views the Olivet Discourse as later postdiction for communities experiencing persecution and turmoil. He also clearly broke away from the asceticism of John the Baptist, who was an apocalyptic preacher (and from what we know the other Apocalyptic Jews of that time period were serious ascetics). In any case, I should quit rambling on something too off-topic . . but happy reading!

          • bta

            @andrew. can you direct me to information regarding the postdiction of the olivet discourse? thank you.

  • Richard Crane

    Jay wrote: The word of God is perfect, His ways are higher than ours. So stop thinking that you, mere grass, know better than the God of the Universe.

    Jay, forgive me for sounding sarcastic but I’m doing this to make a point, not attack you personally.

    If we simply say “The word of God is perfect (assuming that the Bible simply = the word of God) and therefore, we dare not question anything since we do not know better than the God of the Universe ….

    do we therefore believe that, on a level higher than our mere human understanding, that it is both ok and not ok for a man to divorce his wife? Since we believe the whole Bible and do not question it, do we get to do the best picking and choosing at all…..when I want to divorce my wife, I simply quote Deuteronomy’s permission to send my wife away with a certificate of divorce with great authority in my voice since I am quoting the perfect Word of God. But, when someone else divorces, I can condemn them because Jesus said that divorce was not God’s true intention.

    My point: the Bible itself, with its internal tensions and at points, contradictions, requires us (hopefully, prayerfully, illumined by the Spirit and by the Spirit’s illumination of generations of Christians who preceded us, make discerning interpretive judgments. Clearly, Jesus did this himself, arguing in Mark 10 that Genesis 2 trumps Deuteronomy 23 and contending that this portion of the Mosaic law is NOT God’s Word but was Moses’ concession to “the hardness of your hearts.”

    In the same way, Seibert points to a certain dissonance in portrayals of God in the Bible and wrestles with how to find, within the Bible itself, resources for making interpretive judgments to deal with the tensions. So, is God the God who loves his enemies and makes the sun shine and the good rain fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike or is God the God who hates his enemies and wants them annihilated? We may claim to believe the whole Bible and never pick and choose but in fact, we make interpretive judgments and prioritize, in this case, violence of God/hate-his-enemies God texts over Jesus’ account in the Sermon on the Mount.

  • Jim

    Many times when I hear the “God’s ways are higher than ours” phrase, it’s typically in the context of God doing something bizarre just to show that He can confound the wise like it’s a competition to show who has more brains/power. Is it possible that from God’s higher (more intelligent) perspective, if we see something as dumb-assed, God thinks it’s really really dumb-assed. Thus in reference to today’s post regarding the violent portrayal of God (especially OT) could He be thinking; who wrote this crap about me? Religion tries to stuff God into a Bible-sized box. Maybe we have intelligence for a reason? Combine that intelligence with Holy Spirit and the sky’s the limit. Oh well, enough crazy ranting for now.

    • Joe Canner

      Ironically, in context (Isaiah 55), “God’s ways are higher than ours” refers to God’s generosity and grace in inviting all nations (not just Jews) to join in his salvation. Just once I would like to hear that phrase quoted in support of extravagant grace rather than in support of legalism, punishment, and violence.

      • Jim

        Joe, thanks for highlighting the power of context over proof-texting.

        • Richard Worden Wilson

          Oh, Joe, I am so encourage to hear anyone focus on the meaning of this text in context (cudos to Jim for his support). While it is certainly true that God is smarter than we are, there is nothing that highlights that fact more than the ad nausem references to this text as if that is what it were saying. Its rather clear implication is that God is far more willing to forgive than humans are.

          Now, Jim, when you say “could He be thinking; who wrote this crap about me? Religion tries to stuff God into a Bible-sized box” it sounds rather like you might be thinking “if God were as smart as me he wouldn’t have allowed this stuff in his Bible.” Are you sure you want to go there? There are other ways of dealing with these issues than pushing the whole of scripture into the dung heap of human subjectivist relativism. If one adopts this sort of hermeneutic regarding the violent authority of God in the OT then it inevitalby applies as well to the non-violent authority of God in Christ in the NT. May God give us grace to be intellectually and spiritually honest about this.

          • Matt Thornton

            What’s the biblical basis for thinking that everyone’s heart is reached in the same way with the same text? If the power of the stories is about their effect on our hearts vs. the particular words, doesn’t a tendency to inerrancy also indicate a tendency to think that people are ‘wired’ the same way? They may be, but it doesn’t seem that way in my experience. Some respond better to fear, some to grace, some to reason, some to experience and so on. Further, what would have to be true for me to be affected identically by a given passage regardless of whether I was studying it in Hebrew, Latin or English? Language, as Russell so heartbreakingly demonstrated, cannot be a logically closed system.

            Separately, perhaps it’s helpful to think of the inerrancy question in terms of the collective impact of the Bible, rather than looking at each chapter or verse or line or word. Perhaps the beauty of it is that its collection of stories, contradictions and challenges has enough ‘dynamic range’ to reach everyone in the place where they are, and bring them to the place where God is.

            Looked at more holistically, the difficult passages will mean different things to different people, based on their current moral ‘condition’. Broadly, I’m trying to say that it’s the whole, not the pieces, that should be one’s focus. Knowing each note in the chromatic scale is one thing, hearing Faure’s Requiem is something else entirely.

  • http://hopaulius.wordpress.com hopaulius

    Prof. Seibert illustrates the intractable difficulty of regarding the Bible as a whole as Word of God. The professor does precisely what fundamentalist and Marxist interpreters alike do when they approach the Bible: he applies an extra-biblical filter, i.e. the pacifism of his community, to his understanding. Fine, he’s entitled to do this. But ultimately it’s a doomed project, as is every attempt to unify the scriptures into something universally palatable. A similar tactic has been mentioned in the comments: reading Jesus into every passage, including the Old Testament. I’m sure the Jewish community, who are the creators and stewards of the Hebrew Bible, will disagree!
    There are many problems here, so I’ll highlight just one. The concept of the Bible is built upon an illusion. We have a nice, printed, bound book conveniently translated into a modern English idiom tailored to our theological preconceptions, with all the coarseness of the original languages removed. This is the illusion: what we call The Bible is a collection of very diverse writings, produced and edited over a period of over a thousand years, by people who were living through vastly different cultural and political epochs. The book orders are different between Jewish and Christian publications. The inclusion or exclusion of the so-called apocryphal books depend largely on whether the target audience is Catholic or Protestant. The writings weren’t knit together into a single bound publication until centuries after the last words were written. Consequently, when we try to read this Bible as though it presents one grand, unified vision of the God of the Universe, as one commenter identifies the deity, we stumble within a few lines. So we construct what scholars call a heuristic: a unifying principle. My conclusion: there is no exegesis. All is eisegesis. It is impossible to read the Bible without overlaying one’s own presuppositions. Not merely difficult or challenging, but impossible. I’ll go one step further: Just as the writer of the story of Elijah observes that God was not in the wind, earthquake or fire, neither is God in the text. All we have are hints, hunches, intuitions, and suggestions. There can be no escape from thinking for ourselves.

    • Chuck Sigler

      I disagree with your premise that “The concept of the Bible is built on an illusion” and start from the one that follows. Here is a response I posted elsewhere on this topic.

      Richard Gamble addressed this dilemma in the “Whole Counsel of God, Volume 1”. His thesis is that the Bible itself provides a model for exegesis and theological arrangement. The Bible is its own interpreter and has its own theological structure. Our home culture, educational experiences and other life experiences influence us, building an interpretive grid through which we view Scripture. These grids must be submitted to the lordship of Christ. “Because of these powerful influences on each person, theology must be structured in a way that attempts to stand above those cultural experiences, while recognizing the inherent limitations of any one author.” (Gamble, “The Whole Counsel of God, Vol. 1” p. 53).

      At the center of Gamble’s proposed model is biblical theology, with the beginnings of special revelation in the Old Testament moving in time to the changes generated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Upon this central core, the church interprets the divine gift of revelation in Scripture and then demonstrates how it is to be understood in and applied to the lives of individuals. Radical exegesis (Gamble’s term for properly rootedexegesis) is foundational to biblical theology, which is itself foundational to a faithful theological system.

      All of an interpreter’s exegesis must submit to the lordship of Christ. Every theological structure must be grounded in Scripture. “The philosophical and other methodological tools used to construct the theological edifice must recognize and submit to Christ’s lordship.” The modern exegete “must self-consciously analyze their own culture and attempt, as far as humanly possible, to transcend its impositions.” This is true whether we bring an understanding of patriarchy built on Gerda Lerna, Wayne Grudem or Mimi Haddad; whether we bring an understanding of whether or not there is a biblical justification of slavery from reading Charles Hodge or William Webb; whether we can accept the moral legitimacy of the violence in Old Testament examples of conquering a foe, the death sentence for adultery, or reject it because of Christ’s teachings to love your enemies and admonition to the women caught in adultery to simply go and sin no more.

      Gamble’s analysis does ask the hard question on either side of a morally debated position in Scripture: what are the foundations of my belief in something and how does that influence how I examine Scripture? Francis Schaeffer’s challenging question posed more than a quarter century ago—‘How should we then live?’—must still be answered by the church today.” Answering difficult questions requires what Gamble called a radical exegetical method: “one that attempts systematically to stand above the exegete’s own culture and do the work of exegesis and theology in critical dialogue with one’s society.” (Gamble, “The Whole Counsel of God, Vol. 1,” 54-56).

      There can be no escape from thinking for ourselves, but I hold that my thinking must be submitted to the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in Scripture.

      • Andrew

        But your not addressing hopaulius’s main point, which is that the entire concept of “the Bible” is a construct of man hundreds of years into Christianity’s arrival. In fact, the very first ‘Bible’ (created by Marcion) didn’t even have the OT! How different this discussion would be if his followers had won the theological disputes of the age, as they came close to doing. Also, what about the Hebrew Scriptures pre-Jesus, or Jews born elsewhere who didn’t even know about Jesus. Their Bible lacks all of the NT. What about various Christian canons in-between Marcion and the late 4th century . . many of which completely omitted the Pastoral Letters, including 1 Timothy which has that often-quoted passage “all Scripture is God-Breathed”?

        • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

          Hopaulius said that he thought Professor Seibert applied an extra-biblical filter to his understanding of the Bible. Then he said this was a “doomed project, as is every attempt to unify the scriptures into something universally palatable.” He then said he thought there were many problems there and would highlight just one: “The concept of the Bible is built on an illusion.” It seemed to me that I was addressing his main point.

          You then raised several questions about the New Testament canon. They have been answered very clearly by others; better than I could on this blog. I have read “The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance,” by Bruce Metzger; and recommend it to address your questions. Here are two long quotes from Metzger’s Introduction that respond in part to your questions:

          “Thus, side by side with the old Jewish canon, and without in any way displacing it, there had sprung up a new, Christian canon. This history of its formation is the history, not of a series of sporadic events, but a long, continuous process. Is was a task, not of collecting, but of sifting and rejecting. Instead of being the result of a deliberate decree by an individual or a council near the beginning of the Christian era, the collection of the New Testament books took place gradually over many years by the pressure of various kinds of circumstances and influences, some external (see chapter 4) and others internal to the life of congregations (see chapter 11). Different factors operated at different times and in different places. Some of the influences were constant, others were periodic; some were local, others were operative wherever the Church had been planted. . . .

          Finally, after many years, during which books of local and temporary canonicity came and went (chapter 7), the limits of the New Testament canon as we know it were set forth for the first time in a Festal Letter written in 367 by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. But as evidence from subsequent writers reveals, not all in the Church were ready to accept precisely the canon as identified by Athanasius, and throughout the following centuries there were minor fluctuations in the East as well as the West. Such, in brief, is the long and fascinating story concerning the growth and recognition of the canon of the New Testament.”

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

      “with all the coarseness of the original languages removed”

      As a student of Biblical Hebrew, I’m offended by the coarseness of your reference to the original languages!

    • toddh

      I completely agree with Hopaulius’ take on the Bible, particularly as it relates to evangelicals around me and their certainty in the biblical condemnation of homosexuality. There’s something about going to a bookstore and purchasing a bible off the shelf in your own language that completely washes over thousands of years of compiling, editing, arguing, translating, and praying. And then it’s so simple: “See, it’s right there in the WORD OF GOD, Leviticus 20. Believe it and obey it.”

      However, my hope is that I don’t have to go to his ultimate conclusion of no unifying principle(s) for interpretation. I’m still hoping for something more.

  • arty

    Jay may neither need nor want my assistance, but I’m going to root for the underdog here, and suggest that while the sin of the (at least non-scholastic) Medieval and maybe some modern evangelicals may have been to undervalue the reach of human reason, the broadest sin of our era is to vastly overestimate the reach of our knowledge. Hopaulius is right, if reason is all we’ve got. If you don’t account for Revelation though, you just end up becoming one of Nietzsche’s poor benighted souls who says they believe in God but whose actions speak otherwise.

    • http://hopaulius.wordpress.com hopaulius

      Arty: Nice! By linking me with Nietzsche, you’ve associated my comments with the death of God, with justifiable totalitarianism, and with intellectual insanity. Very Christian of you! As for “one of Nietzsche’s poor benighted souls who says they believe in God but whose actions speak otherwise,” go find the nearest mirror and gaze at its image.

      • arty

        Hopaulius:

        You misread the intent of my comment. I wasn’t referring to you specifically, that was the royal “you.” As for my “poor benighted souls” comment, that was intended to communicate Nietzsche’s own tone, not mine, and that should have been perfectly clear.
        These clarifying points aside, I’m less than impressed with your wikipedia-grade take on Nietzscheanism, and the fact that in your irritation you ignored the substance of the point I was making about reason and revelation.

        Nice talking to you, too.

    • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

      As someone currently dissertating on Anselm, I feel compelled to stand up for the non-scholastic medievalists. If you read what Anselm writes, he certainly valued the work of the intellect and thought that understanding what we believed was a way to deepen our faith and fully realize it. That means (among other things) that the intellect is a crucial part of how we improve not only our beliefs about things science/logic can adequately capture, but also things that are in their true form beyond our understanding. Augustine, Plotinus, and other early medievalists had a high regard for human intellect, too, even when they recognized its limitations.

      • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

        Anselm is a favorite theologian of mine. Here is one of my most-loved quotes from his works, that I think even has some applicability to this discussion:

        Let me discern Your light whether it be from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself. . . . I acknowledge, Lord and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You. But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew and reform it. . . . For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. (“Proslogion;” 1)

  • JB

    I’ve always found it ironic that scripture has numerous examples of humans completely botching a command, that is inspired by God, yet we think that there is no possible way that these same fallible humans couldn’t have possibly made any mistakes or had selfish motives when it came to writing the Old Testament.

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

      JB, I don’t know you but…high-five.

    • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

      Where’s the “like” button when you really need it? :-)

  • Tim Sams

    The Fall 2011 edition of the Direction Journal (a Mennonite Brethren Journal) devoted that edition discussing Dr. Seibert’s *Disturbing Divine Behavior* and violence in the OT. The title theme of the journal for this issue is: Does God Behave Badly? Answers and Questions. It may be a good resource for this discussion. The journal is available online in full:

    http://www.directionjournal.org/toc/?40-2

  • James

    Where do we turn when ecclesiastical authority, biblical scholarship, and modern language versions let us down in some way as tools in the search for truth? Basically, we have to cut deep into the meaning of divine revelation. Perhaps we posit a good God who is self-revelatory. Then we can look for the footprints of such a God in Judaeo-Christian Scripture. Assuming we are successful in a preliminary search, it becomes a matter of reading and rereading until a more complete picture of his person and purposes emerges. This is circular, of course. So, “unless the LORD builds the house,” we labor in vain.

  • http://DeansDiary Dean McClain

    To profess faith in a God who cannot preserve His words yet He preserves the whole universe is a bit absurd. The KJV told me that I needed to confess Christ and I did in August 1954 and I am now 78 and He has never failed me on 4 continents! I studied Hebrew in a Jewish synagogue in Denver CO and I learned that the first 7 words of Genesis all present Jesus and the Father and Holy Spirit. Is there anything too hard for God?

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  • Bruce

    And we are discussing this because? The debate of such things continues to frustrate me, without a shining example of a modern day Christian, a constant stream of violence and social failure the truth is just that the masses have misinterpreted scripture. The believers have for a long time. In the end it will not matter, why are we pretending it does?

    • Gary in FL

      Bruce, could you unpack what you’re saying here? Why do you think discussing this topic will not matter? Just wondering.

  • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    This reminded me of a sermon a pastor once gave comparing the way Mary accepted the news of Jesus’s conception vs. Zechariah’s, John the Baptist’s conception. They both question whether the angel could be telling the truth, but Mary’s skepticism was a stepping stone to a deeper belief whereas Zechariah’s came from an inability to give God room to work outside the normal ways.

    I think there may be something to that. We don’t need to blindly accept the Bible and we shouldn’t ignore our intellectual and emotional uneasiness with certain readings, and “good” skepticism must be separated from the “bad” kind. In fact, in this context, what at first seems like disbelief might be our minds trying to accept what at first just seems wrong.

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  • Jon Hughes

    Pete,

    Just wanted to thank you for your reply concerning Revelation 19 above. Regarding ‘Gehenna’, I’d love to see you to do a piece on hell, and what’s biblical and not biblical about traditional Christian depictions of it.

  • http://www.wtjblog.com Jeremiah

    LOL @ all these fundagelicals who call Paul father yet freak out when people do what he did with the Bible.

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  • bta

    I read a comment on this thread regarding the possibility of the Olivet Discourse being postdiction. Could someone direct me to some online information or books that deal with this possibility? Thank You.

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  • David Andrew

    So the bottom line here is that the Bible was written by, or if you like the conspiracy approach, compiled by fallible men who were so firmly rooted in their patriarchal prescientific worldview that they could not have passed on any message reliably without distorting it to suit their own purposes. We, however, know better. We would never presume to overawe faithful followers of Jesus with a wave of the hand saying, “Of course everybody who is decent knows such-and-such.” Nor would we gloss over uncomfortable discussions on epistemology or the nature of God which would expose both who is holding hands with David Hume and Derrida, and whether we are even talking about the same God at all. For from our vantage point in history we are privileged to realize that while we are still fallible, and as a matter of humility admit that our age justifies violence on a scale unimaginable to any previous age, yet we feel certain our own context is so superior to all who have preceded us that God of course must be pretty much like us. That’s all very comfortable and smug and relevant, but it leaves unaccounted for the difficulty of having arrived at the very same dead end with the OT as Albert Schweitzer et al. did with their Historical Jesus.

    Some years ago Alister McGrath began his essay titled “Doctrine and Ethics” saying, “A story is told about Kenneth Kirk, sometime professor of moral theology at Oxford University. His wife was once asked what she felt about her husband’s work. “Kenneth,” she said, “spends a lot of time thinking up very complicated and sophisticated reasons for doing things we all know perfectly well to be wrong.” Perhaps Dr. Seibert would bestir himself to provide something more substantive than the illogic of trumping Matthew 22.37-40 with Matthew 7.1-6 as his academic warrant.

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

      “So the bottom line here is that the Bible was written by, or if you like the conspiracy approach, compiled by fallible men who were so firmly rooted in their patriarchal prescientific worldview that they could not have passed on any message reliably without distorting it to suit their own purposes.”

      Firstly, I consider myself an evangelical, and my response will likely only be applicable to evangelicals and brushed off by others. That said, my response is a question: Why is the focus on the distortion caused to the word of God by the fallibility of men, and not on the miracle of God using fallible men and fallible language to communicate truths?

      I believe that it was Peter Craigie who said something alone the lines of how human language is limited, and that warfare was a major part of everyday life in the ANE. It would only make sense that humanity, living in a nearly constant state of violence, would describe God in terms familiar to them. The miracle is that God is able to communicate truth THROUGH and DESPITE these fallible terms and ideas of man, and that should be our focus instead of creating a false dichotomy of the biblical text as being either inspired by God or distorted by man.

      I think that Seibert (at least in “Disturbing Divine Behavior,” I’ve not read his new one) comes up short of this understanding, and leans towards viewing the text as distorted. Others who have commented here take the other option, declaring the text (and apparently the men who wrote the text) to be perfect because it is inspired. I propose a third way to look at the text, that of the miracle of God using fallible creatures and fallible language.

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  • Ron Tester

    “… the Bible should never be used to harm others.” Amen. I wish it were true. I still carry scars.

  • Keith Dager

    Golly… this has become the mother of all comment chains and should be tuned into a book! I’d give it five stars. Great reading! BTW, be grateful ya’all are not Buddhists. I’d bet your reincarnations would never end as full enlightenment would always be one post away from your grasp…

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  • Wally Right

    Apostate claptrap, Obama-worshipper alert.

  • edwardt

    Interesting article and discourse. As I have completely moved away from the idea of divine biblical authorship, as I look at human authorship and management of the various books in their Bible bound form chosen by a spectrum of ideological beliefs, and then step back even further and look at other holy books and the supporters who equally believe in the divine authorship of their “books of truth” , I see collective ideas, support, management, control and the consequences of such “divine guidance” claims. I can see human heroes putting their life on the line to help another with their faith in the word of god driving their actions, and human villains using the word of god to justify their inhumane actions. I see discussions in this forum of various viewpoints which largely appear to be lines drawn in the sand, of which beach gets washed between each wave. I see it as myth. A cultural construct allowing people to identify with each other and a human support system that ideally collectively aids in family and community growth, but also results in family loss and community destruction. When times are tough, there is hope. When times are good, we can give thanks. From this perspective, the “bad god” and the “good god” are no longer in tension, they are simply a product of the cultural acceptance of God’s divinity at the time the book was written or edited. What is divine truth? None of it. Yet it is very precious because it helps understand what it means to be human. This is certainly reflected from the variety of current viewpoints in the discussion.

  • mikehorn

    Talk to many atheists, and they will tell you about how they left their faith behind because they took the time to read the Bible. The Bible has some truly horrifying things in it that any moral person would reject and condemn if it came from any other source, but somehow the Bible is above moral critique.

    When I talk to someone questioning their faith, I recommend they read the Bible (and perhaps the Koran and BoM too). One of the surest routes to atheism lies through the pages of the Bible.

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  • http://spiritnewsdaily.com Donovan Moore

    Of course the bible is the literal word of God. “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. I need to go now and bring my rebellious son downtown so he can be stoned to death today. He’s been really acting like a bad teenager and this is what the bible tells me to do.

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  • Shannon Miller

    This struck such a chord of truth in my spirit. Thank you!

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  • Sapient1

    Hi Peter

    Re: “But this way of reading the Bible is problematic, to say the least. At
    times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must
    condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept. Rather than seeing
    this as a sign of disrespect, we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness.”

    May I ask to just who or what you are being profoundly faithful if not the God of the Bible or the Bible as His word?

    Do you have some other source of authoritative “Revelation” that you use to judge the God of Scripture and Scripture itself by? What is that…?

    And of course, ultimately, the question is whether you have some other God…I would likewise be pleased to know just who that God is and how you portend to know about him….

    Finally, seeing as how you apparently hold to a different god and a different revelation, just how do you claim the name “Christian” with honesty?

    God bless
    S

  • A biblical target

    Thanks Peter, its logical that one doesn’t have to be a bibliolater to be a believer Salvation is not dependent on our belief in the Bible but our belief in Jesus Christ. Far too many people today are making the simple teachings of Christ into something complex. Christianity has become a worship of the Bible instead of God. and for anyone who doesn’t know the God they’re worshiping, the answer is simple; read about Him in Matthew Mark Luke and John and then ask HIs Holy Spirit to help you understand scripture.

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