Is God Out to Get You or Forgive You? Retributive Violence and the Gospel

I’ve been doing some writing lately, and a nagging topic keeps coming up in one way or another and won’t leave me alone.

Last year, I put up a few posts on divine violence against Canaanites in the Old Testament (here, here, here, here, and more recently here), which is enough of a topic to keep you busy.

But what about God’s retributive violence–where God exacts swift judgment in the form of physical brutality against his own people for disobeying? Some of the better known incidents are:

  • After sending Moses to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery, God comes after Moses to kill him, apparently (the text is not super clear) for failing to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24).
  • After the Israelites build the golden calf (Exodus 32), God commands the sons of Levi to go through the camp and kill “your brother, your friend, and your neighbor” (v. 27).
  • Achan and his family are stoned and burned because Achan kept some of the booty from the sack of Jericho (Joshua 7).
  • Israelites who worship Baal of Peor are to be impaled in order for God’s fierce anger to be turned away (Numbers 25). Later in that chapter, Phinehas runs a spear through an Israelite man and his Midianite wife, and his “zeal” turns back God’s wrath against the Israelites.

The question that is as old as the Christian faith is: “How does all this square with how Jesus speaks of God?” The key word here is forgivenessThe issue is not simply that Jesus says we should forgive each other. Rather, by forgiving each other we reflect the heart of God

For example:

  • In the parable of the lost son, the son “deserved” the punishment of his father, but instead his father runs out to meet his returning son, ready to forgive before even being asked  (Luke 15). He even gets a party.
  • Peter’s question about how many times to forgive a brother (seven times?) is answered by Jesus with an emphatic “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). In the parable that follows (vv. 23-35)–the parable of the unforgiving servant–God’s punishment is directed toward those who fail to forgive.
  • In Gethsemane, Jesus rebukes Peter for retaliating against the soldiers, and on the cross asks God’s forgiveness for those who put him there (Luke 23).

Of course, for both the Old and New Testaments, there are other examples we could look at. But the point remains: If Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), how can we hold all this together? How can these two views of God be reconciled? Are they even supposed to be reconciled?

One answer will not do, and we need to nip it in the bud: “God can do whatever he wants to, and that includes mercilessly punishing sinners among his own people by killing them.” That misses the entire point. The issue here is how God himself is portrayed differently in the Old Testament and then in the New.

The larger question here is: “What is the relationship between how God is portrayed in Israel’s story vis-a-vis the Gospel?” God’s retributive violent judgment on his own people is simply one window into exploring the larger question.

And a very practical dimension of all this: Which of these portraits of God are we most drawn to and how is that worked out in our daily interactions with others? How do our actions toward others reflect our theology?  Do we want to get even? Is tit-for-tat our rule to live by, or turn the other cheek?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/geoffrey.krusesafford Geoffrey Kruse-Safford

    Isn’t the answer the on given by Barth, i.e., that the retributive violence once visited upon the people has now turned upon Jesus the Christ? In so doing, has not God now opened up graciousness as the way God relates to humanity?

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      That is one answer, but this then brings us into various models of atonement in church history and in the Bible.

  • prodigalthought

    Pete -

    This is, no doubt, an important topic. I think I understand how people are re-thinking the slaughtering passages of the OT, in light of Jesus asking his Father to forgive those who were putting him to death. These are the things you mentioned that Eric Seibert was mentioning in his books.

    The thing that I’m thinking through is how Jesus still announced that judgment would come upon the evil generation of his days, the ‘apostate Jews’, and it was God’s judgment. Of course, judgment was normatively seen as something within in actual history, rather than an abstract future date. So I’d say the judgment Jesus warned of took place in the Jewish War of AD 66-73.

    So I find myself in tension here. The heart of Christ, and the Father, is that of forgiveness. That is their primary modus operandi. Yet, at the same time, there is judgment pronounced even in the NT text. And though I’m not saying we have to fully embrace that it is God who is to be directly/personally responsible for it as retributive punishment (like some pronounce with the hurricanes & earthquakes & wars of today), there is somehow his involvement as the overseer of all things.

    So I don’t embrace the wording that says, “God is God and he can kill any sinner/group of sinners if he so chooses,” I do recognise that he pronounces judgment of which he is overseer. It’s difficult.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      Not sure where my own comment went to, but it got lost somewhere. Oh well. Good point here, prod.thght. The direction I head in here is in seeing things like the Olivet Discourse and Revelation as reflecting the rhetoric of apocalyptic thought. That is only a partial answer, though–at best.

      • Jeff Martin

        Most Scholars see Jesus as seeing himself as an apocalyptic preacher, so he either is saying what is true, or even Jesus does not understand the concept of grace fully.

  • Tyler Coquillard

    Greg Boyd points to where Paul calls everything that happened before Jesus a shadow, but now the reality is revealed. If Jesus is the full revelation of God, does that mean part what what God is like was hidden to the Israelites? This, in turn, would cause them to portray God as having a different character than Jesus (commanding Canaanite slaughter, focus on sacrifice and purification, etc). Basically, God looks like Jesus so all things must be seen through that lense. I realize that creates a series of hermenuetical questions, but it seems like it might be a way forward. Boyd is going to lay this out more thoroughly in a book he’s writing, but some of the ideas remind me of your Inspiration and Incarnation. Thoughts?

    • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

      @Tyler Coquillard, I think you are right on target. The Israelites in the Old Testament were learning about God and trying to understand him, but much of what they attributed to God was mistaken. This specifically includes the violence and retribution attributed to him.
      I believe the Father Jesus describes is what God has been all along.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    But God’s retributive violence occurs at times in the NT as well – there’s Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Peter considers their immediate death to be just because they lied to the Holy Spirit. But why wouldn’t God allow them the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness?

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      Nancy, this is an excellent point, but it brings us to consider a number of things, such as the goal of Luke’s historiography in Luke/Acts. As I see it, he takes his readers from Jewish expectations of what the messiah will do–namely, liberate the Jews from Roman oppression (see Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs in Luke 1)–to an unexpected conclusion: gentile inclusion. Acts 1-8 reads like an extension of the Gospel of Luke–centered on Jerusalem, healings, imprisonments, trials, and even a Jesus-like death with Stephen. I read the early chapters of Acts, as I do much of Luke, as a transitionary moment in the life of the church that begins to transform more rapidly in chapter. Remember, too, the tensions between Paul and Peter, and Luke is clearly a Paul man. Peter’s role in chapter 5 reads to me like a reminder of what needs to pass away.

      I am not at all discounting your observation. Just trying to account for it.

      • lbehrendt

        Peter, for someone like me, brought up Jewish and for whom the NT is a relatively new experience … the NT portrait of hell is retributive violence going infinitely beyond anything dreamed of in the OT. And the Book of Revelation is not too far behind.

        I appreciate your ability to find a God of love in the NT, and your insistence that this God is the true eternal God, the God that has been acting throughout time, space and the OT (meaning that we should question the literal truth of some of those OT accounts). But your compare-and-contrast of OT and NT has a Marcionite quality to it, that the true God can only be found in the NT and that the OT God is secondary and inferior. This Marcionite theme has echoed though the Christian centuries, with unfortunate ramifications for Jewish-Christian relations. I think you should be more sensitive to this.

        I am not 100% clear on what you want us to consider, but I’m in enthusiastic agreement with my less than perfect understanding of your point! I’m simply saying that the God of Love is present in the OT as well as the NT — Marcion was wrong about there being two Gods. Moreover, if human beings have had a tendency to confuse the true God with a fantasy God of harsh retribution … that tendency didn’t die with Jesus on the cross. The behavior of Christians throughout history (in particular, the behavior directed at Jews) bears this out.

        • mark wauck

          I’m not Peter :-) but since I did post above that Christians “need to seriously ask whether the God of Israel is truly the same as the God of Jesus,” I’d like to very briefly address your remarks.

          The danger of a “new Marcionism” was a regular theme in the writings of Ratzinger/Benedict, and I was well aware when I wrote the quoted words that I would probably be accused of some form of Marcionism. OTOH, I think we do have to seriously question: what is Jesus all about? What was/is his mission?

          The Gospel according to John hammers away at this question, and the answer is that Jesus “came” to bring those who believe to a knowledge of his Father, to bring us into a new relationship with the Father and in Jesus himself–a relationship that is based on new knowledge of just who God is. I believe this same theme lies behind all the Gospels as well as the thought of Paul, and if there is new knowledge then there must also be a new vision of God’s identity.

          Regarding the Christian discovery of that new identity, I have found it useful to combine the work of Mark Smith (which I linked above, and which is essentially concerned with the Israelite scriptures) with that of Charles Norris Cochrane’s classic Christianity and Classical Culture.

          My response to the charge/warning of Marcionism is that the relation of Israelite religion to the “Jesus event” is a real theoretical issue for believers. Marcion’s attempt at a solution recognized the underlying theoretical issue, but lacked the intellectual tools that we now have to address the question and so went astray. Yes, there are dangers involved in any intellectual inquiry of this sort, but there is no way forward without forthrightly addressing them–much as Paul warned Peter.

          • Tyler Coquillard

            I would add that I think one avoids Marcionism not by pretending that there is no tension between the OT and NT, but by focusing on Jesus being the fullest/clearest/most thorough depiction of God. Any depiction of God that conflicts with Jesus must be reunderstood in light of the reality now revealed, which means ot must have been obscured in some way before. “Jesus is God’s self-definition.” – William Willamon. Just my two cents.

        • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

          To Mark’s comment I would add that the idea of Hell in the Gospels is gehenna, which is derived from the rhetoric of Jeremiah against his own people for failing their covenant obligations. In my opinion, Jesus is employing that rhetoric in a similar way: a metaphor for judgment upon God’s chosen people for failing to see God at work among them through the messiah. I am with many others here when i say that what Jesus means by gehenna is not what Christians mean when they bring their notion of “hell” to these texts.

          • lbehrendt

            Peter, I understand that Christians did not invent hell, and that Jesus’ concept of hell may not have been the same as Jonathan Edwards’. My point still stands: there is, from my perspective, considerable portions of retributive violence in both the OT and the NT. I think your position would be strengthened by considering both books with the same critical scrutiny.

    • mark wauck

      Nancy, you could strengthen your objection further by contrasting Acts 5 with Galatians 2, where Paul recounts how he opposed Cephas/Peter to his face, because Peter and James’ clique “were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel.” But, notably, neither Peter nor James and his supporters were struck dead.

      So what’s more important–withholding money from your contribution to the Church or, as a shepherd of the flock, betraying the fundamental truth of the gospel?

      Two issues suggest themselves to me:

      1. We need to examine whether Luke, in the early chapters of Acts, mixes in midrashic elements to his history.

      2. In general, we need to seriously ask whether the God of Israel is truly the same as the God of Jesus.

      With regard to the second issue, I like the work of Mark Smith, especially Memoirs of God.

  • David

    1.For one thing that fact that God also punishes his own people shows that He is consistent in his anger against sin. Consistency is good. 2. Secondly I think the NT suggests that God blesses/forgives his people far, far more than He punishes them: Paul in almost all of his epistles speaks very glowing about how God has blessed his people. However perhaps we can ask whether some of the diifculties experienced by the Isralites were not “punishment from God” as such, but rather simply the nature of life in a pre-scientific, pre-enlightened, half-illiterate world. In such a world the notion of human rights, civil rights, international law etc is non-existent or at least not fully coceptualised and develeoped.

  • KarlUdy

    Tempts one to become a Marcionite, somewhat, doesn’t it? Or a dispensationalist, as they also have a ready made answer to this question.

    But I suspect that there isn’t a tidy answer to this. Although I wonder if there are some things, that if God did not display his wrath toward them, it would lessen him in some way. I can imagine that God must be wrathful towards the Hitlers and Joseph Konys of our world because their crimes are horrific to me (and even if God doesn’t strike them down dead, then I would think it perfectly right of God if he did). To be honest I don’t feel the same disgust at the crimes of Achan et al, but then maybe that is a failure on my part.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      I irony is that dispensationalists are (I think it is safe to say) literalists/inerrantists.

  • http://twitter.com/brianleport Brian LePort

    I don’t know much about process/open theism, but I wonder how that paradigm may contribute to this discussion? Does God “in Christ” come to see and understand his creation in a new and unique way? Does God’s interaction with creation through incarnation “soften” his wrath? Again, not saying I propose this idea, because I don’t have a good answer, but this thought did come to mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    Wish I had an answer on the reconciliation question. Will be following this discussion. A related issue is how many Evangelicals have accepted a penal substitutionary view of the atonement of Christ, which incorporates retributive justice. Of course, this has not been the only view in church history, but we Evangelicals seem to accept the violence of the Bible, including the allegedly retributive forms all too easily. I would recommend some additional food for thought on this in the form of Derek Flood’s relatively new volume Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice and the Cross (Cascade, 2012). His thoughts on understanding the salvation as healing and restorative rather than retributive justice is helpful. But this doesn’t get to your question of reconciling the Old and New Testaments.

  • Jon G

    I see the Bible as the various accounts of people interpreting their experiences of God “from a certain perspective”…
    The issue is that thier perspectives are tainted by their weakly accumulated views of God at the time of authorship. Then Jesus comes along as the exact image of God, declaring that if you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the Father…in other words, Jesus is the objective perspective of what God is really like. He fully reveals what the other contributors to Scripture could only interpret under their biases…many of which misattributed God to be the author of horrendous acts of violence.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing occured with Annanais and Saphira although I suspect that their plight was a way of Luke stressing the importance of keeping the newly formed Temple (now made up of the gathering of believers) clean/holy.

  • Susan Gerard

    My thoughts about the God of the OT have not changed yet; I’m still working on the historicity of Adam. However, I do not see the wrath of God as an impediment to His goodness/mercy shown by Christ. To me, before Christ’s sacrifice and the new relationship we have with God through Christ, we had a God whose Holiness was demonstrated in a different manner – through sacrifice, laws, and punishment of evil and disobedience. It does seem that He is a wrathful God. But that changed with Christ.

    I can’t yet see another answer that isn’t trying to get around difficulties by denying the veracity of Scripture. Maybe I will as I keep struggling. But not yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

    Thanks Peter for this. If I
    may be allowed to reference my own work on this for your readers, I deal with
    the atonement issue in my essay in Stricken by God? (Eerdmans 2007) and in the
    forthcoming volume Violence, Desire and the Sacred Vol 2(Continuum) as well as
    here in a 30 minute video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeMhWGR8x1A

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      You clean up nice, Michael :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

    And ; the issue of the relation
    of the Testaments and the problem of divine violence at
    http://www.preachingpeace.org/documents/The%20Babylonian%20Captivity%20of%20the%20Gospel%20Spaced.pdf

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

    And this: http://www.preachingpeace.org/documents/New_Philly_Essay.pdf
    as well as in my book The Jesus Driven Life (which
    I think you, Peter, have read or are reading).

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      I am indeed reading it (half way through) and enjoying it immensely!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

    Finally, the problematic of hell has been
    explored well by Brad Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut and in the documentary
    Hellbound? (www.hellboundthemovie.com) directed by Kevin Miller. Peace to all.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think people are starting this discussion from the wrong framework. There is no “OT” God and “NT” God. The Old Testament is a collection of books written over a LONG period of time. Just because they were compiled together as Scripture does NOT mean they function as one long narrative. The God of the author of Numbers and Genesis is not the same conception of God found in Hosea or Ecclesiastes.
    The funny thing about Marcion and conservative Christians is they both took/take the OT as a LITERAL historical narrative, and that’s a mistake.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      Andrew, I think what you say here is in harmony with Aceofspades25′s subsequent comment. The diversity of theological viewpoints in the OT is an important point to bear in mind, though I constantly run into people who feel diversity is simply a product of of a “faithless” reading of the Bible.

  • Aceofspades25

    Another stark contrast is between Numbers 15:32-36 and (Matthew 12:1-5 or John 8:1-11)

    On the one hand we have a picture of a God who is angry enough to command capital punishment for a petty crime. On the other hand we have the picture of a God who despises capital punishment and cares more about people than obeying rigid arbitrary rules.

    I consider it most Christian to see Jesus and God the Father as being one in character. If this is true then Jesus is the clearest revelation we have of what God is like and what God cares about (following rules or the principals of love and forgiveness).

    Your books have helped me to understand that Judaism grew up from other notions of God and slowly approached the notion of a God that cares more about human suffering.

    Jesus is the culmination of that move towards an ever greater understanding of God.

    It is not God that evolves but rather our notions of God that evolve.

    • lbehrendt

      Ace, you wrote: “On the one hand we have a picture of a God who is angry enough to command capital punishment for a petty crime.” Sounds like Matthew 5:19. Or if you want to get more particular, “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

      The contrast you mention, which is very real, is not between the OT and the NT. The contrast is in your selection of citations and your interpretation of them. Under Jewish law, there could be no capital punishment without two eyewitnesses to the capital crime. Too bad American law does not “despise” capital punishment as much as Jewish law.

      • Aceofspades25

        Hi Ibehrendt – sorry about the later reply.

        Are you sure that in Matthew 5:19 Jesus is referring to an eternal hell of retributive violence? Because it could be just as easy to interpret that as a temporary state of restorative justice. In fact there are numerous passages within the New testament that speak strongly of the idea that God is working to restore all of creation to himself.

        I don’t see anybody here arguing that God doesn’t occasionally express wrath as a last resort. The difference here is that wrath isn’t about God venting God’s anger but rather it is about God disciplining those whom he loves. Under this understanding, wrath is for us – it is an act of love.

        Why do you think God calls the peacemakers his sons (Matt 5:9; Matt 5:45)?

        What is interesting about Matthew 5 is that it concludes with: Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

        These things that Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 5 are reflections of the Father.

        > Under Jewish law, there could be no capital punishment without two eyewitnesses to the capital crime.

        But even then, do we really see in Jesus a God that desires capital punishment, even if there are the correct number of witnesses? What was Jesus’ reason for turning away those who wanted to stone the adulterous women? Was it that they didn’t have enough witnesses?

  • James

    The OT writers view God as Creator, Redeemer and Covenant Maker/Keeper. The basic storyline reads that God loves/chooses Abraham from among all peoples for his own good purposes. He determines to bless him and his posterity unconditionally. On an individual/national level there is another strata to the story–the need for loyalty to the King. Unfaithful Hebrews are in no better shape than cursed Canaanites; they also are cursed, devoted to destruction. The sense we get in the big picture, however, is the purposes of God for his people and all nations will be realized by grace but showcased and mediated by a faithful remnant that endures to an apocalyptic end. The NT spells out the details of grace more clearly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.enns.3 Peter Enns

      James, let me add a corrective nuance: Unfaithful Israel is WAY better off than the cursed Canaanites. You are referring to the incident of Achan in Joshua 7, but that does not put “unfaithful” Israelites on the same plane as the Canaanites–only those who did not respect the “ban” on the Canaanites.

      • James

        True, yet YHWH despairs often of the whole lot and it takes prophetic intervention to change his mind just in time. A whole generation drops in the wilderness. Despite rapid fire conquest, the glory has departed from Israel by early Samuel. They have decimated their brother Benjamin and the ark is kidnapped. They scrap it out with resurgent locals who most often put them to flight. Even during the days of total ban, Rahab and her family are inducted into the family through faith and the Gibeonites by trickery. There is always a place for the alien in Israel, even Ruth from cursed Moab. So, I don’t know if the average Joe thinks it advantageous to be Israelite. His personal survival depends on obedience and that’s chronically short lived. Yet, by pure grace a Hebrew identiy endures until national unification under David.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thank you Michael for the pre-pub version of your paper. So far I’ve only had a chance to scan it, but it looks to be very helpful. This quote from your summary did raise a question: “As the Victim par excellence, as the revealer of violence as a purely human phenomenon, as the Crucified and Risen One, Jesus deconstructs for us not only our selves but also our texts, which are products of our selves as mimetically violent communities. Without a dual trajectory we would be unable to distinguish revelation from religion and the nonviolent God revealed in Jesus from the violent gods of our human mythmaking.”

    I do wonder about seeing violence as a purely human phenomenon. Are there no more violent ‘gods’? At the risk of adding another log to the fire, what about Satan? Isn’t it quite biblical to observe that there is a dark side, not just in us, but in spiritual reality – given that reality, we can, because of our persistent disobedience, be given over to the horrors of this darkness? The consequences are awful; the OT is full of illustrations of such, and the NT does not shy away from the ultimate real cost of persistent disobedience either. This is not God doing violence to us but, rather, the consequences of our willful refusal to follow him. In other words, these consequences are avoidable, in and through Christ. They are real but they are not God’s will for us, or God’s doing.

    In “God at War” (and elsewhere) Greg Boyd makes this case very thoroughly. It’s not a popular subject in scholarly circles for obvious reasons, but it is biblical and, in general terms, a worldview shared across all cultures past and present.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

      I consider Greg a friend but we see the satan differently; I do not think the satan is a personal being but the dark side of humanity. And while there are consequences to our choices I do not think that sin ultimately trumps grace. Great questions!

      • Bev Mitchell

        Thanks Michael. Not the place to debate this one, but it does seem that the two ways of coming at it (active spiritual beings opposing God and his people vs. Satan is just our dark side) will lead to quite different outcomes theologically, and with respect to spiritual warfare. Though, I agree, grace abounds more.

        • Michael Hardin

          You are correct Bev. The recent collection of essays by Beilby and Eddy, Understanding Spiritual Warfare does just that!

          • Bev Mitchell

            Michael,

            Yes, I’ve read it. A very good summary of the major approaches. I do lean toward Boyd’s view. With respect to creation and conflict (my current main interest), Levenson takes a view similar to Boyd’s but coming from an orthodox Jewish perspective. (Levenson, Jon (1994, 2 ed.) “Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence”. The approach of Amos Yong in “The Spirit of Creation” is also helpful in this regard.

            A quick check of your response to Boyd’s chapter revealed this lovely quote from an earlier work of yours: “History is seen to be less of a battle between good and evil than it is to be seen as full of the promise of redemption.” My scientist side, of course, wants to grab onto this with both hands. The ongoing creation story is full of redemption, and it is critical that people understand this. There is a lot more going on than the reduced version of soteriology that is usually served up in evangelical circles.

            But, but, we can assume that our current understanding is far superior to the ancients in all areas, when, for areas lacking in positive scientific evidence, they may have known more than we give them credit for.

            Now, having said this is not the place for this discussion, I’ve gone and done it. Mea culpa. I want to reread your MS chapter, Wink’s chapter and the various comments in USW. The work by Walter Wink is so crucial to raising awareness on this important issue so often swept under the carpet. I’m glad that you are continuing in the same vein. And thank you for taking the time to interact.

            P.S. Pete, I was ambivalent about Disqus when it first came up, but the e-mail notice of responses to one’s comments is very helpful.

  • Bryan Hodge

    I think one of the most frustrating things about this debate is that our modern concept of love, and whether it accords with the biblical concept, is never questioned. God’s love in both the Old and New Testaments is in the context of God destroying one’s enemies, as a parent would kill a snake that threatened his or her child. It is exclusive toward those who repent. Hence, the idea that one is accepting the God of love in the Old and New Testaments but not the God of wrath and retribution stems from ripping the word “love” out of context, gluing our modern understanding of it onto the word, and then shoving it back into the puzzle where it no longer fits. We then see that it doesn’t fit and continue to argue why the rest of the puzzle is wrong and needs to be altered as well.

    The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as true Marcionism. Marcionism is a rejection of the God of the Bible en toto. It replaces the God of the Bible with a more philosophically-domesticated version of God that sees Him as loving in the context of inclusivism. But that’s no longer the God of the Bible, whose love functions within exclusivism (which is why all of the examples of God forgiving someone is in the context of forgiveness and not apart from that).

    So I would reject the notion that there are views of God that present Him as a God of loving inclusivism verses a God of wrathful exclusivism. The context(s) of the entire Bible presents His love as exclusive. Hence, those who reject the God of wrathful exclusivism are also rejected the God of loving exclusivism. Ergo, they are rejecting the God of the Bible en toto.

    If people want to do that, that’s fine, but the frustration is that there seems to be this constant claim that the dichotomy is found within the Bible itself when, in fact, it seems clear that such is only true when one reinterprets what the Bible is talking about when it talks about God’s love.

    • http://www.facebook.com/coachmeister Howard Pepper

      Bryan, you rightly observe that the same kind of what you call “wrathful exclusivism” shows up in the NT as well as the OT. But other commenters have rightly identified, to my view, that in the OT some of it (in addition to internal cleansing of Israel as Pete focused on here) was a form of genocide. Their justification was the “command of God”. I don’t believe God ordered that nor that an even greater mass destruction will be sent by God in “the end times”, as in Revelation.

      One insurmountable problem (as to any “solutions” I’ve seen proposed) with the view you seem to present is how any of us really knows if we are or might (unintentionally) become one of the rejectors of “the God of the Bible”…. If our theology gets modified (as any growing person’s will), was perhaps our prior theology such a rejection? Or might even our new theology be? What are the clear criteria by which we can come to and then keep the “right” concept of God over time? (“Study of the Bible” is not a complete enough answer to what I’m asking, valuable as that can be.)

      In other words, if it takes a certain belief/faith, what if that belief or faith changes, weakens or is even basically gone (at least temporarily, saw after a major loss)? These are not concerns I have for myself, as my prior “orthodox” theology HAS changed to one of a deeper kind of trust and love, but I know sooo many with such concerns or having had and then buried them without real answers.

      • Bryan Hodge

        Thanks Howard.

        My point above is not merely that one is rejecting the God of the Bible because he rejects the God of wrathful exclusivism, but that such wrathful exclusivism is a function of God’s loving exclusivism. What that means is that God’s love and wrath are one in the Bible. To reject the God of wrathful exclusivism, then, is to reject the God of love as it is defined by the Bible.

        Again, if one wants a God of loving inclusivism, that’s fine, but that’s not the God of the Bible. What we are left with is the scenario you are left wondering about above–namely, if one does not have the Bible to go by, by what beliefs do we judge other beliefs (whether found inside or outside the Bible)?

        Either one must argue that revelation comes to him, or his community, unmediated or through some other mediation. In my view, this ultimately ends up being a confusion of the Holy Spirit with the zeitgeist, which is what you have in modern liberalism. Hence, I believe the Bible’s view of love to be wrong because my, and my culture/subculture’s view of love is right and contradicts it.

        Of course, everyone wants to claim Jesus, often in disregard of context, so our cultural concepts are glued back onto Jesus’ words even though He often has completely different referents in mind, as evidenced by the contexts in which He is speaking.

        In essence, I would answer your question by saying that if one dismisses the biblical witness, either outright or via reinterpreting it to where it ends up contradicting its original intent, he does so either by claiming another revelation external to himself (e.g., the Koran) or, as is more often the case, by making himself, a mixed soup of his cultural experiences within his world, the arbiter of truth and good.

        Of course, everyone must include himself in that conundrum, but when one’s theology is absent of an external authority, the song goes from a duet to a solo, which I think is the key difference between orthodox “theologizing” and liberal “theologizing.” I realize a lot of people won’t like that statement, but I think it can be adequately described as such.

        • Dean

          What a weird post. You are setting up all sorts of false dichotomies in just these brief few paragraphs. Just admit that the Bible says a lot of things that seem to contradict each other. When you say something like “The context(s) of the entire Bible presents His love as exclusive.
          Hence, those who reject the God of wrathful exclusivism are also
          rejected the God of loving exclusivism. Ergo, they are rejecting the God
          of the Bible en toto.”, my response is says who?

          Your mistake is that you are reading the Bible as if every verse and every book has equal epistemological or spiritual weight/value. I simply reject that proposition. It flattens out the scriptures and causes precisely the confusion that your comments reveal. The Bible clearly says that the words of Jesus Christ have primacy, in fact Jesus says that himself. He said, you have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist an evil person, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. What he basically said was I know what the old testament says, but I’m here to give you a greater revelation. Paul also does this throughout his letters. He takes versus from the old testament and completely reformulates them in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

          It’s not Marcionism, it’s not “theologizing” or inserting philosophy into the Bible, it’s not taking our cultural prejudices and forcing them on the Bible, it is simply understanding that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything, particularly our understanding of the God of the old testament. Let me tell you this, the old testament prophets were working with the revelation they had. Why you would take their word for what God is like over what Jesus says is beyond me. You’ve got it totally backward is what I’m saying. The God that Jesus revealed to us allowed himself to be tortured and nailed to a cross, THAT is how he revealed his love, his glory, his justice.

          • Bryan Hodge

            Dean,

            Thanks for your input. I’m afraid you’ve completely bypassed (and misunderstood) my argument, and by doing so, have merely begged the question. My point is that Jesus isn’t contradicting the OT in His view of God’s love. It’s just as exclusive.

            “Say’s who?”

            Well, Jesus does. He tells us that His teaching does not nullify/contradict any of the Old Testament, even down to the last yod and tittle.

            And beyond that explicit statement, I would say the context gets to dictate that, lest we end up with the “Life of Brian,” unhinged speculations one often sees put forward in these types of debates.

            But if you want to argue that the biblical vision of God is contradictory, then please provide examples of Jesus’ concept of love as being inclusive, rather than exclusive. Give me an example where Jesus is offering God’s love to the unrepentant, regardless of whether they place themselves in the group of the repentant. I’d be happy to look at that. As of right now, I’m completely unaware of any passage within the entire Scripture, primary or secondary, according to your tier, that presents God’s salvific love as inclusive. Hence, I’m not taking the word of the Prophets over what Jesus says. I’m taking what Jesus says and comparing that to the Word of the Prophets, and they end up being the same thing in context.

            If everyone is so concerned about evangelicals being honest with the text, one might ask the same of the non-evangelicals critiquing them. There is no inclusive Jesus in the Bible, and hence, wrathful exclusivism is the other side of the coin of loving exclusivism. Ergo, to reject the God of the one is to reject the God of the other, which is why one doesn’t have the God of the Bible anymore once that is done. That seems pretty basic, but I realize that would rock the paradigm in which many fleeing evangelicalism have found comfort.

          • Dean

            Hey Bryan, I think it’s pretty clear that the Bible contradicts itself in lots of places, I am well aware of the mental gymnastics that conservative Christians perform to reconcile these contradictions, but those same individuals would never do that with any other text, so I fail to understand why it is required when reading the Bible. It’s a historical document written by ancient peoples, I believe it’s inspired by God, but to say it’s a magic book that needs to read seamlessly is not something my faith requires. That Jesus says his teachings are consistent with the OT law I completely agree with. But where we differ is what that means. You seem to think that means that you still take everything in the OT on face value. I don’t think that’s possible, and I don’t think that’s what Paul and the other early Christians thought either.

            You should pick up the book The Evangelical Universalist. We can argue all day about what different passages in the Bible mean, but it’s pretty evident to me (and I think the history of the Church pretty much proves this beyond any doubt), that you can create a list of Bible versus that support a Calvinist version of salvation where only a limited number of people in history (the so called “elect”) are saved, you can come up with a separate list that seems to imply that there a large multitude that will be saved if they but repent, and you can come up with another list of versus that seem to suggest universal salvation.

            I guess my question for you is why do you think the Bible is written this way? If your answer is that everyone else who disagrees with you is wrong, then that pretty much ends our discussion, but I don’t think any sincere Christian who has studied theology and Church history can really say something like that. The only conclusion I can come up with is that the Bible says a bunch of different things to different people depending on their predisposition.

            I think you seem to believe that post-Evangelical folks come up with this concept of God’s “inclusivist love” as you call it because we can’t stomach the image of a wrathful God, is that what you think? If it is not, then please feel free to clarify. The thing is, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and the biggest problem I have with Calvinists (and I’m not saying you are one), is the inherent contradictions in that entire system of thought. Why would God be mad at us if he is indeed completely sovereign? That concept doesn’t even make any sense. It only works with what I call “Christian logic”, which Christians don’t utilize in any other context but reading the Bible. Again, if God were good and loving, why would he create some for the sole purpose of eternal conscious torment? If he did, how would you differentiate God from Satan? What does the word “good” mean if it is used differently when God acts versus when humans act? Maybe we need a different word then because the purpose of language is supposed to convey consistent ideas.

            The reason I don’t believe in a wrathful God (at least not in the sense that you seem to) is because the Bible seems to suggest that the greatest, most glorious thing that God has ever done in human history is the atonement. It wasn’t helping Israel commit genocide against some neighboring people or striking down unrepentant people. It was dying on the cross for us while we were still his enemies. My inclination is to take that image to it’s furthest possible logical extremity. If that makes you uncomfortable because of some list of versus you can assemble, then so be it. But I think that’s the whole point.

          • Bryan Hodge

            Dean,

            I’m not sure who it is you’re speaking to at this point, as I argued almost none of this. At this point, I think what is unfortunate about these types of conversations is that you’re bringing in baggage from other conversations you likely have had and then supposing that I’m arguing the same thing. So let me clarify a few things here (and I don’t really want to dominate this thread, so I’ll likely bow out after this).

            1. What I’ve argued has nothing to do with whether the Bible contradicts itself. That line of rebuttal is simply irrelevant to what I’ve argued. My point is that ALL of the statements concerning God’s love, whether made by Moses, Jesus, the Prophets or Apostles are in the context of exclusivism. They are not made in our modern liberal context. So saying that I’m arguing from a list of prooftexts that may be contradicted by other prooftexts, or I believe the Bible is a “magic book,” or has to be read as literal history is not paying attention to what I’m saying. All of that has nothing to do with what I’ve argued.

            2. I didn’t argue that Jesus’ statement that He is not contradicting the OT takes the OT at face value. I simply take Jesus as saying what He does–that He isn’t contradicting even the least of commandments in the law and whoever annuls and teaches others (i.e., contradicts that teaching with another teaching) is to be considered least in the kingdom of God. However, since the context of this has to do with His rebuke of the Pharisees for playing with Scripture in order to remove the sting of the commands found therein, I wouldn’t feel too at leisure to play with them either. Either way, however, exclusivism is all over the Sermon on the Mount, so the context again does not play out in your favor.

            3. You can pick out a list of verses to support anything. What those verses mean in context is a whole different animal. So merely pointing out that you can make such a list does not negate arguments made from the context of those passages.

            4. The Bible is filled with diversity, either from authors seeking to refute one another, different emphases due to circumstance or clarification, etc. One’s view of inspiration cannot be settled here, but I can turn your question back on you, Why must one read the Bible as ultimately contradictory rather than ultimately complementary, especially if God’s voice is spoken through human voices. Must we read the text as though God is merely one of the human voices instead of coming through all of them?

            5. Liberals put a heavy emphasis on contradiction, but the truth of the matter is, and this is something I have studied quite a bit, the Bible is far more coherent than many often attribute to it. Often, we are merely dealing with texts out of context, as we are concerning this issue.

            6. I don’t believe that people merely want to replace the God of the Bible with a more accommodating God for one particular reason. Sometimes it might be out of rebellion (e.g., I often hear people say that they would not worship God if He is the God of wrath, even if it were proven to them that He was indeed); but largely I think a big problem is that our concept of love became confused with acceptance, and because of that, one who views God as loving must now try and fit that concept with a God who seems to be not so accepting of everyone. If love is exclusive then there is no need to force a reconciliation by pulling the rest of the Bible through that grid, simply because it already fits. If love is inclusive and accepting, and God is love, then I need to junk anything in the Bible that rejects anyone and only accepts a certain group. I can do this by saying, as some scholars do, that all of these exclusive passages are just counter examples of what is good and true. The problem is, as I’ve tried to point out above, is that you can’t rid the Bible of these passages without ridding it of the rest, since the rest functions in the context of these others.

            7. I am a Calvinist, so bingo on that one. However, it’s clear to me that you need to study up a little more on what Reformed theology actually teaches concerning a lot of your objections. They seem to be a lot of caricatures and strawmen rather than evidencing a knowledge of the best of what a Reformed position would say to those things.

            8. And that really goes for all of these conversations. You can run screaming into battle and kill the drummer boy, leaving the army untouched, and then proclaim how easy it was to beat your opponents; but in the end, he’s still standing and taking out your troops. It’s easy to caricature people who have a different view of the Bible than you as employing “mental gymnastics,” but in reality, they think the same of you. Rather than trade insults, you should try and see how it makes sense to read the Bible the way they do by engaging their best arguments. Then try to see why yours may not be the best according to their best arguments against your position. After that, everyone should just go to the text and fill their heads with the historical and literary contexts of a passage to make sure they’re using it in a way that honors and participates in the communicative process.

            8. Jesus dying on the cross and God destroying the Canaanites, ironically, are seen as the same types of events in Scripture. The cross is not a contradiction to that, but the fulfillment of it, which is why it is described as God putting Christ’s enemies under His feet. The cross is the most exclusive doctrine in the entire Bible. Only those who obey the Son are saved by it. The wrath of God remains on those who do not. There is really no dichotomy there unless one reads that into it.

            If you really want to run through your other questions, Dean, I’d be happy to be your dialogue partner. I think there is a lot of confusion in what you’re saying and I can help you at least articulate your own position if you’d like. I would just do it on my blog rather than dominate Dr. Enns’ blog.

            But, in summary, nothing you presented here contradicted what I was saying. Thanks again.

        • Dean

          Bryan, I wanted to respond to another point in your post which is the concept of retributive justice in the Bible. I’ve become convinced that retributive justice is read into the Bible precisely because human beings can’t get enough of it, we relish it. But I don’t think it’s Biblical and I don’t believe the character of God has room for it. I think the only justice that is consistent with the love of God that was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is restorative justice. It seems to me that justice without love is revenge, and again, I can’t understand the why a sovereign God whose defining characteristic is love would have a need for revenge, in fact, God doesn’t need anything. So the problem I see with Christians embracing retributive justice (and the danger I see in Penal Substitutional Atonement in particular), is that it shows up in our daily lives all over the place. We call for criminals to be put to death, children to be jailed for life, countries to be bombed to the stone age for what they did to us, all in the name of justice. It also dovetails nicely with our modern doctrine of hell, which is retributive justice “infinitized”. I think it’s dangerous, unbiblical, and in direct contradiction with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God works opposite of the kingdom of man. People don’t get what they deserve, the sheep get into heaven and don’t know why, the father runs out to greet the lost son without him saying a word, random people on the street are invited to the party, Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom just because he was poor. And all the religious folks said, well that’s impossible, that’s not fair, what kind of God is this?

          • Bryan Hodge

            Thanks again Dean.

            I appreciate the attempt to make Jesus the grid through which everything else is pulled. I think all Christians agree with this idea in general. The question is whether we are really pulling everything through the biblical Jesus or through our folk Jesus, which is really nothing more than the Jesus of liberal ideals. This is why, I believe, you continue to appeal to Jesus and make statements about Him that are currently questions on the table.

            As for attributing a bloodthirst to biblical scholars and theologians who see retributive justice as one side of the coin of God’s restorative justice, I can only say that humans can’t get enough of affirmations that God loves them as well. Does that mean it isn’t true? What does the desire of a human for something to be true have anything to do with whether it actually is true? You’re attempting an ad hominem at that point. Instead of attributing some evil motive to your opponents at law, I would suggest dealing with contextual arguments if you want to sway them instead.

            I further think the problem is that you’ve created a false dichotomy between God’s retributive justice and His restorative justice, and this has occurred, precisely, because the other question I was addressing is not dealt with–namely, that God’s love is exclusive. So the question becomes, “Restorative to whom?” No one argues that God’s justice isn’t restorative. The question becomes how and for whom it is restorative. God restores order by removing chaos and its agents.

            The removal of chaotic agents is a creative act that restores shalom to God’s people. There is nothing more biblical than that concept. It runs throughout the entire canon. It is only by confusing God’s love as inclusive that one comes to read the life and teachings of Jesus as contradicting the idea of retributive judgment as restorative judgment. A murderer removed from a community via his execution is a creative, restorative act in the Bible. It is a loving act, as the Bible defines love.

            Hence, the father runs out to greet his lost repentant son, the sheep obey His voice and will not obey that of another, as opposed to those who are not His sheep, people who will respond to the call to repentance come to the party as opposed to those who don’t repent and are rejected, and the poor in Luke are identified with those who repent and believe, as opposed to the apathetic rich who are rejected.

            This is not even to mention the context of these passages within books that argue that the faithful go off to eternal life and the unrepentant to eternal damnation. Wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, virgins who enter the wedding feast and those who don’t, servants who are rewarded and servants who are cast out, cut into pieces, thrown in prison, etc.

            Your paradigm does not make room for all of this because it puts an inclusive blanket over the biblical concept of love that then ignores the character and trajectory of love in the midst of what threatens who is loved. That’s a difficult concept to sustain in real life, and the Bible doesn’t attempt to pursue it, as I would argue that to love one group is to “hate” another in terms of what a loving person must choose in a chaotic world.

  • Norman

    As many have mentioned “retribution” via God continues on
    into the NT and retributive Judgment was a constant theme of covenant breakage
    found not only in OT writings but in second temple writings even more
    pronounced. It was often tied in with
    the coming of messiah when the sheep and the goats would be separated and
    judged. The scriptures use various story
    lines and means to illustrate their concept of covenant faithfulness reflecting
    this ANE mentality.

    We see an interesting concept that helps shed light on this
    retributive concept in Revelation 17 where an outside force (army) just like in
    the OT becomes the means and the sign of God’s retribution covenant judgment.

    Rev 17:17 For God
    hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their
    kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

    I think OT, 2nd T and NT writers were doing the
    same thing that we in America have done in portraying our settling of the
    United States as God ordained and His will.
    However as we look back we see how our killing of Native Americans (Canaanites)
    in order to bring about that “city on a Hill” and our southern embracing of
    slavery were often couched in the same barbaric concepts we see in the bible. Let’s face it these stories are barbaric at
    face value but when you live in a dangerous world where tribe murders tribe the
    story of survival becomes an important bonding theme of Nationalistic
    survival. Every time a Nation goes to
    war these barbaric narratives resurface naturally.

    The story of Israel is not much differently portrayed than
    the settling of America whom many of us who are the recipients embrace whole heartily.
    I don’t think we are going to find satisfactory
    moral and philosophical answers that please us so perhaps we need to focus on
    the Positive. Namely Christ.

    History is simply made up of murder and mayhem by people
    against people and the winners couch those events in what is perceived as an
    acceptable cultural understanding.

  • rvs

    “…is portrayed differently”– I am intrigued by the use of the passive verb followed soon after by the which-of-these-portraits-of-God-are-we-most-drawn-to question. I sense a delightful reader-response endorsement in the subtext of this post. The Bible is something of a Rorschach test, perhaps?

  • beau_quilter

    I don’t mean to intrude too deeply into this conversation, because I don’t really have a dog in this race;

    But imagine, for a moment, a former Christian who has come to see the bible as a collection of ancient religious writings that do not reflect any supernatural reality, only the beliefs of ancient people. There are certainly huge differences between the belief systems of the ancient Hebrews and those of the 2nd and 3rd century Christians responsible for these writings, as one would expect given that they are written by different societies living 800 or 900 years apart. (Compare modern philosophy or science to what existed in Europe in the year 1000.)

    So imagine for a moment how this former Christian would see this post and the comments that follow: as amazingly convoluted attempts at confirmation bias.

  • Rob

    “The issue here is how God himself is portrayed differently in the Old Testament and then in the New.”

    Nonsense, Peter. You are comparing 2 totally different things. How God acts (in Ex 32, by using people as a means), and how He commands people to treat each other.

    There is nothing that needs to be “reconciled” here, this is as silly as saying that it is inconsistent for a Judge to sentence a criminal to death, and yet forbid prisoners from killing each other.

    Your fundamental error is that God does not stand in the same relation to humanity as humans stand in relation to each other, and so you try to create a fake “contradiction” by comparing apples and oranges. Very, very shoddy. You threw away your career for the sake of flawed thinking like this? No wonder you’re so bitter.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michaelhardin1517 Michael Hardin

      Nothing like an ad hominem argument, eh Peter?

      • Rob

        Maybe you should learn what “ad hominem” means before commenting.

    • Dean

      Rob, the problem with what you’re saying here is that God became man. I think you should meditate on the incarnation a bit more. Maybe you should pick up On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius, you can get it for almost nothing on Amazon.

  • mark

    It seems to me that the real question being asked is regarding the infallibility of scripture. Is the biblical God nothing more than an anthropomorphic projection of
    human thought? And, if he is, is God real—or merely us, projecting “Us”?

    Here’s an interesting question. Can God have unfulfilled expectations? In the story of Noah, God has regrets. That would imply that God had an expectation
    regarding humanity and then experienced disappointment and regret because their behavior was something other what he intended.

    This very finite view of God is also expressed when God comes hunting
    for Moses with a burning, homicidal rage. God appears to have the expectation that Moses should do the right thing, and when he doesn’t, God gets seriously miffed. Seems like an anthropomorphic projection to me. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that God is nowhere to be found.

    Children learn by imitating their parents. Their behavior, however, isn’t always a
    reflection of their parent’s actual intent, but more reasonably a childish version of an adult’s perspective. In other words, they learn, they evolve, and they mature. How thy express themselves at any given stage of development depends on how much “light” they have—or how much “enlightenment” depending on the cultural metaphor.

    Should we be surprised that an evolving view of God is everywhere in scripture? Israel evolves from tribal nomads, to an agrarian culture, and then are enslaved in Egypt. Out of Egypt they become Bronze Age warriors—and eventually they emerge as an Iron Age power—and then, once again, they are taken back into slavery. This is Israel’s understanding of salvation. A very literal salvation from a very literal bondage.

    Israel, like all people are a nation evolving and changing as their circumstances change. Their experiences, like ours, forms the foundation of their wisdom. It is out of this evolution that begins to emerge a uniquely egalitarian culture. A
    kind of rudimental democracy/theocracy with a powerful empathy for the
    downtrodden; the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. At one point or the other, in their long history, Israel occupies all of these roles. What is finally revealed is a near universal worldview. One born out of their rich and varied
    experience of suffering and triumph.

    This is what we should expect to find if we are looking for a genuine biblical history. One lurking just beneath the archaic language, superstition and symbolism being used by an ancient people. We shouldn’t shy away from this kind of interpretation, we should embrace it.

    The very Jewish Jesus is the ultimate expression of that evolution. He is born, as Paul suggests, when Rome and Greece had built the roads and bridges that connected three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. All three regions of the world played a profound role in shaping Jewish culture. This could be seen as the beginning of humanities long march towards God’s intended destination—our biological mandate written by God in our genetic code. Perhaps a new version of the meaning of the term spirit, more accurately defined for a scientific age. Not “The” truth, simply a new metaphor.

    Anthropomorphism? Absolutely! Does this mean that God is nowhere to be found? Hardly! God is ever present in the process. His nature and our nature yearning to be expressed until the Sons of God are finally revealed. When this happens, God’s Kingdom will be put right—and all of creation will rejoice. That would be a melding of their language and ours. Not an end to all things, but a
    new beginning. It is, I believe, the story that the bible has always told from age to age. It is why the bible is widely regarded as the most influential book ever
    written—and why we still separate time as B.C and A.D…

    If God is not at work in scripture then how did we get here? What compelled the world to follow the teachings of a day laborer born two millennia ago? One martyr among untold numbers of martyrs. Therein is the great mystery.

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