James McGrath Is Wrong: Herod Really Did Massacre the Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Brueghel (Wikicommons)

Fellow #progGOD theoblogger James McGrath is glad that Matthew got the infancy narrative of Jesus wrong. The Massacre of the Innocents never happened, he confidently proclaims in his post “Why I’m Glad that the Infancy Narrative in Matthew Isn’t Literally True,” because Matthew lacked sympathy and theological concern:

If Matthew had had more sympathy towards those who lose children, and more theological concern not to depict God in a manner that people would eventually find morally problematic, he could have used his imagination and added still more details to the story he concocted.

Like many liberals, he brushes off the deeper implications of the text in order to assuage his modern sensibilities:

Aren’t you glad that we have no reason to think that this story Matthew tells actually happened?

Instead, we can attribute it to the shortcomings of Matthew. And we can take a lesson from it.

Real life includes murders and tragedies – like that which happened in reality at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut recently, and like that depicted in story in Matthew’s Gospel.

But when we insert God as a character and say that God acted to save some, we turn God into a monster who chooses for inscrutable reasons to spare some but lead others to the slaughter.

We also read this text at our church, Solomon’s Porch, on Sunday night. And I could not possibly have a more diametrically opposed response than James. In fact, I feel so passionate about it that I’m going to shout:

THANK GOD THAT THE BIBLE HAS STORIES JUST AS HORRIFIC AS THE ONES WE ENCOUNTER IN REAL LIFE!

I’m going to now ask James and all my other fellow progressives to take a journey with me. The year is 3012 and our descendants are reading their hologrambooks or whatever they’ll use in 1,000 years. In fact, they’re reading about a mass shooting that took place at an elementary school a millennium ago. In fact, they’re reading a theological account of that horrific story.

Now imagine this. They’re response is:

Aren’t you glad that never happened? Aren’t you glad that those children never died at Sandy Hook Elementary? Aren’t you glad that human beings never actually shot real guns with real bullets? Aren’t you glad that we can discount this entire story as a myth and look at it instead as an Aesop’s Fable of moralistic truths from a primitive age?

You see, that’s exactly what happens when you dismiss the terrifying texts of the Bible as non-literal myths. YOU SILENCE THE VICTIMS!

It’s true that we don’t know how many infant boys Herod murdered. We don’t know if it was just the sons of a couple families, a village, or a whole territory. But does it matter?!? Innocent infants were killed. They were not myths. They were not fables. They were babies!

James wants to mythologize this story because that lets God off the hook. If it’s a myth, then it means that God didn’t work to save Joseph’s family while allowing other families to suffer infanticide. But this is what happens every day, every time a baby dies — of a genetic disorder or in a car accident or at the hands of a murderous madman — God, it seems, protects one and does not protect the other.

Does this make God an inscrutable monster? That’s for each one of us to decide. But you don’t get to mythologize the Bible to let God off the hook when God is implicated in the deaths of children every day.

  • http://twofriarsandafool.com/ Aric Clark

    I’m with you Tony that it is good that the Bible has stories just as horrific as the ones we encounter in real life. For this reason I think the “texts of terror” as they’re often called are incredibly important parts of the Bible. We need stories of murder, rape, genocide etc… and the way they are sacralized to remind us of what humans are all too capable of doing.

    However, saying these stories are important, paradigmatic, and in that sense true, is not the same as saying they are historical. There are no records anywhere of any act like this by Herod, nor any reason to think that Herod ever knew anything about Jesus. Similarly there is no archeological evidence of the conquest of canaan ever happening. That matters. It is good that such horrible things did not happen in those specific cases even if they have happened far too often in many other cases.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Aric, does there need to be an independent, historic record of a massacre to mean it actually happened?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        I’m definitely no historian, but I’m not sure James is saying “this did not happen”:

        Aren’t you glad that we have no reason to think that this story Matthew tells actually happened?

        …We have no evidence that young children in Bethlehem were in fact slaughtered as per Matthew’s story.

        …Maybe he never imagined that anyone would think his story was literally factual in all its details, the way some today assume it to be?

        I guess a “reason” or “evidence” could be that the text says it. But, that, in my understanding, is not history. Even in my basic history classes we learned that an event must have at least three separate sources to be in any sense historically reliable.

        Personally, I think there can be a theological truth gleaned from an unreliable historical event.

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          That’s not how “history” worked in the ancient world. There are many, many events that are not independently verified by three different sources, yet we take them to be historic. To do so is to impose modern, journalistic standards on the ancient world, and ancient sources cannot possibly live up to that standard.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I guess I’m much more “postmodern” in my own approach toward history in general. But, I learned about a lot of this at a public university, so I guess the postmodern approach has become pretty mainstream.

            I agree, history as it is now practiced is very different from how it was back then.

            But, again, I don’t think anyone is saying, “We know with 100% objective certainty that this or that thing did not happen.” I, for one, greatly value the hard work of historians, and appreciate the theological dialogue between historians and those who accept the texts at face value. I think a lot can be learned from all sides, even while I tend to disagree with those who approach the texts as historically reliable.

          • JimA

            But that does not mean that we must suspend our standards as a modern reader and/or student of history. It is a choice (that many make) to give greater weight to certain (but not all) single-mention events in ancient history, perhaps because of the vastly more undersampling nature of written records in the period (compared to our own). My sense is that the making such choices (selectively) with respect to historicity is directly connected to the widely-held Judeo/Christian (if perhaps unconscious) belief that (selected) older writings can have greater, even divine, authority or inspiration than anything of our own day.

            Curiously, we take exception to even that in allowing New Testament writings in some measure to supercede earlier. An even later example, our superceding one of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”

    • Phil Miller

      Well, Bethlehem was a small village in a somewhat obscure portion of the Roman Empire at this time. We probably were talking about the killing of a relatively few number of children – boys two and under. Herod’s entire reign was marked by violence according to Josephus, so this would have just been another instance of him acting in character. I would guess that any evidence from such an event would be mainly in the form of local oral history. Sadly, such things would relatively quickly disappear in the fog of history.

  • http://kristadalton.com Krista (@KristaNDalton)

    I don’t think James was attempting to trivialize the death of children in the manner you portray in your analysis. And as catchy a homiletical connection you can make between the Herod account and present day events, that doesn’t mean we can disregard the fact that most scholars conclude the “Massacre of the Innocents” is indeed a fable. Surely you yourself know that James is not attempting to “cover up” a story to save God’s ass as you write, “If it’s a myth, then it means that God didn’t work to save Joseph’s family while allowing other families to suffer infanticide.” A better question is why would Matthew use such a story in his account, and what can we learn from his treatment of such a story.

    By acting as a scholar and attempting to decipher the historicity of the Bible, James is not committing a great divine cover up. I’m sorry if you perceive it that way.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Krista, I value historicism. But it has its limits. Many people die today silently, with no record of their existence. This was even more the case in the ancient world. Just because there isn’t a record of this slaughter or that slaughter outside of the biblical account does not mean that the slaughters didn’t take place. Indeed, there are many other slaughters of innocents that weren’t recorded anywhere.

      There are times when historicism is a sin against the text, and against the very real victims.

      • http://kristadalton.com Krista (@KristaNDalton)

        I hear what you are saying deeply and I would agree that there is a dehumanization to myth.

        But to accuse James of purposely “dehumanizing” an event we aren’t sure happened is to me a bit absurd.

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          I think he’s letting God off the hook. He’s almost reveling in the fact that the story didn’t actually happen and children didn’t actually die, so we don’t have to confront the monstrosity of God.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    I’m not really sure I see what would be gained by reading these kinds of stories literally, as historically accurate. Maybe I’m missing something…?

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Other than, “tragedies happen, and the Bible doesn’t sanitize that.” But, was it a standard practice back then to whitewash stories?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Because, when you turn real human beings into hypotheticals, myths, and fables, you dehumanize them.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        I think that would be true if we knew that this event happened. But, I’m definitely not prepared to make that kind of grand, objective historical claim. I think I see what you’re getting at, but I think this kind of argument could go south pretty quickly, since – if I remember correctly – you already reject a lot of other historical accounts in the texts. Should we only defend the stories as “objective” that reveal some kind of victimization?

        • Dan Hauge

          I think this goes to the wider point of exactly how scholars go about drawing their conclusions on what is historically likely, and what isn’t. In many cases I find the reasoning wanting, i.e. “we don’t have another ‘objective’ (meaning not faith-based) source telling us the same thing happened, so we can safely conclude the account in the gospel is non-historical”. I do think that at every level, be it more conservative or liberal scholars, our own subjectivity, and what we think of the ramifications of historicity, comes into play in how we reach our conclusions whether we want to admit it or not.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Of course, the goal is always to be as unbiased as possible, while at the same time always acknowledging that pure objectivity – especially as you have further distance between yourself and the time, place, language, etc. of the event – is impossible.

    • Curtis

      You gain the realization that God is literally, historically at work on the Earth at this moment.

  • Steve Pinkham

    “Herod Really Did Massacre the Innocents”

    It’s possible, but you’re going to have to come up with a better reason than “I like the fact the narrative is there”. You might want to start with how you propose harmonizing that occurance with Luke’s account. One of them has to be wrong about many details, and if Luke is right about the date, Herod was already dead.

    • Paul D.

      Exactly this.

      1. We have not a shred of independent evidence this massacre took place.

      2. Matthew’s infancy story already conflicts with Luke’s. Both cannot be literally true.

      3. Matthew’s infancy story contains elements that are literally impossible (not just implausible), giving a strong indicator regarding the genre of literature the author was writing. (Hint: not a history textbook.)

      4. Matthew’s infancy story, including the massacre, has strong literary similarities to another prior work, the infancy of Moses as told by Josephus. This provides a much more plausible source for Matthew’s story than literal history.

      The only reason to insist the massacre happened would be a misguided, apologetic insistence on biblical inerrancy and literalism with a tin ear to genre and the real message of Matthew.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        The only reason to insist the massacre happened would be a misguided, apologetic insistence on biblical inerrancy and literalism with a tin ear to genre and the real message of Matthew.

        I don’t know that I would take it this far…

      • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

        Wrong, Paul. There are also theological and humanistic reasons to hang on to the realness of that pericope.

        • http://divinesalve.blogspot.com David Miller

          Allowing theological reasoning to provide reason for claiming the historicity of this account is no different than hyper-Calvinists using theological reasoning for claiming the historicity of Adam. It is basically saying, “This is historically true because I need for it to be in order to keep my theological system intact.” Theology cannot be a valid warrant for determining historicity. Only criteria from the discipline of history (not theology) can provide such warrant.

          • Mike L.

            Amen, David and Paul! Tony is way off base with this post.

  • Lawrence Garcia

    Overall, good response. Though I share McGrath’s suspicions in regards to the literal historicity of the infanticide portrayed in Matthew’s narrative (largely due to the clear Jesus-as-new-Moses-redaction which I suspect is not purely historical) it’s not because I see there a divine moral problem if it was in fact true, as McGrath does. ‘If’ it was in fact true, it could be, a more subtle theological answer would be that God is not necessarily at this juncture in absolute control as some might suggest, but rather what we see is the result of human action; God’s unilateral saving hand upon Jesus is his answer to the problem of evil portrayed. I have extreme doubts about the logic that God must treat everyone fairly that underlines McGrath’s position. Moreover, the Jesus who is rescued is eventually led off to the executioners block at the cross wherein God actually enters the pain of the world, specifically as that portrayed by Herod’s atrocity. McGrath’s overemphasis on the birth narrative to neglect of the whole leads to the bland-narrow theology that resulted. Until we realize that God is not the orchestrator of every single human action (McGrath seems to assume this) then the moral problem that he notes will always be acute. God is a player in this world story, a sympathetic and just one to boot. Good work!

    • Dan Hauge

      I agree overall with your point here, Lawrence–the truly offensive prospect, for McGrath, is not that slaughters of innocents may have happened (obviously horrific things happen due to human action all the time); it is the possibility that God somehow intervened to warn Joseph and thus spare Jesus. This is the core idea, that God must never speak or act in any specific way to rescue, because if God does not do this equally for all people and all suffering then God is a monster. I can see the reasoning behind this view, all I can really say is that at a gut level I don’t share it. God does not prevent (obviously) all suffering from happening, but there are some instances where it really seems that God is a ‘player’ as you put it. For me, holding this difficult tension makes more sense of Scripture and life experience than denying all possibility of divine action in the world.

      (And I know that process theology has a certain account of divine action: but one that would still preclude the kind of action we see in Matthew’s story, seems to me.)

      Your point about Jesus’ eventual suffering and death is really spot on here–Jesus himself appeared to think that if God was willing, God could “take the cup” from him (assuming Jesus said something like this–I don’t know what the latest verdict is on this particular saying) but that wasn’t going to happen in this case. At the very least, it seems like this idea that God can either act, or not, has deep roots in our theological tradition, and should be reckoned with.

  • Curtis

    Does objective history even exist? I mean, here we are, only a few days beyond the tragedy of last week, and nobody knows what really happened. Yes, we know many innocent people, mostly children, died a very cruel death. But that seems to be all we know. Nothing else about the events seems known or certain. When did it all begin? What were the actual events in the whole chain that led to the deaths? We may never know the full, objective history. We will certainly never know the most pressing question: Why?

    In his 2009 book “Columbine”, published ten years after that massacre, Dave Cullen shows us that almost all of the factual details about that shooting that were reported at the time, and that are still held by most people as “objective history” today, are plainly, flatly false.

    There may be no objective history. There is reality, then there are the stories we use to try to communicate that reality with each other, each story a different lens through which we see the world.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      That’s right, Curtis. May we never turn the victims of Columbine or Sandy Hook into fables.

      • http://divinesalve.blogspot.com David Miller

        What about the victims of the Hunger Games? Would it be wrong to turn those victims into fables?

        • http://salamanderslam.com Dave H.

          David Miller’s question is an important question for me. I don’t take it as a rhetorical joke or cheap shot. It’s exactly what I was wondering (actually I thought “Brothers Karamazov” rather than “Hunger Games”). Genre and intent seem to be important to McGrath’s argument, so I’m interested in hearing it addressed.

    • Chris

      “There may be no objective history. There is reality, then there are the stories we use to try to communicate that reality with each other…”

      I wouldn’t use the term “stories.” I would rather use the term *methods.*
      And the question is, can any of these methods be relied upon or deemed more reliable. I say yes.

      After the second world war, Eisenhower predicted that in the future there would be those that would say that it (the Holocaust) never happened. Today in the middle east there are those that are attempting to deconstruct the events surrounding the Holocaust— to say that it didn’t actually happen. As per Tony’s comment, in a thousand years, how much further will that process have left doubt in the minds of people from those claiming that it was all just a myth because we can’t know history?

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    After re-reading your and James’ posts, I think this is a straw man.

    You caricatured his post:
    “The Massacre of the Innocents never happened, he confidently proclaims

    And, you counter-claim: “Herod Really Did Massacre the Innocents.”

    I personally wouldn’t have chosen much of the language that James did in his original post. I think James was simply assuming the historical consensus in his post, saying, “if this is the case, that this probably didn’t happen, then…”

    But, in a later comment, he does clarify: “that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen – just that we cannot conclude that it did using the tools of historical investigation.”

    As far as “letting God off the hook,” I think we all do this all the time. We each, at least, draw the line between descriptive and prescriptive. We say “God couldn’t do that or be like that.”

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Fair enough, Rob. I didn’t read the comments on his blog. But I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic about his post.

  • http://drewsumrall.com drew sumrall

    Whether the Matthew account is a matter of history or not, the message today should be the same. Many find comfort in the idea of God ‘choosing’ winners and losers–because even if God is punishing us, we’re still within a universe of meaning. For me, it is not that God ‘chooses’ (winners and losers), but rather no choice is made. Tragedy happens. It sucks. But that’s our human condition. Whether the slaughter in Matthew is history or not, God made no choice as to who lived, and who died. This remains true whether or not the account is historical.

    (I do agree that there is some comfort for us in reading the horrific stories in the Bible.)

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I would agree with your approach of saying “whether or not it happened” is not the most important question. But, I would hesitate to say “THE message is ______“. I would prefer to leave a text’s interpretation open to multiple possibilities.

  • Dan Stratmann

    Let’s stay on task here. The truth of the story is has value independent of its historicity, which is beyond our ability to independently verify. So let’s trust the truth God conveys here and stop arguing about opinions that don’t affect the meaning of the story.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Yes, sir.

  • John

    I think when discussing the historicity of the slaughter of the innocents you also have to take into account the theme in Matthew of Jesus as the new Moses and the literary parallel Matthew is setting up comparing Herod’s slaughter and Pharaoh commanding the killing of the Hebrew babies . The dehumanization of victims in the Bible is certainly a real problem, but I don’t know that the slaughter of the innocents is the best place to draw from for the argument.

  • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

    Look, everyone, let me clarify: I like James McGrath and like his blog. I just think he’s wrong on this one.

    Regardless of whether you think the Slaughter of the Innocents happened as Matthew reports, God is implicated in the Massacre of Sandy Hook. God didn’t stop it. Just like God didn’t stop Herod.

    • http://www.drewsumrall.com drew sumrall

      How is God implicated?

      It’s not (simply) that He didn’t stop it. He cannot.

      • Curtis

        The creator of the universe can’t stop one gun to protect dozens of children? Is God that weak?

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          Drew: why have you come to the conclusion that God can’t do this?

          Curtis: why do you imply that if God can’t do this then God is weak? If God can do this, but doesn’t, why not?

          P.S. I am on a personal journey to try to find perspectives on God that I might be able to assent to.

          • http://www.drewsumrall.com drew sumrall

            Rob, I have not (simply) come to this conclusion. The chaos that is the Real bears witness to it, with or without my assent.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        “The chaos that is the Real bears witness to” a God that cannot stop massacres, and that God is a “He”?

        • Ric Shewell

          Drew and Tony clearly don’t agree on “God.” My process buddies would agree with Drew, God can’t coerce creation, but can influence through love. Apparently, God just can’t influence well enough to make anything happen.

          I’m with Tony. I do believe God is implicated as the creator of a universe where suffering often occurs. I’m struggling with how, when, and why God seems to intervene in some cases and not others. In any case, God bears some responsibility.

          • Ric Shewell

            I also don’t think there’s a fair and honest answer to theodicy.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Right now, I fall somewhere between the process people and those coming from a radical theology perspective, but I’m interested in trying to understand other perspectives. I’m willing to consider the possibility of a Creator God. Beyond that, I am cautiously asking questions.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I am genuinely curious to know, though, how you decide which story is historically accurate (and therefore theologically necessary) and which isn’t; when God is doing something or allowing something, or speaking, and when it’s simply a human being claiming that God is doing or allowing or speaking. You say James is wrong on this one; if he’s using historical methods to come to his approximate conclusions, which ones is he wrong on and which is he right on?

      • http://www.drewsumrall.com drew sumrall

        Rob, My personal opinion is that historicity has nothing whatever to do theological necessity.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          At this point, I agree. But, I’m positing the possibility of a God within the bounds of what is loosely called theism. I don’t actually positively assent to that kind of God, but I’m wondering if I could (rather than should).

  • Mary Biedron

    Do we know that there were no other warnings? And that people just didn’t have ears to hear? I don’t believe we do know how God dealt with each and every person. There are many places where there are untold stories in the Bible, and we fill them in according to our own point of view. Because we are people. Particularly in the Incarnation, God is committed to working through people: flawed, selfish, faithful, poor, rich…you name it. Since the promise to Noah not to destroy the world for its evil, God relies on people to act in this world, this life…people who do things imperfectly, don’t hear, don’t see, argue, try and fail, and try again. People starved for grace. I agree about the texts of terror, too, by the way: we need to know that sorrow and joy, life and death exist side by side in the Biblical witness just the same way that they do for us. I made this point in preaching this past Sunday, because if the Bible can’t speak to us at times like this, when can it?
    It’s not “How can this kind of thing happen at Christmas” in my view; it’s “Because this kind of thing happens, we have Christmas (that is, the Incarnation).”

    Thanks for providing the forum for this discussion, Tony.

  • X-Xian

    Fair enough. God = Monster. There, I said it.

    Actually, I’m just glad HE is a myth!

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thanks for taking the time to interact, Tony! Here’s a response, explaining why I think you are wrong about my wrongness: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/12/am-i-wrong-about-the-massacre-of-the-innocents.html

  • ME

    Slaughter of the innocents? That’s cake compared to getting “happy” with God commanding Abraham to murder Issac.

  • Evelyn

    “Does this make God an inscrutable monster? That’s for each one of us to decide. But you don’t get to mythologize the Bible to let God off the hook when God is implicated in the deaths of children every day.”

    Life is a gift, Tony, not an entitlement. God brought those children into the world and God took them out of the world in service to God. Be thankful for every moment and realize that anyone’s life can be taken at any moment regardless of age. I find that it helps to make the choice to believe that God is good in spite of evidence to the contrary.

    We can’t know why God gave and took and much of what we are mourning is the potential of those children’s lives – a potential is just a dream so we are mourning nothing really. Perhaps we should simply rejoice at the gift and humbly accept the loss.

  • Mike

    It’s kind of ridiculous to complain about the victims being ‘silenced’ when you can’t actually prove there were any and when the text itself uses the deaths only as a way of making Jesus seem more special, since he alone escaped. The text already silences the victims. There’s nothing about their suffering or their parent’s grief. They are effectively props to raise up Jesus as special. There’s an old song called the Coventry carol that redressess the balance a bit; it’s a song about the mothers of Bethelehem mourning for their children.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjykMVzFd7g

    Matthew copied most of what he wrote from Mark, the oldest gospel. Since the massacre wasn’t included in Mark or mentioned by historians who wrote about Herod’s other murders, it’s reasonable to say it’s not likely to have happened. Matthew was not trying to write history, he was trying to show that Jesus was special. He probably got the idea of the massacre of innocents from Moses. Including it was supposed to show that Jesus’ infancy was like those of the prophets before him.

    Incidentally the story of Moses is probably myth and not history as well.

    In 3012 they will have a thousand newspaper articles, blog posts and television recordings to look at if they want to know what happened at Newtown. I don’t think anyone will ever suggest it was a myth. Not anyone credible, anyway. There are so many more people who know how to write nowadays, as well as strange new technologies like TV and Radio recordings. It’s also much easier to make accurate copies of everything.

    My personal solution to the undeniable fact that God does not stop tragedies is that he doesn’t exist in reality but is just the human mind playing tricks on itself.

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  • Jubal DiGriz

    In the larger context, Herod in his later reign was a bloodthirsty despot. As recounted by Josephus massacres of populations were not uncommon under him. Whether or not the specific massacre of children in Bethlehem happened I feel clouds the fact that many more happened that we have no names for. Those are the truly forgotten victims. Both McGrath and Tony are guilty of ignoring victims (by omission) for the sake of a theologically comfortable narrative.

    My inclination is that Matthew took a similar event and transposed it onto the time of the birth of Jesus to enhance his narrative. I find it unlikely that Herod cared or even knew about such a prophecy. But it certainly would fit what we know about Herod for him to have order the murder (or enslavement) of children to intimidate the parents.

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  • brettongarcia

    Tony Jones:

    1) You are defending the likelihood of the event, because it accurately depicts “the monstrosity of God.”

    2) But if indeed, God is a “monster,” then that means that the NT God of Love/Christ, is false.

    3) Or better posed, vice-versa; if the NT Christ is true, then the monstrous OT God who does such things, is false. Is not really God.

    4) And? Some theologians in fact suggest that the OT God was false, or incomplete; that it would take a “new covenant,” a new manifestation of God in the more gentle Christ, to give us a better, truer picture of God.

    5) So that? Someone might suggest that McGrath is partially right, in a sense; though in a way different it seems than what he himself might have said. In effect, the story could not be historically true. But not because the historical massacre of the innocents did not happen; but because of God, as we presently understand him in part – as the God of Love and compassion – could not have been involved in it, And did not allow it. Instead another earlier “monstrous” God, or earlier misunderstanding of God, allowed it. So to speak.

    This event would not be an accurate/historical rendering of our God of Love; but some other, “monstrous” God. Indeed, it was allowed only by the since-modified OT view of God; but not by the New Testament notion.

    In other words, possibly (possibly) it would be possible to refine McGrath’s argument: many of the events might have taken place. But the attribution of “God” doing it, would be untrue, unhistorical. If God really is compassionate, as many hold today (following the gentle Jesus, not God the Father, as the definitive model for God). Only the older – and in some ways superseded – Old Testament god would have done such a thing; not God as some presently understand him. Not Christ, say.

    Granted, this argument seems a bit strained even to me. But perhaps this begins to explain some of the thinking behind the common denial that bad events are indeed allowed by God.

    Granted, I wouldn’t like to spend a lot of time defending this one much. We now have yet another problem of course: if the God of Love would not allow it, then we have to explain who or what caused these bad events. If it wasn’t God. In this case of course, the ancients simply suggested that … the devil did it. (Leaving next though the question of theodicy: why did a good God make the devil, and allow his evil? Yet that same question remains, even with conventional theologies too.)

    So surprisingly enough, I can see one common theology that would defend McGrath. Though its an expensive and drastic theology; since it entirely rejects the god of the OT, in favor of the New. A view which has often been propounded; though often rejected too. (As Gnosticism, etc.).

    Still, crazy as it seems, it’s a theology that is sometimes heard in sermons, even today. Possibly there are still a few people who would defend it.

    Note clearly though, that I’m not defending this theology; only throwing it out as one possible explanation for McGrath’s ideas. (And possibly over and above his own defense?).

    So possibly McGrath could qualify his remarks, and stipulate that “the event did not happen, historically, as narrated; because God as we know him now – as the gentle Jesus and beyond – did not allow this; rather, the false/superseded Old testament God and/or the devil did it.

    Though of course this argument turns out to be rather difficult, and I won’t defend it, it’s a theology that still comes up now and then. In spite of the opposition of many churches. And it might be relevant here.

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