God Behaving Badly 1

God Behaving Badly 1 May 18, 2011

No doubt about it, the most potent questions and the most damaging ideas in the Bible that may students ask me about are ones they have about God — and often in the Old Testament. Sometimes the questions emerge from shallow readings or from tropes picked up on the internet, but there are issues here. So I’m going to ask you to get a copy of David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, read it and join this conversation. Get a conversation started in small groups at your church or in your school because what David brings up in this book are questions many people have. David is an Old Testament professor at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA.

After sketching a Gary Larson The Far Side cartoons in which we see a man walking and above him a grand piano and God on a computer about to strike the ‘smite’ key… This image evokes a standard image of the Old Testament God: “God smites, strikes, slays and even slaughters” (12). What to do with this? Is God the “cosmic causer of catastrophes”?

Gary Larson, Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, Richard Dawkins’ “megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not great” and the insurance category of “act of God” … it’s everywhere.

Where are you on the “God of the OT” issues?

If God is not good, we’ve got big problems.

Here is where David Lamb will take us: “While the God of the OT does get angry, what characterizes him is love. While he may seem sexist, he is highly affirming of women. While he may seem racist, he is hospitable toward all people” (15).

He thinks Dawkins has his finger on a significant problem but doesn’t think he reads his Bible well.

Lamb will be examining the positive and negative characterizations of God in the Bible. Not just the Old Testament but also in the New Testament. And we have to take it all … and only taking it all into view gives us a good Bible reading.

It’s easy to exaggerate the negative; it’s just as easy to ignore the negative. It’s easy to magnify differences between the Old and the New, and it is hard work to take both into view. I have to say this: both Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have drawn attention to their ideas because of their seeming authenticity when it comes to negative ideas in the Bible — but in the process I think both shirked the hard work of bringing the negative and positive together. David Lamb, so I think, has done this hard work and I commend this book to you.

So let’s say you are honest and you have questions about the God of the Old Testament, or the Bible. Honesty is the way forward: but are you willing to do the hard work of exploring the whole and holding out until it makes sense? Or do you want to bail and find a simpler answer?

David Lamb suggests the name of God in the OT is YHWH and the name of God in the NT is Jesus. They are the same God. YHWH and Jesus. He reminds us — and this for me is a big one if we want to do the hard work — that the God of Jesus was the God of the OT, and that Jesus’ God was YHWH, the one so many today want to disparage. If you like Jesus, you are compelled to like his God.

Our image of God influences how we pursue God; it impacts how we read the Bible; it shapes what we think of humans and other Christians.

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  • Drew

    I have found that the best cure for people’s thinking badly about God in the OT is to start reading Jewish bible commentaries. They have no problem with seeing God as anything but love.

  • Thanks for this, Scot – looks very helpful, and seems to be going in a similar direction to Paul Copan. I thought your throwaway about Bell, Maclaren and the hard work of integrating positive and negative was very insightful. As always, thanks for your hard work in blogging!

  • beakerj

    This looks like something that would be hugely helpful to me, & lots of other people I know. I have always struggled with understanding what ‘good’ means in terms of God’s character, over the last 25 years really.
    This was massively exacerbated recently when during my Mother’s dying/death from lung cancer those words failed me entirely, & I was left with God is big, God is power, God is judgement. I’m prepared to do the hard work – but am still scared of what I may find out. I’ve faced what it means to not know or believe God is good, in any recognisable sense, & I’m not keen (understatement) to go back there.
    Does a theological handholding service come with the book?

  • Great stuff! I look forward to reading the book. I agree with your statements in the next to the last paragraph. Jesus the Messiah is not an improvement upon the God of the OT, but instead is the very same God in human flesh; in fact, “he is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3, NAS). You can not seperate the two (literally! 🙂 ). Granted, the ideas are difficult to grasp, much like the Trinity, but are not in conflict. Again, thanks for this post and for bring this book to my attention.

  • Peter

    Ordered it, eager to get going, but give it a few days for the book to be delivered, OK? Thanks for all your hard work – it benefits lots of people that you don’t even know.

  • Susan N.

    beakerj @ #3 – I have had this experience…coming to the end of my rope, and realizing that the god I had been sold was not going to get me through the valley of the shadow of death. Honest, humble questions about who God is are good and healthy. It turned out to be the beginning of a vital and active faith for me. Turn by turn, God has continued to meet me and reveal Himself to me in Christ. As the angel of the Lord said to the Apostle Paul, “Take heart!” (Trust that you’ll get to Rome, all in good time.) I’m sorry for your loss. What can God make of these things in our lives that bring us to the end of ourselves (and our relationship with Him)? Believe that He can do something good in you through it all. In those really awful times, I have found the grace to experience the loving aspect of God. Praying that for you, too.

    This is what I appreciate about McLaren and Bell; my sense of their purpose in writing is to get people to ask the hard questions. It’s a healthy push-back from the dogmatism of prevailing ultra-conservative “voices” in print and digital media, imho. Those who don’t just want easy answers, but rather a deeper faith, will press on (not having “arrived”, by any means) to grow in knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will look forward to the discussion to come here on JC 🙂

  • Steve Hayner

    Great book! I’m just finishing it, and it should be a wonderful focus of conversation. Dave Lamb comes at this with all the passion of both a fine scholar, a deeply committed believer and former InterVarsity staff worker. He understands the full weight of the questions and takes them seriously. There’s a lot of heavy lifting here–and a lot that honest readers of the Bible need to do.

  • bill

    Can’t wait to read the book. As always, a great post!

  • Frank

    I think the issue at hand in seeing the unity between the God of OT and God of NT (even though I am not a fan of this language) is the concept of covenant. Same God, but in Christ a new covenant has begun. This does not change God’s character or divine attributes, but the old covenant was fulfilled and the new began in Christ.

    In fact, with a deep reading of the OT, one will find how merciful God truly is towards his people. God is very clear on the blessing and curses that come from sin, yet so many times he holds back, because of his great love and mercy, his rightful and clearly stated actions to sin. God is justified in many OT acts because God made it clear from the beginning. In addition to this, most of God’s “bad actions” had a purpose of redemption. Its hard to find punishment without redemption in the OT. Couldn’t we use a bit more of this in our society?

  • Joe Canner

    I think the comment about Brian McLaren is not quite fair in this case. In A New Kind of Christianity he notes a number of instances in the OT where God’s wrath and judgment are outweighed by even greater love and grace:

    1. God promises Adam that if he eats the fruit he will surely die; in fact, Adam is only kicked out of the garden, made to work hard for a living, and only dies much later.
    2. God wants to wipe out the earth because of sin, but saves Noah and his family and the animals in the ark.
    3. God wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but allows Abraham to bargain him down to saving it if there are 10 righteous people.
    4. God uses the treachery of Jacob’s sons in getting rid of Joseph to ultimately save them from starvation
    5. God wants to destroy the Israelites after the build the golden calf; but Moses convinces God to reduce the punishment.
    6. Despite their grumbling and lack of faith in the wilderness, God still allows those under 20 to enter the promised land.
    7. In Judges, despite their repeated backsliding, God continues to rescue them with new prophets and judges.

    etc., etc.

    McLaren does indeed have some other unorthodox ways of explaining the differences between the OT and NT God, but I don’t think he is guilty of ignoring the positive aspects of the OT God.

  • JohnC

    He is my own personal top 3 hardest to reconcile OT passages/areas with a God of love:

    1. Psalm 137:9
    2. Job’s “replacement family”
    3. The commanded genocide and child murder in numerous places in the OT

    Does anyone know if these are touched on? I feel like people when treating this issue, intentionally avoid hard texts.

    I am pretty much considering giving up any form of inerrancy over these issues, as I cannot intellectually look at them and say God is loving if these are positive revelations of who He is.

  • Pete Enns

    I try not to comment on things I haven’t read (and David Lamb is a great guy and thinker). But, judging simply from your description, Scot, there are two perennial issues that come to mind: (1) Yes, God is fundamentally loving and accepting, but is that not toward Israelite behavior rather than the nations? I think a case for the latter will be hard to make, as Dawkins, etc. point out; (2) Why in the first place does it take such “hard work” to bring together the two “sides” of God? Why is God presented in such a way that creates the theological problem at all?

    I am looking forward to David’s book to see how he handles those issues as well as some other things that always come up. In any event, honest theology, not apologetics, is needed, and I am sure David is up for the task!

    Have any of you read “The Joshua Delusion” by Doug Earl? A provocative thesis, indeed.

  • I am definitely in the place of not knowing what to do with the Old Testament and the God it portrays. I need to check out this book.

  • Scot McKnight


    1. There is clear indication of the inclusion of Gentiles in the promises of the covenant from the outset, but we unfortunately equate personal salvation with covenant inclusion? Is that a given?

    2. Here’s what I think is the hard work: our default is God loves us but the God of the Bible enters into the messiness of tragedy, death, war, violence, etc, and I’m not sure that can be subtracted without both damaging the God of the Bible and failing to deal with the realities of the world God gave us.

    3. I’ve not read Earl’s book but I’ve looked through Joshua in 3-D by Dan Hawk.

  • Scott, surely in the background on this issue must be Thom Stark’s book “the humans faces of God”. Have you had the chance to look at Stark’s material?

    I note others above have mentioned Paul Copan’s efforts on this subject. Any mention of Copan must surely include reference to Stark, who seems to have cast serious doubt on Copan’s thesis, particularly regarding portrayals of God during the (historical or otherwise) Joshuan conquests.

  • rjs


    Psalm 137:9 is an honest expression of angst by a conquered person. Does a view or inerrancy, or better truthfulness, in scripture require that this expression be an accurate reflection of the nature of God? The same is true with the story of Jephthah in Judges 11, it does not follow that God desires or condones human sacrifice.

    The story of Job’s replacement family isn’t as troubling to me as the destruction of Job’s family in the first place. But I think the point of Job as a story is to reflect on pain and suffering in the world.

    When a view of inerrancy or truthfulness in scripture requires that anything not explicitly condemned must by default be good or right we have a serious problem with our approach to the text, I think.

  • Phillip

    I look forward to reading this book. These are the kinds of questions that come up in my classes at school and church often. Some initial thoughts:
    1. It won’t do to separate the God of the OT and NT, as though after God had a child in the NT he mellowed. The God whom Jesus calls “Father” is the God revealed in the OT.
    2. We need to explore how judgment serves God’s loving and righteous purposes (e.g., bringing justice and, hence, restoring the shalom of the community; turning God’s people back into their missional purposes, etc).
    3. How do we get the idea that love does not allow the infliction of pain and suffering? Loving parents know that this is not always the case, whether it is discipline of various types or holding your child still while doctors stick a needle in them.
    4. I think we need to admit that some presentations of God make us uncomfortable (to say the least!) and that cannot “fix” them to the satisfaction of all, even ourselves. This may sound like a punt, but I think it is more a recognition and acceptance of the mystery of God.
    5. If I understand correctly, God is most often described in the OT as gracious and compassionate.

    In terms of natural disasters, some may find Terence Fretheim’s “Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasaters” (Baker, 2010) helpful. If you have read his “God and World,” much of this book will sound familiar.

  • kaleb

    Thanks Scot for bringing this issue to the table. If we truly see the face of the living God of the O.T in Jesus there is some very hard work to be done. Jesus gives forgiveness to an adulterous woman about to be stoned-even before she even ask for forgiveness; where in the O.T God gives the command to stone her in the first place. I am certain that God is good. I am skeptical that all of the thoughts of the Jewish writers were the plan of God in the O.T. This presents a problem because if I believe in a progressive view of God through the growth of man, then I am left wondering why I believe all the other ‘good’ stuff. At the same time if I am left thinking that God truly commands every genocide, murder, or seemingly undeserved punishment- I am left trying to make sense of it all.

    Jesus was adamant that the way of the sword was not the way God wanted his people to act towards others. He condemns those Jews to repent against the retaliation against Rome through military means. He condemns Peter for pulling the sword for his own defense. Yet I am suppose to believe that God so changed his personality from telling his people Israel from completely wiping out man, woman, child, and even animal? I will look forward to reading this book, but unless he can find a way to reconcile these issues better than I have heard in the past I will still feel the disconnect… I don’t think God is bipolar and that is how many present him.

    Is it possible the Jews interpreted God in some instances? And is it possible that they could have got it wrong? They seem to have mistaken about their purpose of election for the blessing of the world; so why wouldn’t they have been wrong about some of their views of things God ‘approved’ of? I have a hard time thinking that our views of God can not change over time because it is not God who changes but us. Can we read the O.T in light of the revelations of Jesus and overlook these issues because that is not who Jesus has shown God to be; after all Jesus is suppose to be the truest revelation of God and his character right?

  • JohnC


    Thanks for the discussion 🙂

    My problem isn’t really with what is or isn’t condemned as much as it is with what is specifically commanded and what it says about the God commanding it (though I definitely take your point on psalm 137:9 and the story of Jephthah).

    The commanded murder of infants in Joshua/Samuel etc. is just wrong on any moral compass I try and apply to it.

    A way of testing if a given action fits with Jesus’ golden rule might be to think: “Would I like to live in a world where people did this, particularly if I didn’t know I would be on the giving or receiving end?”. God commanding to do something that so obviously violates this principle makes it hard to reconcile Jesus teaching to the OT God’s commands of genocide and particularly infanticide.

    That’s my current big theological problem that keeps me from seeing God as loving.

  • kaleb

    Phillip #17,

    I hardly think you can equate a parent holding a child to have a needle stuck in them or even a parent punishing their child to the genocide and severe punishments that are dealt in the O.T. I am not saying you are completely wrong; I just think it is a stretch to say parents punish their children and that is why God has Israel wipe out complete cities with little babies in it. I don’t think that is an accurate comparison.

  • Joe Canner

    kaleb #18, There is some appeal to the notion that the OT understanding of God was shaped by the primitive understanding and cultural milieu of the authors. This is a relatively new idea for me, so I haven’t had a chance to digest it fully. However, you say:

    “This presents a problem because if I believe in a progressive view of God through the growth of man, then I am left wondering why I believe all the other ‘good’ stuff.”

    Instead of a continuously progressive view of God, perhaps it is better to see progress and regress. In some cases, perhaps the changing circumstances between Israel and its neighbors shaped how they portrayed God, their desire for God to avenge defeats, their justification for acts of violence, etc. So, while there may have been progress from an intellectual or psychological point of view, there may still have been relapses based on their actual circumstances.

  • kaleb

    Joe #21,

    Thank you. I think I am tracking pretty closely with your thoughts. I do not know how we can separate Israel’s thoughts about God from what they hoped God would approve of. They definitely were in some precarious situations that made a lot of the actions they performed the only way to the promise land. I wonder how much Israel interpreted their history and how God acted in it according to the outcome. If the outcome was good maybe that equalled God approved. If it was bad, then God must have been angry. I know this is not every case in the O.T, but it seems to be there.

  • LCG

    There seem to be two possible solutions. One is to try to reconcile the God of hate and revenge with the God of love in a way that is logical and believable. For the most part this does not seem to have been done very well. The other is to examine the accuracy of the OT authors and whether they were accurately reflecting who God is or were they portraying a god they would like their enemies to think their God is. Was this a power play of ‘our god is bigger and meaner than your god’? This brings into questions the ‘inerrancy’ issue which Thom Stark addresses in his book which he makes a compelling (I’m not totally convinced but close) case that the OT writers were simply wrong and had other motives for representing ‘god’ the way they did. Scot, which of those two solutions (or others) do you support?

  • Jon G


    Copan’s latest or Lamb’s. If I had to pick one to buy, which would it be?

    Thanks for dealing with this subject.

  • EricW

    I was reading צְפַנְיָה last night and was struck with how seemingly petulant and tribalistic יְהוָה could appear.

    יְהוָה is the Grand Character of the Old Testament, even if His presence and actions in the Psalms and Prophets seem to be more sought for or talked or warned about than experienced as in the Torah.

    He is not the “Eternally Existing” ο ών of the philosophers and the LXX’s (mis?)rendering of אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, but the Living God who evokes פַּחַד יְהוָה.

  • Very interesting that so many high quality books are coming out on this. Let me add one that I value: Eric Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Fortress, 2009).

  • David Lamb

    Thanks Scot. I wish I had seen Paul Copan’s book before mine came out (his came out in Jan 2011). His approach is more philosophical and apologetic than mine. While his book is quite readable, my audience may be less academic. For an even more academic approach (and conclusions which I can’t completely buy into), see Eric Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior.

  • Tim

    Question to any who has read this book:

    Does it deal with the “negative” acts that are truly “difficult” or does it tend to center on Biblical passages that are more amicable to “positive” explanation?

    For example, many atrocious passages in the OT can be explained by the personal sentiments of the author, with no need to ascribe such sentiments to God. Other passages are amenable to the idea of reluctant judgment, where God’s punishment/destruction is delivered only after all other avenues have been exhausted.

    No shortages of such passages exist, and I’m sure they can fill up chapters in a book such as “God Behaving Badly.”

    But what of the passages that demonstrate rapid and somewhat arbitrary/excessive judgement? What of the passages where the most straightforward reading lends itself to the idea of a jealous and wrathful God quick to anger, rather than slow?

    Are these highlighted in the book in a manner that is intellectually honest and avoids rationalization?

  • Kenton

    Scot #14-

    I’m reiterating Pete’s question (#12). I disagree with your premise that the default is “God is Love”. The default is that “God is Judgmental”. “God is Love” is the answer to the default.

    I don’t see that as “shirking the hard work,” but I find it interesting that you do. I think it suggests something about who you’re declaring God to be. It says that in spite of incarnating and living with us, teaching the Jesus Creed, dying alongside us and giving us a hope beyond death, that God still sets us on a course of hard labor. What happened to the yoke that was easy? Sorry. I call abuse of power by the guild on this one. I’ll stick with the idea of progressive revelation. It makes things as easy as God intended them to be. 🙂

  • Elaine

    Thanks for posting on this book. I’ve been curious about it, but was reluctant to $$$.

  • EricW

    @24. Jon G:

    There is also this book by Thom Stark:

    The Human Faces of God


    Though it’s more an argument against inerrancy, the author interacts with the problematic negatives texts about YHWH. From one Reader Review at Amazon:

    Stark moves through the troubling passages that allude to a belief in a pantheon of gods. Anyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures knows that there are odd pieces here and there that seem to suggest that there were other gods than Yahweh. The Psalms are replete with such sayings such as God being mightier than the other gods. Exodus and Genesis make such references as well, as well as mention of the “council of the gods.”

    Indeed, Stark’s claim that polytheism was the order of the day in ancient Israel, is nothing new. Yet he explains it to the lay reader perhaps better than anywhere else I have seen. The same can be said of his hard-hitting analysis of the God of genocide, found in and throughout Deuteronomy, and the God who at least condones and accepts human sacrifice. These difficult and troubling texts are explained, carefully, and patiently with excellent reference to archaeology, other relevant texts of the time, and good literary critical exegesis.

  • JM

    For what it’s worth, here’s a video where I tried to answer the question in a sensitive and non-simplistic way:


    (it’s the 2nd video down entitled “Why did God command whole cities to be destroyed in the OT??”

  • DRT

    OK, ordered the book.

    This issue is becoming the most difficult issue for me lately and look forward to working through it with you all.

  • Wm

    In our misguided attempts to protect our traditional notions of biblical inerrancy, we have unwittingly been forced to view God as bipolar. In doing so we effectively place higher value on the testimony of men than on the testimony of Jesus. The God of the Old Testament is the God made flesh. He doesn’t change, yet our perceptions of God are altered by our preconceptions. Is every word of scripture directly from God’s mouth? If so, why then did Jesus quote the OT saying, ‘the ancients said..but I say to you..’?

  • Benj Petroelje

    Pete (12),

    The question you ask regarding the nations is dealt with explicitly by Chris Wright in Chs. 14-15 of, “The Mission of God.” He deals with the relationship of God and the Nations in both the OT (Ch. 14) and the NT (Ch. 15). If there’s a case to be made for the ingathering of the nations as the climax of Israel’s story (and I think there is), Wright makes it powerfully as he brings the entire witness of the OT to bear on this issue. In short, inclusion isn’t something Paul fancies on his own in retrospect, it’s right there from the beginning (Gen 12) and runs straight through the OT.

  • This is definitely a subject I don’t feel qualified to talk about until I’ve read the book. I like your comment, “It’s easy to exaggerate the negative; it’s just as easy to ignore the negative.” If this book were already available on Nook, I would have bought it on the basis of this blog entry. As it is, I’ll have to wait a bit.

  • Scot McKnight

    Kenton, that’s a lot of accusation by inference, a game I won’t play with you.

    The hard work is finding a meeting place that combines justice and grace, holiness and love, wrath and compassion. Whether we explore this through the lens of holiness or love, and find one inside the other or vice versa, that path is both the church’s great tradition (and I disagree the default position is simply holiness/wrath et al) and the challenge for theology. The great theologians, from Irenaeus to Moltmann, including someone like Volf, deal with both of these essences and don’t dismiss one or the other.

  • Re: default positions

    I really do think some of this depends on who you’re talking to.

    While there is a lot of “popular religion” for which “God is love” is nearly the full extent of what people think about the matter, there are also a lot of people who “default” to the idea that God is demanding, and that they can never measure up to God’s standards. I don’t think we should dismiss this reality, either.

    For such people, the idea that God’s “demanding-ness” is overcome by God’s love… well, it may be something they may hear about, but it is almost (if not) impossible to accept it. I think this reality needs to be taken seriously, but that’s not to deny that a lot of people don’t ever go any deeper that the opposite (i.e. “God is love”) end of the spectrum.

  • Phillip

    Kaleb #20

    My only point was that inflicting pain does not negate love and may be in service to love. I was thinking more in terms of the judgments on Israel in that case. But I realize the great limitations of the analogy. Thanks.

  • Jon G

    David @ #27,

    Thanks for entering the fray. Whether I end up with Stark’s, Copan’s or your book, I have to say you have the best cover, so you’re probaly my winner! ;o)

    I hope it sells like hotcakes!

  • Jon G

    sorry “probably”, (but you’re probaly too!)

  • David Lamb

    Jon G @ #40, I had nothing to do with the cover, but I like it. I’ve taken some flack for the title (irreverant, disrepectful, etc.). But I remind people that the full title is a question, and Scripture is full of people who questioned God’s behavior (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

  • DRT

    FWIW, my thoughts today have turned to Roman’s 13 and how that plays into the view of the OT behavior:

    13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, 1 and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 13:2 So the person who resists such authority 2 resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 13:3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 13:4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.

    The behavior of Israel was always the behavior of god.

  • dopderbeck

    I’ve read the book and talked with David L. a bit about it, and I echo the recommendation to take and read.

    I note Pete Enns’ comment and resonate with it as well, however.

    Here is my initial two cents: IMHO, approaches like David L.’s — carefully reading the narratives as narratives in context to tease out what they really do and don’t say — has to be done along with the sort of critical scholarship that the likes of Siebert and Douglas Earl (The Joshua Delusion) are trying to do. For example, we can profit both by understanding that Joshua didn’t actually destroy all the Canaanites (as the narrative itself demonstrates) and by understanding that the Joshua text is likely a kind of “propaganda” created during or after the Exile rather than a simple “historical” narrative (even if it is “historical” of a sort).

    I don’t really like Copan’s use of Richard Hess on this score (the Canaanite cities were really military outposts with few or now women or children present) because it strikes me as an effort to rationalize and overly historicize the text, based on tendentious readings of the archeological data. Similarly, I might want to push back to Dave L. at some points: a careful reading of the narratives mitigates some of the Divine violence, but it’s still pretty hard to connect the Yahweh of Joshua to the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount by way of a linear narrative. We really have to read all this “theologically” and sort of backwards, with Christ as the starting hermeneutical lens, don’t we?

  • kaleb

    #43 DRT,

    “The behavior of Israel was always the behavior of god.”

    With this same logic I guess we can conclude that the first Christians persecuted so heavily from Nero and other emperors were done so because of God and his behavior towards them; since those that resist authority are subject to it. If anyone resisted authority more than any other it was the Christians. I do not believe that for a second, but that seems to be the same argument that you are making for genocide, infanticide, and the other seemingly heinous act we encounter in the Old Testament. I received these same simplistic answer before and they don’t make sense or measure up.

  • If anyone is interested, I review Douglas Earl’s The Joshua Delusion? here, and Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? here.

  • “If you like Jesus, you are compelled to like his God.”

    I don’t agree with this, because this assumes that Jesus’ theology wasn’t affected by the long history of theological adaptation through Israel’s history. Jesus had a particular view of Yahweh, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same view of Yahweh represented in every text in the Hebrew Bible. There are different voices, and Jesus’s is but one among many.

  • Kenton

    Scot (#37)- Thanks. Your clarification helps. OTOH, if that’s what you mean by the hard work, then I would hardly say that McLaren and Bell shirked it off. Sure, they made it easy (or in the business vernacular “they worked smarter, not harder”), but I find plenty in their writings that reconcile God’s justice and his love. The prodigal son exegesis in Love Wins and McLaren’s recent post on his blog about OBL come immediately to my mind.

  • DRT

    kaleb#45, I was not clear, I was not advocating that view, but simply observing it was a possible conclusion.

  • Nick

    Is God the causer of catastrophe’s? Hard question. God does seem to cause some (i.e. sending his people into exile). At the same time we need to be careful that we never give the impression that the farside comic is right. It’s not. God does not delight in the death of anyone, even the wicked. However, I would be uncomfortable with the idea that bad things are out of God’s control. If that’s true then there is a possibility, it seems, that God could fail.

    Is God good? Yes he is. But I am willing to have my ideas of “good” and “loving” redefined.

  • Steve Taylor

    Scot @ 14
    I’ve got my copy of Lamb’s book and am looking forward to reading it–after the end of the school year. Should be great!

    Your point 1 in your response to Enns, however, is problematic. The inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles in the covenant blessings in the foundational texts (i.e., Hebrew Genesis) is questionable. Of the five times the Gentile blessing formula is used in Genesis, two occurrences contain the Hitpael or reflexive/reciprocal stem of the verb “to bless.” The other three contain the Niphal, which can either be passive or reflexive/reciprocal. It is with some justification, then, that Jewish readers (including the earliest generation of Christians) had trouble with the idea of inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles with the Abrahamic covenantal promises.

    Where then did Paul get the idea that God’s gracious promises included the Gentiles (as Gentiles) from the beginning or, in the words to Abraham, “in you(r) (seed) all the nations of the earth will be blessed”? Undoubtedly the Septuagint’s use of the passive voice in all the Genesis occurrences played a role. But much more importantly for Paul was chain of deduction that led BACKWARDS FROM the crucified and risen messiah and the indiscriminate gift of the promised Spirit. This leaves Enns’ question still on the table at least with respect of the OT, doesn’t it?

    Great discussion as usual!

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, I follow Chris Wright’s Mission of God on this Gentile inclusion text and the translation.

  • scotmcknight

    And I should also have said, Steve, that I don’t want to over value the Gentile promise in the OT. I do think there’s lots of retrospective reading in the NT on that one.

  • Mark E

    I am neither a theologian nor theology student, so excuse me if this is a naive question.

    Clearly, there are people today that believe natural disasters and diseases are (sometimes?) caused, directed, or allowed by God. Today, some think that wars where many people are killed are just and caused, directed, or allowed by God. A rationale could be made that they are thinking about it wrong. Earthquakes and tsunamis happen for natural reasons. War happens because of the way people are.

    Is there a theological position that would settle this issue of a whether God does seemingly bad things by stating that the writers of the various texts in question were equally mistaken?

  • EricW

    @54. Mark E:

    I suspect that Thom Stark’s book that I mention and link to in 31. – The Human Faces of God – might address what you’re asking. Thom has even joined the discussion here. You can read excerpts at Amazon, and I believe at Google Books as well, if you want to check it out – as well as the Webpage for the book.

    I’ve not read it, but it’s on my list.

  • DRT

    Mark E., I too am none of the things you mention, but, as a co-worker recently said, am someone who has decided that it is not good enough to think the religions are all messed up, but I believe it is worth investigating what we should believe.

    I think there is, and never will be, a consensus on what you ask. The reason I think that is because I think many many people project onto the bible the image of god they want to believe. In the pop and religious world it really is an inkblot test.

    Having said that, I think there is a truth in the bible that we should believe and I am going to find it! That is why I come here and that is why I engage in the debates that everyone is putting out. The problem in engineering terms is that the signal to noise ratio is very low. In regular words, the message is shouted out by the noise people make.

    Don’t let the noise get you down. The one thing we all here can agree on is that Jesus is our best image of God, and read what he says.

  • Tim

    I would add my voice to the chorus of those who express interest in Thom Stark’s book, The Human Faces of God.

    Scot, is this in the running for a possible series on Jesus Creed? It seems a more intellectually honest approach than, say, Copan’s recent attempt.

  • Brian Considine

    There is an underlying issue here that needs to be considered and that is simply put – how big is your God? If we understand God to be sovereign, working all things together for good, for His great plan and purposes; and, that we are just a part of creation, even a favored part, but a part to be judged by God, then there is no issue with what God does in the Old Testament. Can the created tell the Creator how to behave? Obviously, the Creator knows something we do not. That then is the worldview that will inform our theology. Copan makes this point well in his fine book and adds the historical context, and exegetically develops especially the Conquest account to show that much of the statements of Joshua were just bravado typical of the time (much like the hyperbole still common today), because the Scriptural evidence is that the results of the Conquest were less than total. If this is our high view of Scripture it is for us to dig in and reason well from the Scripture, within a cultural context, what is happened and understand why God did what He did. The problem is most don’t take the time or make the effort and are easily mislead by fine sounding arguments.

    If on the other hand, we understand God to be anything less than completely Lord of the universe, we will think we can judge God as a moral monster by some fallacy as the New Atheists do. Or, we will find inconsistency in His love, as portrayed throughout Scripture, as Stark does, who also doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, a less than orthodox view, and holds a low view of Scripture. What then happens, in this case, we apply our personal and prideful sense of morality to God, and therefore have to discount much of the OT, as most liberal theologians do, like Stark does. But when we do so aren’t we in fact in breach of the very 1st commandment that God gives us? Or doesn’t that matter? Apparently not, to Thom whose theology seems to be of the very old and long ago soured liberal flavor. As one reviewer of “Human Face of God” (I didn’t realize God has a human face?) put it, Thom Stark is the prophet of the religion of secularism, proclaiming his own way to political salvation by turning away from the Biblical God and Christ.

    Scot has it exactly right when he says, “If you like Jesus, you are compelled to like his God. Our image of God influences how we pursue God; it impacts how we read the Bible; it shapes what we think of humans and other Christians.” Of course, we can always do it better. Shalom.

  • DRT

    Brian, Considine #58 says

    Or, we will find inconsistency in His love, as portrayed throughout Scripture, as Stark does, who also doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, a less than orthodox view, and holds a low view of Scripture. What then happens, in this case, we apply our personal and prideful sense of morality to God, and therefore have to discount much of the OT, as most liberal theologians do, like Stark does. But when we do so aren’t we in fact in breach of the very 1st commandment that God gives us?

    I think you set up a false dichotomy here of inconsistency in scripture versus non-divinity of Jesus. I don’t agree because I don’t believe that scripture has to be 100% literally consistent for Jesus to be divine.

  • Brian Considine

    DRT, thanks but I think you missed the point I was make. Of course scripture doesn’t have to be 100% consistent for you to believe in the divinity of Jesus. The point is not on the divinity of Jesus but on our view of God, which is why I conclude with Scot’s thought.

  • Brian,

    I hold a much higher view of Scripture than inerrantists.

    At any rate, I appreciate you taking the time to caricature me. Always helpful. I responded a long time ago, on my book’s website, to the reviewer you quote.

    It’s clear to me you haven’t read my book, which is fine, but if you had, you’d see that I already respond to the criticisms you’re trying to make here.

  • Lyn

    >”David Lamb suggests the name of God in the OT is YHWH and the name of God in the NT is Jesus.”

    I’d like to know more of David’s thoughts here. My understanding is that YHWH is not equivalent to (or merely) Jesus, rather the OT YHWH is the NT Father-Son/Word-Spirit. So yes, in that sense, the God of Jesus is the same as the God of the Torah – because Jesus is also (one with) the “I Am” of the Torah.

  • Dennis J

    @43 DRT, i have no idea what your train of thought is here. do you mean things like the destruction of the canaanites?
    @47 Stark, your comments seem like they came from outer space.

  • Dennis J

    although, DRT, you do have a point out with Romans 13. God “used” both the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who were apparently demented in their cruelty and ruthlessness.

  • Holly

    Dare I? I likely shouldn’t even offer a thought – I’m usually the least academic/intellectual person here.

    Still – I had a recent thought that I want to share with you all.

    I recently read King Abdullah’s book, “Our Last Best Chance.” As he wrote his way through history and his eyewitness to many relationships and interactions in the Arab World, I was struck by the height and even hyperbolic outbursts as he recollected. He repeatedly used phrases such as, “I was devastated.” “I was OUTRAGED,” “I was FURIOUS.” These phrases were all directed at his relatives or close friends or other sovereigns that he had cordial and long-lasting relationships with. And you know, for all of his fury and explosive emotions….within a short while he and his “brothers” had made up and were back to forming alliances. Within that world, he even has friendships and strategic alliances with people who have tried to kill him. It seems a highly expressive, emotive culture, one where relatives are easily forgiven and once more embraced.

    That made me think…”Well, his culture is much more reflective of the culture into which Christ came than my Western one. Maybe this gives me insight into the writings of the OT. Maybe this is another case (like Genesis) of God speaking to the people in ways they can understand. Think of it – how many times does God appear to get furious and say he is going to destroy Israel…then within a short while we read how much he loves Israel and how great his compassion is for them.

    Is it like me, blustering at my kids to “scare the pants off of them?” (Naw, it’s not that great of a parenting technique for me, but I’ve done it at times when I really need to get their attention. “If you don’t pick up your toys they will be thrown in the trash…”)

    It almost seems to me that it is more important to observe what God actually *did* rather than what he said. Granted, there are times the earth apparently opened up and swallowed some erring Hebrews…but more often he thundered and threatened, but then reached his arms out and at least offered to draw them back to him in love. Time, after time, after time….until he eventually sent Jesus to once and for all take care of their propensity to sinning, to provide the WAY.

    So, did the writers record what they “heard” God say? Does that have to mean that this is what God *did?* I don’t know – but it’s interesting. 🙂

    Just my simplistic thoughts. (Scuttering back to my corner now…)

  • John C #19

    In God and Violence, I have argued that leaders like Moses, Joshua and Samuel misunderstood what God had said. They did things that he had not commanded, while believing that they were obeying him.

    The other problem is that English translators of the OT tend to choose the harshest possible translation, maybe due to the influence of dispensationalism. “Hesed” is the most serious example. No one is sure what it means, so the harshest option seems to be the default. I find that odd.

    More at http://kingwatch.co.nz/Law_Government/violenz.htm

  • Once again, I have to recommend reading Thom’s work on this issue – whether you spend the $$ on his book, or just follow his trails online. Whilst not all may agree with his arguments it’s simply not fair to label this material as agenda-laiden and assume that means it has been dismissed.

    Stark, from what I’ve read, has made a very strong case that Copan’s work in particular is at a minimum very wanting. I would recommend reading the link he provides in comment 46, whether you agree or not, it’s a perspective that cannot be ignored.

  • Dennis J

    the Pentateuch, and the works following, are written with literary and artistic precision to portray a specific theology. in short, the OT (along with the NT) is supposed to reveal God to us through the writings’ various methods. what is conveyed is intentional, and specific. i would never dismiss a person who struggles with some of the content of the OT. only a machine would be unaffected by some of its themes and their implications. however, to suggest that the writers were somehow mistaken or misrepresenting God is not an acceptable way to deal with these struggles.
    there are some accounts that can be explained. for example, when Lot offers a defenseless woman to a bunch of sadistic freaks, it can be explained as the action of a fallen and severely broken individual within a fallen society. but the statements in leviticus about the destruction of women and children in the land of canaan cannot be explained like that.
    i personally look to the many passages (found in every catagory of writing in the OT) about respecting the alien in our midst, and other themes. From this vantage point, i take comfort in God’s universal grace. i then look at the canaanites as an incomprehensible, yet unique, circumstance. but i realize that there are many who find this very difficult.
    i do know that 200 years of enlightened thinking, plus our contemporary denial of the existence of evil within the humman race, inhibits us from acknowledging the reality that some are damned (perhaps, though very shocking to contemplate, right from birth).

  • beakerj

    #58, Brian Considine: I get where you’re coming from, only too well, but feel this always comes so close to a ‘sanctified’ form of ‘might is right’, which has an enormous implications for morality.
    #47 Thom Stark: interesting comment! maybe the outer space your comment(#63 Dennis J)is coming from is the space outside the box?

  • EricW

    @68. Dennis J wrote:

    “however, to suggest that the writers were somehow mistaken or misrepresenting God is not an acceptable way to deal with these struggles.”

    And who or what determines what is and is not “an acceptable way to deal with these struggles”?

  • EricW

    Re: 57.:

    It does seem like a reading and review by Scot of Thom Stark’s Human Faces is in order here at Jesus Creed, esp. because of discussions here on Evangelicalism and inerrancy and the fact that Copan’s book has been reviewed and discussed here by Scot.

    Per the link in 46., Stark has written a 300+ page critique of Copan’s 250 pp. book. Wow! And it’s free, too.

    I haven’t read Stark’s book or Copan’s book or Stark’s critique (even though I was the first to mention Stark and his book in the comment thread), but here is an interesting statement Stark makes in the comment thread about his review/critique of Copan:

    Thom Stark on May 4, 2011 at 4:21 PM


    “…Rather than cutting the problematic texts out of the canon, I advocate keeping them in to function as negative revelation. We need these texts in our purview in order to remind us of the myriad of ways we continue to make God into our own image in order to justify our self-serving ideologies. God can still speak through them, even if God didn’t speak them.”

    I suspect a discussion of Human Faces would really cause sparks to fly. And I also guess that many might leap into such a fray without first taking time to read his book as I think one (including myself) should probably first do.

  • EricW (#71) “I suspect a discussion of Human Faces would really cause sparks to fly”

    If the evidence from elsewhere is anything to go by, you’d be spot on with that!

  • two more point on the link in comment 46.

    1. I do wish that folks (Stark in this case, page 10 of his review of Copan) would stop referring to the “dark ages”, a concept/historical demarcation that is seriously threatened by medi-eval historical scholarship.

    2. What’s with that hideousness on page 12 Thom? arrggg! 😉

  • I wasn’t referring to the “dark ages” as the Medieval period. I wasn’t using it as a technical term for a specific period.

  • Thom, cheers for the clarification… it’s one of those terms that heavy laden.

  • EricW

    @74. Thom Stark: How did you discover that your name and book were being discussed here? Are you a regular reader of Jesus Creed?

    An Internet friend of mine has read and discussed your book here: http://equalitycentral.com/forum/index.php?topic=1913.0

  • Susan N.

    David Lamb @ #27 and #42 — your comments have sold me on the book. Written to a less “academic” audience, and all about asking questions about the nature of and relationship with God — I’m your target audience to a ‘T’! While I always appreciate the scholarly thoughts presented and discussed here on JC, often I just feel impatient for matters to be dealt with in a “down to earth” manner. I’m going to go order the book and worry about justifying the expense later 🙂

  • EricW,

    I do read Scot’s blog from time to time, but in this case, somebody emailed me with the link.

  • Tim

    It seems David Lamb’s book was written for primarily apologetic purposes, according to this interview he gave anyway:


    So, thus far Jesus Creed has introduced an apologetic treatment of the OT by Paul Copan, and now another apologetic treatment of the OT by David Lamb. It seems like the uniformity of approach here literally screams out for an alternative such as The Human Faces of God (not to mention Thom Stark’s >300 page review of Paul Copan’s book).

    How about it Scot? Thom makes the argument that Evangelical culture fosters a strong selectivity bias in favor of texts that affirm what Evangelicals already believe is true – with texts from opposing views (whenever they do make it past the selectivity filter) being read from an Evangelically fostered framework of “picking apart” the arguments rather than an honest attempt at open-minded evaluation and learning.

    So why not post Thom’s work and have an open, honest, and thorough discussion?

  • Thom Stark #61,

    Could you direct us to where on your website you responded to the reviewer Brian cited? As you feel you have been caricatured, and because I really don’t know anything about you (I don’t think I even hear of you before this week), I would like to ask about your view on the divinity of Christ: Do you affirm or deny that Jesus is divine?

  • Jeff, you might be interested in a forthcoming work from Thom, in which he intends to tackle the issue regarding what the Bible itself says about Jesus’ divinity
    “Behold the Man: What the Bible Doesn’t Say about the Divinity of Jesus.”

    It’s down a little bit on this page: http://thomstark.net/

  • DRT

    DennisJ#63 – My more complete thoughts on Romans 13. It seems to me that the Jewish mindset is quite clearly in the frame of their leader being an anointed one of god and that they are clearly god’s people. In Romans, Paul seems to reinforce the view that the will of the ruler is often driven by god. So, I am making the observation that it would be quite easy, even natural, for a ruler of Israel to confuse his will with that of his god. Heck, you see it all the time today in churches where the people do something and then attribute it to the will of god (it must have been god’s will).

    So that’s why I observe that the behavior of Israel is the will of god. I personally question whether they got the message right, but I think the bible is written from that mindset.

  • Thanks, Phil #81,

    Yes, I might be interested in that. But for now, I am interested in something for which a simple will suffice, since he believes he has been caricatured here, and one of Brian’s points was that Stark denies the divinity of Christ. So, just to settle that point one way or the other, I would to ask: Is Jesus divine? A simple yes or no will do, or even an “I don’t know.”

  • Jeff, no problem, I believe the review response you were looking for is here: http://humanfacesofgod.com/?p=321

    In this, Thom may perhaps answer your question with a nuanced “I don’t know” – see the last couple of paragraphs – but that would be for Thom to confirm.

  • Brian Considine

    Thom, No, sorry, haven’t read your book, just some of your website, as I only learned of your thinking yesterday. And, sorry I don’t form a caricature of your position but an understanding of your liberal theology, based on that. I don’t judge you for it, I leave that for God to do, I just point it out so others understand where you are coming from. But perhaps you want to answer for us here – do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ? It seems not since you are going to some lenghts to suggest otherwise in a coming book, as your website has this statement: “it will become apparent that Jesus is not in fact presented as divine by the majority of New Testament authors.” But please correct me if I’m wrong.

    And, sorry, while you may believe you have a high view of scripture, as most liberal theologians do, the evidence is clear this is not the case. This is provable on a point that you make in the very first chapter of your “review” of Copan’s book.

    “Copan acknowledges that Yahweh got angry, but insists that it’s a righteous anger, a concerned anger (38). But he cites Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as an example of righteous indignation. Certainly Copan must realize that Jesus’ anger here was incited by his compassion for the exploited innocent.” Really, or was it that the temple was being used in a manner that was in direct violation of God’s orders for its use?

    You continue: “This was a concerned anger, but it was anything but an anger concerned for the objects of his wrath! Not infrequently, Jesus pronounced a curse on the temple regime and condemned them to destruction. Jesus showed compassion for the exploited.” Really, so Jesus wasn’t concerned with the eternal destiny of those who were abusing the temple, just the politically exploited? I don’t think I like your Jesus much.

    You continue: “His attack on the temple was not an attempt to woo the temple back to God. It was a prophetic denun-ciation of the temple.” Really, when Jesus says that the temple had been misused, as it was supposed to be a “House of Prayer for all nation,” He was denouncing the temple? Or, was He denoncing the acts of abuse of the temple, which were an affront to the holiness of God?

    You conclude here: “So this hardly fits as an analogy for a divine wrath that woos with famine, plague, and slaughter!” And, this conclusion is what is called a Straw Man argument.

    So Jesus is this nice guy who takes care of the bad guys who are oppressing the weak guys but YHWH is this tyrannical monster because he makes bad things to happen to good people? And, this gives you a high view of Scripture because Jesus is a good guy, right? Am I understanding your position? You can judge the God of the Bible based on your interpretation of Scripture as you find that YHWH doesn’t fit your ideas of morality because He brings judgment on the earth but Jesus doesn’t to that, right? Dude, you might want to check the end of the Book to see what the King of Kings and Lord of Lord He, who “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,” who is Jesus Christ, will do in keeping with His soveriegn rule of His creation.

    What you do, like the New Atheists, is attempt to fit God into a 21st Century sense of enlightened morality. But instead of simply rejecting God as they do, in your case, you create God in your own image, attempting to reconcilation the righteous wrath of God with your humanistic theology. Good luck with that.

    Scot, sorry this if this too long. I look forward to your continuing series on this subject.

  • David Lamb

    Lyn #62: I don’t go into much depth on the trinity. I just observe that the name God is called most frequently in the OT is YHWH (more than elohim-God and adonai-Lord), and the name he is called in the NT is Jesus (more than Christ). And despite the supposed tensions between the OT God of judgment and the NT God of peace, they are essentially one.
    Susan #77: I think all theology should be widely readable, but unfortunately isn’t. Why use Latin (imago dei) when English works (image of God)? I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.
    Please write Amazon reviews (I only have 1).

  • Brian Considine

    One final point on Thom’s reasoning prowess and then I’ll shut up. In Stark’s review of Copan’s book he write: “[Copan] further argues that Yahweh is often said to be “slow to anger” (e.g. Exod 34:6). It’s certainly true that this is a claim that is made about Yahweh, but golly if Yahweh’s definition of slow and quick isn’t backwards. Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was “coming soon,” even imminently, but two thousand years later, we’re still waiting.”

    Is this the level of reasoning of a theologian to be be taken seriously? Maybe Thom is waiting and I don’t know about you, but I try to live the Kingdom life today, as a present reality that Jesus taught us it was, in the power of the Holy Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost, 2000 years ago. Thom makes the mistake of confusing the New Earth with the Kingdom, which is life daily in Christ. And, he offers this as a way to refute Copan’s thinking. Golly but I am thankful that God is slow to anger or Thom might be in big trouble.

  • Brian, “Is this the level of reasoning of a theologian to be be taken seriously?” It seems you have completely mis-interpreted Thom. He is not trying to be a theologian! He’s trying to explain what the texts said when first penned!

    Thom makes it expressly clear where and why he thinks Jesus claimed that the “end” would come in the lifetime of his disciples, and he shows how, chronologically the NT writings had to adjust theology over time to compensate for the obvious fact that Jesus did not return. Thom self identifies as a former preterits, so he’s quite aware of the arguments made to explain away Jesus’ apparently failed predictions.
    “Thom makes the mistake of confusing the New Earth with the Kingdom” To convince me he’s made a mistake, you’ll need to demonstrate that your interpretation of Jesus’ prediction more accurately reflects what it meant at the time of writing. Thom argues elsewhere what he thinks Jesus meant by his prediction and why this subsequently was an error. I would tackle that argument.

    You claim that Thom is “trying to fit god into 21st century enlightenment morality” – but if you read “many faces” you’ll see he’s doing the exact opposite! He’s showing how the God of the OT is precisely what we would expect for “divine” beings of that period.

  • David, #86: “I just observe that the name God is called most frequently… in the NT is Jesus”

    This, if you’ll forgive my incredulity, is some observation. I have serious reservations about this, which does not appear to bear the hallmarks of what I would term “observation”.

  • Brian Considine

    Sure, Phil, I misintepret Thom. Okay, my mistake, but let’s tackle your understanding of this failed prediction of Jesus of when the “end will come.”

    Let’s see, Jesus tells us, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.” (Matthew 13:49) Ummm…don’t think thats happened yet? Maybe on Saturday according to one prognosticator.

    Jesus also tells us “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) According to all current missiological accounts this remains a job needing completion.

    So I’m curious as to what is the failed prophecy of Jesus concerning when the end will come? Please enlighten me.

    You write: “Thom makes the mistake of confusing the New Earth with the Kingdom” To convince me he’s made a mistake, you’ll need to demonstrate that your interpretation of Jesus’ prediction more accurately reflects what it meant at the time of writing.”

    Allow me to suggest that you refer to the Gospel of Matthew to see how Jesus refers to the present reality of the Kingdom. For starters you might consult Chapter 13.

    God bless.

  • Dennis J

    thank you for clarifying.
    i have the same struggles sometimes with Chronicles and Ezra. they just don’t read the same as the rest of the OT. i always get the feeling that they are culturally approved rather than God approved (or something like that). but i have too much faith (is it faith?) in the proper compiling of the canon to deny parts of it because of my own misgivings. on the other hand, these books do reveal the state of mind of the Jews before Jesus came, possibly revealing the setting in which Jesus carried out his ministry. (i guess i try to give an explaination for everything that highlights divine approval of all the bible).

  • Brian, yes good point about 24:14 which does tend to indicate a longer timescale than the “imminence” which Thom is critical of. Although we can’t really show that Jesus knew the world was as big as we know no, so hemight have though the job could be done in less than a generation.

    I do not however, feel that verse 13:49 goes against Thom’s thesis. His whole point IS that Jesus got it wrong – so by highlighting that this prediction has in fact not yet happened seems to only add weight to Thom’s assertion.

    It appears to me that Thom basis his opinion that Jesus got it wrong on Mat 24:34 – which really does seem to indicate that all the false Christs, heaven passing away, no flesh being saved and tribulation would happen “in this generation’s lifetime”. Now, when one considers that this blatantly did not happen in the years leading up to 100AD then it seems Jesus really was wrong.

    Thom also argues that Paul expected Jesus’ return in his own lifetime too. So (according to Stark) it seems Paul bought into the prediction as reported by the writer of Matthew. When Paul talks about not marrying, or not expending too much effort to emancipate one’s self from slavery – Thom argues that he is prioritizing, based on the fact that he thinks Jesus is about to return.
    Now, thom does much of this with reference to the “end times” motifs estaliblished in Jeremiah – he argues that Paul appropriates those motifs/language and that’s why Thom is confident that Paul thinks the parousia/eschaton is imminent.
    I’m no textual scholar, so I don’t know if his rendering of these older Judiac texts is accurate.

    It isn’t until much later (the letters attributed to “peter”) that we start seeing Christian writers try to explain why Jesus hasn’t come back yet – for example where the writer tells people to be patient and that 1 day is “like 100 years”. Thom sees this as an attempt to explain why Jesus has tarried – an explanation that would not be required unless people of that time really did expect an imminent return – which lends further weight to the idea that Jesus(or the accepted Jesus tradition) really did predict imminent return.

  • EricW


    Some have written that Jesus’ failure to return by the end of the 1st century is one of the biggest problems for the Church, as the Epistles and Gospels seem in large part, if read straightforwardly, to expect His return in the readers’ and the writers’ lifetimes, or soon thereafter.

    The seven “I am coming quickly/soon”s of Revelation are also problematic for those who would project the events into the distant (now 1900+ years later) future.

  • EricW, yes, you’re right – was it CS Lewis who described that verse (mark 9:1 and/or Matt 24:34) as the most embarrassing verse in the Bible?

    I like others (http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/05/19/why-there-will-be-no-rapture/) think the ascension story is equally embarrassing. It seems to be based entirely on the assumption that heaven is someplace up in the sky. The guys on the ground watch as Jesus floats up there to heaven, finally disappearing in the clouds. But what happened when he got past the clouds? up on past the stratosphere, past the moon.. apparently he’d still be out there in space, on the same trajectory.

  • There has long been a lot of disagreement in the Church about how Matthew 24 should be interpreted. So for someone to insist on one particular interpretation, and then on the basis of that say that Jesus was in error … well, I don’t find that sort of conclusion persuasive.

  • Brian Considine


    Yous:”Although we can’t really show that Jesus knew the world was as big as we know no, so hemight have though the job could be done in less than a generation.”

    Of course Jesus might not have thought that at all, which puts you and Thom in the camp of a low view of Scripture and paints Jesus as less than divine, and the Bible as less than inspired. We either take the Bible as a whole story, of God’s progressive revelation to His people, or we fail on the point of eisegesis of which Thom falsely accuses Copan. Thanks for making my ealier point of Thom’s view of the Scripture clear.

    “His whole point IS that Jesus got it wrong – so by highlighting that this prediction has in fact not yet happened seems to only add weight to Thom’s assertion.”

    I’m confused as to how you think the fact that Judgment hasn’t occured yet makes Thom’s point that Jesus got it wrong. I don’t see any angels seperating anyone yet, do you? I sure hope I didn’t miss it.

    With respect to Matthew 24;34, which says, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” First, this proposition is contigent on the futur conditions that Jesus previously sets. Second, the word generation can also be translated “age” or “nation,” and is not strictly interpreted as a present generation. Jesus refers to the end of the age. It can also be intepreted generically as the whole multitude of men living at the same time, which in the context of the New Convenant refers to the Church age. There is no reason to limit the meaning to the lifespan of the disciples. Thom gets it seriously wrong which isn’t surprising based on his low view of Scripture.

    “It isn’t until much later (the letters attributed to “peter”) that we start seeing Christian writers try to explain why Jesus hasn’t come back yet – for example where the writer tells people to be patient and that 1 day is “like 100 years”.

    This understanding only speaks to Thom’s humanistic theology that puts man at the center. Why would it surprise us that the disciples didn’t understand fully what Jesus was talking about and God’s purposes in the world. In Matthew 28:17 the disciples are standing with a resurrected Jesus, but some can’t believe it. The confusion of Christ followers is clear continuing from that point through the Book of Acts. If tarrying is the issue, we could ask “why did God take 2000 years from Abraham to Jesus to continue work on the covenant God had given Abram. Certainly, He didn’t need to wait that long. But a high view of God says that God does what God wills and answers to no man. When we allow that truth to inform our worldview we don’t fall into the trap that Thom has.

    But this conversation has gone off track from Scot’s oringal post. We can chat again on another.

  • Kenny Johnson

    So if Jesus was wrong, why should I have any hope for anything?

  • Jeff Doles,

    I don’t know whether Jesus is divine. But I am convinced that the standard biblical proof-texts for Jesus’ divinity are misunderstood and that attention to parallels in the second temple literature will cast them in a different light, as I’ll argue at length in the forthcoming book. But just because the NT doesn’t necessarily make a claim that Jesus is fully divine doesn’t mean he isn’t. In my mind, that’s a non sequitur. As for whether Jesus is really divine or not, I am agnostic on that question.

    I won’t be responding to Brian until he takes the time to engage my actual arguments. I have a 50-page chapter on Jesus’ eschatology in Human Faces of God, in which I engage the Synoptic Gospels extensively.

    However, Brian’s commentary on my review of Copan seems to display to me that something’s preventing him from comprehending what I write even when he does read what I write, so I’m not sure how fruitful it will be at any rate.

    Thanks, Phil_Style for your help.

  • Jeff, to expand on my answer, many of my Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and even some Protestant friends, after reading an initial draft of my book on what the NT says (or doesn’t say) about the divinity of Jesus, concluded that my exegesis was acceptable but that doesn’t mean the later church councils didn’t carry revelation further in clarifying Jesus’ identity. So I leave that question open.

    But I won’t have time to discuss or debate the particular texts here, and it’s off-topic at any rate.

    All the best,

  • Thom #99, thanks for your response.

  • EricW

    “I am a Christian” – Thom Stark
    (Preface, Page 1, Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”

    “I don’t know whether Jesus is divine.” – Thom Stark
    (@98. response to Jeff Doles)

    Maybe one doesn’t accept the Trinitarian definitions of Jesus (and I’m not saying you don’t) – i.e., that Jesus is not just God’s Son, but also God the Son.

    Maybe one perhaps accepts a lesser nature and personhood in the divine economy for Jesus – e.g., that He may be among the Elohim, but not necessarily fully homoousios with the One Supreme Elohim.

    ISTM that either of the above ascribes some sort of divine status and nature to Jesus, though probably only the first would be considered “orthodox” Christianity.

    But could one still say that one is “a Christian” if he or she doesn’t know if Jesus is divine?

    Or are you saying that you personally as a Christian “believe” that Jesus is divine as an article of faith (which is why you say you’re a Christian) – but you can’t say that you “know” that to be true based on what the NT documents say about Him?

    Or are you saying that one be a Christian even if one doesn’t believe that Jesus is divine?

    (I guess someone who says they try to follow the teachings of the man Jesus can say they’re a Christian – i.e., a follower of Jesus Christ.)

    Do you more fully explain what you mean by saying that you are a Christian in your forthcoming book about Jesus’ divinity?

  • Brian Considine

    Thom, so nice to see you again. You write:

    “I won’t be responding to Brian until he takes the time to engage my actual arguments. I have a 50-page chapter on Jesus’ eschatology in Human Faces of God, in which I engage the Synoptic Gospels extensively.”

    Thom, perhaps read up the thread, I did that on “actual argument” of yours concerning Copan. Deal with that before you ask me to go further with you, especially as its related to subject of this post. If it’s so easy to defeat your thinking on your review of Copan, why would I want to take the time to address a 50 page chapter on your ideas that Jesus is not divine and was a false prophet eschatologically? This idea is nothing new and has been well debunked by better than I.

    But I’m glad to see your honest enough to come out of the closest as an admitted agnostic. At least now we know where you are coming from. I’m sure the New Atheist will welcome your attacks on the Bible, they seem to need someone with at least some knowledge of the Scriptures. But may the Lord bless you and reveal Himself to you. He does love you, you know. I will be praying for you.

  • “Of course Jesus might not have thought that at all, which puts you and Thom in the camp of a low view of Scripture and paints Jesus as less than divine, and the Bible as less than inspired”

    Brian, besides that fact that you’re wrong about your conlcusion (fasle dichotmoy’s galore), you also label me as something without due cause. Exactly where did I espose Thom’s views as my own? Can you not see thatmy comments are simply paraphrasing Thom and explaining his views to answer questions? If you think that just becasue I can explain him I must agree with him then it’s not worth debating this. That is most rude, and no way to have a discussion.

  • Additionally Brian, “If it’s so easy to defeat your thinking on your review of Copan, why would I want to take the time to address a 50 page chapter on your ideas that Jesus is not divine and was a false prophet eschatologically?”

    I’m sorry but your comments have been far from convincing. You have not “defeated” Thom’s thinking, so it would be prudent avoid stop claiming victory.

  • Sorry I think my last post was a bit rude.. I’m exasperated by this.

    head, meet brick wall.

  • Brian Considine

    Okey dokey, Mr Style. Have a wonderful day.

  • EricW,

    I don’t pay much attention to what “orthodoxy” tells me I must think. I try to follow the evidence and leave the rest as open as possible.

    Further evidence that Brian is prone to caricature: I didn’t say I was an agnostic; I said I was agnostic about a specific question. Of course, I am agnostic about a number of questions, but I also have hope and act on those hopes (i.e., faith). By my understanding, being agnostic about things doesn’t preclude one from having faith. Agnosticism is a posture of humility about what we can know and what we can’t. Faith and agnosticism aren’t mutually exclusive.

    But I don’t expect Brian to understand that, which is fine. I have no interesting in converting or persuading him.

  • *I have no interest

  • “So Jesus is this nice guy who takes care of the bad guys who are oppressing the weak guys but YHWH is this tyrannical monster because he makes bad things to happen to good people? And, this gives you a high view of Scripture because Jesus is a good guy, right? Am I understanding your position? You can judge the God of the Bible based on your interpretation of Scripture as you find that YHWH doesn’t fit your ideas of morality because He brings judgment on the earth but Jesus doesn’t to that, right?”

    No. That is not my position at all. This is why it’s good practice to take the time to get to know what somebody thinks before you launch into invective criticism—it only reflects poorly on you.

  • Brian Considine

    Thom, I’m sorry I stand corrected on your honesty. Your reasoning really fails the test of sincerity. Saying you are agnostic about the divinity of Christ is certainly agnosticism from a Christian perspective, unless you wish to redefine Christianity. You really don’t want to discuss the issues, but simply refer to me in your posts, because you clearly have no place to go with your tired arguments, and simply seek pity. Blessings, bro.

  • Quod erat demonstrandum.

  • Brian Considine

    Yes, Thom, we know your smarter than everyone, at least in your own mind.

  • EricW

    @107. Thom Stark:

    Even though I asked you the questions, ISTM from what you’ve said here and on your Website that what you believe about Jesus and what you mean by calling yourself a Christian while confessing agnosticism re: Jesus’ divinity (as well as what Jesus being “divine” would mean to you) is not relevant to the arguments in your books, as they should be able to stand or fall on their own regardless of your personal religious beliefs.

    Glad you joined the discussion!

  • EricW,

    “Do you more fully explain what you mean by saying that you are a Christian in your forthcoming book about Jesus’ divinity?”

    A little bit, but after that book I’ll be writing another book on why and how I identify as a Christian.

  • Anyway, I’m a Christian from the Stone-Campbell tradition, which is committed to reading the Bible without the imposition of the later creeds and such, and for that reason many prominent figures in my tradition have concluded that Trinitarianism is not representative of biblical Christianity. So it just depends on whose “orthodoxy” one privileges, which is why I’m unconcerned with charges of heresy.

  • Dennis J

    Thom, your views are becoming more understandable the more i read of your comments.
    have you thought about what is the nature of the resurrection if Jesus is not divine? is this maybe addressed in your book?

  • Brian Considine

    It would appear that the Stone-Campbell tradition has concluded that “Trinitarianism has been (re)born among us,” therefore the divinity of Christ is alive and well, in that tradition who now look to Max Lucado for incarnational theology. The last time I checked, Max too belived in the divinity of Christ. http://johnmarkhicks.faithsite.com/content.asp?CID=6363

  • I don’t address the resurrection in the book, but I do plan to write a book on that topic some day. In the meantime, suffice it to say that the resurrection doesn’t mean Jesus is divine, any more than our being raised means we are divine.

  • Brian,

    Many Stone-Campbell Christians are Trinitarians, but many also are not. The thing about the Stone-Campbell tradition is that there can be no “conclusion” that is normative for everybody.

  • Brian Considine

    Thanks for the clarification, Thom. We will pray that you follow that Stone-Campbell movement of being (re)born into Trinatariamism.

  • Elaine

    “So why not post Thom’s work and have an open, honest, and thorough discussion?”

    It looks as though you got your wish since this discussion has been h_jacked by Thom and his opponents.

  • EricW@113: “Even though I asked you the questions, ISTM from what you’ve said here and on your Website that what you believe about Jesus and what you mean by calling yourself a Christian while confessing agnosticism re: Jesus’ divinity (as well as what Jesus being “divine” would mean to you) is not relevant to the arguments in your books, as they should be able to stand or fall on their own regardless of your personal religious beliefs.”

    Sorry, I missed that comment somehow. That’s exactly right. What conclusions I come to about my own personal faith, and what I argue about what the texts are saying, are two completely separate issues. Thanks for taking the time to point that out, and that should be true mutatis mutandis for anybody.

  • DRT

    FWIW, I am now officially afraid to even seriously consider whether Jesus is divine or not, and I am not typically a fearful type of person.

  • Tim

    DRT (123),

    I remember the day that happened to me too. Not a fun time in my life.

    It wasn’t that I thought Jesus wasn’t divine. That’s not what scared me. But rather I was now seriously asking the question. That really freaked me out, and I really did not want to be asking that question. But once you feel you have a real undecided case concerning plausibility, you can’t turn back the clock to where you were before.

    The prospect of losing one’s faith is absolutely terrifying. And if you do manage to lose it, the harm you will inevitably incur is very, very real. Personal existential angst. A total loss of support that you had relied on before to provide your life with meaning, security, hope, and purpose. Social consequences in your community and perhaps your family too. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

    I would like to say that letting go of falsehood in order to find the truth is always worth it, but if there was ever an exception it would be one’s faith.

  • Salah Said

    Richard Dawkins certainly does not know how to read The Bible, nor does he actually seem interested in understanding any of the nuances of our faith that don’t fit his understanding of religion in only the most literal, absolute terms.

    With that said, the question about God’s apparent change of face from OT to NT is a very important one, and has been a question many have attempted answer since the beginnings of our faith; if memory serves correct, the heretic Marcion’s belief that the God of the OT and the God of the NT were separate figures is what led to the official Bible canon.

    One could interpretGod in the OT as vengeful, angry, and a judge, but the primary points of the NT is revealing that this is not the case. Through Christ, God is revealed as loving, caring, and as Aquinas often described him, a friend of his creation. I have often pondered if we simply did not recognize God’s true relation with His creation during the times of the old covenant, and one of the reason’s Christ was sent was so we would finally recognize God for what He truly is.

    I’m also under the impression that most mainstream Jewish interpretations of the OT tend to be far more benign than that evangelical ones.

  • Tim


    The post by Scot was a little light on details concerning the case David Lamb is making in his book. More than anything, it really is just introducing the material. What then are we to discuss? There’s not much meat to go on here.

    But Scot did ask the question, “Where are you on the “God of the OT” issues?” I don’t see how anyone could argue that Thom Stark and his opponents aren’t in fact addressing this very question.

  • Tim

    Question for Scot (if you’re still following this thread),

    I’ve tried to research this book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, and I’ve noticed you’ve specifically endorsed it, saying you would consider it “required reading” for your students.

    I’m not challenging your decision of course. That’s your well-deserved right as a Professor.

    But I do have a question I was hoping you could answer. Given the marketplace of ideas out there concerning the God of the OT, what has contributed to this book’s high regard relative to all the other options out there? Why are you not recommending The Human Faces of God as required reading for your students, for instance? Again, I’m not challenging your right as a professor to set your own curriculum. But I am curious.

    For instance, Do you feel the caliber of the scholarship is superior? Perhaps the arguments better supported? Or do you feel that the conclusions are more “edifying” to your students (which of course has not bearing on truth)? Also, do you consider recommending to your students the best arguments you can find that advocates different points of view, such that a critical examination can be facilitated?

  • Brian Considine

    Salah, you make some good points but with respect to the perceived difference between the OT & NT consider:

    Moses heard the Lord saying, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,”

    David had not difficulty recognizing God love, mercy and grace toward him. “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.” “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

    The word “love” appears over 100 times in the Psalms in reference to God.

    Solomon in Proverbs says of the Lord, “Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!” “The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.”

    Isaiah says, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”

    Even Jeremiah says, “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

    Daniel “…prayed to the Lord, my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,”

    And, finally, Malachi, says, “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob,

    So apparently, the OT God isn’t either well understood by many or God really hasn’t changed much, except toward a greater revelation in Christ. It certainly seem that the Jews understood God’s ascept of love, grace and mercy. The question is why do so many not get that today? We seem to forget that while Jesus may have come as a lamb before the slaughter the first time, the second time He comes with wrath. But we tend to discount that fact in our 21st Century sense of morality. Those who see a different God between the OT & NT need to repent of their lack of understanding. Scot has it absolutely correct in his closing comment above.

  • Pete Enns


    I think some might respond to your list of verses by saying that these are directed toward Israel, not the Canaanites and other Gentiles–which is the point of discussion. Your point would be stronger if (1) you interacted with passages where God loves the nations, and (2) reconciled #1 to the “genocide” (better “herem”) passages.

    I’ve been following this thread and I feel that the focus has shifted considerably. God’s view of the nations, his so-called “missional” attitude in the OT, is an important theological idea to work through in our day and age. I am sympathetic to it (on the basis of Gen 12:1-3 and Exod 19:6, where Israel functions as a nation of priests for the nations), but I am not convinced it is as pervasive as some seem to think, nor does it address the dissonance with passages like Deut 20:10-20, etc., etc.

    There are good reasons why this remains a perennial issue that even the earliest Christians tried to work through. For Christians, this is more than a “neutral” moral issue. The matter, I feel, is exacerbated by the teachings of Jesus, where the nations are not given the choice of “convert or die” but rather missionaries die in an effort to convert the nations.

    We have a theological problem here, folks. I am glad for books that address it, including David Lamb’s.

  • Scot McKnight

    For me this is not an either-or situation, so I don’t know how to respond. This book is eminently readable for the kind of students at our school. Seibert is too advanced; Stark and I don’t agree (and I’ve only read parts of his stuff). I can insert other points of view into lectures and discussions, which I will do, but this is a good place to begin.

  • Scot McKnight

    And, Tim, it is not without significance that this book would have angered you when you were in my class! Don’t forget where students are…

  • Tim


    “And, Tim, it is not without significance that this book would have angered you when you were in my class! Don’t forget where students are…”

    I know. Good point 🙂

  • Elaine

    I hope you’ll do a follow-up to this post in a few weeks – after some of us have actually had time to read Lamb’s book.

  • Brian Considine

    Pete, excellent thoughts. I think an missiological understanding of the nations is paramount to this discussion.

    I wasn’t attempting to develop a thorough going exegesis in my previous post (list) but simply demonstrate that perhaps we are not considering all of the canon when we draw conclusions as to the nature of the OT God. The challenge for us, it would seem, is to reconcile what God does say about Himself, and what the Hebrews understood about His nature, with the the problem of the Conquest account. But without a proper view of ourselves in relation to God we cannot begin to comprehend what He does in light of who He is.

    Further, it is also a genetic fallacy of those opposed to God, like the New Athiests, to condemn the God of the Bible today based on our “evolved” sense of morality. For me, I think the overarching issue is the bigness of our God and the smallness of our understanding of His overarching purposes for the nations. We make a huge mistake when we think we can out think God. Would He not know that those nations that the Israelites fought against would work against His plan of the ages? Is He not then righteous and just in serving His own purposes, which are supremely good? Copan makes this point.

    Additionally, we also develop a false ditchotomy when we don’t reconcile all of Scrpture in developing an understanding the person of Jesus. I think the difficulty there is we simply have not phyisically and literally seen the fearsome side of Jesus depicited by John in Revelation. Either that or we dismiss it as allegorical.

    Yes, I think there are good reason why this remains a perennial issue, and all of them have to do with our sin nature. “My ways are not your ways” says the Lord. I look forward to reading Lambs book.

  • DRT

    Scot, following on from Elaine’s request for time, how do you plan to go through the book? Sequentially I hope…

  • Brian Considine

    “So when we begin with an argument with, ‘I wouldn’t believe in a God who would …’ Who would what? Do something that you wouldn’t do? Or think in a way that is different than the way you think? Do you ever even consider the possibility that maybe the Creator’s sense of justice is actually more developed than yours? And that maybe His love and His mercy are perfect. And that you could be the one that is flawed?” Francis Chan

  • The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible. To this some will reply “ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.” But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: “Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?” – “What fault hath my people found in me?” And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If “good” means “what God wills” then to say “God is good” can mean only “God wills what he wills.” Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

    C. S. Lewis

  • How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian (Pharaoh) acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason? (Gregory of Nyssa, Mos. 2.91)

    Gregory concludes that the only acceptable reading of the tenth plague is therefore an allegorical one, since the historical-grammatical meaning of the text displays a character unbefitting of God. Gregory was, of course, one of the chief architects of the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Origen writes that “within us are the Canaanites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites” (Hom. Jes. Nav. 1.7). In other words, the conquest account is not to be read literally as the divinely sanctioned slaughter of entire tribes, but as an allegory of the conquest that takes place within the soul of the believer. Significantly, however, for Origen the use of allegory is not merely a hermeneutical option chosen to make a historical text relevant for the building up of the Christian community; rather, the allegorical reading is necessitated by the problematic content of the material itself: “As for the command given to the Jews to slay their enemies, it may be answered that anyone who looks carefully into the meaning of the passage will find that it is impossible to interpret it literally” (Cels. 7.19). In his Homily on Joshua, Origen reiterates this position. Referring to the genocidal narratives in the book of Joshua, he stipulates that “unless those carnal wars were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches” (Hom. Ios. 15.1).

    I don’t of course advocate an allegorical reading, but what this shows is that Origen and Gregory (among many others) saw that a literal or historical reading of the conquest narratives rendered Scripture morally problematic. Their solution, in contrast to Marcion’s, was to read such texts allegorically. C. S. Lewis’s, on the other hand, was to choose the doctrine of the goodness of God over the doctrine of inerrancy.

  • DRT

    Many Thanks Thom, I like C.S.Lewis approach on this. It seems to me that Brian Considine is asking us to become mindless followers of his interpretation. I cannot imagine that is what we should do.

  • Donna

    “Thom’s basis” is flawed. Thom needs to read the book of Daniel and understand that the “generation” is speaking of the generation of the Gentiles.

  • Donna

    Additional reading also in the words of Christ – Luke 21. More specifically Luke 21:24 …until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

  • Kim

    Man, that Starks has a serious attitude problem. I don’t appreciate his lac of the fruit of the Spirit in his manner of responding to those who disagree with him.