is Pete Enns a Marcionite?

is Pete Enns a Marcionite? January 17, 2014
Marvin the Marcionite

I’ve been hearing this question–a thinly veiled accusation–for quite a while now, and I find it utterly ridiculous and irresponsible.

If my accusers would bother to do some research, like look into my birth records, they would see that I was born on this planet like everyone else–in Passaic, NJ, to be exact. This insinuated accusation assumes an inconceivably elaborate 24-esque terrorist conspiracy scheme involving forged birth records, which would require my German immigrant parents, who knew little English, to have deep government connections. Give me a break.

I hope we can put this to rest so we can move on and…

Oh wait…. I just Googled it….

OK. I see.

Apparently being a Marcionite means adhering to the teachings of the 2nd c. heretic Marcion, who saw in the Bible two different Gods: the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the happy gracious God of the New.

Which brings me to God’s violence in the Old Testament vis-a-vis Jesus’ non-violence in the New.

My view, as I’ve articulated roughly 47 billion times on this blog (start here), is that the New Testament leaves behind the violent, tribal, insider-outsider, rhetoric of a significant portion of the Old Testament. Instead, the character of the people of God–now made up of Jew and Gentile–is dominated by such behaviors as faith in Christ working itself out in love, self-sacrifice, praying for one’s enemies and persecutors. You know, Jesus 101.

Definitely not killing off a people group or one’s enemies to acquire land or hold on to it.

To speak this way is not Marcionism–not even quasi, latent, or incipient Marcionism, but an articulation of a perennial theological problem of Christian doctrine: the very real presence of both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments.

The Old Testament rhetoric of God sanctioned (or at least God tolerated) plundering of towns and taking captive children and virgin women is, I would dare to suggest, an area of profound discontinuity.

To suggest, even remotely, that this view is Marcionite in any sense of the word is only slightly less ridiculous and theologically irresponsible than the thought that I or others who think this way were born on Mars.

I don’t think the Gospel permits, condones, or supports the rhetoric of tribal violence in the Old Testament. But this does not mean I believe the Old and New Testaments give us different Gods. They give us, rather, different portrayals of God.

Different portrayals of the one God are not simply seen between the two Testaments. They are also seen within each Testament. Israel’s Scripture does not present God in one way, but various ways–depending on who is writing, when, and for what reason. Same with the New. This is what keeps theologians so busy, trying to make that diversity fit into a system of some sort.

To say that there are two Gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New, is Marcionism. To say that the one God is portrayed in various–even conflicting–ways is simply a matter of reading the Bible in English with both eyes open.

My big concern in all this is that the charge of Marcionism simply deflects from the real theological/hermeneutical problem of divine violence by giving a false sense of having solved the problem.


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  • Neil A Newman

    allow me to further simplify this argument….. “this christian Old Testament professor claims that the Old Testament is not worth studying….” clearly you are smart enough/ selfish enough to want to keep your livelihood? (now I will take my tongue out of my cheek!

  • Peter Anderson

    Wait? You’re telling me that some hard core conservatives are not listening to you nor doing research? I don’t know. I just don’t think that ever occurs. Don’t you know Fox and Friends are always far and balanced?

    • John W. Morehead

      I wouldn’t connect this to stereotypes of Fox and broader conservatism. This is a problem in conservative Evangelicalism in general, and connected to the scandal of the Evangelical mind.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    Dear Pete,

    Thanks for this. I think an important point to bring up here is that a key element of Marcionism is anti-Jewish impetus. I have never gotten the impression that you are anti-Jewish. So I agree that the label doesn’t fit.

    I would, however, suggest that there are several places in Jesus’ teachings (e.g. Luke 19:27) that betray the same sort of theological complexity that we find the Hebrew Bible. I wouldn’t disagree at all with your paragraph summary of Jesus 101… of course, we get a fuller and more troubling portrait of Jesus when we take Jesus 102. All this is to say that I see much more continuity between the “Testaments” – some of it altogether repugnant to modern, western sensibilities.


    • peteenns

      Some of Jesus 102 is my next post.

      • Anthony Le Donne

        Looking forward to it! …I might also point out (what will be obvious to most) that the Hebrew Bible frames a profound grace and arcs toward justice. This renders Luke’s declaration of “peace on Earth and goodwill to all humanity” intelligible. But the God of Luke-Acts is no less a warrior than the God Jesus, Isaiah, and Moses worshiped.

        I will press my luck and say also: Jesus’ ethic of non-violence make fit hand-in-glove with his believe that God will deliver his people with his own arm. I.e. God is a warrior, so his people do not have to be. But these are just half-baked musings…

        Thanks, as always, for bringing up such an interesting topic!


        • Anthony Le Donne

          *may fit*

        • peteenns

          Although the nature of the warrior metaphor seems to have shifted from killing one’s enemies and taking their land, right?

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Anthony, I believe you are right on this. I meant to mention earlier that, according to what Paul says in Rom 12:19, we are not to be a people of vengeance, precisely because God takes that prerogative upon himself.

          This is now Kenneth R. Chase, in his edited book, Must Christianity Be Violent, puts it: “There is little benefit, then, in retelling the story of Jesus and peace without also narrating the judgment of God. A simply waving of the hand cannot disconnect Christianity from violence and reconnect Christianity with peace. We must be a people of peace, even while serving a God who consumes. We must practice the peace commanded of us under the specter of divine judgment shadowing our world. Only as we hold these two together–human peace and divine wrath–will be able to live truly as peacemakers.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          “I will press my luck and say also: Jesus’ ethic of non-violence make fit
          hand-in-glove with his believe that God will deliver his people with
          his own arm”

          The ole’ “apocalyptic ethic” of Schweitzer? I don’t think that is strongly supported by the rest of the Jesus tradition (particularly the parables), nor makes sense of why people kept talking about and following Jesus after his crucifiction. False prophets and doomsayers die and are forgotten soon after. People who lead their followers to look at life’s possibilities in new dimensions (including ML KIng, whose holiday is today) are remembered and celebrated.

    • ajl

      I think what you say about Jesus 102 is true. There is a lesson in that, but I just haven’t figured out what that lesson is. There were some really great thinkers at the turn of the century that had very deep things to say about inerrancy, Christianity, and modern science. Unfortunately, they took things too far in terms of their “enlightenment” ideas. J. Patterson Smyth (referenced by Pete in I&I) even went so far to say that society is closer to the ideals of Jesus than at any time in history. And then, boom, the horrors of WWI happened. This threw everyone for a loop. So, while I am in no way espousing Westernism first, and just war theory, and all that, I don’t think we can summarily dismiss the OT references to violence, or even some of what Jesus said. I fear many progressive evangelicals are going to be in the same surprise of their lives when N. Korea, Syria, or Iran hits the fan (God forbid). WWI had a profound effect on Barth, and I probably need to read him again too. But, all this to say that Jesus wasn’t one dimensional either.

    • Kennyd23

      A troubling Portrait of Jesus

      What Bible are you reading?
      I can see Jesus in both Old and New Testaments .
      and I see the same God in Both.
      Its People that are different and the same.
      The Israelites Lived under Grace from Egypt to Sinai and still grumbled.
      Stiff neck people like all of us.
      I seems a lot of todays biblical scholars have become Pharisees
      Jesus still Loves You

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Hi, Pete. Ok, I will take up the challenge, just so you’re not surrounded by an adoring crowd of groupies. 🙂 Part of the problem here is that even though you say you have articulated this 47 billion times, you still pepper the discussion with vague generalities. You talk about different portrayals, profound discontinuities, what the Gospel and the New Testament leave behind, etc. But, with these generalities, you really end up avoiding and dodging the question. Your dichotomy between different Gods versus different portrayals of God is not a true dichotomy. To be sure there are discontinuities, even “profound discontinuities” between the Testaments, but this does not address the question as to whether what is being discontinued is necessarily being evaluated negatively. In other words, it is very much possible to argue that the people of God, NOW, are to leave behind violent ways, without at the same time condemning the people of God in the OT for being violent, or negating the portrayal of the OT deity as a deity who does indeed engage in violence.

    Furthermore, your reading of the NT is highly selective. There are, of course, violent texts in the New Testament. There are NT texts that implicitly put their imprimatur on the actions of OT characters who were engaged in violence. There are no texts–none, nada, zilch, zero–which do anything to condemn either what you refer to as a violent “portrayal” of God in the OT, or a violent God in the OT. Rather, God’s prerogative to execute vengeance, wrath, and violent punishment of the wicked is both upheld and serves as a reason why God is to be worshiped.

    So, here’s a test for you. Is the God who is “portrayed” as giving both Moses and Joshua battle plans for warfare against the Canannites, the same God who is “portrayed” as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? If the answer to that question is “No,” then, at the very least, we are indeed talking about a “quasi,” or “latent,” or “incipient” Marcionism. I simply think there is no way to avoid that conclusion. The New Testament gives no evidence whatsoever that Jesus rejected the revelation of the character of God in the Old Testament, or would have concluded after reading these “portrayals” of God in the Old Testament, “that’s not my Father.”

    I am completely convinced that you are not an extra-terrestrial. 🙂 I am not convinced that you can so easily dismiss, at least, an “incipient” Marcionite label.

    • peteenns

      C’mon, Jerry. You were trained in biblical theology better than that.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Indeed, it is precisely my training in biblical theology which warrants my comments!

        • Even with Enns’ language of continuity, discontinuity, portrayals, etc., he has made it crystal clear: the God of Moses is the same God of Jesus.

          But saying this one God is portrayed differently between the o.t. and n.t. (and even within the o.t. and the n.t.) is not the same thing as saying there are two separate gods being portrayed. It makes zero sense, after Enns has explicitly said they are the same God, that would you then insist on asking ‘Is the God [of Moses and Joshua] the same God [of Jesus]’.

          There’s simply no way to interpret what Enns has said (one God portrayed in different ways) as a Marcionite theology (two separate gods). Anyone can see where you’ve twisted around his words, so I find your third paragraph above to be absolutely disingenuous.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Mark, I think you’re not quite appreciating the nature of the issue. If someone asserts that there are different portrayals of God, and that these different portrayals all have to be taken into account to form a composite picture of God that does justice to all the different portrayals, while at the same time not denying any of them–that fine and well and good. But if someone suggests that one of these portrayals cannot be accepted, e.g., the God who gives Moses commands in Deuteronomy regarding driving out the Canaanites, which also involved putting a significant number of them “to the ban,” or that God was the one who instructed Joshua in the carrying out of this warfare, then there is a significant problem. That portrayal is then being rejected as forming part of our understanding of the character of God. And that’s why I ask the question: Is the God described in the pages of the Old Testament, in all its fullness, the God and Father our Lord Jesus Christ? Does the New Testament Jesus recognize the God described in the Old Testament, in all its fullness, as his Father? A “no” answer to those questions constitutes, at the very least, a service road for the Marcionic Highway.

          • KA Crosby

            I don’t think I understand why all such scriptural portrayals must be accepted? Taken into account yes, as we learn much from doing so, but not necessarily accepted as true. Is it so hard to believe that people have made wrong portrayals of God? We certainly see it still happening today, no reason why it wouldn’t have happened in ancient times. The key is that Jesus – the fullness of God made flesh – came and corrected all such portrayals, not merely in words (such deceptive things) but in decisive action: self-sacrificial love unto death. In my mind that one action declares finally that all human “justice” via scapegoating, casting out, genocide, is satanic, and consequently defeated when Christ resurrected. Murder and scapegoating is revealed as the opposite to the nature of God, it is the nature of the satan, “a murderer from the beginning”. By interpreting the character of God through this ultimate act of self-disclosure on Calvary, we can begin to unpack the continuities and discontinuities with a bit more clarity.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            K. A., of course, the problem here is that you are cherry-picking the life and teachings of Christ. The crucifixion of Christ is one very important act of self-disclosure. But according to that very same Christ, he will one day return as Judge in great power and glory with all his holy angels and put down all opposition to his reign, and that will be the ultimate disclosure. According to that very same Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was God’s action of vengeance against for centuries of murdering the prophets, culminating in the murder of Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 24:34-36). So your suggestion is not an option for Christianity. At best, it is an option for a new version of Christianity which has decided that it will follow the teachings of Christ, but only if those teachings agree with the ideology of the new version’s creators.

          • KA Crosby

            I don’t find cherry-picking in general to be the worst possible crime. I feel if there were more intellectual honesty around we’d all admit to doing it! For me, it is an inevitable reflection of sorting out the voice of man from the Word in scripture. Both are useful for teaching etc, but only one speaks of the truth of who God is.

            But I do object to the accusation of cherry picking the life and teachings of Christ. I believe it is about assumptions here – if one starts with the very human assumption that violence must be the final solution, then of course the eschatalogical pronouncements of Christ will be seen in that light. But if one uses the rest of Christ’s teachings and the revelatory forgiveness of enemies on the Cross as the initial markers, then there doesn’t have to be a violent/murderous solution when God makes all things new and deals with the enemy.

            Agreed on the judgement of the generation Jesus spoke to as well.. although we would differ in how we interpret that as being God’s judgement. More of a natural consequence I would think – commonly called God’s judgement even today in some quarters. But I don’t see that Jesus actually says that anywhere.. he certainly laments the killing of the prophets, but I would have thought the “judgement” is more a pronouncement of, “Well, you guys have insisting on pursuing this route of violence, I’ve tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen! Therefore, this is your likely fate.” In the same vein as “those who live by the sword..”

            Just my two cents. No need to label me a heretic or cultic leader, or whatever you were insinuating there!

          • KA Crosby

            For my money, the Cross as a historical event, is a much more solid hermeneutical point of reference to take than that of an interpretatively uncertain future event..

          • Jerry Shepherd

            There is nothing interpretatively uncertain about the future event. The event has already been pre-interpreted for us by Chris and his apostles. Jesus spoke about this event in the last hours before his crucifixion. “But I say to all of you: you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” An implicit indication of his coming in judgment against his enemies. In essence: “I stand before you and you sit in judgment on me now. One day, the tables will be reversed and I’ll be the one sitting in judgment on you.”

          • KA Crosby

            I have nothing against that at all. I just do not think his judgement will be violent.

            Jesus shied away from using OT passages that spoke of retribution upon enemies. In his public announcement of ministry, he was nearly stoned as the “graciousness” of his words sunk in and the people realised that what he was really doing was overturning their long-cherished ethnocentric beliefs of God eventually destroying their enemies. He left that part out when quoting the Isaiah 61 passage. I don’t think that was left out from carelessness, nor do I think it is indicative of scripture being fulfilled at a later time (not a fan of dispensationalism). It is because God really meant it for all time when he showed us in action (not just in the red letters) that he forgives enemies.

            I embrace all the gospels – Jesus life, death and message are paramount to me and it is important there, if nowhere else, that there be internal consistency in what Jesus taught and lived. If he lived and *clearly* taught elsewhere to love enemies, and died with such words on his lips, what makes us think we should interpret the eschaton in any other way? It is our own set of assumptions influencing us towards a retributive future.

            I’m not sure accusing me of picking and choosing really helps your cause. We all pick and choose our hermeneutic and underlying assumptions, and I don’t happen to like your apparent collection, just as you don’t like mine. Fair enough.

            In any case, we won’t come to any agreement here on this. There is way too much more to dip into.. the anthropological roots of the myth of redemptive violence for starters. If we could accept that violence has always been a human solution, not God’s, then we might be able to move past arguing over the seeming contradictions in scripture and be able to work towards recognising man’s words and God’s Word.

            Thanks Jerry.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Thanks, KA. Just a few quick points in reply.
            (1) There are just too many places, both in Jesus’ words and in the apostles’ words, where the eschatological judgment is portrayed as a violent one for me to interpret them differently.

            (2) One does not have to be a dispensationalist to believe that there will be a fundamental discontinuity between the grace extended toward the world in this time “between the ages” and the judgment at the very end of the age. So I do believe Christ’s omission of the “vengeance of our God” was an intentional temporal omission. That vengeance has been temporarily postponed, but not indefinitely.

            (3) What makes me think “that we should interpret the eschaton in any other way”? Jesus’ own words.

            (4) I know you’ll disagree with me, but the whole “myth of redemptive violence” thing is, in my opinion, itself a myth. Our redemption is, in fact, secured by an act of violence orchestrated by God himself (Isa 53:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Romans 3:25; 5:8; 8:32)

            (5) I have no interest whatsoever in trying to figure out what in Scripture is man’s word versus God’s word. Every word of Scripture is at the same time a human word and a divine word.

            Thanks again–good discussion.

          • Dean

            Exactly! Folks like Jerry prefer to use the symbolism of the eschaton to justify violence rather than heed the explicit teachings of Jesus Christ. Mark Driscoll loves this particular hermeneutic, let’s use bizarre apocalyptic imagery to justify violence and misogyny so that I can watch MMA without reflecting on how it might look to the rest of the world and my ministry.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            K. A., my point here is just to show, and your reply demonstrates this, that those who protest so strenuously that Christ is going to be their hermeneutical criterion, usually don’t mean that. What they mean is, “Christ is going to be my hermeneutical criterion, as long as the things he says agree with what I think.” There are a whole lot of so-called “red-letter Christians” who use the “red-letter” verses in the Gospels to use as an evaluation tool for the rest of the Bible, and then, as it turns out, they actually don’t like all the red-letter verses either. I am highly skeptical, therefore, of this attempt to separate “the voice of the man from the Word in scripture.” It becomes way too subjective an enterprise.
            Additionally, the idea of evil simply reaping its own punishment, though certainly true in a kind of proverbial sense in the Wisdom literature, is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24. That passage, as well as many other passages, show God actively executing wrath against his enemies.

  • I think the problem here lies within the language of “continuity and discontinuity.” Most struggle with this idea and the implications of what such language means. What does it mean that the New Testament is discontinous with the Old Testament, and why? This, then, picks up your other remark about the multiplicity of voices within Scripture: Are different portrayals of God conflcting as well? How do we prioritize ‘Christoletic’ hermeneutics, and what do we say about the inspriration of the violent texts (both OT and NT)? To some, this is a type of pseudo-Marcionism: Interpreting violent texts with a more ‘Christocentric’ approach (in other words, covering up the OT God with the NT Christ).

    Admittedly, I struggle with this a tiny bit, though I can definitely understand and appreciate the theology and logic behind such an approach.

    Grace and Peace!

  • mark

    Why are people always beating up on Marcion? Couldn’t we all, like, give him a hug? Sorta? Kinda?

    Here’s what I mean. This is the Wikipedia definition of Marcionism:

    Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God, and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.

    In these terms, I’m not a Marcionite either. But there’s another way to look at Marcion, in which he gets a bit of intellectual credit. After all, he did see that there is an issue when it comes to expressing just what the relationship between Israelite religion and Christian faith is. And let’s face it–Marcion is far from the only person in history to think that. So maybe he deserves some credit–we may not buy into his solution, but at least he saw that there was/is an issue, and that’s a lot more than a lot of people ever see. There are an awful lot of Christian theologians who simply avoid this issue.

    Which brings us to the idea of “different portrayals.” That formulation seems to beg the question a bit: if the portrayals of God in Israelite religion and Christian faith truly differ–like, one is a unity that leaves no room for a trinity of persons–then in what sense is the God they portray the same God? Of course we’re not Marcionites, we don’t believe in two Gods, one higher/lower than the other. But is one portrayal truer than the other? What implications does this have for worship? If Christian faith–or, as Peter prefers to say, the New Testament–“leaves behind the violent, tribal, insider-outsider, rhetoric of a significant portion of the Old Testament,” doesn’t that say something about the relationship between Israelite religion and Christian faith and shouldn’t we, in all honesty, be trying to spell that out?

    My view is that Paul, in his writings, does attempt something along those lines. Others following him have also made the attempt, IMO, with less success. But give credit to Marcion–he at least recognized the issue and tried (inadequately) to deal with it. I’m by no means convinced that this issue has been dealt with adequately by subsequent theologians. Jews, as I understand it, have addressed the issue of “different portrayals,” and have concluded that Christianity is a form of idolatry–which is to say, Christianity in their view portrays a man to be God. But at that point the idea of “different portrayals” becomes problematic: if I portray an apple to be an orange, at what point does my “portrayal” become a falsehood? I do believe that there is a Christian solution to this issue, but I don’t think the rhetoric of “different portrayals” is a fully adequate solution.

    • I don’t intend this to be a major, world-splitting response, but I think a significant part to understanding the discontinuity is found in the hermeneutic Jesus uses in Matthew 19.8. Jesus himself acknowledges there is a discontinuity of sorts, and implies the Law was not perfect, but accommodated for Israel’s ‘hardness of heart’ because the way people work and think doesn’t jive with perfection.

      • mark

        I think a significant part to understanding the discontinuity is found in the hermeneutic Jesus uses in Matthew 19.8. Jesus himself acknowledges there is a discontinuity of sorts, and implies the Law was not perfect

        Interesting. The tone of your reply suggests that you view Jesus as basically an interpreter of the OT. While I certainly agree that Jesus’ approach to the Israelite scriptures is deserving of closer study than it usually receives, I believe such a study will establish that Jesus views himself as transcending anything contained in those scriptures. Which is to say, that the task he received from his Father transcends that of an interpreter. For example, Mt 19:8 (following on the Sermon on the Mount) could best be understood as a recognition that Torah is a very human product.

        This would call for a new and deepened understanding of what we mean by “revelation,” which is at the center of my disagreements with Pete. Pete has attempted to address some of these issues with his construct of “incarnational inspiration,” but my view is that that construct still fails to break out of the paradigm that so many of the commenters here are trapped inside. Nevertheless, Pete’s grappling with these issues is well worth following.

  • Certainly, it is both absurd and unfair for someone to label you a Marcionite. Because it is, I wonder why you spend your time defending yourself from this charge and not against more relevant and appropriate charges.

    For example, I have heard you say in Randal Rauser’s podcast interview that you don’t think we can count on any actual history in the Bible until well into Israel’s monarchy – specifically, the time of Omri. Did I hear this right? If not, when do you think myth ends and history starts? Irrespective of the precise point, you have introduced an interpretive framework that at the very least takes some getting used to for folks who are accustomed to finding a lot more history in the Old Testament than you do.

    Marcion de-canonized whole books of the Bible, but you have de-historicized whole books of the Bible. That doesn’t make you a Marcionite, but as Ricky Ricardo would say, “You do have some ‘splainin’ to do.”

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Marcion de-canonized whole books of the Bible,”

      There was no canon; Marcion’s collection was actually the very first canon of Christian texts ever compiled together.

      • I was referring to his de facto rejection of the Old Testament.

  • I had to look up Marcionism a few days ago when someone tried to pin that label on me, because I see a profound discontinuity in the Testaments. But, I don’t explain the discontinuity the same way Marcion did. We’re not seeing two different Gods, but two different views of God’s righteousness. The wrathful God represents a distant view of righteousness, defined as moral vindication. That includes punishment, of course; justice, and all the bloodshed it entails. Think of it as being on the outer edge of a hurricane.

    With Jesus, suddenly, justice is not such a priority, to such a degree that he will not cast the first stone or even speak up in his own defense before Pilate. We’re not seeing the outer edge any more, but the calm center of righteousness, defined as a right essence of character or spirit. “But now, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law …” Justice is still needed, but righteousness is our first priority. Two sides of the same coin, two translations of the same Greek word, but one God.

  • Collins

    Pete, for what it’s worth…

    I don’t get it. I really don’t understand why you seem to get such a hard time from people over things like this. The implications that people throw at you..they’re completely absurd…from the surface level down to the philosophical nitty gritty. It’s one thing to have legitimate disagreement. It’s another thing to chafe and be looking for pitchforks everytime somebody tries to (from a Biblical standpoint!) challenge “prefered” evangelical presumptions (that’s a loaded phrase, but it was the best I came up with)

    That’s why I felt inspired to write this today on this blog in the comment section that who knows whether or not you’ll see. I wanted to say, in somewhat of a convoluted way, “thank you, Pete.”

    My church was recently going through Genesis. Since I am aspiring to formally expand my theological studies in the near future, I thought I should be a dutiful lay person and really dig in to the text. I found lectuers from Bruce Waltke and Iain Provan. I read the Lost World of Genesis One. I got so into it that one of my groomsman (a “real” seminary student) was watching me pack for my honeymoon and had to say “no, dude, you can’t take a Gordon Wenham commentary on your honeymoon. That’s just wrong.” (I realized he was more than right). In this layman’s study binge, I also read Genesis for Normal People.

    While I have I&I sitting on my bookshelf, 5 Views on my Kindle, and Evolution of Adam on that same bookshelf calling out to be read, Genesis for Normal People the only book of yours I have plowed through cover to cover. I wrote a review of it on Amazon the other day and I gave it 5 stars. As I was sitting trying to think of what to say about that fantastic, accessible book, here is one of the things that I came to: it was spiritually edifying. That’s right, spiritually edifying. I not only learned some of the context and “religious studies” elements of the text–I really felt like I took away from it this sense of “wow, God as Creator is just amazing. Ancient people saw it with very different eyes than I see it…but we all see it is amazing and beyond comprehension. Yahweh blows my mind.”

    I’m a chemical engineer and I have seen firsthand in my education and profession the value of having people like you that are faithful to Jesus exploring and expounding the Bible to show that really, a lot of these issues just aren’t really the issues that sometimes popular evangelicalism wants to make them to be (there are certainly issues, but not what they’re caricatured as being).

    I’m sure you went through years and years of studying and wrestling with difficult questions and I’m sure it can be frustrating to have people somewhat ignorantly (and sometimes knowingly) lob accusations at you. I just wanted to say that, at least for me and on behalf of a lot of science geeks and/or people that wrestle with the kinds of questions you talk about, thank you for doing what you do. Keep on doing it–it really benefits the body of Christ.

  • WBC

    Your view “is that the New Testament leaves behind the violent, tribal,
    insider-outsider, rhetoric of a significant portion of the Old

    “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. . .And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms” (Hebrews 11:30-33).

    Did the author of Hebrews also miss Jesus 101? Is it fair to say that you know better than the Old Testament and the New Testament?

    • This doesn’t address the issue of discontinuity, it tries to hide it behind the continuity. Enns openly says there is continuity: what people say and do in the new testament is built on an outlook shaped by the old testament. But the discontinuity is that, even when the n.t. people look to the o.t. people as their heroes of faith, there is still a sharp change in how Jesus and the n.t. authors instruct people to act.

      Violent retribution as we find instructed in the o.t. (eye for eye, stone the adulterers, massacre all Amalekites and take their young women as wives, etc.) is explicitly overturned and repudiated in the n.t. The continuity is that the people in the n.t. worship the same God as the o.t., they believe Jesus and the Church community are founded upon o.t. prophecy, that God was fulfilling his promises to Israel… but the violent zeal, such as that found in affirmed acts of people like Phineas, is suddenly forbidden.

      There’s more nuance to it, but simply highlighting the continuity as you do here (which Enns has no problem agreeing with) does not dissolve the co-existent discontinuity.

      • WBC

        Yes, there is much discontinuity between the OT and NT, including that NT believers are not commanded to kill and dispossess the Canaanites, while OT believers were. That’s not the issue. The issue is this: why can the author of Hebrews commend the OT believers’ faith along with the deeds God enabled them to do by faith without a hint of censure, and Peter Enns cannot?

        • Dean

          You’re missing the point. This is why we think you are fundamentalists. The OT saints had multiple sex partners, but they are commended for their faith. Let’s now draw some conclusions from that.

          • Seraphim

            Jesus says that Moses gave commandments due to the hardness of the heart, but that is not how it was from the beginning. The idea, though it is often missed, is that Jesus is bringing about the softening of the heart promised in Ezekiel 36. This passage talks about the end of exile as a restoration of the Garden of Eden, which is why Jesus uses it to uplift Torah commandments to a higher level. But you see, that depends on the Old Testament too. WBC isn’t missing the point. The New Testament, the same New Testament which is supposed to be incompatible with the violent texts of the Old Testament, commends the OT believers for doing the very things allegedly incompatible with the gospel. Now, is this idea that we should kill people and take their land? Nope. Does this mean that OT texts aren’t troubling? Of course not. But it means that some of the solutions you present are ruled out from the very beginning. As I said, if Christianity isn’t true then it ain’t true, and if there is the level of discontinuity (and lack of continuity) that you suggest, then I’d rather be honest with myself and leave the faith. Not because the OT matters more to me than Jesus, but because I don’t like to compartmentalize. What you’re suggesting has implications about Jesus.

          • WBC

            The Bible doesn’t commend the polygamous acts of the OT “heroes of the faith” (for lack of a better term). It generally overlooks and specifically condemns their polygamous acts. See Gen 2:24-25; Matt 19:1-11.

            In other words, you will never read, “by faith Abraham took an additional wife” but you will read “by faith the walls of Jericho fell”, an idea completely offensive to the writer and most of the readers of this blog. And yet a New Testament idea……….which perhaps even Marvin the Marcionite might accept.

  • Dean

    The reason for this phenomenon to me is obvious. Human beings, especially Americans, have a blood lust. They love it that the OT is full of violence because it justifies the violence we condone in our own society and the violence we export to other countries. So we selectively pick and choose versus in the Bible that affirm that way of life and put on blinders when it comes to the actual literal teachings of Jesus Christ, who we believe to be the perfect revelation of God the Father. American Evangelicals are totally complicit in this. This is also how we treat the Book of Revelation, we are really crossing our fingers and hoping that when Jesus comes back again, he’s not going to be the pansy he was the last time around, he’s finally going to kick some ass and we can’t wait for front row seats, because apparently “love thy enemy” only applies up until the eschaton and then it’s a free for all on your enemies. The irony is, first century Jews were expecting the exact same thing the first time around and Christians are scratching their heads today wondering how they could have missed something as obvious as the coming the Messiah. How could they possibly be so dense as to not realize that Jesus didn’t come to kill everyone he hates until much much LATER?

    • Grifman

      I love the pop psychology but this is silly and pure balderdash. I don’t know of any evangelicals who “love that the OT is full of violence”. Most that I know struggle with it just as many others here do. And I don’t know of any who take joy in the judgement that will occur before, during and after Christ’s return. You really shouldn’t generalize and assume you know the motivations of literally millions of people. That’s actually pretty insulting.

      • Seraphim

        Amen. This is a very typical tactic- anybody who presents a religious view that is more conservative than Dr. Enns is associated with the religious right and thereby shamed into silence. First of all, the religious right hasn’t had a major voice in this country in ten years. Second, I don’t like American politics, period. Third, I hate, hate, hate bloodshed.

        So, yeah, some of the stuff in the Old Testament makes me really uncomfortable. But I don’t feel that I have the right to cast it off as irrelevant. I want to wrestle with these texts in an intellectually honest manner. I believe in Jesus, He is the heart and center of my faith, without Jesus I wouldn’t give two cruds about the Old Testament. But it is precisely because of Jesus that I find the Old Testament important- and without the Old Testament there is no Jesus.

      • Dean

        Well look, my only observation is that the Bible is used heavily among American Evangelicals to justify:

        1. Capital punishment
        2. No restrictions on firearms
        3. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
        4. Attacking Iran and Syria
        5. Attributing natural disasters to the hand of God

        It doesn’t take much time to discover this, all you need to do peruse youtube or Huffington Post Religion, and you will find ample full-length videos and opinion pieces (taken in context) from leading American Evangelical leaders and their flock in support of a great deal of violence that occurs in the world and then using the Bible to justify it (primarily the OT). I’m a little confused at why this is surprise to you. There are literally “millions” of people who think each of the 5 things above are not only good but mandated by the Christian God.

  • WBC

    Jerry Shepherd’s clearly articulated, fair, and even friendly comment is worth answering. Dismissing him by shaming him into thinking his comments aren’t worthy of a trained expert doesn’t qualify as a real answer. It’s a cover for what can’t be answered adequately.

    • Dan

      Unfortunately, I have to concur. There were some legitimate questions articulated that, frankly, were basically articulations of thoughts that had been swirling in the back of my head. It deserved interaction rather than dismissal.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        WBC and Dan. Thank you for your comments; but, just for the record, Pete and I are former classmates at Westminster Seminary and friends. So, despite the inadequacy and irrelevancy of Pete’s response, I’m sure he wasn’t attempting to “shame” me. Thanks again.

        • WBC

          Ok–I figured you guys might know each other. I still think your comments deserve a friendly answer rather than a friendly dismissal.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Agreed, and thanks.

    • Dean

      I disagree. All Jerry’s post contained were the same tired assertions and platitudes. For someone to say there is no tension between the OT and the NT either hasn’t actually read them or is willfully blind. This is the result of the psychosis that comes with adhering to Chicago-mafioso style inerrancy.

      To say something can’t be explained adequately is infinitely better than saying something doesn’t need to explained at all. That’s how Mormons talk btw. Have you ever asked a Mormon where the hell the golden plates went? That conversation goes almost exactly as discussions with you guys. Are you proud of that?

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Dean, I’m sorry you had so much trouble reading and understanding my post. I did not deny any tensions between the OT and NT. And I certainly never gave any hint that these tensions and discontinuities don’t need to be explained. But the problem is not simply an OT versus NT problem. As I said there are plenty of violent texts in the NT. And some of them involve the words of Jesus. Your post is horribly lacking in nuance and appreciation of the complexity of the issues. Try again.

        • Dean

          Sure, I’ll give it a shot. I used to read the Bible like you, basically, I gave every verse equal weight in terms of both truth value and utility. That works if you just don’t think too hard. Once you bring reason and logic into play, the Bible becomes total nonsense with that kind of exegesis. I think there are two basic principles that have really changed how I read the Bible:

          (1) Interpret passages that are less clear using passages that are more clear (and never the other way around); and
          (2) Interpret everything in the Bible through the lens of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          If you don’t agree with these two premises, then you probably won’t agree with my conclusions, and maybe that’s that. But you imply you don’t like how some people might twist the Bible to say what they want it to say or pick and choose verses, my only point is the NT writers do this all the time, Jesus and Paul certainly do. Dr. Enns has some good analysis in Evolution of Adam. Greg Boyd makes this point about violence: Jesus quotes the OT when he said, “You’ve heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This is in the OT. Then he said, oh, forget all that, I’m telling you to turn the other cheek. Did you see what he did here? I take this to mean the revelation we get from Jesus trumps anything you think the OT taught (and I would argue the NT as well). I don’t understand why people are so uncomfortable with others doing exactly what Jesus is telling us to do, which is to re-imagine what you think you know, what you think you understand about the old ways, what you think you understand about God, and instead to follow him, because if you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the Father. So Jerry, basically what I’m saying is, don’t sweat it so much!

          Now if you’re going to bring up violence in the Book of Revelation or when Jesus talks of “judgement” either through parables or otherwise, then I point you to principle #1 above and encourage you to try harder. Certainly, none of that has anything to do with violence in this present age (and I would argue in the age to come either, but that’s a different point).

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Dean. I appreciate the attempt, but again there are a number of problems here.
            (1) Since you don’t know a whole lot about me, it really isn’t all that wise for you to say you used to read the Bible like I do.
            (2) I don’t give every verse equal weight in terms of truth value (or, at least, “exact” truth value) and utility.
            (3) It is not nonsense for a believer in the Scripture’s inspiration to at least try to attempt harmonization between apparently contradictory passage of Scripture.
            (4) Your first principle is very problematic. First, to rephrase an old cliché, one person’s “less clear” is another person’s “more clear.” Degrees of clarity are very subjective. Second, the appeal to what one person think is a more clear text can often be simply an attempt to get out from under the import of a text which is in fact very clear, but the person wishes it wasn’t so clear. Sometimes, the so-called less clear text actually serves to inform us that we haven’t actually understood the supposedly more clear text.
            (5) The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are very important prisms through which to interpret the rest of the Bible. So also are his pre-incarnate activity, his ascension, and his return in great power and glory. I believe in using the “Whole Christ” as hermeneutical criterion–the same Christ who by his Spirit inspired the prophets to write the OT and the apostles to write the NT. After all, we only what know Christ said and did because his inspired apostles gave us their accounts.
            (6) You need to decide whether you really want Jesus to be your role model or not. In one sentence you talk about how Jesus twisted Scripture. And then just a couple of sentences later you seem to hold him up as a model of how to interpret Scripture. I’m not quite sure what you were trying to say.
            (7) You cannot dismiss the book of Revelation and all the things Jesus said about the judgment by just referring to your principle #1, which already has its host of difficulties.
            (8) Finally let me encourage you to take Jesus’ advice and be a little less judgmental. I take Jesus’ words very seriously. And that is why I am a Christian pacifist. I do not, by any means, take OT texts as providing a rationale for resorting to violence in this current age. But neither do I believe that Jesus was, by any means, being critical toward the revelation of the character of God in the OT, even when that revelation portrays this God, in a plethora of texts, as a God who both engaged in violence, and commanded violent acts. It was this same God whom he worshiped and called Father.

          • Seraphim

            Jerry, it seems impossible for commenters on this blog to differentiate between fundamentalism and anything else.

          • Dean

            Well we’re engaged in a culture war. Either you make you point or you don’t. This is the comments section of a religiously themed blog aggregator. Jerry is just beating around the bush asking questions that incite people but never offering a position. Now that I know he knows Peter personally, the “slight” makes even more sense to me.

          • Seraphim

            How is he beating around the bush? I don’t find him to be beating around the bush at all. Here’s what I read, and what I think myself-

            1. The Old Testament presents us with some very troubling images of God.
            2. However, that does not simply give us the license to cast it off, since that’s not what Jesus did.
            3. Jesus Himself appropriates some of those troubling images of God.
            4. So let’s wrestle with these issues.

            On the other hand, here’s what I hear from Dr. Enns:

            1. I’m not a Marcionite!
            2. I just emphasize the discontinuity between the OT and the NT!

            Well, that was Marcion’s habit as well. What Marcion didn’t do was talk about continuity, which the NT talks about a lot and which I haven’t heard Dr. Enns talk about in quite a long time. Maybe if we heard more of that we’d be less inclined to think of him as a Marcionite.

          • Bryan

            I think there are some points here that are a bit broadly-sweeping. If emphasizing discontinuity between the OT and NT makes one a Marcionite, then there are numerous scholars who also recognize this tension. Other scholars also do not portray the bible as a monolithic text and yet the claims of Marcionism are not made…at least none I am aware of.

            The problem I have with this is that there are simply not enough “particulars” here to make a case that Enns is a Marcionite. One of those particulars of Marcion is his portrayal of the OT God as a Demiurge, favored gnosticism, he also held a docetic view of Jesus’ body (apparently a strong Greek influence is here) and proposed an 11 book canon. There are far-reaching implications for Marcion’s rejection of the OT. One of those, which, if I recall correctly, are his anti-semitic beliefs.

            Simply recognizing the tensions between the OT and NT hardly qualifies one to be a Marcionite. There are a lot more variables that should be in place but are not in your assessment. And I have to say, it would be quite ironic for someone to devote their life as an expert in the OT field and yet reject that same field that one is in.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Just for the record, I don’t think Peter’s comment was really a “slight.” I think it was just a friendly satirical reference to my own blog, which is dedicated to the field of biblical theology.

          • Rick

            Great line. Its very true.

          • Dean

            Hey Jerry. I’ve never been to seminary. My interest is one of a laymen. So honestly you need to go easy on me, not the other way around.

            (1) You’ve not set forth a position for yourself, so maybe I was presumptuous, but please admit that most of the time I’m right about the connection between Evangelical apologists for violence and Chicago style statement of inerrancy. The culture is driving the theology and the theology is affirming the culture. No?

            (2) That’s great.

            (3) You’re wrong. I’ve never read any literature that has even remotely come close to what you are describing. It surprises me you went to seminary. Just compare the Synoptics as I’m sure you have. Your attempt at harmonization is a fifth gospel. It’s not what either of the other four authors wrote. Bart Erhman makes a very powerful argument in this respect.

            (4) Again I disagree. I believe this is a fundamental hermeneutic across the board. We can disagree about what constitutes clarity, but that shouldn’t take away from the general principle. I would be curious as to how you read the scriptures you don’t seem to want to offer up an alternative, but I am all ears.

            (5) Weird. I prefer to give more weight to what Jesus said explicitly rather than interpret him through the lens of those who were expecting him to do certain things far off in the future. Again, # 1 above.

            (6) My point is Jesus had no problem conforming scripture to his ministry and we should not be afraid of taking that for face value.

            (7) Luther wanted to ditch it entirely. I’m a little more sympathetic. I guess you have more insight than the both of us.

            (8) ah! Here we go. I think Christian pacifism to be the only Biblically supportable position. I’m not saying I’m a pacifist. But I do lean in that direction. So now I need you to explain to me how you can be a pacifist and believe that God condones violence in any form.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Dean,
            Okay, I’ll try to be easy on you. But you’ll need to show mercy as you are shown mercy. 🙂
            Just a couple of replies on two point, because some of stuff just takes things too far afield:
            (1) No, I absolutely do not believe that Evangelicals who affirm the biblical portrayal of a violent God are driven by a Chicago Mafioso-style inerrancy stand. Rather they are driven by their belief that God has revealed himself and his character in these texts.
            (3) You missed the point here; I was not talking about harmonizing accounts historically or chronologically, but about harmonizing the various portrayals of the character of God.
            (8) It’s actually very easy. There is no compulsion on Go for him to deal with every generation or people group in exactly the same way. In the OT, the people of God constituted a political entity operating under a theocracy, and God revealed himself to OT Israel in that context. But now, the people of God are a pilgrim people with no political clout or aspirations as a people. God has changed the status and the rules by which his people are to live out their faith in response to God’s continued revealing activity.

          • WBC

            (7) You might recall Luther translated and published the entire New Testament in German. Year 1522. A significant event in world history. It included the Book of Revelation.

        • Dean

          Let me just add one more thing. Greg Boyd has a series on his blog right now about what he calls the “crucicentric” view of God. I encourage you to check it out if for no other reason than to understand why there are Christians who are even struggling with this. Let me give you one thing to think about, and it’s the thing that Christians have been wondering for 2000 years. What does it reveal about the God we worship that he would make the central, defining act of creation to be allowing himself to be crucified by his enemies? I feel like if you meditate on that question long enough, it will get a lot easier to reject attributing any form of violence, coercion, control, manipulation, power-seeking, self-glorification (in human terms) in God. You see a man, hanging on a cross, and Jesus says this is what God is like. Why won’t you just take his word for it? Why do you have to add a bunch of asterisks to that? You’re going to tell me that the God who was crucified, who suffered extreme violence in order to stand in solidarity with his creation, rescue it from the pit of hell, and prove to us once and for all that he knows what we are going through and therefore we can trust him, you are going to tell me that that same God is capable of unleashing extreme violence on his own creation? Was the crucifixion just a bid dog and pony show then, was it just a cosmic transaction between God the Son and God the Father? Why bother?!

          • Jerry Shepherd

            “You’re going to tell me that the God who was crucified, who suffered extreme violence in order to stand in solidarity with his creation, rescue it from the pit of hell, and prove to us once and for all that he knows what we are going through and therefore we can trust him, you are going to tell me that that same God is capable of unleashing extreme violence on his own creation?”
            Apparently, Jesus thought so.

          • Dean

            I disagree. 🙂

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Then you really must get better acquainted with the Gospels. 🙂

          • Bev Mitchell


            Thanks for pointing to Boyd’s four posts re the need he sees for a more crucicentric view of God. I just read through it briefly and it deserves much closer study. The issues represented in this current discussion emerge in various ways (not necessarily explicitly) in Boyd’s piece. I recommend them as you do. Here is a powerful quote from part four, which deals with the crucicentrism of the book of Revelation:

            “The imagery of a warrior soaked in blood is common in the Old Testament and other apocalyptic literature that connotes a victorious warrior who is covered with the blood of those he’s slain (e.g. Isa 63:1-6). What’s interesting, however, is that Christ is soaked in blood before the battle even begins. This is because this warrior isn’t soaked in the blood of his enemies: he’s rather soaked in his own blood that was shed for enemies.”

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Bev, while this suggestion is made from time to time, the majority of commentaries do not take Boyd’s interpretive slant here. Boyd’s understanding is more wishful than exegetical. The picture in Rev 19 is a wholistic scene, rather than a necessarily chronological one. The imagery which is brought forward from the OT, as well as the details in the text itself, argue against the idea that this is Christ’s own blood. When you take Rev 18 and 19 together, this is nothing but the destruction of the enemies of the God and of the people of god. Babylon falls. A double portion of the atrocities she has committed are now returned upon her. God will repay her as much torture and grief as she has dished out. She will be plagued by death, mourning, and famine. Babylon is overthrown by violence. The rider on the white horse strikes down the nations. He judges and makes war. He rules over the nations with an iron scepter. Bird are invited to come and eat the flesh of the enemies he has conquered. The blood on the robe is blood of the enemies whom the rider slays as he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God.

            Crucicentrism and cruciformity are tremendously important concepts in the NT. But they do not negate the other portraits of wrath being poured out on the wicked.

          • Bev Mitchell


            Thanks for the lesson on exegesis. I’m a biologist not a biblical scholar so need all the help I can get. Yet, in bringing that quote, I’m less concerned with how one interprets Revelation than with Boyd’s very orthodox point that Jesus did die for his enemies and that we are right to put this amazing fact high on the list when thinking about the nature of God.

            If you will allow an amateur to make an observation on this whole, fascinating, conversation, it seems to me that people arguing over how we are to read Scripture as God’s Word should probably not go at it without making clear what their varied views of God are. I think we may have at least some variety here, and the result is a certain amount of talking past one another. Surely, our view of the nature of an author has a major impact on what he is saying and on how he may choose to go about saying it. Also, and as far as I know this is orthodox as well, since the Holy Spirit was instrumental in all stages of bringing the Scriptures to their final state, and since we still have this Spirit among us to guide us in all things, it’s odd to find no mention of being guided by the Spirit when doing exegesis.

            I do not doubt the wrath of God. He is dead set against sin. It even seems that there will be those who ultimately reject God, knowing full well of his love and sacrifice for them. To be in a situation, place, whatever without God (no matter what one thinks of God) would be worse than any carnage filled wrath one could imagine. Certainly worse than simply being killed, no matter how bloody the battle. Apparently, we have the freedom to put ourselves there. But a cruciform interpretation of Scripture reveals that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) will do all that can be done to convince us not to go there.

            I’ve been reading Donald Bloesch’s “Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation”. There are many things highly relevant to this discussion just in the first three chapters read so far. It leaves me puzzled in most internet discussion when people don’t explicitly use the words of highly respected authors more. Not in the sense of another version of a proof-text snowball fight, but just because these people often say what we would like to say much better than we can. In that spirit, I offer this pertinent quote from Bloesch’s Preface.

            “… the language of Scripture concerning God’s revealing action in sacred history must be respected as the earthen vessel whereby we receive the hidden treasure of God’s redeeming grace through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. We must be wary of a sectarianism that elevates peripherals into essentials, but we must also beware of an eclecticism that draws on too many disparate sources of truth and does not adequately discriminate between truth and error.”

            This balance, I think, is what you folks are talking about. But, you appear to come at it with different views of Scripture’s author in mind.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Bev, I just saw your reply. I have to go out and run a number of errands, so it may be quite a bit later today before I get back to you. But I wanted to take just a couple of minutes very quickly to thank for you for such a well thought-out articulation of your understanding of some of the issues. Great attitude as well. Thanks.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Bev, Ok, I’m back now. Again thanks for some very insightful, reflective comments. Here are some responses (numbered, for my own benefit).

            (1) Yes, Christianity must be crucicentric and cruciform at its very heart. The cross reveals who God is. At the same time, the cross does not exhaustively reveal who God is. So, for example, while on the one hand the cross is a revelation of God’s love for his enemies (Luke 23:34; Romans 5:8); Jesus also indicates that the Father’s response to those who spurned God’s gift of his Son would not be a very pleasant one (Matt 21:33-44). Taken together with other passages such as the one I mentioned in a previous post (Matt 23:34-36), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was regarded by the early Christians, and prophesied by Jesus himself, to be the judgment of God on a nation that over the centuries had killed the prophets, and now had killed God’s own Son. Despite Christ’s prayer of forgiveness on the cross, that prayer was not answered in the affirmative for every single person, or even most persons. And God still brought judgment on the nation for what they had done to his Son. So I just note here that the discussion regarding the cross as revelation of the character of God needs additional nuancing to catch the full picture.
            (2) In response to your request, I’ll put my cards on the table and say that I believe the Scriptures are the infallible word of God. But they are also at each and every point humans words as well. Because they are humans words, there will be a certain level of accommodation in God’s revelation of himself through those human words. I don’t want to get caught up in any discussion of inerrancy with regard to all matters historical, scientific, etc. But I do insist that the revelation of God given us in inspired and holy Scripture should be regarded as theologically and morally infallible and inerrant. What God says about himself in the OT is trustworthy and true. And Jesus did not come for the purpose of correcting that revelation.

            (3) I do not believe the Holy Spirit’s role in exegesis is to help us understand the text, or to give us additional data that would in some way turn the light on and cause us to exclaim, “that’s what it means.” Rather, his role is to cause us to accept the truth of the text, to be convicted by it, and spiritually transformed by it. Some scholars would frame it this way: the Spirit’s role is not cognitive but affective. The Spirit does not explain the text to us. That only comes about by hard exegetical work. But the Spirit does convict us of the truth of the text and the need to incorporate that truth into our own lives.

            (4) I, myself, am pretty comfortable with what you’ve said in your paragraph about the wrath of God.

            (5) Bloesch’s book is a very good one. I don’t agree with it all in particulars; but for the most part, I appreciate the way he frames the discussion.

            Thanks again,


          • Bev Mitchell

            Thanks Jerry. Very helpful. It’s clearly a balance/emphasis thing and only full disclosure and careful, trusting discussion (all of which you have done) can move the conversation forward. I imagine you and I would be different in emphasis (or would differ as to the point we begin to squirm when we feel something is not emphasized enough). But these things are also context sensitive. A pastor, for example, has a different vantage point, and significantly different responsibilities from a seminary professor, or, from a layman like me.

            I’m glad to hear that you like Bloesch’s stuff. If anyone is still following this side conversation, I recommend Chapter 4 in that book for a short, clear summary of various positions re inerrancy, revelation, inspiration etc. in the fundamentalist, orthodox evangelical, neo-evangelical, post-conservative evangelical and liberal worlds.



          • Andrew Dowling

            “Taken together with other passages such as the one I mentioned in a
            previous post (Matt 23:34-36), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that
            the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was regarded by the early
            Christians, and prophesied by Jesus himself, to be the judgment of God
            on a nation that over the centuries had killed the prophets, and now had
            killed God’s own Son.”

            You are right many early Christians saw the destruction of Jerusalem as a type of wrathful judgment. And that view, IMO, is utterly horrific. If one actually thinks God would have a hand in the rape and massacre of thousands of innocent people, that’s not the Christianity I want to have anything to do with.

            A majority scholarly cohort attest, and I concur, that the majority of the Olivet Discourse is post-diction and a separate apocalyptic text Mark inserted into his Gospel (“let the reader understand”). Jesus may have very well said the Temple could fall in the future, but to think the same person who exhorted his followers “to not worry about tomorrow for God will provide” also made a lengthy discourse warning of floods and wars . . .doesn’t gel.

  • Seraphim

    Dr. Enns, I’m not sure how this post answers the charge. Instead of answering it, you simply defended what you have said before about the portrayal of God in the Old Testament. Maybe Marcionism is the superior option. But that doesn’t make it not Marcionism. I understand that you have spent a lot of time being attacked by fundamentalists. But you have spent so long critiquing fundamentalists that we haven’t seen a post for you in quite some time about why the Old Testament is essential for the Christian faith. About how it matters. About how it reveals God to us. Undoubtedly there are problems that we need to wrestle with these problems, but it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t look like you are wrestling with them. You’re just pointing them out and shouting “suck on that, fundies!”

    Furthermore, you seem to think that the whole question is just an argument about inerrancy. It isn’t. It runs far deeper than that. Jesus claims to be the Son of David. He claims to be bringing about the new exodus. He claims to be fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham. And He claims to be revealing Israel’s God to the whole world. Now, if you think that (1) David was probably a power-hungry thug, (2) that the exodus, at least for the most part, is ahistorical, (3) that the patriarchal narratives are basically fiction and (4) that the Old Testament depiction of Israel’s God is by and large incompatible with the New Testaments, then why should we believe Jesus? If Jesus rooted and grounded His mission in the faithfulness of the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrew Bible, then these things matter a great deal.

    Again. This is not an argument about Biblical inerrancy. This is an argument about the coherency of the Christian message. I’m not an inerrantist, I believe in an ancient universe, I believe in evolution, but the question is about whether the Christian framework is even viable when you take out the things you suggest taking out.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Well articulated, Seraphim.

    • Dean

      You have it backward. Start from the ministry of Jesus and work your way back from there. You’ll get better answers.

      • Rick

        He did:

        “Jesus claims to be the Son of David. He claims to be bringing about the new exodus. He claims to be fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham. And He claims to be revealing Israel’s God to the whole world.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          The assertion in the above I’d argue is questionable historically as well as an over-simplification. Revealing “Israel’s God” . .the God of the OT has many different qualities and emphases based on who is doing the writing an in what time period.

          • Rick

            I don’t think he was trying to give a detailed paper on those various aspects. He was simply starting with Jesus and showing that importance.

      • Seraphim

        That’s my preferred method. But who is this Jesus character anyway? Well, He bursts on the scene announcing…what? That the Kingdom God has promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is being born. That the ancient hope of Israel is being fulfilled. It’s not about Jesus saying one or two things like “the Scripture cannot be broken” (which can be taken in many ways, and as I noted, I’m not an inerrantist.) It’s about Jesus claiming to be everything that Moses and the Prophets said the Messiah would be. Here’s a post of Dr. Enns I still read from time to time because I found it so insightful:

        “In other words, Christians read the Old Testament both respecting what it has to say while also seeing that there is something more to be said. The “something more” is the complex realization that, however connected we are to particulars of Israel’s story, those particulars are now reconfigured in the crucified and risen Christ, who paradoxically embodies and transforms Israel’s story.”

        I find nothing to hate there and a lot to love. I also greatly enjoyed Inspiration and Incarnation. But what we’ve been hearing from Dr. Enns lately, or at least the attitude implied by the tone, is that Israel’s story itself is not embodied or transformed. It is simply discarded as useless and incompatible with Christianity. This was the sense of Eric Seibert’s awful and truly unthinking series on Old Testament violence (posted on this blog) where he essentially suggested that the way Christians should read most of the Old Testament is as a portrait of what God is not like.

        Look. I don’t walk into this conversation assuming that Christianity is true. If Seibert is right about the almost total lack of continuity between Old and New Testaments, then I don’t have the ability to sustain that degree of cognitive dissonance. If the problem is that serious, then Christianity probably just isn’t true. But I believe the problems are ultimately surmountable. They require a lot of serious thought. They need to be WRESTLED with, not simply dismissed. But it needs to be taken into account that this is not an ancillary question, and it’s not just a debate about the Bible.

        • Dean

          Well look, I think we are all wrestling with it, and it’s really those who simply take OT violence for face value that are not respecting the Bible, particularly, the NT writers, because I think it’s pretty clear that they struggled with understanding the OT as well, particularly how Jesus could literally be the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Prophets regarding the Messiah. In fact, the vast majority if first century Jews and nearly all Jews today, completely rejected this claim, and I think it’s in large part due to the discussion we are having right now. First century Jews thought that Jesus’ ministry made no sense in light of the stories of the OT. If you take those stories for face value, it makes perfect sense to expect a conquering Messiah who will slay his enemies and restore Israel as an earthly kingdom. But that’s not what happened, and the NT writers needed a new framework to understand what Jesus’ ministry was really about. And I think it’s dangerous for us to make the same mistake and simply push back this conquering Messiah motif to the eschaton, which is exactly what most Evangelicals do, in large part I think, because acceptance of OT violence on face value facilitates that.

          But I really think you’re on far surer footing to take the literal words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and extrapolate what you can from there rather than trying to “harmonize” his teachings with the stories that the ancient Israelites formulated during their time in exile to ensure the survival of their nation. I just don’t think you’re going to succeed in that task, it’s not even an issue of the puzzle pieces not fitting together, I think it might not even be a puzzle to begin with, maybe it’s more like a Rubix cube with the stickers rearranged.

  • Neo

    So that’s how you reply to Jerry’s points, Mr Enns? I get where you’re coming from overall on this blog. But that shallow, thoughtless retort to which I saw as very salient and was looking forward to your engaging them is very revealing.

  • Neo

    Jerry. Your points are very strong. However, I think an intellectually honest person (I’m not saying you are or are not) would have to struggle, maybe inconclusively, with those Canaanite texts and “Herem” texts of old. Would they not?

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Neo, thanks for your comments. You are certainly correct that these texts are ones that are hard to grapple with, and require a great deal of thought and hermeneutical reflection. And, of course, there has been a great deal of literature which has been devoted to the issue. One very honest and very faithful book that wrestles with these issues is Christopher Wright’s volume, The God I Don’t Understand. For me, the deciding factor in how I relate to these OT texts, and not just these, but NT texts as well, is the response I see in the both the OT and NT to the violent portrayal of God. The response is one of worship. Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son is an act of faith and worship, and is regarded so by the NT as well. The “herem” acts are acts of worship. In Revelation, the reaction of the saints to God’s execution of vengeance on their enemies and God’s is worship.

      There are different answers that could be given to the question as to what the Bible is about. But here’s one way in which the answer could be given. The Bible is given to us for the purpose of revealing the character of God, and for telling us what our response should be to that revelation. It seems that a major portion of Scriptures is given over to describing God as one who will, indeed take vengeance against the wicked. And it seems that a major portion of the Scriptures is given over to telling us that the proper response to that portrayal is worship. If the Scriptures cannot be trusted in this area, I’m not sure how they can be trusted at all.

      Going back to the title of Wright’s book, The God I Don’t Understand, I would make the observation that sometimes in the Bible, the test of true worship is whether or not we are willing to worship him, precisely when we don’t understand him.

      • Bev Mitchell


        I read Wright’s fine book a couple of years ago and don’t have it handy for reference right now. But, I did not come away from his analysis thinking that, as you put it,

        “It seems that a major portion of Scriptures is given over to describing God as one who will, indeed take vengeance against the wicked. And it seems that a major portion of the Scriptures is given over to telling us that the proper response to that portrayal is worship.”

        Yes, Wright does not think he has explained the offending texts, nor does he ever suggest that the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with them being in the Bible. But a loving God was still worshiped at the end of the day. Mystery was acknowledged, our inabilities were acknowledged, God’s wrath was acknowledged but he was still worshiped as a God of love who would never fail his people. I came away with the impression that Wright was not nearly as comfortable with the problem texts as your quote implies, certainly God’s wrath was not held up as a major reason for worship – as I recall. If it was, then my very good impression of Wright (eg. as formed by reading his “The Mission of God”) will need some reconsideration.

        • mark

          Pete generally frames these issues in terms of “inspiration.” I prefer to frame them in terms of “revelation.” Thus, I would ask: do we speak of revelation in the same sense when we apply that word to the Israelite scriptures and when we apply them to … other things.

          Other things? For example, my understanding of Christian faith is that revelation is most properly applied to the person of Jesus, not to writings, no matter how evidentiary those writings may be. Which brings up further questions: we must ask not merely whether we apply the word “revelation” in the same sense to the Israelite scriptures as we do to early Christian writings, but do we apply the word “revelation” to the person of Jesus in the same sense that we do to the early Christian writings?

          Wright is undoubtedly aware of these issues, but prefers to avoid them, sidestep them, whatever, speaking instead of “narratival fulfillment” (my words). However, I believe that the proper framing of the issue is a key to its solution, and that my framing (as above) is the proper approach that will yield a solution to Jerry’s conundrum:

          It seems that a major portion of Scriptures is given over to describing God as one who will, indeed take vengeance against the wicked. And it seems that a major portion of the Scriptures is given over to telling us that the proper response to that portrayal is worship.

          • Bev Mitchell


            Good points. We might say that Scripture, per se, is not the revelation but the means used by the Holy Spirit to reveal God to humanity.

            In “Holy Scripture, Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation” Bloesch presents it this way:

            “In traditional Protestant orthodoxy the Bible is the source of revealed truth, and the Spirit is the instrument by which the truth is known. It would perhaps be more biblical to contend that the source of revealed truth is the Spirit of God, and the instrument by which the Spirit makes the truth known is the Bible.” In the same section he argues that for biblical evangelicals “The truth of the Bible is the revelational meaning of the events that are described, not the events in and of themselves.”

            Bloesch says that he is influenced by Barth and Moltmann, and something like this may well be the direction in which Pete is exploring. In any case, the differences, seemingly subtle on the surface, have major implications when put into service, as this discussion shows. My reading of Moltmann is not what it should be – nor Barth either. But what I see of Bloesch I like. Much of it is quite compatible with T.F. Torrance as well, as far as I can determine. Those who have such trouble with Pete’s explorations re the way to interpret the OT may want to consider these theologians. In my experience, they tend to be given short shrift by folks convinced by everything in the Westminster confession.

            Now I’m well beyond my area of expertise, so I will stop and await the flack. 😉

            P.S. I was referring to Christopher Wright. Is it possible that you were referring to N.T. Wright?

          • mark

            Yes, I was referring to N.T. Wright.

            Actually, my understanding of Christian faith is that God reveals himself in Jesus of Nazareth, and the truth of that revelation was/is made known by his Church. The early Christian writings that were later gathered together into what is known as the New Testament are the reflections of early Christians on the revelational event that was/is Jesus. The relation of those writings to the Church and, thus, to Jesus–as well as to the Israelite scriptures–is something that, IMO, “traditional Protestant orthodoxy” has trouble coming to grips with. And in fairness the Church itself struggles with these concepts, too, for various reasons. These are issues that I’d like to see Pete addressing, but he’s still working within the inspiration paradigm. I simply think that inspiration is an issue best dealt with as a sort of subset of the bigger topic of revelation–get a good handle on what revelation is all about and inspiration will come along, but working at it the other way around is bound to lead to frustration.

            In traditional Christian orthodoxy Jesus himself is “the Truth” (“I am the … Truth”). There are examples (Christological hymns, etc.) within the early Christian writings that illustrate that before those writings ever came into existence the truth of, or that is, Jesus/God was already known in the Church that Jesus established. Bearing this in mind is key to coming to grips with the significance of those writings.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Thanks, Bev. I’m sorry if I gave the impression Wright was making this particular observation. I think he does note that we must still worship the God we don’t understand, but I’m not sure he makes that observation, as I have done, specifically with reference to the violence issue.
          I don’t want to make an overly long reply here. So I’ll just note, very briefly, a few incidents: (1) The Israelites, on the shores of the Red Sea, give praise to God that he has thrown the horse and its rider into the depths of the sea. (2) Moses falls down nd worships God when he receives the revelation that not only does God show love toward thousands, but also punishes those who rebel against him. (3) Throughout the psalms, praise is given to God for not only rescuing the Israelites, but for destroying their enemies. Tremper Longman has argued that the phrase “sing a new song,” calls for a new song to be composed and sung in response to what God has done for Israel in defeating the enemies. Significantly, several of the great hymns of praise in Revelation are sung in direct response to God executing vengeance against the enemy.

      • WBC

        Really well-said. On this blog, whatever part of God’s revelation of Himself that is not understood is rejected as divine revelation. Meanwhile, “fundamentalists” are portrayed as forcing God into a neat, logical, rigid package. The opposite is the case as all your comments on this page more than adequately show.

  • Rick

    I think tone and emphasis is a factor as well. As some scholars have pointed out, there seems to be a focus on deconstruction and the problem with extreme fundamentalist views (especially OT related), rather than on new constructive theories. Just look at Peter’s most recent blog post titles.

  • Jim

    Have you and/or your family ever had any fascination with shipping, shipbuilding, ships in bottles etc?

  • In an effort to engage with some of Jerry Shepherd’s (and other’s) challenges, which I believe are very thoughtful, here is a major component of the discontinuity that I see between the two testaments:

    In both testaments, you have judgment being dealt to (or predicted for) the unrighteous. But in the Hebrew Scriptures, whereas you have direct commands for OTHERS to carry out this judgment, in the New Testament, Christ never commands any group/person to be the instigator of the judgment. He never says, “Ok, you twelve, go out and take out all our enemies and do it in my name.” Rather there’s a focus of the judgment being in the hands of the one who is Judge.

    That is one of the bigger “shifts” I see in the fuller text of Scripture.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      I believe this is correct, Scott.

  • Karen K

    In reading this post and the comments a couple of thoughts come up for me:

    1. Its reductionistic to focus on the OT portrayal vs. NT portrayal. More needs to be said about plurality of voices in Scripture as a whole. For example, the depiction of relations with foreigners is quite different in Genesis vs. Deuteronomy (e.g. Abraham has many “pagan” friends, intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob rebukes his sons’ slaughter of the Shechemites, etc). Herem is confined primarily to Deuteronomy and Joshua, not to the whole of the OT. So, I don’t think its helpful to speak about “violence in the OT” in broad sweeps. These texts were written over large periods of time by different authors. The OT itself contains different opinions about violence and war. The NT was not written over the same expansive period of time, so less time/room to see differences in opinions between authors, but it too contains plurality.

    2. I wonder about the role of rhetoric and genre in these kinds of conversations. For example, the curses sometimes found in the OT can be quite brutal and hyperbolic (e.g. listing all the various ways you will die as if you didn’t die from the first method). But this language was an ancient Near Eastern way of speaking. So how do we think about rhetoric–the way something is communicated in human terms–in relation to the truths we are to take from Scripture? Similarly Revelation is so symbolic and borrows much of its material from the OT which it then reworks and re-frames. Its a particular genre–a way of conveying ideas from a particular time period.

    3. The violence does not so much disappear from the NT as much as the violence is moved into the eschaton. This seems to be the result of the influence of Greek philosophy. You can see in the Old Testament texts (including apocrypha) a trajectory of wrestling with the questions of justice. There is disillusionment with the notion that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people (ala Mosaic thinking). The author of Ecclesiastes says, but hey wait, I see that bad things do happen to good people. What’s up with that? Its somewhat pessimistic in its view–good and bad end up in the dust both. It doesn’t have any clear answers to the problem of justice. Sirach tries to address some of the pessimism by giving some explanations for how justice still occurs (reinforcing some Mosaic thinking). But by the Wisdom of Solomon, the answer to the problem of justice is fully pushed into the eschaton. The author intentionally plays off of Mosaic concepts of fertility/long life as blessing saying that the barren are blessed and the rich ultimately damned. Justice only seems to be thwarted. Essentially the Mosaic promises/judgments will be given in the eschaton. Wisdom of Solomon definitely shows signs of Greek influences that continue to grow and expand into the NT thought–particularly the greater attention to an Afterlife.

    In fact, I would argue that the violence that results in the NT is much more horrific than anything portrayed in the OT. The OT portrays only temporary physical violence. There is no eternal torture. The wicked suffer in the here and now. But now with the development of more expansive thinking about the Afterlife and justice pushed into the Afterlife–what was merely a physical, temporary punishment on earth becomes potential eternal torment (depending on how you read the imagery). There was no threat of eternal torment in hell in ancient Semitic thought. God’s punishment was that during your lifetime you would be barren and your crops wouldn’t grow and another nation would come and pillage your village.

    I have been pondering how we think of judgment in light of the influence of Greek philosophy. In what sense do we really understand hell? How much is the concept shaped by cultural and philosophical expressions of the time? What are we to take from it. As just one example, I was thinking about Revelation and the 1,000 years that Beast is put in the pit and 1,000 year reign of the Saints and possible connections with Aristotle/Plato (see here: The biblical authors don’t usually accept the cultural myths wholesale (whether Gilgamesh or from Greek philosophy) but they certainly seem to utilize imagery/language etc.

    Also, one has to wonder about how development in theology shows evidence of lack of fully clear revelation. For example, in the OT and apocrypha you see the biblical authors wrestling with the questions of justice and theodicy. When their experience tells them that a Mosaic type theology of good things happening to good people doesn’t actually work, then they rework their theology. So now we make sense of injustice in this world and God’s lack of intervention by pushing it all into the eschaton is how things have developed. But perhaps there is more we can continue to ponder about these realities?

    • Karen K

      PS: its interesting how interpretation of theodicy plays a role in how God is understood as violent or not. So the author of Ezekiel considered tragedy punishment for sin, but the author of Revelation considered their persecution by a dominating nation to relate to faithfulness. In other words, why does violence occur? Or why does one participate in violence? One’s understanding of suffering overall seems to inform the biblical authors’ perspectives in some respects.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Not entirely the case for Ezekiel. This is true for most of the book. But for chs. 38-39, I don’t see any hint there that the saints are about to be set upon by the nations because they are being punished. And, of course, the results are also ambiguous in Revelation as well. Some of the churches in chs. 2-3 suffer violence because of their lack of faithfulness. As you note, for the rest of the book, the saints endure violence by being persecuted for their faithfulness. But, of course, Babylon and cohorts suffer violence as punishment. So, I don’t think the perspectives are all that different between Ezekiel and Revelation.

        • Karen K

          The entire book of Ezekiel is a scathing rebuke. You can’t pluck 38-39 out of its context. Ezekiel (or his school) is using some pretty gnarly rhetorical strategies on his traumatized exiled audience with his disturbing oracle. There is a lot more I could say on this in terms of evidence since I have written on this oracle and its relation to Revelation but it would be too much to put here. When I read books like Ezekiel and Revelation, I read them as a whole and their rhetorical strategy overall, rather than pulling out a chapter or verse here or there in prooftext fashion.

          • Karen K

            PS: I don’t mean to insinuate that you are prooftexting! Sorry, that was poorly worded.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            That’s ok. No problem.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            By the way, if you don’t mind, I’d love to see what you’ve written on this. Can you refer me to the work? Thanks.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            I don’t think you can explain the difference between Ezekiel and Revelation by way of some philosophical or ideological perspective. Rather, the contexts are entirely different. For Ezekiel, the punishment is one that is against a nation, a political entity that should have had everything together, but proved unfaithful. The situation is far different in Revelation with the saints not constituting a political entity, but existing in a pilgrim, wandering people of God type of existence. I see no difference in the theology. Both books have saints being punished for sin, saints being persecuted for righteousness, and pagan nations being punished for persecuting the saints.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Karen, excellent interaction and discussion here. Thanks for bringing these perspectives. Two things (quibbles) in reply:
      (1) I still think it is justified to speak about violence in the OT in broad sweeps. If the issue is commanded violence, that, to be sure, is more restrictive. But when it comes to divine violence, it’s just all over the place: Torah (throughout), Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Psalms.
      (2) While, on the one hand, Greek influence should be taken into account, I don’t think it’s necessary to see Greek philosophy as the impetus/catalyst for pushing violence into the eschaton. I believe the OT precedents and the trajectory begun there are sufficient to explain the movement.

      • Karen K

        Hey Jerry thanks for your response. On the question of commanded violence, it would make sense that as justice is moved into the eschaton and is not fulfilled in the here and now, that human ability to participate in God’s enactment of judgment would cease. In other words, if we were still operating under Mosaic theology of God’s punishment primarily in this lifetime, would there still be human participation in violence? Violence in the OT is often, but not always, explained as punishment for sin. So nations conquered each other as part of that–whether that was Israel killing the Canaanites as punishment for their sins or Israel being plundered and exiled as punishment for their sins. In ancient Near Eastern thought in general–war and victory is described in terms of gods favor or disfavor based on whether or not the people were pleasing the god. Since theology developed such that not all bad things could be explained as offending God, justice/punishment had to be explained a different way. The solution was the eschaton. And thus, it makes sense logically in that theology that human beings do not participate in enacting judgment.

        Also, you don’t do enough justice to the differences in views in the OT or Greek influence. Its not hard to see that–any seedling precedence or not in the OT–there is a significant shift in articulation of theology that coincides with the development of Greek philosophy. The influence is clear.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          I see the coincidence; but I am not convinced of the clear influence. I would need to see that demonstrated more clearly. Again, regards divine violence, I see very little differentiation on that within the OT itself. It sees pretty univocal to me.

          • Karen K

            How do you explain the very different articulations of the Afterlife from the OT to the NT?

            There are books that go into greater detail regarding violence in the OT including different perspectives on war. But just to start compare Genesis vs. Deuteronomy. Abraham’s entrance into the land vs. the Israelite entrance. The approach to foreigners and war is quite distinct.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Regarding the afterlife, as you have already noted, Ecclesiastes begins a more reflective look at that question. Despite the suggestions, however, of a number of scholars, I don’t think those ruminations should be attributed to contact with Greek philosophy, but should rather be attributed to the trajectory in the wisdom tradition of Israel, as well of the larger ANE.

            One question for you on this. I understand and appreciate the argument for Greek influence with regard to personal eschatology. But help me out with regard to corporate eschatology. What in Greek philosophy or religion corresponds to the “big event” eschatology we see in the Olivet discourse, or Revelation, or the other apocalyptic literature?

            With regard to your violence question, remember that I made a distinction between commanded violence versus divinely performed violence. It is for the divine violence that I am claiming univocity. Throughout the OT God is a violent God. But I’ll still address your question about commanded violence and the difference between Abraham’s entrance and Israel’s entrance. First, note that the situations are entirely different. Abraham is coming into the land as a single family and as a sojourner, a pilgrim in the land. Israel is entering as a nation. But second, it is important to note that even in the Abraham narratives there are intimations of the more violent confrontation yet to come with the Exodus and Conquest. The episode in Genesis 12 with Pharaoh anticipates the plagues on Egypt and the plundering of the Egyptians. The covenant ceremony in Genesis 15 anticipates the conquest of the land and the driving out of the Canaanites. Again, back in Genesis 12, those who curse Abraham or his descendants will be cursed. So, even though the contexts are different, they both recognize the violent confrontation to come.

          • Karen K

            Hi Jerry, to clarify, Ecclesiastes is revisiting the question of justice based on personal experience and observation. Ecclesiastes itself has very little to say about the Afterlife since there seems to be doubt about whether there is one–and thus all turn to dust. While I do think there is some Greek influences in Ecclesiastes, the Greek influences I am referring to are more in Wisdom of Solomon where the concept of the Afterlife becomes much more developed. Have you had a chance to look at Wisdom of Solomon?

            As for big event eschatology–I need to do more research on that. But my basic premise that I am asserting is that as the concept of the Afterlife was developed–influenced in part by Greek philosophy–Judaic thought merged with that. Thus the concept of earthly war destroying one’s enemies (i.e. sinners) becomes the eschatological war against enemies (i.e. sinners). In regards to apocalyptic literature, it seems to have developed and flourished during a time of persecution and provided some hope that justice would eventually come even if they were not seeing it now.

            By the way, by arguing for Greek influence I am not suggesting there is no such thing as final judgment or that Scripture does not contain truth. Rather, I am pondering in what ways we interpret the text and consider how and in what ways it portrays reality–a reality seen through a glass darkly.

            You write: “Throughout the OT God is a violent God.” I do believe divine violence is portrayed in the OT. No question. I reject sweeping statements like this though as if the OT is one book and not several. Different books and authors are going to take a different slant on things. For example, there is a big difference between the perception of God’s attitude toward violence in Jonah vs. Nahum.

            As for Abraham and Israel having some distinctions. That is true. But I would suggest that what accounts for the difference in regards to the violence has to do with what occurred to the Abrahamic covenant. There is nothing in the Abrahamic covenant or narrative that suggests that the pagans should be or must be driven out in order to possess the land. In fact, the Abrahamic covenant stipulates that all the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham. I disagree that Genesis 12 is meant to foreshadow Exodus’ Pharaoh. Pharaoh here committed no sin. Rather it was Abraham who sinned. And in fact, Pharaoh treats him very well contra the Exodus story. In fact, one could say that when the Israelites are disobedient it affects the well-being and blessing of the nations (more on that below)

            The question is really: what happened to the Abrahamic promise to bless the nations? The narrators drop it for the rest of the Torah. What gets picked up, especially in Numbers is narrative that frames the pagans as those who curse Israel and thus justification of violence is made. Interestingly, Numbers is also where herem is introduced. There is no direct divine speech commanding herem in Torah. Herem is introduced by the Israelites as a bargain with God for a victory–along the lines of Jephthah’s vow. Then the writers or redactors of Deuteronomy expand on the concept–not through direct divine speech but through Moses extrapolation/interpretation of Sinaitic law.

            So the narrator of Genesis emphasizes blessing of the nations and we see that play out in the story. All the nations–Philistines etc are friends with Abraham and he makes covenants with them. The nations respect Abraham. Thus the covenant stipulation–“I will bless those who bless you.” So the narrator of Genesis focuses on blessing aspect of the covenant, while the narrator of Numbers and Deuteronomy focus on the concept of “I will curse those who curse you.”

            But I would encourage anyone interested to spend some time reading the Genesis narrative vs. Deuteronomic perspective for themselves with attention to how different the relationships are and how it relates to the Abrahamic covenant–in terms of why one emphasizes blessing and the others emphasize the curses.

          • Karen K

            To clarify–I mean there is no direct divine speech for war-herem. There are other herem laws aside from war herem.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Thanks–important clarification.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Thanks for the clarifications, Karen. Here are a few observations:
            (1) Qohelet is concerned with the afterlife, precisely because the lack of one makes this existence absurd. The epilogist, however, provides a theological corrective and that demands an afterlife, and this, I think, quite apart from any Greek influence. Yes, I, think the Wisdom of Solomon is a very different case, and recognize the Greek influence there.
            (2) I, myself, was unaware of any direct influence Greek thought might have had upon apocalyptic. So, the pushing of violence into the eschaton seems to be more of an independent Jewish or Christian idea.
            (3) To be sure, the OT books were written by a variety of authors with different slants. But I believe you unnecessarily minimize the univocity with regard to divine violence. All the prophetic books regard, arguably, regard the wrath of God as contingent. And some of the prophets who are most vocal with regard to God’s wrath are also concerned to note that this violence can be avoided by repentance. There is a difference between Jonah and Nahum, to be sure, but the difference does not have to do with divine violence. Yahweh is quite prepared to destroy the city. But, all prophetic warnings of judgment are contingent.
            (4) I am going to maintain the Genesis 12 anticipation of the Exodus. The plagues against the house of Pharaoh, and Abraham coming out laden with possessions, is a pretty clear literary foreshadowing of the Exodus narrative, despite this particular Pharaoh’s innocence, as many commentators have noticed. Again, the Abrahamic covenant as narrated is Genesis 15 just has too many clues to ignore. Yahweh will punish Egypt (v. 14); Israel will possess the land of the Canaanites (vv. 18-21); and this will happen when the sin of the Amorites reaches it full measure (v. 16). There are just too many clues here to the contrary to suggest that this is going to be a peaceful cohabitation when Yahweh gives the Israelites the Canaanites’ land. This is dispossession; this is driving out the Canaanites inhabitants. So, while it might be the case that in Gen 12:1-3, the emphasis is more on blessings rather than curses for the nations, the development within the Abrahamic covenantal texts strongly suggests the curses will indeed be used at the time of the Exodus and Conquest.
            Again, I very much appreciate this interchange. Thanks for your valuable input here.

          • Karen K

            Jerry–I think you may be missing my point a little bit. I am not saying apocalyptic is or is not Greek influenced. I am saying that the emphasis on and articulation of the Afterlife seems to be Greek influenced. Thus, in Jewish writing justice is pushed into the eschaton in a very new way because of new developments in thinking about the Afterlife. Temporal blessings/curses become eschatological ones because of new developments in thinking about the Afterlife. This is especially apparent in Wisdom of Solomon and certain apocalyptic texts. You still have not provided good evidence for why there is a significant shift in how Jewish writers begin talking about the Afterlife and justice into the eschaton which seems to coincide with developments in Greek philosophy.

            I hear what you are saying that the concept of God’s wrath permeates the OT. But I don’t think it helpful to make sweeping statements about univocity because it obscures the deeper theology that is happening. For example, why God might be angry, or why a tragic event occurs–different perspectives on how to understand that wrath etc. Is there a reason/need to push for univocity? Why can’t God speak through plurality, nuance? God is far too transcendent to articulate fully in one idea alone.

            We’ll have to agree to disagree on Genesis. There are not “too many clues” in the Abrahamic narrative. There are a few references, but quite rare. And those need to be examined in their own right to determine their meaning and purpose (or even possibilities of interpolation). It doesn’t make sense to me to pull out a couple of rare verses and make a theological case rather than looking at the overwhelming Abrahamic narrative as a whole and the image it provides. There is nothing in the Abrahamic narrative that strongly suggests curses are imminent or necessary. In fact, it focuses on the blessings. One still has to ask why blessing of the nations seems to be operative in one place than in another. I think we need to give it more thought. There are other narrative possibilities in the text.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Karen. No, I appreciate the observations you have made about the Greek philosophy and the afterlife, and see that in the some of the Apocryphal material, though, I would argue, not necessarily in the biblical corpus itself, including Qohelet.

            My only point with regard to univocity is that there is no strand in the Hebrew Bible that denies God’s wrath; indeed, practically every strand affirms it. To be sure, there is diversity in how that wrath is characterized, and I agree with you completely on that.

            As you said, we’ll agree to disagree on the Abraham anticipatory stuff.

            I’ve appreciated the interchange.

        • Bev Mitchell

          Pete, Karen, Mark, Jerry,

          I’m thoroughly enjoying this seminar. Thank you all.

          The phrase by Karen on this post “…. that human ability to participate in God’s enactment of judgment would cease” makes me want to ask, can we make this a prayer? Many wish to speak of the gifts of the Spirit and divine inspiration being less important nowadays relative to the first century. The cessation of human participation in the enactment of God’s judgement is much more welcome and more biblical. 🙂

    • peteenns

      Karen, for what it’s worth, after coming back to this thread after a day away, you comment here displays the kind of historical contextual nuance and understanding this discussion requires

      • Karen K

        Thanks Pete. I really enjoy your blog. And have been influenced by your work.

    • Seraphim

      Karen, wonderful post. Much to like and much to think about. I think you’re correct about noting the significance of the Mosaic blessing and curse theology in relation to the eschaton- I would place less of an emphasis on Greek thought and more of an emphasis on the Cross and Resurrection. The Greeks didn’t believe in resurrection. Most Jews by the Second Temple period did. Note how in the NT one is blessed through curse. Christ takes the curse of exile on Himself at the Cross so that He returns from exile in the resurrection. Then we ourselves share in His return by sharing in His exile. We “suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him” as Apostle Paul says in Romans 8. Ultimately I think the roots for this lay in the OT- though it grows and unfolds over time. Note, by the way, that in the final canonical shape of the Pentateuch, Genesis 3 and Deuteronomy 30 constitute the beginning and end. It begins with exile from Paradise and ends with the land promise finally being fulfilled in the return from exile, the circumcision of the heart, and the discovery of life. Understanding that this comes to fulfillment in the resurrection (see how it is taken up in Ezek. 36-37) allows us to think creatively about how to understand the promise that we will “live long in the land” (i.e. inherit the age to come in the renewed creation).

      • The idea that the “Greeks didn’t believe in resurrection” is a common quasi-theological meme that has been thoroughly discredited by scholars such as Dag Øistein Endsjø. See Endsjø’s monograph, “Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity” for a thorough examination of many examples of Greek resurrection beliefs.

        • Rick

          “…many examples of Greek resurrection beliefs.”
          But were they the same type of resurrection as what Christians were proclaiming? I may be wrong here, but don’t scholars (such as NT Wright) distinguish the differences?

          • Yes, they were of the same type, N.T. Wright nonwithstanding.

            In “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, Wright, as a theologian, is ultimately trying to prove his thesis that the only possible explanation for the belief of the apostles and the fast spread of Christianity is that the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus took place and was witnessed. Vital for his thesis is Wright’s argument that there was no precedence for such a resurrection in Greek thought, and to make this case, he cites a plethora of ancient sources to show afterlife views that were opposed to a bodily resurrection.

            Despite his numerous sources, however, Wright is ultimately trying to prove a negative – that no person or culture espoused a belief in the type of bodily resurrection seen in the gospels.

            Endsjø demonstrates that Wright is just following a false theological bias of the past century, which assumes that Hellenistic thought (for example, the philosophy of the greek Plato and, later, the roman Plutarch), was a good characterization of the way all Greeks and Romans thought. In fact, as Endsjø shows, these ancient philosophers often complained that most of their citizens still followed mythological religions that celebrated, among other things, stories of bodily resurrection.

            He even shows examples of early Christian apologists either complaining about competing resurrection stories among the Greeks, or citing such resurrection stories to lend credence to the resurrection of Jesus:

            “When we say … that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing new from what you believe about those you consider sons of Zeus.”

            Justin Martyr, First Apology 21.1

          • Rick

            Still not sure we are talking apples to apples. A review of Wright’s position states that he believes: “Resurrection…does not simply mean going to heaven or life after death. Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism. Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death. Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time. ” Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.”


            Likewise, it appears Wright has address similar challenges: “Wright responds to an argument similar to Endsjo’s about belief in resurrection in Greek religious mythology made by Stanley Porter.20 Wright concludes, “This [The Alcestis] can hardly be said to constitute a ‘tradition of resurrection’; indeed, it indicates a uniform and universal tradition within which resurrection is known not to happen, except in one dreamlike moment of poetic imagination.”21 Alternatively, Wright argues that belief in continued existence as shades in Hades more accurately represents ancient Greek afterlife belief. Endsjo maintains that the similarities between Greek religious mythological “resurrection” stories can be held in tension with their Christian counterparts. Wright, on the other hand, argues that the Greek religious myths do not actually present an authentic belief in the resurrection..”

            But this is beginning to get off-track from the title of Enns’ post.

          • It is not enough for Wright to simply differentiate Christian resurrection beliefs from the resurrection beliefs in other cultures. His thesis depends on the conclusion that Christian resurrection is so unique, it could not possibly have resulted from Jewish resurrection influences, Pagan resurrection influences, or both combined. The only possible explanation (as far as Wright is concerned) is that Jesus resurrected and was seen by his followers.

            In other words, Wright claims that his thesis is so conclusive, it stands as historical evidence for a 2000 year old miracle, despite the fact that scholars such as Porter, Endsjo, Hayes, Tombs, Crosson, and many others demonstrate quite legitimate, well-documented cases for the influence of Greek sources on the resurrection narrative of early Christianity.

            Wright’s claim that Alcestis’ story is “one dreamlike moment of poetic imagination”, an exception in a tradition in which “resurrection is not known to happen,” is not only a gross overstatement, it is roundly shown to be false by Endsjø’s monograph. Endsjø not only provides many more examples than Alcestis, he cites the many early Christian theologians such as Martyr, Theophilus, Origen, and Tertullian, who (counter to Wright’s claim) were so aware of contemporary Greek resurrection parallels, they were motivated to refute the veracity of the resurrections of Dionysus, Heracles, Asclepius, the Dioscuri, Romulus, Cleomedes, and others, both from ancient and recent history. In the case of Aristeas of Proconnesus, beliefs in his resurrection story were so embedded in the culture, Origen didn’t even deny it’s truth, and instead argued that demonic power had been at work in his case.

          • Rick

            Clearly scholars take differing views, but an interesting discussion.

          • Yes. It’s worth noting that there are scholars of entirely different disciplines and skills that we associate with the Bible, and it’s useful to name their discipline. In Wright’s case, he is not a historian, but rather a scholar of theology.

          • Rick

            I agree but there is overlap. Wright is a New Testament and early Christianity scholar, which obviously overlaps with much history. I don’t think many, including those who disagree with him (Borg, Crossan, etc…) doubt his standing as a historian.
            But again, interesting discussion (but now really off-track).

          • Right, back to Pete’s Martian genetics.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Beau, thanks for calling attention to this. I plan to give it a perusal.

    • mark

      I think we all know/knew–those of us who are semi-rational–that there are numerous differing perspectives in the Israelite scriptures, reflecting different worldviews within the world of Israelite religion–as you point out in the first paragraph of point #3. In fact, a lot more could be added, as I’m sure you’re aware. Not infrequently these differing perspectives are contradictory, to varying degrees. The question that needs to be addressed, IMO, is: what do these facts say about the assertion that the Israelite scriptures are revelations of truth from God? Are all of these sometimes contradictory perspectives revelations from God or was Marcion right, after all? Do we need to refine our notion of just what revelation means, what’s being revealed, what’s the point of it all, how do we know that this is revelation from God, etc.?

      • peteenns

        Along with you and Karen, Mark, this is one of the points that I have been trying to make here and that needs to be taken quite seriously. The same holds for the NT. It is inadequate theologically and hermeneutically to point out the violence in the NT without also looking at the genres in which that violence is found (the apocalyptic rhetoric of violence we see in Revelation) or where NT writers themselves seem to want to rethink how God views violence and “outsiders” (Beatitudes and the “Canaanite” woman in Matthew).

        Another other factor is the extent to which how the biblical writers portray God reflects the final word on God or is expressed in ancient categories. As someone who does not hold to inerrancy, I do not expect the biblical portrayals of God to be free of rabbinic-like back and forth, where God is sought not simply in the words but beyond them.

        It is somewhat ironic in this very long (….) discussion that one of Marcion’s main problems with his contemporaries is that he took the OT as an accurate description of God as he is (rather than as he was understood). Like his contemporaries in the 2nd century, he knew that this God and the Gospel were not compatible, but rather than allowing this tension to invite an allegorical interpretation, Marcion took the other solution: the God of the OT must be a different God. I’m glad the allegorists won that skirmish, but we continue the marcionite error–at least part of it–if we think the solution can be found at taking these texts at face value as “inerrant” descriptions of the nature of God.

        Perhaps another way of addressing this issue is with a question: do we believe that the God of the universe is perennially angry. I will put my stake down and answer that question with a resounding “no.” I believe OT itself engages that trajectory and it is given an undeniable thrust forward in the Gospel of the crucified and risen savior.

        • mark

          Pete and Karen, I’m running off to Mass so this has to be brief, but I think Pete in his penultimate paragraph gets to the nub of things–at least implicitly. There’s a serious point to Marcionism, and it would be naive to suppose that most believers have a handle on the solution, not even very serious believers. I try to outline what I think those issues are, as well as the direction a solution must take, in my lengthier comment to Carlos.

          • Karen K

            Mark I concur that Marcion seems to have legitimate questions. But perhaps he is operating from a certain paradigm of what he thinks Scripture should be. Perhaps that is more of the problem–not what Scripture is, but how it has been forced into certain boxes. History of interpretation shows that Judaic-Christian communities of faith have been sustained by many different types of interpretive methods. Thus, finding the “right” interpretive method, the “right” key seems to miss the point. Something more flexible and dynamic happens when people of God wrote, and also read Scripture. I think of Scripture more as a muse, more as divinely inspired wisdom passed down, that through time faith communities prayerfully dialogue with to know how best to know and live for God in their/our times. How do we know that biblical revelation is true? Not because of words on a page alone, but because the truths have been found to be living and transformative.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “I believe OT itself engages that trajectory”

          Indeed it does and sadly this is often overlooked as people talk about the “OT God” as if the conception of God across the entire Hebrew Scriptures could be wrapped in in a couple of sentences. Just a quick reading of Jonah and Hosea will confirm that approach is flawed.

      • Karen K

        Mark, these are good questions. I think when it comes to differing perspectives within Scripture that there is a tendency to go to two opposite extremes–one is complete deconstruction and pulling apart of the text with source critical efforts and the other is to deny any significant differences and engage in apologetics to repress what are perceived as threatening contradictions. I don’t think either is correct. Rather, it would be more helpful to think differently about what plurality means and how plurality is actually a very meaningful part of the tradition. Theology in Scripture is rich precisely because there is acknowledgement of complexity. Proverbs captures this in a small way–it can give opposite advice for the same scenario (give a fool advice/don’t give a fool advice, etc) because that is what real life is like. Depending on the situation, opposite actions might be called for. In real life there are no pat, simplistic answers. I think of Jesus too and his interaction with Torah–he did not overturn Sabbath. Sabbath was a good thing. Rather, he provides nuance. Law is not always good if applied woodenly to every situation.

        What I love about the plurality in Scripture is that it pushes back against a tendency toward legalism. It acknowledges the need for wisdom and discernment. I think about Scripture as godly theologians sitting together across time–reasoning with one another with the presence of the Spirit and grappling with hard questions and challenging each other. Is the Mosaic tradition wrong because other ideas are presented? No. A lot of times, living healthy leads to healthy outcomes. But thinkers that wrote Job or Ecclesiastes provide important nuance to theological ideas that would otherwise become quite rigid.

        I take Scripture as a whole because it is a unique collaboration of human and divine. To try to deny any problems is to deny the human contributions. But to try to pluck out anything that seems only human is to try to make the canon a purely Divine work–which it does not try to be or want to be. So to take Scripture as a whole is to accept it for what it is–a collaboration. Which is what folk like Enns and Sparks have sought to provide language for. This collaboration is an asset, not a problem. But its often treated as a problem by both extreme sides.

        Interestingly, I was talking with some friends about these ideas recently and it was pointed out that there seems to be a difference in the ways that evangelicals/post-evangelicals are trying to wrestle with these questions vs. postliberals who come from more mainline backgrounds. Postliberals don’t seem as disturbed by the concept of Divine/human collaboration. Its already a given. They don’t seem to be wrestling with these questions in the same way. So their literary/canonical approach–despite its appropriation by conservative evangelicals–is not bogged down by the same baggage.

    • mark

      Specifically re the idea of an afterlife, as a solution to the problem of evil. While there may or may not be Greek influence on Israelite thought in this respect, this conundrum is nothing new for cultures within what Eliade terms the world of “archaic ontology,” or what Voegelin refers to as a “cosmological” worldview. That would include essentially every single civilization of the ancient world, if we accept that Israelite religion developed over centuries and only reached a truish monotheism at some point probably after the Babylonian exile. Cosmological worldviews rarely if ever have a clearly articulated concept of an afterlife.

      Within that cosmological worldview the problem of evil regularly achieved crisis proportions during what philosophers of history refer to as “times of trouble”–times of barbarian invasion, social upheaval, etc. It’s possible to see thinkers of these civilizations from China through India to Persia, the Middle East and Greece struggling with the problem of evil in such periods of chaos that challenged the very concept of cosmological order, and offering varying solutions–long before the Israelites (under the weight of historical misfortune) were forced in their turn to come to grips with this problem. If human life ends with death and evil is omnipresent, where is the goodness of cosmic order? Reincarnation was a popular solution–in India, Persia, Greece and elsewhere–but there were others.

      Given all this, in what sense are the Israelite speculations on the problem of evil revelatory and the speculations of other civilizations are not? Or are they? Doesn’t this issue strike you as crucial for the understanding not only of Israelite religion but for an understanding of its relationship to Christian faith?

    • Andrew Dowling

      Good points, although I’d argue the notion of hell as place of eternal torment in the afterlife is not really found in the NT..
      Although I agree; justice is served and it gets served after the mortal life in the NT.

  • Carlos Bovell

    Marcion was taken to be a threat to proto-orthodoxy for many reasons, not just for being a protege of Pete Enns : )

    First, Marcion denied that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. I don’t think Pete denies that. He is not a Marcionite on this score.

    Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity. Pete passes this test, too. He sees value in the OT precisely by reading it typologically. He is definitely not Marcionite on this score.

    Third, Marcion thought Paul was the only true disciple of Jesus and that the rest were not to be considered authorities. Pete has said nothing like this. Pete is not a Marcionite on this score.

    Fourth, Marcion was not a monotheist. It was monotheism (and not the integrity of scripture per se) that drove many of the proto-orthodox to insist that the God of the OT and NT were the same (and that’s why they needed allegory, etc.). Pete may have a high regard for the Yankees, but he probably still qualifies as a monotheist.

    Fifth, Marcion also viewed matter as evil and could not imagine that the good deity (as opposed to the evil deity) would involve itself with matter. Pete’s christology does not match Marcion’s. In fact, given Pete’s insistence on the incarnation as a helpful analogy for scripture, it might even be that those critical of Pete would have Marcion’s approval here.

    Lastly, Marcion wanted absolutely no Jewish connection to Jesus and this necessitated a radical dichotomy between law and grace. He accepted only epistles that he considered Pauline as scripture along with the Gospel of Luke which he heavily edited, going so far as to cut out portions of it that he thought were too Jewish. He also was a very strict ascetic. It seems clear that Pete parts company with Marcion on these points as well.

    So the only part of Marcion’s teaching that can apply to Pete, it would seem— and this is a loose match at best— is Pete’s taking seriously the discontinuity between OT and NT. Any believer can contemplate this and even insist that there are legitimate discontinuities between OT and NT, but that doesn’t make him a Marcionite.

    In this particular area of inquiry, the plan of attack Marcion took was to insist that the OT was an accurate, historical record of the people of Israel and to consistently point out that if Jesus’ life and ministry is going to be continuous with the OT read historically/literally, it must be reconciled with that history. He thought this could not be done, so he dropped the OT. The proto-orthodox said indeed that this could be done, but it required the use of allegory. Marcion would not allow for this.

    One more thing, those who want the OT to be historically accurate and who demand that the OT prophecies be literally fulfilled by Jesus are expecting exactly what Marcion expected from scripture. The Church’s response to the problems that arise from this approach was to make recourse to allegory.

    To the extent that Pete is self-consciously trying to work through the discontinuities he sees between the OT and NT without restricting himself to literal, historical readings puts him on the side of orthodoxy, trying to find analogous, typological readings that can prove helpful for Christians today.

    • mark

      Hi Carlos, all that said 🙂 don’t you think it’s the case that when people apply the label of some ancient heresy to a modern thinker that the label is being used as a sort of way to dismiss that person or pigeonhole them in order to advance one’s own agenda without the tedious necessity of confronting that person’s actual positions? After all, what does the average person know about Marcionism? Only that it was supposed to have been a Very Bad Thing. But by applying that label to Pete rather than addressing what he’s saying in more extended fashion he is placed, presumptively, on the defensive: he is expected to prove a negative, i.e., I am not a Marcionite/heretic/bad person. And in this way we can avoid recognizing that Pete is grappling with very serious issues, just as Marcion was–regardless of whether we agree with either of them. And by adopting this approach we just may be able to avoid having to offer solutions to those issues on our own part.

      An example of this from my own world: Benedict/Ratzinger, some years ago, was fond of decrying phenomena that he called a new Pelagianism and, yes, a new Marcionism. Well, we all know that Pelagianism was a Very Bad Thing–just as Marcionism was. These labels may have some analogical validity to modern thought, but too often they are misused. Oh, that’s what you were saying, right?


      Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity. Pete passes this test, too. He sees value in the OT precisely by reading it typologically. He is definitely not Marcionite on this score.

      This is a perfect example of how Marcion was actually wrestling with very serious issues. Is it totally unreasonable to maintain that “the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative”? I would strongly suggest that, in the absence of a coherent theory of revelation, there is nothing unreasonable about such a position. After all, the allegorical/typological approach (beloved by Benedict, btw), which became “orthodox” under the platonizing influence of the later Fathers, raises a very serious issue. If God reveals truth through texts that must be interpreted allegorically or typologically, but fails to provide the key, what authority then do the allegorical/typological interpretations have? And this is a real problem for a faith that claims to be based in historical events (‘”if Christ be not risen …”).

      Moreover, some very acute early Christian writers/thinkers–such as Paul–were very much aware of this issue. Paul, after all, persecuted the early Christian believers. He undoubtedly felt fully justified, and probably on the basis that he later describes–that the Christian faith was a “scandal” to any serious Jew, i.e., one who had a serious acquaintance with the Jewish scriptures and the various methods of interpreting those scriptures–both literal and non-literal. On both counts, I would maintain, those Jewish opponents of Christian faith found the new faith to be a “scandal,” failing to find a basis in the scriptures. Paul, as I say, recognizes this, and pins his all on historical fact: Jesus really did rise, is risen, lives. And if that be not true, he and we are the most pitiful of men. There’s no allegory in that.

      I would further maintain that a strict examination of Jesus as he speaks in his own words in the gospels–as opposed to editorial interpretations such as, He did this to fulfill …, etc.–does not truly base his mission and personal status on the Israelite scriptures. Instead, he taught on his own authority, and was not shy about contradicting those scriptures, about imputing purely human origins/motives to the content of those scriptures, etc. While I haven’t done a thorough study of Paul’s approach, I believe that such a study would reveal that Paul doesn’t make that claim, either. That is, Paul doesn’t present Jesus as claiming to fulfill the Israelite scriptures. Rather, Paul himself develops a theology that adopts a midrashic approach to those scriptures with regard to the Christ. However, when push comes to shove, when Christian faith is on the line, Paul’s appeal is not to such midrashic theologizing but rather to the factual, historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

      This is all grist for the mill, the “mill” being the construction of a coherent theory of revelation which, logically, must precede any talk of inspiration–incarnational or otherwise.

      • peteenns

        Mark, I’m working on a popular book right now (the draft is done) where I echo some of what you are saying here. Paul certainly believed there was a connection between Jesus and the OT, but his midrashic handling of the OT belies the difficult hermeneutical problem here. The gospel is not something that can be adequately captured in Israel’s story, yet that was the only “God-talk” the first followers of Jesus had available to them. So, as an expression of their faith in Christ, they transformed Israel’s story, which also meant leaving a fair bit of it aside. To get back to one of the points of my post, we are dealing with some pretty serious discontinuity, not justy some nagging problems.

        • mark

          The gospel is not something that can be adequately captured in Israel’s story, yet that was the only “God-talk” the first followers of Jesus had available to them.

          I think that’s a very under appreciated point. The early Christians were trying to come to grips with the meaning of Jesus using those resources they had, yet realizing–certainly Paul did–that Jesus had broken through those familiar paradigms of thought. That realization is what energized the early Church to seek to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

          we are dealing with some pretty serious discontinuity, not just some nagging problems.

          Again, an under appreciated point. And I think it needs to be emphasized that Jesus himself is the source of that discontinuity. For all the talk of Jesus acting out the OT narrative and so forth, the fact is that Jesus pushed the envelope in a very deliberate, one might say deconstructive, fashion. An easy example among a number is Jesus’ use of the psalm passage, The Lord said to my lord … That’s a very provocative attitude, but fairly typical for Jesus. He’s telling those who are listening: Everything you think you know from reading your scriptures? You don’t know anything–this is about me and who I am.

          I’m working on a popular book right now (the draft is done) where I echo some of what you are saying here.

          I’ll look forward to it.

        • Rick

          I hope that, rather than just focusing on the problems (which should be discussed), your book includes some in-depth discussion about potential solutions as well.

          • peteenns

            In a word, yes. I will be trying to present a different “vision” for reading the Bible for people of faith to help them on their journey.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Carlos, thanks for your taxonomy on a number of points on whether one qualifies as a Marcionite or not. Some of your points are valid, some are irrelevant, and some are just way overdrawn. For example, your second point needs a whole lot more nuancing. For one thing, it’s quite anachronistic. Purposeful reflection on the practice of allegorical interpretation doesn’t really take place till after Marcion has passed off the scene. For another, It just isn’t true that, “Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued.” This just isn’t the case. Many of the allegorists also practiced very literal, historical interpretation. They believed that the recorded events happened, AND, that they could be interpreted allegorically. To be sure, allegorical interpretations of the ancient church fathers could be quite fanciful, but by no means did they regard these as the only way to maintain that Jesus was the Messiah. I’m willing to be corrected on this if you can demonstrate otherwise.

      But, the point that you say is the “only” point on which the Marcionite label might stick is, in fact, the important point. Marcion jettisoned the OT because he could not reconcile its description of God with the person of Jesus. He refused to believe that the violent deity depicted in the OT was the Father of Jesus. So the question to ask is whether an approach to the same problem today that relegates significant portions of the Old Testament to “human projections onto God,” or “wrong perceptions of the character of God,” does not do the same thing as Marcion does. Again, to use, the example of Joshua 6, aside from any question as to whether or not the account is historical, the question is, is the character of God as portrayed in this account consonant with the God whom Jesus called his Father. Did Jesus worship, praise, and pray to, that God. If the answer is “no,” then without formally doing so, the approach has effectively decanonized the account, as well as large swaths of the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Ironically, It also ends up distorting our picture of who Jesus is.

      Recognition of the discontinuities is not the issue. Methodology in dealing with them is.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Jesus Himself apparently had no issue with contradicting clear precepts in the Torah, so he didn’t view God as being part and parcel with every vision of God as seen in the OT (neither did several other authors in the OT agree with the author of Joshua in terms of the nature of God!)

        You are trying to, in typical Reformed fashion, force consistency where it simply doesn’t exist.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Sorry, Andrew. I have to disagree with you quite strongly on this one. Jesus did not contradict anything in the OT. He did give new directives for the new people of God in a different age. He did condemn un-nuanced uses of OT laws and/or practices. He did bring certain OT practices to a conclusion. But he never passed judgment on those practises and he never contradicted them. And you’re going to be very hard pressed to show how other OT authors disagreed with the author of Joshua.

          • Andrew Dowling

            You say “Jesus did not contradict anything in the OT.'”

            and then say

            “He did give new directives
            for the new people of God in a different age. He did condemn
            un-nuanced uses of OT laws and/or practices. He did bring certain OT
            practices to a conclusion.”

            Are you a politician? Either you contradict something or you don’t. He clearly, for example, critiqued and openly challenged the Mosaic law on divorce. All of the language about “hardened hearts” doesn’t change that it’s a clear contradiction as Jesus did not feel that declaration reflected the nature of God or desire of God for men on Earth. Period.

          • peteenns

            Could you be specific of a “new directive” and of “practices Jesus brought to a close?” One example is dietary laws. From my reading of the OT (and of Judaism’s appropriation of it), I see no expiration for them in Torah. I also feel it is very difficult to miss the criticism of OT territorial violence (not least of which is Canaanite genocide) in the the Beatitudes and in Matt 5:43-48.

            I also want to clarify that I do see a mixed bag, as it were, in the NT, re: violence/wrath toward God’s enemies in general. But that mixed bag speaks volumes. I see it as the earliest followers of Jesus (including the Gospel writers) grappling with the very problem.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            As you said, one specific example is the dietary laws. Jesus has ended them. But that does not at the same time mean that they were not the will of God for the OT Israelites. Something can be changed, amended, nullified, etc., for any number of reasons, without at the same time passing judgment on it.

            Another example would be the marriage and divorce legislation. Jesus declares that these laws were neither ideal nor in accord with God’s original intention. But that does not mean that Jesus condemns the giving of those laws. Goldingay: “Legislation by its very nature is a compromise between what may be ethically desirable and what is actually feasible given the relativities of social and political life.”

            Violence? I find it very difficult to find a critique of what God commanded in the OT in the passages you cited. Christ gives his people a “new directive” with regard to how they are to relate to their enemies, and one which is in accord with the very different context of the NT people of God as a wandering, pilgrim, oppressed people of God, rather than a settling or settled political entity. But this by no means says that what the OT understands to be the command of God for his ancient people was wrong. Longman: “To say that the New Testament critiques this picture of God in the Old Testament is in effect to say that the Old Testament is not Scripture.”

            Regarding the NT “mixed bag,” this metaphor hardly does justice to the issue. As Karen pointed out, if anything the violence is more horrific in the NT than in the OT, both in the recorded words of Jesus, and throughout the rest of the NT. I see no evidence of Jesus and the NT writers “grappling” with this issue. Instead, they rather strongly and plainly proclaimed it. The evidence of this latter understanding is substantial.
            And that’s my quota for today. 🙂


          • peteenns

            The law of God given to Moses is nor provisional in the OT. The fact that the Gospel makes them so is a surprise ending to Israel’s story.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Surprising–yes. Critical and condemnatory–no.

          • peteenns

            You are a stubborn one, Jerry. God’s law, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, has no expiration date. Ask any OT Israelite or Yahweh. Yet, Jesus says they ceased.

            And as for violence, I think you continue to underestimate the sheer brutality of it in the OT, perhaps to preserve a fundamental continuity at all costs. Israel’s God kills or sanctions killing humans to take the land and give it to his people. He also either orders or sits by as Israel takes captive women and children, and in at least once incident, allows the division of virgin women as spoil (Number 31). Do you really think the God of the universe was OK with that then?

            On one or two occasions in your comments, you allude briefly the the historical difficulties of these narratives. How seriously do you take these historical difficulties? For, if these atrocities did not happen, then we are speaking not of who God is but of how he is portrayed.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            To say that God’s law has no expiration date sounds clever, but needs more nuancing and makes for a very flat reading of the OT. Within the Torah itself, there is the recognition that the law was amendable and adaptable. The law is changed in Numbers 9 to allow people who had become ritually unclean to still participate in the Passover, though a month later. The law is changed in Numbers 27 to allow daughters to inherit property. The same law is further amended in Numbers 36 to allow make sure that the property inherited by the daughters remains within the clan. These passages serve as precedents for the Law’s adaptability.

            Christ comes as the authoritative Son of God, with full prerogative to change the law as he sees fit. It was his law to begin with.

            I never alluded to any historical difficulties. I only made a hypothetical concession and said that if one discounted the historicality of the conquest narratives or other narratives in which God is depicted in violent terms, then one is still left with an inspired portrayal of God–a God-authorized portrayal with which he is comfortable for his people to use in their understanding of who he is and what he is like.

          • peteenns

            I am not trying to be clever, Jerry. Adaptability is not the same thing as “we no longer do this,” which is the case with how the dietary laws are handled in the NT, not to mention Gentile inclusion. You cannot use what you call adaptability as implicit support to explain theologically the tectonic shifts that come in the NT (Jesus then to Paul) concerning major elements of Israel’s law and life (land, purity, Gentiles, circumcision, treatment of outsiders).

            Your comment about Christ doing as he pleases is not quite the slam dunk you might think it to be. When what Jesus sees “fit” to do subverts Israel’s purity laws, for example, it calls into question the giving of those laws in the first place.

            Maybe you can come clean here: do you think the conquest of Canaan happened as we read in Joshua and Judges? I think knowing that will help me clarify in my own mind where you are coming from. I recall from an earlier comment of yours, where you put your cards on the table (I think you put it) that you believe that what the OT says inerrantly reflects the nature of God rather than reflecting tribal culture, am I right? If so, how do the plundering of towns and enslaving of populations reflect the nature of God?

            I suspect you are theologically deeply uncomfortable with any sort of true (not superficial) discontinuity.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Pete, the tectonic shifts are indeed tectonic. And they are all in keeping with what I’ve been saying all along. Christ’s changes the law in accord with a radically new constitutive make-up of the people of God. Notice how all the things you put in parentheses (land, purity, Gentiles, circumcision, treatment of outsiders) reflect the fact that the new people of God are not going to be ethnically, or nationally, or geographically constituted.

            Jesus does not “subvert” the purity laws. He brings them to an end. And it is a non sequitur to argue that because he brings them to an end, that he is questioning the giving of those laws in the first place. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a day is coming when neither Mt. Gerizim nor Mt. Zion will be the authorized place to worship God–while in the very same breath acknowledging that the Jews had the location correct–is he calling into question the tabernacle and temple plans and their erection in the first place? Of course not. This is a major tectonic shift; but it is not by any means saying that the OT provisions for tabernacle and temple should never have been made in the first place. The same is true of the purity laws. They are coming to an end. But they had a God-authorized purpose in the OT.

            Actually, you wouldn’t know where I’m coming from any more than you do now, if I “came clean” about my views of the historicity of the conquest narrative. After all, I think you and I are basically agreed regarding the historicity of the creation narratives. And yet, we draw theological conclusions about the character of God from the “portrayal” of God in those narratives. I believe God reveals himself through all kinds of genres. So, I’ll make a deal with you. I’m pretty sure you don’t believe in the historicity of the conquest narratives. So, you tell me if you think the portrayal of God in the conquest narrative is an inspired portrayal, an authorized window into the character of God, and then I’ll tell if you I think the accounts are historical. 🙂

          • peteenns

            Temple and purity laws reflect ANE cultural conventions to which God allowed himself to be adapted and by which he allowed the ancient tribal Israelites to worship him. The Gospel teaches that these things are to be left behind and therefore their substance is critiqued.

            I can also see you don’t like being in a placed in a position of answering questions 😉 But I will answer yours: no. They are tribal portrayals of God in the OT that reflect Israel’s experience of the true God within the cultural conventions of the day. That’s the way God allows his people to tell the story. The same holds for NT writers.

            You’re up….

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Good morning, Pete. Here’s how I would reword your first paragraph:

            “Temple and purity laws reflect ANE cultural conventions, which set the parameters within which God accommodated and revealed himself and by which he directed the ancient tribal Israelites to worship him. The Gospel teaches that some of these things are to be left behind, without at the same time critiquing these things as outside of God’s will for his ancient people.”

            Actually, if you look over the “transcript” of our conversation, I answered a whole bunch of your questions last night, and this is first one of mine you’ve answered; plus there’s that question I asked in my first post on Friday. 😉 In any case, yes, I regard the conquest narratives recorded in Joshua and Judges as basically historical. I say basically because I allow for various literary conventions and techniques: hyperbole, shortening, collapsing of characters, emphasis, etc.

            And, of course, there is a major difference in our views of inspiration. God doesn’t allow his people to tell the story. God, by his Holy Spirit, writes his story, through his people.

          • peteenns

            We absolutely do have a different view of inspiration, and that is the thing that has to get on the table. For your view (which I assume you know I am very familiar with, given our similar background), it all falls on what “through his people” means, once you get down to details. E.g., can ancient Israelites act like ancient people, and so make things up about the past, tell stories, put words in God’s mouth, write stories thinking they are writing history, get the past “wrong”, etc. The devil for inspiration is in the details.

            Which raises the “basic historicity” position you voice that is common in evangelicalism, but in my opinion inadequate, especially cine it is typically left undefined. I would also say that the conquest (and exodus) are basically historical, but we likely mean very different things by it. For me, the core is far more minimal, a view I have arrived at in view of the general trajectories of several hundred years of historical criticism. I would be interested in what you consider to be the basic historical elements of the “conquest” (esp. given that no ancient historians or archaeologists I know of speak in terms of a conquest, with the exception of inerrantist/evangelical archaeologists–and even then with some muted enthusiasm).

            For what it’s worth, I remember James Kugel saying that when he finally realized the conquest didn’t happen, he was relieved because he didn’t have to explain how God could do such a thing. I agree with him, all the more so because of the Gospel.

            Actually, in addition to conquest, I am also interested in whether you think the God of this vast universe we live in actually thinks lobster and menstruating women are *actually* unclean, destroyed all life on earth by the 6th chapter of the Bible, or considers virgin women to be spoils of war. Are these things cultural accommodation? Or are they authentic windows onto God’s character? If the latter, how?

            I think these are very pressing and perennial questions that many people are asking. They are not academic.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Pete, thanks for this. Two things very quickly: (1) I edited that first paragraph in my last post (I really should have waited to write that till AFTER I had my first cup of coffee). And (2) I’ll try to reply to this last response later today; unfortunately, for the money they pay me, they expect me to do things like teach, attend committee meetings, etc. But, very quickly, let me get this in: of course these questions are not academic. They have everything to do with everything. And that’s why they’re so practically important. They have to do with the God we worship and how we worship him and how we proclaim him. Shalom.

          • peteenns

            Hey, it’s not my problem you have to maintain positive cash flow. Actually, I was about to ask you, given how much time you have to comment, if you were unemployed.

            I meant by my last comment that we would both agree that these are important issues. I was making the point only to explain why I am harping on and on about it.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Pete, Jerry,

            If I may be so bold as to stick up my hand. These things are indeed not academic. They go to the heart of what we laypersons have to be wrestling with. This especially if we do any reading in history, archeology, biology etc. Jerry, in putting your cards on the table with me the other day you said clearly,

            “I do not believe the Holy Spirit’s role in exegesis is to help us understand the text, or to give us additional data that would in some way turn the light on and cause us to exclaim, “that’s what it means.” Rather, his role is to cause us to accept the truth of the text, to be convicted by it, and spiritually transformed by it. Some scholars would frame it this way: the Spirit’s role is not cognitive but affective. The Spirit does not explain the text to us. That only comes about by hard exegetical work. But the Spirit does convict us of the truth of the text and the need to incorporate that truth into our own lives.”

            I respectfully disagree and would say it more like Bloesch in his chapter on hermeneutics “We are covenant partners with the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of the text.”

            Pete and Jerry, are you and two disagreeing on exegesis or hermeneutics or both? And what is your view, Pete, of the role of the Holy Spirit in both the production and interpretation of Scripture? I don’t think this question is esoteric or academic. In fact, it may be near the heart if the matter.

          • peteenns

            I think Jerry and I may be disagreeing about God and Christology more than anything. And if this isn’t enough of a kick in the pants, I think I may actually agree with Jerry, at least more so than I do with Bloesch. There is simply too much interpretive diversity in the church, both synchronically and diachronically considered. I think the HS leads us to get Jesus right, not the Bible. In putting that way, I am not driving a wedge between them, but I am being extra careful not to functionally equate them. After all, Jesus himself wasn’t, strictly speaking, “biblical.”

          • Bev Mitchell

            Thanks Pete. I see your point re diversity – who wouldn’t. But the diversity is there in abundance regardless of our position on how much help we need from the HS to interpret Scripture – or to decide if some portion of it is solely from the human side or from God plus humans. It make sense, to me, to see Scripture as always involving humans plus the Spirit. This, of course, applies as well to our interpretations. 🙂

            But I do understand your point on the disagreement also being Christological. Thanks for answering my question.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Pete, ok, I’m back. And I have a rather longish reply to your questions in this last post. Rather than take up space here on your blog, I have written an article and posted it on mine. Feel free to come over and read it and critique it.


          • Temple and purity laws reflect ANE cultural conventions to which God allowed himself to be adapted and by which he allowed the ancient tribal Israelites to worship him. The Gospel teaches that these things are to be left behind and therefore their substance is critiqued.

            Is it true that these laws are “to be left behind”, or are they actually to be internalized, a la Mt 5:29-30? Or take Paul’s viciousness in 2 Cor 10:3-6. It seems to me that purity of heart needs to be as pure as ceremonial cleanness, as unmixed with the world’s ways as the Israelites were to be separated from the nations, as unmarried to the culture of the world, etc.

            Far from being “left behind”, herem seems to now apply to sinful attitudes. It’s almost as if Jesus is teaching: “You thought that sin resided in other people and that if you exterminated them, you would be clean. No, that is not how it works: sin is within you, and you must play your part in exterminating it. I promise to help, but I will not do it without your willingness to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.”

          • Andrew Dowling

            “herem seems to now apply to sinful attitudes.”

            That wasn’t a Christian invention; personal repentance of sin was a major part of Jewish tradition.

          • Repentance of sin, a la Nehemiah in chapter 1, seems to not quite be at the level of herem; is this incorrect?

          • Andrew Dowling

            “As you said, one specific example is the dietary laws. Jesus has ended them.”

            He did? Well no-one told the Apostles, since adherence to the food laws was a major debate among the earliest Jesus-followers for decades .. . .

            “Legislation by its very nature is a compromise between what may be ethically desirable and what is actually feasible given the relativities of social and political life.”

            So the Torah was a :compromise” between God’s will and the cultural whims of the ANE Jewish people? You better tell the Jews that, apparently they have missed that nuance for several thousand years . . .

            “one which is in accord with the very different context of the NT people of God as a wandering, pilgrim, oppressed people of God, rather than a settling or settled political entity.”

            Umm, most of the OT was written as the Jewish nation was under the thumb of some form of oppression.

          • So the Torah was a :compromise” between God’s will and the cultural whims of the ANE Jewish people? You better tell the Jews that, apparently they have missed that nuance for several thousand years . . .

            I suggest checking out Eye for an Eye#Judaism:

            Isaac Kalimi explains that the “lex talionis was humanized by the Rabbis who interpreted “an eye for an eye” to mean reasonable pecuniary compensation. As in the case of the Babylonian ‘lex talionis’, ethical Judaism and humane Jewish jurisprudence replaces the peshat (literal meaning) of the written Torah. Pasachoff and Littman point to the reinterpretation of the lex talionis as an example of the ability of Pharisaic Judaism to “adapt to changing social and intellectual ideas.”

          • Andrew Dowling

            I think you misunderstood my point . . the Jewish people went and have gone through great evolution regarding how Torah laws were/are interpreted; that’s an integral part of Jewish tradition. But the Torah itself wasn’t considered something to change because God compromised initially (especially prior to the advent of the Reformed Jewish tradition)..

          • I’m a bit confused; either God meant for the Jews to always take eye for an eye literally, in which case their reinterpretation was wrong, or he meant for them to reinterpret it, which seems to indicate that the initial version was a compromise based on where the Jews were at when it was given. So did God hope that they would reinterpret, or was he mad at it? I hope for the former, which seems to be corroborated by Jesus’ stance, and therefore the word ‘compromise’ seems to fit the bill?

          • Andrew Dowling

            “So did God hope that they would reinterpret, or was he mad at it?”

            That question goes to the heart of the liberal vs conservative religious debate going back centuries!

          • I don’t debate this. But your original comment—about the Jews missing out on this—is put into extreme doubt on the basis that it was Jews who turned ‘eye for an eye’ into ‘money for an eye’.

          • Andrew Dowling

            But that interpretive posture doesn’t have to indicate that it was God Himself who compromised.

            Also historically the aspects of Torah that have to do more with Jewish identity (kosher, circumcision, acceptance/intermarriage with Gentiles) have been less apt to liberal interpretation than others (although the extent of adherence has long been a topic of debate).

            It’s a complex subject; Jesus’s focus of purity of heart was not new to Judaism, and this link is often forgotten in the caricature of the stuffy “legalist” Pharisees vs Jesus’s message of love and grace. But concurrently, I think its clear he said/did some things that diverged from standard Jewish practice, perhaps radically in some instances . . .he wasn’t just a typical Jewish holy man.

          • But that interpretive posture doesn’t have to indicate that it was God Himself who compromised.

            Then what is the nature of the compromise? God gave the good laws to Moses, but he wrote down different ones in compromise? This seems unlikely.

            Jesus’s focus of purity of heart was not new to Judaism

            Of course not; the Israelites were to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart”, and later God said he would do the circumcising. But was it clear to the Jews that the stringencies surrounding external things were to fully apply to the internal, to the heart? David certainly got the message—”you delight in truth in the inward being”—but how widespread was this understanding? Jesus’ teaching on lust and anger seemed to indicate that at least the people he was talking to weren’t ‘getting’ it. They were focusing on the externals.

      • peteenns

        Jerry, can I make a suggestion? After being away for Saturday and part of Sunday, I came back to see many long comments from you, some of which I feel are worth weighing in on, and a goodly number in need of challenging, in my opinion (I read them all, as well as those of others). Even in your response here to Carlos I see a few things that do not ring true to me or need to be addressed more carefully. So, perhaps you could think about responding less often or more succinctly.

      • Carlos Bovell

        To Jerry:

        I’m sorry, I don’t follow what exactly you’re trying to say or what you would like to talk about. My list enumerating Marcion’s views is pretty standard, I think. If you have a problem with #2, though, we can surely talk about that. That would probably make for a good discussion, one everyone can benefit from.

        Oh, and where is the specific anachronism you see? It seems to me that the entire discussion is anachronistic. That’s why I decided to comment and introduce the list–to try to illustrate that. It’s a different world today, we can’t place Enns in an ancient context; he doesn’t fit and it’s simply not fruitful to do so. So if you do see anachronism, I might suggest that it’s symptomatic of the broader Marcion/Enns comparison that’s being attempted.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Hi Carlos,

          I’m sorry if I was less than clear. Here is your second point:

          “Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity.”

          My questioning here was two-fold.

          (1) It is anachronistic to say Marcion “came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer,” as if he was in a kind of debate, exchanging theoretical statements as to how to interpret the OT. Perhaps I’m wrong here, but I think the proto-orthodox writers to whom you refer would have come on the scene after Marcion.

          (2) I don’t think it is accurate to say that what you refer to as proto-orthodox writers ever argued that “allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah.” As I said, the early church fathers interpreted literally as well as allegorically. And they certainly found places where they believed that Christ was “literally” prophesied or referred to in the Old Testament. So, I don’t know of any church father who made this kind of statement. I could well be wrong; and I would be grateful to be shown differently if this is the case. I’ll revise my history of interpretation lectures.
          Thanks Carlos. Blessings.

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Jerry,

            What I wrote was a synopsis of what I recall from secondary literature I’ve read. The list I provided you should find to be pretty standard. As far as #2 goes, I only have time to provide only some remarks from the literature that I recall, although I am not sure that they’ll completely satisfy you. As I think about it, it’s probably not the proto-orthodox statement that bothers but perhaps rather what is meant by “allegory/allegorical”:

            H. Chadwick: “Marcion’s attack on the Old Testament depended on two axioms: the rejection of allegorical interpretation and the assertion that the first generation of Jewish Christian had misunderstood and misinterpreted the mind of Jesus . . . Marcion’s rejection of allegory destroyed any invocation of the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy . . .”

            H. Raisanen: “For mainstream expositors, the Old Testament was, for the most part, important as a collection of alleged predictions and promises about Jesus, which were ‘discovered’ in the Old Testament thought the use of allegorical and typological devices. Allegorising also helped one to side-step various difficulties caused by many biblical passages . . . His
            suspicion of allegory was indeed ‘a mark of uniqueness in that age.’”

            S. Moll: “In conclusion we can maintain: Marcion did
            understand the Old Testament literally, but the only case in which this method categorically differed from all of his orthodox opponents—and agreed with the
            Jews instead—was his idea that the messianic prophecies within the Old Testament did not refer to the coming of Jesus Christ.”

            J. Barton: “. . . it is at any rate agreed that Marcion
            refused to allegorize the Old Testament, and that this fits well with his insistence on its lack of concord with the New. His contemporaries spent a lot of effort interpreting the Old Testament in such a way that it would appear to be in harmony with the new revelation in Christ. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho is a case in point: at every turn he tries to convince his opponent of the non-literal meaning of Old Testament texts, and so to show that Jesus can be seen as their fulfillment.”

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Jerry:

            I thought about it some more and think that we can both say with some confidence that “The apostolic fathers could more easily show Christ fulfilled the OT through typology/allegory.” What I would go on to say is that “Without typology/allegory, the apostolic could not have convincingly argued that Christ fulfilled the OT.” I’m not sure it’s going to be reasonable to expect to find such a concession from the writings of the apostolic fathers themselves because it’s the kind of statement we could say only after some time has passed so that interested parties can critically assess the controversy between Marcion and his contemporaries to try to see what was at stake and to see where the controversy led in terms of historical developments. I think this is what Harnack and others writing on Marcion were trying to do, so I guess there’s bound to be some “anachronism” creeping in as we try to talk about Marcion today.

            Lampe: “As the Church found, particularly in its conflict
            with Marcion, the use of typology is the most effective method of maintaining the unity of both Testaments. It rests upon the conviction that the Old Testament must be read as Christ and his disciples understood it—that is, as witnessing to himself as the fulfillment of the historical process of God’s dealings with his ancient people. . . . The long perspective of biblical history can be discerned only in light of the revelation of God in Christ. It is from this point that the records have to be re-read if their meaning is to be appreciated.”

            There also seems to be a heavy anti-Jewish bias to Marcion’s version of Christianity, that we have not given sufficient attention to.

            Thanks for the dialogue.

            Grace and peace,

          • Jerry Shepherd


            Thank you for these quotations from the secondary literature. Even though these are all very fine scholars,
            there is a problem with the way they have, at least apparently, overstated the case. For Chadwick, it simply isn’t true that “Marcion’s rejection of allegory destroyed any invocation of the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy.” And this is because Marcion’s criticism would not have touched arguments made by the church fathers who understood there to be “literal” prophecies of Christ in the OT.

            Raisenen’s statement is ok, except that, again, the church fathers did not always resort to allegory or typology.

            Moll’s statement doesn’t really address the issue.

            Barton’s statement, again, would only apply to those
            passages where allegorical interpretation was conducted. But this did not happen at “every turn,”
            even in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho.

            To be sure, the early church fathers certainly used allegory and typology. But that was not the only
            thing they used. Taking Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho as an example, which I decided to re-read this past
            weekend, we can see three different ways in which Justin saw Christ in the OT:

            (1) Literally fulfilled prophecy; e.g., Micah 5; Isaiah 7,
            40, 53; Daniel 7; Zechariah 9; Psalms 22, 24, 45, 72, 110. Indeed, his argument for some of these, the
            Psalms texts in particular, is that there has been no literal fulfillment of them in the OT, therefore Christ must be the one who fulfills them literally. His methodology corresponds, apparently, to that used in Acts 2:25-31. It is a three-step process: 1. Interpret literally, in fact, over-literally. 2. Show how the “natural” subject cannot fulfill the literal language of the passage. 3. Show how the “real” subject, Christ, does fulfill it.

            (2) Allegorically or typologically fulfilled passages –
            which I admit are numerous. And sometimes, he does conflate literal interpretation with allegorical or typological one.. But it is also important to note that only rarely does he interpret only allegorically; he still believes, for the most part, that the events in the narratives actually occurred.

            (3) “Real presence” texts; e.g., Justin argues
            that Christ was the third “man” in Genesis 18. But, by this he means that Christ really was the third man, not allegorically or typologically, but literally.

            Additionally, it is important to note that for most of these
            early church fathers, the historicity of the narratives were actually quite important for them. For Irenaeus, for example, the historicity was very important for his theology of recapitulation. And even for Origen, he stressed time and again that the narratives were historical, with the exception of those texts where he thought the literal narrative said something unworthy of the character of God.

            Again, thanks Carlos. I’ve appreciated the dialogue.


          • Carlos Bovell

            To Jerry,

            I am happy to see that you agree the authors I refer to are all very fine scholars. At the same time, I am not surprised that you found occasion to explain why each one of them is wrong. In fact, I did not honestly think that any reference to the secondary literature–no matter whom I cited–would satisfy you, but I thought to try anyway. For my part, I am more inclined to accept the findings of the specialists who focus on early Christian studies over that of evangelical inerrantists who are primed to only accept scholarly results that allow for the Fathers to be (modern) inerrantists too. I am not sure what else to say.

            One final thought that occurs to me is this: I am trying to keep in mind that for the most part the Fathers always tried to play by the rules of the game. They were very sensitive to who they were writing against. Accordingly, which game they played would depend in large measure on what dispute they were addressing at any given time. This can help put the sections of Dialogue with Trypho that you refer to into a broader historical setting that serves to explain why “literal” interpretations are provided in those sections. Did Justin believe that these literal interpretations alone proved his point? The early churches think this? Not likely. Without the typological/allegorical, the christological readings lose their substance.

            Skarsaune: “But the scriptural proof which originally was developed in intense debates with Jews, proved to be useful in other debates, too. When addressing Gentiles, a Christian author could use the traditional ‘proof from prophecy’ in order to show the antiquity of Christianity, and he could exploit the apologetic argument implied in the ‘prophecy—fulfillment’ scheme: events predicted hundreds of years earlier proved the truth of the predictions, and vice versa. . . . While discussing with Jews, one could take the authority of the Old Testament for granted, while the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in Jesus and the Church were the objects of proof. In debate with Gnostics, it was the other way round: the authority of Jesus as the revealer of truth was uncontested. The very possibility, however, of proving that Jesus had been predicted by the prophets, and that therefore the Old Testament was a revelation given by His Father, was the best possible vindication of the authority and the divine origin of the Old Testament. In this way the proof-text tradition is developed and modified in different settings, and also becomes a cherished piece of supporting argument in internal Christian
            instruction . . .”

            One more thing, I remember reading somewhere that it is not accurate for us moderns to think of the ancients as reading “literally.” What we think of this and what they would have thought by it along with why they read this way as part of their schooling are not to be equated. This is also good to keep in mind.


          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Carlos,
            Wow! I’m not really sure where that stuff in the first paragraph came from. We weren’t talking about evangelicals, and we weren’t talking about inerrancy, and we weren’t talking about whether the church fathers would correspond to modern inerrantists. We were talking about literal versus allegorical/typological interpretations. So I don’t quite understand why you felt the need to move the conversation in that direction. That’s unfortunate, for a number of reasons.

            First, keep in mind that I responded to your list of quotations from the secondary literature with observations from my reading of the primary literature.

            Second, the scholars you quoted, in particular, Chadwick and Barton, did not make their comments in the context of an analytical examination of the exegesis of the church fathers. Chadwick’s was in the middle of a general survey of church history and Barton’s was in an article on Marcion. If they had been writing analytical pieces about the interpretation of the church fathers, they might have been less generalizing and sweeping in their statements. As far as the secondary literature, more balanced and nuanced analyses of the hermeneutics and exegesis of the church fathers can be found in the writings of a number of scholars: Karen Jo Torjeson, Hans Frei, W. A. Shotwell, David Aune, Rowan Greer, Moises Silva, R. P. C. Hanson, A. T. Hanson, Ronald Heine, Christopher Hall, Oscar Skarsaune, to name a few. To my knowledge, Silva is perhaps the only person in this list who qualifies as an inerrantist. Maybe some of the others are; I don’t know. These scholars are more careful to differentiate between literal versus allegorical/typological interpretation.

            By the way, Skarsaune, whom you quoted in this last post (and which quotation I agree with), says something very similar to what I said in my last post: “While in other parts of the Dialogue a modern reader is offended by fanciful exegesis, in Dial. 56-60 he would complain that Justin is over-literal!” (exclamation point Skarsaune’s).

            Third–and I meant to mention this earlier–It is also important to note that the church fathers did not just allegorize the OT; they allegorized the NT as well. And it is a huge stretch to argue that they allegorized the NT in order to find Christ there! This tells us something about their purposes in allegorization. While for some of the allegorizers, Justin in particular, allegory did play a significant role in their apologetic, it would not be right, by any means, to understand that this was the controlling motivation for all of them. Allegory was used, to be sure, for apologetic reasons, but it was also used homiletically, paranetically, and pastorally.


          • Carlos Bovell

            To Jerry:

            Yes, allegory was many things to many people, but by now I have lost track of what we are to talk about. The use of allegory/typology in the early church is too wide of an issue to get a handle on in a comments section. I thought we were talking specifically about the opinion in the apostolic fathers that without allegory/typology the case for Christ, as we might call it, loses the support it needs to be “credible,” and this in every field you just mentioned: homiletics, etc.

            When I saw how you meandered your way so matter-of-factly through the citations I troubled tracking down, it seemed to me, contrary to your subsequent explanation, that you were nit-picking as part of a wider attempt to open a way for “modern” inerrancy to be found somehow in the the church fathers. I have come across this strategy plenty of times in the inerrantist literature and was frustrated/disappointed.

            Please accept my apology if there is a case of mistaken identity. I’m sure there will be an occasion to discuss this again. Until then,


  • Neo

    I’m pretty certain I’m guilty of being snarky when I ask this but sincerity is at the heart: So is there insinuation that Moses (or whomever authored the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy) loved God but misunderstood Him? I really would be grateful for any response.

    • Karen K

      I can’t speak for others, but I am not necessarily insinuating anything. Only making the observations of what is in the text. Even using a close, literary reading of the texts, one could arrive at various ways of understanding the narrative flow of the Pentateuch. I sometimes think we are not curious enough so we just go with status quo readings.

      One could also ask did the biblical authors love God but misunderstand God when it asserted a “Divinely ordained” law that could require a woman to marry her rapist?

      My response is that what we see in the law codes are fairly standard ancient Near Eastern law codes. The laws themselves are not necessarily Divinely inspired. They are for the most part cultural products. But they still have meaning because they have been contextualized in the sacred text to portray theological concepts of righteousness, obedience to God, etc.

      • Now, Karen, be fair about Deuteronomy 22. God didn’t let the rapist marry his victim until he paid her father 55 shekels of silver. No crime unpunished.

        • Neo

          I see those laws about preservation. If the woman who was raped wasn’t married by the rapist, she would be married by no one. In that agrarian society, even more in the Exodus, she would be so destitute she’d have no choice but turn to prostitution and even then she would inevitably not survive. So I see that in terms of trajectory for women’s rights, which no other culture at that time had anything close to for preserving a female rape victim. It certainly isn’t perfect or easy to explain. But neither as easily dismissed as the post just above this one. These things are complex and I’m sure there are treasures that abound if we continue the journey.

          • Well, there is no question that this section of Deuteronomy reflects a complex set of ancient cultural norms, including other “commandments” in which “slandered” women could resort to a “cloth” to prove their virginity (vindicated if “proved”, stoned to death otherwise).

            But this only underscores the reality that such ancient commandments reflect the brutal prejudices one would expect in ancient societies.

          • Neo

            Yeah. Sigh. Well, at least a few of you were willing to engage. It’s good. However, the way Pete eluded cogent and reasonable points by Jerry, just poo-pooing them with a retort about edumacation shows what kinda dude he is. So with that I’ll try not to let the door hit me where the Good Lord split me.

          • Happy to engage, but I don’t speak for Pete.

          • Karen K

            Neo, more likely she would have remained in the house of her father and when her father died, lived in the house of another male relative. Forcing her to marry the rapist had less to do with her being put out on the street and more to do with honor/shame culture. As for trying to frame the horrific experience of a rape victim having to marry her perpetrator as on the trajectory of women’s rights, I think that is appalling. I understand what you are trying to say. Its true that ANE thinking is different. But the fact that it is different does not make it less appalling anymore than it makes the OT genocides more palatable. The fact is these kinds of customs are still practiced in some places in the world and it might serve us all well to remember that these women do suffer. Here is a story from just last year out of Morocco of a young woman who committed suicide:

  • James

    Jesus said, if your eye offends you pluck it out, etc. I’ve seen this recently as a NT way of purging the Canaanites from the land as described in the OT. We are called to die to self and follow Jesus. That means cutting off offending desires and burning them up as an act of worship and total surrender. With respect to this requirement, the God’s of the Old and New Testament seem roughly the same!

    • I’m extremely grateful that Christians tend to read Matthew 5:29-30 and Mark 9:43-48 as poetic hyperbole. Otherwise, our churches would be filled with maimed and disfigured members.

  • “To say that there are two Gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New, is Marcionism. To say that the one God is portrayed in various–even conflicting–ways is simply a matter of reading the Bible in English with both eyes open.”

    Amen to that!
    I think that the best way to dissolve the problem is to view the writing of the whole Bible in the same way one views all other Christian books , i.e. as fallible human thoughts about God.
    This this (by and large) what liberal Biblical scholar Tom Stark calls us to do, but there is no need to become anti-supernaturalist.

    The Gospels and letters of the Apostle have (for me) a more central position because they were closer to the events but not because the authors were more inspired than future Christian authors.

    Actually, when I compare the book of Joshua (assuming the literal interpretation is the correct one) with books of C.S. Lewis, I find it obvious that the latter are far closer to a God of love and justice than the former.
    It seems extremely problematic to keep apart our current Canon.

    “My big concern in all this is that the charge of Marcionism simply
    deflects from the real theological/hermeneutical problem of divine
    violence by giving a false sense of having solved the problem.

    This is what makes it so frustrating to deal with conservative Evangelical apologists.

  • Steve Ranney

    I see it has been stated already by mark and probably others – I was just going to say that this method of guilt by association is common. It really seems to be intended for the faithful masses – once they can categorize a person in a box as bad, then there is no need to read the book or think about the issue. Another example I have seen is ‘well that is just liberation theology’ about someone advocating some kind of economic reform.

  • Jaco van Zyl

    When I first learnt of “Marcion the Heretic,” my initial and years long impression of the man could have been likened to that of a monstrous, second-century Rasputin of sorts. In later years my impressions of the man changed. Most Evangelical Christians will undoubtedly still cling to the monster connotation of him; but Marcion – heretic or not – was a radical thinker of his time, and a formidable one too. While his moral sensitivity led him to “split” the Gods of the OT and NT, his opposers and their successors later came to display the very brutality and violence Marcion was so opposed to. Quite a paradox!

  • mark

    Pete, I’d like to return briefly to something you said several days ago:

    It is somewhat ironic in this very long (….) discussion that one of Marcion’s main problems with his contemporaries is that he took the OT
    as an accurate description of God as he is
    (rather than as he was
    understood). Like his contemporaries in the 2nd century, he knew that
    this God and the Gospel were not compatible, but rather than allowing
    this tension to invite an allegorical interpretation, Marcion took the
    other solution: the God of the OT must be a different God. I’m glad the
    allegorists won that skirmish,
    but we continue the marcionite error–at
    least part of it–if we think the solution can be found at taking these
    texts at face value as “inerrant” descriptions of the nature of God.

    I think I understand that you’re not actually advocating for a full blown “allegorical” approach to “the Bible,” as that approach has traditionally, or often, been used by “Christians” of one sort or another. My view, the 25 words or less version, is that an allegorical approach lapses into utter subjectivism unless there is some objective control to which it is subject. OTOH, Marcion is making an important point, laying down a challenge, in effect: If you say that the OT is not to be taken as a specific description of “God as he is,” then what approach do you advocate? What are its parameters? How do you justify that approach? (Of course Marcion didn’t say that, but that is the challenge for those who disagree with Marcion, as I do.)

    The Catholic Church draws a number of useful distinctions in this regard, and a handy resource to for accessing those distinctions is a document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. (Other Church documents discuss these issues, but this document is handy “springboard” for thought/discussion–and not just for Catholics.) The link leads to a very detailed table of contents, which gives a pretty good idea of the ideas that are discussed. I assume that you’re familiar with these ideas, but for the benefit of others I’ll quote some brief excerpts.

    Basically, the document sets up a distinction between the “literal sense” of Scripture and “literalism.” By “literalism” the authors mean what they specify as “fundamentalism.” OTOH, they use the term “literal sense” to mean the sense of the text when understood within its total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological–whatever. No allegorical interpretation can be considered valid that is not based in the “literal sense.” (This distinction has a long history, btw.) So, that said, here are the few brief excerpts, which come from Section “II, B, 1, The Literal Sense”:

    1. The Literal Sense

    It is not only legitimate, it is also absolutely necessary to seek to define the precise meaning of texts as produced by their authors–what is called the “literal” meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas had already affirmed the fundamental importance of this sense (S. Th. I, q. 1,a. 10, ad 1).

    The literal sense is not to be confused with the “literalist” sense to which fundamentalists are attached. It is not sufficient to translate a text word for word in order to obtain its literal sense. …

    The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. …

    Does a text have only one literal sense? In general, yes; but there is no question here of a hard and fast rule …

    … The literal sense is, from the start, open to further developments, which are produced through the “rereading” (relectures) of texts in new contexts.

    It does not follow from this that we can attribute to a biblical text whatever meaning we like, interpreting it in a wholly subjective way. On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text. To admit the possibility of such alien meanings would be equivalent to cutting off the biblical message from its root, which is the word of God in its historical communication; it would also mean opening the door to interpretations of a wildly subjective nature.

    I’d like to stress several points with regard to this document and the excerpt that I provided. First, I’m not going to contend that this document is dispositive of all issues in this field. Second, as the document itself makes clear, there is no simple “paint-by-number” approach to Scripture–exegesis is by its nature interdisciplinary and painstaking. Third, the question of how well the Church has adhered to the principles set out in the document is a separate issue.

    • mark

      One thing I forgot to point out, but which should be fairly apparent. Since the “literal sense” includes the “total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological–whatever,” and all other interpretations must be validated by that literal sense, that means 1) that the literal sense must always be primary, and 2) that historical-critical scholarship must also be primary.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation
      alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written

      And thus comes the necessary subjectivity. Matthew 16.7 being a prime example 🙂

      • mark

        Bad translation. I would have said “inauthentic” rather than “unauthentic,” but the Vatican doesn’t consult me on these matters. 🙁

        Mt. 16:7:

        And they reasoned among themselves about it, saying, It is because we did not bring any bread.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Oh whoops. meant Matthew 16:17-19.

          • mark

            Thought so. In that case I refer you to point #3:

            Third, the question of how well the Church has adhered to the principles set out in the document is a separate issue.

            OTOH, issues like papal primacy aren’t simply a matter of saying: Ha, Matthew 16:17-19, gotcha! This is a very complex historical and theological issue.

            I recently bought a book I still haven’t gotten around to reading, Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present. Looks pretty informative, though.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I know. As a fellow (albeit a bit lasped) Catholic I was partly just havin’ fun 🙂

          • mark

            Yeah, I knew that.

            Turns out I have read the book, just forgot. I know that doesn’t sound like a recommendation, but it is actually an informative and thought provoking book. The author is an historian and the book is not apologetic in nature–he’s not trying to persuade anyone, he’s describing the history of it all, from Christian origins to the present.

  • Rob

    Peter, you make me think outside my normal paradigms and for that I thank you. Love the challenge to stretch and grow.
    I am wondering how your view of a different perspective on God being presented in the NT is reconciled with the apocalyptic violence of God in Revelation – ie. Rev 19:11ff? Seems to me all the OT illusions of Revelation bring OT perspective of God to a very present and future realization of His divine violence.

    • peteenns

      Rob, I think this is a great question. A full answer would take a bit more than I have time for, but in brief, Revelation is apocalyptic literature and as such participates in the rhetoric of violence, which is part of the symbolic world of 1st century Judaism. What that means, practically speaking, is that this culturally sensitive explication of God’s justice and ultimate vindication is refracted through that apocalyptic lens, where, for example, blood will run down the street for 200 miles and as deep as a horse’s bridle.

      To be clear, that does not mean that God does not “experience” anger or that he won’t will put “all things to rights” somehow (as NT Wright is prone to say). I am only saying that Revelation presents a picture of that that reflects it’s setting.

      • Rob

        I’m tracking with you, and agree that it must reflect it’s setting and be in accord with the genre. Yet it seems that the future putting of “all things to rights” may well have some violence in it, even if not literally as vividly bloody as apocalyptic literature might present it. Still the evil that persists today seemingly will be destroyed in the end, and will that not likely evoke some actual violence of God beyond ancient rhetorical effect? Even if the evil is simply vaporized, that would be violent as it is the divine arrest of the will of those perpetrating evil.
        My point is, while the message of the gospel and letters is largely to evangelize and bolster the faith of believers by grace through faith (simply stated) is there not a real violence of God still to be expected against the evil of the present world. Put another way, has God gone soft on evil and has his covenant love lost it’s consuming fire?

        • peteenns

          I definitely here what you are saying, Rob. No, I don’t think God has gone soft on evil on its various forms (e.g., African genocides or western materialism). The question is what is God going to do about it. I am not sure that “violence” describes it, even though that is the language that may be used to express it.

  • mark

    Hey, let’s keep this thing going. Here’s an article my brother just sent me that seems very relevant to the ongoing discussion here: Does God Care About the Bible As Much As We Do?

    Below are a few excerpts that frame the issue in fairly stark terms. Note two things: IMO, the author is implicitly raising the issue that I keep referring to–first, why do we say that these ancient books are somehow “revelational,” and what do we really, I mean really, mean when we say that; second, he offers an example that is uncannily like the examples that Pete was giving in the comments:

    For many in the church today, using the Bible as the go-to, definitive, and final answer for everything is the whole point of the Bible.

    Otherwise, God wouldn’t have chopped it up into nice chapters and verses that we could weaponize at the drop of a hat, right?

    But what if God had other intentions for the Bible? What if God didn’t intend for it to be the unquestioned final authority on everything that we’ve turned it into? What if, dare I say it, God doesn’t care about the Bible as much as we do?

    I don’t mean God thinks that it’s worthless, but what if we think more highly of the Bible and its authority than we should?

    My suspicion begins in the Gospels where time and time again we hear Jesus declaring, “You have heard it said… but I say….” Now, sometimes he’s just talking about tradition or the teachings of other rabbis. But a lot of times, he’s talking about scripture itself, what we would today call the Old Testament. We tend to gloss over Jesus’ words as nothing more than a rhetorical device, but when we do we miss the gravity of what he’s actually doing.

    He’s breaking the bonds of scripture to bring new truth and breath fresh life into the people of God. He’s refusing to be held captive to the words on the page in order to get to the real heart of faith.

    Then he continues by citing the example of the revelation to Peter in Acts re the food laws–God is telling Peter to ignore the “revealed word of God!” What could possibly be up with that?

    Read the whole thing–he has a number of provocative, thought provoking things to say. I’m not gonna say I agree with everything to say, but IMO it’s very worthwhile for people who are concerned with the issues Pete’s been raising.

    Toward the end the author asks, well, if God doesn’t seem to care about the Bible as much as we do, then how how is the Bible supposed to be a guide for us? He has a succinct answer, one that is highly condensed, but also highly suggestive of the issues we as Christians need to address:

    The same way the church has always let scripture guide us before we fell for the delusion of sola scriptura — tradition can lead us, the church teach us, reason inform us, and experience shape us into the people of God formed but not shackled to the Bible.

  • ctrace

    “To speak this way is not Marcionism–not even quasi, latent,
    or incipient Marcionism, but an articulation of a perennial theological
    problem of Christian doctrine: the very real presence of
    both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments.”

    Yes, a problem if one leaves off the table classical Reformed Covenant – Federal – Theology; kind of like the way Marxists leave free market solutions off the table when discussing directions to move in…