Are you irked at the thought of God not being wrathful? (Michael Hardin part 2)

Are you irked at the thought of God not being wrathful? (Michael Hardin part 2) April 9, 2014

Today we have part 2 of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.

In today’s post, Hardin continues his discussion of Luke 4 and and how Jesus’s use of Isaiah 61:1-2 reframes our understanding of “wrath” and the retributive violence of God.


When teaching Luke 4, I point out that Isaiah 61:1-2 was one of the more popular passages in Judaism. It is cited in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other writings as well as in rabbinic literature. Have you ever seen a football game where after a touchdown somebody holds up a sign in the end zone seats that reads “John 3:16?” If they had played football in Jesus’ day that sign would have read “Isaiah 61:1-2.”

What made it so important was that it was a lectionary passage for the Year of Jubilee. This was a text that expressed the hope of Israel for liberation from the bondage not only of spiritual dis-ease but also political and economic oppression. The vision of Isaiah was one of shalom, wholeness in all of life.

The first thing to notice is that Jesus does not cite the entire text but eliminates one very important line, “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” The question is: why did he do this?

Some suggest that now is the time of grace and so Jesus holds off on quoting the text about God’s vengeance since that will come later at the end of time. But nowhere else does Jesus seem to quote the biblical text in this fashion, and he never seems to break the work of God into dispensations or periods of time. Something else is going on here.

Second is the problem of translation that arises in Luke 4:22. Most translations indicate that the crowd was pleased with Jesus. These same synagogue hearers then comment, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

The intonation we are supposed to supply would be something like “Oh, what a fine sermon and what a fine preacher Jesus has turned out to be, his father would be so proud!” But is this the case?

The Greek text is quite simple and the King James has adequately translated this “and all bore witness to him.” This bearing witness in the KJV is neither positive nor negative. Why then do translators say, “all spoke well of him?”

Translators have to make what is known as a syntactical decision, they have to decide whether or not the “bearing witness” is negative or positive. Technically speaking they have to decide if the dative pronoun “to him” is a dative of disadvantage or a dative of advantage; was the crowd bearing witness to his advantage or to his disadvantage?

If it is the former case then the intonation we gave to “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” above would make sense and Jesus immediately following gets sarcastic for no reason, but if it is the latter then we could just as well translate this text as “and all spoke ill of his sermon,” that is, they didn’t like what he said.

Then the intonation of the phrase “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” should be rendered something like “who does Jesus think he is coming into our synagogue and saying such things?” With this alternate, preferable translation, of verse 23 Jesus is not being sarcastic but is responding to the negativity of the listeners.

A third point to be made concerns the two examples Jesus cites from two of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases Jesus notes that God worked not within the bounds of Israel but outside the chosen people when he sent these prophets to feed and heal.

What is the connection between what these prophets did and what Jesus said when he quoted the Isaiah text, and why did the crowd get angry enough with him to want to kill him?

We noted that when Jesus quoted the Isaiah text he did not quote the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” If, in popular opinion, part of the promise of jubilee was that God would deliver Israel from her oppressors, and if that expectation was that God would punish her oppressors, then the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God” would be an aspect of the longed for and hoped for deliverance by which Israel’s enemies would be cast down.

Political deliverance was perceived as an aspect of God working wrath on Israel’s enemies. By eliminating this line, Jesus also eliminated the possibility that jubilee included God’s wrath upon whoever was oppressing Israel. His words were indeed “gracious words” (“words of grace”).

The citation of the two examples of Elijah and Elisha then justify Jesus’ exclusion of this vengeance saying, for both prophets had worked their healing miracles among foreign outsiders, those whom God was supposed (in popular piety) to hate.

In short, Jesus is saying to his synagogue hearers

Jubilee is here, not only for you but also for those you hate; in fact God also goes to your oppressors with this message of jubilee, deliverance and salvation. God will become their God and thus you shall all be family.

Now we can begin to understand why they got so mad at him.

But there is a further implication to be drawn from this. By eliminating the phrase regarding God’s vengeance, Jesus is removing the notion of retributive violence from the doctrine of God.

He is in effect saying that God is not like you think, loving you and angry with those you hate. There is a great bumper sticker making the rounds these days that captures this problem. It says “Isn’t it convenient that God hates the same people you do?”

Like the Galileans, we too have a tendency to want to believe that God is on our side and will judge “the other” who is over against us, or different from us. Such was not the case with Jesus. He observed that God makes no distinctions between righteous and wicked, between oppressors and oppressed, they both need deliverance and God’s blessing. Did he not say, “God makes rain to fall on good and evil and sun to shine on just and unjust?” (Matt 5:45)

This is perhaps the most important point I am seeking to make in my book The Jesus Driven Life, namely that, like Jesus, it is essential for us to begin to reframe the way we understand the “wrath” or retributive violence of God.

To suggest that God is nonviolent or better yet, that God is not involved in the cycle of retributive vengeance and punishment will undoubtedly strike many as wrong. Some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town. If you are feeling this way, then what is the difference between how you feel and how Jesus’ hearers felt that day when he preached in his hometown synagogue?

Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes sides, and that side is inevitably our side.

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  • mark

    “Some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town.”

    Nope, I don’t want to run you out of town. I do, however, want to point out that the statement “Jesus is removing the notion of retributive violence from the doctrine of God” is reading too much into the text. There are two points to consider: 1) Jesus, as (among other important things) a public preacher spoke very much for rhetorical effect. It’s easy enough to locate seeming contradictions in his recorded statements, and this passage is no exception. No interpretation of the NT generally is valid unless it places a given passage into as much context as is available in order to discern the true intent and meaning. 2) The NT generally but the Gospels in particular are not textbooks of theology or practical manuals of moral philosophy. That isn’t to say that theological or moral conclusion cannot be drawn from the NT/Gospels. What it is to say is that we have to constantly bear in mind what sort of literature we’re dealing with.

    • Michael Hardin

      I’m not sure how my conclusion would be reading too much into the text Mark, if it can be shown that Jesus also does this in other places. This is just one passage among many where (at least in the book!) I am suggesting that Jesus, and especially Paul the writer of the Fourth Gospel, follow in this trajectory of rejecting the concept of retribution in divinity. Which is why The Jesus Driven Life tackles the Synoptics, John, Paul, Hebrews, Revelation as well as Torah, the prophets and wisdom literature. These posts are a snapshot of a much broader thesis. Of course anyone with hubris enough to challenge the Christian hermeneutical tradition from Justin Martyr to the present must be a little off their rocker! 🙂 BTW: I have no idea who you are, but I sure appreciate your thoughtful, sane and measured replies. Many thanks.

      • mark

        Very briefly, I would say that the episode of Jesus at Nazareth in Lk 4 speaks to Jesus’ views regarding the relations of God and mankind–Jew and Gentile alike, an issue that was central to the Good News that Jesus proclained. I don’t see Jesus’ remarks in this passage as a statement in principle re retributive justice, although there are certainly implications re God’s justice toward the human race generally–Jew and Gentile alike. There are also other passages in the Gospels that involve judgment, to be read no doubt in the context of God’s righteousness/justice but which certainly appear to involve the idea of retribution–that all will be judged by their works. My contention is that, since the early Christian writings are not manuals of theology per se, those passages re judgment must be weighed in the balance with the passages that concern God’s mercy. But thanks for your kind regards. I’ll continue to read your posts with interest.

        • Michael Hardin

          Well said. Hey, I could be wrong. To my knowledge no one has nominated me for the papacy. But at least I hope I am asking thoughtful and helpful questions.

          • mark

            I agree, these are important questions, and the answers to some have been taken for granted for too long.

            “To my knowledge no one has nominated me for the papacy.”

            Ya never know! Who would have thought that a guy like Papa Paco would have had a chance? Your time may come.

  • Guest

    I appreciate the insightful exegesis here and look forward to the next couple posts in this series. However, I do have a question. How does the notion of eliminating retributive justice relate to other texts that clearly indicate judgment? For example just a few chapters later in Luke 10, Jesus says of those who reject him and his disciples will have it worse than Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon at judgment (vv. 10-16). Also, while I agree that some Christians seem to relish the wrath of God, others might be irked because it seems like an incomplete reading of Scripture–that is, not taking into account the whole of Scripture which has plenty of texts referring to judgment. I personally really wrestle with the question of God’s wrath and have not resolved it for myself as yet. But, it would take more than demonstrating Jesus’ openness to the Gentiles’ salvation (which we also begin to see in the OT and is very clear in the NT) to persuade that there isn’t any wrath of God to be reckoned with. It seems to me this is merely leveling the playing field between Jews and Gentiles, more than necessarily making a statement about God’s wrath no longer applying to anyone. There even seems to be condemnation in Luke 4 itself since Elijah and Elisha did not take their ministry to the Israelites, but to Gentiles. Thus, it implies the Israelites were not in God’s favor. And, indeed, Jesus is saying that his present Jewish audience is like those former Israelites with whom God was not pleased.

    • Michael Hardin

      Good question Karen! (methinks most of Peter’s readers ask deeply insightful questions!). The Jesus Driven Life is proposing an entirely different hermeneutic paradigm for reading the Bible, one that reads the biblical texts anthropologically first, then I read them theologically. So I don’t assume that ‘texts of wrath’ refer to ‘God’s wrath’ as much as they refer to our tendency as humans to portray the gods as wrathful. But all of this is spelled out in the book. Hope this helps a wee bit.

      • Guest

        Michael, thanks for taking the time to respond. I also read your post over at Brian McClaren. There is much there I can agree with, but I would still need to see how your hermeneutic grapples with the more challenging texts such as I alluded to. I presume you address this in your book–the concept of judgment? For example, what Jesus means that it will be better for Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon on judgment day? I would like to see that verse addressed head on and how your hermeneutic would read it. Or Jesus’ admonition, also in Luke, that we should be watchful for when the Master returns: “The servant who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging will receive but few” (13:47-48; what is interesting in this context is how punishment relates to a person’s awareness that they are doing something wrong or not).

        I will have to check out your book! Incidentally, I am anticipating writing my dissertation on theologies of mass destruction, including concepts around the wrath of God, so I am very interested in this subject–albeit my focus is more Old Testament.

        • Michael Hardin

          Cool! The Jesus Driven Life is my ‘thesis’ which developed from all kinds of material I had written the previous twenty years (found in essays, other books and my website). So I confess to being all over the place as a somewhat ‘cosmopolitan thinker’ of sorts. I am only a specialist in the works of Rene Girard and Karl Barth, everything else I write comes from lots of reading and musing.

        • Delonte Harrod

          Karen he is trying to sell a book. It is a marketing scheme. He didn’t even take the time to thoroughly answer your questions. He is dropping crumbs so that you can buy the book: this is why he references this book.

          • peteenns

            Careful, Delonte. You are assuming the worst of Michael. The fact is that he is writing a dissertation at the moment. Also, I sometimes get questions that I can’t do justice to but that I’ve developed elsewhere and I say the same. Michael is definitely not dismissing Karen’s point.

          • Michael Hardin

            Pete, is it fair to say that you invited me to do these posts because you would hope that others would become acquainted and read my work? In that case one might also accuse you of marketing! 🙂

          • peteenns

            OK, so you agree with Delonte. 🙂

          • Michael Hardin

            No, just thought you might want to ‘stand with the scapegoat!’ 🙂

          • Michael Hardin

            Give me a break Delonte. I am in the thick of writing my dissertation and really can’t spend a lot of time writing out thoughtful long responses. It is not a marketing scheme. Personally I found your response juvenile and offensive.

    • Michael Hardin

      These are good questions. I do believe there will be judgment (I affirm all the articles of the Nicene Creed, even if I may not interpret them in the manner of Protestant Orthodoxy). I see justice as restorative not penal. May I refer you to Chris Marshall’s work on this subject or Stephen Travis (or John Phelan’s Essential Eschatology). I suppose I come out where Jurgen Moltmann does or even Karl Barth in his best moments. I do not read judgment texts as punitive in character.

  • Rick

    Good post, but I too must agree with Karen K and mark: are you reading too much into that text. The specific wrath they had expected from the OT may no longer be a possibility, but does that mean any type of God’s wrath is no longer on the table?

    • Michael Hardin

      Rick, please see my comments to Mark and Karen (I am working from the bottom up). Wrath as anger (as affectus) is not how I understand phrases relating to ‘the wrath of God (which I would read more as effectus). Having said this I have a guest post on the ‘wrath of God’ on Brian McLaren’s blog today that may interest readers. May I also again say that I have adapted these posts from the second chapter of my book so you are getting a few frames, not the whole movie! (

      • Tim

        When I try to go to this link, I’m getting a 404 error/ page not found.

        Ah, I see; somehow the end parenthesis got included in the link, which breaks it. I had to copy the link, paste it into the browser, and remove the parenthesis at the end.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Re Karen and Mark. I don’t see you suggesting that there is no judgment, no terrible consequences for ultimately rejecting God. Or even consequences in this life for following our own way rather than following the Spirit of God. These things are clear and understood, it seems. I do see you emphasizing that it is not God’s plan that any should be lost, or even punished. We bring such things on ourselves, God, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit has a much better outcome on offer, and provides everything necessary to bring it to pass – except our free acceptance.

    Great post showing yet again how we love to make God in our own image. Thinking about (and acting toward) others the way Jesus teaches is just so not us – the jubilee is great for me, but them? Jonah had the same problem – “I’d rather die”, he said. The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford 2004 has a great commentary on Jonah’s selfish problem. It also provides a one word interpretive addition to God’s question in 4:11 that offers food for thought “And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not (yet) know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well?”

    On another tack, “loving you and angry with those you hate.” or perhaps just as damaging “loving you and punishingly angry with you at the same time.”

    Thanks for this series. Just downloaded the new revised/expanded edition of your book yesterday and look forward to reading it.

    • Michael Hardin

      Thanks Bev! Your Jonah observation is setting off bells in my head (in a good way, like chimes in a Christmas carol! I’m hearing a subversive reversal of the Gen 1-11 mythic thinking). Now I have to get back to writing my dissertation on Barth and Girard. Always great to hear from you. Peace.

    • What if the way God judges the evil is to remove the good from their midst? By “the good”, I mean those who have chosen to accept God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, via becoming themselves purveyors of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Imagine a world without these. Such a world it seems would be hell. And God wouldn’t have made a shred of it; people would have.

      • Bev Mitchell


        Hope this doesn’t wander too far off what Michael would like to talk about here.

        Well, God doesn’t make evil in any case, but I don’t think that’s your point 🙂

        Yes, we have no idea of what this world would be like without the continuous work of the Holy Spirit, much of which we know next to nothing about. Among other things, this goes right back to the first moments of creation wherein light overcame darkness, and continues with the Spirit’s ongoing sustenance of creation.

        To expand a bit, and just thinking out loud here – while we do need to engage in spiritual warfare against evil, we may not have to express this in violent language. I’m wide open to critical comments on this way of expressing matters. Here goes.

        We should not underestimate the reality and devastating effect of evil, for there is continual reference in Scripture to the serious opposition it poses to God’s will. One telling example:

        “All things came into existence through him; not one thing that exists came into existence without him. Life was in him, and this life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1: 3-5 Kingdom New Testament.

        Like the darkness it is, evil will never extinguish the light (love) of God. But violence, as we understand it, may not be needed at all when there is such a miss-match. Love just has to show up. Or, from the perspective of a human life, and after forgiveness is taken care of, love just has to be allowed freedom to act. When this is done, the potential is limitless. Serious spiritual renewal (growth, formation, sanctification) is always needed, but the battle is won through the growth of the good, the growth of love. The big problem is our desire to hold on so hard to our self-centerednes and the sin it engenders. The yielding process can seem very much like violence.

        • The following is a bit long-winded, but I think condensing it will give you less insight into how I’m thinking about this. I need help making it more concise. 😐

          To expand a bit, and just thinking out loud here – while we do need to engage in spiritual warfare against evil, we may not have to express this in violent language. I’m wide open to critical comments on this way of expressing matters.

          My objection to this would be that the memory of true, physical evil, is perhaps the most clear way to illustrate important lessons. The perseverance the Israelites were supposed to have in keeping themselves clean from external contamination, we are supposed to have in keeping ourselves clean from internal contamination (Rom 12:1-2). We are to be, in a sense, violent toward evil, but in the land of ideas, not metal, double-edged swords. After all, terrible ideas start in the form of thoughts, not actions. God made that clear with Cain.

          I think evil ideas can be hated, ‘violently’. The trick, as best as I currently understand it, is that evil isn’t actually alive. I think this is important in understanding e.g. 2 Thess 2:8, where “the lawless one” is poofed out of existence just by Jesus breathing and appearing. It’s like evil is a cigar smoke ring, and all Jesus has to do is breath on it. But to the smoke ring, that breath is ‘violent’. For it destroys the smoke ring!

          But what does ‘violent’ opposition to an idea look like? I think it can be stern words, even with expletives. I had the privilege to do battle against several really bad ideas a recent PhD graduate had been infected with by her lab; a tenured professor who was present claimed, half a year later, that I had probably shaved several months off of her recovery time—off of the rid-self-from-poison time.

          Remember that Jesus describes Satan as a tempter, murderer, a liar [in essence!], a thief, and a betrayer. Some of these are violent terms! This is because Satan does violent things. One of the lessons from Jesus’ “I come not to bring peace, but a sword”, I believe, is that war against ideas. Lest we think that ideas are somehow ‘less’ ephemeral, recall that God created the universe with ‘just’ words.

          Love just has to show up.

          This reminds me of pedants who like to point out inconsequential small errors instead of focusing on the big issue. I was actually recently accused of doing this, and the accusation was half-valid. What love can do is cover a multitude of sins, or errors. Focus on only what is important for the building up of something. Not all errors have to be corrected now—many of them, the person will probably be able to correct himself/herself in due time! Instead, the key seem to be to try and somehow enhance the person with love, stir up some aspect of him/her and give it more life. This, of course, cannot be done with violence. 🙂

          Remember the refrain in Revelation, “To the one who conquers…”, used 7+1 times. We really are conquering. But we’re conquering evil, not people. That difference is what makes all the difference, between the old conception of God sending all the evil people to hell, and the new conception, whereby no people have to go to hell, but evil ideas do. Maybe those evil spirits are somehow… dead. And people have the option to become real, a la CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, or to stay ‘shadows’, fading into death or whatever.

          • Bev Mitchell


            Thanks for this. I strongly agree. We must not underestimate the corrosive power of evil. It (or the devil) will not go away because we ignore it/him – the opposite in fact. Though the devil does lie and twist and spin things, isn’t it interesting how often what he proposes is 180 degrees to what Jesus says? For example, and in some ways, the conversation between Eve and the serpent is almost childish – “God says I will die” – “No, that’s not true.” Like a playground argument. The consequences however are huge and it boils down to the question of who is god here anyway. Or, who gets to make whom in whose image?

            As you say, “We really are conquering. But we’re conquering evil, not people.” Remembering this is crucial. I would challenge your (ephemeral?) characterization of evil. Spiritual, yes, but with a will. A will diametrically opposed to the will of God.

            As for truly horrid expressions of evil, my experience is, thankfully, limited. But in talking to people, and reading accounts written by people who have seen it ……… Well, let’s say that is a big reason why I hesitated before trying to put opposition to evil in non violent terms. I think we vastly underestimate the power (effectiveness) of love (vs. the effectiveness of coercive power), but we dare not underestimate the power of willful evil either.

            I agree, Lewis is a great resource when thinking about such unpleasant matters.

          • Though the devil does lie and twist and spin things, isn’t it interesting how often what he proposes is 180 degrees to what Jesus says?

            I do find this fascinating. In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard has a term, “flying upside down” (random blog post with quotation). Without an absolute reference, we sometimes don’t know until it’s too late. I’m reminded of some Simone Weil in Gravity and Grace:

            The Foolish Virgins—The meaning of this story is that at the moment when we become conscious that we have to make a choice, the choice is already made for good or ill. This is much truer than the allegory about Hercules between vice and virtue. (44)

            For example, and in some ways, the conversation between Eve and the serpent is almost childish – “God says I will die” – “No, that’s not true.”

            What I find fascinating here is that Satan split apart ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’ with this statement, and introduced time. The true version is: “No, your flesh will not die immediately.” The trick is, of course, that our flesh continuing to exist is of no value. It’s often about asking the right questions. 🙂

            Do you have more extensive thoughts on the 180° shift idea? I find it fascinating, and would love to learn more about it.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Re the 180’s – I too would like to find something more well considered on this. Mine are just impressions/observations from reading. But they crop up often enough that, a short while ago, I started noting examples as I read. Maybe someone else has a reference or something.

          • Maybe the 180° flip has to do with lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4b “Sin is lawlessness.”)? 2 Thess 2 has an interesting take on this, equating Satan with “man of lawlessness”. How do you destroy the lawfulness of a group of people or in a system? And if we view Jesus as the Logos—the “ground of rationality” (Rom 10:4, How is Christ the “End of the Law”?) or “the divine animating principle pervading the Universe” (Acts 17:28, Col 1:17, Heb 1:3) The word ‘lawlessness’ is anomia, which comes from anomos, which is the negation of nomos, or law (etc.). One could even see the Year of Jubilee as a restoring of lawfulness, by giving everyone back their land. Hmmm…

  • Pierre

    Mike are there other verses in the New Testament that shows Jesus leaving out text that denote a wrathful God?

    • Michael Hardin

      I believe there are. That’s the point of the hermeneutic enterprise I am engaging in The Jesus Driven Life. Paul, especially (IMO), tends to follow Jesus’ hermeneutic in this regard (and frequently quotes texts and eliminates ‘violent’ God logic).

  • Kim Fabricius

    Some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town. If you are feeling this way, then what is the difference between how you feel and how Jesus’ hearers felt that day when he preached in his hometown synagogue?

    The difference is that Jesus’ hearers actually tried to throw him of a cliff. The worst you can expect, Michael, is some trolling. But ain’t it the truth: Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing.

    Thanks for your excellent post. You might have also pointed out that Jesus not only edits out the vengeance-on-the-Gentiles part of the Isaiah 61 text, he also omits the binding-up-the-broken-hearted bit. That is, he deprives the good people of Nazareth (in “Galilee of the Gentiles”) not only the schadenfreude glee that their occupiers and enemies will get a good whipping, but also the assurance that their own grief, exclusively understood, is not a priority in Yahweh’s eschatological agenda.

    Moreover, not only does Jesus disabuse his audience of their ethnocentrism and enemy-hatred (Naaman the Syrian was, after all, a commander-in-chief), but also of their gender-bias (the gentile hero in Sidon was – a woman!).

    Yep, it’s one heck of a messianic manifesto!

    • Michael Hardin

      Thanks Kim!

  • David

    Michael, interesting read. What about scriptures like Heb 12: 18-29 and Rev 16: 1-20 and Rev18: 9-24?

    • Michael Hardin

      Oh man. I am really in the thick of writing my dissertation and wish I had time to exegete texts like this. May I beg off and ask you to read The Jesus driven Life with its over 600 scripture references and exegesis of key texts? mea culpa

      • Michael, I hear that you are really busy, but you seem to be punting on every question in this thread about seemingly ‘hard’ passages, passages which go against the theme you’re propounding. Might you be willing to pick at least one such ‘hard’ passage and work it out? Otherwise, it really does seem like this is a big tease to buy your book. You’ll actually advertise better for it if you can show that you take ‘hard’ passages seriously, and don’t just apologize for them in a weak fashion. Hopefully you do this; would you be willing to give us a foretaste?

        • Michael Hardin

          Luke: Maybe this will help.

          Some will point out that Jesus talks about hell. Jesus, so they say, saves believers and rejects unbelievers by sending them to hell. Mark 9:42-48 says: “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to
          sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to
          sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.”

          Sadly, some have read this text literally and cut off hands or cut out eyes. They turn Jesus into Jigsaw (from the movie series Saw). If one is not to read it literally then Jesus must have been talking about choices we make in
          this life about our eternal destiny. The proper choice, so some say, is the choice for holiness in this life and the putting away of all sin which is pollution of the soul. Not even close. Neither interpretation is really satisfactory because neither have a context for the saying. Read it again.

          The Gospel’s audience is the disciples, but originally I think it was directed to another type of person. I want to propose a possible Setting in the Life of Jesus (Sitz-im-Leben) for this pericope. What possible audience might such sayings a) apply to and b) be understood by the implied audience? Cutting off of hands and feet. Blinding eyes. Maiming is what it is. Self-maiming. Now what group would loathe the idea of being maimed? Priests who served in the Temple. If they were maimed or blemished in any fashion they could not serve, whether they were full time local priests or part of the rotating courses of priests
          that served the Temple on a bi-weekly basis. These men, and they were all males, would never hope to be maimed, let alone self-maimed.

          Jesus is saying to the priests: “Look at what you do. You can be an unmaimed priest in this Temple or a maimed priest in the kingdom but you be both.”
          This interpretation is congruent with how I understand the shutting down of the Temple episode. Jesus is not being pro-sacrificial in this saying, just the opposite. Jesus connects the sacrificial process of the Temple with Gehenna, the garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom near the Temple. It had a bad reputation as the place where pagan human sacrifice had taken place, fit now only for carcasses. Sacrificial logic leads straight to Gehenna. These are folks who know Gehenna; some of them could be tasked with making the dumps of Temple ‘trash.’ Jesus is saying to them, “You guys know how bad Gehenna is; and how it is used as a metaphor for the place of the damned in your theology. Look at what you do. You can follow your sacrificial logic straight to hell or let it go and enter the kingdom of God.” What is important to observe is that the sayings of Jesus about hell are not directed to those who are labeled sinners by others, but to those who consider themselves holy, righteous and pious. If we only worship a God who casts other people into hell, we can be assured that when the time comes we might find ourselves amongst that group.

          At stake in our discussion is the character of God as seen in the teaching of Jesus. The religious of Jesus’ time rejected his message because they could not accept the God Jesus proclaimed. If Jesus taught that God was retributive, that God would send bad people to hell, that God would punish evildoers, then there would have been no need to reject his message. Jesus would have been saying the same things about God that many others had been saying for hundreds of years. But Jesus was saying something different, very different and it is this difference that will create the crisis for his hearers. They could either believe what they had been taught and what had “always been believed, everywhere by all” (Vincent of Lerins) or they could believe in the gracious life-giving God that Jesus announced.
          Luke is this what you are looking for?

          • Yes, thank you! @disqus_UA7OvWfYWb:disqus and @disqus_LdbQnGSj9k:disqus, you might find the above helpful, given your other comments.

          • Oops, and @disqus_dTtvsVzoWN:disqus. See above. 🙂

          • Andrew Dowling

            “If Jesus taught that God was retributive, that God would send bad people
            to hell, that God would punish evildoers, then there would have been no
            need to reject his message. Jesus would have been saying the same
            things about God that many others had been saying for hundreds of years.”

            Great point. Sanders was astute in recognizing that if Jesus’s “message” was simply “sinners, repent” . . he would’ve been completely in line with 2nd Temple Pharisee thinking and would’ve been embraced by the Jewish Temple leadership.

          • peteenns

            Yeah, this is a very important point. A key issue for me is why Jesus pissed people off. And I cannot imagine that being part of the Gospel writers’ creative historiography.

          • Have you written about Jesus pissing people off and why? It’s so easy to caricature things in the NT, to reduce it to “Sunday School” level (although perhaps even that demeans children’s ability to understand). No, the Pharisees believed strongly what they did, and had good reasons, viewed from their perspective, for getting pissed off.

          • Andrew Dowling

            They certainly cared about whether or not something was “biblical” (and they had the texts on their side, although Luke assures us Jesus “explained it all” on that walk down to Emmaus 🙂 ) . . .which is why the whole obsession with biblical authority is ultimately contradictory to the Christian message . . it all started with a flaunting of certain biblical authority!

          • So, I’ve long wondered how much of it was an interpretation squabble, and how much of it was Jesus threatening the power of the Pharisees (and how much was other stuff). I just don’t have a good read on this. The OT has capital punishment for those who call the people to follow other gods, but could Jesus have reliably been accused of doing this? I’ve never seen any and every OT law laid out which Jesus could reasonable have been said to be in violation; that might be a neat project, especially if done by an Orthodox Jew.

  • Nate

    I don’t think you can say “he [Jesus] never seems to break the work of God into dispensations or periods of time.” Within Luke itself you have “periods of time” implied (Lu 9:51-56). To say here (Lu 9) that Jesus rebuked them for even the idea of retributive judgment will not hold up given the analogy of Scripture. For judgment is coming; it is imminent (Lu 10:13-16; 17:20-36).

    • Michael Hardin

      Hard for me to see how Lk 9:51-56 is a division into periods of time. In fact this text supports my reading of how a Jesus narrative subverts an OT narrative as noted by Dale Allison “Rejecting Violent Judgment: Luke 9:52-56 And
      Its Relatives” in Journal of Biblical Literature 121 no 3 Fall
      2002, 459-478. Had you said the Lukan author had divisions of time (a la Conzelmann) I could have worked with that but 9:51-56 cannot be brought against my thesis.

      • Nate

        Thank you, Michael, I’ll be sure to read the journal mentioned.

        My point, however, was not that Luke 9:51-56 establishes the continuance of retributive justice; indeed, I agree with you – alone – it would tend to support your position.

        My point was, given the rest of the Biblical witness, retributive justice is coming LATER, e.g., (Lu 10:13-16; 27:20-36). These texts must help us interpret what seems to be a simple rebuke of retributive justice in Luke 9, and when we do, I just don’t get how one can say Jesus was negating retributive justice altogether.

        When we put them together, we are moved to create something akin to John’s testimony in Luke 3:7 where he said to the crowds, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath TO COME.” Luke’s theology then, is that NOW is NOT the time, but the time of judgment IS COMING.

        • Michael Hardin

          The third in this series of four posts contrasts the Baptist’s message with Jesus’ and argues that it was precisely Jesus’ rejection of eschatological retribution that caused John to doubt Jesus’ messianic strret creds.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Ahhh, interesting stuff. The similarities/contrast between JBap and Jesus and how that is intertwined in the historical memories of the Gospels is one of the most interesting (and I’d say, potentially complicated) issues in NT studies

          • Michael Hardin

            Had some fun conversations with Walter Wink about all this before he passed. His PhD was on the Baptist.

          • Nate

            Will be interested to read, and so will forego a response to your summary tickler! 🙂 Thanks for the engagement, Michael. Peace. That’s an antonym of retribution, right? 😉

          • Michael Hardin

            I do believe so!

  • Jim

    Excellent work on putting forth an improved hermeneutic paradigm for reading this section in Luke. I think this is a good step forward in terms of theology, however historically this event is only attested in Luke (unless Mark reports the same event as taking place in Capernaum rather than Nazareth?). Whether this event is historical or not, who knows. It may be more of a reflection of own Luke’s theology/redaction. Nonetheless from a theological perspective your paradigm presents God in a much better light than just a deity who is looking for any excuse to burn peoples a$$es.

    All the best on your dissertation write up.

    • Michael Hardin

      Thanks Jim.

  • Ross

    I’m thinking the Isaiah section is also about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the land etc, so this also would be in the minds of the listeners, if familiar with “the scripture”. Is Jesus also “deliberately” missing this out? I.e would the reading normally be so short as to just be Is 61:1-2. or would many more verses be used or in mind. If so he’s not just missing out God’s vengeance he’s also missing out the “building of the kingdom”, at least in temporal terms.

    • Michael Hardin


  • It strikes me that God’s vengeance and judgment is different from the world’s conception of vengeance and judgment. This mirrors the difference in power between the world and God (Eph 1:19-20). We can also speak of God’s version of love being different from e.g. what you see from Hollywood [most of the time]. Paul has an interesting conception of what Jesus will do to Satan, and how he’ll do it:

    And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thess 2:8)

    This doesn’t seem necessarily violent—not one bit! It’s as if Jesus is mostly dispelling an illusion, by less than waving his hands in the air. The next few verses could support such an interpretation. I just read a related passage in Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, a mystic-like work:

    We must not judge. We must be like the Father in heaven who does not judge: by him beings judge themselves. We must let all beings come to us, and leave them to judge themselves. We must be a balance.
        Then we shall not be judged, having become an image of the true judge who does not judge. (85)

    This can be made to match quite a few passages that indicate we will be treated as we treat others, such that God doesn’t really have to do anything to judge us, except enforce symmetry. If we show mercy, we’ll be shown mercy. If we show grace, we’ll be shown grace. If we forgive, we’ll be forgiven. How many people would see this as “vengeance and judgment”?

    • Michael Hardin

      That is how I see it in the book Luke.

      • Neat! You remind me of Randal Rauser’s podcast Robin Parry on Universal Salvation, in which Parry criticizes anyone who would want Hitler to definitely end up in hell and suffer for eternity, asking what it is in the human psyche that desires such a thing. Schadenfreude is not a Christian pleasure; we can go look at what Job said to confirm this:

        “If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me,
            or exulted when evil overtook him
        (I have not let my mouth sin
            by asking for his life with a curse),
        (Job 31:29-30)

        Or see what Jesus had to say, about that sinful women who just anointed his feat with expensive perfume:

        Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

        I hold open the possibility that Hitler and Stalin and Mao could repent in purgatory or whatever. And if any did, if any let Jesus in, they would love better than I could [presently, on this side of heaven]. They would be able to fight evil more effectively than most other humans throughout history. One’s absolute position with respect to God doesn’t matter; all that matters is whether one is moving toward him or away from him. Each trajectory brings its own reward—no need to augment it ‘specially’!

        • Andrew Dowling

          It’s not “biblical” but I’ve always liked the idea of you going through a “tour” of your past life when you die a la A Christmas Carol and repenting at the misdeeds you did when you see the real hurt and harm it caused. Of course for the true sociopaths, they’d have to be given the gift of empathy for that to work.

          • I agree with the “tour” idea; in fact, I think something like this will be required in order for “every knee to bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord”. It will be clear that the way of Jesus is The Way.

            As to sociopaths, I’m not so convinced that they are either (a) 100% devoid of emotion; or (b) in need of emotion to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. One of the strongest Christians I know has a lot of sociopathic symptoms, many of which are probably due to how terribly he was treated in childhood and on through adulthood.

          • peteenns

            I’ve mused on this, too.

      • I just found John MacArthur’s 1981 Abandoned by God, Part 1, on Romans 1:24-25:

        Now listen. How is God’s wrath being revealed? It is being revealed in His giving men up. For when He gives them up to their sinfulness, that in itself is the working of His wrath. He could restrain men but He is so angry with their apostasy that He lets them go and the consequences of their own sin is the outworking of His wrath. Men today who live their own life in sin are seeing the wrath of God unfolding through the result of their own sinfulness.

        I’m really not sure I like the total emphasis of that sermon—it seem very much to downplay God expectantly looking for us to return to him so he can run to us and clothe us and prepare a feast for us (allusion), and up-play Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the Lord while he may be found”—as if he permanently leaves a people at some point, fully abandoning them forever. To counter that, we do have the parable of the ten virgins, which illustrates that after a certain point, there is no more choosing; Simone Weil says this Gravity and Grace:

        The Foolish Virgins—The meaning of this story is that at the moment when we become conscious that we have to make a choice, the choice is already made for good or ill. This is much truer than the allegory about Hercules between vice and virtue. (44)

        Anyhow, have you thoughts on that bit of John MacArthur? It seems like a very different conception of “God’s wrath” than many—e.g. God sending an Angel of Death or tsunami or whatever.

        • peteenns

          Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary more or less says this. Wrath is not a “psychological” response on God’s part, but the social chaos that stems from worshipping the creation rather than the creator. That has made sense to me, and it makes good sense of the present, “The wrath of God is being revealed…”

          • Oh cool; Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, I presume? I’ve repeatedly tried to explain God’s wrath as “naturalistic” (that is, law-following), but it never came out quite right. Do you have thoughts on why the OT portrays God’s wrath as “a ‘psychological’ response on God’s part”?

          • peteenns

            Yeah, that’s the commentary.

            My quick answer here is that the OT writers were presenting God as they perceive him within their cultural categories. I believe the same is true in the NT, though wrath language is significantly toned down and largely delayed to the eschaton–though they seemed to think that would happen relatively soon (Luke 21:28).

          • With the help of I&I, plus your blog, I’ve been coming to the same conclusion. There do seem to be two niggling questions:

                 (1) Why didn’t God communicate more ‘cleanly’?
                 (2) Why still have God’s wrath in the eschaton?

            I’ve had a lot of recent discussions on (1); I forget how deeply you dove into this in I&I. The general complaint seems to take the form:

                 (3) Why does God let us misinterpret him so badly?

            I don’t really have much of a good answer to this. Instead, I just point out that this is how we observe communication happening—it depends much on both the speaker as well as the listener. What is meant is not always what is heard, and what can be heard is often a limitation imposed by the listener.

            Another thing I point out is that in science, we can go from ‘wrong’ → ‘less wrong’, if we do it [sufficiently] correctly. I believe the same thing can happen in theology, especially if we are always aware of the second Word, and note 2 of NET’s Ex 20:4. We must always remember: Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

            I know you’re quite busy, but do you have thoughts on the above? (3) seems to be quite the pressing question for quite a lot of atheists and skeptics out there—and some Christians, too. Charting the course between certainty (arrogance) and radical skepticism (lawlessness) is hard. What light can, say, an incarnational reading of scripture bring to bear on this?

          • peteenns

            These are valid and common questions, Luke. Again, speaking briefly in a comment thread:
            (1) The question presumes that the point of Scripture is to speak “clearly” about God. That presumption can and and should be examined by observing how Scripture behaves.
            (2) We may not have eschaton in the future. That may be the early Christians simply transferring wrath to the future. I am thinking out loud here—don’t take that as a fully formed view. The issue is to what extent the NT writers participate in their cultural milieu.This connects to ….
            (3) Incarnation is messy. This third question also presumes what we see in #1.

            These are some of the reasons why for me inerrancy is not an explanatory paradigm for what we see in Scripture.

          • Thanks for the answers. Do you have any suggestions on further reading, for why “Incarnation is messy”? Or perhaps more precisely, why incarnation must be so messy?

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Two errors have to be avoided here:

          (1) When MacArthur and other commentators who make similar remarks about what is happening in Romans 1, they are indeed limiting themselves to Romans 1. Their comments should not be extended to all mentions of God’s wrath in either the OT or the NT. So this is Romans 1 specific, not a blanket statement.

          (2) Even in Romans 1, we should understand that this is still an action on God’s part–it is an active “giving up.” As Doug Moo remarks: “Some give it a passive sense. . . . But the language suggests a more active involvement of God. He does not simply let go of the boat; rather, he confirms its disastrous course downstream.” It is the same word as is used in Romans 8:32, where God “did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all.”

          • (1) Is MacArthur only talking about Romans 1? It didn’t seem like it to me—not at all. For example, in What the Bible Teaches About Homosexuality (all 1981 sermons), MacArthur calls homosexuality “the worst earthly expression of man’s fallenness”. That’s a pretty global statement. (I also happen to disagree with it—pride and arrogance are much worse, not to mention murder and rape.)

            (2) Hey, that Romans 8:32 is really neat! I agree that we oughtn’t see God as passive, here. Passivity connotes reaction instead of action.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Luke. Thanks for the question and comments. And my apologies for not getting back to you any earlier. I probably didn’t quite express myself correctly. When I talked about MacArthur’s contents in Romans 1 being context specific, I wasn’t referring to his remarks about homosexuality, but about the way in which God displays his wrath. The expression of wrath in Romans 1 is described as God “giving over” to something which could be understood as a kind of natural consequence of a particular behavior. But for other passages, like the Sodom and Gomorrah passage you mentioned, the “fire and brimstone” is not a natural consequence, but rather suggestive of a much more active display of God’s wrath, and I’m fairly sure MacArthur would say the same. I hope this clarifies what I meant.

          • But for other passages, like the Sodom and Gomorrah passage you mentioned, the “fire and brimstone” is not a natural consequence, but rather suggestive of a much more active display of God’s wrath, and I’m fairly sure MacArthur would say the same. I hope this clarifies what I meant.

            Ahh. I’m inclined to work with Enns’ Inerrancy: I think someone forgot to tell the Bible some more. Enns might say that the smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah is how Yahweh was interpreted by the people at the time, given their cultural building blocks. So I’m not sure we can take the smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah at face value, as if the whole Bible had a single, unified conception of God.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            No problem, Luke — I understand. My only point was that scholars and commentators who might speak of God’s wrath in Romans 1 as being along the lines of natural consequences, would not by any means be suggesting that God’s wrath should be understood that way throughout the entirety of Scripture.
            By the way, my counter-titled article (maybe I’ll do it on my blog some time) would be, “Errancy: Someone Forgot to Tell Jesus.”

          • How about “Historical-grammatical method: someone forgot to tell Jesus”? :-p

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Nah — too anachronistic. 🙂

  • John W. Morehead

    Thanks for this second installment. I’m a sympathetic reader. I’m enjoying the series and have added your book to my list of books to secure via purchase or interlibrary loan. Will your remaining installments touch on divine retribution in relation to the Olivet Discourse and the destruction of Herod’s temple, or is this covered in your book?

    • Michael Hardin

      Neither is covered in the book as I recall. That’s another project to add to the growing list!

  • Jerry Shepherd

    There are just way too many reasons why this exegesis will not and does not work. The following are only a few.

    (1) Note that not only does Jesus not quote “the day of vengeance of our God,” but he also leaves out “to bind up the brokenhearted.” Does this mean that Jesus is going to do all kinds of wonderful things, but binding up the brokenhearted will not be among them?

    (2) There is also a line added from Isaiah 58:6 about releasing the oppressed. This, of course, raises the question as to whether Luke himself has, for his own purposes, taken some liberty in his citation of this passage that Jesus reads from the scroll. This addition, taken together with the previously mentioned deletion, makes any attempt to draw exegetical and theological conclusions drawn from what is omitted awfully, awfully tenuous.

    (3) Jesus is not at all portrayed as reticent to use the “vengeance” word elsewhere in the gospels, even in Luke. In Luke 21:22, in the midst of a discourse about the judgment which will come on the people, Jesus expressly declares that “these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (ekdikesis — NIV, “punishment”; NRSV, ESV, NASB, and most translations, “vengeance”; NJB, “retribution”). It takes a feat of hermeneutically acrobatic proportions to hold that Jesus is saying anything other than that God (and Jesus himself) will come against his own people in retributive vengeance for their accumulated sins (see also Matt 23:35). If anything, Luke 21, along with all the other retributive violence passages in the gospels, gives greater credibility to the possibility that, if there is any theological reason at all for the non-citation of the vengeance clause in Luke 4, it is indeed precisely because Jesus/Luke is working with the two-stage coming construction in which the vengeance element is specifically reserved for the second stage, when “the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory.”

    I admit, some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town. If you are feeling this way, then what is the difference between how you feel and how Jesus’ hearers felt when he preached a God who would one day come in vengeance, and for that reason decided to crucify him?

    Are you irked at the thought of God being wrathful? Nothing irks some folks more than the Bible’s presentation of a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive, and punishing. This is only because we don’t want to believe that God takes sides, and that we might be on the wrong side.

    • The two specific bits of violence you discuss seem to be human-inflicted violence, not God-inflicted violence. Contrast this violence, to e.g. the idea of God resurrecting Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler, and then having their livers perpetually eaten by day and restored by night.

      A question Hardin seems to be asking is what God’s actions will be. Actions done expressly by God, and not by humans. We’re not talking about the Chaldeans of Habakkuk, but what Jesus himself will do. One example, which I cited in another comment:

      And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thess 2:8)

      This isn’t very violent, not in the traditional sense. Hardin agreed with that comment. Do you see this as addressing any of what you’ve been saying? The root issue, it seems to me, is what precisely God’s vengeance will look like. See my comment for more.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Luke, the dichotomy you suggest does not work. It is God-inflicted violence through human agents. The Romans are, frankly, not very concerned about the accumulation of the nation’s sins. Vengeance has a purposiveness behind it. It is God purposing to punish his own people for all their crimes of wickedness, their persecution of God’s prophets, as well as God’s very own Son; he simply uses the Romans as the agents of that destruction.

        As far as 2 Thess 2:8 is concerned, this is a violent text. Christ will kill the lawless one; he will annihilate him. As well, this has to be read against the backdrop of the first chapter, which is unmistakably clear in its portrayal of God as very much personally involved in the coming wrath: “paying back trouble”; “he will punish”; “they will be punished with everlasting destruction”; “blazing fire.”

        • It is God-inflicted violence through human agents.

          Is this true? If anything, I would say that God causes evil group A to run into evil group B, as a sort of matter-antimatter reaction, with the goal of reducing the amount of evil in the world with minimal violation of free will. After all, evil groups A and B thought that violence was acceptable! This model is very different from e.g. God forcing people to do violent things by mind-controlling their brains. It’s not clear precisely what you meant by the sentence I quoted, so do elaborate if I’ve not represented you properly.

          As far as 2 Thess 2:8 is concerned, this is a violent text.

          Are you open to God-violence being very different from human-violence? For example, I claim that Eph 1:19-20 shows God-power being very different from human-power. This is along with the theme that (a) the wisdom of man is folly to God; (b) the wisdom of God is folly to man.

          Remember that in my related comment, I do not claim that God does not exact vengeance. Instead, consider the following:

          “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
              call upon him while he is near;
          let the wicked forsake his way,
              and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
          let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
              and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
          For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
              neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
          For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
              so are my ways higher than your ways
              and my thoughts than your thoughts.
          (Isaiah 55:6-9)

          What, does it mean for God’s vengeance to be ‘higher’ than our conception of him taking vengeance? Instead of me answering this question, do you have an answer to it?

    • Michael Hardin

      Cute Jerry, cute. Re #1: IMO Jesus ends the text where he does precisely to make the point about non-retribution. Re #2: IMO Jesus cites Isa 58:6 to publically violate the citation rules of scripture (acc. to Jeremias one could read forward but not backwards) and #3: well, I have argued that this two stage thinking is foreign to Jesus (although central to foedus oriented Calvinists or Dispensationalists). The need for a vampiric deity with an anger management problem is crashing to ground, millennials are fleeing the church because of this idol. The days of the violent god are over. Jesus is nonviolent, Jesus and the Abba are one, ergo, the Abba is also non-retributive.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        First of all, Michael, thank you for acknowledging my cuteness. My family thinks I’m cute too! But, the cuteness had a much more serious purpose. When you paint yourself as a martyr, and paint those who might disagree with you as your persecutors, this hardly encourages respectful dialogue. Just because there are those might disagree with your interpretation of what Jesus is doing in Luke 4, this does not mean that you should group them with those who would have thrown Jesus off the cliff. Even in your reply, you talk about those who “need a vampiric deity with an anger management problem.” I assure you, I don’t need a vampiric deity. But what I do need to do is to responsibly and respectfully deal with those passages in the Gospels where Jesus presents a God who does, in fact, engage in retributive violence. To fail to do so is itself a form of violence.

        Re #1 — I was already aware of your position; I read the article. But you did not deal with the exegetical objections.

        Re #2 — Jesus does not violate rules of reading Scripture in the synagogue. First, one has to be very careful about taking later Talmudic statements and using them as perfect descriptions of early first century synagogue practice. Second, and more importantly, Jeremias, and those who have followed him on this, misinterpreted the Talmudic statements. The prohibition against what you refer to as “reading backwards” was only with regard to the scroll of the twelve; it was not a prohibition against doing so in the major prophets scrolls.

        Re #3 — It’s very hard to understand what you are saying here. Do you not believe that there will be a second stage to Christ’s return? Do you not believe in the eschatological return of the Son of Man? And do you not believe that there are certain things Christ will do at his return that he did not do when he came the first time? This is puzzling. And, let me assure you, that this is not the assertion of “foedus Calvinists and Dispensationalists.” There are scads of Arminian non-Dispensationalists who believe that Christ’s second coming will be retributive.

        Finally, the days of the God who will punish the wicked are not over. If there a few millennials who are leaving the church, there are even more who are pouring in. Those who are pouring into the church, singing about the cross of Christ where “the wrath of God was satisfied,” are far more numerous than those who are leaving. And if you want to talk about dying churches, then let’s talk about the mainline churches, which are not only losing individuals, but entire congregations on account of the denominations’ infidelity to Scripture and to Christ. It’s the Calvinists, the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals, who believe in the biblical portrait of God, who are growing and adding to their numbers.

        Jesus, on a number of occasions, spoke of a God who engages in retributive violence against the wicked. He himself, in continuation with the Old Testament prophets, engaged in a violent prophetic sign-act in the temple, anticipating the wrath of God to be poured out on Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus portrayed himself and his Father as punishing and carrying out retributive actions against the wicked. Jesus and the Abba are one, ergo, the Abba is a God who will exercise and execute retributive justice.

        • Michael Hardin

          Thanks for your reply. It is good to be cute! Seriously though you raise important questions which I am sure I could not answer as thoroughly as you wish. We have very different starting points, the biggest difference between us is that I am approaching the Bible first as an anthropological text while (if I understand you rightly) are approaching first as a theological text. Thus I do not have a need to fit every biblical verse to every other verse, and I have no problem seeing all kinds of error in the Bible, even theological error. I know this statement is troublesome to those who have a different view of Scripture (whether or not it is a “high” view of Scripture is something Craig Allert queries but that is a question for another conversation. For me the bible contains two distinct trajectories, with three distinct voices (those of the mythic victim, the retributive victim and the forgiving victim). For me, it is about discerning those voices as they relate to the perspective of the text. I read texts about God’s retribution or wrath (or justice if you will) as human projection, whether in the Old or the New Testaments. I believe that the writer(s) of Matthew’s gospel began a remything of the Jesus message, that the writers of Luke’s and the Fourth Gospel didn’t, that Mark remains fairly free of this ‘mything’ (or turning back to sacred violence), as does Paul in his post-Antioch letters (thus I & II Thess show Paul still caught in the spell of eschatological ‘sacred violence.’). Of course, like a fair number of persons throughout the history of Christianity, including the Eastern communions, I have great doubts as the canonicity of Revelation (as did many in the early church and as did Zwingli and Luther). For these reasons (among others) I cannot hold to the Reformed view of Scripture (even in its Barthian form). As for Jesus’ ‘second coming’, I am not convinced it is some kind of a literal return although Jesus can do whatever he wants, he certainly is going to consult my theology, or yours. I wish you well in your continued research. Either way both of us are proclaiming the incredible person and work of Jesus to a hurting and broken world. One last word: The Internet is hardly the place to deal with ALL possible objections, especially to posts adapted from a much larger thesis. Maybe someday we can share coffee and have a good talk.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Michael, I’m sorry I haven’t responded before now, but thank you for this very informative reply as to the presuppositions with which you are working. I’ll make a few points in response.

            (1) I am in complete agreement with Pete Enns with regard to the incarnational analogy being validly applied to Scripture. So, for me, it’s not an either/or; rather the text is both theological and anthropological. Where I can’t follow Pete, especially in his writings after I&I, is that while the anthropological is very well defined, the theological seems to be reduced to nothing more than divine imprimatur, sometimes even grudgingly, after the fact. I cannot go there. And yes, I would affirm that the Bible does not contain theological error. Now, this affirmation has to take literary and genre-considerations into account. But, aside from this, there is no theological error in the revelation of himself that God has given to us. To admit the possibility of such means that someone has to sit in judgment on the truth/non-truth of any particular theological datum on almost purely philosophical and personal-preferential criteria. And frankly, I wouldn’t trust you any further than I could shake a stick to make those judgments. But don’t be offended. I wouldn’t trust myself either!

            (2) While I appreciate your explanation of your trajectory-criticism, for me, this ends up being way too subjective in its application. In my opinion, this, in essence, simply becomes a reconstruction of the text. And I am too much a disciple of Childs here to put more faith in anyone’s reconstruction of the text rather than in the final form and received canon of the Christian church.

            (3) I really don’t think we are proclaiming the same Christ. The most “incredible work” of that Christ is his very conscious, very purposed, very resolute, very determined vicarious atonement, his sacrifice of propitiation for sins, which you, of course refer to as a lie. A proclamation that falls short of this will also fall short of proclaiming the help that a “hurting and broken world really needs.”

            (4) I hope we can have that coffee together. I hope to be in San Diego in November. Maybe we can arrange to meet. Take care.

          • Michael Hardin

            Jerry, thanks for your kind response. I completely understand your objections. They are something I have to deal with rather frequently with my Evangelical sisters and brothers. The way of reframing the authority of Scripture I am proposing is a paradigm shift, but one I think that is gaining traction (at least in certain circles). I wish I could join you at the AAR/SBL but will be coming off of 14 weeks of traveling around the US, the UK and Canada so have decided not to attend this in a state of sheer exhaustion. However, do stay in touch, I hope to be there the following year. You can always contact me via my website and if you should ever visit Lancaster please let me know! We could easily share a meal together in our home. Peace.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Thanks, Michael. If I’m ever in Lancaster again, and I hope I will be, I’ll take you up on the invitation. And if your Canadian travels take you through Alberta, specifically Edmonton, the same invitation extends to you.

          • Michael Hardin

            Fancy that! I will be precisely in Edmonton Oct 31 – Nov 3, possibly Nov 9. Would be great to meet up. My e-mail is Stay in touch.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Wonderful! I’ll look forward to our getting together. Will stay in touch.

  • James

    Jesus sometimes responded to his questioners quite differently than one might expect—he could probe deeper. How hard it is to prove a difficult-for-some-to-swallow theological point from a single passage! Surely the overall teaching and example of Jesus to his followers is non-violence, love for enemy. “He could have called ten thousand angels…(gospel song, not scripture)” “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Now I’ve muddied the water.

    • Michael Hardin

      It’s all good. Like the man at the pool in John 5 waiting for ‘an angel’ to stir the waters, we all seek hermeneutic healing!

  • Jeff Martin


    I agree with you that the thrust of those in the synagogue was not positive, but I think you went to far and saying it was totally negative. Verse 22 could be saying that they had all witnessed him doing things in other towns, or heard about it at least and were scratching their heads as to why Jesus would not have started in his hometown first.

    They were not mad because he was saying that he would reach then to Gentiles, but that he was showing no sense of honor to his own family and town by, how they perceived it, ignoring them altogether.

  • Paul Fitzgerald

    Unfortunately, these brief blog posts don’t really allow Michael to set much of his work in a Girardian context. Reading him without that frame of reference would have been very challenging for me. A grasp of Girard’s anthropology and working out some of the theological and hermaneutical implications was and is a game-changing paradigm shift for me to ‘get’ a non-retributive image of God where justice and mercy kiss. Highly suggest reading his book (no, I do not get a commission)

    • Bev Mitchell

      Would “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” be a good place to start with Girard?

      • john ford

        Yes … and it it is not a difficult read,

      • Michael Hardin

        I think so, although it does presuppose a bit. May I suggest The Girard Reader edited by James G. Williams?

  • gingoro

    “Jesus is removing the notion of retributive violence from the doctrine of God.”
    Diamond Fractal by Keegan and Kayser is a book that just came out this year. It tells the story of a missionary child who was abused both by nationals and by foreign missionaries. The story is gripping, terrible and hard to believe. Many of the events occur at a boarding school in Addis Ababa run by a large interdenominational mission others occur down country where Minna Kayser’s parents were stationed. I attended the same boarding school and lived at the same station at an earlier point in history but I find the events very believable as they correspond to events that I saw and the abuse I and others experienced.
    Read this and then tell me there is no need for at least some retributive justice!

  • john ford

    I have for some time read this passage of Luke similar to Michael.

    From my own position of ignorance it would seem that ISRAEL was not only expecting a release from the bondage of Rome but that the rest of the world would be servant to them. Jesus’ re-reading of Isaiah makes it clear that he (God) had come for the sinner not the self-righteous. It was a bucket of cold water thrown over the congregation. No wonder they wanted to get rid of him and his message.

    The sidelining of a vengeful God that seeks retribution at every corner is not one that dies lightly.

    The rise of the popular message that one cannot use the word God for fear of involving this vengeful image is what drives the present academic debate about the ‘historical’ Jesus. In other words, the focus on the historical critical method seeks to avoid confronting this corrupted image of God; the image that Jesus challenged. What we should now be challenging is out own 20th century reading of the biblical texts. We should read them as Jesus read them not as we have hitherto be taught to read them.

  • Jacob

    I don’t mind reading a novel approach to understanding Jesus’s ministry in regards to retributive violence; but what I do mind is the rhetorical violence inflicted upon the reader with the final conclusion: “Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes sides, and that side is inevitably our side.”
    If peace is the gospel which is being preached here, then why take shots at your reader, why be one who works a violence of his own?

    I can easily believe that many readers who are “irked” at presenting God as nonviolent are not irked because the want “God on *their* side” but rather they are irked because they want to present God’s image faithfully and find something amiss in a non-violent presentation of Him compared to what they’ve learned of him thus far. Condemning the reader’s motives doesn’t help any.