Why the Old Testament Must Bend the Interpretive Knee to Jesus

Why the Old Testament Must Bend the Interpretive Knee to Jesus August 24, 2019

Karl Barth once said that he loved the Old Testament too much to read it JUST literally. I feel the same way. It IS to be read — carefully, spiritually, joyfully, allegorically, and sometimes but NOT always literally. When do we not read it literally? Simple, whenever it literally attributes evil or wickedness to God, we KNOW that passage must be reinterpreted allegorically or figuratively.

The greatest theologians of the early church agreed.

The early church fathers were so rich in their understanding of God’s good nature. They birthed an irrepressible insight about Scriptural interpretation that prompted them to plant their hermeneutical flag deep into the ground. They were willing to stand and contend against ANY dead literal reading of Scripture which maligned and defamed God’s character by attributing to Him any kind of despicable behavior. The fathers believed that any Bible reading was dead wrong if it painted God as a child-drowning, infant-burning, throat-slitting, plague-sending, people-smiting killer.I simply am unwilling to admit that God has EVER done ANY those horrible things to His children. Satan, yes certainly, but never God. Satan was the real destroyer in the Old Testament, just as He is in the New Testament. Jesus revealed a better image of God, a higher image, a deeper image, a truer image, purer image.

 

“Saint Ambrose (and Augustine) took Paul’s statement ‘the letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ as a slogan for allegorical interpretation.” A. Berkeley Mickelson, INTERPRETING THE BIBLE, Eerdmans Publishing, 1963, page 34. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan was one of the four great doctors of the western church.

 

The great eastern church father Origen, wrote, “Ignorant assertions about God appear to be nothing else but this: that Scripture is not understood in its spiritual sense, but is interpreted according to the bare letter.” (On First Principles 4:2.1-2, 4).

 

Gregory of Nyssa wrote that “allegory” allowed certain OT Scriptures to be “converted from the raw and indigestible state of their literal meaning into a wholesome and healthy intellectual food.” (Hom., in Cant., prol.).

 

The western father Augustine taught that the  harmful husk (literal reading) of Scripture had to be removed so that the valuable kernel (allegorical meaning) could be consumed. (On Christian Teaching, 3.12.18). Saint Augustine said, “If a passage seems to endorse wickedness or wrongdoing or to forbid selflessness or kindness, it is figurative and not to be read literally.” He believed that all Scripture must be interpreted through the love of God and neighbor, on which all the law and prophets hang. Matt. 22:37-40. (Source: On Christian Teaching, see 3:10.14; 3:11.17; 3.16.24).

 

Augustine used the Rule of Divine Character when allegorizing, which essentially holds that the character of God revealed in Jesus cannot EVER be violated by the literal reading of ANY Old Testament Scripture. If the passage “appears on its face” to attribute unworthy motives, brutal behavior, cruel intentions, hypocritical conduct or coercive attributes to God, then it must be read allegorically and NOT literally.

 

“Wherefore, in the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, and in the New Testament a revealing of the Old. According to that veiling, carnal men, understanding things in a carnal fashion, have been under the dominion, both then and now, of a penal fear. On the other hand, spiritual men… have a spiritual understanding and have been made free through love which they have been gifted.” Saint Augustine (On Catechizing the Uninstructed 4:8; NPNF 1/3:287).

 

John Cassian stated the church fathers’ dynamic bottom line against dead letter Bible reading in the following excerpt from Institutes 8.4: “And so, since these things cannot without horrible sacrilege be literally understood of him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, simple, and uncomposite, the disturbance of anger (not to mention wrath) cannot be attributed to that immutable nature without monstrous blasphemy.”

 

Why? Why were these church fathers so adamant? Well, its the exact same reason WE must be adamant about it. Because IF, IF, IF we read the Old Testament JUST literally, ONLY literally, and ALWAYS literally, THEN we must acknowledge that God is a vengeful, brutal, hostile, and homicidal child-killer, man-torturer, and woman-afflicter.

What follows below are 26 reasons we must not read the Old Testament literally, “by the letter”in other words, but instead read it “by the Spirit” as 2 Corinthians 3:6 instructs us. Again, if we DO read them literally, then Jesus is not only a child-killer, but a woman-killer, and a man-killer, and a bringer of cursing, disease and affliction, all of which He takes great delight to utterly destroy us. I hope these will serve as “smelling salts” which awaken us to a better way to read Scripture, a God-honoring way, a non-literal way.

The New Testament claims that Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God’s mind, heart, and will. Jesus is the divine nature and character revealed. He is the sole plumb line for recognizing, authenticating, and verifying all divine activity which is alleged as coming  from God’s causative hand.

For God to say or to do what the Old Testament horrifically attributes to Him, we must be willing to also say Jesus is capable of saying or doing the exact same things. However, if our Spirit-quickened consciences won’t allow us to accept Jesus as causing or commanding all the Old Testament atrocities, then we simply can’t accept that His loving Abba caused or commanded them either.

Honestly, can you imagine Jesus EVER saying, doing, or commanding any of the following things?

I have inserted Jesus’ name in brackets for effect:

“Thus saith the LORD [Jesus]… Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.”

– 1 Samuel 15:3

“Joshua destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD [Jesus] commanded.”

– Joshua 10:40

“The LORD [Jesus] delivered them before us; and we destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones.”

– Deuteronomy 2:33-34

“And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD [Jesus] commanded Moses; and they slew all the males…. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.”

– Numbers 31:7, 17.

“The wind of the LORD [Jesus] shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and… Samaria shall become desolate… they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”

– Hosea 13:15-16

“With thee will I [the LORD Jesus] break in pieces the young man and the maid.”

– Jeremiah 51:22

I am convinced that people who demand a hyper-literal reading of the Old Testament have never actually read it (at least in its entirety). They just seem to blissfully (or conveniently) ignore the horrible implications of the above and below passages. The church fathers Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian, and Augustine all thought it was akin to blasphemy to read these types of passages literally because of how horrendously they malign God’s character.

To say that the following passages, in their LITERAL sense, accurately describe the words, attitudes, and actions of the God revealed by/in Jesus Christ is an abomination. Sadly, this abomination is what has created atheists, chilled children’s hearts, and robbed Christianity of its coherence. Let’s take a look at other unthinkable verses in the Old Testament. 

1) “The LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nothing.” Deuteronomy 28:63. (The Lord “rejoices” to “destroy” us? Jesus never displayed this attitude, but instead attributed all such acts of destruction to the devil in John 10:10, destructions which He came to cure, not inflict per 1 John 3:8).

2) “The LORD shall MAKE THE PESTILENCE CLEAVE UNTO THEE, until He have consumed thee.” Deuteronomy 28:21. (The Lord “consumes” us with “pestilence?” Jesus never put sickness on anybody, but rather always healed the sick. See Acts 10:38).

3) “The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption , and with a fever , and with an inflammation , and with an extreme burning , and with the sword , and with blasting , and with mildew ; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.” Deuteronomy 28:22. (Jesus never “smote” anybody with “fevers,” etc. Rather, He rebuked fevers AWAY from the afflicted, such as Peter’s mother-in-law).

4) “The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust : from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be DESTROYED.” Deuteronomy 28:24. (Jesus never sent “droughts” of lack. Rather, He cured them through miraculous provision). 

5) “The LORD shall cause thee to be SMITTEN BEFORE THINE ENEMIES : thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air , and unto the beasts of the earth , and no man shall fray them away.” Deuteronomy 28:25-26. (Jesus never sided with one army against the other, much less feed anybody’s carcass to the birds).

6) “The LORD will SMITE thee with the botch of Egypt , and with the emerods, and with the scab , and with the itch , whereof thou canst not be healed.” Deuteronomy 28:27. 

7) “The LORD shall smite thee with MADNESS, BLINDNESS , and astonishment of heart : And thou shalt grope at noonday , as the blind gropeth in darkness , and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways : and thou shalt be ONLY OPPRESSED AND SPOILED EVERMORE.” Deuteronomy 28:28-29. (Jesus went about healing ALL oppression, never inflicting it. Acts 10:38).

8} “The LORD shall smite thee in the knees , and in the legs , with a sore botch that cannot be healed , from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head.” Deuteronomy 28:35. 

9) “The LORD shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known ; and there shalt thou serve other gods , wood and stone.” Deuteronomy 28:36. 

10) “Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed ; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God , to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder , and upon thy seed for ever.” Deuteronomy 28:45-46. (Jesus “curses” us and our children forever? No, Jesus only blessed and welcomed children).

11) “Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness , and with gladness of heart , for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger , and in thirst , and in nakedness , and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck , until he have destroyed thee.” Deuteronomy 28:47-48. (Jesus CONTROLS our enemies and makes us their slaves? This is foreign to anything Jesus ever did or said).

12) “The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far , from the end of the earth , as swift as the eagle flieth ; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand ; A nation of fierce countenance , which shall not regard the person of the old , nor shew favour to the young : And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle , and the fruit of thy land , until thou be destroyed : which also shall not leave thee either corn , wine , or oil , or the increase of thy kine , or flocks of thy sheep , until he have destroyed thee…. And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body , the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters , which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege , and in the straitness , wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee.” Deuteronomy 28:49-51, 53. (Jesus SENDS an enemy who causes me to literally eat my own children? Jesus NEVER promoted cannibalism of children).

13) “The LORD will make thy plagues wonderful , and the plagues of thy seed , even great plagues , and of long continuance , and sore sicknesses , and of long continuance . Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt , which thou wast afraid of ; and they shall cleave unto thee.” Deuteronomy 28:59. (Jesus oppresses us with “WONDERFUL PLAGUES” of “long continuance?” Jesus never called any plague wonderful, much less inflicting anybody with one).

14) “Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt , which thou wast afraid of ; and they shall cleave unto thee. Also every sickness , and every plague , which is not written in the book of this law , them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed.” Deuteronomy 28:60-61. 

15) “The LORD shall give thee thee a trembling heart , and failing of eyes , and sorrow of mind : And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night , and shalt have none assurance of thy life : In the morning thou shalt say , Would God it were even ! and at even thou shalt say , Would God it were morning ! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear , and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.” Deuteronomy 28:65-67. 

16) Jesus killed a nation full of Egyptian firstborn infants and children during the well-known Exodus story. 

17) Jesus killed a huge city full of children of all ages in Sodom and Gomorra (not to mention all the other children killed in the flood, or at God’s express command in the various Biblical bloodbaths, including even rebellious Israelite children under God’s “no exception” stoning law). God burns these two cities to death. In Genesis 19:24, God kills everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from the sky. Then God kills Lot’s wife for looking back at her burning home.

18) God has 42 children mauled by bears. In 2 Kings 2:23-24, some youths tease the prophet Elisha, and God sends bears to dismember them. (Newer cosmetic translations say the bears “maul” the children, but the original Hebrew, baqa, means “to tear apart.”)

19) God drowns the whole earth in Genesis 7:21-23, God drowns the entire population of the earth: men, women, children, and fetuses. 

20) God kills half a million people 2 Chronicles 13:15-18, God helps the men of Judah kill 500,000 of their fellow Israelites.

21) God kills 14,000 people for complaining that God keeps killing them. In Numbers 16:41-49, the Israelites complain that God is killing too many of them. So, God sends a plague that kills 14,000 more of them.

22) Genocide after genocide after genocide. In Joshua 6:20-21, God helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” In Deuteronomy 2:32-35, God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

23) God kills 50,000 people for curiosity. In 1 Samuel 6:19, God kills 50,000 men for peeking into the ark of the covenant. (Newer cosmetic translations count only 70 deaths, but their text notes admit that the best and earliest manuscripts put the number at 50,070.)

24) God orders 3,000 Israelites killed for inventing a false god. In Exodus 32, Moses has climbed Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. The Israelites are bored, so they invent a golden calf god. Moses comes back and God commands him: “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.” Around 3,000 people are then brutally killed.

25) The Amorites are destroyed by sword and by God’s rocks. In Joshua 10:10-11, God helps the Israelites slaughter the Amorites by sword, then finishes them off with rocks from the sky.

26)– I saved the best (or worst) for last. God confessed in Isaiah 13:3-18, in the first person no less, to wrathfully causing: a nation of women to be raped, a nation of infants to be executed by smashing them all to pieces against rocks, a nation of children to be mercilessly impaled with arrows, and, finally, a nation of men to be executed by the sword.

To claim that Jesus (or His beloved Abba) were rapists would, of course, be blasphemy.

And yet, and yet, and yet—– Isaiah 13:3-18 says (quoting God in the first person) that God’s ‘burning wrath’ DOES do all this pillaging, raping, and killing.

So what’s the point? Merely this. If you won’t accept the ‘rape confession’ as coming from the lips of Jesus, then don’t dare accept any OTHER Old Testament quote as coming directly from Jesus’ lips IF it portrays His Father as being a plague-sending, famine-bringing, fire-flinging, bone-crushing, child-drowning, throat-slitting, homicidal, genocidal, and infanticidal God.

However, if you ARE a strict Biblical literalist, then you must believe that God’s ‘burning wrath’ ‘hunts’ us down and directly CAUSES:

–women to be raped,
–infants to be dashed to pieces against the rocks,
–children to be impaled by arrows
–houses to be looted

‘I MYSELF…SUMMONED MY WARRIORS …to EXECUTE MY ANGER….The LORD of hosts IS MUSTERING AN ARMY FOR BATTLE. They come from a distant land…the LORD AND THE WEAPONS OF HIS INDIGNATION, to DESTROY THE WHOLE EARTH. Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like DESTRUCTION FROM THE ALMIGHTY!….See, the DAY OF THE LORD COMES, CRUEL, WITH WRATH AND FIERCE ANGER, to make the earth a desolation, and to DESTROY ITS SINNERS from it….I WILL PUNISH THE WORLD for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity…. I will make mortals more rare than fine gold….Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at THE WRATH OF THE LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be THRUST THROUGH, and whoever is caught will fall by the SWORD. Their INFANTS will be DASHED TO PIECES before their eyes; their HOUSES will be PLUNDERED, and their WIVES RAVISHED. See, I AM STIRRING UP the Medes AGAINST them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their BOWS will SLAUGHTER the YOUNG men; they will have NO MERCY on the FRUIT of the WOMB; their eyes WILL NOT PITY CHILDREN.’ Isaiah 13:3-18.

The above statement literally claims to be the Lord talking in first person, so we can’t say anybody else is exaggerating or misstating His character. Nor can we cop out by saying that God was just this way on this one occasion because the Lord ‘changes not.’ (Malachi 3:6). Either this ‘baby bashing brutality’ and ‘man-smashing malice’ and ‘woman-raping evil’ is in His nature now and forever– or it isn’t– it’s that simple.

Will literalists own this passage and just declare that God’s burning wrath makes Him a child-killing, rape-committing, man-impaling killer? Or, will they continue to hide behind silly euphemisms that these brutal acts are just part of God’s ‘mysterious ways,’ His ‘higher ways,’ His ‘justice and holiness’ being dispensed?

Do we really want to go here, to this dark corner of primitive savagery? I think not.

Instead, let’s choose a better hermeneutic. Let’s choose Jesus as our hermeneutic. His flawless nature is written in all our consciences, waiting to be consulted and catalyzed into love.

Let’s  not let literalism kill our consciences. Those who loosen their ‘death-grip’ on Scripture will surely find their ‘life-grip’ on the Spirit of love and light.”

Had enough yet? There are MANY, MANY, examples. So, what is the reason for these misstatements about God’s character?

All the violence, plagues, killings, oppressions, curses, afflictions, destructions and damning which the Old Testament says comes from GOD must NOW be re-evaluated with New Testament light. We must look at the particular Old Testament passage which is attributing “evil” to GOD and ask if it is referring to THE GOD OF THIS WORLD (a Pauline designation of Satan)  or is it referring to THE GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

The problem was that the Old Testament had an “undifferentiated” view of God. They lumped Satanic qualities into their image of Yahweh. They simply did not differentiate God from the Devil in any meaningful way. The result? A bipolar God who is up and down, good and evil, hateful and loving, cruel and gentle, vengeful and forgiving, murderous and peaceful.

The Old Testament certainly has many accurate and priceless versions of the wondrous acts of the true Yahweh, THE GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. The Old Testament frequently reflects the riches of Jesus’ love, virtue, blessing, mercy, miracles and generosity. But, not always. Too often, because they are largely clueless about Satan’s identity, the Old Testament mars and deforms the image of God by attributing the works of Satan to God.

Jesus came to heal and reveal. He came to heal our image of a wrathful and hateful God by revealing His Father-God to be ALL love and ALL light. Jesus came to teach us how to differentiate the works of the true God from the works of Satan. Jesus IS that differentiation. Satan, as the FALLEN GOD of this FALLEN WORLD, operates in all forms of stealing, killing and destroying. God, on the other hand, as fully revealed by the RISEN CHRIST of the RISEN FATHER, operates only in forms of life — the giving of it, the protection of it, the blessing of it! John 10:10.

About Richard Murray
Richard K. Murray is a practicing criminal-defense attorney from Dalton, Georgia where he lives with his wife Rita and their seven children: Sloan, Caleb, Micah, Abraham, Sarah, Ben and Annie. Richard has a B.B.A. and J.D. from the University of Georgia and a M.A. from Regent University School of Divinity. He has written several books, including: THE SPIRITUAL EYE OF THE TIGER THE POWER: Discovering the Real "Secret" of Life LIFT UP YOUR JAWBONE: Developing Samson-like Strength by Daily Confession THE JESUS MOOD: Discovering the Treasure of Imperative Faith GOD VERSUS EVIL: Sculpting an Epic Theology of God's Heroic Goodness You can read more about the author here.
"I must come back to this idea.The question that we must ask Origen is where ..."

Why the Old Testament Must Bend ..."
"I would call what Origen did in allegorizing the scripture - and he went far ..."

Why the Old Testament Must Bend ..."
"I appreciate the time you took to respond, but I am familiar with the history ..."

Why the Old Testament Must Bend ..."
"Well, that's generous I suppose, but it really doesn't respect the individual's choice. I genuinely ..."

Four Reasons the Early Church Did ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • AntithiChrist

    As the old joke goes…(Satan whining) ”Of course god is made out to be the good guy…look who wrote the book!”

    But the joke doesn’t take into account the actual words in the books. The “good guy” deity in the Old Testament really isn’t that good a deity at all, is it?

    That is until you assert the special pleading that it’s “not meant to be taken literally, my dear…he’s referring to the makers of all dairy products.” – That was a line from a Monty Python movie which completely encapsulates your entire argument.

    To argue that interpreting the biblical accounts of Jehovah/Jesus/H.Spirit’s murderous or otherwise malevolent actions literally, is literally blasphemy, is audacious no doubt, even for a strict apologist, and also convenient.

    Though I do agree with the sentiment that no one in their right mind could ever worship such a petty, small-minded, vengeful, jealous and unfit god. It’d be just like worshipping a petty, small-minded, vengeful, jealous and unfit president. It would take the exact same kind of bigoted, hateful, cult-susceptible thinking. I could be on to something here, but I digress.

    But then Jesus arrives and everything is cool. Not really a need to worry about all that OT genocidal-maniac-god nonsense anymore.

    These days, in order to be “saved” from wicked Eve’s and hapless Adam’s Original Screwup, and god’s very just and fair-minded punishment for their very first offense, that is, childbirth torture for all pregnant women, and everlasting torture for everyone forever, is to love Jesus back. That’s it. Just love the kid, and we’ll all just ignore everything the Dad (and you) ever did. Easy. Don’t love Jesus? That’s cool too. Free Will. Now burn in Hell forever, infidel.

    Or as Abraham might say, “Oy Vey…such a deal.”

    Or as I’d say, “Bad god! No biscuit!!”

    Nice work, you get an A for effort on trying a sort of new positive spin on that vengeful demon running amuck throughout the OT.

  • billwald

    I have concluded that Jesus understood Zen Buddhism and some of his teaching was koan.

  • davidt

    A monk once wrote
    T”beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

    That’s actually sound advise for science in it’s examination of nature to not get book bound as much as it’s a challenge to Western religion to not get book bound.

    So you apparently have no idea that the topic god or agape love exists independent of books. Science does not determine nature anymore than religion determines god. Of all you know is what you read that’s not very much and really, just a consumer and not a creator. Identical to theologians. Wow that’s Amazingly shallow.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    The Old Testament is a collection of Hebrew Folk tales. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • LastManOnEarth

    Where in the OT does Satan actually commit the sorts of horrors attributed to Jahweh? Seems like he’s getting a bad rap.

  • AntithiChrist

    If you’ve been following along with the OT body counts at home, you probably already know that there are several millions (conservative estimate) of people throughout the OT, either killed directly by Jesus’ dad, Yahweh (aka God), or by Yahweh’s direct command to the current right-hand patriarch, king, etc.

    In comparison, throughout the OT, Satan claims the lives of 10 people.

    That’s it. 10. Those ten happen to all be kids of the famously god-fearing Job.

    And, Satan got permission from God (aka our Heavenly Father), to do this, prior to killing them.

    As this story goes, it seems Job was pretty much the most awesome Yahweh worshiper, for miles around. He was simply amazing and inspiring in his love of his lord, his top-drawer general goodness, and his high levels of all-around piousness. He was also prosperous, with all kinds of observable wealth.

    Yahweh was so happy that someone so great loved him so much, and like anyone would, he bragged about it to Satan.

    Satan posits to his neighbor Yahweh, sitting at the next Heavenly Barstool, that Job only worships Yahweh so much because Yahweh gives him lots of great stuff.

    So Yahweh sets down his White Russian, puts out his cigarette, and decides to prove his old betting buddy, Satan, wrong by…and here’s the good part, offering Satan many chances to genuinely ruin Job’s life, calculating that Job’s love for him (Yahweh) is so strong that nothing else could possibly matter.

    As an aside, we have an alleged president here in this country, exhibiting very similar levels of narcissism, and many of the same people who worship Our Narcissistic Heavenly Father also worship him. Funny old world.

    So killing those 10 peeps is the only OT record of Satan killing anyone.

    But on the other hand, since this alleged god gave Satan license to kill the 10 kids of Job, prior to the actual extra-judicial killings, we can also add these 10 trophies to Yahweh’s already extensive body count. Seems fair.

  • LastManOnEarth

    Seems that under Divine Command Theory, Satan is a hero.

  • swbarnes2

    God confessed in Isaiah 13:3-18, in the first person no less, to wrathfully causing: a nation of women to be raped, a nation of infants to be executed by smashing them all to pieces against rocks, a nation of children to be mercilessly impaled with arrows, and, finally, a nation of men to be executed by the sword.

    “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

    But okay, now that you’e thoroughly thrown the world’s Jews under the bus like you have, what’s the proper figurative understanding of those passages?

    ‘Don’t be so literal; we didn’t smash every single infant’s head with rocks. Some we just stepped on, or ran through with a sword’

    I don’t see why it’s so wonderful to say “God will burn all the tares” when it’s pretty clear that ‘tares’ are thinking, feeling people.

  • John

    I get your points and understand the imperative to view the God of the OT as loving, etc., but you have not treated the OT narrative critically so as to make sense of it. The quotes from the church fathers speak only to the problem of OT events and a need to better understand them through a certain lens, but they offer no treatment of the passages themselves. In other words, what did they mean? If the narrative records real events, then explain how allegory fits the literary genre such that you can interpret its meaning or importance in history and to faith. A mix of literary genres in such fashion seems non-sensical and not typical of ANE literature. I would be equally interested to know how the first audience and historical Hebrew people interpreted their own history and literature.

  • Joseph Birch

    Did you just say the OT doesn’t distinguish God from satan?
    What does this imply about the Judaism in which Jesus would have been raised and spent his whole life practicing (albeit advocating reform), or the 2000 years of Jewish history before that, or the 2000 years of Jewish history since?
    I’m as eager as anyone to explain away the brutality of God, but I’m going to need to see some believable alternative interpretations (maybe the allegories the church fathers embraced), not just a reasoning from the conclusion (ie. :God cannot be bad” – unproven- and “these things are bad” – unproven – “therefore God did not do these things”).

    The idea of interpreting the character of God through the revelatory lens of Christ is a good one. On the other hand, you insist we subscribe wholesale to this “better hermaneutic” without fully exploring the implications of the other one. In fact, you basically seem to say that we “don’t want to got there.” I understand why. It creates atheists, as you said.
    It’s either reject these passages, reject the existence of God, reject the morality and authority of God, or reject dualism and probably the existence of morality altogether in order to believe God did these things and still worship him. Literalists do none of the above and content themselves with feeble justifications and cognitive dissonance.
    Reasonable people have to choose. Since hating God or loving an amoral God are not really attractive, we choose either atheism or allegorical reading of these hard passages.
    My objection is that the choice is made on the basis of preference alone.
    And then you end up saying the Torah gets God and satan confused, indirectly and unwittingly playing into the old conspiracy theory that Jews worship satan.

  • Joseph Birch

    TL;DR version of my other comment: this post really doesn’t like Judaism, since it thinks that without Christ the Hebrew Bible basically worships satan.

  • BrianN

    When do we not read it literally? Simple, whenever it literally attributes evil or wickedness to God, we KNOW that passage must be reinterpreted allegorically or figuratively.

    Isaiah 45:7
    I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

  • BrianN

    Amen and amen brother.

  • swbarnes2

    Why are lowly humans better at understanding right and wrong than God?

    And again, so fine, we are supposed to read the Flood story and conclude that God didn’t flood the world. What is the allegorical meaning we are supposed to get from a story about women, children and animals dying?

    https://biblehub.com/luke/17-27.htm

    Every translation says “Noah entered the ark, and everyone was destroyed”. So your argument is that you understand the story correctly, and Jesus didn’t?

  • JMS

    Hey Jesus is a pretty bad dude in the book of Revelation! Take the counsel of the WHOLE Scripture into consideration.

  • Yikes. Not sure how I got the impression this website was solid with truth and the Bible, but clearly it’s not. My mistake.

    Look up what John MacArthur says about evil and God, and also research what other *reliable* theologians say about God in the OT.

    You seek to explain away who God is with your finite, flawed human thinking. Please seek Truth, even when it’s not comfortable to you. Creating your own truth in the absence of understanding is a dangerous path. Be warned.

  • Richard Murray

    Let me offer an example from the church father Origen in how to allegorically deal with the violent stories in the Promised Land battles of Joshua. On their face, these passages, along with many others, sound like God is commanding and causing mass genocides.

    “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” — Joshua 10:40

    “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” — Joshua 6:21

    In Joshua 6:20-21, God actually helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Going farther back in the Biblical narrative, in Deuteronomy 2:32-35 God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    So, let’s see how Origen and the church fathers dealt with these difficult passages which seem to paint God as the causer and commander of genocide.

    Commenting on the brutal wars in which Joshua was involved, Origen says:

    “The Jews who read these events, I am speaking of the Jews according to the appearance, who is circumcised in his body, and ignores the true Jew who is circumcised in his heart; this [physical] Jew does not find ought except description of wars, killing of enemies, and victory of the Israelites who plundered the possession of the foreigners and pagans, under the guidance of Joshua….

    While the Jew according to the heart, that is the Christian who follows Jesus, the Son of God, and NOT Joshua the Son of Nun, understands these events as representing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He says, ‘Today also my master Jesus Christ fights the powers of the evil and drives them out from the towns which they occupied before. He drives them out of our souls. He kills the kings who reigned over them, so that sin will not reign over us. As our souls become free from the reign of sin they become a temple of the Lord and of the God’s Kingdom, hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you'”…. Homilies on Joshua 13.1[125]

    “Unless those carnal wars (of the Old Testament) were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches… Thus, the apostle, being aware that physical wars have become personal battles of the soul against spiritual adversaries, gives orders to the soldiers of Christ like a military commander when he says, ‘Put on the armor of God so as to be able to hold your ground against the wiles of the devil'” (Eph. 6:11). (Hom 15.1 [138]).

    “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ [citing Rom. 6:12] so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you'” [citing Luke 17:21] (Hom 13.1 [125].

    “This warfare must be conducted by the Christian not with physical weapons, but with prayers, meditation on the Word of God, good deeds and good thoughts. Only in this way is the Christian able to withstand the works of the Devil, all the while invoking the help of Jesus Christ” (Hom 16.5).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings, at least in these warfare texts, is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    So, Origen sees “the promised land enemies” not as hostile humans but as carnal and/or Satanic IMPULSES. These enemies represent NOT flesh and blood foes, but rather terroristic thoughts, malicious mentalities, lustful strongholds, deadly ideas, and sinful mindsets. This alone is where ANY level of violence is spiritually permitted– on our own inner toxic impulses and lethal ideas, NEVER on humans made in the image of God.

    This allegorical reading also helps us interpret passages like the 2 Corinthians 6:7 passage which says we “brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.”

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, [wise and unwise virgins], the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    By internalizing and allegorizing these types of passages throughout the Old and New Testament, we can see that our inner patterns of thoughts/impulses/desires, both wicked and righteous, are often contrasted and allegorized as careless or careful virgins, faithful or foreign wives, Philistine or Israeli powers, cannibalistic or caring fathers, and faithful or prodigal sons, etc.

    Here is how that works.

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness. We resist them with non-retaliation. We capture them with the love of God. We arm ourselves with disarming.

    We brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.
    What exactly are those weapons?

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness.
    We throttle them with tenderness.

    We overcome them with an opposite spirit.
    We pulverize them with patience.

    We maul them with meekness.
    We crush them with caring.

    We ambush them with the awe of the Lord.
    We bombard them with blessings.

    We fight with a faith which works only and always through love.

    Here is another example of how the church fathers read the violent Old Testament passages non-literally. Here we are considering Samuel’s violent execution of Agag.

    Regarding this passage, Maximus the Confessor, in his second hundred of his Two Hundred Texts on Theology states:
    53. Saul is the natural law originally established by the Lord to rule over nature. But Saul was disobedient: he spared Agag, king of Amalek [cf. 1 Sam 15.8-16, 13], that is, the body, and slipped downward into the sphere of the passions. He was therefore deposed so that David might take over Israel. David is the law of the Spirit — the law engendering that peace which so excellently builds for God the temple of contemplation.

    54. Samuel signifies obedience to God. So long as the principle of obedience exercises its priestlike office within us, even though Saul spares Agag — that is, the earthly will — yet that principle in its zeal will put him to death [cf. 1 Sam 15. 33]: it strikes the sin-incited intellect and puts it to shame for having transgressed the divine ordinances. (from The Philokalia, translated by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Vol 2, p. 150)
    Maximus (using Origen’s, Gregory’s and Augustine’s rule of divine character) does not take this as a literal slaughter of Agag but as describing internal dynamics of the soul. Agag is a symbol of “the carnal will” as opposed the will in submission to God.

    The Church Fathers repeatedly took the meaning of these kinds of passages allegorically, and NOT as literal and historical truths.

    Below is a helpful excerpt from a book called Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible, by John S. Uberax. It reveals how Old Testament Scriptures can still be divinely inspired in their subtextual symbolism, regardless of the human writer’s partial misperceptions about God and/or historical events which appear on the surface of the text. In other words, symbolic archetypes are divinely imbedded in the Old Testament for us to plumb for wisdom. These archetypes’ function is to always point us to Christ and His kingdom of light and love. This is the same essential technique used by the church fathers– Augustine, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa.

    “We use the term ‘allegory’ in a very broad sense here that means, basically, non-literal interpretation; or interpretation at the level of symbolism. Why psychological allegory? For our purposes, psychological allegorism is understood as the literary symbolization of interior mental processes as human characters and events….

    Allegorical interpretation is an ancient tradition, present among the first Christians, and in Jewish and Hellenistic culture before and after Christianity per se emerged. This method is supported by reason and scientific theory.

    How does this affect a view of the Bible as divinely inspired? It might enhance ones appreciation for God’s sophistication, as well as for the potential of human intuition and creativity. That is, it acknowledges a myriad of means by which God may inspire human writing. If a passage of Scripture is allegorical, there is no less reason to believe that God has guided the mind of the writer and utilized the creative capacities of the human being….

    There are two general guiding rules:

    1) Each major person and situation in the Bible corresponds to and symbolizes an inner disposition, state, process or archetypal principle of your mind or soul.

    2) No words in the Bible are accidental or superfluous. An unusual word or turn of phrase, or the express mention of a seemingly unimportant detail, suggests presence of an allegorical meaning….

    So, under an allegorical reading, one may see figures in the Bible as symbolizing states of mind. By the Philonic method of psychological interpretation, each figure in the Old Testament may be seen as symbolizing some personality disposition. Thus, by this view, you have an inner Adam and an inner Eve, an inner Cain and Abel, an inner Abraham, an inner Moses, and inner Pharaoh, and so on. The struggles and dynamics amongst human characters in the Old Testament mirror the conflicts and dynamics of your psyche.

    This view implicitly recognizes the plurality of the human personality. Many modern psychological theories agree that each of us possesses myriad dispositions or divisions of this kind; different theorists refer to them by different names, including sub-egos, part egos, complexes, or ‘archetypes’. However, unlike most psychological theories, the Bible sees this state of affairs as having a definite purpose and, as it were, resolution. There is an alternative to merely being a chaotic assemblage of states and feelings. A higher, integrated level of organization of the personality is possible….

    When seeking an allegorical understanding, it helps to read Scripture in a careful and attentive way. The traditional Christian practice of lectio divina , or spiritual reading, is useful for this. The article, A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology , explains a form of lectio divina in psychological terms: A good general resource for interpreting the Old and New Testament is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. These volumes proceed through the Bible supplying excerpts from Church Fathers, commenting on various chapters and verses.”

    ~~ Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible: A Brief Explanation of the Principles of Psychological Exegesis of Holy Scripture by John S. Uebersax

    We see this dynamic in Peter’s interpretation of the killing flood.

    The flood of Noah is better dealt with on its allegorical level rather than on its literal level. 1 Peter 3:20-21, in fact, calls it a “soul saving” event which is a “figure” of “baptism” for us. If you are going to quote Peter on the flood, don’t forget this passage which paints it as positive allegory.

    So, on an allegorical level, the deliverance of Noah’s family from a corrupted world, by means of “water,” allegorizes our salvation, through baptism, from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21; Colossians 1:13).

    I believe the hermeneutical key to rightly interpreting Genesis’ events lies in us letting Jesus’ Spirit interpret it for us Christologically/allegorically, just as He did for the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24.

    All the Old Testament is primarily to be read as an allegorical PROPHECY of the coming life, deity, nature, character, sacrifice, death, resurrection, and victorious glorification of Jesus. But the allegory doesn’t stop there. The Old Testament also prophesies of the ascended Jesus’ eventual INDWELLING of all of us through the Pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit.

    On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told the two disciples “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself….And their eyes were opened, and they knew him…. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?… And He said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the law of Moses , and in the prophets , and in the psalms , concerning me . Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.

    To read it allegorically is NOT to deny it lacks any historical value at all. Rather, it is to say that the primary meaning of Old Testament Scripture is symbolic and non-literal. It is more like a heroic “movie trailer” of Christ and His “coming soon” kingdom. The trailer is not in narrative form, but is a series of quicly cut and weaved symbolic snippets which give us exciting flashes of insight into Jesus. But his trailer can only be previewed on a Christological projector.

    Now, we know that Jesus is LITERALLY nowhere explictly to be found by name in the Old Testament. But, ALLEGORICALLY, He is everywhere to be found. So Jesus Jesus allegorized the Scriptures to these two highly blessed disciples. And their hearts burned within them as a result.

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    God may flood away INTERNAL notions, but He would never flood away EXTERNAL nations. Not nations who have countless infants, toddlers, and children. It’s not in God’s nature to kill people who, “who don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, not for their destruction. God may seek to slay unloving notions, but never unloving nations.

    The Bible authors pervasively used a literary technique called “personification.” The ancient writers personified most everything. Personification is the representation of an object, concept, trait or quality AS IF it were a person. Wicked nations become wicked notions. External giants become internal strongholds of fear. Wisdom and foolishness, in the Book of Proverbs, are both personalized as a woman lifting up their voices in the street. Consider Paul’s personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the “old man” and “new man” as personifications of two warring persons in the new creature after baptism.

    So, keeping this personification technique in mind, the flood is spiritually understood as an external symbol, or “figure” as Peter called it, of an internal event. God, by His Holy Spirit, floods our inner being with cleansing and purging energies, a flood of baptismal fire which burns and washes away evil notions, evil impulses, evil strongholds, evil images, evil desires, etc. Conversely, what gets saved is our core soul, that part of us which desires God. Jesus is the protective ark of our salvation which carries us through this sanctifying flood and lands us on dry land to begin our spiritual lives anew in a re-created inner world.

    Finally, concerning God’s first person rape, child impaling, and infanticide confession in Isaiah. The early church fathers would never have read this passage literally, but rather allegorically. The only thing God destroys are evil notions, not evil nations. The only babies who are bashed by the divine Spirit are our own childish thoughts, not living children themselves. Our own childishly carnal inner ideas of may be impaled by God’s Spirit, but no men made in the image of God would ever be so treated. The only things God Spirit would ravish and impregnate would be inner wicked ideas or selfish strongholds within us which have impoverished us because they lack the the seed-life of Christ.

  • Richard Murray

    Let me offer an example from the church father Origen in how to allegorically deal with the violent stories in the Promised Land battles of Joshua. On their face, these passages, along with many others, sound like God is commanding and causing mass genocides.

    “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” — Joshua 10:40

    “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” — Joshua 6:21

    In Joshua 6:20-21, God actually helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Going farther back in the Biblical narrative, in Deuteronomy 2:32-35 God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    So, let’s see how Origen and the church fathers dealt with these difficult passages which seem to paint God as the causer and commander of genocide.

    Commenting on the brutal wars in which Joshua was involved, Origen says:

    “The Jews who read these events, I am speaking of the Jews according to the appearance, who is circumcised in his body, and ignores the true Jew who is circumcised in his heart; this [physical] Jew does not find ought except description of wars, killing of enemies, and victory of the Israelites who plundered the possession of the foreigners and pagans, under the guidance of Joshua….

    While the Jew according to the heart, that is the Christian who follows Jesus, the Son of God, and NOT Joshua the Son of Nun, understands these events as representing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He says, ‘Today also my master Jesus Christ fights the powers of the evil and drives them out from the towns which they occupied before. He drives them out of our souls. He kills the kings who reigned over them, so that sin will not reign over us. As our souls become free from the reign of sin they become a temple of the Lord and of the God’s Kingdom, hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you'”…. Homilies on Joshua 13.1[125]

    “Unless those carnal wars (of the Old Testament) were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches… Thus, the apostle, being aware that physical wars have become personal battles of the soul against spiritual adversaries, gives orders to the soldiers of Christ like a military commander when he says, ‘Put on the armor of God so as to be able to hold your ground against the wiles of the devil'” (Eph. 6:11). (Hom 15.1 [138]).

    “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ [citing Rom. 6:12] so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you'” [citing Luke 17:21] (Hom 13.1 [125].

    “This warfare must be conducted by the Christian not with physical weapons, but with prayers, meditation on the Word of God, good deeds and good thoughts. Only in this way is the Christian able to withstand the works of the Devil, all the while invoking the help of Jesus Christ” (Hom 16.5).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings, at least in these warfare texts, is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    So, Origen sees “the promised land enemies” not as hostile humans but as carnal and/or Satanic IMPULSES. These enemies represent NOT flesh and blood foes, but rather terroristic thoughts, malicious mentalities, lustful strongholds, deadly ideas, and sinful mindsets. This alone is where ANY level of violence is spiritually permitted– on our own inner toxic impulses and lethal ideas, NEVER on humans made in the image of God.

    This allegorical reading also helps us interpret passages like the 2 Corinthians 6:7 passage which says we “brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.”

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, [wise and unwise virgins], the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    By internalizing and allegorizing these types of passages throughout the Old and New Testament, we can see that our inner patterns of thoughts/impulses/desires, both wicked and righteous, are often contrasted and allegorized as careless or careful virgins, faithful or foreign wives, Philistine or Israeli powers, cannibalistic or caring fathers, and faithful or prodigal sons, etc.

    Here is how that works.

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness. We resist them with non-retaliation. We capture them with the love of God. We arm ourselves with disarming.

    We brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.
    What exactly are those weapons?

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness.
    We throttle them with tenderness.

    We overcome them with an opposite spirit.
    We pulverize them with patience.

    We maul them with meekness.
    We crush them with caring.

    We ambush them with the awe of the Lord.
    We bombard them with blessings.

    We fight with a faith which works only and always through love.

    Here is another example of how the church fathers read the violent Old Testament passages non-literally. Here we are considering Samuel’s violent execution of Agag.

    Regarding this passage, Maximus the Confessor, in his second hundred of his Two Hundred Texts on Theology states:
    53. Saul is the natural law originally established by the Lord to rule over nature. But Saul was disobedient: he spared Agag, king of Amalek [cf. 1 Sam 15.8-16, 13], that is, the body, and slipped downward into the sphere of the passions. He was therefore deposed so that David might take over Israel. David is the law of the Spirit — the law engendering that peace which so excellently builds for God the temple of contemplation.

    54. Samuel signifies obedience to God. So long as the principle of obedience exercises its priestlike office within us, even though Saul spares Agag — that is, the earthly will — yet that principle in its zeal will put him to death [cf. 1 Sam 15. 33]: it strikes the sin-incited intellect and puts it to shame for having transgressed the divine ordinances. (from The Philokalia, translated by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Vol 2, p. 150)
    Maximus (using Origen’s, Gregory’s and Augustine’s rule of divine character) does not take this as a literal slaughter of Agag but as describing internal dynamics of the soul. Agag is a symbol of “the carnal will” as opposed the will in submission to God.

    The Church Fathers repeatedly took the meaning of these kinds of passages allegorically, and NOT as literal and historical truths.

    Below is a helpful excerpt from a book called Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible, by John S. Uberax. It reveals how Old Testament Scriptures can still be divinely inspired in their subtextual symbolism, regardless of the human writer’s partial misperceptions about God and/or historical events which appear on the surface of the text. In other words, symbolic archetypes are divinely imbedded in the Old Testament for us to plumb for wisdom. These archetypes’ function is to always point us to Christ and His kingdom of light and love. This is the same essential technique used by the church fathers– Augustine, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa.

    “We use the term ‘allegory’ in a very broad sense here that means, basically, non-literal interpretation; or interpretation at the level of symbolism. Why psychological allegory? For our purposes, psychological allegorism is understood as the literary symbolization of interior mental processes as human characters and events….

    Allegorical interpretation is an ancient tradition, present among the first Christians, and in Jewish and Hellenistic culture before and after Christianity per se emerged. This method is supported by reason and scientific theory.

    How does this affect a view of the Bible as divinely inspired? It might enhance ones appreciation for God’s sophistication, as well as for the potential of human intuition and creativity. That is, it acknowledges a myriad of means by which God may inspire human writing. If a passage of Scripture is allegorical, there is no less reason to believe that God has guided the mind of the writer and utilized the creative capacities of the human being….

    There are two general guiding rules:

    1) Each major person and situation in the Bible corresponds to and symbolizes an inner disposition, state, process or archetypal principle of your mind or soul.

    2) No words in the Bible are accidental or superfluous. An unusual word or turn of phrase, or the express mention of a seemingly unimportant detail, suggests presence of an allegorical meaning….

    So, under an allegorical reading, one may see figures in the Bible as symbolizing states of mind. By the Philonic method of psychological interpretation, each figure in the Old Testament may be seen as symbolizing some personality disposition. Thus, by this view, you have an inner Adam and an inner Eve, an inner Cain and Abel, an inner Abraham, an inner Moses, and inner Pharaoh, and so on. The struggles and dynamics amongst human characters in the Old Testament mirror the conflicts and dynamics of your psyche.

    This view implicitly recognizes the plurality of the human personality. Many modern psychological theories agree that each of us possesses myriad dispositions or divisions of this kind; different theorists refer to them by different names, including sub-egos, part egos, complexes, or ‘archetypes’. However, unlike most psychological theories, the Bible sees this state of affairs as having a definite purpose and, as it were, resolution. There is an alternative to merely being a chaotic assemblage of states and feelings. A higher, integrated level of organization of the personality is possible….

    When seeking an allegorical understanding, it helps to read Scripture in a careful and attentive way. The traditional Christian practice of lectio divina , or spiritual reading, is useful for this. The article, A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology , explains a form of lectio divina in psychological terms: A good general resource for interpreting the Old and New Testament is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. These volumes proceed through the Bible supplying excerpts from Church Fathers, commenting on various chapters and verses.”

    ~~ Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible: A Brief Explanation of the Principles of Psychological Exegesis of Holy Scripture by John S. Uebersax

    We see this dynamic in Peter’s interpretation of the killing flood.

    The flood of Noah is better dealt with on its allegorical level rather than on its literal level. 1 Peter 3:20-21, in fact, calls it a “soul saving” event which is a “figure” of “baptism” for us. If you are going to quote Peter on the flood, don’t forget this passage which paints it as positive allegory.

    So, on an allegorical level, the deliverance of Noah’s family from a corrupted world, by means of “water,” allegorizes our salvation, through baptism, from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21; Colossians 1:13).

    I believe the hermeneutical key to rightly interpreting Genesis’ events lies in us letting Jesus’ Spirit interpret it for us Christologically/allegorically, just as He did for the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24.

    All the Old Testament is primarily to be read as an allegorical PROPHECY of the coming life, deity, nature, character, sacrifice, death, resurrection, and victorious glorification of Jesus. But the allegory doesn’t stop there. The Old Testament also prophesies of the ascended Jesus’ eventual INDWELLING of all of us through the Pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit.

    On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told the two disciples “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself….And their eyes were opened, and they knew him…. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?… And He said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the law of Moses , and in the prophets , and in the psalms , concerning me . Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.

    To read it allegorically is NOT to deny it lacks any historical value at all. Rather, it is to say that the primary meaning of Old Testament Scripture is symbolic and non-literal. It is more like a heroic “movie trailer” of Christ and His “coming soon” kingdom. The trailer is not in narrative form, but is a series of quicly cut and weaved symbolic snippets which give us exciting flashes of insight into Jesus. But his trailer can only be previewed on a Christological projector.

    Now, we know that Jesus is LITERALLY nowhere explictly to be found by name in the Old Testament. But, ALLEGORICALLY, He is everywhere to be found. So Jesus Jesus allegorized the Scriptures to these two highly blessed disciples. And their hearts burned within them as a result.

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    God may flood away INTERNAL notions, but He would never flood away EXTERNAL nations. Not nations who have countless infants, toddlers, and children. It’s not in God’s nature to kill people who, “who don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, not for their destruction. God may seek to slay unloving notions, but never unloving nations.

    The Bible authors pervasively used a literary technique called “personification.” The ancient writers personified most everything. Personification is the representation of an object, concept, trait or quality AS IF it were a person. Wicked nations become wicked notions. External giants become internal strongholds of fear. Wisdom and foolishness, in the Book of Proverbs, are both personalized as a woman lifting up their voices in the street. Consider Paul’s personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the “old man” and “new man” as personifications of two warring persons in the new creature after baptism.

    So, keeping this personification technique in mind, the flood is spiritually understood as an external symbol, or “figure” as Peter called it, of an internal event. God, by His Holy Spirit, floods our inner being with cleansing and purging energies, a flood of baptismal fire which burns and washes away evil notions, evil impulses, evil strongholds, evil images, evil desires, etc. Conversely, what gets saved is our core soul, that part of us which desires God. Jesus is the protective ark of our salvation which carries us through this sanctifying flood and lands us on dry land to begin our spiritual lives anew in a re-created inner world.

    Finally, concerning God’s first person rape, child impaling, and infanticide confession in Isaiah. The early church fathers would never have read this passage literally, but rather allegorically. The only thing God destroys are evil notions, not evil nations. The only babies who are bashed by the divine Spirit are our own childish thoughts, not living children themselves. Our own childishly carnal inner ideas of may be impaled by God’s Spirit, but no men made in the image of God would ever be so treated. The only things God Spirit would ravish and impregnate would be inner wicked ideas or selfish strongholds within us which have impoverished us because they lack the the seed-life of Christ.

  • Richard Murray
  • Richard Murray

    Judaism saw and sees Satan as an obedient servant angel, the angel of death in fact, who was the Lord’s enforcing, tempting and destroying minister of wrath and death. The New Testament upgrades evolves our understanding of Satan as a rebel angel rather than a servant angel. I quote numerous Jewish and Christian sources for this well established idea.

    Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

  • Richard Murray

    Not throwing the Jews under the bus at all, just reporting what they themselves claim to believe.

    Judaism saw (and still sees) Satan as an obedient servant angel, the angel of death in fact, who was the Lord’s enforcing, tempting and destroying minister of wrath and death. The New Testament upgrades evolves our understanding of Satan as a rebel angel rather than a servant angel. I quote numerous Jewish and Christian sources for this well established idea.

    Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

  • Richard Murray

    Judaism saw and sees Satan as an obedient servant angel, the angel of death in fact, who was the Lord’s enforcing, tempting and destroying minister of wrath and death. The New Testament upgrades evolves our understanding of Satan as a rebel angel rather than a servant angel. I quote numerous Jewish and Christian sources for this well established idea. I also give the the scriptural examples you request.

    Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

  • Richard Murray

    Nope. I love Judaism. I have studied what they actually believe. On this issue of Satan, they have divergent beliefs about Satan. It’s well documented.

    Judaism saw and sees Satan as an obedient servant angel, the angel of death in fact, who was the Lord’s enforcing, tempting and destroying minister of wrath and death. The New Testament upgrades evolves our understanding of Satan as a rebel angel rather than a servant angel. I quote numerous Jewish and Christian sources for this well established idea.

    Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

  • Richard Murray

    Only two possibilities.

    1) BOTH good AND evil are traced to God.

    2) ONLY good is traced to God. ALL Evil is traced to the misuse of freewill by humans and angels.

    Many Old Testament writers chose ‘A.’ (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7).

    The New Testament writers choose ‘B’ (James 1:12-17; I John 1:5).

    Let’s accept the conceptual promotion. Let’s go with the New Covenant “better” (Hebrews 8:6) over the Old Covenant “letter” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

    Korah’s rebellion is a perfect example of the developmental distortions caused by the Old Testament writers’ UNDIFFERENTIATED view of God. They had not yet fully separated and severed Satan’s nature and works from their image of God. Jesus came to do just that– to correct and cull out all Satanic elements from His loving Abba’s nature. 

    Thus, the Old Testament view of God was, on occasion, a confusing “strobe light” of alternating light and dark flashes which gave only a partially lit view of God goodness, an often choppy and disorienting image of God which saw Him as the sovereign inflicter of BOTH good and evil, BOTH love and hate, BOTH mercy and wrath, and BOTH healing and affliction.

    Since the Old Testament saints believed Satan was an obedient servant angel of God, His “left hand,” His official “minister of wrath,” His “angry voice” in other words, then their internal processing and subsequent translation of the divine impulses into written form would naturally misattribute the killing earthquake as an apparent “wrathful act FROM God” rather than a “devilishly destructive disaster FROM Satan.” Hebrews 2:14 confirms that Satan had the power of death (and killing) not God. Homicide is not in the divine nature under this view. 

    Re-reading the OT texts under the more spiritually differentiated cosmology of the New Testament, we can now see that Satan is THE murderer from the beginning. John 8:44. Satan utilized the sin-access Korah’s rebellious and hostile heart had provided. Korah opened his heart to hate by rejecting and pushing away God’s protective presence. Satan then filled the vacuum and opened the earth to swallow them. 

    In short, Korah FIRST opened his heart and swallowed Satan, after-which Satan THEN opened the earth and swallowed Korah. Whether read allegorically or literally, if we make the Jesus our hermeneutic, the New Testament still reveals the killer here as Satan.

    Below is the passage in question which describes the earthquake which swallowed the rebellious Korah and his followers.

    “And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words , that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth , and swallowed them up , and their houses , and all the men that appertained unto Korah , and all their goods . They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit , and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation . And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said , Lest the earth swallow us up also.” Numbers 16:31-34.

    As for your take on Isaiah and Amos, please take Jesus’ NT upgrade into OT understanding and theodicy. Below is an extensive article. 

    The below note explains the Isaiah and Amos passages mentioned above.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/richard-murray/why-does-isaiah-and-amos-blame-god-for-evil-and-darkness/1420814971291625/

    Did God kill Ananias and Sapphira?
    https://www.facebook.com/richard.murray.1840/posts/622282751165112

  • Christiane Smith

    ” the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”
    (St. Augustine)

    I don’t know if evangelical people understand how the writings of the OT sometimes reflect the teaching that all evil will be destroyed and rooted out, a process called ‘The Ban’ and that much of this destruction of evil is written more as allegory than as in a literal sense. (?)

    Also, when considering the deepest meaning of all of sacred Scripture, there is only One Who is able to open the scrolls and reveal to us their meaning, only One: the Lamb Who was slain, Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
    If anyone would know the deepest meaning of a portion of sacred Scripture, it must be read through the lens of Christ, the Revealer of God. There is no other way to read the Old Testament. The sacred Scriptures testify to HIM; they point only to HIM. The Holy Spirit points us to Christ.

    Beware of any human leader who interprets the sacred Scriptures in any way that leads to the violation of Christ’s Royal Law. This has been done under the banner of ‘inerrancy’ on more than one occasion. But it is one red light that can warn people that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture is far from inerrant.

  • Christiane Smith

    John MacArthur does NOT have the words of eternal life, nor is John MacArthur known as the Revealer of God.

    If you want to know The Truth, then seek Christ Himself. He IS the truth. Trust Him. Read the the sacred Scriptures through the lens of Christ: The Revealer of God

    “2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice,
    ” WHO IS WORTHY to break the seals and open the scroll?”
    But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look inside it.
    And I began to weep bitterly, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.
    Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
    Then I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne . . . . .
    . . . . . And He came and took the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne. When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . . . . .
    . . . . And they sang a new song:
    “Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (from Revelation Chapter 5)

  • BrianN

    “Why are lowly humans better at understanding right and wrong than God?”

    Why read the Bible at all, allegorically or not? God knows it better than you. You should feel ashamed to presume to know God’s will by your corporeal interpretation of the Bible.

    “So your argument is that you understand the story correctly, and Jesus didn’t?”

    I understand your reading comprehension might be subpar but if you take the time to actually read what I said, I make no such claim. I’m asking YOU or other Christians how you determine when a scripture is to be read literally vs allegorically. I care little about what Jesus thinks and care even less for what your interpretation of Jesus thinks.

  • Taz

    Honestly, I could replace this entire blog with John 5:39-40. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
    If the revelation of God in the OT doesn’t match Jesus, there’s something wrong with it or at least the way it’s being read. Christiane (both directly above and below this post) makes excellent points.

  • Vel Frost

    “Simple, whenever it literally attributes evil or wickedness to God, we KNOW that passage must be reinterpreted allegorically or figuratively.”

    aka we make things up if we don’t like something. This is a great example showing that each Christian makes up their god and their bible in their own image.

  • Jesse H

    God is holy and loving and just. Punishing evil is just. There are complexities here, but I’d rather confront the complexities than cherry-pick which parts of Scripture we choose to understand.

  • HeartforPeace

    How do you confront these complexities? Have you come up with any theories? Does a loving God kill?

  • Jesse H

    The complexity is that we are finite beings, and we all have evil in some capacities both by nature and by nurture. God has the right to punish evil, He is and will be the ultimate Judge who will examine the secrets of men and reward good and evil, Romans 2:15-16.

    A loving and just God both punishes and shows mercy.

  • Jesse H

    Seems like you don’t think a just God has the right to punish evil

  • “Does a loving God kill?”

    Your question assumes that death is the greatest evil. Biblically it is not. We all die.

    The greatest evil, the worst thing that can happen to anyone, is to miss God’s mercy and grace that offers to us a connection with God that Jesus described as eternal life (John 17:3). That was true in the OT as much as it is in the NT.

    Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

    In order for the greatest good and the greatest number of people to know God, evil must be contained. Evil unrestrained would destroy the world. That sometimes translates into judgment in history of those who are evil doers – there will be judgment beyond history of all evil doers. Judgment is horrific whether in history or beyond history. Isaiah 13 (Murray’s quote) describes how horrific God’s judgment was and will be. To protect God and his character as a loving God by shifting the responsibility of judgment to Satan or to explain it away by allegory (as Murray does) misrepresents God, and it leaves us with a God who is willing to allow evil to rule in history. (Would a loving God allow evil to rule?)

    Murray is simply wrong in developing a hermeneutic that does not allow for God’s judgment. The entire OT does not need to be interpreted literally, but it must not be purged of those things we find objectionable just because we find them objectionable.

  • Richard Murray

    Nope. It’s a great example of how Jesus is the sole Rosetta Stone by which we interpret the Bible. If you’re clueless to Christ, and have no willingness to learn from His Spirit, then you will be the one making up what you want the Scriptures to say according to the Law of the Infinite Cornucopia (google it), which says that people who read by the outdated reading styles of either Romantic Humanism or Structuralism will twist a vast document like the Bible to fit whatever caricature they want to attack, while completely and disingenuously ignoring any and all Scriptures which contra-indicate their own acrimonious opinion. In other words, anybody can do hack job on the Bible to say whatever it is they want it to say. You pull out a handful of Old Testament passages while ignoring hundreds of love and light passages to make out your caricature. As I said, it’s a hack job. The church fathers read Scripture with a lose grip, in a post-structuralist fashion, much like Derrida and Ecco. Their spirit-quickened consciences were their interpretive guide. Augustine and the other church fathers interpreted all Scripture in a way to that must foster love of/from God and love of/from neighbor. Sorry you refuse to see that.

  • Richard Murray

    I didn’t throw the Jews under the bus at all. If you took the time to study their theodicy, you hold know they totally own what I have said. Before insinuating someone is anti-Semitic, show a thimble full of effort to actually know your right hand from your left. I document Jewish sources for everything I say in the article below. You have some reading to do. Introduction– Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

    Let me offer an example from the church father Origen in how to allegorically deal with the violent stories in the Promised Land battles of Joshua. On their face, these passages, along with many others, sound like God is commanding and causing mass genocides.

    “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” — Joshua 10:40

    “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” — Joshua 6:21

    In Joshua 6:20-21, God actually helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Going farther back in the Biblical narrative, in Deuteronomy 2:32-35 God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    So, let’s see how Origen and the church fathers dealt with these difficult passages which seem to paint God as the causer and commander of genocide.

    Commenting on the brutal wars in which Joshua was involved, Origen says:

    “The Jews who read these events, I am speaking of the Jews according to the appearance, who is circumcised in his body, and ignores the true Jew who is circumcised in his heart; this [physical] Jew does not find ought except description of wars, killing of enemies, and victory of the Israelites who plundered the possession of the foreigners and pagans, under the guidance of Joshua….

    While the Jew according to the heart, that is the Christian who follows Jesus, the Son of God, and NOT Joshua the Son of Nun, understands these events as representing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He says, ‘Today also my master Jesus Christ fights the powers of the evil and drives them out from the towns which they occupied before. He drives them out of our souls. He kills the kings who reigned over them, so that sin will not reign over us. As our souls become free from the reign of sin they become a temple of the Lord and of the God’s Kingdom, hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you'”…. Homilies on Joshua 13.1[125]

    “Unless those carnal wars (of the Old Testament) were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches… Thus, the apostle, being aware that physical wars have become personal battles of the soul against spiritual adversaries, gives orders to the soldiers of Christ like a military commander when he says, ‘Put on the armor of God so as to be able to hold your ground against the wiles of the devil'” (Eph. 6:11). (Hom 15.1 [138]).

    “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ [citing Rom. 6:12] so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you'” [citing Luke 17:21] (Hom 13.1 [125].

    “This warfare must be conducted by the Christian not with physical weapons, but with prayers, meditation on the Word of God, good deeds and good thoughts. Only in this way is the Christian able to withstand the works of the Devil, all the while invoking the help of Jesus Christ” (Hom 16.5).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings, at least in these warfare texts, is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    So, Origen sees “the promised land enemies” not as hostile humans but as carnal and/or Satanic IMPULSES. These enemies represent NOT flesh and blood foes, but rather terroristic thoughts, malicious mentalities, lustful strongholds, deadly ideas, and sinful mindsets. This alone is where ANY level of violence is spiritually permitted– on our own inner toxic impulses and lethal ideas, NEVER on humans made in the image of God.

    This allegorical reading also helps us interpret passages like the 2 Corinthians 6:7 passage which says we “brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.”

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, [wise and unwise virgins], the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    By internalizing and allegorizing these types of passages throughout the Old and New Testament, we can see that our inner patterns of thoughts/impulses/desires, both wicked and righteous, are often contrasted and allegorized as careless or careful virgins, faithful or foreign wives, Philistine or Israeli powers, cannibalistic or caring fathers, and faithful or prodigal sons, etc.

    Here is how that works.

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness. We resist them with non-retaliation. We capture them with the love of God. We arm ourselves with disarming.

    We brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.
    What exactly are those weapons?

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness.
    We throttle them with tenderness.

    We overcome them with an opposite spirit.
    We pulverize them with patience.

    We maul them with meekness.
    We crush them with caring.

    We ambush them with the awe of the Lord.
    We bombard them with blessings.

    We fight with a faith which works only and always through love.

    Here is another example of how the church fathers read the violent Old Testament passages non-literally. Here we are considering Samuel’s violent execution of Agag.

    Regarding this passage, Maximus the Confessor, in his second hundred of his Two Hundred Texts on Theology states:
    53. Saul is the natural law originally established by the Lord to rule over nature. But Saul was disobedient: he spared Agag, king of Amalek [cf. 1 Sam 15.8-16, 13], that is, the body, and slipped downward into the sphere of the passions. He was therefore deposed so that David might take over Israel. David is the law of the Spirit — the law engendering that peace which so excellently builds for God the temple of contemplation.

    54. Samuel signifies obedience to God. So long as the principle of obedience exercises its priestlike office within us, even though Saul spares Agag — that is, the earthly will — yet that principle in its zeal will put him to death [cf. 1 Sam 15. 33]: it strikes the sin-incited intellect and puts it to shame for having transgressed the divine ordinances. (from The Philokalia, translated by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Vol 2, p. 150)
    Maximus (using Origen’s, Gregory’s and Augustine’s rule of divine character) does not take this as a literal slaughter of Agag but as describing internal dynamics of the soul. Agag is a symbol of “the carnal will” as opposed the will in submission to God.

    The Church Fathers repeatedly took the meaning of these kinds of passages allegorically, and NOT as literal and historical truths.

    Below is a helpful excerpt from a book called Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible, by John S. Uberax. It reveals how Old Testament Scriptures can still be divinely inspired in their subtextual symbolism, regardless of the human writer’s partial misperceptions about God and/or historical events which appear on the surface of the text. In other words, symbolic archetypes are divinely imbedded in the Old Testament for us to plumb for wisdom. These archetypes’ function is to always point us to Christ and His kingdom of light and love. This is the same essential technique used by the church fathers– Augustine, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa.

    “We use the term ‘allegory’ in a very broad sense here that means, basically, non-literal interpretation; or interpretation at the level of symbolism. Why psychological allegory? For our purposes, psychological allegorism is understood as the literary symbolization of interior mental processes as human characters and events….

    Allegorical interpretation is an ancient tradition, present among the first Christians, and in Jewish and Hellenistic culture before and after Christianity per se emerged. This method is supported by reason and scientific theory.

    How does this affect a view of the Bible as divinely inspired? It might enhance ones appreciation for God’s sophistication, as well as for the potential of human intuition and creativity. That is, it acknowledges a myriad of means by which God may inspire human writing. If a passage of Scripture is allegorical, there is no less reason to believe that God has guided the mind of the writer and utilized the creative capacities of the human being….

    There are two general guiding rules:

    1) Each major person and situation in the Bible corresponds to and symbolizes an inner disposition, state, process or archetypal principle of your mind or soul.

    2) No words in the Bible are accidental or superfluous. An unusual word or turn of phrase, or the express mention of a seemingly unimportant detail, suggests presence of an allegorical meaning….

    So, under an allegorical reading, one may see figures in the Bible as symbolizing states of mind. By the Philonic method of psychological interpretation, each figure in the Old Testament may be seen as symbolizing some personality disposition. Thus, by this view, you have an inner Adam and an inner Eve, an inner Cain and Abel, an inner Abraham, an inner Moses, and inner Pharaoh, and so on. The struggles and dynamics amongst human characters in the Old Testament mirror the conflicts and dynamics of your psyche.

    This view implicitly recognizes the plurality of the human personality. Many modern psychological theories agree that each of us possesses myriad dispositions or divisions of this kind; different theorists refer to them by different names, including sub-egos, part egos, complexes, or ‘archetypes’. However, unlike most psychological theories, the Bible sees this state of affairs as having a definite purpose and, as it were, resolution. There is an alternative to merely being a chaotic assemblage of states and feelings. A higher, integrated level of organization of the personality is possible….

    When seeking an allegorical understanding, it helps to read Scripture in a careful and attentive way. The traditional Christian practice of lectio divina , or spiritual reading, is useful for this. The article, A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology , explains a form of lectio divina in psychological terms: A good general resource for interpreting the Old and New Testament is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. These volumes proceed through the Bible supplying excerpts from Church Fathers, commenting on various chapters and verses.”

    ~~ Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible: A Brief Explanation of the Principles of Psychological Exegesis of Holy Scripture by John S. Uebersax

    We see this dynamic in Peter’s interpretation of the killing flood.

    The flood of Noah is better dealt with on its allegorical level rather than on its literal level. 1 Peter 3:20-21, in fact, calls it a “soul saving” event which is a “figure” of “baptism” for us. If you are going to quote Peter on the flood, don’t forget this passage which paints it as positive allegory.

    So, on an allegorical level, the deliverance of Noah’s family from a corrupted world, by means of “water,” allegorizes our salvation, through baptism, from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21; Colossians 1:13).

    I believe the hermeneutical key to rightly interpreting Genesis’ events lies in us letting Jesus’ Spirit interpret it for us Christologically/allegorically, just as He did for the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24.

    All the Old Testament is primarily to be read as an allegorical PROPHECY of the coming life, deity, nature, character, sacrifice, death, resurrection, and victorious glorification of Jesus. But the allegory doesn’t stop there. The Old Testament also prophesies of the ascended Jesus’ eventual INDWELLING of all of us through the Pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit.

    On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told the two disciples “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself….And their eyes were opened, and they knew him…. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?… And He said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the law of Moses , and in the prophets , and in the psalms , concerning me . Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.

    To read it allegorically is NOT to deny it lacks any historical value at all. Rather, it is to say that the primary meaning of Old Testament Scripture is symbolic and non-literal. It is more like a heroic “movie trailer” of Christ and His “coming soon” kingdom. The trailer is not in narrative form, but is a series of quicly cut and weaved symbolic snippets which give us exciting flashes of insight into Jesus. But his trailer can only be previewed on a Christological projector.

    Now, we know that Jesus is LITERALLY nowhere explictly to be found by name in the Old Testament. But, ALLEGORICALLY, He is everywhere to be found. So Jesus Jesus allegorized the Scriptures to these two highly blessed disciples. And their hearts burned within them as a result.

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    God may flood away INTERNAL notions, but He would never flood away EXTERNAL nations. Not nations who have countless infants, toddlers, and children. It’s not in God’s nature to kill people who, “who don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, not for their destruction. God may seek to slay unloving notions, but never unloving nations.

    The Bible authors pervasively used a literary technique called “personification.” The ancient writers personified most everything. Personification is the representation of an object, concept, trait or quality AS IF it were a person. Wicked nations become wicked notions. External giants become internal strongholds of fear. Wisdom and foolishness, in the Book of Proverbs, are both personalized as a woman lifting up their voices in the street. Consider Paul’s personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the “old man” and “new man” as personifications of two warring persons in the new creature after baptism.

    So, keeping this personification technique in mind, the flood is spiritually understood as an external symbol, or “figure” as Peter called it, of an internal event. God, by His Holy Spirit, floods our inner being with cleansing and purging energies, a flood of baptismal fire which burns and washes away evil notions, evil impulses, evil strongholds, evil images, evil desires, etc. Conversely, what gets saved is our core soul, that part of us which desires God. Jesus is the protective ark of our salvation which carries us through this sanctifying flood and lands us on dry land to begin our spiritual lives anew in a re-created inner world.

    Finally, concerning God’s first person rape, child impaling, and infanticide confession in Isaiah. The early church fathers would never have read this passage literally, but rather allegorically. The only thing God destroys are evil notions, not evil nations. The only babies who are bashed by the divine Spirit are our own childish thoughts, not living children themselves. Our own childishly carnal inner ideas of may be impaled by God’s Spirit, but no men made in the image of God would ever be so treated. The only things God Spirit would ravish and impregnate would be inner wicked ideas or selfish strongholds within us which have impoverished us because they lack the the seed-life of Christ.

  • Richard Murray

    Let me offer an example from the church father Origen in how to allegorically deal with the violent stories in the Promised Land battles of Joshua. On their face, these passages, along with many others, sound like God is commanding and causing mass genocides.

    “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” — Joshua 10:40

    “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” — Joshua 6:21

    In Joshua 6:20-21, God actually helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Going farther back in the Biblical narrative, in Deuteronomy 2:32-35 God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    So, let’s see how Origen and the church fathers dealt with these difficult passages which seem to paint God as the causer and commander of genocide.

    Commenting on the brutal wars in which Joshua was involved, Origen says:

    “The Jews who read these events, I am speaking of the Jews according to the appearance, who is circumcised in his body, and ignores the true Jew who is circumcised in his heart; this [physical] Jew does not find ought except description of wars, killing of enemies, and victory of the Israelites who plundered the possession of the foreigners and pagans, under the guidance of Joshua….

    While the Jew according to the heart, that is the Christian who follows Jesus, the Son of God, and NOT Joshua the Son of Nun, understands these events as representing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He says, ‘Today also my master Jesus Christ fights the powers of the evil and drives them out from the towns which they occupied before. He drives them out of our souls. He kills the kings who reigned over them, so that sin will not reign over us. As our souls become free from the reign of sin they become a temple of the Lord and of the God’s Kingdom, hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you'”…. Homilies on Joshua 13.1[125]

    “Unless those carnal wars (of the Old Testament) were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches… Thus, the apostle, being aware that physical wars have become personal battles of the soul against spiritual adversaries, gives orders to the soldiers of Christ like a military commander when he says, ‘Put on the armor of God so as to be able to hold your ground against the wiles of the devil'” (Eph. 6:11). (Hom 15.1 [138]).

    “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ [citing Rom. 6:12] so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you'” [citing Luke 17:21] (Hom 13.1 [125].

    “This warfare must be conducted by the Christian not with physical weapons, but with prayers, meditation on the Word of God, good deeds and good thoughts. Only in this way is the Christian able to withstand the works of the Devil, all the while invoking the help of Jesus Christ” (Hom 16.5).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings, at least in these warfare texts, is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    So, Origen sees “the promised land enemies” not as hostile humans but as carnal and/or Satanic IMPULSES. These enemies represent NOT flesh and blood foes, but rather terroristic thoughts, malicious mentalities, lustful strongholds, deadly ideas, and sinful mindsets. This alone is where ANY level of violence is spiritually permitted– on our own inner toxic impulses and lethal ideas, NEVER on humans made in the image of God.

    This allegorical reading also helps us interpret passages like the 2 Corinthians 6:7 passage which says we “brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.”

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, [wise and unwise virgins], the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    By internalizing and allegorizing these types of passages throughout the Old and New Testament, we can see that our inner patterns of thoughts/impulses/desires, both wicked and righteous, are often contrasted and allegorized as careless or careful virgins, faithful or foreign wives, Philistine or Israeli powers, cannibalistic or caring fathers, and faithful or prodigal sons, etc.

    Here is how that works.

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness. We resist them with non-retaliation. We capture them with the love of God. We arm ourselves with disarming.

    We brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.
    What exactly are those weapons?

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness.
    We throttle them with tenderness.

    We overcome them with an opposite spirit.
    We pulverize them with patience.

    We maul them with meekness.
    We crush them with caring.

    We ambush them with the awe of the Lord.
    We bombard them with blessings.

    We fight with a faith which works only and always through love.

    Here is another example of how the church fathers read the violent Old Testament passages non-literally. Here we are considering Samuel’s violent execution of Agag.

    Regarding this passage, Maximus the Confessor, in his second hundred of his Two Hundred Texts on Theology states:
    53. Saul is the natural law originally established by the Lord to rule over nature. But Saul was disobedient: he spared Agag, king of Amalek [cf. 1 Sam 15.8-16, 13], that is, the body, and slipped downward into the sphere of the passions. He was therefore deposed so that David might take over Israel. David is the law of the Spirit — the law engendering that peace which so excellently builds for God the temple of contemplation.

    54. Samuel signifies obedience to God. So long as the principle of obedience exercises its priestlike office within us, even though Saul spares Agag — that is, the earthly will — yet that principle in its zeal will put him to death [cf. 1 Sam 15. 33]: it strikes the sin-incited intellect and puts it to shame for having transgressed the divine ordinances. (from The Philokalia, translated by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Vol 2, p. 150)
    Maximus (using Origen’s, Gregory’s and Augustine’s rule of divine character) does not take this as a literal slaughter of Agag but as describing internal dynamics of the soul. Agag is a symbol of “the carnal will” as opposed the will in submission to God.

    The Church Fathers repeatedly took the meaning of these kinds of passages allegorically, and NOT as literal and historical truths.

    Below is a helpful excerpt from a book called Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible, by John S. Uberax. It reveals how Old Testament Scriptures can still be divinely inspired in their subtextual symbolism, regardless of the human writer’s partial misperceptions about God and/or historical events which appear on the surface of the text. In other words, symbolic archetypes are divinely imbedded in the Old Testament for us to plumb for wisdom. These archetypes’ function is to always point us to Christ and His kingdom of light and love. This is the same essential technique used by the church fathers– Augustine, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa.

    “We use the term ‘allegory’ in a very broad sense here that means, basically, non-literal interpretation; or interpretation at the level of symbolism. Why psychological allegory? For our purposes, psychological allegorism is understood as the literary symbolization of interior mental processes as human characters and events….

    Allegorical interpretation is an ancient tradition, present among the first Christians, and in Jewish and Hellenistic culture before and after Christianity per se emerged. This method is supported by reason and scientific theory.

    How does this affect a view of the Bible as divinely inspired? It might enhance ones appreciation for God’s sophistication, as well as for the potential of human intuition and creativity. That is, it acknowledges a myriad of means by which God may inspire human writing. If a passage of Scripture is allegorical, there is no less reason to believe that God has guided the mind of the writer and utilized the creative capacities of the human being….

    There are two general guiding rules:

    1) Each major person and situation in the Bible corresponds to and symbolizes an inner disposition, state, process or archetypal principle of your mind or soul.

    2) No words in the Bible are accidental or superfluous. An unusual word or turn of phrase, or the express mention of a seemingly unimportant detail, suggests presence of an allegorical meaning….

    So, under an allegorical reading, one may see figures in the Bible as symbolizing states of mind. By the Philonic method of psychological interpretation, each figure in the Old Testament may be seen as symbolizing some personality disposition. Thus, by this view, you have an inner Adam and an inner Eve, an inner Cain and Abel, an inner Abraham, an inner Moses, and inner Pharaoh, and so on. The struggles and dynamics amongst human characters in the Old Testament mirror the conflicts and dynamics of your psyche.

    This view implicitly recognizes the plurality of the human personality. Many modern psychological theories agree that each of us possesses myriad dispositions or divisions of this kind; different theorists refer to them by different names, including sub-egos, part egos, complexes, or ‘archetypes’. However, unlike most psychological theories, the Bible sees this state of affairs as having a definite purpose and, as it were, resolution. There is an alternative to merely being a chaotic assemblage of states and feelings. A higher, integrated level of organization of the personality is possible….

    When seeking an allegorical understanding, it helps to read Scripture in a careful and attentive way. The traditional Christian practice of lectio divina , or spiritual reading, is useful for this. The article, A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology , explains a form of lectio divina in psychological terms: A good general resource for interpreting the Old and New Testament is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. These volumes proceed through the Bible supplying excerpts from Church Fathers, commenting on various chapters and verses.”

    ~~ Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible: A Brief Explanation of the Principles of Psychological Exegesis of Holy Scripture by John S. Uebersax

    We see this dynamic in Peter’s interpretation of the killing flood.

    The flood of Noah is better dealt with on its allegorical level rather than on its literal level. 1 Peter 3:20-21, in fact, calls it a “soul saving” event which is a “figure” of “baptism” for us. If you are going to quote Peter on the flood, don’t forget this passage which paints it as positive allegory.

    So, on an allegorical level, the deliverance of Noah’s family from a corrupted world, by means of “water,” allegorizes our salvation, through baptism, from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21; Colossians 1:13).

    I believe the hermeneutical key to rightly interpreting Genesis’ events lies in us letting Jesus’ Spirit interpret it for us Christologically/allegorically, just as He did for the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24.

    All the Old Testament is primarily to be read as an allegorical PROPHECY of the coming life, deity, nature, character, sacrifice, death, resurrection, and victorious glorification of Jesus. But the allegory doesn’t stop there. The Old Testament also prophesies of the ascended Jesus’ eventual INDWELLING of all of us through the Pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit.

    On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told the two disciples “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself….And their eyes were opened, and they knew him…. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?… And He said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the law of Moses , and in the prophets , and in the psalms , concerning me . Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.

    To read it allegorically is NOT to deny it lacks any historical value at all. Rather, it is to say that the primary meaning of Old Testament Scripture is symbolic and non-literal. It is more like a heroic “movie trailer” of Christ and His “coming soon” kingdom. The trailer is not in narrative form, but is a series of quicly cut and weaved symbolic snippets which give us exciting flashes of insight into Jesus. But his trailer can only be previewed on a Christological projector.

    Now, we know that Jesus is LITERALLY nowhere explictly to be found by name in the Old Testament. But, ALLEGORICALLY, He is everywhere to be found. So Jesus Jesus allegorized the Scriptures to these two highly blessed disciples. And their hearts burned within them as a result.

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    God may flood away INTERNAL notions, but He would never flood away EXTERNAL nations. Not nations who have countless infants, toddlers, and children. It’s not in God’s nature to kill people who, “who don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, not for their destruction. God may seek to slay unloving notions, but never unloving nations.

    The Bible authors pervasively used a literary technique called “personification.” The ancient writers personified most everything. Personification is the representation of an object, concept, trait or quality AS IF it were a person. Wicked nations become wicked notions. External giants become internal strongholds of fear. Wisdom and foolishness, in the Book of Proverbs, are both personalized as a woman lifting up their voices in the street. Consider Paul’s personification of sin ruling as a king in his body, and the “old man” and “new man” as personifications of two warring persons in the new creature after baptism.

    So, keeping this personification technique in mind, the flood is spiritually understood as an external symbol, or “figure” as Peter called it, of an internal event. God, by His Holy Spirit, floods our inner being with cleansing and purging energies, a flood of baptismal fire which burns and washes away evil notions, evil impulses, evil strongholds, evil images, evil desires, etc. Conversely, what gets saved is our core soul, that part of us which desires God. Jesus is the protective ark of our salvation which carries us through this sanctifying flood and lands us on dry land to begin our spiritual lives anew in a re-created inner world.

    Finally, concerning God’s first person rape, child impaling, and infanticide confession in Isaiah. The early church fathers would never have read this passage literally, but rather allegorically. The only thing God destroys are evil notions, not evil nations. The only babies who are bashed by the divine Spirit are our own childish thoughts, not living children themselves. Our own childishly carnal inner ideas of may be impaled by God’s Spirit, but no men made in the image of God would ever be so treated. The only things God Spirit would ravish and impregnate would be inner wicked ideas or selfish strongholds within us which have impoverished us because they lack the the seed-life of Christ.

  • Richard Murray

    Let me offer an example from the church father Origen in how to allegorically deal with the violent stories in the Promised Land battles of Joshua. On their face, these passages, along with many others, sound like God is commanding and causing mass genocides.

    “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded.” — Joshua 10:40

    “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” — Joshua 6:21

    In Joshua 6:20-21, God actually helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Going farther back in the Biblical narrative, in Deuteronomy 2:32-35 God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    So, let’s see how Origen and the church fathers dealt with these difficult passages which seem to paint God as the causer and commander of genocide.

    Commenting on the brutal wars in which Joshua was involved, Origen says:

    “The Jews who read these events, I am speaking of the Jews according to the appearance, who is circumcised in his body, and ignores the true Jew who is circumcised in his heart; this [physical] Jew does not find ought except description of wars, killing of enemies, and victory of the Israelites who plundered the possession of the foreigners and pagans, under the guidance of Joshua….

    While the Jew according to the heart, that is the Christian who follows Jesus, the Son of God, and NOT Joshua the Son of Nun, understands these events as representing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He says, ‘Today also my master Jesus Christ fights the powers of the evil and drives them out from the towns which they occupied before. He drives them out of our souls. He kills the kings who reigned over them, so that sin will not reign over us. As our souls become free from the reign of sin they become a temple of the Lord and of the God’s Kingdom, hearing the words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you'”…. Homilies on Joshua 13.1[125]

    “Unless those carnal wars (of the Old Testament) were a symbol of spiritual wars, I do not think that the Jewish historical books would ever have been passed down by the apostles to be read by Christ’s followers in their churches… Thus, the apostle, being aware that physical wars have become personal battles of the soul against spiritual adversaries, gives orders to the soldiers of Christ like a military commander when he says, ‘Put on the armor of God so as to be able to hold your ground against the wiles of the devil'” (Eph. 6:11). (Hom 15.1 [138]).

    “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ [citing Rom. 6:12] so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you'” [citing Luke 17:21] (Hom 13.1 [125].

    “This warfare must be conducted by the Christian not with physical weapons, but with prayers, meditation on the Word of God, good deeds and good thoughts. Only in this way is the Christian able to withstand the works of the Devil, all the while invoking the help of Jesus Christ” (Hom 16.5).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings, at least in these warfare texts, is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    So, Origen sees “the promised land enemies” not as hostile humans but as carnal and/or Satanic IMPULSES. These enemies represent NOT flesh and blood foes, but rather terroristic thoughts, malicious mentalities, lustful strongholds, deadly ideas, and sinful mindsets. This alone is where ANY level of violence is spiritually permitted– on our own inner toxic impulses and lethal ideas, NEVER on humans made in the image of God.

    This allegorical reading also helps us interpret passages like the 2 Corinthians 6:7 passage which says we “brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.”

    “Every man, within himself has Moses and the Israelites, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, [wise and unwise virgins], the Patriarchs and the kingdom of heaven and hell. Thus, the events described in the Bible, and looked upon by the pious as being things of a past history, are actually descriptions of internal processes taking place in the constitution of man himself”. ~Jacob Boehme 1575-1624

    By internalizing and allegorizing these types of passages throughout the Old and New Testament, we can see that our inner patterns of thoughts/impulses/desires, both wicked and righteous, are often contrasted and allegorized as careless or careful virgins, faithful or foreign wives, Philistine or Israeli powers, cannibalistic or caring fathers, and faithful or prodigal sons, etc.

    Here is how that works.

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness. We resist them with non-retaliation. We capture them with the love of God. We arm ourselves with disarming.

    We brandish weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.
    What exactly are those weapons?

    We flood our enemies with forgiveness.
    We throttle them with tenderness.

    We overcome them with an opposite spirit.
    We pulverize them with patience.

    We maul them with meekness.
    We crush them with caring.

    We ambush them with the awe of the Lord.
    We bombard them with blessings.

    We fight with a faith which works only and always through love.

    Here is another example of how the church fathers read the violent Old Testament passages non-literally. Here we are considering Samuel’s violent execution of Agag.

    Regarding this passage, Maximus the Confessor, in his second hundred of his Two Hundred Texts on Theology states:
    53. Saul is the natural law originally established by the Lord to rule over nature. But Saul was disobedient: he spared Agag, king of Amalek [cf. 1 Sam 15.8-16, 13], that is, the body, and slipped downward into the sphere of the passions. He was therefore deposed so that David might take over Israel. David is the law of the Spirit — the law engendering that peace which so excellently builds for God the temple of contemplation.

    54. Samuel signifies obedience to God. So long as the principle of obedience exercises its priestlike office within us, even though Saul spares Agag — that is, the earthly will — yet that principle in its zeal will put him to death [cf. 1 Sam 15. 33]: it strikes the sin-incited intellect and puts it to shame for having transgressed the divine ordinances. (from The Philokalia, translated by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Vol 2, p. 150)
    Maximus (using Origen’s, Gregory’s and Augustine’s rule of divine character) does not take this as a literal slaughter of Agag but as describing internal dynamics of the soul. Agag is a symbol of “the carnal will” as opposed the will in submission to God.

    The Church Fathers repeatedly took the meaning of these kinds of passages allegorically, and NOT as literal and historical truths.

  • Mike Patterson

    except the NT, rightly translated and interpreted, teaches ‘Apocatastisis’, the Restoration of ALL things= Universal Reconciliation of ALL beings, NOT ‘eternal damnation’ …please visit tentmaker.com and find the Truth.

  • Mike Patterson

    except the NT, rightly translated and interpreted, teaches ‘Apocatastisis’, the Restoration of ALL things= Universal Reconciliation of ALL beings, NOT ‘eternal damnation’ …please visit tentmaker.com and find the Truth.

  • Richard Murray

    As THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH CONCEPTS by Philip Birnbaum says, “Satan…is…identified with the angel of death. He leads astray, then he brings accusations against man, whom he slays eventually. His chief functions are those of temptation, accusation and punishment. Under the control of God, he acts solely with the divine permission to carry out his plots.” (Sanhedrin Press, page 594).

    Rabbi Benjamin Blech similarly writes, “Judaism sees Satan as a servant of God whose function is to set up choices between good and evil so that we can exercise our free will…. [His] apparent harshness is merely camouflage for divine concern and love.” IF GOD IS SO GOOD, WHY IS THE WORLD SO BAD? Simcha Press, pages 7-9.

    Scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, who has written multiple volumes on the the historical development of our understanding of Satan, notes that the reason early Jewish thought saw Satan as God’s servant (rather than the hostile cosmic rebel of the New Testament) is as follows: “Since the God of Israel was the only God, the supreme power in the cosmos, and since, unlike the abstract God of the Greeks, He had personality and will, no deed could be done unless He willed it. Consequently, when anyone transgressed morality, God was responsible for the transgression as well as for its punishment.” THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS: RADICAL EVIL AND THE POWER OF GOD IN HISTORY, Cornell University Press, 29-30.

    Author Stephen Harris notes that the Old Testament Satan is not the same entity as the New Testament Satan. In the Old Testament:

    “The Satan figure acts as Yahweh’s spy and prosecuting attorney whose job is to bring human misconduct to the deity’s attention and, if possible, persuade Yahweh to punish it. Throughout the Old Testament the Satan remains among the divine ‘sons,’ serves as God’s administrative agent, and thus reveals a facet of the divine personality….

    At the outset, some Bible writers saw all things, good and evil alike, as emanating from a single source– Yahweh. Israel’s strict monotheistic credo decreed that Yahweh alone caused both joys and sorrows, prosperity and punishment (Deut. 28)….

    The canonical Hebrew Bible grants the Satan scant space and little power. Whereas the Old Testament Satan can nothing without Yahweh’s express permission, in the New Testament he behaves as an independent force who competes with the Creator for human souls….

    According to Mark’s Gospel, one of Jesus’ major goals is to break up Satan’s kingdom and the hold that he and lesser evil spirits exercise on the people. Hence, Mark stresses Jesus’ works of exorcising devils and dispossessing the victims of demonic control. The New Testament, then– in sharp contrast to the Old– shows Satan and the devil as one, a focus of cosmic evil totally opposed to the Creator God. This ‘evil one’ is the origin of lies, sin, suffering, sickness and death.” UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE: A READER’S INTRODUCTION, pages 26-28.

    Lastly, the renowned INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA is in full agreement with this in its entry on Satan:

    “The Old Testament does not contain the fully developed doctrine of Satan found in the New Testament. It does not portray him as at the head of a kingdom, ruling over kindred natures and an apostate from the family of God….

    It is a significant fact that the statements concerning Satan become numerous and definite only in the New Testament. The daylight of the Christian revelation was necessary in order to uncover the lurking foe, dimly disclosed but by no means fully known in the earlier revelation….

    In the early states of religious thinking it would seem to be difficult, if not impossible, to hold the sovereignty of God without attributing to His agency those evils in the world which are more or less directly connected with judgment and punishment….

    The progressive revelation of God’s character and purpose, which more and more imperatively demands that the origin of moral evil, and consequently natural evil, must be traced to the created will in opposition to the Divine, leads to the the ultimate declaration that Satan is a morally fallen being to whose conquest the Divine Power in history is pledged.”

    I think whenever the Old Testament God is describing acts of loving kindness from God, it’s the true Abba of Jesus at work. But whenever the surface “dead letter” reading reveals divine conduct, divine words, or divine activity which the New Testament later portrays as satanic in nature, then we are compelled to update the text to align better with New Testament light. The vast majority of the church fathers utilized this Christo-allegorical hermeneutic.

    The early church fathers were so rich in their understanding of God’s good nature.

    They birthed an irrepressible insight about Scriptural interpretation that prompted them to plant their hermeneutical flag deep into the ground. They were willing to stand and contend against ANY dead literal reading of Scripture which maligned and defamed God’s character by attributing to Him any kind of despicable behavior. The fathers believed that any Bible reading was dead wrong if it painted God as a child-drowning, infant-burning, throat-slitting, plague-sending, people-smiting killer.

    “Saint Ambrose (and Augustine) took Paul’s statement ‘the letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ as a slogan for allegorical interpretation.” A. Berkeley Mickelson, INTERPRETING THE BIBLE, Eerdmans Publishing, 1963, page 34. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan was one of the four great doctors of the western church.

    The great eastern church father Origen, wrote, “Ignorant assertions about God appear to be nothing else but this: that Scripture is not understood in its spiritual sense, but is interpreted according to the bare letter.” (On First Principles 4:2.1-2, 4).

    Origen repeatedly stresses that a Christian reads with circumcised heart and thus ‘understands that all these things are mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Hom 13.1 [125].

    Origen says that literal (dead letter) Bible readings which appear to command or cause genocide or infanticide at the hand of God is equivalent to heresy. Origen charges that reading Joshua’s warfare texts literally is “teaching cruelty” (Hom 11.6 [119]). Literalists “make malicious charges against our Lord and Savior, who commands the kingdom of heaven, which he had promised to those who believe in him, to be seized through violence” (Hom. 12.2 [121]). Without the “deeper understanding” of an allegorical reading, literalists, in Origen’s view, produce “perverse doctrines beautified by the assertions of a splendid discourse. . . [that]. . . . introduce into the churches sects not fitting to us, and to pollute all the church of the Lord” (Hom 7.7 [83]).

    Gregory of Nyssa wrote that “allegory” allowed certain OT Scriptures to be “converted from the raw and indigestible state of their literal meaning into a wholesome and healthy intellectual food.” (Hom., in Cant., prol.).

    The great western father Augustine taught that the harmful husk (literal reading) of Scripture had to be removed so that the valuable kernel (allegorical meaning) could be consumed. (On Christian Teaching, 3.12.18). Saint Augustine said, “If a passage seems to endorse wickedness or wrongdoing or to forbid selflessness or kindness, it is figurative and not to be read literally.” He believed that all Scripture must be interpreted through the love of God and neighbor, on which all the law and prophets hang. Matt. 22:37-40. (Source: On Christian Teaching, see 3:10.14; 3:11.17; 3.16.24).

    Augustine used the Rule of Divine Character when allegorizing, which essentially holds that the character of God revealed in Jesus cannot EVER be violated by the literal reading of ANY Old Testament Scripture. If the passage “appears on its face” to attribute unworthy motives, brutal behavior, cruel intentions, hypocritical conduct or coercive attributes to God, then it must be read allegorically and NOT literally.

    “Wherefore, in the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, and in the New Testament a revealing of the Old. According to that veiling, carnal men, understanding things in a carnal fashion, have been under the dominion, both then and now, of a penal fear. On the other hand, spiritual men… have a spiritual understanding and have been made free through love which they have been gifted.” Saint Augustine (On Catechizing the Uninstructed 4:8; NPNF 1/3:287).

    John Cassian stated the church fathers’ dynamic bottom line against dead letter Bible reading in the following excerpt from Institutes 8.4: “And so, since these things cannot without horrible sacrilege be literally understood of him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, simple, and uncomposite, the disturbance of anger (not to mention wrath) cannot be attributed to that immutable nature without monstrous blasphemy.”

    Here is the real problem.

    The Old Testament saints had an undifferentiated view of God which still contained satanic qualities, cruel qualities which Jesus later saw drop from heaven when He saw His disciples curing and caring rather than condemning and killing. Because of their hyper-sovereign view of God, the Old Testament saints wrongly believed that Satan was God’s left hand of wrath, His angry voice, His mister of wrath, His obedient enforcing angel just dutifully carrying out His orders. They confused “the anger of God” as “the destructions of Satan.” This caused them to join satanic qualities to the hip of their image of God.

    This exact dynamic occurred in an Old Testament event recorded BOTH in 2 Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1, where 70,000 Israelites die because of David’s sin in numbering Israel. In the Samuel version of events, “the wrath of the Lord” caused David to sin. But, the Chronicles version claims that “Satan provoked David” to sin. We know that the Chronicles passage better aligns with what Jesus taught us about Satan as the author and finisher of our sin (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). Thus, here we redivide the literal, “BY THE LETTER,” reading of Samuel in favor of a higher spiritual reading. The point is that if Scripture ever mistakenly calls “Satan’s destructions” the “wrath of God,” then we are compelled to correct and clarify the passage under the authority of 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.

    Below is an article of mine from the Clarion Journal of Spirituality which goes into in much greater detail quoting both Jewish and Christian scholars and theologians. Satan: Old Testament Servant Angel or New Testament Cosmic Rebel
    http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2013/11/satan-old-testament-servant-angel-or-new-testament-cosmic-rebel-by-richard-murray.html#more

    The Jews, both in their Talmudic and Post-Talmudic literature, believed that Samael (literally “the wrath or poison of God”) was another name for Satan. They equated “God’s wrath” with “Satan’s oppressions.”

    The Talmud states “the evil Spirit, Satan, and Sama’el the Angel of Death, are the same” (Rabba Batra, 16a); and Samael there is also made synonymous with the Biblical serpent of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    In The Holy Kabbalah (Arthur Edward Waite, 255), Samael is described as the “wrath of God.” Samael/Satan is a major archangel in Talmudic and post-Talmudic lore, a figure who is accuser (devil), seducer and destroyer, and has been regarded at various times as both good and evil.

    “Satan/ Samael, the prince of demons and/or destructive angel, has had many incarnations in Jewish literature. In several texts, ‘Samael’ seems to be the name of the Angel of Death. At least once in the Zohar, he is declared the ‘shadow of death,’ a kind of consort to Death (I: 160b). In other texts, he is regarded as synonymous with Satan, but almost as often he is treated as a separate entity (BhM 1:58-61; Ex. R. 21:7). Elsewhere, Samael is called ‘chief of all the satans’ (Dent. R. 11:10; III Enoch). In Midrash Konen, Samael is the prince of the third gate to Gehenna, the gate that opens on Jerusalem (2:30).

    Samael has made many earthly appearances. In Pirkei de-Rabbi Eleazer (13), he is described as the greatest angel in heaven, who out of jealousy over the creation of humanity, decided to tempt Eve. Appearing in the form of the serpent, he actually copulated with her (Targum Jonathan, Gen. 4:1; Zohar I: 37a). He is one candidate that the tradition has identified to be the angel who wrestled with Jacob (Zohar, I: 148a-b). Satan-like, he accused Israel of idol worship while they dwelt in Egyptian slavery (Ex. R. 21:7). He attempted to claim the soul of Moses, who fended him off with his miraculous rod…. He is the tempting angel from whom the Evil Inclination emanates…. In later Chasidic thought, Samael is the organizing force of the kelipot, the garments of evil that enshroud the divine vine sparks contained in all things.”

    THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH MYTH, MAGIC AND MYSTICISM, Samael entry, by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, Llewellyn Publications (2007).

    In the Jewish Talmud, Midrash, and Dead Sea Scrolls, Satan is portrayed as being intimately involved in luring and misleading the Old Testament saints into destructive attitudes and situations. Even though Satan was not explicitly mentioned in the textual lives of these Old Testament saints, these later Jewish writers nonetheless perceived Satan throughout the subtext of their Scriptures.

    In their later Talmudic, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Midrashic writings, they often flushed Satan out of the shadows into the open. They saw that Satan was always there imbedded in the Old Testament texts attempting to tempt, corrupt, and even destroy Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses and others.

    Satan is the one who lures Noah into drunkenness (Tanh. Noah 13). Satan provoked the Golden Calf incident (Shab. 89a). Satan lured David into a confrontation with Ishi-benob, the brother of Goliath (Sanh. 45a). These Jewish writings portray Satan as the Death Angel of the Old Testament (B.B. 16a). They also cast him as the Angel of Temptation, Prosecution and Destruction running “sting operations” to destroy men as he did in the book of Job.

    In Jubilees 17:16, concerning Abraham’s offering of Isaac, the document actually attributes the initiative to kill Isaac to “Prince Mastema,” a well-known name for Satan in Jewish lore.

    Several Jewish “Sages even speak in the plural of Satanim, as if ‘adversaries’ were a class of destructive angels….” THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH MYTH, MAGIC AND MYSTICISM, Satan entry, by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, Llewellyn Publications (2007).

    For the Old Testament saint to say, “The Lord called down fire from the sky,” or “The Lord brought down curses on a person,” or “The Lord struck someone down with pestilence, sword, famine or death” —– all simply meant that they believed “Satan” did the destructive act at the Lord’s command. So, when God is quoted in the Old Testament, it could EITHER refer to “Yahweh” OR to “Satan.”

  • John

    I appreciate the time you took to respond, but I am familiar with the history of allegorical interpretation of scripture, and I am not supportive of that camp. Its place in church history with Origin (and others) and his need to make sense of certain OT events did influence church hermeneutics for centuries, and is still alive today. No doubt you are familiar with its jaded history and selective acceptance among the church fathers. What you present is a minority view of scripture that allows you to interpret any scriptural passage in any way you want, thus calling it allegory. The is no accountability within this structure, and it minimizes if not outright dismisses the reality of historical narrative in search of some deeper or hidden meaning. Again, something which would allow everyone to see a different allegory in seemingly every event.

    We are in different camps and honestly, I stand against that methodology. Were this to be taught in the church I attend, I would confront it as errant, manipulative and confusing to the faith of believers.

  • I would call what Origen did in allegorizing the scripture – and he went far beyond what you quote – more like preaching and application. For the most part the church even in Origen’s time rejected this approach to interpretation.

    One reason for the rejection was that it reduced the judgment of God to allegory. And that implied that the final judgment was not real either. Most people reading the Bible find that reduction of judgement to allegory doesn’t fit the text of scripture. It is an interpretation that distorts and minimizes the seriousness of God’s wrath toward sin.