What about Those Old Testament “Texts of Terror?” (A Review of an Almost New Book by Philip Jenkins)

What about Those Old Testament “Texts of Terror?” (A Review of an Almost New Book by Philip Jenkins) October 29, 2012

What about Those Old Testament “Texts of Terror?” Review of a (Relatively) New Book by Philip Jenkins

I just finished reading Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses by my colleague Philip Jenkins (Harper One, 2011). Philip is one of the most prolific Christian scholars these days. And he writes on a broad variety of issues related to contemporary Christianity. Of course, he’s best known for The Next Christendom—a ground breaking book about Christianity in the Global South. Now he has given us a volume about religion and violence and especially the value of our Bible’s “texts of terror.”

I’m going to keep this brief; a thorough review of the book would necessarily be quite lengthy and detailed as it covers a lot of ground—from discussions of the Qur’an and Islamic terrorism to the dating of Deuteronomy. When I read a book I try to identify the few paragraphs that communicate its thesis or theses. I would say that one thesis of Laying Down the Sword is that the Old Testament texts of terror that record God’s genocidal commands to Israel regarding the Canaanites were written in the context of Israel’s much later crisis of exile and restoration. The prophets (e.g., Isaiah) and the historical writers (e.g., the Deuteronomist) wrote at approximately the same time and for approximately the same reasons—to urge God’s people to return to monotheistic belief and strict adherence to the laws of Yahweh.

So here is one of Jenkins’ theses: “The fate of the Canaanites had to be painted in the darkest possible colors because the writers were sending an urgent, eleventh-hour warning to the Hebrew people, to turn back to God or else face annihilation. Israel had to kill its inner Canaanite. Perhaps the later commentators, Jewish and Christian, were not that misguided in seeing the massacres in allegorical terms.” (p. 222)

Clearly Jenkins does not think the massacres actually occurred. Or, if they did, he does not believe God commanded them.

Still, unlike many liberal-leaning theologians and biblical scholars, and certainly unlike Marcionites and Deists of all kinds, Jenkins thinks the Old Testament texts of terror have contemporary relevance and should not be thrown out or ignored. First, they must be understood non-literally, he says, like many portions of the Bible. He points to story of God making the sun stand still in response to Joshua’s prayer at Gibeon. (p. 236) Jenkins says no modern person can believe the sun really stood still. Everyone (except the most obscurantist fundamentalist) interprets it some other way than literally. He offers an alternative interpretation to the story which, he says, was and remains its main point. Similarly, “Hearing Deuteronomy 7, those early listeners [viz., the Hebrews at the time of the prophets] were not intended to stand on their guard against Amorites or Canaanites, but against themselves and their neighbors, who together make up a society pledged to God. For modern believers, too, the text is not a message of hatred against any outsiders—still less a justification for violence or exclusion—but a call to absolute dedication [to the one true God].” (p. 237)

I recommend Jenkins’ book not because I agree with every statement in it or even all of its theses but because it is thought-provoking and informative about many matters (e.g., the Qur’an and historical Islamic beliefs and about modern biblical scholar’s dating of Deuteronomy and Joshua, etc., and the Sitzen im Leben of those books). Like all of his books, this one is invigorating.

One thing I found lacking was acknowledgment or recommendation of a Christological hermeneutic. I suspect Jenkins would worry that such would water down his concern that we recover and value the Old Testament texts of terror.

Better in that regard, in my opinion, is the chapter “The Case for Radical Discontinuity” by Nazarene scholar C. S. Cowles in Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Zondervan, 2003). There Cowles asks “Can we image [sic] the God revealed fully and finally in Jesus ordering the killing of children and infants? At any time? In any place? For any reason?” (p. 31) His implied answer is “no.” Of course, he goes on to argue for continuity between the Old Testament and the New and Jesus, but he emphasizes discontinuity without endorsing Marcionism:

There is a better way of dealing with the conflicting divine commands regarding the treatment of enemies [than the traditional ways]. It is to acknowledge what is everywhere assumed in the New Testament, namely, that while there are vast and vitally important areas of continuity between Israel’s faith and that of the church, there are significant instances of radical discontinuity as well, none more so than in reference to divinely initiated and sanctioned violence. There were good reasons why the church fathers, in settling upon the canon of sacred Scripture, separated the Hebrew Scriptures from the Christian and gave to the former the designation “old” and the latter “new.” (p. 19)

I realize that fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals will howl with righteous indignation at this, but let them explain their own view. I suspect it will make most Jesus-centered Christians’ skin crawl. If we take the deity of Christ and the Trinity seriously, and interpret the genocidal texts of Joshua, for example, literally, as God’s will, then we have to picture Jesus commanding the merciless slaughter of infants. Few conservative evangelicals can bring themselves to say it, but they do not hesitate to condemn others who admit that they cannot say it.

I am not going to declare unequivocally about the historicity of those texts; I will bracket them out and say “I just don’t know what to make of them” and “I cannot picture Jesus, who is the God I worship and adore, commanding those things.” And “I look forward to finding out from God himself, from Jesus himself, what I am supposed to think about those texts.” For now, all I can say is, they do not speak God’s voice to me. I do not understand them. They are dark and obscure and frightening. I run to Jesus. That was Luther’s approach, too, but he held onto a “hidden God” behind Jesus who commanded the slaughter of the innocents and who uses the devil to carry out his commands (“The devil is God’s devil!”). I do not believe in a “hidden God” behind Jesus. With Barth I affirm that Jesus is God for us and all we need when contemplating the character of God.

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  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger, your last three paragraphs are keepers. They are similar to the conclusions reached in Christopher J.H. Wright’s book “The God I Don’t Understand”. It’s a pity that we evangelicals are so trained to think that it is a terrible sin to say “I don’t know”.

  • Jordan L.

    I read Cowles chapter in that book and initially found his arguments VERY appealing for the same reasons you mention in your post. However, in the end I did not feel like his arguments stood up against the critique of David Gard and Tremper Longman at the end of that chapter.

    Anyways, I often wonder the same thing – how the Christ I see in the gospels could be the same God who commanded wholesale genocide – but then I must reconcile the fact that the same Christ of the gospels ultimately is the same God who ordains the punishment of sinners in hell. The texts of terror in the OT are pretty terrific, but nothing really compared to an eternal lake of fire. Some are probably just going to pass that off by denying a literal or physical (however you want to describe it) hell, but I am not convinced by that line.

    So, how does someone like you compare the God who’s justice demands a hell and the Christ of the cross? It seems to me that if you accept a real hell (and I know people can define ‘real’, ‘physical’, & ‘literal’ in many ways) then accepting the ordination of the texts/acts of terror isn’t that far off. I imagine from your perspective the answer might seem simple, but I’m not that far yet. Even in the gospels there is language which is apocalyptic and war-like. Consider many of the parables and Jesus’ comment about coming in the clouds – understood by many Jews to be apocalyptic and divine chariots.

    • rogereolson

      I have here earlier affirmed C. S. Lewis’ picture of hell as the “painful refuge.”

      • Jordan Litchfield

        Thanks for your response, but I’m having difficulty finding that description so I can understand what you mean by that. I did a search on ‘hell’ to see if I could find your posts that address that, but needless to say it brought up too many to search.

        I wish you would actually respond to my comments. I know it’s your prerogative not to, but it is annoying when you are genuinely trying to wrestle with an issue. I am a Wesleyan, and so understanding the very nature of God – especially as revealed in Christ – as holy-love is very important, and yet for the reasons outlined above I cannot do that yet with good conscience. Most of the comments in response to this post which disagree or question you on this topic you either ignore or just respond to with a passing comment which doesn’t address their concerns. I just find that surprising and unusual for you. Where I live I don’t know anyone who I can personally dialogue with on these views, so dialoguing over a blog is the only way I can wrestle with these issues with someone of a different perspective.

        • Jordan Litchfield

          I said “I cannot do that” in reference to identifying God as holy-love, but I meant I do not yet know how to fully reconcile his character as holy-love and the texts of terror. Just to clarify.

        • rogereolson

          I respond as I can (have time) to comments and questions I take to be sincere and truly open to dialogue and are not baiting me into an argument.

          • Jordan L.

            I respect that. I was just disappointed to not get more dialogue, and I was not trying to bait – though I was hoping to get your perspective so I can evaluate mine. Unfortunately, Cowles did not really respond to the texts Longman used in his chapter and response and neither did he really deal with how the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment in hell might or might not cohere with the texts of terror, so I’m looking for someone from Cowles perspective who can articulate a response.

  • Rob F.

    Timely post. Our church is currently reading through the OT…and yesterday’s sermon was on Judges. Several at our church have been raising questions about “texts of terror” as we read then anew. I appreciate your comments as well as the review of Jenkins. One of my family members (life long Christian) commented upon reading some of these “texts of terror” recently “Wow, non-believers/seekers must have a hard time with these texts!”. I repsonded “As a believer, don’t you have a hard time with these texts?!!” The question gave her pause.

  • Chad

    Thanks Roger. I’m looking forward to your review of Greg Boyd’s new book when it comes out, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

  • Chad

    Boyd has a couple of messages from August about the shadow activity of God in the old testament that promote ideas sympathetic to those expressed in your post. I found them compelling. Here’s a link to one of them: http://whchurch.org/blog/6681/gods-shadow-activity

  • Tim Reisdorf

    That is an interesting take by Mr Jenkins. Indeed, the only way I could “get around” those seemingly troublesome passages would be to change the dynamics surrounding the intent of the author. My own thought is that the Hexateuch was written around the time of the Judges or the Monarchy, but before Samuel/Kings (written during the Exilic period). Even if I don’t subscribe to every event as historical, what is written is based upon a generally true history. It seems odd for an author to use only certain portions of the history to make a tangential theological point – that is, the point could certainly have been made much more directly and obviously (as in the case of Chronicles).
    While his solution is imaginative, it leaves me unsettled – I think he may well have misread these passages to get it to say something that he could more easily live with. The Bible is not so easily “domesticated”. What we are left with is a Creator who commanded the wholesale killing of entire communities – whether that is what actually happened or not. The author unapologetically connects God with the commands to kill, and this Biblical author gives us a Scriptural (though incomplete) insight into God’s character.

  • Kim Hampton

    Is Jenkins’ book only about interpreting the book of Joshua? Or does it include Judges as well?
    Plus, Phyllis Trible wrote a whole book on the biblical texts of terror that deal with women, as does Renita Weems. Does Jenkins address those stories at all?

    I agree with Jenkins that these are texts that can’t be ignored. What I don’t understand is why is it so hard to believe that G-d gave the instruction to commit the genocide? This is the same G-d that instructed (in Deuteronomy) that if a man rapes a woman, he must marry her and cannot put her away. This is the same G-d that told Hagar to go back to Sarah. This is the same G-d that seems to have endorsed the slaughter of Shechem.

    And yet we are told that G-d can change G-d’s mind. So isn’t it just as possible for G-d to have given those instructions, and later to have changed (nee, one might even suggest that G-d grew)?

    • rogereolson

      Jenkins deals with that strategy for handling the apparent differences between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. He doesn’t think it works. Nor do I. It would imply that Jesus Christ is only God’s revelation of himself (his character) then but perhaps not later.

      • Kim Hampton

        Then isn’t Jenkins saying that G-d is schizophrenic, or more precisely bipolar? For there really isn’t another plausible explanation for the change in G-d’s character between the Hebrew scriptures and Christian scriptures if one takes away the ability for G-d to change G-d’s mind.

        But of course I’m much more of a process theology person so that is probably coloring my reading.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      I’d be interested to know what Mr. Jenkins thinks about the other “texts of terror” when God sent a Flood to wipe out everyone (excepting a few). Or God cursing Adam and Eve (and everyone after them). Or God sending the Angel of Death on God’s behalf to kill children whose parents didn’t spread blood on the doorframe on Passover. It is no good to simply say that things didn’t happen this way – the authors still closely associated God with these, historical or not.

  • It sounds a bit like Jenkins is trying to save some form of biblicism, by taking OT texts of terror as literally about the Canaanism and Amorism in the heart of each one of us, and the need “in our hearts” to annihilate any such attitudes and tendencies in each of us. I suppose I can image such a sermon, like a similar sermon about Ananias and Saphira? Maybe better, it reflects a certain way of reading The Revelation, not about actual Sardis, or Philadelphia, or monsters, whores, beasts, etc, but as metaphors and similes for something else.

    • rogereolson

      He does seem to have sympathy for early Christian allegorical methods of interpretation (without going all the way with Origen, for example).

  • Rob

    I think it is interesting that the texts of terror where God commands people to be killed bothers people more than the problem of evil in general. God has allowed much worse to happen. Do we really think that actively doing something horrible is that much worse than allowing it?

    Anyone who would drown a child would be evil. What about someone who stands by and watches as a toddler falls into four feet of water? Such a person make no active contribution to the child’s drowning, but that person’s failure to intervene seems every bit as horrific as actively drowning the child. Why would allowing it be any better?

    So if people are ok with the horrible evils that God allows, what is the big deal about less horrible things that God may have commanded? There had better be a major moral distinction between causing and allowing if we are to treat the two cases differently. I’d like to hear what it is.

    Now I actually think God has good reasons for allowing evil. So it does not seem crazy to me that God might have good reasons for commanding that horrible things be done.

    • rogereolson

      We’ve disagreed about this before. I do see a difference between willing and causing something horrible, on the one hand, and allowing it for a greater good (e.g., free will), on the other hand. I refer you to the writings of evangelical philosopher Michael Peterson (e.g., Evil and the Christian God).

  • Mark Turner

    I don’t have a problem with accepting those texts, even though they seem far from our culture and experience. Judgement fell on the Canaanites and one day it will fall on the whole world. Do we find it difficult to accept what happendd then because we find it hard to believe in a future judgement? Yes Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, but He likened his future coming to thedays of Noah and Lot when destruction came upon a people and only a remnant were saved (Luk 17v26-38).

    • rogereolson

      You’re assuming a lot about Luke 17.

      • Quartermaster

        I don’t see that he has assumed anything. Apparently he has taken Luke 17:26-37 at face value which is nothing more than Christ saying what will happen when he returns. He does make the mistake of including verse 38, when the chapter has only 37 verses, but that’s nit picking because the passage does apply in this case.

  • K Gray

    Going down the road of explaining “texts of terror” as non-literal and non-historical begins with a single step: which Scripture are “texts of terror”? Surely someone has attempted a list. It might include not just portions of Joshua and Judges, but the plagues of Egypt; Achin’s family; all the plagues and sudden mass punitive deaths occurring in the exodus; Sodom and Gomorrah; the “curse” portions of blessing-or-curse passages; much of Jeremiah and Isaiah and the minor prophets; God recounting what he has done to refine or discipline His people; and much of Revelation. These are not just unpleasant things, or recitations of deaths, but God saying “I will,” or “I did” — Scripture in which He makes clear that He is the actor.

    Is there some scholarly agreement on which Scripture are “texts of terror?” What are the criteria?

    • rogereolson

      It’s a “gray area.” 🙂 Surely there doesn’t have to be absolute agreement on it for it to be worthy of discussion.

      • K Gray

        Good one! No, there need not be agreement, but identifying the ‘problem’ is often clarifying.

  • RussFreeman

    Imagine the shock and awe of Christ return, and the war on Satan and his minions. In Revelation chapter six we find the surviving people who have rejected God’s saving grace, praying for the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. I believe in a just God. A God who will punish all who have not turned to Him.

    • rogereolson

      Your use of “shock and awe” makes me worry that you are beginning with America’s military strategies and importing those into biblical interpretation. If not, why the use of “shock and awe?” That’s not biblical.

      • Quartermaster

        I don’t see where he is doing that at all. Are you saying there will be no shock and awe when Christ returns? I would there is, but it is not something imposed by Christ, just something that happens as a result of seeing something happen they never believed would happen i the first place.

  • Jack Hanley

    I do not even know where to begin, except to say I am extremely puzzled! I understand there are passages in the Bible, that are not to be taken literally. I also understand that you stated,

    I am not going to declare unequivocally about the historicity of those texts

    However I believe the parts of the Bible, not to be taken literally are obvious to the honest reader. I believe the text of terror as they are called, are literal. You see God would be perfectly with in His right to wipe out the whole of the human race, however He chose to save the race through His elect,chosen people the Israelites. Now He did not choose the Israelites because of their faithfulness, or because they were better than the other races, or anything else about them. Rather He chose them in spite of themselves, in other words it was God’s sovereign choice. He used His chosen people as instruments, to wipe out the Canaanites, who along with the rest of the human race had used their free will to reject the true God. There are no innocents, including infants, we are all said to be born into sin. Therefore the question is not, how could God command the merciless slaughter of the the innocents, rather the question should be, why would He not slaughter all of us? The problem here seems to me to be, that we do not actually realize how serious, the effect sin has taken upon us as the human race.

    Another problem that concerns me is this, how much scripture would actually be taken literally, if we were to extract all the passages that cause us problems, or as you say, we don’t know what to do with them? And should we not take the Biblical description of hell literally, because it troubles us, in other words where to we stop? It seems to me, that before you know it, nothing in the Christian faith will be actually true, rather it will simply be a system as other religions, that helps us to cope with life, to each his own, whatever religion works for you personally.

    I could be wrong, but I take it, this book is an attempt to erase violence from the Christian faith, along with the religions of Islam and Judaism. This is my take because of the title, Laying Down the Sword. However I believe the best way to lay down the earthly sword, is to pick up the sword of the Gospel, and explain to the world as Jesus did, to the woman at the well, there are no more holy places here on earth. As Jesus told the woman, “neither on this mountain nor in the temple at Jerusalem, rather true worship comes from those that worship in spirit and truth, any time any place. In other words the answer is not to strip the violence from the Biblical text, and water down the judgement of God, rather the answer is the Gospel of Christ!

  • What about Those Old Testament “Texts of Terror?” May I suggest a few thoughts about this question which is a current topic among many thinking Christians (not to mention non-Christians).
    1. It is a common practice of fallen humanity to blame their own shameful actions on others, e.g., In Eden, Adam blamed both God and Eve; and Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent (Gen 3:12-13). How many times have we heard of horrible things (a mother drowns her 5-children) only to hear the perpetrator say “God told me to do it.” Hitler quoted Martin Luther’s lethal diatribe against the Jews to justify the Holocaust, saying, “I’m only doing God’s will.” Virtually every war and every atrocity ever executed has been ultimately justified by invoking God’s approval (think Christian Crusades). Should we then be surprised that the ‘Texts of Terror’ in scripture were always prefaced with “Thus saith the Lord”?
    2. This brings up the doctrine of eternal conscious torture (hell) as taught by many theologians. Those who hold to this teaching make God (in Christ) to be the worst blood-thirsty fiend in all recorded history. And they do so by saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” It’s bad enough that we should invoke God’s approbation upon our many sins in this world, but to blame him for a mythical atrocity of atrocities in the world to come is the cruelest charge of all.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Well, here goes nothing. I guess my thoughts here would be regarding some hard facts. There is an ethnic Israeli/Jewish nation-race. There are other Middle Eastern races that have been around for millennia, also. The same things that are going on now were going on back then. The fact that God wills to do what He will to bring His children to Himself is evident even in the Holocaust. There is just too much present history regarding the Israeli nation and trouble all around them to explain away those texts. It’s the same stuff different millennium, except we are here to observe it. Just because we weren’t there doesn’t mean it didn’t happen the way Scripture explains it. There is too much literal reference to the stiff-necked nation of Israel in the New Testament, too. The writers often used their literal Old Testament stiff-necked rebellion to show their current state. Also, I don’t think those who would explain away those texts, interestingly with the love of God, have looked honestly at where that theology ends up. Nothing has been such a killer of evangelism and missions as this ideology. We have lots of evidence in the liberal/liberal-leaning denominations and churches today as evidence. Those who hold a more fundamental ideology (not KJV-only/hyper-fundamental ideology) do tend to be more evangelistic and missions-minded.

    • rogereolson

      And your point is…? That there is some inexorable connection between believing God commanded the Hebrew people to slaughter the infants and mothers of Canaan and evangelism?

      • J.E. Edwards

        I revert to Bev’s solid answer in this. I don’t know (what God is up to implied). I do know what the text says and submit myself to it. I don’t have to explain what God is doing to anyone. I just don’t feel the need to explain it differently than what it says. Nor is it appropriate to explain it away with His love. The commenters who mentioned future judgment make good points, too. It’s not our job to make God’s Word, in a sense, more palatable to an unbelieving world. For some reason Christians have begun to do that. This one issue is the start of many things in the Christian church, especially in the last couple hundred years. These two paths end up in entirely different places with the liberal-leaning one eventually losing the gospel itself, or at least re-defining it. We have the last two hundred years as proof. We don’t have to end up like hyper-fundamentalists either.

        • rogereolson

          Jenkins’ point was, I take it, that we can take every passage in Scripture seriously without taking every passage literally. Everyone already does that. It’s just a matter of which texts are to be taken literally and how to decide. Christological interpretation is not “liberal.”

          • J.E. Edwards

            I, too, think there are places where there is metaphor and apocalyptic language. However, the texts we are speaking of are considered historical literature. Being “liberal” wasn’t the heart of my point. (Sometimes language gets in the way) It does express a direction, just as conservative connotes another direction. I’m just concerned that we aren’t looking at what almost 200 years of that “liberal-leaning” position has done to the church in regards to missions and evangelism. I would hope we can learn especially from our recent past.

          • rogereolson

            And I hope we can someday get past the tendency of American evangelicals to label everything either “liberal” or “conservative” with no other options. Barth, for example, was clearly not liberal or conservative. He admitted affinities with verbal inspiration and took the Bible very seriously but said that the early chapters of Genesis are not to be taken as historical in the sense of describing events as they happened. He called them “saga.” He believed they happened in time and space but were not “historical” in any usual sense of the word. We American evangelicals are still fighting the old fundamentalist versus liberal controversy of a century ago. Somehow evangelicals in other countries (e.g., Canada) seem to be able to transcend that.

  • Derek

    Thank-you Dr. Olson.

    A question though – how do you read the texts in which Jesus is treading the winepress of God’s wrath? His clothing has been stained red from His gruesome work in treading God’s winepress of wrath and wading in its juices, men’s blood.

    • rogereolson

      Men? You said “men’s blood.” Do you think children’s blood is part of it?

      • Derek

        I think the wrath of God will fall upon mankind. Will children be included? I don’t know exactly how that will play out.
        Anyhow, how does Jesus treading the winepress of God’s wrath comport with your view of a loving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate Jesus (which I believe he is as well)?


        • rogereolson

          See another person’s response about this.

    • Joe Canner

      If you are referring to Revelation 19 (which many do when invoking Christ to justify violence), there are several clues in that passage which suggest a different interpretation:

      1. “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood” (v. 13): This doesn’t have to mean that the blood belongs his enemies. It could just as likely mean that the blood was his own.
      2. “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” (v. 15): If this is a literal sword, why is it coming from his mouth? The sword coming out from his mouth suggests that his words (some of which are presumably found in the Bible) will defeat the nations.
      3. The winepress part does not say anything linking the juice of the grapes to the blood of his enemies.

      No doubt Revelation refers to a judgement of some sort, but to assume that the text is talking about literal swords and the literal blood of those judged is a bit a reach.

      • Jordan L.

        In the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (pgs. 1143-44), Beale and McDonough clearly demonstrate that the language in Revelation 19 builds on passages (primarily) in Isaiah which speak of Yahweh coming in judgment. Passages like Isa. 63:1-3 pretty clearly show that the garments are covered in blood because Yahweh has been treading the wine press of God’s judgment on the nations. The language about a sword coming out of Christ’s mouth are clear references to Isa. 11:4 and Psa. 2:9. All of this and the clear linkage to the LXX is further expounded in the above commentary.

      • Derek

        Firstly, I am certainly not referring to Revelation 19 in order to “justify violence”, but rather, to highlight the continuity between the actions of God in the OT with Jesus Christ. Often times Jesus is depicted as a God who is more evolved than the God of the OT.

        I think revelation 19 and other passages really drive home the point that we ought not to neglect the fact that this meek & mild Lamb of God will one day return in righteous judgment, with wrath and fury, which He will execute upon His enemies. Obviously, an absurd literalism is not in view here, but the fact remains that there will be judgment…and it won’t be pretty for those on the receiving end.

  • Great article on a very difficult subject. I’ve explored these issues quite a bit in my own blog The Evangelical Liberal, e.g. in a pair of posts responding to some of the ‘Texts of Terror’:
    http://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/hating-the-god-you-love-and-loving-the-god-you-hate/, http://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/is-god-homicidal/

  • Roger, that you, I definitely need to read this book. Would you say that Jenkins proposes a full blown Alexandrian allegorical interpretation of these texts of terror? Or does Jenkins propose a milder non-literal interpretation of these scriptures? I suppose I prefer this approach instead of saying that the texts are in error, not that I hold to a strict view of biblical inerrancy. But I also shy from allegorical interpretation except when text is clearly symbolic poetry.

    • rogereolson

      He expresses sympathy for an ancient Christian allegorical interpretation but emphasizes that the texts of terror can speak to us today. They are, he says, about the need to avoid idolatry and live lives of dedication to God.

      • I like this balance of sympathy for the ancient Christian allegorical interpretation but holding to a more reserved non-literal view. I suppose the view proposes something along the lines of deuteronomistic redactor adding and shaping the texts of terror for symbolic purposes. This still makes me feel squeamish, but I suppose the verses made more sense to Jews who lived through horrific Assyrian and Babylonian domination.

  • Chad

    (I hope this is an appropriate method to communicate with you…)
    I like to think I am a student of yours. Your blog and books have helped me tremendously in coming to terms with Calvinism and also have helped me feel accepted now as new convert to Open Theism. The reason I write to you now is in regards to the Terror Texts, of which you blogged here http://bit.ly/PgnhKY. In the post you said:
    I am not going to declare unequivocally about the historicity of those texts; I will bracket them out and say “I just don’t know what to make of them” and “I cannot picture Jesus, who is the God I worship and adore, commanding those things.” And “I look forward to finding out from God himself, from Jesus himself, what I am supposed to think about those texts.” For now, all I can say is, they do not speak God’s voice to me. I do not understand them. They are dark and obscure and frightening. I run to Jesus.”

    You helped to put words to my feelings of cognitive dissonance, thank you.

    I am anticipating Greg Boyd’s forthcoming book that should address the issue but in the mean time I found this blog post by Peter Enns compelling. In addition to your words above, it seems reasonable to me to accept Peter Enns’ argument here until a better one presents itself.

    Peter Enns says (http://bit.ly/ZdD4KZ),
    “So, the question, “Why would God command the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites?” cannot be addressed in an intramural theological back-and-forth. It must also include this little bit of historical information: Yahweh’s actions are not unique but seem part of an ancient way of thinking.
    Maybe that’s the best way to sum up what I’m saying here: theological discussions about biblical interpretation must be in conversation with ancient ways of thinking.”

    Prophets and writers of scripture have made assumptions and statements contradicting reality (scientifically) yet we have no problem in reasoning that they are simply creatures of their culture and cannot be held to today’s scientific standards. Why can’t we also then say that these same authors are speaking within their cultural context when they describe God in ways that appear opposite to Jesus? Why can’t it be the case that just as God was willing to bear their ignorance regarding physical reality (science), He likewise was willing to bear their ignorance in morality? The Old Testament is still scripture, God breathed, but what Enns proposes does seem to change our interpretation of various parts of scripture. It makes much of the Old Testament to be a narrative on what Israel thought God to be and not necessarily how he actually was, as Jesus’ incarnation demonstrated. This seems to increase the idea of God’s accommodation and the idea of progressive revelation, but I already accept those two views so I don’t have a problem with using them to resolve the terror texts.

    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter I’ve raised here.
    Thank you for your attention,

    • rogereolson

      It’s an approach to consider. Thanks for providing it here. I’ll chew on it.