Every Known Theistic Approach to Old Testament “Texts of Terror”

Every Known Theistic Approach to Old Testament “Texts of Terror” July 15, 2013

Every Known Theistic Approach to Old Testament “Texts of Terror”

The phrase “texts of terror” usually refers to stories in the historical books of the Hebrew Bible that describe God as commanding his people to slaughter groups of men, women and children and “show them no mercy” (to quote on such command).

Here I will lay out all the theistic approaches to interpreting these texts I am aware of. Every “other” approach I know about seems to me to fall under one of these—as a version of it. You may be aware of others. Feel free to post them here.

As you can see, in my opinion, all have serious problems. This is almost certainly a question that will have to wait for answer until paradise or the eschaton.

1. Marcionism: Rejection of the Old Testament as uninspired. (Partial Marcionism would reject parts of the Old Testament as uninspired including texts of terror.)

*Problem: Jesus revered the Hebrew Bible as inspired by God as did the apostles. Christian tradition almost unanimously declares this heresy.

2. Allegorical interpretation: The texts of terror are inspired but ought not to be interpreted literally; they communicate something other than what they seem “on the surface” to communicate (e.g., put every sin in yourself to death).

*Problem: Opens a can of worms (or Pandora’s box) of unwelcome possibilities of interpretation.

3. Literal interpretation: Yahweh God really did command his people in these cases literally to slaughter without mercy men, women and children.

*Problems: Does not deal with the issue of Jesus’ seemingly wholly different approach to God’s character and will concerning violence (without resorting to one of the approaches below). Also makes it impossible to say with absolute confidence that contemporary “holy wars” (including genocide) are not God’s will.

4. Literal interpretation but: God did literally command the people of God to slaughter men, women and children in the past, but later changed his mind. God changes throughout salvation history; he changed from being a “warrior God” to being a peace-loving God.

*Problem: Requires discarding doctrine of divine immutability even with regard to God’s moral and ethical will.

5. Non-literal interpretation: God did command his people to wage war against certain groups but used hyperbole (or the writers used hyperbole); “men, women, children, cattle, sheep” (etc.) is a figure of speech for completely eliminating the society and culture.

*Problems: Comes close to allegorical interpretation and there is no record of God’s people sparing (e.g., adopting) the children.

6. Progressive revelation interpretation: “Inspiration” does not mean dictation or that every story in the Bible is to be taken at “face value.” God accommodated revelation to the people’s ability to understand him and people came to understand God’s revelation more clearly over time. As God incarnate, Jesus is the clearest revelation of God’s character and will. At times God’s people misunderstood his command and recorded their own beliefs about God and his commands as revelation from God. God’s revelation of his own character and will becomes clearer throughout Scripture with the later (clearer) parts relativizing the earlier (less clear) parts.

*Problems: Requires a very flexible view of divine inspiration of Scripture (and rejection of inerrancy if not infallibility). Is also subject to accusations of implicit Marcionism.

7. Liberal interpretation: Portions of the Old Testament (and perhaps also of the New) are culturally conditioned such that they cannot be believed by modern people. The touchstone of biblical interpretation is the modern worldview and modern ethical sensibilities. (In other words, yes, the people of God did slaughter men, women, and children, but God did not command it.)

*Problem: Sets up a temporal and conditioned cultural norm (“modern”) over Scripture itself and possibly even over Jesus himself. Leads to phenomena such as the “Jefferson Bible” (whether literally, physically or not).

8. A narrative interpretation (not necessarily all narrative approaches agree with this): God included these texts of terror in the canon as a warning to his people about how far it is possible to misunderstand God’s will. To what extent they describe actual, historical events is undecideable at this temporal remove and is unimportant.

*Problem: Implicitly, logically, falls back on either “7” or “8” above.

9. Paradoxical interpretation: No attempt at harmonization should be exercised; we ought simply to accept at face value the texts of terror and Jesus’ teachings about God’s love and will (e.g., for peace) and not attempt to diminish either of them or reconcile them. (This is a version of “3” above but attempts to explain it hermeneutically and theologically.)

*Problem: For inquiring minds leads inevitably to belief in a “hidden God” (Luther) behind Jesus who willed (and possibly still wills) extreme violence such as genocidal holy war.

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  • Zach Waldis

    This is a really tough one; the evangelical OT guys that I’ve read on the subject (Goldingay, Chris Wright) opt for number 5, I believe. Brueggemann has a book on this subject that I haven’t gotten to yet: http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Presence-amid-Violence-Contextualizing/dp/160608089X/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=34VWD3GX0YTU2&coliid=I25GMWBFYHGZPC

    • I am reading that book now.

      He takes a look at Joshua 11. He uses his “testimony, dispute, advocacy” approach to the OT to argue that the author of Joshua is presenting his “view” of God, which is later contested by other OT authors. Brueggemann argues that “the text and its interpretations are an ongoing act to determine what is true” (p. 9).

      So I think maybe he would fall into view 6.

  • TimN1

    OK I think I might hold a different position, but I’m not sure what the term would be (Exceptional literal?)

    I would argue that there are elements relating to the OT story that were necessary for Israel AT THAT POINT IN TIME, in order to achieve its ultimate purpose (bringing forth Christ and reconciling Man to God). It remains literal, but does not make it in any sense normative (particularly as the church is not synonymous with a nation state). No other purpose carries the justification (e.g. a crusade is not justified). I’d accept this is similar to “literal but”, but would argue that the OT is full of “divine exceptions” in relation to historic progress. In any case there is no issue of “divine immutability”. Our destruction is always warranted, God’s mercy is his to give, and at times it has been withheld in order that that the greatest act of mercy could come to pass. It also allows more room for the fact that what could never seem warranted now might be warranted then (given the land would have been incapable of sustaining both the outgoing/slaughtered group and the incoming Jews at the agricultural level of the time).

    • Roger Olson

      You say “our destruction is always warranted.” I have two questions. Do you include infants in that? If so, why is their destruction warranted? Second, what reason do you have to be certain that God does not still command some countries or groups (even if not his people) to wage genocidal war? If he did then, what warrant do you have for being sure he doesn’t now?

      • Piesmith

        If He speaks through a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud, I’d consider it a higher threshold of proof met to justify something like a Holy war. But, in the new age, I’d argue the answer is “you don’t know what spirit you are of.” Everyone in the Old Testament died (except Elijah and maybe Enoch). The events recorded happened a long time ago.

        Does God expect all of us to live for an equivalent span of life? Does he expect us all to have a painless death? What purpose does he have in the lives that were miscarried? Where were you when He laid the Earth’s foundation?

        Genesis 15:16 says God is waiting until the iniquity of the Amorites is complete so He can use the Israelites to wipe them out. Exodus 23:28 says He’ll send hornets to drive them out so they won’t have to get their hands dirty. God explains this as part of His work in the arc of history. This can be as true for nations as for individuals. God has mercy on who he has mercy and exercises judgment on whom he wills. He reserves the right to punish children for the iniquity of their fathers (Exodus 24:7) while forbidding us to do the same (Deuteronomy 24:16).

        I suppose my point is, “Why not?” Why does God have to justify the murder of children? Why not ask justification for the children who die of cancer? Why not ask justification for the death of His Son? God does what he wills to accomplish his purposes.

        • Roger Olson

          So how can you say with confidence that contemporary ethnic cleansing is never God’s will? I don’t see how you can.

          • Piesmith

            Three interpretations of what you’re saying:

            1. Contemporary moments of ethnic cleansing (Rwanda, Kosovo, Nazi Germany) can’t be excluded from being God’s will.

            2. We can’t exclude God may call us (individually or nationally) to commit genocide if he did so in the Old Testament.

            3. Failure to develop universal prohibitions on genocide would weaken our moral authority to condemn modern genocide.

            To answer 1) Romans 13:1 says God has established all ruling authorities. That would include Hitler. Pretending God did this and was shocked, totally shocked Hitler ruled as a genocidal dictator. It was absolutely evil what Hitler did. God did not have to appoint Hitler ruler over Germany. But if God in his purposes chose that those Jews would die at Hitler’s hand rather than through sickness, war, accident or old age doesn’t change the nature of God’s choice that they would die. Now we could speculate as to *why* God put Hitler in power, but Romans 13 makes clear that He *did*. But everyone’s life is in his hand. Why separate genocide from any other death?

            2) This I attempted to address by putting the burden of proof at God speaking through a pillar of fire. Now, I’d argue there’s a clear separation between God using the nation of Israel as His own people and the nature of the super-national church. In the new covenant, the fact that God has called all people everywhere to repentance (Acts 17:30) would seem to indicate He’s no longer operating primarily through establishing and punishing nations, but spreading the Gospel to all of them. God destroyed the Emim through the Moabites, the Horites through the Edomites, the Avvim through the Caphtorim, the Zamzummin through the Ammonites and the Rephaim through the Israelites. These seem like special events in history rather than random acts of judgment (Deuteronomy 2). I think Jude 5-7, 2 Peter 2:4-10 may clarify the nature of these judgments. My point is this is almost entirely hypothetical. There is no Christian standing army who might destroy man, woman and child at God’s instructions. And the particular sins which might justify this do not seem present in the world at the moment (if you buy it’s Angel’s not keeping their proper domain…). There not being a “Christian Foreign Policy” which would dictate whether God wants us to destroy people groups (due to the nature of the new covenant) whether destruction is carried out by armies or floods or plagues is irrelevant (because they aren’t “our” armies).

            3) God used the Assyrians to judge Israel, then judged the Assyrians for the destruction they undertook. When we condemn genocide, we can simply use Jesus’ phrase “You don’t know what Spirit you are of.” What genocide do we see that has righteous motivation? If the Gospel is for all nations in the New Covenant, why would we destroy any of them? I see no reason we need God to be perfectly consistent as times and circumstances and covenants change to call Christians to repent not by pointing to the law, but letting the Holy Spirit do the convicting. Basically, I don’t find increasing our hypothetical moral persuasiveness all that compelling. A census was fine in Numbers but was so evil thousands died when David took one. People judge externally but God judges the heart, and our inability to judge because God did crazy things in the Old Testament is irrelevant because that’s not our job.

            Luke 131Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

          • Roger Olson

            Are you suggesting (as you seem to) that God willed that Hitler plan and carry out the Holocaust and that any German who opposed Hitler was opposing God?

          • Piesmith

            Let’s not talk about Hitler. Let’s talk about Judas.

            “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” John 17:12.

            Judas was “the son of perdition.” Other versions say he was “doomed” to have this position. Would opposing Judas being opposing the will of God? That seems like a rather specious comparison. Would opposing Judas be moral? Well, yes! What he was doing was unmistakably evil. But was it part of God’s plans or purposes? Yes.

            Here’s where I have trouble with the term “willed.” It empties Judas of moral choice. Just because God orchestrated the death of Jesus to happen as it did doesn’t mean he had to “will” everyone to do what he wanted. God is powerful enough to sift through time and hearts and circumstances and the physical universe and have the outcome happen according to his Will (His desires, or intent). But that doesn’t mean he decided for the people involved or that they aren’t responsible for the evil of their actions. It just so happened that they couldn’t or wouldn’t choose otherwise. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have.

            So, Hitler. So what? Did God foreordain that Hitler would destroy the Jews in Europe? He might have. Did he foreordain the Assyrians would destroy the Jews in Israel? The Prophets tell us he did. Does that forbid us to condemn Hitler? From trying to stop him? No. Is it possible that certain kinds of opposition to governing authorities is sinful (as per Romans 13)? Yes. Is all opposition sinful? No. It’s tendentious to say otherwise.

            Can we all play our roles in history without *knowing the will of God*? Romans 13 tells us God appointed Hitler and Churchill. And Churchill was right to oppose him! Some Jews were liberated from camps. In a sense, we “stopped the Holocaust” but only after a tragic number of lives were lost.

            What did Jesus say when asked about the wicked deeds of ruling authorities?
            Luke 131Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

          • Roger Olson

            I do not interpret Romans 13 as teaching that every government is appointed by God. That governments exist is appointed by God. Period.

          • Piesmith

            Romans 13:1 has Authorities (plural) are of God, and non exist but come from God. That couldn’t be more clear.

            John 19:11, Jesus says to Pilate “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

            So is governing authority created by God, or did God give Pilate his specific authority?

            Pardon me if I find that unpersuasive.

          • Roger Olson

            Pardon me if I find it unpersuasive to claim that Hitler was given his authority by God.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            One can’t say with confidence anything of the sort. God reverses things and does things we don’t expect. From CS Lewis, “He’s not a tame lion.” It is perilous territory to put parameters around God.
            On the flip side, can you say with confidence that ethnic cleansing is always outside God’s will? The Bible makes straightforward assertions to that very point. The trouble is believing it or finding another way out.

          • Roger Olson

            I can and do say with confidence (whether anyone agrees with me or not) that the God I know and worship, the God of Jesus, does not command ethnic cleansing.

  • Jason Johnson

    Isn’t it possible it was literal AND loving? In the OT there is no deliverance. The only way for them to be renewed is in death. Morbid to the western mind of today I know but in death the inherit life isn’t that loving? Supposes another idea not to accepted in Christian circles: prior to law EVERYONE went to heaven. Under law was JUST Jews.Until Christ God was not impeding sin….

    • Roger Olson

      I don’t even know how to respond to that. I’ve never heard that view. There was a time when ONLY Jews went to heaven? So salvation was not by faith but by something else? What Jew ever kept the law perfectly? Hmmm. I sense a whole bundle of theological problems there.

  • matthew

    Did you decide to eliminate #6 or was that just a typo?

    I reject 1, 2, 4… the second half of 7… 8, 9 & 10 from the get go

    I think there are contextual considerations that don’t eliminate the issue, but prepare us to deal with the issue as it really exists rather than as it is often caricatured. For instance, it is worth noting that the Canaanites had time to repent, that the texts target their religion primarily, that they had plenty of time to flee, that they could potentially convert, that those who remained behind were stubborn and sinful, that the policy of annihilation was exceptional, that Israel itself was later judged in a similar manner, and that military language sometimes does use hyperbole.

    From there, I would defend #3, dealing with the problems you noted by resorting primarily to the first half of #7. I think the annihilation of the Canaanites became a necessary part of salvation history. I think God (And God alone) has the right to take lives. I think we’d get mad at a God who never judged evil (so on what basis do we get super upset when he judges people like the Canaanites?). I think the accommodating nature of God addresses the issue in ways I’m still grappling with. I think Jesus was wrathful too (though we need to understand wrath not as a 2nd ‘side’ of God). And I think God allowed this part of history, in some ways, to show that violence and nationalism aren’t the right way to build the kingdom (much like he used the entirety of the law to show that we are sinners).

    I very much look forward to Greg Boyd’s book “Crucifixion of the Warrior God,” but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed Craigie, Wenham, Wright & Copan’s pop-level handlings of this issue.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Roger Olson

      Aren’t you overlooking that the stories record that God commanded Israel to slaughter children, too?

      • matthew

        No, but my comment was getting pretty long and I didn’t want to address every angle of the problem. What part of my post makes you think I’m overlooking the children?

        Addressing that subject directly, I’d say that 1) military language sometimes uses hyperbole (though I don’t claim no children were killed) 2) most canaanite children would have grown up… well… canaanite (though that isn’t a justification, just a factor to consider) 3) most christians believe children who die are received gracefully into the Lord’s presence 4) that culture had a much greater sense of community solidarity than we do… families being saved together, dying together, etc. was an accepted part of reality.

      • Dan

        I don’t think Matthew missed that point. He said “I think God (And God alone) has the right to take lives.” And God does take the lives of children all the time (unless you believe all death is accidental and out of the control of God). God did not establish a principle that the Israelites could kill men, women, and children at will. He gave specific command for a specific reason.
        What was that reason?

        Considering the deception of OT nations other than Israel and the foreknowledge of God, it is entirely reasonable (I think) to imagine this specific instruction in line with God’s normal life/death interactive activity in the world, but with specific point of painting the picture of ultimate loss if without covenant relationship with him.
        I don’t imagine Jesus as a man doing this (unless directly commanded by God) because he represents humankind and humankind cannot do this outside the direct command of God (which I can’t imagine now since the imagery activity of the nation of Israel is over).

        • Roger Olson

          I don’t get how your view excludes the possibility that God commands people to wage holy “ethnic cleansing” wars today.

          • Dan

            I think you make the argument against holy wars today in the same way you argue against a single covenant nation (ethnic or political) today. The NT explains Israel’s purpose as a nation imaging the broader scope people of God in Christ. Therefore, you can’t revert to the imagery of covenantal Israel to find purpose under a fully realized revelation. (That’s not to say that all purpose of Israel as a nation was imagery. But all purpose of Israel is now fulfilled in Christ.)

          • Roger Olson

            I expected that response and it finally arrives! Thanks. I just don’t think it slams the door shut firmly enough. If one believes God once upon a time actually did command his people to commit genocide, there’s no solid reason to believe he can’ t or won’t do it again.

  • x x

    I recommend Eric Seibert’s two books on the subject for your careful study.

    • Roger Olson

      Why? Does he have an approach I haven’t mentioned?

      • Casey Glass

        No he is kind of a mix of 3 and 6.

        • Right. I have read them both and agree with this.

      • x x

        I’ve searched for good books on this topic and Eric Seibert’s two (especially the first one, Disturbing Divine Behavior) are the best I’ve found. A lot of more conservative treatments just talk about it a lot, as if merely discussing it at length is akin to solving the various problems. Seibert actually addresses them.

  • Charles Kinnaird

    The primary “problem” with each interpretation of these texts of terror is that the texts exist. Perhaps none of us would be in danger of challenging the immutability of God or the infallibility of scripture if there were no such texts. As it is, we are faced with the realization that either we ourselves have more compassion and a higher ethic than the God who is portrayed here, or the guys writing things down just got it wrong.

    Carl Jung wrote a fascinating book called Answer to Job. His contemporaries in the
    academic psychological field were embarrassed that Jung wrote such a book. One
    of the ideas he presents is that when Yahweh appeared to Job in the whirlwind
    with his “where were you when I formed the earth” speech, that Yahweh himself
    was startled with the realization that Job in his humanity was superior to him. Yahweh, as Jung “analyzes” it is not sure whether Job saw this, but at that point he realizes that he needs to become incarnate as a human if he is to be complete.

  • MMarkley

    Roger, thank you for sharing this. I was just serving at a Christian summer camp for teens and the chosen theme was the book of Joshua. It was interesting how some of the teenagers brought out this concern — why all the women and children? The camp director wasn’t prepared to address that, as she was looking more toward helping them understand the history of Israel and applications we can draw from that. I appreciate your summary.

  • Good summary…. and where do you stand?

    My current position is somewhat close to #7 and am writing a book defending this view.

    I am arguing that God inspired the authors to write about Him wrongly, not because He was lying, but so that He could take the blame. Though He did not do these things, or command them, He set up a world where such evil was possible, and so bore the the sin on Himself for His people, just as Jesus did for us on the cross.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Jeremy,

      You have an interesting view on this. I’m curious about the inspiration to write wrongly about God’s commands and intentions. Do you see this elsewhere in the Bible, this “inspired misdirection”?


      • Roger Olson

        I will also look forward to Jeremy’s response. But just let me mention here and now that Millard Erickson, generally recognized as a strong and intellectual inerrantist theologian solves some problems in the OT by claiming that “biblical inerrancy” is consistent with inerrant use of errant sources by biblical writers. That always seemed to me to create problems for belief in verbal inspiration.

      • Tim,

        “Inspired misdirection” is an interesting term, though I am not sure it is exactly what I meant… that sounds too much like lying…

        It is more like God refusing to give credit to the devil when he destroys things, or taking responsibility for His creation when things go bad, even though He is not directly responsible.

        Imagine an factory manager taking responsibility for a mistake of one of the workers who was under the oversight of the manager. When the CEO calls to find out what happened, the good manager doesn’t say, “It was all Jon’s fault.” He says, “I take full responsibility, sir. It was my fault.”

        I do see this going on in the flood, the tenth plague, the Red Sea crossing, the Canaanite conquest, etc. The book of Revelation. Even hell (which is why I am getting that book that Roger Olson recommended in his post today).

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Hi Jeremy,

          Thank you for your clarification. But just so I know what it is that you’re saying, you’re saying that the flood (et al) was done by the devil, but God wished to receive blame/credit.

          If that is the case, then any reasoning that was given for the cause of the flood (et al) is suspicious. God was exasperated with the wickedness of mostly everyone so God wiped them out with lots of water (so says the Bible). But if God didn’t actually do that, then the explanation as to why God flooded the earth is clearly misdirection (at best). It really undercuts the plain reading of the text so that one can’t know what is “really” going on without the special knowledge that you speak of.

          Your approach has the benefit of getting God “off the hook” of many ethical troubles – even in a magnanimous way.


  • Herman Grobler

    Thank you Roger for this in depth look at the problem of understanding terror and the “lack” of mercy in the Bible. Do we not try to fit God into our own ever changing thoughts of ethical and moral issues? How would we ever understand God! Yet your study is so important in revealing our own thoughts and struggles! Thank you.
    I do a study on the causes for the differences between older versions of the Bible like the KJV and modern versions like the NIV, concentrating mainly on the New Testament.
    The only psalm to contain any form of mercy and a call for repentance of the enemy (Ps. 7:13-14) caught my attention. I was most interested when I found a complete different version in the Message, leading me to study this Psalm and post on it. I seems possible that most versions of the Bible misunderstood the Hebrew in those verses and therefore mistranslated this very interesting Psalm! I would love your comments.

    God bless,

    • Roger Olson

      I edit out most URLs as I don’t have time to preview all of them.

  • Perry L. Stepp

    Great summary. When I taught OT Survey at Baylor, I had students write a 250 word response to these commands. I was shocked at how few expressed any discomfort with these texts; 90% said, “God is God, he can do whatever he wants. Who are we to question?”

    The 10% who really wrestled with the commands were the most biblically literate & devout students in the class.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Perry,
      I’d be interested to know about the conclusions of the 10%. Did most of them come full circle back to the conclusions that the 90% also had? or did they land elsewhere?

      • Perry L. Stepp

        The replies I recall were along two lines.

        1. “I hate what these texts imply, and I don’t know how to reconcile them with my view of God, but they don’t cause me to give up on faith. Either I will understand some day, or it won’t matter.”

        2. “That’s the God of the Old Testament. We see him more perfectly in Jesus Christ.”

        If it had been a different kind of class, I’d have pressed #1 to think through how they would respond to critics (hostile) of the Bible who point to these passages to say that God is a monster. I’d have pressed #2 to think through what their response says about their view of scripture. But it was a survey class, and I had Judges to get to.

  • Tim Reisdorf


    Excellent summary. (Thank you for including the *Problems with each. A very even-handed treatment.) I think that a pertinent question to ask at this juncture is this: “What did Jesus think believe about this?”

    Some observations concerning this:

    -Jesus believed that God (the God portrayed in the OT) was good – the only one who was so.

    -Jesus took at face value (without seemingly to dance around or unduly emphasize) the historicity of all the stories of the OT. While it may have been more of a rhetorical device, I don’t believe that could be successfully argued. These stories included a literal Adam and Eve, that Moses wrote the traditional “Books of Moses”, and a story about David eating bread set aside for God.

    -Jesus was calling a people to God (as opposed to a discrete nation), and as such did not leave specific instructions for how governments ought to operate. My assumption is that the principles contained in the OT represent how governments were to be just. While I’m less firm on this, I do see that Jesus didn’t touch on this much at all. His emphasis was much more intrapersonal, outside the sphere of government.

    A second question (asked without discussion of ethical implications – which seem not to surface much in these “terror texts” anyway): “What reasons did God have for commanding these actions?”

    If we can find good reasons, solid reasons, those would be worthy finds.

    • Roger Olson

      Notice that I did end by saying the answer may have to wait for the eschaton.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    In the end, I’ll just go with #6. Seems to have the fewest problems with it.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Please delete my comment since you changed your post. It seems somewhat less clever now.

  • Evelyn

    So how do you handle these texts? What do you teach your students? If you had to pick one of these options, which would it be?

    • Roger Olson

      I offer them all options and their strengths and weaknesses and tell them I willingly await the eschaton for the definite answer to this and many other seemingly insoluble problems of theology. I make no secret of the fact that I think much theology is simply far too speculative. We need to label our speculations just that–speculation. My problem with many people who claim to have a definite answer to this and many other problems that have plagued theology for centuries is that they don’t admit the problems their views have and that their answers contain elements of speculation. There are some views I cannot personally accept. I’m more than willing to tell students that. One is that the God of Jesus Christ really willed and commanded the merciless slaughter of thousands upon thousands of innocent children in ethnic cleansing “holy wars.” I don’t consider my rejection of that belief speculation because of my firm commitment to Jesus Christ as the full revelation of the character of God. People who claim to believe that God literally commanded ethnic cleansing in Israel’s history are, in my opinion, choosing to believe that and not to believe that Jesus is the full revelation of God’s character. They accuse me of not believing portions of the Bible; I accuse them of the same.

      • Tim Reisdorf


        When students accuse you of not believing portions of the Bible – and you accuse them of the same… There is an assumption at work – that the Bible is supposed to have a necessarily consistent message throughout. And if one part is disputed or disbelieved, then something about the “magical nature” of the Bible is lost – that unifying vision, that “God-breathed”ness, that “I’m able to just believe what the Bible says because it’s all cohesive and true throughout” characteristic. What are the costs of abandoning this?
        (I think its a different issue than inerrancy – its a question of singular perspective of message. Its what I run up against when I read Samuel/Kings and Chronicles. It seems to me like the Bible is wrestling with itself sometimes.)


        • Roger Olson

          I agree, but how can we go wrong placing Jesus at the center of our hermeneutic when it comes to attempting to discern its central message to us?

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Your solution sounds good, but doesn’t resolve much here. For this particular issue, Jesus did not directly address the OT slaughter events – I don’t think he did indirectly either. You appeal to Jesus’ character, but that’s psychology and interpretation across cultures and time (open to much bias and subjectivity). The “lesser” evidence of the OT would win out because it is at least solid. And Jesus gave direct approval to the God of the OT by calling God uniquely good.

          • Roger Olson

            If appealing to Jesus’ character as God’s and hoping to understand something about God’s will is just subjective, well, then, all theologizing is subjective.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Looking to Jesus’ character leads some to be revolutionaries, some to be crusaders, some to be politicians, some to be monks, some to be millionaires, some to be beggars, some to be jailers, some to be prisoners, some to be judges, and some to be martyrs. It seems to me that there is some subjectivity and bias in appeals to Jesus’ character to understand God’s will.

          • Roger Olson

            The same could be said about any approach to biblical hermeneutics. Just because there are people who misunderstand and distort a criterion doesn’t mean it isn’t a good criterion. If a person claims that looking to Jesus’ character leads him or her to be a crusader, for example, I would have to question that person’s sincerity and/or mental abilities.

          • Ken Steckert

            Roger – I just came across your blog today from a link on Greg Boyd’s ReKnew website. Great discussions. Will be coming here more regularly.

            Regarding theology – it seems to me it is all man attempting to understand God, essentially putting God into the box of our head. I am mostly in the belief of #9 in the list above but realize it is not an explanation, and I still have God in the box of my head as much as I want to try to avoid it.

          • Ken Steckert

            Do you think theology is objective?

            In general I consider theology to be God reduced to the box of our mind. From your list, #9 best describes where I would be on this. For a two word description of God, my reduction of God is mystery and love. And I am not sure which I put first. But I know my only hope is in a loving God having extreme mercy. And that is my hope!

      • And the flood? Which God carried out himself?

        • Roger Olson

          I agree with Karl Barth that the first few chapters of Genesis are to be understood as “saga,” not literal historiography in our modern sense.

      • Tim Chesterton

        Roger, thank you for this reply. This is what I have felt for years.

  • Van

    May I add a 10th category for consideration? Let’s call it the ATTRIBUTIVE INTERPRETATION. It’s my opinion that the so-called “Texts of Terror” may be best explained by a consideration of human nature. The true character of God was not fully understood UNTIL Christ appeared in history. Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus responded, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” Any attempt to understand our heavenly Father’s true character and actions apart from his Son Jesus Christ will miss the mark every time.

    I believe the “Texts of Terror” actually happened as written, but that the children of Israel went far beyond what God actually instructed them to do. Did God actually tell them to “kill women, children and all their animals”? I simply ask, would Jesus ever say anything like that? Didn’t he say, “I only say what my Father tells me to say.” In other words, if Jesus would never say “kill all the babies!” — neither would the Father. After all, as he said, “I and my Father are one.”

    So what’s the answer to the terror texts? ANSWER: Wherever such atrocities are found in scriptures it is the case that human beings have exceeded the word and will of God and, then, insisted that God told them to do it, i.e., ATTRIBUTIVE INTERPRETATION! We have only to remember human nature to understand how this works. Consider the Holocaust and how Hitler justified it by claiming that God told him to do it. Consider the all the wars with their atrocities in history that all sides justified by insisting that “God is on our side.” Remember all the senseless family murders with the spouse saying, “God told me to do it!” Joshua was a human being and subject to all the same screwed up logic that all of fallen humanity is afflicted with. Anything can be justified (even genocide) if one is convinced in his/her mind that God has given the ‘green light.’

    May I interject at this point, that the greatest of all biblical ‘texts of terror’ are those which threaten eternal conscious torture in a so-called hell for the great majority of humanity. If ever there was a doctrine that demeans the love and grace of God, this is it!. And even though it is now well-known that the doctrine of hell is based on faulty Hebrew and Greek language interpretations, most theologians continue to insist that “God said it, and, thus, it must be true.” (sigh)

    • Roger Olson

      I had teachers in Bible college who taught that whatever the Bible said must be taken literally and we were not allowed to ask hard questions (or were shamed for doing so). I gained a reputation for “rebellion” for doing that. 🙂

      • Van

        Thank God for students who, at times, “rebel” against the established ‘party line’ teachings of the church. They’re few and far between and usually pay a heavy price for their Chutpah.

  • Curt Day

    The biggest problem with taking the OT literally is determining how it applies today. After all, God commanded his people to kill innocent civilians in some of the battles and that is something we consider to be a war crime especially when someone else does it.

    I am like Tim in that I prefer #6 but I would add a redemptive historical note to the Old Testament wars. That the elimination of sin comes via God’s judgment and is a necessary part of God delivering His people in both the Old and New Testaments. And whereas sin was more identified with those outside of Israel who were the enemies of God and His people when His people were a tribe or nation, it was not the case when it was time for God’s message to roam throughout the world. That salvation at the point included the elimination, and thus judgment, of sin inside each person. And thus the judgment Christ bore on the Cross became the New Testament version of God destroying His enemies through war in the Old Testament.

    Then we go back to Tim’s question is how does Jesus regard the Old Testament and its veracity.

  • Eric Miller

    I opt for number three. God is God and the Author and Giver of life and He can give and take life as He wills it. As someone who is vociferously pro-life, my heart cannot understand why God wouldn’t spare the children, even though my head does. But it’s not for me to set the terms of my love for God, who welcomes all children into his loving arms when they die.

    What about Jesus? Jesus came first to the earth to seek and save the lost and to serve, not to condemn. But he will come back as a warrior king to destroy his enemies. There’s not so much a disparity, but a difference. We are told why God gave the command to exterminate the Canaanites, and if we are believers, God’s explanation should be enough for us.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Eric,

      God had a plague set aside specifically for children in the Exodus story. While God did this Himself, it does show that the innocence of children does not protect them from destruction that God has in mind. Their deaths were a “tool” or “motivator” for God’s purposes of delivering His people.

      I’d be interested in hearing you explain why God gave the command to exterminate the Canaanites.


    • kenny Johnson

      Doesn’t then make the term “good” to be meaningless? And if we have a divine moral radar, isn’t it odd that we find it so appalling?

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Good question, Kenny,
        Why do you suppose that the OT writers and Jesus himself didn’t seem to express the dismay that you (and Roger and many others) are expressing? In fact, Jesus called the OT God, uniquely good!

        (I’m not trying to pin you down, it just seems like the more I consider it, the more it seems like I’m chasing my tail. So I ask questions hoping for better light.)


        • Roger Olson

          I don’t understand why the correct point that Jesus considered the God of the OT uniquely good implies that Jesus believed every act the writers of the OT attributed to God was what God truly commanded or did.

  • icthusiast

    It doesn’t lead to an easy solution to the problem, but one factor to bear in mind, particularly in reference to the ‘innocent’ children, is that our post-enlightenment view of the autonomous individual is probably anachronistic when brought to these texts. The judgement is against a people group rather than against individuals.

    As I said, all that does is add another dynamic to some of the options and raises questions about whether God always deals (has always dealt) with people as individuals, in that emphatic post-enlightenment sense? (Same issue as dealing with NT texts about ‘households’s being converted or stories of ‘villages’ coming to faith under missionary endeaovour.)

    So if, for example under #7, God ‘accommodates’ a more collective view of humanity held by the peoples of the day, then that may speak into the wholesale slaughter of men, women, children and animals.

    If we insist that God (always and everywhere) treat people with our (overly developed?) post-enlightenment sense of the individual, then maybe we box ourselves into some corners?

    • Roger Olson

      Surely the Enlightenment didn’t introduce the idea that God cares for individuals and considers little children as the models of the kingdom of God. I also criticize Enlightenment inflation of individualism, but theologically I see that God always saved individuals and never condemned individuals for others’ sins.

  • Craig Wright

    Roger, thank you for this summary. You have faced head on a very difficult and important problem. I taught a class in adult Sunday school on this subject and offered several options for dealing with this. I find it interesting that your summary is very similar to mine. I learned some things, one of which is that Christians talk about using a standard for morality is trying to prove there is a God, yet they waffle as to the question, “Is it ever right to kill babies?”

    I was appalled at the horrendous answers given to this dilemma by a well known and respected Christian apologist (William Lane Craig). He said that the babies would go to heaven anyhow, so that this was mercy, and that the babies would have grown up to contaminate the Israelites. That seems contradictory to me, as well as unfounded. My daughter and her husband just adopted a baby whose parents are in the penal system.

    People also don’t take into account the contradictions to these commands to kill everyone, when sometimes the Israelites are told to offer terms of peace, and then not to offer peace if the enemies are close to them in Canaan; or sometimes the Israelites are told to kill everyone so that they will not be corrupted, and then at other times they are told to keep the virgins for themselves, or if they see a woman that is pleasing to them. to take her home.

  • Chuck Conti

    I have come to the conclusion that not everything ascribed to God in the Old Testament actually was Him. For example, I question whether it really was God commanding genocide. If the prophetic gift in the New Testament has to be discerned and tested, perhaps the same thing can be said for encounters with God in the Old Testament.

    Conservative Christians believe God allowed divorce in Deuteronomy 24, but Jesus says it was just Moses acceding to hard hearts. That’s not just progressive revelation; it’s positively blame-shifting. In thinking about these words of Jesus, I have come to a semi-Marcionism: I’m a Christian and my “inspired scripture” is the New Testament the revelation of God in Christ, and the true actions of God in the Old Testament are discerned by their affinity to the character of Christ.

    As a problem with #1 above, you put “*Problem: Jesus revered the Hebrew Bible as inspired by God as did the apostles.” I have never seen the force of this argument. It seems to place too much emphasis on the divinity of Jesus, and ignoring his incarnational humanity. As a 1st century Jew, Jesus would have had a lot of beliefs that we “know” to be false. It would appear that he thought the mustard seed was the smallest seed in the world, when it isn’t. The argument that Jesus thought of the Old Testament was inspired seems to be the kind of argument made by those who push innerrancy, and after 20 years I find that I can’t swallow all of the fundamentalist-flavored things I hear in evangelical churches.

    This is the only Christian blog I still read; God bless you Roger!

  • carrdexter3

    Great interpretation and seasonal topic on different approach on Old testament that most of other sect tend to mislead and they tend to obey their own ways instead what God really want to do in it. http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/96732.Frank_Viola

  • Rob

    So the problem seems to be incongruity between God’s actions and Jesus’ commands. This incongruity motivates interpretations that deny God actually did (or even would have/could have) acted in that manner.

    I’m not sure that the incongruity is irresolvable. I think we can accept Jesus’ commands as being God’s commands on how to live and accept that God killed people. (I am operating on the defeasible understanding that those killings were acts of judgment.)

    First, I do not see how killing people in the OT (Sodom & Gomorrah, Egyptian firstborn, Jericho) is a worse problem than hell. Shedding a tear for the few thousand killed by God in the OT while millions or billions suffer eternally in hell reminds me of the Native American in that littering commercial who sees the piece of trash flying out of the car–whatever you do, don’t turn around!

    So I suppose that if I really wanted to make a case out of it, I would ask people what justifies God torturing sinners for eternity in hell. I would then just help myself to whatever answer they give and apply it to those killed in the OT. If hell is real, surely there are far more people in hell suffering for eternity than have been killed by God as recorded in the OT. And surely suffering for all eternity is infinitely worse than being killed. Otherwise death alone would be enough punishment for sin and hell would just be superfluous cruelty. Jesus apparently talks about hell so that should indicate that the incongruity can be overcome there. Of course not everyone believes in hell.

    Second, are we to dismiss God’s curse in Genesis that brings death to sinful humanity? That is, God punished all of us (not just the good citizens of Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, and Jericho) with death. All of us are under God’s death sentence. I honestly have trouble seeing why it matters that he directly carried out the sentence with Jericho, if he has already passed the sentence on all of us. What is the difference between carrying out the sentence yourself or commissioning old age, cancer, murderers to do it?

    One could respond that there is a moral difference between doing and allowing but that is actually extremely difficult to defend and in this case I am sure it would fail because the end result is intended in the allowing just the same as the doing.

    So I think the big problem with ‘texts of terror’ is not God judging people with death (for we seem comfortable with the fact that he has already judged the rest of us with death) but that he ordered Israel to carry out the sentence. We think that while it may be appropriate for the Creator to judge and take life, we are not the appropriate agents. This seems right to me.

    But I doubt we are supposed to read those stories as something that God might command us to do. I don’t think we are supposed to see ourselves in the story as moral actors. I think the actions were meant to be understood primarily as God’s actions and God acting through Israel rather than acts of Israel. I think we should read them as being like God using the Assyrians to judge Israel or Persia to judge Babylon. If we read it that way, there is no need to second-guess Jesus’ commands.

    Finally, I think we can recognize a lot of the rough stuff in the OT as being characteristic of a very strict and brutally fair system of justice based purely on desert. Jesus does not come a long and deny that that stuff meets the minimum threshold of justice rather Jesus shows us that mercy is better than justice. If that is the case, then there is no need to denigrate OT justice as wrong. Any system of ethics had better make room for the supererogatory otherwise every good action is required. If we are looking for the divide between minimum requirements of justice and the supererogatory, then Jesus looks like the place to go. He certainly seems to be in the supererogatory mode when he says “If thou wouldst be perfect . . . “

    • Roger Olson

      I don’t see how this addresses the slaughter of the Canaanite children. Surely they weren’t already condemned by God. I also don’t see how it absolutely closes the door on contemporary ethnic cleansing. If it was God’s will then, how can you be sure it’s not ever God’s will now?

      • Roger Olson

        Good points, Rob. Thanks.

  • Roger Olson

    Surely there were infants among the Canaanites. Do you think the stories indicate the Hebrews killed them humanely? I find that a stretch. Anyway, your view seems to me to fall under one of my nine approaches with some attempt to justify it by speculation. My question is: Can you picture Jesus slaughtering children of whom he said “of such are the kingdom of God?” I can’t.

    • Roger Olson

      I will if I can. I still don’t know how to do that with this new discussion program.

  • Andy

    I can think of another view that some people hold….the perspective that God commanded the acts only because people’s hearts were so hard that he had no choice…but Christ reveals God’s true heart

    I personally lean towards a messy mix of all of these perspectives…

    I believe there is a sense where God preserved the Israelites as God’s chosen people and the nation that would birth Christ…

    I believe God allowed his children to tell the story (as Peter Enns asserts)

    I believe the Israelites communicated God’s ‘victory’ and ‘mighty plan’ for them in ways that sound quite barbaric to modern ears but accommodated to the language and context of surrounding cultures

    I see these accounts as the ‘question’ not the ‘answer’….

    I believe these violent approaches make more sense when we reflect upon
    the reality that losing in battle might mean decades of slavery for
    God’s people

    I believe these depictions of God’s work were like a child’s drawings, simplistic but on a journey towards a fuller picture of who God is that we met in Jesus

    Given that the historical evidence for the Canaanite genocide is pretty slim….I think we should explore ideas of context…and the ancient understanding (necessity?) of ‘herem’ in an ancient understanding of Yahweh’s superiority.

    In the light of Christ I believe that we should reflect upon these accounts…

    I believe that we should hold to the the reality of God’s victory, God’s plan, having a deep respect and reverence of the Lord, – as principles that we find (salvage) within these accounts

    I think it is helpful to see the reality of spiritual struggle…rather than battling physical enemies when applying ideas from these accounts into our understanding of God …(although I’m not sure of why this is appropriate on a hermeneutic level).

    What do you think? I feel that a messy mix approach is totally necessary.

    • Roger Olson

      Sure, that’s helpful…up to a point. But when someone asks you “Did God command Israel to commit genocide or not?” what do you say? I have taught theology students for 31 years and many of them want an answer that’s un-nuanced–either “yes” or “no.” I feel empathy with them–that’s how I was a student, too. But most of the time I say “We’ll have to wait until heaven to find out, I guess, but, in the meantime, given Jesus…I doubt it.” What do you say?

  • People seem to have a really hard time with the events in the Old Testament when God uses nations to judge other nations. But don’t we have even “harder” text to work with then? Like the flood, which seem to be affirmed by both Jesus and the Apostles. Or the story of Sodom, which also is affirmed by both Jesus and other canonical writing. Or did God not carry out these acts of Judgment either? It seems to me the only way to handle these texts is on a case by case, with context, historical considerations etc etc in order to understand why God would carry out such acts.

    • Roger Olson

      And where does that end up? Do you believe that God commanded Israel to commit genocide including the slaughter of infants and toddlers or not?

      • When u put it like that. 😉 I guess I would try to slip out of the “genocide grip” by arguing along the lines of for example Paul Copan. As I understand it you are aware of his reasoning concerning this subject but find it to be a bit far fetched. So did God command genocide, no. Did he bring judgment using the nation of Israel on other nations? Yes.

        And yes I have emotional problem with God commanding a people to annihilate another people, especially the kids. But then if the death of those kids is simply a gateway to life after death with God that makes it less of a horror. At least a bit.

        • Roger Olson

          Do you think the “kids” were slaughtered humanely–sending them on their way to their afterlife with God? It doesn’t sound like it and I think it’s far-fetched to assume it.

          • No and that is what makes it so hard is it not? The challenging thing is that the entire Old Testament is filled with events where God acts in judgment brining horrible death even to children. I’m thinking of the flood, Sodom and Gomorra and the events taking place before Israel is carried away to the exile.

            Do we really want to go down the road were we say that these texts are giving us a wrong account of God? If we say that about these Old Testament text it seems like we undermine our faith in the credibility of the Bible as a whole. Why could not the account of Jesus in the New Testament be flawed?

            Hard questions though and I think your post gave a good overview of what options we have to handle them, and we can agree on that we will get our final answer when the Kingdom one day arrives fully.

  • M85

    This is a really tough topic. I would say i’m fairly convinced by what Greg Boyd and Ben Witherington ( he has an excellent article called “for the hardness a heart: a hermeneutical key from Jesus” specifically on this topic) have to say on this. God is like Jesus, Jesus loves his enemies and is willing to die for them. Jesus is non- violent and against the use of the sword for religious purposes. God’s judgement is simply the removal of his life and allowing the forces of evil to run their course and therefore bring death (think Jesus crying over Jerusalem). The “kill and destroy” commands are simply accomodations/concessions to the way people in the ANE used to do warfare: these were rather barbaric and depraved people God was working with that understood no better, God allowed things like polygamy, animal sacrifice, warfare, a human king to represent Him, patriarchy ecc.
    God works with people where they are and it is simply amazing how gracious and patient he is and how much he has had to put up with. All Scripture is inspired by God but has to be read through Jesus Christ.
    God is the beautiful God that Jesus revealed on calvary.

    • Roger Olson

      Wasn’t this one of my nine possible approaches–divine accommodation?

      • M85

        I don’t really see my view completely represented in any of the nine approaches, maybe number 6 comes close in some ways but i wouldn’t say people “misunderstood” God’s command which sounds a bit odd to me. I tend to have a rather high view of Scripture. Some of the comments of various people below seem rather calloused and hard hearted to me. Perhaps mine is really a mixture of various elements from the 9 different views.

  • Perry L. Stepp

    Would “I accept the stories as historical, and that God commanded it, but I can’t explain or justify it” constitute a tenth option? I guess that’s essentially the same as #9.

  • Roger Olson

    I try to stick to the real, historical-theological meaning of “liberal” which means “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity.” If your view of Scripture is driven by modern concerns, the modern worldview, and represents accommodation to it, then, yes, it’s somehow, somewhat “liberal.” But I don’t apply “liberal” to just any non-traditional view. Your view is certainly non-traditional compared to what most conservative, orthodox Christians have thought. I’m afraid I’ve never encountered it before–if I am understanding it correctly. Some feminist theologians have said that the OT texts of terror are “demonic” and Rosemary Ruether actually includes a ritual for exorcising them in her book Women Church. But I don’t take it that she means that literally.

  • I like this list, but I have to push back on a bit of the terminology.

    The use of “Marcionism” or even “partial Marcionism” is either a) dreadfully sloppy or b) purposefully derogatory. I’m sure you weren’t the latter, Dr. Olson, but I’ve heard this term thrown at those who maintain that the Old Testament is not inspired. In point of fact, of course, we have no reason to believe that Marcion thought the OT to be inaccurate or not divinely inspired: Marcion was condemned as a heretic not because he had problems with parts of the OT: it was because he believed it pertained to a rival deity to the Christian God. I can’t imagine anyone today holding that position, understandably condemned by the Fathers. So again, using “Marcionism” to describe any view currently held is not merely a convenient shorthand: it’s not only historically inaccurate but condemns as heretical those who believe it. Surely there’s a better label to put on these people. Many of these people will say that the New Testament is not “inspired” either in the sense assumed by most Evangelicals using this term.

    Of course another thing that characterizes actual Marcionism is cutting out the OT and rejecting it entirely. There are certainly some who believe this nowadays; maybe this is the kind of group you were trying to label. But please try again: these people would uniformly disapprove of Marcion’s teachings as well. There is too much baggage associated with “Marcionism”.

    • Roger Olson

      Well, excuse me, but “Marcionism” is a technical term in historical theology that has nothing necessarily to do with what a second century Roman presbyter actually believed. The term has taken on a life of its own and is routinely used for any view that denies the divine inspiration of the OT.

      • Dr. Olson,

        I think if you’d read my comment with a little more care, you’ll see I offered reasons why someone interested in doing careful historical theology should reconsider using that label as a dismissive term.

      • Marcionism “has nothing necessarily to do with what [Marcion] actually believed”? I’m reading your The Story of Christian Theology as I type and I can’t find any place in your book in which you differentiate between what Marcion actually believed and this “technical term in historical theology” of which you speak.

        I’ve also gone through The Mosaic of Christian Belief and I find that you make no such distinction in this work either. Is there some other work in which you discuss this?

        • Roger Olson

          It doesn’t usually come up. Either you or someone here confused “Marcionism” with what Marcion believed about the God of the Old Testament being an evil or demented God. In historical theology, one can be a “Marcionite” vis-a-vis Scripture simply by rejecting the Old Testament as uninspired without claiming that the God of the Old Testament was an evil or demented God.

  • John Umland

    I’m sorry I’m late to this discussion. I was off-line last week.
    Earl’s book The Joshua Delusion is more helpful to me than Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster. Earl is probably in category 2, but I think Copan uses that defense as well though not as direct as Earl. I read Copan last week while in Haiti. One of his arguments is that the language is hyperbolic (non-literal). But who is being non-literal? God? Moses? Joshua? Later redactor? Earl sees two redactors in Joshua, one whose God is genocidal (Jericho and Achan and family) and one whose God is forgiving (Rahab and Gibeonites). I cannot reconcile how God is consistent if he forbids murder then commands murder of non-combatants. For me, this is the issue that needs to be addressed.

    God is love

  • Of course, I’d love to know where Roger places himself in this continuum. 🙂

    • James


      I am a missionary in eastern Europe. I have been reading you for over a year now. I love your blog and read your “Against Calvinism” when I began to run into reform teachings on the field. This thread. Is the first time I have been confused by your thoughts so far. My question for you is if you can dismiss passages in the OT as untrue based off of your understanding of passages in the NT that speak of Gods character in Jesus, how do determine if the passages about Jesus are historical?

      • Roger Olson

        I’ve addressed that here. I believe in the Bible because of Jesus, not in Jesus because I have some proof that the Bible is historically accurate.

        • James

          Thanks, I will search the blog for more info on this. Do you recommend any books or articles on your theology of the Bible? Or does it have a “theological name” that I could search for. In my cursory study of Inspiration it tends to get broken up into orthodox, liberal, and neo-orthodox. But I would like to understand this especially from your perspective more.
          P.S. Do you have any lectures scheduled in Europe over the next year?

          • Roger Olson

            Unfortunately (for me) I never get invited to speak in Europe. My dream invitation is from an institution in the Swiss alps–maybe Lucerne or Interlocken. 🙂 Oh, well. I can keep hoping. I have earlier here recommended Kent Sparks’ book Sacred Word, Broken Word.