God and Children: Would Jesus (God) Command Their Slaughter?
Recently I posted here about God’s character and argued that God could not, because of his character, revealed in Jesus, command the merciless slaughter of children. Several conservative Christians objected, pointing to Old Testament texts of terror such as 1 Samuel 15 where God is reported as ordering the Hebrews to slaughter an entire tribe including infants.
If there is anything in the Bible with which I struggle more than this, I don’t know what it is. I do believe in the Bible’s infallibility but not its “literal inerrancy.” In other words, I do not think every assertion in the Bible is to be taken literally—even some that, on their faces, seem like statements of fact.
But there are those who will still argue that what the story really means to say (in modern terms) is that the earth stopped rotating for a time. But, of course, we also know from modern science what that would mean for plant and animal life on earth.
Many Christians who take the Bible seriously do not take every story in it literally. Who is to say that a Christian who argues that the Joshua story means neither that the sun literally stood still nor that the earth stopped rotating is not a Bible believing Christian? Some will say it. But even they do not advocate cutting off hands or tearing out eyes (Matthew 5:30) or even claim that Jesus really meant it literally. And yet there’s nothing in the text to indicate Jesus didn’t mean it literally.
I know of no more important principle for Christian theology than that Jesus is the perfect if not complete revelation of God’s character. After all, Jesus was God in human flesh. Or, put more technically, following the hypostatic union doctrine of Chalcedon, he was the Son of God, the eternal second person of the Trinity, equal with the Father, with an added human nature. But orthodoxy does not say and should not permit anyone to say that the addition of humanity to the Son of God made him any different morally than he always was or than the Father is.
The “person” of Jesus Christ was not morally altered by the incarnation. That, I take it, is a basic orthodox doctrine. He was the Son of God. That is his “who” even if his “what” included humanity.
Surely, in trinitarian orthodoxy, the Son of God, the Word, the Logos, is morally the same as the Father; that is, there is no difference between them (and the Holy Spirit) as to their character. They share all the same moral attributes and always have and always will. To say otherwise would be to wreak havoc with the Trinity.
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He gathered them about himself and, as they say in Texas, “loved on them.” I do not believe these were “elect children,” some select group of children Jesus loved while he hated others.
But there’s a problem. Can anyone imagine Jesus turning around and saying “Slaughter these little children”? I can’t.
But if I can’t imagine Jesus doing that, to any group of children, what am I to do with 1Samuel 15? Was Yahweh someone other than Jesus—different in character from him? That would, as I said, wreak havoc with the Trinity and say that Jesus was not the perfect revelation of God. Then are we not putting a literal interpretation of the Bible above Jesus himself?
It’s all very easy for literalists to shoot arrows labeled “heresy” at those who do not take every story in the Bible literally, but it’s harder for them to reconcile all the stories. They may say “Well, I don’t reconcile them. I just accept them all at face value,” but, as I showed earlier, they don’t. They reinterpret some in light of modern knowledge or simply in light of common sense (e.g., they don’t pluck out their eyes or advocate cutting off hands). Ironically, many of them reject whole passages of Scripture as “not for today” based on twisted dispensationalist logic. Paul clearly said “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39) and yet many of those who insist on a literal interpretation of 1 Samuel don’t even wince when they claim that Paul’s command isn’t meant for today.