November 30, 2020

The Conundrum of a Warrior God (2)

The Deluge, John Martin

Note from CM: When I have a question about reading the Hebrew Bible, one of my first stops is Pete Enns. We reviewed his great book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, a while back, and since one of its emphases is on helping Bible readers understand its portrayal of the violent, genocidal God portrayed in many OT texts, I thought we should hear from him on this week when we’re considering Mr. Boyd’s new book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

• • •

God killing people, both Israelites and others, isn’t a last-ditch measure of an otherwise patient deity. It’s the go-to punishment for disobedience. To put a fine point on it, this God is flat-out terrifying: he comes across as a perennially hacked-off warrior-god, more Megatron than heavenly Father. We’re not the first ones to be puzzled and bothered about God’s violence in the Bible; both Christians and Jews have worked on this issue ever since there’s been a Bible.

• Peter Enns

Let’s focus on one particular issue of the Warrior God in the Hebrew Bible — his treatment of the Canaanites.

Pete Enns reminds us that the Canaanites are toast from the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. Right after the Flood, Noah’s son Ham treats his drunken, naked father with disrespect. In response, Noah goes ballistic, cursing Ham and all his progeny forever. Turns out that means the Canaanites. Right from the beginning. Long before we ever get to Joshua and the conquest, we have been forewarned that “Canaanite” is a dirty word, and that they are doomed from the start.

Later, in preparation for the conquest, here’s what the author of Deuteronomy recorded as God’s instructions to the invading Israelites:

But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.

• Deut 20:16-18

Enns comments on our impulse to vindicate God for these horrific commands.

Many Bible readers feel the strong impulse to get God off the hook for acting this way, which means finding a good way to end the following sentence: “It’s a perfectly fine and right thing for God to order the extermination of Canaanites and take their land because . . .”

Over the course of several chapters, he discusses a few of the most common, unsatisfying answers people give and responds to them effectively, showing that they really don’t hold up.

  • God is the sovereign king of the universe, and his unfathomable will is not to be questioned by puny mortals, so shut up about it.
  • Sure, Jesus talks about loving your enemies, but Jesus also talks about throwing sinners into hell to burn forever.
  • Sure, God killed Canaanites, but we have to balance it out with those parts where God was nicer.
  • The Canaanites got exactly what they deserved because they were utterly morally corrupt.

Then Peter Enns suggests a different approach.

He starts by suggesting that we respect the Bible’s ancient voice and realize that we are hearing stories from a very old time, place, and cultural context. The Israelites shared with their neighbors a common tribal view of the world — “Taking land and defeating enemies with the blessing of the gods was as common in the ancient world as Dunkin’ Donuts in New England.”

Second, he reminds us that, at least at this point in our understanding, archaeology does not support that the “conquest” of Canaan by the Israelites happened as the biblical narrative tells us. It appears that, whatever happened, the tales became exaggerated so that, for Israel, these narratives were transformed into great war sagas of battles with the Canaanites.

Third, being the ancient tribal people that they were, telling stories of their tribal past and glorifying tales about being led into battle by a warrior God against a God-cursed enemy is what we should expect if God let the Israelites tell the story. As Enns puts it:

The Bible — from back to front — is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time.

It’s not like the Israelites were debating whether or not to go ahead and describe God as a mighty warrior. They had no choice. That’s just how it was done— that was their cultural language. And if the writers had somehow been able to step outside of their culture and invent a new way of talking, their story would have made no sense to anyone else.

The Bible looks the way it does because “God lets his children tell the story,” so to speak.

…I think at least parts of the Bible work something like that. It may be hard— sometimes impossible— to see the history in Israel’s stories, but we do get a good picture of how these ancient Israelites experienced God.

Reading the Bible responsibly and respectfully today means learning what it meant for ancient Israelites to talk about God the way they did, and not pushing alien expectations onto texts written long ago and far away.

Reading scripture this way means not reading it “flatly,” as though everything we find in it is to be equally accepted and endorsed — even things its authors say about God and/or historical events. The Hebrew Bible is not a “book” but an compilation of writings that is characterized by an ongoing conversation. There are debates between different perspectives going on within the scriptures themselves concerning Israel’s history and what it means. The story of the conquest is actually a great example of this, as the books of Joshua and Judges set before us two entirely different accounts of the “conquest.” We can’t reconcile them; we are meant to read them side by side. This forces us to think, to become part of the conversation, to seek wisdom.

Reading scripture this way also means, as Enns says, “the ancient tribal description of God is not the last word.” The Hebrew Bible portrays an ancient tribal nation that acted like one and for whom capturing land and keeping their enemies at bay by violence, slavery, and extermination was a way of life and survival. But in the ongoing conversation, other voices are heard. One further example of this is the conversation going on between books like Jonah and Nahum. One pronounces doom upon the city of Ninevah and the Assyrians while the other rebukes Israel for not understanding that God’s mercy is to be extended to those same “enemies” — “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)

For Christians, we see this ongoing conversation as moving to a point of resolution in the good news of the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In a context of military occupation by foreign enemies who had seized the land God promised to Abraham, Jesus encouraged his followers to love their enemies not destroy them. And rather than exerting violence against those who opposed him, he ultimately absorbed the violence within himself and laid down his life for them.

Jesus, Israel’s final prophet, is the ultimate voice in the conversation. As Peter Enns affirms: “And for Christians, the gospel has always been the lens through which Israel’s stories are read— which means, for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”


  1. Robert F says

    “And for Christians, the gospel has always been the lens through which Israel’s stories are read— which means, for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”

    But what we know of Jesus is what we can learn of him from the Bible. That’s what makes the status of the rest of the Bible, the parts that don’t mention Jesus, difficult to assign. If our idea or experience of Jesus departs far from the New Testament picture of him, it becomes hard to see how we and it are talking about and experiencing the same person. But according to the New Testament picture of Jesus, he read the rest of the scriptures, as they existed in his time, as history. If we then depart from his reading of the OT as history, are we not interpreting it in ways vastly different from his own, meaning that we inevitably are departing from his understanding of them? How is it then that we can understand the world as well as scripture in a way that overlaps with his own?

    • Thou hast said it, much better than I could have.

      • Robert F says

        It seem to me that there is an either/or here (yes, folks, sometimes there are legitimate, unavoidable either/ors; this seems to me to be one of them). I’m not sure I ultimately fall on the same side of that divide as you, but I certainly see it, as I believe from other comments that you do. I don’t know if seeing it will make me more progressive theologically, or more conservative, but I know that I can’t not see it, no matter how I try.

        • What if Jesus actually understood better than anyone how the OT was meant to be interpreted? What if he understood which parts were meant to be seen as history, which were exaggeration, etc…, and the real takeaway from those passages?

          If we really are to take a Christocentric reading of all Scripture, including the OT, then we start with His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and start from there.
          The early church also took that approach, so it is not something new.

          • Rick Ro. says

            –> “What if Jesus actually understood better than anyone how the OT was meant to be interpreted? What if he understood which parts were meant to be seen as history, which were exaggeration, etc…, and the real takeaway from those passages?”

            Exactly. And though we may never know exactly how Jesus interpreted scripture, we are given lots of information about what he thought about people who MISREPRESENTED scripture. We are given many, many accounts of him condemning one thing: Bad religion. Just read Matthew 23 for a take on what he feels about people who misinterpret scripture and represent God poorly.

            • Yes, but I would also say we do, perhaps, get a great sense of how Jesus would want Scripture interpreted (overall, not necessarily individual passages) by the way the early church did.

            • Matthew 23 is Old Testament, tho. We’re under the grace, and not under the Law, so we don’t have to follow his teachings.

              …I wish I was joking, but that’s actual preaching I’ve heard.

    • Robert, when we say that Jesus and not the Bible has the final word, we are saying that Jesus is the ultimate voice in the Bible through which we interpret the scriptures. The scriptures are not a “flat” book, all parts equally and univocally testifying to the truth, but a conversation of a variety of perspectives that ultimately finds its resolution in Jesus. When Enns says Jesus has the final word over the Bible this is what he means. He is not making an absolute disjunction between the two.

    • Christiane says

      “And for Christians, the gospel has always been the lens through which Israel’s stories are read— which means, for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”

      so ‘the Word’ and ‘The Word’ are not estranged ….. 🙂

      we need to get the Word out to them what has tried to take the focus off of Our Lord and still claim they are ‘bible-believing Christians’

  2. As Robert F says, where does the ‘reinvention’ end?
    I think someone commented yesterday that it ends at the cross.
    But that doesn’t seem right, as it took a while (it seems) for the disciples to accept that the Second coming wasn’t happening in their generation.

    At which point the temptation is to throw ones hands up in despair and say, “OK, so we’re just making this up as we go along, right?”

  3. Robert F says

    The New Testament gives no indication that Jesus viewed the Old Testament description of the warring/herem-waging God as morally problematic in any way. The only words that Jesus says in the NT about the OT depiction of God embrace the portrait drawn there, lock, stock and barrel, without exception. If Jesus has the final word, that would mean that his view of God has the final word, too. But if his view of God sees nothing problematic in the OT depictions of him, and ours does, then when we reject many of those depictions as morally problematic we are rejecting Jesus’ understanding and view as the final word in this matter. No?

    • On the surface, Jesus may appear to have tacitly accepted violent OT portrayals of God. But consider Jesus’ response when two of his more hot-headed disciples asked if they should call down fire on a Samaritan village for its rejection of Jesus (seemingly a perfectly reasonable thing to do in light of some OT “revelations” of God): “You do not know what spirit you are of.”

      • Robert F says

        I’m not saying that the New Testament Jesus wants his followers to follow the example of Israel in the OT with regard to enemies or other peoples and nations; clearly he does not. He is inaugurating a new era. I’m saying that he shares none of our difficulty with what we consider to be the morally problematic depictions of God in the Jewish scriptures. Which means that he had a different view and understanding of what the character of God should be from ours, since we wrestle in anguish with finding ways to strain out the warrior/herem Wager from our understanding of God. This means that we do not consider the New Testament Jesus’ understanding of the character of God sufficient, which in turn means that in this the New Testament Jesus does not have the final word.

        • Robert F says

          Which leads to the question: If he does not have it in this seemingly very important matter of the character of God, what else might the New Testament Jesus not have the final word in?

          • Thanks to inerrancy, anything that’s written by Paul, because it comes after Jesus.

        • Personally, I don’t think Jesus saw his Father as the author of the violence ascribed to him in the OT. I think he saw him as completely non-vengeful , non-penal and non-retributive. But even the Gospel texts mask this truth in places while revealing it in others.

          • If by “masking” you mean “affirms the exact opposite”…

          • Rick Ro. says

            Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son would seem to fall in line with that.

          • Robert F says

            Personally, I do think that Jesus saw his Father as the author of the violence ascribed to him in the OT. I see nothing in the NT that repudiates that common understanding of first century Palestinian Jews.

      • Rick Ro. says

        I love that account!! You can almost see Jesus’ face-palm!!

    • Robert, what about “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, ‘Love them'”?

      Pretty clear to me that Jesus overturns the whole Warrior God mentality in those few words. And he did so in the context of Israel’s land being occupied by her enemies, real military enemies.

      • And, while this series legitimately focuses on the “Warrior” aspect of God’s portrayal in the OT, it must be acknowledged that there are also solid OT precedents for Jesus’ words here too.

        Like I pointed out below, we have a tendency to focus in on just those aspects of God that either most intrigue or most disturb us, and highlight or deny/downplay them accordingly.

        • Eeyore, what I am saying is that Jesus agreed with those OT voices that called for love for one’s enemies. He took a side in the conversation that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible, further clarifying and emphasizing the triumph of mercy over judgment. And he had the last word.

          • That, I have no problem with. 😉 What I have a problem with is the notion that one side of the conversation actually didn’t say what they said, or had words put in their mouth by others.

            • StuartB says

              Even tho we have amble evidence of it happening multiple times in multiple cultures that all influenced the Biblical writers? And a prominent NT writer who just happened to be classically trained in those techniques?

              Tho I understand why it’s “troublesome” from a theological standpoint.

      • +1

      • Rick Ro. says

        My sci-fi novel wrestles with this idea of whether or not to “fight our enemies.” Not an easy concept.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Oh, and I should add, the problem with “fighting our enemies” is that it perpetuates the violence. I think Jesus sought to end the unhealthy cycles we humans tend enter into.

      • Robert F says

        CM, As I said above, I do not question that the New Testament Jesus does not call his disciples to emulate Israel’s behavior toward enemies and other peoples. Jesus is inaugurating a new era, with new divine imperatives and a new way of living for those who follow him. But there is not one bit of evidence that the NT Jesus saw the violence of God in the Jewish scriptures as morally problematic, or that he was ambivalent about it. He accepted the God of the OT as the true God, and reflecting the true God, without reservation.

        If he had taught that the warrior/herem God depicted in many places in the OT did not in fact reflect anything accurate about the character of the true God, there is no way that such a teaching could’ve been kept out of the canon; it would’ve been an explosively new teaching, revolutionary, axiomatic and foundational to the life of the new community of his followers. If its writers and redactors managed to intentionally or unintentionally omit this teaching from the community’s memory of and witness to him in the NT, then we must doubt that the NT itself accurately reflects the teaching of Jesus. There is no way something so revolutionary in Jesus’ teaching could be omitted without completely distorting the character of that teaching.

        I think the strong presumptive evidence in this matter is that the NT does not mention any hesitation of Jesus with regard to the God ordained violence depicted in the OT, in the Jewish scriptures, because it was not an issue for him. He shared none of our modern anguish as we struggle to find a bridge between a God of the most extreme violence and a God of love. They are one in the same to the Jesus of the NT.

        If that is so (and, as I’ve said, I think it is the correct inference from the evidence before us), then we have a choice: We can accept along with Jesus that the picture of God given in the OT, inclusive of the violence, is an accurate rendering of at least one aspect of God’s character (we do not have to avow the complete historicity of everything depicted there, only that the picture of God drawn is accurate with regard to his character); or we can reject Jesus’ view as partly inadequate and defective, and move on to resolve the issue in the freedom of the Spirit, without making an absolute of what must be the result of Jesus’ fallible and limited, and sometimes just plain wrong, human understanding.

        • Robert F says

          The Jesus of the Gospels is not always the final word. His fallible, real humanity makes that impossible.

        • Robert, I’m sorry, I really don’t agree with your point. And it doesn’t start with Jesus. It starts with other voices in the Hebrew Bible, such as Isaiah and Jonah, and the hope of a day when swords will be transformed into plowshares and all nations worship God together in justice and peace. The whole movement of the Hebrew Bible, no doubt affected by the experience of exile, is a movement away from tribalism and trusting in the sword and seeing certain groups of people as my unending enemies.

          You are arguing from your impression that Jesus was silent about this because he didn’t specifically criticize the stories of the conquest, but the very fact that he said, “You have heard it said hate your enemies, but I say to you love them” in the context of military occupation is not simply instruction to disciples, it is his way of recasting the entire Torah to honor mercy over judgment. His ministry of including those outside the borders of Israel and challenging his listeners and witnesses to become transformed in their thinking about “outsiders,” such as his sermon in Luke 4, the story of the Good Samaritan, and the encounter he had with the so-called “Canaanite” woman show God’s heart of mercy toward people from the very same groups that Israel of old was supposedly commanded to subjugate, enslave, or exterminate. And the fact is that, to my knowledge, there is not a place in the Gospels where Jesus ever even reflected on Joshua or the conquest, but he did emphasize over and over again that mercy triumphs over judgment and that such mercy is not exclusively for Israelites while the rest are condemned to judgment.

          Nothing I see in Jesus’s words or ministry contradict or even, in my view, make suspect the thesis that is being put forth today: that the Hebrew Bible is a conversation over a long period of time consisting of many voices, with various points of view about a number of matters involving our understanding of who God is, what God is like, and what God considers faithfulness to his will. I agree with Polkinghorne that what we have pictured in the Hebrew Bible is a picture of human development, as Israel grows from infancy to a more mature understanding of the nature and character of God, with all the wrestling back and forth that this involves. The “my Dad’s bigger than yours and can beat him up” view of the early Israelites under the Law is not a mature perspective. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isa 65:25) is.

          • Robert F says

            We disagree, CM. I think Jesus, as a first century Palestinian Jew, had no problem with thinking of God as both violent and loving. That his teaching came down on the side of love and forgiveness is enough, as far as I’m concerned; but to attribute to him an ethical perspective acceptable to an educated, twenty-first century liberal (or conservative) Bible scholar is to construct a Docetic mirage. It’s too much wishful thinking, and a bridge too far.

            • Robert, I think we only need to attribute to Jesus an ethical perspective that was willing to go to the cross and absorb all the world’s violence rather than promote engaging in it. That’s not a 21st century ethic, but one which the early church embraced wholeheartedly in the context of the empire.

    • Robert, I think your questions points to larger issues and questions (ones that I wrestle with). First, we have the picture of Jesus as told by the early Christians, who, like their Old Testament counterparts, were products of that ancient culture, and their telling of the story certainly reflects that (unless one has a view of inspiration that removes the authors from their cultural context). In other words, we’re seeing Jesus filtered through ancient culture in the gospels just like we’e seeing God filtered through ancient culture in the Old Testament (to what extent is not clear to me). We do know those early Christians (even the apostles) didn’t have all the answers right away (if ever). How does that affect our understanding of Jesus? Do we have trustworthy accounts? How do we separate the messenger from the message?

      Second, Jesus himself (no matter how one understands the humanity/divinity issue) is a product of ancient culture, though he does challenge it (or aspects of it) in many ways. As N. T. Wright has argued, much of what Jesus says is not ‘timeless truths’ but teaching directed toward Israel and their current situation (a call to renounce political violence and see/enter/embrace God’s kingdom). And in that context he uses language that speaks of wrath and judgment (whether active or passive), and uses Israel’s history as a warning. Does that mean that SOME of what Jesus says is ‘the real timeless Jesus’ and other parts are ‘meeting people where they are’? And how do we tell? Are the parts about loving enemies the ‘real Jesus’ and the parts about judgement the ‘cultural Jesus’?

      Third, is the Jesus of the gospels the human Jesus who does not know ‘the day or the hour’ of his return or the docetic Jesus of most evangelicals who walks on water all the time? I won’t even begin to list the question this one raises.

      • DennisB says

        Hi Greg,

        You wrote: “We do know those early Christians (even the apostles) didn’t have all the answers right away (if ever). How does that affect our understanding of Jesus? ” & “Do we have trustworthy accounts?”

        I assume this gets carried forward to the post Apostolic Fathers as well. The problem with going the “whole road” with the likes of Enns is just this. Ambiguity ad infinitum.

        To the 1st question above, how do you know ? Why not trust the Apostolic lineage & the teaching that came through there which identifies & validates the canon of Scripture & the methods of interpretation ? Jesus Himself said the Spirit would come & teach the Apostles “all things”, which were then to be handed down to the next generation. Is He unable to do that ? Was “Upon this Rock” a myth ?

        I think a more promising track to explore would be the Paul Copan “hyperbole” theories rather than Peter Enns’ wholesale ditching of historical records that seem to have been acknowledged by the Early Church.

        Maybe the OT contains episodes of God revealing Himself to a violent culture. Maybe some episodes in the OT were expressed in the language of hyperbole, as that’s all they could process. Maybe when God told them to destroy women & children He told them to destroy evil in general terms & they recorded it as specific.

        Maybe the destruction refers to how they should perceive the evil of alien lifestyles but they took it literally & wiped people out.

        What we do know is that by the time of the prophets, God is getting Israel to examine motives & their hearts. By the time Jesus comes along, they are ready to hear Him turn “cultural norms” on their head.

        • Dennis, I’m not sure you understand Enns. I don’t see him “ditching”anything. And BTW, the Church Fathers had plenty of problems with the portrait of God as Warrior, so much so that many of them said it can’t have actually happened that way, it must be symbolic of some spiritual truth.

          • +1

          • Dana Ames says

            My understanding is that the Church Fathers (on the Greek side, anyway) did not have any quibble with things recorded in Scripture “actually happening” because 1) they didn’t insist on Scripture being “historical” the way we understand the term, and 2) they were looking for the spiritual truth in all of Scripture, not just the “God as warrior” parts. Some of them were disturbed by the “God as warrior parts” and some weren’t. They interpreted things not as “symbolic” (something taking the place of another thing that *isn’t there*) but rather as allegorical (not merely a myth or story, but as significantly pointing to something else) and specifically typological. In typology, the instance in the OT (whether “historical” or not) was pointing to something that DID actually happen in, or by means of, the life of Christ, and the latter explained the former.

            The Fathers had a 3-tier understanding of interpretation that worked simultaneously. The first tier was simply what the text said. They understood context and style; some of them were trained rhetoriticians. This level was actually the least important for them. The second tier was moral: what lesson can be learned to help us live virtuously. The third tier was the most important: how the meaning of Jesus’ life and work illuminated the episode in the OT – not the other way around. THAT was what the OT passage was REALLY about. For example, Joseph in Egypt (whether such a person lived or not) is a type of Christ in being thrown into a pit (the grave & the prison), being elevated to (near-) kingship, and *saving* his brothers – rescuing them, and healing the relationship. Joshua (called Jesus son of Navi in the LXX) is a type of Christ in not only sharing his name, but in his deliverance of his people from their enemies (in Christ’s case, our ultimate enemy, death, and the sin that feeds it and feeds off of it). ***That’s*** what mattered to the Fathers, not whether or not Joshua actually massacred the Canaanites.

            This way of interpreting Scripture was already in place in the NT, in all the passages that talk about things in the OT being “fulfilled”. It’s there in the Apostolic Fathers, the first writings we have after the NT: Ignatius, Barnabas, etc. in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, and in Justin around 150. It’s elucidated in spades in Irenaeus at the end of the 2nd century, in both the “Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching” and “Against Heresies”. Then there are the Cappadocians and Cyril of Jerusalem.

            I think Enns is right insofar as he engages the prevailing historical-critical method that arose in the last couple hundred years in the context of western late Medieval philosophical categories. I’m not sure if he has read the Fathers; if he hasn’t, he’s missing depth that could be added to his case.

            DennisB has a point.


          • Yes but the way he recasts history compared to Paul Copan (from what I’ve read on your blogs) seems tore engineer OT history to such an extent that it becomes unintelligible & disconnected to the way the early church would have read it. Also if that can be re-engineered to such a higher degree, then why not the NT as well ? So now we have interpretation via scholars rather than the Apostolic authority handed down in the church.

            Travelling further down that path leads to ambiguity & Statements that Jesus in His humanity is fallible & got a whole lot wrong. This is why we need Creed’s &council’s & why Jesus promised the Holy Spirit…


      • “And Jesus grew in wisdom”…Luke 2:52

        What to do with that…

        • StuartB says

          Which must be his human side, since God is “the same yesterday today and forever” and has never once no not once changed his mind or learned a thing or two from his lowly creation.

        • Robert F says

          But perhaps Jesus never, in his earthly life, divested himself of certain human errors. He may have had a partly deficient and incorrect understanding of God’s character to the very end, to the cross itself, and still have been our Messiah, Lord and Redeemer. None of this obstructs the doctrine of Incarnation, it merely requires that we work our way through our own ethical and theological dilemmas without constant deference to the fallible and sometimes wrong understandings of Jesus as expressed in the NT. Jesus as depicted in the Gospels is not always the final word.

          • Robert F says

            When I say that Jesus as depicted in the Gospels is not always the final word, I don’t mean that the Epistles, or Acts, or Revelation is the final word. I mean that the final word is not always found in the Biblical witness. We have to walk beyond the boundaries of the canonical terrain, trusting in the living presence of Christ with us. We do that anyway, but fool ourselves into thinking otherwise.

  4. In some sense, I think Enns, Boyd & Co. are making the same mistake the Reformed systematic theologians made – using the philosophy and methodology of their age to reshape God into something that is understandable to them. The Reformed systematicians wound up with a nearly totally transcendent Prime Mover and Predestinator – these guys wind up with the “God without wrath” who just passively watches Israel rampage in his name.

    If I’ve learned anything in my decades of theological jerking around, it’s that, perhaps, God and His ways aren’t going to nearly conform to ANY of our expectations.

    • Neatly, not nearly.

    • Eeyore, you charge Enns, Boyd and co. with “using the philosophy and methodology of their age to reshape God into something that is understandable to them”. That’s not a valid charge, IMO.

      From a post I wrote back in 2015:

      “Which sounds more like human beings: a God who is endlessly forgiving, compassionate and non-retaliatory, or a God who is prepared to be patient for the time being in the knowledge that his enemies are eventually going to buy it big time? Which is more like us: a God who is unswervingly and unrelentingly merciful, or a God who appears merciful to the point of laxity one moment only to emerge as terrifyingly violent the next?

      I put it to you that in fact, if we were to deliberately construct a God in our image, in most cases the God we would end up with would be a fickle God capable of both great love and great evil. For that, if we’re honest, is what most of us are like.

      On the other hand, a God who is ever and always compassionate, forgiving and merciful, come what may… well, that’s a little more outside our human understanding. One might even say of such a God that his ways are higher than our ways.”

      In summary, believing in a God who is angry (at least some of the time) and retributive is much less disruptive to our normal human way of being than believing in a God who is endlessly forgiving and merciful.

      • I get what you are saying, but in order to hold to that assertion you essentially have to call out the Hebrew authors of the OT as liars, for putting their words into God’s mouth – an act that the prophets and John in Revelation listed as one of the worst crimes a human being can commit.

        Robert F is right – The Bible strongly portrays God as BOTH forgiving AND judgmental. And hermeneutically, you just can’t invalidate one portrayal without undermining the other. It’s a package deal.

        • Eeyore, not liars, just mistaken.

          • I’m not sure if that’s any better…

            • Maybe not… if you need a strong model of biblical inspiration to hold on to.

              • Robert F says

                No. The point is that to disagree with that portrait of God as both violent and forgiving, we have to disagree not only with the OT, but with Jesus, who never voices an objection to it anywhere in the NT. It may be theologically defensible to disagree with Jesus and still consider ourselves Christians, but it requires the courage of stepping out on our own without constantly trying to make the Jesus of the NT say what we would like him to say. If he was truly a first century Palestinian, he did not share our moral disquiet with the God of the OT. That his own teaching came down on the side of love and forgiveness, without repudiating any part of the portrait of God in the OT, is far more than we could’ve expected of him, humanly speaking. Let’s not expect that the had the mentality of an educated, twentieth century progressive; that would make him a Docetic mirage rather than a man.

                • Robert, i get that you want a passage where Jesus speaks directly to the violent parts of the Tanakh and says “no” to them. I’d love it if thst was in one of the Gospels, just like thst.

                  But it IS there if you look at all of the things he said/did regarding “who is my neighbot,” “if someone strikes you on the cherk” etc. etc. etc. I’m not sure he had to say more than ehat he’s recorded as saying snd doing.

                  iSTM that you are – no offense intended – thinking about this like a legal svholsr, looking for a subclause. Or, to use a cliche, looking for aneedle in a haystack, when it’s not really *about* the needle. It’s about the haystack.

                  • Scholar. Apologies for typos; my tablet is being cranky today.

                  • Robert F says

                    I just don’t believe that as a human being Jesus rejected the OT portrait of God in any of its particulars. I don’t subscribe to that portrait myself, nor do I think the risen Christ has the violent dimension of that OT divine portrait, because I don’t believe God ever has been violent. I’m just saying that we need not and should not order all our moral and theological navigation of life as Christians by claiming that we must let Jesus always have “the final word”. We have been given more freedom than that.

                    • You just got to the heart of your own question: you identified it as being about belief.

                      It is that, i think, that has you where you are with this issue. So much hinges on interpretation.

                    • Robert F says

                      I don’t think I understand your last comment.

                    • Robert F says

                      To state my position in a different way: There is no word, there are no words, in any of the scriptures, old or new, that we can distill from them as Jesus’ “final word”. The attempt to do so seems to me to be a sophisticated way of trying to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?”, which in my opinion is not the right question, in either its simple or sophisticated version. Jesus was simultaneously Lord and fallible human. He can’t answer our moral and theological questions, the actual questions we should and do ask, including ones concerning the conundrum of the warrior God, from his humanity as it existed in the past and is expressed in the NT. We have to find our way to answers for these questions in freedom, faith and trust that he guides us today, and is present with us today, as we struggle with them. The past does not hold the answers in the form of any “final word” from the Jesus of the Gospels.

                    • Robert, your pov (and mine, and everyone’s) is based on interpretation of texts as well as belief. You know how texts can be misread and misinterpreted, and how they csn be interpreted in multiple, often highly divergent and contradictory ways, as in rabbinic Judaism and throughout the long history of the diaspora.

                      ISTM that what you’re wrestling with has to do with interpretation, belief – and paradox. I think it’s one of those things for which there probably isn’t a single, definitive answer, and xtisns (not just evangelicals by any means) *love* to have definitive answerd. You know the kind of thing: “those Monophysite heretics!,” when really, the differences between what the Copts believe about the nature of Christ vs. what Rome says about same is so negligible that it really doesn’t much matter now. But it sure did for centuries. The differences are subtle and the controversies that ensued were partly based i misunderstandings, of language and of ideas.

                      The organized church has always insisted that things are either black or white, this or that, even though “right” belief vs. “wrong” sometimes hinges on ridiculously tiny nuances of interpretation. Rather than saying, “Well, it might be both, and we don’t really know.”

                      Usually it’s our interpretation of religious texts that causes problems, and that seems to be true in all faiths that have written scriptures.

                      Does that help?

                      As for the rest, it sounds like you’ve been delving into Jesus Seminar and other, related lit on the historical Jesus, and I seem to remember your mentioning non-canonical gospels recently as well. Which is cool, but sometimes it’s good to step back and let things settle (kind of like how silt or sand in water that’s been disturbed takes time to float down to the bottom again so that the water is clear). I don’t know if that’s the case or not, or if you’re experiencing a crisis of faith, or ? But i do know for sure that unsettling things take time to process. Give yourself some time, if you need that.

                      Am trying to understand why you feel it’s important that Jesus, in the absence of a straight to the point denunciation of violence in the Tanakh = he must have been OK with it. I don’t think that’s a foregone conclusion, let alone the only conclusion, by any means. The words he uses, the parables and paradoxical statements,are often pretty oblique and hard to grasp, but I’m not sure how it can get any clearer thsn “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight” and similar.He does not paint a picture of a violent God, and i don’t think that people who believe he does are really grasping the essence of what he both did and taught. often he didn’t directly answer the questions recorded in the Gospels, after all. (Like the ones about the msn born blind in John.)

                      I hope you can find some peace re. all of this soon. It sounds like it is an urgent issue for you.

    • who just passively watches Israel rampage in his name.

      This sort of thing still happens. Not just an ancient Israelite phenomenon.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      But isn’t this practice of re-discovering and re-shaping our concept of God into an image that makes sense for the times in which we live all that we do? All that we’ve ever done? When we accuse people of trying to “reshape God,” isn’t that God we refer to a concept that has been reshapen several times before we received it in our generation? Or are we so sure we have a handle on an eternal, infinite being that we think we can stop now?

      • Robert F says

        Yes. But then we should probably accept that the historic Jesus and/or the Jesus of the Gospels did not share our anguish about the morally questionable behavior of the OT God. There is no evidence in the NT that he did. He was just plain wrong, along with everybody else, about the character of God in this respect. Now we have to go on shaping our own understanding of God’s character without relying on Jesus in this particular matter.

        • How do you know this for certain, Robert? I’m asking honestly.

          I wonder if you’ve ever read anything by NT scholar Amy-Jill Levine? You might find her work to be very refreshing. (She teaches @ the Vanderbilt U. divinity school, but she is Orthodox.) Her book The Misunderstood Jew is a good starting point. Unlike most academics, she is really good with non-jargony words, and her books are a breeze compared to most of her peers’ material.

  5. You give this quote from Enn’s book:

    “The Bible — from back to front — is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time.”

    But if that is all there is to the Bible, then what reason does he give for going to it to learn about God rather than say the Koran or any other religious book found among people? Does he have in his view of scripture any belief in actual revelation given by God rather than just observations and ideas shared by people?

    • Of course. But it’s God’s word in and through human words. If he emphasizes the latter it is only because the Bible before us is so obviously complex, messy, and reflective of our humanity, a point which the inerrantists and others attempt to ignore or smooth over. Mature Bible reading recognizes both elements.

      • Thanks. I don’t own any of his books. All I’ve read from him are a few blog posts and what I see here and I’ve never really seen much of his view of God’s hand in forming scripture.

    • I’m pretty sure Enns lies somewhere between the two opposite poles of “The Bible is God’s exact words taken down via dictation” and “The Bible is just the collective speculations of various Near Eastern monotheists”. But the question of where inspiration fits into the interpretation of the texts is a vitally important one.

      • Eeyore, I would say that they are inspired and given to us to encourage us to take part in the conversation and to lead us to Jesus as the final word in that conversation. In the process, we don’t simply dismiss these parts of scripture, but try to understand them in the context of the big picture.

        For example, if the Hebrew Bible was compiled by the post-exilic community to teach the exiles their history and give them hope for the future, we have to ask what these conquest narratives contribute to that purpose. Were they encouraging the exiles to believe that God would act in this way again to deliver them from exile and vanquish their enemies? Or in the context of the ongoing conversation in the Hebrew Bible, were they saying, “This is the way our ancestors viewed God and how he acted for them and against their enemies, but we have learned that there are better ways to understand God and how we are to follow him faithfully?”

        Jesus took up that conversation and said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” This is where we ultimately come down — what Jesus said (and did).

        • “You have heard it said…but I say to you…”

          Interesting point. Don’t think I’ve ever fully reflected on these words that Jesus repeats on various occasions. I suppose this seemed to be a fairly common theme in Jesus’ life and ministry after all–debunking the old viewpoints.

        • “in the context of the ongoing conversation in the Hebrew Bible, were they saying, “This is the way our ancestors viewed God and how he acted for them and against their enemies, but we have learned that there are better ways to understand God and how we are to follow him faithfully?””

          When the OT says, “God says, ‘Kill the Philistines'”… Did He say that, or didn’t He? Did the authors of the Pentateuch and Joshua misrepresent God? I can go with God changing His representation of Himself based on the development of salvation history… I can’t go with “the OT authors lied”.

          • Eeyore, I don’t think they lied, and Enns doesn’t either. In their cultural setting, this is how they understood God and his ways. They sincerely saw killing Canaanites as being faithful to God.

            This is akin to the way they wrote about cosmology. I don’t accept that the world is flat with a hard dome cover keeping the waters above from falling on earth, but that’s how biblical writers described it. David is described as having been blessed by God with his harem of many wives. I don’t affirm the rightness of that either. Nor do I agree with the sentiments of the psalmist when he blesses those who dash babies down on rocks.

            We have to converse with Scripture, wrestle with these things, listen to all the voices and seek wisdom. The text is not univocal. It invites us into a wrestling match. It encourages to keep seeking and learn more of God.

            • “In their cultural setting, this is how they understood God and his ways. They sincerely saw killing Canaanites as being faithful to God.”

              I do not dispute that. I want to ask the question, “To what extent was God involved in that understanding? Did He inform that decision, or was He just a bystander?”

              • Well, for one thing, as Enns says, God allowed his people to tell the story at their own level of understanding and from their own perspective. I don’t think that necessarily endorses their level of understanding and perspective every time.

                • “God allowed his people to tell the story at their own level of understanding and from their own perspective. I don’t think that necessarily endorses their level of understanding and perspective every time.”

                  And THAT is what I am having a very hard time accepting. Sure, there are plenty of instances in the Bible where God is not only not given any quotations, but is even peripheral to the story of the text. But the passages that are at the heart of this week’s discussion are explicit in attributing the actions of Israel to the direct, verbal command of God. I’d have to see how Enns deals with that, and its implications for inspiration in other areas of the Bible, before I can give his theory any blanket credence.

                  • Enns gives a good illustration in the book about how he used to brag about his dad on the playground at school, as kids do. Half or more of what he attributed to his dad was wrong or mistaken, involving things that he was too young to understand at the time.

                    Was he being intentionally dishonest? No. He was expressing what he understood to be true of his dad at a certain level of his own development. Would his dad have been offended by his characterization? Probably not. Would he have corrected him immediately? Perhaps with regard to some things that he could grasp, but he might have waited to explain other things until the boy was able to receive them.

                    This illustration helped me.

                    • Similarly, Greg Boyd speaks of God taking the approach of a missionary who goes to a culture that practices things clearly inconsistent with Christian ethics. The wise missionary does not begin by banning these practices. Rather, he makes his home in the culture and waits for the right opportunities to show and teach them better ways.

  6. Could it be that we are not meant to come to neat, final answers to these questions, but to grow through wrestling with them. That we need to learn to trust God in the presence of our doubts and questions.

  7. I never went to seminary so I don’t know the proper terminology but isn’t there something about repetition that confirms a thing? It seems there is a preponderance of evidence in the OT that God exercised wrath. It is described. It is feared. It is prayed for. It is threatened and it is encouraged. Is it possible that God Himself has been changed by His creation. Perhaps it’s part of the purpose of the creation. We act as a mirror ( the image of God) and He can see Himself for the first time. Just as we evolve through relationship so He has changed through relationship to His ‘bride’. A giant evolution has occurred. Love has always been His desire but real life humans proved that intimidation or bullying would never achieve that goal. I know at first glance that sounds like an absurd impossibility but there is a strong possibility that something just such as that is what we are in the midst of. God started with Abraham as El Shaddai, “the big breasted one.” The nourisher. The giver of provision. The multiplier of blessing. He was a mother figure. He seems to have resorted to Yahweh, the all powerful dominator with the onset of the law. Jesus returned the image to a mother hen over her brood. I’m just saying that while scripture says He is the same yesterday, today and forever that doesn’t preclude the possibility of evolution within the Godhead. I’m the same person I was yesterday and yet, paradoxically, different. It sounds almost blasphemous to ascribe change to God but there is some logic there. Many dads, not to mention moms, are kinder, sweeter old men after having suffered the blistering experience of bringing children to healthy adulthood. Is that some sort of image of things above?

    • God’s faces are displayed in scripture. The Old Testament displayed many, some of which were clearly violent. To say that that is not the case is to disparage the spiritual perceptions of David, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and on and on. These people were chosen by God to portray Him and act on His behalf. He displays to us in this age the face of compassion and that is how we know Him. Like children playing in a nuclear reactor we are kept safe and given warmth, not danger. It is the same God, different face.

      • It is the same God, different face.

        I’m not convinced anymore. Seems there is a lot of compelling evidence that there were multiple deities and in-fighting between them (yahweh vs el vs etc), and a great many instances of ‘contemporary’ authors putting words into people’s mouths to give more authority, just like Socrates and the sophists and others did. It’s just how it was done, and we can’t just deny it or say that nope, the Biblical authors absolutely did not use those styles because that’s “lying”…which it wasn’t.

        • I don’t buy these theories either.

        • Well, I thought I had something unorthodox to say but you’ve leapt way past me there. It never occurred to me that there was more than one God, only that there are multiple facets of the one God and that he has expressed them through the ages in different ways that may have something to do with him and not just us.

        • >> Seems there is a lot of compelling evidence that there were multiple deities and in-fighting between them . . .

          Stuart. I find compelling evidence that there were multiple entities which were regarded as “gods” by the Earthlings who interacted with them, and which greatly affected the course of development of what we like to think of as the “human” race. When I say “compelling” evidence, I think it would be obvious that I mean compelling for me and not necessarily others. You can see pictures of them today in ancient representations and read their stories in what gets dismissed as “myth”. I would add that I find compelling evidence that some of these entities are still around today, not as openly as before. I would also add that I find compelling evidence that the entity we regard today, some of us, as God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and Father of us all, was interacting with those people in particular who later became the Jews and the ancestors of Jesus, and interacts with us all today as we are open. I hope I make it plain that I do not place Him who we call God on an equal level with those we have called gods.

    • DennisB says

      Hi Chris,

      I suggest you check this out on the un-changing character of God:

      God’s wrath is for our benefit not His. He is “blessed” & happy in His Triune relations. The wrath aspect is to destroy evil & act as a warning to turn from evil. It is wrath out of Love for His creation, as He want’s to reign it in & end it in perfection.


      • Thanks I’ll check it out.

      • Hey Dennis,
        I did read through but am not convinced that convinced that Gods wrath is, or was, as passionless and removed as it seems to be described. It’s described as an objective tool used toward and end, namely our redemption. That sounds like an intellectual engagement rather than genuine pissed-offness. That’s not the way the readings of the OT strike me at all. Anyway, I’m not sold on my own proposition 100% but continue to ruminate on it. Thank you for the link and your thoughtfulnesss.

  8. Just in case you weren’t aware, Rob Grayson posted a three part review of Greg Boyd’s book on his own blog. It is a fair and comprehensive summary of the book with critical assessment, a view that Boyd himself expressed in reply to it. There would be no point in CM duplicating Rob’s summary, but it might help those here with enough interest to read it as background to the discussion, especially if, like me, you have no intention of wading thru the massive original. Sometimes it really helps to have others willing to do the hard work. Thanks, Rob, for showing up here to even out the balance a little, not that I’m accusing the Monastery of being balanced.

    • Thanks for mentioning my review, Charles. In fact, I think CM might be planning to borrow from it for part of his series here.

  9. One thing to keep in mind is that these records of violence in the OT often seem to be politically motivated. The Elohist source has a couple of genocidal instances that seem to be concerned about negating any thought that the Israelites had descended from another tribe. The Elohist is concerned about keeping the border tribes within the northern kingdom and keeping them from defecting to surrounding nations. You may find this podcast episode of interest:

    Likewise, Nahum seems to be concerned about the Israelites bringing their tithes to Jerusalem. You may find this article of interest:

    • +1, good stuff!

    • Oh gos, i think it’s pretty clear that they *are* politically motivated! I mean, no question.

      I used to believe thsat Saul’s family snd ruld = black hats, whereas David = white hats. Except for the MANY despicable things David did.

      If you can pull back,far enough to start reading these texts *as* texts – regardless of what you believe about them – you/I/anyone will start seeing them differently, and that multiple questions will be raised as a result. That’s a good thing, imo, because the “voices” within that anthology of 66 books are often discordant. They clash with one another.

      And thank God there is only 1 passage where a writer pronounces blessings on people eho dmash the skulls of gentile babies.

      * As an aside, per a discussion i had once with an evangelical textual scholar, Joshua very literally mimics the form of conquest narratives written by Egyptians and other ANE peoples. In other words, it’s an example of a literary genre in which extreme violence and equally extreme “accounts” of what supposedly happened during military conquests are employed. He gave me some sources, but i don’t have them handy.

      • Yes, Numo, I would call Joshua a “saga” — a heroic tale of old about how a nation came to possess its homeland via great and decisive victories. Some might even call it jingoistic propaganda, especially when you compare it with the less than rosy picture given of the conquest by Judges. If Pete Enns is correct and the archaeology does not support that these events actually took place as written, then we may have an example here of what you referred to: a nation advertising itself as powerful, with a powerful Warrior God, in terms that the surrounding nations would understand.

        • Well, if we agree on Joshua being post-exilic…. i dunno. Every ancient epic has fighting and deities, often deities backing different groups of people snd fighting for them and/or against them. The Illiad comes to mind.

          The thing is, there are so many mythic elements in Joshua, like the grapes. And the walls of Jericho, which is disproved by archaeology. And everything is utterly genocidal, and the Canaanites are a kind of moral poison, and Achan *must* die, because every single thing *must* be destroyed, even if it’s as innocuous as a cooking pot. It’s all SO absolute.

          Conquests don’t happen like that. I do think it’s propaganda for both a particular view of God and of Israel, and it’s being used to justify some really bad theology and actions in the here and now.

          The Torah and following have SO many voices in them, and, I’m sure, so many hands. I find all the political wrangling and “my God is better thsn your god” stuff in the “historicsl” books pretty hard to stomach these days, but most of the Psalms, the 1st creation story in Genesis, many parts of Isaiah… they’re sublime. (And often literally poetic, which strikes a chord with me.)

  10. Klasie Kraalogies says

    This wasn’t the road I trod. But looking back, I might have. Shall there not come a point where a person has to take his/her courage in hand and ask – am I holding on to vapour? Is it not exactly what it seems like, and only that? Nothing more? Shall I not just grab onto the beauty of the tale, and the glory of the moral struggle, and leave it there, without imbuing it with a divinity that will strip away both and leave me shivering in indecisive angst, or stomping in fundamentalist certainty?

    No need to answer. It is a rhetorical question.

    • Robert F says

      Indeed, Klasie, indeed. I’m still hanging in there, trying to hold onto Christian faith, but there are days when I feel the death of a thousand qualifications closing in on me…

    • Robert F says

      Many Christians, myself included, want to invoke the authority of Jesus for the way we navigate through ethical and theological difficulties, in the Bible, in the church and in life. But Jesus was first of all a man, truly limited by his time and place. As a human being, he was wrong about some things, including theological issues, precisely because of his real humanity. It’s no good looking to him for justification for all the paths we attempt through the ethical and theological thickets; he did not wrestle with a stricken conscience over the violence of the OT God, he was not a twenty-first century man. These are our struggles, not his. We should learn to shoulder them without the fiction of having a divine imprimatur.

      • Being “first of all a man”, why are you so certain that Jesus did not wrestle with the violence of the OT God/ OT witness? It seems like a very human thing to do.

        • Robert F says

          I accept your point. I’m not omniscient, and all human beings share certain concerns and characteristics, regardless of era. But the NT certainly does not depict him wrestling with any such disquietude, while it does show him affirming the Jewish scriptural portrait of God without qualification. Once again, this does not mean that he taught his own disciples to follow the example of Old Testament Israel with regard to treatment of other peoples and enemies; he most emphatically did not, because he was inaugurating a new era at the end of the old age. The NT depicts him and the first Christian communities as expecting the imminent coming of the new era in all its power, and the end of the old. That coming was clearly expected by them to include judgment, and violence. That the experience of his resurrected presence, loving and forgiving and not vengeful in the least, did not completely derail the expectation that he would come again to judge and avenge illustrates the perennial psychological power of such a religious expectation. I do not believe he is ever coming again with judgment and violence in tow; his judgment and vengeance were set aside on the cross in favor of forgiveness and reconciliation, and he has already returned in the fullness of his power with these life-giving gifts, not weapons, in his hands.

          • Robert, I think you make too much of a disjunction between the “old age” and the “new age.” Jesus was an Israelite and in the Sermon on the Mount, etc., he gave a better explanation of the Jewish faith than all who went before him. He did not come to abolish that, remember, but to fulfill it.

            • Robert F says

              There are expressions of continuity, and discontinuity, in the way the Jesus of the Gospels and the New Testament in general address this issue. But what attracts his disciples to him, and gains him a hearing from the crowds and the notice of the religious authorities, is that his teaching is new in its authoritative tone and its content. “Turn the other cheek…. Give to all that ask…Go the extra mile….Forgive without limit….”: these and others are new teachings, for a new way of being as individuals and communities in the world.

          • Well, there is no treatise about violence recorded, no deliberations.

            Jesus own usage of the OT defies the category of “original intent” (Pete Enns has a great set of chapters in The Bible Tells Me So starting with “Jesus Gets a Big Fat F in Bible”). And there are choices and paths that point away from the tribalistic wrath that was expected (and often desired). There is continuity with the OT, but there is also discontinuity. Let me throw out 3 quick things in regards to wrestling, particularly in the context of vocation. Just on the fly here, so very preliminary.

            (1) There’s a lot of talk (NT Wright comes to mind) about Jesus embodying the story and vocation of Israel. Now I have a lot of questions about the role that “being a blessing to the world” really played (historically speaking). It can be extracted from the text, sure. But in any case, Israel itself means “wrestles with God”. About what? Probably just about everything. I don’t want to take such an image so far, but it’s interesting.

            (2) The 3rd temptation – “all of these kingdoms I will give to you.” This is at the outset, the shaping of how his life and ministry will move forward. I see the temptation here being to take these kingdoms by a means other than one that leads to and is the cross.

            (3) “Get behind me Satan” – again the temptation and the wrestling involves the path to or away from the cross. Peter certainly sees no victorious path to the cross. It does not appear to reveal the ways of God. One can read OT texts and understand why. Jesus seems to say otherwise. The “judgment” of this world is at the cross. Whatever divine wrath is, it can’t be viewed apart from the wrath of the lamb.. I won’t even get into all the penal substitution stuff.

            Are these about violence directly? Eh. But I think the issues of violence and who God is are interwoven with the story and are inseparable from it.

            • Robert F says

              I concede your three points, but still do not see how they even begin to add up to a rejection or repudiation on the part of Jesus of the OT depiction of God as both loving and violent. Jesus is blazing a new path, and teaching a new way, no doubt; therein is his struggle, because no one has ever undertaken the new path that he is alone is forging. That path involves turning away from violence and coercion, which means that it also involves a mighty struggle with his own human fears and desires. As you said, there is continuity, and discontinuity. What Jesus teaches and does certainly expresses that, though God in the OT utilized violence to achieve his goals, this will no longer be the case; and his forgiving presence to them after his death shows the disciples the pacific nature of God’s intentions for them and the world. That makes it all the more amazing,and all too human, that the New Testament community so quickly fell back into the track of imagining a vengeful consummation of the age. I consider this a relapse into expectations of the old, dead age.

              • Dana Ames says


                Consider the “all things” passages in the NT that refer to Jesus:
                “All things have been delivered to me by the Father.” (Mt 11, Lk 10)
                “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” (Jn3, Jn 13)
                Yet for us there is…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things… (1Cor8)
                …all things are put in subjection under him… (1Cor15)
                …the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1)
                He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Eph 4)
                He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1)

                And here’s the whole point:
                For in him ****all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,**** and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1)

                Jesus didn’t have to speak anything. What he DID, both as a human being and AS GOD (because the fullness of God dwelt in him), is the ultimate repudiation of the OT depiction of God. He voluntarily ascended the cross and allowed himself to be killed. If all things are united in him, then on the cross he was swallowing up in himself all those things that pertain to that depiction, whether they “happened in history” or not. I pray you are able to come to see that.


                • Robert F says

                  I don’t understand why you think it’s important for me to agree with you in this. I happen to hold a view of Jesus’ humanity which does not preclude him possibly having been wrong theologically and morally about the character of God the Father. I believe Jesus likely thought that divine violence and love were not incompatible, and that he may have held this view throughout his life right to the time of his Passion. That does not mean that I think he commended violence to his followers: I don’t. It does not mean that I think he is or was any less God: I don’t. It does mean that I don’t believe his Godhead informed his humanity in such a way that he was never wrong about moral and theological matters. Jesus’ Godhead did not reside in or depend on his correct human thinking and opinion.

                  • Dana Ames says


                    It’s not that I think you need to agree with me. I could, of course, be wrong. I just don’t think there’s as much distance between Jesus’ divinity and his humanity as it seems you do. As the fullness of a human being, he had perfect communion with the Father. That doesn’t mean that in his humanity he didn’t know certain facts. But being the fullness of a human being in that communion, no, I don’t think he was wrong about moral and theological matters. I might not be understanding exactly what you mean, but I refer you to the Definition of Chalcedon. It’s not the “final word” on the matter – because, who can ultimately define God, anyway? we don’t have the words, and the Fathers understood that – but it has been accepted as reality by most of the Church, east and west, since it was written and ratified.

                    All we’re doing in this thread is discussing the very things about who Jesus is, exactly, that were the topics of the first ecumenical councils – nothing really important 😉

                    My point is that Christ on the Cross – AS GOD – is the ultimate repudiation of any “divine violence” because he’s the true revelation of who God is. It is through this lens that we have to grapple with what’s in the OT, not the other way around.


                    • Robert F says

                      On the point you make in your last paragraph I can agree with you completely, if you don’t isolate Christ on the cross from the resurrected Jesus. I believe that the resurrected being of Jesus altered the meaning and nature of the past that came before the resurrection. In his resurrection, the past stopped determining the present, and the present started determining the past.

                    • Dana Ames says

                      Yes indeed! New Creation!


      • Robert, what is an example of a theological issue that Jesus was wrong about? I’ve honestly never heard that claim before, so I’m really clueless about what you’re referring to.

        • Robert F says

          His acceptance as accurate of the OT depiction of God as psychotically violent, and as ordering psychotic violence.

          • Fortunately, we know better than that, from his own example, right?

            • Robert F says

              I know no such thing.

            • Robert F says

              Do you, Miguel, view the violence in the depiction of the OT God as being incompatible with the love of God as he really is? Do you acknowledge that there is error in this portrait of God?

              • Robert F says

                I ask this question not to pry, Miguel, but because I know there are completely mentally and morally sane Christians in the twenty-first century, people who strive to live according to the Golden Rule and follow other of Jesus’ teachings, decent, ordinary people, who nevertheless believe that the OT depiction of God, violence included, is absolutely accurate both as history and as expression of God’s character. They see no incompatibility between a loving God, and a God of violence. If such people exist in the twenty-first century and are able to hold similar views without following a way of violence themselves, then why should I not believe that Jesus held such views in the first century while preaching and following a new way of non-violence love for all?

              • Robert F says

                Or perhaps our disagreement is the result of you not seeing the OT God’s violence as psychotic, while I do?

    • Klasie, it strikes me that you and I are not all that far apart in that somewhere along the way we decided to follow “Truth” wherever it might lead us. I don’t think too many people actually make that commitment other than in lip service. In my view it is a dangerous commitment to make unless there is a concomitant determination not to be bamboozled as far as humanly possible.

      Where we may differ is in the reliance we place on human intelligence and logic and reason. Probably you as a scientist regard these attributes as of first importance, tho I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I regard them as prime territory for bamboozlement, which is why I not only only keep a grain of salt handy for the pronouncements of science, but for the pronouncements of theologians as well. Logic and reason are wonderful tools which make it possible for us to advance far beyond an animal level of living, but they are only tools, and if they are in fact the only tools in a person’s tool belt, that person is greatly handicapped.

      Klasie, I’m glad you hang out here. I would much rather drink a beer or two with you than with most church people I know in the meat world, not including most of those here. There is a definite Light at the end of this tunnel and I think we are both headed in the same direction. I’m guessing that most of us finding ourselves suddenly on the Other Side, if in fact such a thing exists, will find out that we have picked up a wacky idea or two along the way.