January 17, 2021

Our Misogynist, Genocidal God, And Other Supposed Problems With The Bible

There are some Old Testament representations that can understandably give us Christians headaches, especially when we want to represent the Bible as inspired of God, authoritative, and trustworthy. We affirm (for good reason) that God is good and loving, and yet it is hard to reason through what seems to be endorsements of cultural sins such as sexism, racism, genocide, and slavery.

This specter has been raised time and time again, whenever I’m engaged in discussions with skeptics. And honestly, I think a lot of gut-reaction responses by well-meaning Christian apologists only cause more distraction from the truth, ironically—all in an effort to defend the integrity of Scriptures . . . as we modernists would define such.

So I want to suggest what I think is a very important, fundamental theological theme that is evident throughout the entirety of the Bible, and which should be weighed in any of these kind of discussions: God condescends (condescends in a good way); that is, God is always about meeting people where they are as he draws them to himself.

The ultimate example of this is of course recounted in the Bible’s Gospels, where Christianity knows God to have become a human being. Paul describes in Philippians 2:5-11 how Jesus, being in his nature God, humbled himself to the point of being a servant (irony of ironies—the absolute sovereign becomes the slave). But this has been God’s M.O. throughout the Biblical record, as it is to this very day. It’s necessarily so if you’re going to have the proposition that the infinite being, omniscient, omnipotent, is going to be in a love relationship with the finite, limited-in-knowledge, and limited-in-power.

If God is to love the beings whom he created, he is necessarily going to have to bend over and look the two-year-old in the eye (as it were).

What we have in the Bible’s awkward Old Testament moments is God engaging fallen, screwed-up people who have their own cultures and who have created their own ideologies and religious world views; and yet he’s nevertheless going to communicate to them on a level they can understand. He will have a relationship with them, and inevitably he will be misunderstood and misrepresented in the process. How else can finite beings represent the infinite but in finite terms? How are material, flesh, animal people such as humans going to fathom Absolute Spirit?

But, we remember . . . God inspired those humans in the documenting of their encounters with him. And perhaps some other time we can pop open that particular can of worms over what exactly inspiration means. But all of Christian orthodoxy acknowledges it does not mean dictation—not as Islam or Mormonism have it with their respective sacred texts. God didn’t dictate the words, nor did he have some angel do it. God “inspired.”  While all of Scriptures are uniquely inspired and supremely reliable and true above any other text penned by man, God didn’t pen the words himself. That’s because he condescends—he works with and through finite and even fallen people.

However inspiration works, infinite God works with finite humans to record their experiences . . . from infinity to finitude, there is going to be a great deal lost in the translation. But how can this be helped? The alternative is to have nothing to do with humans.

So God works with sexists, slave masters, bigots, rapists, murderers, and . . . you name it. If God is going to work with such—if he’s going to not wash his hands of the whole lot, or worse yet, spiritually rape them all by forcing them to love him for their own good (i.e., the evil of compromising their moral wills)—then he’s going to get dirty in the process. The people with whom he relates are inevitably going to misrepresent him or act in a way that is inconsistent with being his friend. That’s the sacrifice of condescension—that’s the spirit of incarnation.

This means that, yes—there are occasions in the Old Testament where God comes off rather sexist. That’s because it’s the only thing the fallen two-year-olds knew, and that’s how they saw God. The same goes for New-Testament-era slave masters who have only known such a means of existence in culture for centuries. How else is God going to engage a world that has not yet begun to comprehend the various political and economic systems we’re still trying to work out to this day?

This is why God’s M.O. has also always been progressively revealing, through Scripture. God reveals more of his nature as people and culture are ready, up to the occasion of the fullness of time, when God the Son came to fulfill the picture that was previously incomplete. The God of the Old Testament is not different from the God of the New Testament: just limited in his revelation, for the sake of his people.

We finite and fallible beings will always fall short in fully perceiving and comprehending the truth that God defines. Even so, we want to insist objective truth means if God’s word says eating meat offered to idols is sin, then it is sin . . . and yet Paul insists it depends upon (i.e., it’s relative to) one’s faith relationship with God. Or Moses’ law specifically prescribes criteria for divorce, and yet Jesus will insist that law (though inspired in its writing by God) was established because of their hard-heartedness, and Jesus proceeds to redefine it. Or for that matter, any amount of righteous and good works can be no more than filthy rags to God when performed out of relationship with God—this though “absolute truth” (as if humans could perceive it) should demand good works (righteous acts) are what they are, and must always be so, regardless of relationship or motive or understanding.

The Old Testament accounts amount to a parent kneeling down to eye-level with a two-year-old and speaking in simple, short sentences. God was engaging and inspiring iron-age people. A thousand years later or so, God was looking the young-teen more eye-to-eye when he himself did the ultimate condescension by becoming a human. But still he was limiting himself and speaking our very finite and inadequate languages.

Now we effective young-adult followers are reading the accounts of how he dealt with us when humanity was effectively children, and though still quite immature, we have far more understanding and knowledge than we did in our (humanity’s) early development.

So while there are absolute truths, God’s application of them is what is different, depending upon the audience . . . much like a parent establishing rules about never going into the street for a two-year-old child, but 14 years later the rule changes (now that teenager is the menace on the streets). The application is relative to the child’s age and relationship with the parent; but there is an absolute truth from which the application derives (streets with automobiles are dangerous, for instance). Is the 16-year-old really going to protest the rules of entering into streets having changed—that the parents are somehow inconsistent and arbitrary?

Regardless of our relative maturity, God has always been about engaging and participating in the human story—he’s no deist’s God. He is imminent. But he’s so imminent that he was engaging iron-age cultures exactly where they were. They had what seem to us bizarre religious and cultural understandings, which God nevertheless works through. And likewise they were surviving in a hostile world that would establish and further societies only by violence and war.

One might protest that it must be sinking too low for God to be represented as giving at least tacit approval to supposed genocide on a few occasions when the Israelites were moving into Canaan, for instance. But only so if you’re going to insist that God himself is somehow beholding to the same code of morality that the people whom he created are (should it be iron-age or modernist . . . or  even post-modern), rather than defining morality and truth himself.

The hard reality is, per Christian orthodoxy, God is responsible for every single death throughout human history. (He is sovereign that way.) Whether it be a 99-year-old woman in her sleep, or a two-year-old by a soldier’s sword, God is sovereign and God is responsible. He giveth every biological life, and he taketh it away too . . . “blessed be the Lord.”

We can rewrite history as we please to suit our modern sensibilities, but what is recounted is the way of war in those ancient times. And God’s M.O. has always been to engage and participate, but not to negate volition.

This goes for Scriptures too, then. God does not take over and possess the hand or the mind, or even dictate into the ear of a human scribe. God “inspires” humans, who write of their own volition in response to God’s influence.

So rather than trying to simply dismiss particular events or messages in Scripture that don’t align with our sensibilities of a particular age in history, we interpret the authentic and original meaning, and then apply to our particular contexts. For instance, however the Israelite rationalized the genocide, the truth is God was engaged, God was leading them, and God is responsible for all.

God doesn’t sit around, drumming his fingers, waiting for humanity to get to a level where he can at least work with them. God engages. God condescends. But he will never do what so many skeptics want to keep insisting he should: God won’t force people to love him or be better people.

God is not one of us. But he condescends so as to be among us . . . for our sake.


  1. Aidan Clevinger says

    I definitely track with you on the whole issue of God’s sovereignty. But some of the other things I think I have to say I disagree a little. For instance; you seemed to suggest that people have gotten better over time, and that God has been able to reveal the “better” parts of Himself over time. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think that we’ve gotten any better since the Fall, and I think that Israel was far from morally or spiritually “ready” when Jesus came. We might have traded out our particular vices for other ones, ones that are less messy, but we’re still just as sinful and evil.

    Also, what is good? For my part, I think good = whatever God is. I don’t think that God is or can be judged by any standard external to Himself. I think that your strongest point – progressive revelation – actually addresses that by pointing out that His grace and mercy became clearer as He revealed Himself more and more, culminating in Jesus’ life and death. But I don’t think that God decided to be “more moral” along the road. After all, if He countenanced the evils of the people in the past, then why doesn’t He do the same for me? I’m getting the short end of the stick, aren’t I? Why doesn’t God give me license to lust, or to be arrogant, or to lie, or do any other of the nasty things that I’m prone to doing?

    I suppose I would ask you to define what the “sexist” segments of the Bible are. Maybe I’m just behind the times, but I’m all right with the idea that there’s a division of labor and duties between men and women, without having either sex be superior or inferior to the other.

    Also, I don’t believe in free will, nor do I believe that predestination is God “raping” the soul, but that’s a discussion for another time. 😉

    • Aidan, I know this is a “topic for another day” but nonetheless I put this concept out before you: If there is no such thing as the reality of free will then there can be no such thing as Actual Personal Sin, Personal Responsibility for one’s actions. Only a being who has a “choice”, the option to make choices, can be considered responsible for such choices. Only a being who can choose to turn away from God can be said to Be a sinner. Someone who has no free will can act sinfully – meaning act contrary to what God would want – but in order to “Be” a sinner there has to be personal responsibility which can only exist if there is the reality to make choices for or against something. A persons ability to choose can be “influenced” by all kinds of things (fears, previous experiences, trauma..etc.) which make the ability to choose “limited” and not Totally “free”. However, if there be no option to choose, to make actual choices(which is what having free will refers to) then there is no way such a person can be considered to BE a sinner – only a being who behaves sinfully because of conditioning factors that “make” them act such.

      • Aidan Clevinger says

        I think that part of our disagreement (though maybe not all of it) lies in my poor choice of words. Put it to you this way: I believe that we are “free” in the sense that we are “willing” – that is, we do good or evil things because we want to. However, I also believe that, before Baptism (or conversion), we only *want* to do evil things and never *want* to do good things. Likewise, God, in Baptism, does not “make” us believe per se – He changes our hearts, minds, and souls so that we do believe and, consequently, so that we *want* to do good. Perhaps “free will” is a bad description for what I meant; would “limited will” or “restricted will” be more amenable?

        • So Scouts only help older ladies across the street because they have been converted?!?

          • Aidan Clevinger says

            I was referring to good before God (which can only happen by faith) instead of good before our fellow man (which can happen based on a lot of things). God demands perfection, which only comes by faith in Christ. We have different standards because we don’t see the heart.

    • The Previous Dan says

      I was with you right up until the last paragraph. But I do believe in free will. Unlike Piper and Lady Gaga (Born This Way) I believe that in His sovereignty, God has given us latitude. But you’re right; That is a discussion for another time.

    • Aidan: I would regret if I seemed to suggest that “people have gotten better over time, and that God has been able to reveal the “better” parts of Himself over time.” Human nature remains the same as it was since the fall: independent of God (sin), we are in darkness and incapable of righteousness of ourselves–thus we are prone to fulfill our sin nature by being sinful (doing various evil acts, which are only after all symptoms of the real problem: original sin).

      But that’s not what I’m getting at. We’ve not improved in terms of righteousness or morality. But we’ve grown in knowledge and understanding. The problem is with modernist Western thought’s propensity to equte the two. Knowledge is not relationship, nor is it truth; neither is intelligence or reason. The far more relevant measure of truth and morality has to do with love and our capacity to love (God and others). This is why Jesus could even use a child’s faith as a model for what it means to be a citizen of his kingdom.

      Just go with the analogy of growing up itself: is an adult any more righteous or moral in his or her nature than a child? Hardly. Growing up and being more intelligent and worldly-wise does not make one more moral, righteous, or even a better person by any stretch. (Often the evidence in human nature could suggest the opposite.)

      It wasn’t just sophistication of knowledge by which we differ today from iron-age believers. It’s not even so betwen modern cultures today, without the separation of ages and technology.

      Childeren want God to just give a bottom line: is it wrong to go into streets or not? As I think I’ve shown, there are so many occasions in Scripture where God effectively shrugs his shoulders and says, “Depends.” What it depends upon, largely, is the one absolute–your relationship with God.

      • Aidan Clevinger says

        I think I see what you’re getting at. And I think I agree to a point. But I don’t think the change was in Israel’s knowledge so much as I think it was a progression of God’s revelation. It wasn’t that the Israelites discussed Yahweh for a couple of decades and said, “You know what? He’s a nice guy, after all”. It was just part of God’s decision as to when He would give the fullness of His revelation. To tell the truth, I see the whole “genocide” thing as just part of Law/Gospel – God, according to the Law, condemns us for sin and curses us with death. In the case of the Amorites et. all He simply used the Israelites to do it (for those specific occasions, mind you, not as a general rule). I know the argument’s probably been beaten to death, but there’s a fine line between “killing” and “murder”; the first is killing when God sanctions it, the second is killing when He doesn’t. Repulsive though it may seem to us, it would appear that the wars in Joshua and Exodus were killings of the first kind and not of the second. So I still do confess the “absoluteness” of the Law, and – consequently – the “absoluteness” of the Gospel.

        Perhaps I’m not apologetically minded, but whenever people raise questions such as these I try to give as best an answer I can (like the above) and then, eventually, get to the point where I have to say: “Human life is in God’s hands, particularly fallen human life. We might not like it and we might not understand it, but He knows what’s best and He’s going to act accordingly”. Not that questioning is bad, by any means, but I think we have to realize that there’s a point at which we’re not going to find answers and we can only speculate, which should always be done carefully. I suppose that, for me, this issue is one of those points. But I could be wrong – it’s a good issue to bring up, at any rate, and I’m glad this article did.

        • I’m tracking with you, Aidan.

          But just to throw a wrench in (not just yours, but all of) our works: “God, according to the Law, condemns us for sin and curses us with death. In the case of the Amorites et. all He simply used the Israelites to do it (for those specific occasions, mind you, not as a general rule). I know the argument’s probably been beaten to death, but there’s a fine line between “killing” and “murder”; the first is killing when God sanctions it, the second is killing when He doesn’t.”

          . . . on the one hand I wouldn’t differ; but on the other: just what circumstance in all of human history would be out of God’s control? Murders and wars included?

          When we start protesting that God is absolutely sovereing, we after all have to give God his due. There is no evil that was taking place back in ancient O.T. times over which he has any less control than the evils going on right now all over the world. God is sovereing, and yet we have Ruwandan genocides, Syrian crack downs, or slaughterings of Afghan civilians, women, and children in their sleep. Just because the OT Scriptures represent its manifestations of the human condition with God’s seeming approval doesn’t make God any less relevant and responsible for what is going on around us all day, every day.

          . . . or is our God not as sovereign as all that?

          • Aidan Clevinger says

            Oh no, God is perfectly sovereign. But right about here’s the point at which I invoke the Lutheran cop-out “it hasn’t been revealed”. God is perfectly sovereign, yet people are responsible for their own evil choices. Everything evil a person does is their own fault, everything good they do is solely because of God. I think that the cross is the solution to these tensions and the final say on the problems of evil, pain, death, etc. Beyond that, all I can do is wait and see.

            You see, of course, the reason that I’m not an apologist.

    • here is a “sexist” verse : Deuteronomy 20:14:”As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.”

      • Right–fair enough. And just reading that verse in its context, you can see it is written in third person. It’s the fallen, fallble, sinful author, who is at best nonethtless inspired by our condescending God. (Though he’s no more sinful and fallible than any other human who has ever written anything in all of human history. At least he’s inspired by God, even in his falliblity.) It’s the very same God who himself became a human so that he could be subjected to the same such attrocities . . . and worse. Seriously–if one is going to complain about how God’s people treated others and one another in the Old Testament, Jesus is going to be nodding and pointint to the conclusion of the Gospel story, saying, “Boy, don’t I know it. They/you did it to me.”

      • Sexist is a term of the 20th and 21st century. Back at the time of deuteronomy women outdside of Israel were considered property and inside not much better. So God revealed himself at the level those who were living at the time could understand. To read scriptures through our 21st century eyes and expect it to live up to what we have evolved to today could be a bit of a stretch. That is why, at the time of Joshua, when he and the exile hoard were making there way through Israel slaughtering all in one town while sparing some in others – this was the norm of the time.

    • I don’t believe any human’s will is absolutely free either. This debate (over determinism) goes on even among atheist empricists, you know. “Free” will has become hyperbole in modernist discussions, among us Christians too. The absolutely “free” will is in all honesty a straw man.

      My point is, we do have wills; and having such need not compromise in the least God’s absolute sovereignty.

      If you must know, I’m a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of guy . . . I not only love paradox, I believe it’s the typical and necessary symptom of truth.

      It is God’s perfect and sovereign will that you have volition enough to choose against his will.

  2. So the Old Testament has all those evil verses in it, because God could only inspire it by working through fallible human authors. What about the New Testament? What about the early church? Were they any more reliable, or should we take them with a grain of salt too? For that matter, everything you wrote above is the product of a certain culture.

    • I don’t know what you mean by “evil verses.” The Scriptures simply recount what happened. We must interpret them accordingly. As with any text (even uninspired included), one must interpret–there are some texts that are prescriptive (they tell us what to do), and there are some that are descriptive (they tell us what happened). MOST of the Bible by far is the latter–they simply recount what people did, and how God engaged and interacted and and even reacted.

      What about the NT? How is the description of God’s own crucifixion on a cross at the hands of those whom he created any less an evil circumstance. That’s certainly descriptive, not prescriptive.

      What history ver penned by human hand could be considered any more reliable or true than those in the Bible? Reliability is not at question by skeptics–only the illogical and unreasonable demand for a perfection that is impossible in human terms, and in human language.

      • In Deuteronomy 20: 13-17, God prescribes (not describes) genocide for some and slavery (perhaps sexual slavery) for others:

        “and when the LORD your God gives it [an enemy city] into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites, as the LORD your God has commanded.”

        There are others. The New Testament contains problematic passages as well, especially in Paul’s epistles. Of course anything might be regarded as an “imperfection,” as you put it (to the extent that imperfection can be admitted in a supposedly perfect work), and there is vigourous discussion about what to make of apparently sexist or anti-gay verses.

  3. I don’t know, Craig. I get the whole divine condecension thing. This makes sense to me.

    But I still have trouble reading Joshua. It seems to me, in that case, that God is not so much lowering himself to the level of an Iron Age people and trying at least to nudge them in the right direction (as is clearly the case in, say, the laws regarding divorce). In fact, they seem very reluctant to go in and kill all the women and children and God has to keep pressuring and pushing them to do so and threatening punishments if they don’t. I don’t think divine condecension is adequate to explain that. It can explain a lot of OT stuff, but not that.

    One could say, of course, that this was merely the Israelites’ perception of what God wanted and in fact thay misrepresented Him and wrote that He commanded them to do things that He didn’t actually command them to do, but I’m uncomfortable with the implications of that way of reading the text.

    I don’t know what the answer is, frankly. I believe Marcion was way off, but at least in this one case Marcionism seems to have some traction.

    • I honestly believe that God was protecting future generations of humanity itself… “There is nothing new under the sun” that includes diseases capable of destroying civilization… i believe that there were all kinds of diseases that were propagated by other religions and God was telling them that those belief systems could not continue, nor the diseases that they carried… Why else would fire and Brimstone be necessary for Sodom and Gomorrah? God requests of us what is needed at that moment, He is not willing that any should perish, but there is always a reason for his actions and instructions and whether we “get it ” at the time or not, or agree with it centuries later or not; makes no nevermind to GOD… HE sees what we cannot and acts accordingly, in LOVE for HIS creation…

    • Glen: I certainly wouldn’t want to have come across as having simplistic answers to some of the most profoundly difficult questions represented in Scripture. But I think there is something an answer there, nonetheless–especially when you consider that God is responsible for all death. There is not a single death in all of human history for which God is not responsible ultimately. He is necessarily where the ultimate buck must always stop. He is (as I said) certainly sovereign that way. When I think of it in those terms, it seems rather petty to be taking exceptions to particular forms of death that I’m going to especially hold God responsible for. I really think his response should be, “Ummm . . . frankly, I’m the author of it all. I really do get to make the call, and it is–everyone dies.” You want to talk about genocide? God lets all of humanity die throughout human history.

      The story in Joshua is descriptive of particular circumstances in a particular time in history. So we need to take from it what is described and interpret and apply it according to all else that we know of God, as described throughout Scriptures (nonetheleast of which must be God’s own subjecting himself to being tortured and murdered at the hands of the people whom he himself created).

      See, the difference is . . . God defines morality, he doesn’t live by it. He IS the truth, he doesn’t follow codes of conduct. The very hard reality for we self-made-gods is, there’s no holding accountable the one true God.

      • Yes, God is ultimately responsible for all death. I don’t have a problem with that, or with the idea of killing for that matter. I believe in Just War Theory. But it wasn’t an earthquake or tornado that wiped out the Canaanites- God commanded human beings to do it. I can abstract myself from it to an extent if I want to. But the moment I put myself in the position of an Israelite soldier, fulfilling a command to wipe out every living thing in whole cities, going from house to house slaughtering whoever he finds regardless of age or sex, my stomach churns. Judas Maccabeus I sympathise with. God using the Babylonians to conquer Jerusalem is something I can comprehend. Even taking on the Amorites I don’t find impossible to reconcile. But this…. I struggle mightily with accepting God would positively command a group of people to wash their hands in innocent blood, especially when their inclinations might easily have led them to do otherwise.

        And I don’t think God defines morality rather than living by it. That’s what the Greek gods did. That’s what God in the Muslim understanding does. But I don’t believe God could have made stealing an act of virtue just as easily as make it a sin. God IS good. It is His nature. Morality is defined by God in the sense that it ultimately derives from His nature, not in the sense that He can choose which acts are good and which are evil arbitrarily.

        So you’re right, we can’t hold God accountable. But likewise, He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). So when we see actions attributed to God that seem inconsistent with His revealed character, it is not wrong to puzzle over, or even struggle desperately with, the apparent inconsistency and its implications. Which, in fact, is the course you recommend and is what we’re doing here.

        • One thing to consider is that OT scripture tends to focus primarily on the Jews and their doings, while other people and nations are peripheral. We get to see Israel and Judah’s progressions into increasing wickedness, idolatry and rebellion against God in great detail. So when God finally brings in the Assyrians and Babylonians to enact His judgement, the horrors and near extermination visited on Abraham’s descendants seems to have a more morally justifiable — or, at least, more understandable — basis. We get to see the whole story of how God blessed them, protected them, tried to instruct them, and showed them more patience and mercy than any human ruler would be capable of — and, then, after centuries of spitting in the face of the One who had rescued and delivered them with His own hand countless times, and when they finally crossed a certain line of moral depravity (and I don’t pretend to know where that line is) He lowered the boom.
          However, when it comes to the Canaanites or Sodom or whoever, scripture usually only tells us the end of their story. It doesn’t tell us what kind of efforts God may have made or mercies He extended or how long He was merciful towards them. So, with their back story missing, God’s wrath appears needlessly malicious or arbitrary.
          We humans are barely qualified to judge ourselves, much less other people — and certainly not whole groups of people. But He is qualified to judge groups and tribes and nations and empires, and I believe that He sometimes does exercise judgement on whole societies and cultures for the well-being, safety, and survival of the human species.

  4. ahumanoid says

    “For instance, however the Israelite rationalized the genocide, the truth is God was engaged, God was leading them, and God is responsible for all.”

    Don’t we need to at least mention the fact that the archeological record doesn’t support anything like the conquest narratives as described in places like Joshua?

    Why is it that most Christians fail to mention this when discussing these disturbing images?

    • Because the archeological record fails to support many other things (such as the Exodus, or the Davidic Kingdom, or the Massacre of the Innocents) which Christians are more reluctant to abandon belief in. Anyway, they usually experience the Bible as a story read to them piecemeal. Few study history or archeology, or think to contextualize the Bible in this way, and those who do read books are likely to select outdated, conservative authors who seem likely to affirm their already-chosen beliefs.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Anyway, they usually experience the Bible as a story read to them piecemeal.

        As in disconnected one-verse proof texts?

    • I was thinking this too. It’s not discussed very often. if you would like Peter Enns has an article on the issue here :http://peterennsonline.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/exodus-and-the-problem-of-historiography-rr-new-version-final-dec-05.pdf

    • Because regardless of what archaelogical records show, we are certain that all Scriptures are inspired of God. This would be no less true if particular stories turned out to be myths (which, by the way, has been so often alleged by science over the past century with so many stories, only to be proved historically valid by archaelogy later [as in the Philistines, for instance]).

      Even if Joshua were entirely a contrivance, we’d still believe it to be a contrivance inspired by God, and thus no less reliable and true and profitable for doctrine, correction, and instruction in righteousness. We would believe God uniquely inspired the telling for a purpose then, and still to this day. (This is much the same with great works of ancient literature, such as the Illiad or Odyssey–they still apply and relate today, even if we must work harder at understanding culture and history. The difference between those and the Bible’s, even if there were myths–we believe the stories of the Bible to be uniquely inspired by God and therein truer than any history a finite human mind could work up.)

      Having said that, I don’t believe the OT histories are myths. The point is, we too easily confuse perceived historical facts as “true.” Those are not the “truth” that Jesus called himself, when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth is consistent with facts (historical, even, at times); but it’s FAR more than the mere facts.

      • well said Craig , I believe alot of the old testament stories are myths ( well the vast majority of the first five books). But i still find them valuable and inspired , because they still point towards Christ(Christocentric hermeneutic changed my life).

  5. Yet another piece written by a human trying to explain God.
    I will always have trouble reconciling the god of the Old Testament with the god of the New Testament.
    If he was loving an kind all along, why didn’t he teach that to his Iron Age children?
    We, as human parents, correct our two year olds when they do something wrong.
    I think the article was a bad analogy that makes excuses for the actions documented in the Old Testament.
    I guess that’s why they are called “apologetics”.

    • Ask the two-year-old who his father is, and then check back with him 14 years later. The father is the same, but the child will tell you he’s a completely different person than the one he knew as a child.

      God doesn’t change–it’s the audience that changes.

      And as per “Yet another piece written bay human trying to explain God” . . . only to the extent as I acknowleged: the finite and fallible trying to represent the infinite and infallible. How else can such a representation happen but fallibly and finitely?

      • Yet the the child needs the constant influence of being pointed in the right direction until they reach that place where society considers them as adults. Hopefully, if influenced correctly by the parents, he/she doesn’t go out and commit crimes against humanity and say, “My father instructed me to do this.”

        It is admittedly a long process and you always hope you have had a positive influence on your child. In the end, they are still your child but responsible for their own actions.

        However, if the parent did raise the child to commit crimes against humanity for his/her own personal gain, the parent is just as guilty of the crimes.

    • The God of the New Testament promised to come again to judge the living and the dead, separating the goats and the sheep. The God of the Old Testament sent Jonah to preach to the pagan Ninevites, and spared them destruction when they repented.

      They are the same God.

      Also, people don’t change. For example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/16/escape-north-korea-prison-camp

      How much lee-way should a loving God give his hateful children to annihilate each other before he steps in?

  6. Even if people are acting on divine inspiration, it doesn’t mean they follow through with actions that perfectly represent that inspiration. It seems we are willing to accept this for our own lives and people that are alive now, but not for people who’s actions are recorded in the OT.

    I guess I just don’t buy this as an explanation:

    “But only so if you’re going to insist that God himself is somehow beholding to the same code of morality that the people whom he created are (should it be iron-age or modernist . . . or even post-modern), rather than defining morality and truth himself.”

    In one sense, it is true that God isn’t beholden to a code of morality, but on the other hand, God is not capricious. He isn’t like an alcoholic father who may come home in a good mood on one night or in a bad mood on another. In some ways, I feel Christians hide behind this type of excuse like a wife defending said husband to her children – “he loves us kids, but its in his own special way…” If we can’t depend on God to consistently respond in a way that shows us love, than it seems we really can’t trust Him.

    And I think that’s what the incarnation is all about. Jesus came so that all of our previous attempts to explain God could be silenced. He gave the answer to the question of what God is like. God is Jesus talking to the woman at the well. God is Jesus healing the blind, touching the lepers, raising Lazarus. God is Jesus on the Cross. God is the one who brings life from death.

    • I agree, thank you. While I’m doubtful that a lot of things we want to call “absolute truth” are either, God himself is both. I think it’s curious, but perhaps also to be expected, that we can be so fond of defining as many abstractions as possible as being absolute, and all the while looking around and beyond the one-true-God in the room. Perhaps it’s because that would mean our truth must be relative to a person (i.e., personal even).

      For me, God is absolute; and the telling of his story, by his people as he has inspired them, must be the closest thing to documented truth we can reasonably hope to have.

  7. The Previous Dan says

    Excellent article and discussion starter! As others have mentioned, God’s condescension goes a long way to explain much of what we see in the OT, but there are still those hard areas such as the book of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land.

    But you are right to point out that God’s morality was never the same as men’s. Even our modern morality is most certainly askew, though every comment here will be based upon it. I also think that you are right to point out that the death of EVERYONE is inevitable, so might not an all-knowing God be able to choose the most opportune time of death for a group of people? It sounds very harsh, but if this is just the Vestibule of Eternity and real life waits on the other side then the amount of time we have here and the circumstances of that time diminish in importance. THAT has always been a central tenant of Christianity. But I admit that that sounds very hollow to those who are not sure of an afterlife.

    • “Vestibule of Eternity”? This world matters so much to God that we’re going to spend all eternity right here, albeit after some extensive remodeling. The end of God’s work of redeeming the world will not be us going up to heaven to be with God, but God coming down to live with us here (Rev 21). Our physical bodies matter so much to God that the plan of salvation culminates first with Jesus, and then later the rest of us, being raised in new and incorruptible bodies (1 Cor 15). And God values every part of Creation – not just human beings – so much that in the end, it will all be freed from its “bondage to decay” and brought into the same freedom that Jesus won for us through his resurrection (Rom 8).

      I really can’t see the compassionate God who walked among us in the person of Jesus, and who loves every created thing, being so ambivalent about the suffering and pain and brokenness of this world, even given that God’s end plan is to heal and redeem it all. Rather than saying that death isn’t tragic because eternity awaits us, I take comfort in the fact that God chose to bear suffering and pain and betrayal and despair and death in solidarity _with_ us.

      • The Previous Dan says

        Don’t misconstrue what I am saying. I said “diminish in importance” from that you jumped to “death isn’t tragic. “ There is a huge gap between those two. I have cried at the funerals I have attended because I know from firsthand experience that death is tragic. Even Jesus, the Resurrection and Life, wept at a funeral. Death is still tragic, it just isn’t The Final End. And that is a game changer.

    • Yes, except for one thing. THIS is real life, not what awaits us on the other side. On the other side we are less than fully human. On the other side we wait with longing to be reunited with our bodies in a renewed physical universe. We believe in the resurrection of the body, not in Plato’s unburdened soul flying free of it as a butterfly from a cocoon.

  8. David Cornwell says

    Thank you for your excellent piece. You spell out some of the reasons Calvinism has never appealed to me. I wonder where we are in God’s scheme of things? What’s the reality? Sometimes we seem like a group of squabbling, screaming middle school kids campaigning to see who will be next class president, with the teacher trying to keep some semblance of order. What will Christian historians say about our own convoluted age 200 years from now? The state of the church and His people?

  9. It’s notable that even in the midst of the ugliest genocide passages, there are clear hints that God doesn’t approve of bloodshed: the angel who is neither “for us or for our enemies” (Josh 5:13-15), David not being allowed to build God’s temple because he was a warrior and had shed blood (1 Chr 28:3), etc. The Biblical narrative is a dialogue that brings together voices with totally different ideas of who God is, but there’s always a voice bearing witness to a loving God, and that voice gets louder and louder as the time of Jesus approaches. And, the very fact that it’s a dialogue and not a single voice encourages us to wrestle with God and with Scripture in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t do.

    The Israelites were, as you said, progressively gaining a clearer and clearer understanding of who God is. Each of us has to do the same: we’re walking on a path that has, at the end, God’s perfect revelation in Jesus. If it weren’t for those OT passages, we’d be alone on the path. But instead, the Israelites with their distorted and limited view of God, groping their way half-blindly towards monotheism and towards a God of love, become our companions on the journey. I for one am very thankful that the Spirit, however he guided that process of inspiration, left us with such companions, flawed though they are.

    One thing I would add to your post, though: we have to remember that we _have_ been given a fully trustworthy and perfect revelation of God, in the person of the true Word of God, Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we see who God is. Jesus is the only hermeneutic by which the Bible can be understood. If we try to construct our theology on any framework but Jesus, we end up with a fragmented collection of seemingly contradictory and isolated ideas. And if Jesus is not entirely trustworthy then we have no way to decide whether the passages describing a God of love are more trustworthy than those describing a God of genocide. But if we examine each passage in the light of what Jesus reveals of the character and passions of God and use him as our rubric and guide, we are able to recognize which other passages represent an earlier step along the journey, and also to hear the tiny echoes in them that point to Jesus.

    • Be still my heart, Michael . . beautifully clarified. I am so, so grateful for your addition. Beaituflly and truthfully clarified.

    • Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and THE EXACT IMPRINT OF HIS NATURE, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3a ESV)

  10. This is, ironically, a quintessentially modern approach to Scripture.

    • Good point. I think it’s only particularly so because that’s the audience to whom I’m writing. So perhaps we’re practicing a bit of our own incarnational condescension in this discussion, even. Our culture is no closer to God than was the iron age Israelites’.

      Frankly, I would much rather tell a story. 😉

      • David Cornwell says

        ” I would much rather tell a story.”


      • I think your post presupposes that we are a bit closer to God, because from our vantage point we can critique the silly notions of those two-year-olds to whom God had to condescend and speak in misogynistic, genocidal ways. This is why I say this approach to Scripture is quintessentially modern. It is shot through with what Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”

        The additional irony, of course, is that C. S. Lewis himself practiced the same thing in his approach to Scripture!

        The main reason I don’t buy your approach to the Bible, as much as I appreciate your desire to uphold the inspiration of all Scripture, is because I don’t think Jesus would affirm it.

    • Aaron, I see this as the exact OPPOSITE of a modernist / enlightenment approach, i.e. truth derived via “reason alone”.
      Instead, the condescension is that God chose to REVEAL himself to humanity through entering the human story, and apart from relationship with him, we are incapable of handling the Knowledge of Good and Evil that we had chosen instead of Life.

      • But notice how this post assumes that we, 21st century moderns, have the ability to stand above God’s revelation and sift the good from the bad. It is, at bottom, an appeal to autonomous human reason over divine revelation.

        • I didn’t read it as standing ABOVE God’s revelation; I read it as standing WITHIN God’s revelation, in which later generations benefit from the experience of previous generations.
          So you get Jesus on the road to Emmaus explaining the OT prophecies concerning him in Luke 24.
          In Acts 17:11, the “teenage” Bereans are searching the OLD testament (presumably including the mysogynist/genocidal stories of the “two-year olds”) to see if Paul’s gospel story about the love of Jesus could be true.
          By the time we get to Hebrews 11 and 12, we are told that an OT “cloud of witnesses” (including Joshua at Jericho!) are pointing us to a more excellent way. It is not a way of sutonomous human reason: it is a way of “faith of our fathers”.
          That does not seem like a modernist, wipe-the-slate-clean approach.

          • I applaud Craig’s desire to take the whole OT seriously, but he is not doing the same thing that Jesus was doing on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was showing the disciples how the OT points to him and is fulfilled in him. He was not showing them how God had dirtied himself up and accommodated himself in erroneous ways that Jesus has now come to correct.

            We are all agreed that Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). But I think Craig’s approach entails that he did, in fact, come to correct its errors. But that is hardly consistent with Jesus’ own view that absolutely nothing in the OT Scriptures will pass away until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:17-20) and that the Scripture can never be broken (John 10:35). Jesus acknowledged the infallible authority of Scripture and appealed to it as such.

            Craig’s approach also leaves us with this problem: if entering into history necessarily dirties God up, then the incarnation must necessarily do so as well. Are we then to impute erroneous conceptions of God to Jesus? Are we to look over his shoulder, much like we are being told to look over the shoulders of the OT writers, and point out the places where his view of God was corrupted by first-century Jewish misconceptions?

            I wholeheartedly affirm, with Craig, that all divine revelation is accommodated revelation. All Scripture is anthropomorphic. God condescends to us, he “lisps” as a nurse to a baby, as Calvin said. Thus, our knowledge of God is not univocal but analogical. This is standard orthodox theology.

            Craig’s false assumption, however, appears to be that this biblical idea of accommodation necessarily entails error. But that simply does not follow. Just because something is human in character does not mean it is necessarily stained with falsehood. Just because God does not communicate himself exhaustively does not mean he does not communicate truthfully.

        • Aaron: while I can appreciate why it should appear that I’m allow for biblical accommdation to entail error, things are not as they might appear. Obviously volumes could be (and have been) written on such nuances, and my little piece here isn’t boing to begin to plum the depths. But I nevertheless wanted to broadly broach, so we could start thinking in these terms more deeply than the typical evangelical cliched platitudes.

          God’s condescension and “getting dirty” need not entail his becoming sinful himself (an impossibility, as God cannot be separated from God–original sin cannot apply to the New Adam who is nonetheless God). And likewise neither Jesus, nor the Old Testament Law for that matter, need be in “error” as God condescends–at least not unless one is to insist (erroneously, I’d argue) that incomplete or unfulfilled is in error.

          To my thinking, God’s “supposed” participation in mysogeny, genocide, racism, or slavery need not be sin or error for that matter. Such “lisps” by God are in terms we could understand, not affirmation of such communication itself. They terms and practices of mysogeny in which God relates to a people in their culture will only be remedied through relationship with God–it’s catch 22. The mysogeny is not going to be changed in a people and culture until they have a right understanding and relationship with the truth (i.e., God, in person). But peopel can never have a right relationship with the truth if the Truth demands that they, of their own volition and means, must first correct their errors. So the sinless and inerrant intervenes by condescending. How that can look at any particular moment is as if God not only endorses the error and the sin, but that he is himself a practitioner.

          That’s the “getting dirty”–the risk of misperception by condescending. In bending over for the two-year-old, God’s knees get dirty. That doesn’t make God a two-year-old. God’s speaking in lisps does not necessitate that this is what he understands and practices–that he would endorse such a form of communication. But it also doesn’t mean he is error communicating so.

          Thus, as I’ve argued, the God who gives and takes all life without exception (and the God who himself died along with us), is not legitimately identified as genocidal. Or else he is, as all of human death is ultimately his doing. Why we should take exception to a particular way of war practiced broadly in that world in that history makes no sense to me–God is no less responsible for any war and any murder and any genocide throughout all of human history. Why should any of such be any more or less in “error” for God? This could only be so in a prelapsarian sense, as if the fall of mankind itself was in error.

          What if Harry S. Truman prayed to God intensely and deliberately before sending out the Enola Gay on its mission? What if he felt unequivocally led (directed, even) by God to proceed with dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. And furthermore, what if God had provided Truman with some particularly special revelation of sort for which he could feel confident that God was leading them to proceed?

          . . . or, what if he didn’t?

          In either scenario, could the omnsicient and omnipotent and omnipresent, absolutely sovereign God, be allowed to be any less genocidal than as the Joshua and Deuteronomy scenarios would have it?

          I don’t believe the O.T. Scriptures are in error. But I believe the people whom God inspired were flawed and erroneous. They were products of their inhumane, brutal, and dehumanizing cultures, just as we are today. What you have in much of the descriptive writing of Scripture is just that–non-erroneous descriptions of erroneous and flawed people’s stories in this fallen world. And those same people recount how God was engaging them and leading them and telling them how to live in such a context.

          I don’t see any need for snobbering in acknowledging mysogeny and genocide for what they are, and certainly not for affirm that neither should ever be justifiable practices in our cultures (though some want to argue just that). We should be able to look back on early-church culture and acknowledge that though Paul wrote to include classes of both slaves and masters, that wasn’t an endorsement for slavery. Do we need to cling so desperately to our conception of inerrancy that we must demand slave masters and genocidal war mongers were actually right in their worldviews? That somehow, though they are fallen and sinful in their worldview, those worldviews themselves are somehow sanctified when God engages and inspires those writers?

          The fact that the Bible records sinful and erroneous people thinking and doing sinful and erroneous things does not necessitate that the Bible itself is sinfujl and erroneous.

          That’s certainloy not what I was saying.

        • Consider how Jesus himself qualified and contradicted Moses’ God-inspired laws concerning divorce:

          “Why then,” [some Pharisees] asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:7-9)?

          Moses says? Jesus says? These passages are inblanket demands for absolute literal, face-value understanding of the OT Law, then you’d better resign Jesus himself to a liberal who won’t take Scrptures for the face-value meaning . . . or even for their intended meaning.

          At least to some degree, we have to acknowledge that in the fullness of time as it was, the people and cricumstances to whom Jesus is ministering are at least somehow a bit less hard hearted than the people with whom Moses was writing, per God’s inspiration. Times change, people change, and God reveals and fulfills in his good time, partly at least according to people’s readiness.

          There was an incompleteness in God the Son himself, in his incarnation when he set aside so much of his attributes, when God became a slave (a la Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus, fully God, and yet fuilly man, had to grow in wisdom and in favor with God. He didn’t know the day or hour when he himself would one day return. And he had a will that was differing from the Father’s in Gathesemane–one that would require he submit it to the Father’s: “Not my will, but thine.” In none of this, Jesus sinned. And yet he was less-than and incomplete, as compared to before his ultimate condescension by way of Bethlehem, and after his resurrection at his Father’s right hand (where every knee must bow and every tongue confess that he is himself Lord, God).

          Though the lengths to which God’s condescension will go are certainly not error or sin, they are nonetheless incredibly and profoundly (and we must concede, incomprehensibly) accommodating.

          • My wireless keyboard is becoming less reliable, and I see confounding typos in my responses. I did not mean above that “these passages are blanket demands for absolute literal, face-value understanding of the OT Law,” but rather that they are NOT such blanket demands.

  11. I am not a Panglossian who thinks we are getting better everyday in everyway. Man is sinfull and doomed to die.God has a plan for redemption called Jesus is Lord. That’s what is important.

  12. Good piece, Craig. This is a good apologetic approach to genocide, sexism, etc…

    1) I understand the concept of gradual revelation, that in the “fullness of time” we are privileged to behold the full revelation of God in Jesus (which the ancient Hebrews were not), but in many ways aren’t we “groping in the dark” far more than the ancient Hebrews?

    The primitive Hebrews may have been immature (but teachable) children, but they regularly demonstrated acts of obedience and faithfulness that shame us in their simplicity and power. So when interpreting the “authentic and original meaning” of their scriptures, I would favor an ancient Hebrew perspective of God (though he appears genocidal and sexist) over a 20th or 21st century approach.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post~

    • I hear what you’re saying, B-row. And there certainly are some valid concerns for having a child-like faith, as Jesus himself lifted up as a model. Yet Scriptures are also clear that we need to put away childish things and think as an adult (a la 1 Cor. 13, especially in terms of loving one another). And there is likewise imagery of remaining on milk for sutenance, vs. eating meat–growing up in faith. So the metaphors are kind of mixed, and probably for good reason.

      But I’m not so sure about the model in the ancient Hebrews. Follow along in the Exodus chronicles, and it’s . . . embarrassing, actually. Track through the OT histories, and it’s nothing less than pathetic how often the people go chasing after this idol or that.

      And perhaps most significantly, consider the significant difference between the early church after the Gospels, vs. the OT believers. Obviously it’s the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit in each believer. That wasn’t the case in the Old Testament. The purpose of the fulfillment of the Gospel was, as Jesus clarified, “so that the Comforter may come.”

      I believe the indwelling of God’s Spirit in believers today is the one factor that makes a profound difference in our story vs. those of the ancient Israelites. It’s none of our own doing, and it’s not because we’re any “better” people than they. It’s God’s grace, though . . . and it does make a big difference.

  13. Here are some thoughts from Scott Bailey that i thought might be relevant:”The problem of evil is a very old, and very real problem, which rejects any pat answers. Especially, when pursued to their logical conclusion.

    When people give pat, uniformed, poorly thought through answers they can turn God into a cosmic rogue who is either orchestrating evil or stands idly by while great evil occurs everyday.

    Theodicy refuses pat answers. Pat answers simply do not account for the totality of human experience. “God did it” or “The Lord works in mysterious ways…” might seem comforting when things are going OK, or you simply don’t understand how something might be happening, but intellectually, “I don’t understand, therefore, God” or “Who are we to question…” is very poor thinking.”

    …This is how I often think about such issues (theodicy & OT violence) , I simple have no idea how to take it ,It`s like either way i look at it , it just doesn`t work. Sometimes I appeal to God`s sovereignty & his holiness..but that that doesn`t sit well , or answer much. But on the other hand I`m not willing to go down the path of marcionism.

    • David Cornwell says

      “Theodicy refuses pat answers”

      Amen to that. In fact beware when someone tries to give an answer. Some of the “answers” make me cringe.

    • Good clarification, thanks. I think it’s rather ironic how we can look back on those ancient complexities and convince ourselves the world in which we live today is any less ambiguous, complex, and simply messed up. I think there should be something of a “mess theology”: i.e., we can’t begin to fathom what a profound mess everything is in our reality because of sin (mostly because we are ourselves the mess).

      The simplicity in it, though, is that God steps into the mess and becomes part of it. He gets messed up himself (horribly).

  14. “Man is the measure of all things.”
    My church said this was the hubris of secular humanism, but in light of God’s condescension / incarnation it is a statement of profound humility: we can only know God as he chooses to reveal himself within our human limitations to perceive. That includes the limitations of our own fallen state, and our shame of separation from him.
    In that sense, Jesus came “in the fullness of time”, i.e. as soon as humanity was capable of comprehending the God who draws near.
    Great post. Reminds me of counter-enlightenment philosopher Johann Georg Hamann, a “pre-post-modernist” (if that’s possible!).

  15. How has Eagle not commented on this piece? Must be a busy day at work.

    • I know! I too await his input..and Headless unicorn guys as well.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I too await his input..and Headless unicorn guys as well.

        I read this post, I read the exist’g comments, and I literally do not know where to begin.

  16. Randy Thompson says

    It seems to me that the Old Testament is a “this world” story, and the New Testament is a “next world” story.

    The Kingdom of God in the OT is a cultural, political, and geographical entity. Such kingdoms are based on power. There are laws that need to be enforced, often by the death penalty, there are borders that need to be defended, often with bloodshed, and threats that need to be addressed, again, usually with lots of bloodshed. Where the earthly state is, there is death, war, and imperfect justice (at best). Caesar, in the NT, represents this world. This world is summarized by WW2 General George Patton: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Realpolitik indeed!

    The Kingdom of God in the NT can best be summarized in Jesus’ words: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” As Jesus followers, our citizenship is not in Caesar’s realm. This puts us at odds with Caesar and OT realpolitik, as numerous NT passages suggest, such as this one from Paul: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. . . ” (2 Timothy 3:12).

    The trajectory of the Biblical narrative is heavenward and God-ward. If Jesus indeed ushered in the “last times,” then the real politik of the OT are the “childish things” we put away when the “perfect” comes. (1 Corinthians 13:11ff).

  17. BTW Craig, you need to post more often around here. Your “No stinking up God’s place!” post from Oct 7th was definitely in my top 5 must-read posts last year, and is bookmarked in my browser.
    However, it does seem that your posts have so much to unpack that the comments can spin onto a half-dozen other topics. It would be better if you amplified your thoughts with additional posts!

    • Thanks! I’ll give some thought to pacing, too. I do want to at least engage more in these follow-up dialogues. Invaluable! In what other medium could a writer actually engage an audience. I want to particpate more when I’m not writing, as well . . . this is meat for my soul.

  18. Craig writes, “For instance, however the Israelite rationalized the genocide, the truth is God was engaged, God was leading them, and God is responsible for all.”

    I cannot agree with that. Jesus said that we were to look at him to know what the Father was like. And what do we see when we look at Jesus? We see him healing, forgiving, reproving, crying over suffering. We NEVER see him killing people or approving of the murder of children. I can say that God is sovereign in the sense that God will have the last word, but I will never say that God is sovereign in that he approved of murdering children. You may say, “But Jesus didn’t refute the Old Testament…he completed it.” But I will say…he CORRECTED it. We have passages in Matthew 5 where Jesus will say, “You have heard _____, but I say _____” and he goes on to explain what God really wants and what God is really like including Matthew 5:43-48 where Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NIV)

    Jesus told us that God is love. We truly know what love looks like when we see it and in some of the stories in the Old Testament, you don’t see love in operation. You see men wreaking havoc and using God as their “reason” to be doing what they do. We do that still today, all over the world. Jesus says “No. That IS NOT GOD at work.”

    So then, you may say, “Don’t you believe that the Bible is inspired and that it is the Word of God?” Jesus is the Word of God and the books of the Bible, taken as a WHOLE, are inspired and tell the story of God and humans. But God is not responsible for the violence that mankind imposes on one another.

    I just started reading The Innocence of God by Udo Middelmann. From just reading the introduction, I think he and I may be like-minded in some of these areas. Let me find a few quotations from the book…here’s one from page 121: “Yahweh is innocent of the broken, unjust, and absurd world we inhabit. He has overcome the world.” And on page 156-157: “People are guilty of the mess we encounter on all sides. God is innocent of it, for his intervention is to heal, inform, and call to repentance…” And on page 213, “In a fallen world, nothing….is neccessarily from God. DIfferent outside criteria need to be brought in to evaluate each and every experience.” Page 214, “Belief in reality as fulfillment of God’s will leads as often into resignation and fatalism as it does to cruelty and fanaticism. Belief in God’s control frees me from responsibility and justified whatever I do, whether it is nothing or anything.” Page 214, “We hunger and thirst after righteousness, not from humility but because we are not satisfied with the world’s present condition. Neither is God. With him we are in good company in our complaint, our efforts, and our patient insistence.”

    Well, that’s enough from me.

    • Joanie, I agree that we look to Jesus to see what God is like. I would also say that to the degree we think the God of the OT (the flood, Jericho, etc.) and Jesus seem to be 2 different personalities is the degree to which we misunderstand God’s nature in the OT.
      Until Jesus came in the fullness of time, God condescends in a number of ways (flood, conquest, etc.) to contain the spreading, destructive effects of man’s sin. An analogy that Wayne Jacobsen uses is that God the Father is like the surgeon amputating a diseased limb before the cancer spreads further. (The surgeon can be viewed as the guy attacking you with a knife, or he can be viewed as the guy trying to do all he can to keep your own body from destroying itself.) In that sense, God’s wrath is the full weight of God’s being brought against that which would destroy the object of His affection.
      I fully concede that from the perspective of the writers who lived through it, God’s wrath appears as anger and punishment. But from the larger perspective, it can be seen as God trying to contain our collective mess until *THE* Son of Man is able to show a more excellent way.

    • I’m really looking forward to reading that book JoanieD, as I’ve spent a lot of time at L’Abri & would be very interested in his perspective. I’m actually just going to check your photo to see if you’re the JoanieD I met at English L’Abri in 1992…

      • Hi, Beakerj. No, I am not the JoanieD that you met in English L’Abri in 1992. At least I don’t THINK I am. Perhaps I am living a double life that I am unaware of! 😉

        I am enjoying the book so far, though sometimes I get a little lost in the way he presents things and need to re-read to see if he is saying that this is way he thinks things are or if this is the way that others think things are. I may not have said that very clearly myself. Anyway, I can tell that he has spend considerable time thinking through all kinds of ways of understanding scripture and God. I hope you enjoy the book!

  19. Joanie: I appreciate your concern for the love of God. Really, I do. In fact, my past writings have repeatedly emphasized that God’s being love is central to all Christian theology–that all doctrine and theology and justice even must hinge on and rest upon the preeminent truth that God is love, and we are to love our neigbhors.

    So God not only loves, but he is the very definition of love.

    And yet . . . God kills. In fact, every single death of a human (or in the rest of nature, for that matter) is God’s responsibility. He actually passed the judgment that insisted, if you separate from the source of life (i.e., original sin), the outcome must inevitably be death: “You will surely die.”

    And furthermore, Jesus is God. He is the Creator, God the Son. And he is as much humanity’s judge as is God the Father. Jesus isn’t some advocate up there holding off monster God from destroying people. He and the Father are one. What the Father does, the Son (and the Sprit) do.

    So Jesus indeed has killed. He has taken the life of every person who has ever died. And he will take both of our lives eventually. That’s because he is God.

    I don’t follow where this notion that all of killing/death is evil. What’s especially strange to me is that we’d fear God must be evil if he took the lives of those whom he gave life to. Where would the notion that all killing is evil come from? Certainly not from the Bible. For that matter, where would the notion that killing is contrary to love come from? Again, not the Bible. Certainly not nature, either. (Pretty much all animals kill one another without any moral consideration–it’s a very natural thing to do, actually.)

    We certainly can agree that murder among humans is evil. But that’s not absolutely all killing of humans.

    Would you clarify more for me? I’d like to discuss further.

    • Craig, I actually do not think that all killing is evil. Jesus killed the fish after his resurrection to feed the disciples. We have nothing in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John that indicates that Jesus felt that men could not or should not be soldiers. Part of being soldiers can involve killing at times. But like you said, murder among humans is evil. I submit that the even during wartime, it is murder to intentionally kill children and non-armed citizens.

      God is the giver of life. Every life ends in death, but that is not the very end of the thing that dies. Jesus talked about a seed being planted and “dying” and producing great things from that death. Jesus died but then resurrected and assured his disciples that the same thing will happen to them. So, death is not “the end.” It is a change. I will not say that God causes death. God causes life. Life ends in death. Death results in life. Quite a cycle there, no? But violence? Murder? No, God is not responsible for those. Mankind is responsible for those.

  20. Randy Thompson says

    Craig, I appreciate your stark comment, “And yet,. . . God kills.”
    That’s true, and you can’t dodge that.

    And yet, if God is the author and creator of life, and can give it and take it away at His pleasure, then maybe we need to see death and all that goes with in God’s perspective as life-giver, and not just in our own perspective of those doomed to die. If the overall context for suffering and death is God the Creator, then isn’t there a sense that what seems ultimate to us isn’t to God, and that when we hear Amos say “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6b), we need to trust that God that there’s more to the human story than we can know?

    I’m encouraged to trust the God of the Old Testament, even at His scariest, because that God in a very real way took ownership of His Creation’s blood-bath by getting nailed to a cross. I’m willing to trust that God, and it makes sense to me that someday God’s “dark side” will make sense.

    A few rather random thoughts at the end of the day.

  21. “I’m willing to trust that God….”
    Right there with ya Randy. He has joined the melee and that makes Him one of us. That makes every conundrum bearable, even the dark ones. We serve a majestic and mysterious God.

  22. Marcion had it backwards. I’d rather have a God who puts you death right here and now and that’s it than the tyrannical Hitler God who wants to burn everyone in his furnace for all eternity because they’re the wrong race (i.e. human). The God of the OT is the monster? Yeah, right. The God of the NT needs to look in the mirror.

  23. “Regardless of our relative maturity, God has always been about engaging and participating in the human story—he’s no deist’s God. He is imminent. But he’s so imminent that he was engaging iron-age cultures exactly where they were.”

    So then, will he engage a deistic culture by doing nothing? This line of argument you use seems non-sequitur.

    A deist God who presides as judge at the end and rewards and punishes people according to their works AND (most importantly) in proportion to the goodness and badness of their works — well that makes more sense than a God who goes around either commanding genocides (as in the OT) or condemning people to hell simply for being descendants of the first human (as in the NT).

    Yes, the modern deist’s do-nothing God is ridiculous — but not the oldschool deist’s God the Judge who waits till the end to act. But the Jewish God who gets his hands dirty running a genocidal war and the Christian God who broils human beings in his furnace for all eternity simply for being human (unless of course they say the magic words) — these are both as ridiculous as the modern deist’s do-nothing God. After all, if you’re not going to do anything good you probably shouldn’t do anything at all.

    • The Previous Dan says

      rey – I don’t think Craig is saying that God conformed His actions to the culture He was speaking into. He is saying that the starting point for communication was their current world view and then He moved them forward with a progressive revelation of Himself. There is a difference.

      Understanding the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ you see that everything (even his judgment) is out of love for His creation. According to Paul, the absolute worst thing that God does to us is to let us go our own way in an unrestrained fashion. “He gave them over to their…” is the ultimate doom. What we would do (and have done) to each other is worse than anything God would ever do to us. God’s correction, even in anger, is a better alternative than that.

    • Ren: the problem with your representation is that it’s incomplete (particularly in terms of the NT God). If the story were about a Christian god broiling human beings in his furnace for all eternity, that would be not only ridiculous but profoundly malevolent. (See my comment below @ 9:26 a.m.) I think you know that the Christian story is actually the prospect that God himself (the Creator) became a human (the created) so as to have the genocide (as it were) inflicted upon himself. What humanity was doing to each other, because of its independence and rebellion against God (i.e., genocides and the like that we inflict upon each other would never be happening were we not divorced from him), God purposefully allows humanity to do to him.

      This we believe he did because he so loved, that he was willing to sacrifice himself to break into the cycle of death (a state of being the Bible often refers to as “the wrath of God”). But even then, he still won’t force people to accept what he did or come into the relationship with him for which they were designed in the first place (i.e., the significance of being created in “God’s likeness”).

      I think what you’re effectively protesting is that God would have penned the human story, with volition/choice, at all. Like Job, you want to protest that it probably would have been better to never have been born, rather than suffer the consequences that are the natural and logical outcome of independence from the source of life and the definition of love. So yes, the “Jewish God” is ultimately responsible for writing the human history that would have characters committing genocide. But that does not mean he was “running a genocidal war,” as you’d have it.

      Look at all of the popularly criticized passages and find the supposed War Lord for yourself—he’s conspicuously absent and only referenced in third person (Deut. 2:33-34; 20:16-17; Josh. 6:20-21; 8:24-26; 11:20). Was God running these particular wars any more than he was the Babylonians, whom God assured long before by way of prophets that he would be using to accomplish his will by way of the captivity of his people and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple? Did God lead that war? Did God lead any of the wars of history? Was God leading America in World Wars 1 or 2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq? Not in the way you’re trying to represent it.

      Is God sovereign and in control of each and every war, genocide, or murder even that any given individual is doing right at this very moment? Try it this way—does Christianity believe God is ever out of control in any of these circumstances? No, that’s not our God (again, perhaps it’s the Deist’s). Though humans have moral volition and can be held accountable for those choices (secular justice does no less), God is still in control of the story—he’s the author. He’s no less the author when you lied to your parents, when you betrayed your childhood friend, when you destroyed that kd’s self esteem with a carelessly cruel word—whatever YOU do, God is nonetheless engaged as the author. So much so that he actually became a character (as I said earlier) and suffered our same fate along with us.

      Any less of a God would not be worthy of any regard. Any of us would hold in low esteem a human who is apathetic, uninvolved, and unable to bring himself to care, much less engage. A God who would remain distant, watching tragedy unfold from affair—that’s not merely ridiculous, it’s evil.

      But a God who sacrifices himself by becoming a victim of genocide himself (just study the history of Roman crucifixion) in an effort to get people to choose to stop it all, and to reconcile with him . . . you should expect no less of a true God.

  24. Enter the silly objection that judgment by works is mean or unfair — how so, you did those works, didn’t you? Judgment by faith is mean and unfair — you’re judging me on whether I believed that some guy rose from the dead? seriously? I’m going to burn for all eternity for not believing in some fairy tale? WOW! And I had a dream that one day God would judge my four little children by the content of their character not the color of their mythology.

    • He does judge your little children as you wish. It’s when they are no longer children that they may appreciate the gift of faith in a living Christ. You sound ticked off Rey.

      • Oh and any God who saves the ones that “say the magic words” should be rejected with vehemence.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Then why did Left Behind become a Christian Bestseller? It’s as much a propaganda piece for “Say The Magic Words” Salvation as a hackwork job.

          And a LOT of Evangelicals follow suit — remember Altar Calls? Sinner’s Prayer (which must be said word-for-word with the properly-contrite spell gestures)? OSAS?

          Well, we’re posting this from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness, so a lot of us HAVE rejected that type of God with vehemence.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        You sound ticked off Rey.

        I suspect Rey got burned in his past, and burned BAD. Like Eagle, except Rey’s in the full one-eighty Take Your God and Shove It reaction stage.

    • Might want to drop a few of the straw men Rey.

    • Rey–the Christian worldview and story is all about relationship with one’s creator. Even normal relationship between humans cannot be merely about performance and doing good things for one another as defining love. If a mother says to her child, “I’ll love you as long as you do well,” even the most jaded must concede that is not love. Love is for the sake of the other–sacrificially so, even. It’s unconditional, regardless of performance. That’s all Christianity means by “faith.” Will you relate to him only iin terms as you would a genie’s performing the way you think it shoud? Or will you be a friend without strings attached? That’s the gist of faith–you don’t do good things to get in with God (as if God could be impressed by a sycophant’s fawning); like even just about any human being, God want’s an authentic friendship/love.

      So what kind of relationship are you going to have with a God who gave his own physical life for your sake, and you would deny he’d ever done such a thing? I can’t see how any real love could exist between people when there is such denial of who one is and what one has done for the other . . . out of love.

      As for hell . . . however the Bible and tradition variously represents it, you have to have a context for the alternative to love, else there is no choice. People have to be able to choose not to love with all of the consequences that come of being divorced from love itself. It’s hard to empathize with the rebel who rejects the light and anything to do with light, but then protests having to be in darkness. (As if, “Can’t there be an alternative to light other than darkness?”)

      • Now, any supposed love relationship that is characterized by disregard and bad works (“meanness”) by one toward the other, is not likely to be love despite how much the one doing bad might express through words his love. Faith and love, without evidence in one’s life, is dead–it’s not real, it’s self delusion. This is why all of our righteousness without a right relationship with God is no more than filthy rags (that’s an Old Testament notion, no less–Isaiah). What kind of God would it be who only wanted good performance and could care less about authentic love relationship with his children? Such a human would be despised–so much the more with such a god.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The original Greek for “filthy rags” actually translates better as “used tampons”.

  25. Some things will never make sense, like God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in the fire, then telling Abraham’s offspring to slaughter the children of those who practiced human sacrifices. Just to make things really squirrel-ly, the Amalekites were descendents of Esau – in Abraham’s bloodline, as were many of the tribes supposedly whiped out by the Israelites. Honestly, the day this all makes sense is the day I need to put religion away for good.

  26. The main point about God condescending to speak to us at our level is well taken. but the first major problem that WE have in facing ‘hard texts’ is our superficial familiarity with Scripture.

    Take the charge of “genocide.” For a good overview of Scripture related to the topic, see Baker’s Biblical Dictionary, s.v. War, Holy War, online here:

    For a thorough, critical treatment see Millard Lind’s classic, Yahewh is a Warrior. And for a short overview see chapter three, ‘Options: Our Choice” in http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Pacifism-Fruit-Narrow-ebook/dp/B005RIKH62/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1333199217&sr=1-1

    • When people have a superficial familiarity with Scriptures, you’r right . . . that is a problem. Those who may have such a problem probably could do well to check out the sites you mention. They seem accessibly nice summaries, and they highlight many of the commonly identified difficult passages.

      However, they are inadequate for any skeptic who would challenge on such grounds, because they merely retort by appeals to authority. And frankly, it’s a pretty tough sell when you argue with someone who doesn’t believe in the Bible’s authority, “It’s true because that’s what the Bible says,” or even “The Bible says God did it; that’s good enough for me.”

      There are occasions when Scriptures themselves rather challenge us to “come now, let us reason together.” These are not simple problems that can be simplistically dismissed, even though we have faith that assures us of the outcome.

  27. Sorry if someone has already posted this, but has anybody here suggested the work of William Webb and his “Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic”?


    To me this is as good a systematic look at the idea that God “condenses” Himself in the Old Testament as there is. Ultimately, for me, it wasn’t enough to hold my previous conception of the inspiration of Scripture, but it’s a very interesting study up this alley.

  28. I’ve been meaning to, but I haven’t. Foreword and endorsements by Bock and Evans speaks well of it.

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