Believing the Bible: the Old Testament – 2

Genesis

This is the twelfth in a series of posts on Understanding the Bible in the 21st century.

This post: the very difficult question of how a christian should view the Old Testament.

Looking back at our journey

First I looked at what the Bible said, and showed, about itself. The outcomes of this assessment are at Interpreting the Bible: the story so far. Some important facts relevant to understanding the Old Testament were:

  • Jesus and his apostles treat their Bible (our Old Testament) as scripture. They don’t say whether it is without error (it isn’t clear whether they would have even been concerned about this question), but they interpret it flexibly and creatively, not literally.
  • As christians we are in a new covenant of grace and the Spirit, and the Old Testament does not have the same authority for us now as the New Testament does, though it does reveal much about God and the coming Messiah.
  • The Bible is more story than textbook.
  • There is clear progression in the Bible’s teachings.

In the first post on this topic, I outlined a number of Old Testament problem areas for christians:

  • There are many Old Testament teachings which christians no longer obey or think are relevant. How can we justify accepting some and not others?
  • The God of the early Old Testament seems very different to the God of Jesus. In particular, commands to wipe out whole tribes are difficult to come to terms with.
  • Current thinking on science, history and archaeology seems to contradict the Old Testament at several points, notably creation, the flood, the exodus and the conquest of Canaan.

Can a christian believe in the Old Testament as scripture?

Possible responses

Broadly, I believe there are four possible responses a christian could make.

1. It’s God’s word, no mistake

For many christians, the Old Testament is God’s Word, to be trusted and believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the lot. But in the twenty-first century, this requires being able to overcome a whole bunch of difficulties:

  • There are many scientists who are christians who accept evolution, so evolution is increasingly accepted as true by christians. These christians may find ways to fit the Adam and Eve story in, but many now believe it to be myth.
  • Noah’s Ark is difficult to believe now we understand the number of species that would have had to have been on the ark.
  • The genocidal commands are difficult to square with the teachings of Jesus, and those who attempt to justify them end up sounding inhumane. The fact that it appears they were never carried out makes little difference.
  • So many Old Testament teachings are either horrific by New Testament standards (e.g. stoning of adulterers and homosexuals) or irrelevant (e.g. animal sacrifices and the treatment of mould in houses), making it hard to justify obeying others. Even the Ten Commandments are questionable – e.g. the commands about graven images and keeping the Sabbath (which is Saturday).

It is therefore difficult to maintain that the whole OT is still God’s word for us today, and most thoughtful christians have to at least allow for some element of myth in Genesis 1-11, and some sense of the OT being for then more than now. Many christians will, in faith, and to some degree in defiance of facts, continue to hold that the Old Testament is “true”, but they will generally have to be inconsistent at some points.

I conclude that there must be a better way.

2. Just another ancient religious document

At the other extreme, scholars and more liberal christians often stress the similarities between the Old Testament and other ancient religious and historical documents. To them, the OT reflects the human search for God in a fairly primitive form. It is easy for them to disregard, and even ‘write off’, parts of the OT that create difficulties.

But, believed consistently, this reduces the importance of prophecies of the Messiah, God’s commands for justice through his prophets and the whole of Jewish sacred history. It solves the problems, but creates a new set. I think there has to be a better way than this too, though it too contains truth.

An extreme form of this view is sometimes held by non-christians. Without faith in Jesus, there is reduced reason to give any credence in the Old Testament. In fact, for many, the difficulties in the OT become a reason to disbelieve in Jesus. But this too seems poor reasoning. The gospels are different books, written in a different genre, time and culture to the OT, and they can stand whether the OT does or not. It seems to me that rejecting Jesus because of the OT means one’s unbelief is based not on evidence but on one’s preconceived views of what a scripture should be.

3. Inspired but not perfect

Many christians find themselves coming to a view somewhere between the two extremes. Several principles are becoming more accepted, or at least are being suggested:

Progressive revelation

God revealed his truths gradually, as people were able to understand and accept them. The early OT is therefore very primitive. For example, the command of “an eye for an eye” was a step forward from fierce tribal vengeance, but still well short of Jesus’ teaching of “love your enemies and forgive …” But learning comes in smaller steps, and the people of the day may have been unable to grasp or accept the later teaching.

A record of culture

People responded to God imperfectly, and the imperfection of these responses is clearly shown in the OT. We see this clearly in the Psalms, where the psalmist’s enemies are cursed and God entreated to avenge. But it can be seen elsewhere.

For example, the commonly quoted command to wipe out the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3) is not actually presented as coming from God, but is a report of what Saul claimed came from God. So it is possible to see this command as another misunderstanding.

Different genres

Some christian scholars (e.g. John Goldingay in Models for Scripture) point out that the Old Testament contains many different genres of writing, aimed at different responses. It may be a mistake (it is argued) to accord the same status and authority to these disparate components of the OT.

Re-thinking traditional understandings

Many christians (e.g. Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns) are beginning to re-think some traditional interpretations such as Adam and Eve, original sin, and more. They see this as being faithful to God and Jesus.

Challenging the Old Testament

One christian scholar at least (Eric Seibert in When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God) suggests we should challenge the violent portrayals of God in the OT. This would involve seeing the violence from the victims’ viewpoint, and reading the text in the light of Jesus’ teachings on non-violence.

4. Don’t think twice, it’s alright

Many christians don’t have the time, interest or education to examine all these questions and nuances. Their lives are full of making a living, surviving in a hostile world and/or doing God’s work. They believe in Jesus, they have no doubts about him, and good reason to continue to follow him.

Many such christians simply don’t try to resolve these matters – they are not of sufficient practical importance to them. They prefer just to read the OT without questioning to much. But some christians just can’t do that.

Conclusion

I wish we could all follow the last option, not bother about these difficult matters, and just get on with following Jesus. But once the questions have been asked, we can’t really go back to that simple approach.

For reasons already given, I can’t feel happy with either of the first two options, so I don’t suppose anyone will be surprised to know that I think the only way forward is option 3.

But I’m still working out exactly what I believe. Progressive revelation is not too contentious, and can be held even by someone who regards the Bible as inerrant. But the other principles outlined are more radical. I’m inclined to think there’s truth in all of them, but I’m not yet comfortable with accepting them all fully.

Some obvious questions

Can a perfect God produce something imperfect?

Our world is obviously less than perfect, and so are people. The church is less than perfect. So it seems that God can produce things that are not perfect, or become imperfect. In fact it could be argued that as soon as God creates anything, it will be less than him and therefore less than perfect. There seems to be no reason in principle why God could not inspire a Bible that human authors wrote imperfectly but sufficient for God’s purpose.

The end of certainty?

As I have already pointed out, we didn’t have certainty anyway. With text copying and translation errors, we have minor mistakes before we start. And the Bible offers no guarantees of accurate interpretation and application – in fact, inerrantists cannot agree on significant matters of doctrine. I suggest the truth is that these uncertainties should drive us to prayer for the Spirit’s guidance, not seek false hope in a doctrine of inerrancy that scripture doesn’t support.

The bottom line

But the bottom line is this. The Old Testament is scripture, inspired by God but written by fallible human beings. It belongs to a bygone age and culture, and with the revelation in Jesus, we don’t need the OT laws. But we do need its history and culture to understand God’s working through the Jewish people to prepare for the coming of Jesus. We should read it and allow God to speak to us through it, but we should be wary of basing any doctrine on the OT alone.

We can believe in faith that God has led the writers to give us what we need, though we must exercise restraint and the guidance of the Spirit to interpret it for today.

Next:

How should a christian read the Bible?

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29 thoughts on “Believing the Bible: the Old Testament – 2

  1. They say whether it is without error (it isn’t clear whether they would have even been concerned about this question), but they interpret it flexibly and creatively, not literally.

    Should this read “they don’t say”, instead?

    Feel free to delete this post.

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  2. Even the Ten Commandments are questionable – e.g. the commands about graven images and keeping the Sabbath (which is Saturday).

    In some surveys, a surprisingly high number of even non-believers state that such morality is the best moral guideline we have. I appreciate that you don’t take that route and, quite the contrary, honestly tackle the issues.

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  3. One big part of our “problems” with the OT is our rejection of God’s sovereignty, esp. with regard to his judgement which is also clear in the NT, e.g. your “Record of Culture” has its parallel in Rev. 6 where the souls under the altar ask, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood…’
    I am a Christian pacifist, but I have much more of a problem with Christians applying their anachronistic judgement of ‘genocide’ to the text than I do with the text itself.

    http://christianpacifismblog.wordpress.com/

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  4. IN, thanks for picking up that mistake.

    Re the 10 Commandments, I recall hearing a talk by an ex-Army chaplain, who told of how new recruits were “encouraged” to attend church parade the first Sunday, after which it was compulsory. he always asked the recruits how we could please God, and someone always said obey the 10 Cs. he would then ask them how many was it necessary to obey to please God, and they almost invariably said 7/10.

    Very few people realise that Paul says we no longer live by the law but by the Spirit, and uses the command not to covet as his example (in Romans 7).

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  5. Michael,

    I’m sure you are right that many people react that way, but I don’t think it’s the whole story, and it isn’t the case with me. Of course God has the right to judge, my problem is that (i) some of the OT seems angry, even vindictive, not impartial judgment, (ii) the punishment seems too great for the “crime”, (iii) such judgment on children seems unfair, and (iv) it seems dangerous and unfair to ask imperfect human beings to carry it out.

    Thanks for your interest. Why do you think some people’s judgment is “anachronistic”? I presume you mean that they are applying 21st century ethics to ancient situations, but do you think the ethics of killing have changed that mush, or should have? As a christian pacifist (which I am very close to being also), I am interested in your thoughts.

    Thanks.

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  6. The question for me is: do we then keep some books of the Bible and the teachings that we see as appropriate for a god, while ignoring those other books and teachings in the bible that we don’t think are accurate or moral for a god?

    I want a God of Love to exist; I want everyone, including myself to be in peace when they die.

    I don’t want anyone I know (or complete strangers for that matter) to be eternally weeping, thirsting and gnashing their teeth in Hell because they didn’t believe that Jesus is (a) The Son of God who (b) died for their sins, is now (c) raised from the dead, (d) on the Right hand of God.

    But reality is not based on what I do or do not want.

    So where is the line drawn if biblical interpretation is based on our own preferences?

    If it isn’t then fair enough. just my thoughts

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  7. By the way I was not before saying that either Heaven or Hell are realities,

    I wanted to convey that that reality isn’t based on preference, even a majority preference.

    Just because lots of people don’t like certain parts of a book doesn’t mean that those parts weren’t initially intended to be taken historically by those who wrote it.

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  8. One thing about the Old Testament that a lot of people seem to agree on is that it is a good record of how god interacted with his people under the old covenant. We have a new covenant now, inaugurated with Jesus’ blood, and our lives are now lived in him as the Spirit of Christ lives in us.

    As you said in a comment above, it’s not at all about following laws, but about living in the Spirit. Still, the record of God’s relationship with his people under the old covenant helps us understand God because, after all, he is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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  9. Ryan, I think the issue you raise (how to decide on the basis of truth rather than personal preference) is important, but it is an issue whether one believes in inerrancy or not. People find ways to interpret passages differently, or to emphasise different passages and ignore others. So I don’t think holding a view less than inerrancy, as I suggest, changes things on this matter.

    In fact, I’m inclined to think that God is fine with that. If God simply wanted rote obedience, he could have made us robots, or programmed the knowledge of his ways into our brains like firmware. But he didn’t, and think that is because he wants something different – and I think we all know what that is.

    He wants loving relationship, entered into voluntarily. Part of that relationship is seeking his guidance, given through the Holy Spirit. When christians strongly disagree about a doctrine, it’s a reasonable guess that someone, maybe everyone, isn’t open-miondedly seeking the Spirit’s guidance on understanding, but is basing their view on entrenched interpretations. Holding the Bible to be inerrant is likely to lead to holding one’s interpretation to be inerrant, and hence never open-mindedly looking at the other viewpoints. So inerrancy makes the problem worse in some ways, not better.

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  10. Unklee,

    How do you personally connect with God, and how God guides you and then give me some pointers? How do you separate your opinion and preferences from guidance from God?

    I understand that Gods ways are mysterious (John 3:8) and that God is believed by many to be Spirit (John 4:24). Furthermore, apparently no one has ever seen God (John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12).

    There is part of me that wants to connect with God; I mean if God exists then we were created to be aligned to Him/Her /They?

    However there is another aspect of me that considers that faith is self affirming, and once you are in a faith cycle there is a risk that other ideas or beliefs are considered false (or even evil) for no reason except that this idea or belief is not affirmed by the church doctrine/holy book or teaching.

    Furthermore, It seems possible that some religions at least could develop and thrive even if god(s) did not inspire them. For example, for Christianity to be true Islam is either man made or propagated by demons, yet it continues to grow and thrive as a belief system. If it is manmade then doesn’t this suggest that at least some faiths can exist without divine intervention or a god? I’m not saying by the way that I know Christianity is manmade.

    From a Christian perspective some might consider this other part of me and these thoughts as stemming from my “old man” or a manifesting of my sinful nature. After all, The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9)

    After all, if the God of the Bible does exist then of course who wouldn’t want to strive to serve and love Him. But in a belief where faith is taught to be a virtue, and those who believe despite seeing are blessed, how is a relationship developed?
    Furthermore, the Good book does refer to actions that confront and make me wonder why God was so violent in ancient history, and violence will come in the future? Does the Bible even allude to a relationship with God? Or is this a modern catchphrase people have come up with – it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship?

    Christians are called to give a reason for their Hope. I would be really interested to read peoples thoughts on this, this is really my foundational struggle: how can we have a relationship with Jesus/God, what does it look like? I’ve asked my Christian friends and I have received mixed responses – pray, read your Bible, reflect, repent, follow.

    I understand this relationship may not be like any human relationship, but how can one have this personal connection, this relationship?
    Is it too mysterious to be explained? What are some personal features of this relationship?
    This really is welcome for anyone to take up:
    Any Christians who feel prompted please share what this relationship with Jesus is to you?

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  11. Ryan,

    Thanks for all your questions. I think I will make my reply a separate post, coming soon. And I inserted your correction so the main post was simpler to read.

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  12. Hey UncleE,
    I’m new to reading your blog, and some others on which you’ve commented. Very interesting stuff. I have some questions about a previous comment you made on this thread:

    “I’m sure you are right that many people react that way, but I don’t think it’s the whole story, and it isn’t the case with me. Of course God has the right to judge, my problem is that (i) some of the OT seems angry, even vindictive, not impartial judgment, (ii) the punishment seems too great for the “crime”, (iii) such judgment on children seems unfair, and (iv) it seems dangerous and unfair to ask imperfect human beings to carry it out.”

    In this paragraph, and other comments I’ve read from you, a part of your reasoning for considering some portions of the OT are myth is that you think they misrepresent the character of God. However, with reference to the above paragraph in particular, I’m wondering how you square that apparent misrepresentation of that character with what happened on the cross. It seems you do believe in the propitiation that took place on that Friday. However, that propitiation would have included all the aspects you seem to have trouble with in the OT: 1) the punishment is too great for the crime (if you don’t believe others were deserving of similar punishment for deliberate disobedience to God, how can Jesus suffering on their behalf be just?), 2) judgment of an innocent (surely you would agree Jesus was more perfect, pure, and innocent than any child, yet he bore the full wrath of God on that day), 3) God used imperfect human beings (Jews and Romans in this case) to carry out his judgment on Jesus.

    As christians we look through the cross as the lense through which we understand our world as it is, and throughout history. The suffering and death of Jesus was similar to some of the most brutal sentences we find God commanding in the OT. He was suffering what we deserve, so any punishment meted out in a similar fashion would be just.

    I think part of our problem with the OT portions that record judgment follow from two issues: 1) God is way more holy than we can imagine, and, 2) we are way more sinful than we imagine.

    Thanks in advance for responding.
    -Josh

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  13. Good points, Josh. The other thing about the ideas postied inthe paragraph youquoted is that they esentially come down to someone saying that God doesn’t emasure up to their standards: he seems too vindictive, to my way of thinking; his punishments are too great, to my way of thinking; his treatment of children is unfair, to my way of thinking; he expects too much of humans, to my way of thinking.

    That type of analysis is exactly what the book of Job tells us to avoid. That book also tells us that God is God, and nothing we do or think will ever change that fact.

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  14. Agreed, Tim. It is so tempting to paint God as less judgmental, or somehow softer. One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard on suffering addressed this very point. People often want to make God more loving by decreasing or eliminating the severity of his judgment and attitude toward sin. The irony, I’m convinced, is taking away his judgment makes him less loving. A god who just loves everyone is really the same as a god who doesn’t care (because he doesn’t judge those who turn away from him and harm his creation), or even a god who isn’t there. Practically speaking, it doesn’t matter whether that kind of god exists, as it has no impact on our lives. Plus, we can never really know this kind of god loves us. People ask how we know God is loving if he allows or commands such suffering, and we can point to what he bore for us on the cross. God has visited no punishment on others that he has not visited on himself. Any accusation (that God set us up to fail, or to suffer, or whatever) can be pointed right back at God. He had planned his redemption before the dawn of time, so, in reality, he was setting himself up to carry the punishment, suffering, and humiliation that we deserve. They can choose to discount that as reality, but they cannot deny, if true, the powerful love it demonstrates. We don’t have any really emotionally satisfying answers for why God allows or commands suffering. But, we know what the answer can’t be. God became mortal and endured suffering, humiliation, and death in order to substitute himself for us. So, we know that our suffering and punishment cannot mean he does not love us.

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  15. “I think part of our problem with the OT portions that record judgment follow from two issues: 1) God is way more holy than we can imagine, and, 2) we are way more sinful than we imagine.”

    Hi Josh, welcome to this blog, and thanks for your comments.

    I recognise there is truth in what you are saying. I pray sometimes for understanding of these things, and on one occasion I felt as if God said in return that I was underestimating human sin. So we agree there.

    But although we cannot comprehend God, he has given us our consciences and we do have his revelation of himself as both just and loving. And some of those reported commands seem neither just nor loving. I think I would feel anyone who didn’t see this, and didn’t see it as a problem, was somehow missing something. The question is how we resolve that dilemma.

    We can hold the line as you do and simply maintain that God is good but also just, and I wouldn’t want to argue with anyone about that. But I cannot feel in conscience to do that for two reasons.

    1. Jesus is the supreme revelation of God, and I just cannot imagine Jesus giving those commands.
    2. The historians and archaeologists suggest that much for the pre-David OT “history” is not historical. They may be wrong, but they may not be.

    I don’t think that Jesus’ death provides justification. Jesus was the son of God who voluntarily chose to die, very different to innocent and unwilling children being slaughtered. So I appreciate what you say, but I am unable to believe that. I am not entirely happy with my current assessment either, and am still praying for more understanding.

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  16. Thanks so much, UncleE!
    It is an intellectual and emotional problem, I agree with you there. I cannot say that those stories sit well with me at all. And, I agree with you 100% that we must look to Jesus as the ultimate representation of God. The thing is, there are so many places in which Jesus talks about eternal punishment without batting an eye. He talks about torment in hell more than anyone else in the OT or NT. And, there’s the beginning of Luke chapter 13 where Jesus tells followers that they will suffer the same fate as those whose who were sacrificed or on whom a tower fell if they do not repent. I see the same anger and hatred of sin in Jesus as in God as represented in the OT. I’ll grant you, and I’ll agree with you, that what I want to believe about God is all of the tenderness and acceptance that is found in Jesus. However, I cannot honestly discount the terrible promises Jesus himself makes to those who are perishing. As I said before, I believe his holiness, which is beyond our comprehension, and the necessity that he punish rebellion and sin make the ultimate demonstration of his love and mercy so much more powerful.
    On your point about the OT stories not necessarily being historical. I’m not really that interested in that. If they’re not true history, I still don’t see that they mispresent God. I believe it is consistent with the harsh punishment Jesus also promises.
    On your point about Jesus’ passion not being justification. I can see this point what you’re saying, though I do disagree. First of all, no human being is innocent. So, the claim that the women and children who suffered in the OT were undeserving is false. These children and women were not innocent, and they did not need to be willing to suffer in order for God to visit this on them. As I have grown I have seen more and more of myself that I absolutely loath. I want it all to go away, but it doesn’t. One of my favorite quotes from my pastor is, “I am a sinful man. If you knew me like I know me, you would call for my resignation.” It is a constant reminder that I am deserving of that same punishment God has visited on others. And, I don’t even realize how bad I am – only God knows that. None of us can gain any ground on the holiness that would be required to turn aside his wrath, even the most brutal he has commanded – we are, all of us, lost without his offering of mercy through Christ. Second, it’s hard to read Jesus’ words in Gethsemane and believe a totally resigned free will sacrifice on Jesus’ part. He asks, while sweating blood from fear, that the Father take this cup from him. Our Lord and Savior, asking the question so many ask, “Is this really the only way?”. Jesus, though obeying the Father, is clearly tormented by what is about to happen to him. Wouldn’t you think living with the knowledge and pain of this happening to you – even if it was for a day, and it may have been his whole life – would be unfair? Even if he will obey, he is still suffering from it, clearly. And, even if we grant that he was willing without reservation, he was still completely innocent. None of us can make any ground on holiness, and Jesus had it completely through his entire life. He is innocent, and he is brutally tortured and killed. He suffers the wrath of God – a picture that, if you believe what is taught about Jesus and his suffering, shows us that God’s punishment for sin is not beyond slaughter. I just think we have a lack of understanding of how God hates sin – of which the sacrifices, punishments, and commands of the OT, and Jesus’ suffering show us a picture – and how really bad we are.
    I see where you’re coming from, UncleE. And I absolutely feel the same way sometimes. I just think that if we lose any of God’s wrath toward sin, we also lose that proportion of his grace offered in his own sacrifice. I’m not willing to give any of that up.

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  17. Hi Josh. I have no wish to change your views. I write for those who, like me, cannot in conscience take that view. But I think you may misunderstand a few things I think.

    I don’t believe Jesus was all “tenderness and acceptance” – he spoke quite severely at times. But I believe it was always aimed at a positive response. I don’t believe the hell Jesus spoke of was the same as the modern evangelical church portrays (see Hell – what does the Bible say?). Accordingly, I see the God portrayed in Jesus a little differently to what you may see.

    Whether those women and children were innocent is not the question, I think. The question is, would a just and loving God command them to be slaughtered by his own people? I have great difficulty believing that. As I said before, can you imagine Jesus commanding that slaughter? The world is a terrible place sometimes, but I don’t think we need think it is quite that terrible.

    Finally, I don’t really see that Jesus’ sacrifice is any the less if we believe God’s anger has been over-emphasised – it is still the same sacrifice. God holds us all accountable, and we all fall short of what he wants for us. But Jesus showed a lot more compassion than many christians appear to show today, virtually never condemning or threatening anyone but the religious, and I think that is the model we should follow. But I daresay on these things we will have to differ.

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  18. UncleE-
    I’m not necessarily trying to convince you of my position, either. Though, I do believe (obviously, right :) that I am right. Who knows, maybe as I study and read more I will see my folly. You may be right – I may misunderstand some things. Anyway, here’s a response to this last post.
    Yeah, I think we’ll have to differ on Jesus’ suffering. I see it as an example of what appropriate justice is for humans’ rebellion against God, and therefore reinforcing the representation of God’s judgment in the OT. This harkens to my comment about the women and children not being “innocent”. No, you didn’t actually say they were innocent, but you did say their punishment didn’t fit their crime, which is a softer way of saying they were innocent, at least of the crime for which they were being punished. I just think you’re missing that none of us are deserving of any better than what the Canaanites and others received. It would be justice for anyone, no matter how old or what gender.
    I think Jesus sums this point up nicely in Luke 13, when talking about those who were slaughtered by Pilate and those on whom the temple fell. Jesus stated, very bluntly, that we all deserve this unless we have repented. This is Jesus explicitly condoning God’s judgment in these situations, which are similar to what God commanded in the OT. So, yes, I can see Jesus commanding this type of judgment…and, he will when he returns:
    Jesus, when he came 2000 years ago, did not come as judge. He came to fulfill the law and redeem people. He will come again as judge, and will judge people in the full scope of the law, unless they are under his own protection. So, you may not have said Jesus is all tenderness and acceptance, but I think you do miss that, though he was a perfect representation of God, he was not, at that time in history, the FULL representation of who and what God is.
    Regarding hell not being eternal punishment. Let’s say it’s not eternal – which, I think you have to cut down most of 2000 years of church teaching to get to this, not just current American evangelicalism. Even if it is not eternal, Jesus is clearly teaching something that will torment, cause pain, be nearly if not completely unbearable, and that it is just.
    All of this is what awaits those who are not chosen for redemption. And, it is just for us all to suffer it. The greater the crime (cosmic treason, which we have, ALL OF US, committed), the greater the punishment. This is the ultimate crime against our own creator, for which no punishment is too great. The greater the punishment deserved, the greater the propitiation, and the greater the appreciation of the one receiving that propitiation.

    “I tell you, her sins–and they are many–have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”
    Luke 7:47

    The lesser the crime, and the lesser the punishment (which is what you seem to be doing by trying to bring down the degree of punishment that is deserved by people, or a group of people), and, therefore, the lesser the value of the propitiation.
    I believe the Pharisees were targeted most by Jesus because of teaching something similar to this: they had taught and believed they could earn God’s favor through their works: lessening the crime and exaggerating the means for overcoming the crime. Jesus called them out because they believed they did not deserve as severe punishment as others because of their works. And, they taught others this ideology. They also believed and taught that we can somehow turn aside some of God’s wrath through our works. These are the false teachings for which Jesus scalded them.

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  19. Oh, and one more though that just popped back in my head!
    We can’t forget that all we have are records of physical punishment and death. We don’t have any really good reason to think that none of the people punished would be saved spiritually. We are all deserving of physical judgment and death, as well as spiritual judgment. However, I think it cannot be the case that all who suffer physical torment and death will suffer spiritual judgment and separation from God.
    We have to remember that physical punishment and death is not the worst punishment anyone could receive. Spiritual judgment and separation from God is the ultimate punishment. And, we don’t see this explicitly taught re: OT judgments.

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  20. Hi jjpete80, I need to ask a few deep questions:

    1. Is jjpete80 = Josh?
    2. Are you going to blog regularly at “Check your religion”?
    3. Would you like to use the email facility on this blog to send me an email address so I can email you?

    I appreciate the trouble you have gone to, and I don’t feel you have any “folly” to see. But I don’t feel I have much further to add on the main topic here, just a few side comments:

    “which is a softer way of saying they were innocent, at least of the crime for which they were being punished”

    No, I don’t think that. I doubt most of them were guilty of any “crime”, they were just ignorant and born in the wrong place at the wrong time. God is competent to judge their lives overall, but I don’t think any crime deserves death, let alone that sort of death, a view that Jesus seemed to agree with. If it was right then, what would make it wrong now?

    Likewise I cannot see how an eternity of torment can be a just punishment for 70 years of sin. I disbelieve in the traditional concept of hell because I believe it isn’t what Jesus taught, but I also think it would be unjust.

    I have to say I think your whole approach here is a mistake. Granted you believe God was just in doing what you believe he did, then I suggest you don’t try to justify it – it makes you (and others) sound awfully harsh and judgmental. I think better would be to simply say that you believe God is loving and just, and you won’t make any attempt to justify God’s actions here. I think God can look after himself, and you may be justifying him unnecessarily, even wrongly, and coming off sounding unloving as well, when I’m sure that isn’t they way you really are.

    Thanks for commenting.

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  21. Hey UncleE-
    1. Yes – I don’t know why that happened.
    2. No – I can’t figure out how to make that go away.
    3. Sure.

    You may be 100% right about my approach. I’m definitely not trying to come off as unloving. I do have an honest question about that last paragraph, tho: all of us may be explaining things we believe about God unnecessarily or wrongly, so how do we know which of the things we believe to be true that we should not try to explain?
    Thanks.

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  22. “I’m definitely not trying to come off as unloving.”
    Yes, I’m sure of that. But it can appear that way to some people, because it sounds like minimising the suffering of the people who were killed.

    “how do we know which of the things we believe to be true that we should not try to explain?”
    Obviously we always run this risk because we are only human. I think the problem is twofold in this case. (1) We are trying to explain God’s actions when we simply don’t know, and the situation is complex. (2) In explaining God we end up making him and us look unloving, which is not the truth. So when “explaining” a smaller “truth” compromises a larger truth, I feel it is counter-productive.

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  23. Josh, UnkleE,

    I enjoyed reading this exchange. I myself hope the Creator of All life, Considering the beauty and affection He has created in his work, is also Love and Affectionate Himself. Thats what I believe. If not, even if He was God, why would I follow Him? If He gave us this wonderful, beautiful gift of life, why would he not also love us all? I believe God is love. Yes, He is also Holy, and I dont fully understand some of His actions, and I don’t want to try to ignore or deny what is in the Bible. So I think I’ll focus on His love. His Holiness is beyond me, its only Something He can help me understand and He can only coer me with His Grace.

    If I stand only by Gods Grace, I need to believe He is Love.

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  24. I’m glad you gained something from it. As a christian, I believe we see God’s character most clearly in Jesus – which makes God loving but sometimes tough and severe, but generally only on religious hypocrites.

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  25. I guess the same as any other hypocrite, someone who acts differently to they say. So we’re all hypocrites to a degree, but some more than others. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites.

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