Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?

chariot

Arguments rage about the Bible and how we should interpret it, especially about the Old Testament. Conservative christians are often critical of those who take a “liberal” view, which conservatives see as destructive and unfaithful, while sceptics tend to see the conservatives as not following the evidence.

Is there any way to break through on this question? Are there any clues in the Bible itself?

It turns out that there is much food for thought.

Clues in the Old Testament

I have previously discussed parts of the Old Testament that suggest that the Bible cannot be seen as an inerrant textbook of God’s character and the behaviour he requires of us:

I concluded then that the Bible God has given us must be a little different from what our theology might tell us, and some sections are corrected by other sections (mostly the New Testament corrects the Old).

Today, courtesy of Peter Enns, I came across another example.

Jehu, the mad chariot driver

2 Kings 9 tells the story of a mad chariot driver, the devious and murderous Jehu. The year is 841 BCE, and Jehu is the army commander of Israel under king Jehoram (or Joram), and they are fighting the Syrians. The king is wounded and retires from the battle. The prophet Elisha chooses this time to secretly anoint Jehu as king, to replace Joram, confirming a previous anointing by the Prophet Elijah. Elisha tells Jehu to kill all the family of the line of Ahab – Joram, Jezebel and all their relatives – because of their evil in worshipping Baal and in killing prophets.

Jehu is up to the challenge, and in his chariot leads a force of troops to Jezreel where king Joram is meeting with Ahaziah, king of Judah. The lookout recognises Jehu because he “drives like a maniac”. The two kings foolishly go out to meet him, and Jehu kills them both. He duly continues the purge and brutally kills Jezebel, and arranges for more than seventy other descendants to be gruesomely murdered, and his coup is complete.

Jehu went on to reign as king of Israel for 27 years and establish one of the longer dynasties of that turbulent period (5 kings in all reigning for 102 years).

It is easy to gloss over the horror of these events (and so many others like them), but they were brutal times and life was cheap – 4 kings of Israel were assassinated in 2 decades. Yet this murderous coup is said to have been commanded by God through the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

Hosea has a different idea

Hosea was a prophet in Israel at this time, and appears to have been an educated and informed man – perhaps a member of a well-to-do family. At the beginning of the book of Hosea (1:4), he records a message given to him by God:

“I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel”

Who was right?

Did Elisha and Elijah get it right and Hosea somehow misunderstood God? Or was it the other way round? Or did God change his mind? It is hard to be happy with any of these “explanations”.

Conservative christian commentators say that God truly commanded the destruction of the house of Ahab, but Jehu went too far and so was himself condemned, but it is hard to accept this too, for Jehu seems to have done exactly as he was supposedly commanded.

Peter Enns suggests that the truth is that the Old Testament isn’t an accurate and consistent record of God’s commands, but rather a record of the varying viewpoints as the Jews struggled to understand God.

Perhaps the prophets Elijah and Elisha did hear from God on some occasions, but at other times fell into the trap of using their authority as God’s spokespersons to justify their own political assessments and the brutal standards of the day.

Two ways to respond

How should we respond?

One way is to keep hold of our dogmatic view of scripture as consistent, authoritative and without error, and find a way to explain and justify God’s behaviour, as if it is immoral for us to murder but OK for God to command us to murder.

I am deeply troubled by such an approach for it preserves a view of scripture that isn’t taught there, at the cost of impugning God’s loving character revealed most completely in Jesus.

I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus.

I don’t pretend to understand all this, but I think that is as close to the truth as I can get, just now at any rate.

What do you think?

Photo: Assyrian chariot with charioteer and archer protected from enemy attack by shield bearers – not the same as the Israelite chariots mentioned in this post, but close enough. Wikipedia (Wikimedia Commons).

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50 thoughts on “Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?

  1. Wesley says:

    This question has plagued me more than any other in the last couple of years. I have heard several theories but nothing that has made me say, “yes, of course!”.
    For now, I am okay with admitting uncertainty as to how to approach certain OT texts. The only reason I can say that is because of Jesus. In Him we have a clear picture of what God is like and how we are to treat others.

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  2. Tomw says:

    Here’s a thought that might be of some help.. Most of us are okay with the idea that God could rain fire & brimestone down on cities, like Sodom.. or He could send a plague, or a flood, etc.. I suppose because we think of these as natural disasters — but still God caused them to happen. Why do we get so upset if he commands a person to kill another person? Take the children of Israel coming into the land of Canaan for example.. they were commanded to kill everyone and everything.

    But if God truly governs all life, and He is the eternal judge, and creator of the world and life, then we must trust his judgment. God can certainly do the killing, and really one could say he takes every human life at some point. But maybe the person he commanded needed to learn something about absolute obedience, and faith.. and so he used this extreme method to teach it. It offends our moral sense, but in reality, whatever God commands is right.

    We just need to be certain that He actually gave the command.. much harm has been done by people who mistakenly felt they were following God’s will.

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  3. westofthebluemountains says:

    much harm has been done by people who mistakenly felt they were following God’s will.

    You can say that again !

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  4. unkleE says:

    Thanks Invernest!

    Hi Wesley, I took the same view for many years – I used Jesus as my yardstick for God, on that basis I knew I couldn’t accept the commands to kill as being relevant to me, but I didn’t understand how it all fitted together. But in recent years, after a long time praying and considering, and then reading, I came to the view I’ve expressed here.

    Hi West, I’ll resist the temptation to say that again! 🙂

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  5. unkleE says:

    Hi Tom, I have thought along similar lines. The world is a dangerous place, God allows natural suffering through accidents, disasters and natural laws and processes, so why shouldn’t he interfere more directly to end people’s lives? There is certainly logic in that.

    But in the end I didn’t find that an acceptable way of looking at it.

    1. It seems so contrary to Jesus, and therefore contrary to the best we know about God.

    2. If God chooses to take a life, who am I to argue, but if God tells a human to take a life after telling them not to murder, I can see some real difficulties. (i) People will often get God’s commands wrong with terrible consequences. (ii) Killing affects the person doing the killing, and soldiers can come back from war highly traumatised – would God do that to them?

    I concluded that what you suggest is terribly dangerous and contrary to Jesus, so in the end I had to reject that way of thinking. I understand it, but I can’t agree with it. As I say in the post, we protect a view of the Bible (that isn’t biblical anyway) at the great cost of giving a false (I believe) view of God.

    Do you feel quite comfortable with that view?

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  6. rwwilson147 says:

    If it is true that as you say:
    “I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus”
    why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light, as God working with people with many misunderstandings that God is continuing to correct until whenever?
    Once one commits to a particular hermeneutic is really isn’t intellectually consistent (or possibly honest?) to not apply that hermeneutic to all biblical interpretation. Surely we are not now free of misunderstandings that God shouldn’t correct are we? Why should we stop with a Jesus stuck in an antiquated historical past cultural context?

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  7. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks for your question. Let me ask you a question before I attempt to answer yours.

    If I buy a copy of all Shakespeare’s plays in one anthology, I will find that the first four plays that were performed were all historical plays (Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III). The fifth one is Comedy of Errors. So my question to you is:

    Why shouldn’t we see Comedy of Errors as a historical play like the earlier ones?

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  8. ignorantianescia says:

    If I buy a copy of all Shakespeare’s plays in one anthology, I will find that the first four plays that were performed were all historical plays (Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III). The fifth one is Comedy of Errors. So my question to you is:

    Why shouldn’t we see Comedy of Errors as a historical play like the earlier ones?

    Or, what would the implications be for, far more horrible, that bloody macabre Titus Andronicus?

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  9. rwwilson147 says:

    Ah, answering a question with a question feels a bit too political to be helpful. It often seems we are more interested in being politically/culturally acceptable and comprehensible than biblically faithful. I think we should take the whole of scripture as the revelation of who God IS and continues to be. That understood in faithful submission to the new covenant teaching of Jesus and his apostles gives a distinctly different hermeneutical matrix with which to understand God and his will for us than either a merely Jewish Old Covenant concept or a post Enlightenment, post-modern, post-Christendom, or post-whatever conception of things might provide us. Get jiggy with Jesus and you just might see God in a more comprehensively consistent manner.

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  10. unkleE says:

    ” I think we should take the whole of scripture as the revelation of who God IS and continues to be. “

    I think so too. And I think your original question was a good one. But I think answering my question will help me answer yours. So why not give it a try?

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  11. rwwilson147 says:

    Well, if Shakespeare and God produce the same kind of literary works why should I care whether God’s are historical or whatever? I actually don’t see the relevance of your question, and don’t consider myself adequately educated or even particularly interested in the answer. So, I think your answering my question will help me answer yours, so why not give it a try? 8>) I don’t think this line of inquiry is likely to be productive. My theological question is not fruitfully answered by any possible reply to a question about Shakespearean literature.

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  12. unkleE says:

    Hi, it was really no mystery. You suggested that if we interpret one book of the Bible a certain way, we should be consistent and interpret the rest that way. I wanted to see how you made judgments about the genre of different writings. But on your own admission, you are not interested in the question. Which means, I think, that your views are based on dogma rather than on evidence. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is helpful to know.

    I considered asking you a simpler question – e.g. how do you decide whether we should interpret the front page news in a newspaper and the comics in the same way? They are in the same publication, so why wouldn’t your same logic apply? But I decided not to because you have said you aren’t interested in such questions.

    But you can by now guess my answer to your original question. We are quite capable as human beings of distinguishing between different genres of writing (like news and comics). And it is clear that the Bible contains different genres – history, poetry, parable, letter, etc. I don’t think anyone sensible thinks we can interpret them all just the same.

    For example, when Jesus says “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) we know enough to understand that he meant this to be a teaching. But when he said “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:46) we understand this to be part of a parable and not a command for us.

    So there is no reason to think that because we interpret a passage in the Old Testament in a certain way, that we should interpret another passage in the NT in the same way. That would be very foolish, and I very much doubt that you would do that.

    Now you can see perhaps why I asked you the question first. You will perhaps respond to what I have said here by trying to think of ways you can argue against it, but had you done the thinking yourself, you may have come to the same outcome and been happy with it. But at any rate, that is my answer to your question. Thanks.

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  13. rwwilson147 says:

    I think you misunderstand my original point, my “interest,” and perhaps other things. First of all, we might need to agree that the theological term “hermeneutic” is usually considered to be the base level principle one uses to understand texts considered revelation from and about God. This is the way people do theology, not interpret literary ouvre or newspapers generally speaking. There are of course different types of literature in scripture necessitating various hermeneutical sub-principles in interpretation. This is an opinion based on evidence, by the way.

    Can we get back to the topic and the theology being discussed now?

    I have asserted that if one adopts a particular, overarching, but unavoidably self-contradictory hermeneutic, that is problematic and should be avoided. If one interprets Jesus’ teaching that enjoins on his followers a non-violent role in the world to establish a hermeneutic that invalidates and falsifies any Old Covenant texts in which God enjoin on his people acts of violence one is evidently using an hermeneutic not used by Jesus. Because Jesus didn’t use this particular hermeneutic I don’t think we should either.

    If one uses a purely “God is non-violent” hermeneutic to interpret the Old Testament then there really wouldn’t be much left with any authority or validity for us there because so much is being dismissed as mistaken, in error, false, etc. Using the same hermeneutic on the New Testament as a whole seems necessary in part because it is being used as though it is an interpretive principle based on the teaching of Jesus. However, this would quickly undermine substantial parts of the New Testament texts including the teaching of Jesus. If one reads the New Testament with an understanding of the apocalyptic theological and cultural context in which it was written it is clear that the authors didn’t think God couldn’t use violence in judging the nations, bringing justice, and establishing his kingdom.

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  14. unkleE says:

    Hi, I must admit I am a little confused. You want to talk about hermeneutics, which is defined as “the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts” – so applies to Shakespeare as well as to the Bible, but you don’t want to talk about genre. But hermeneutics includes genre! – Wikipedia says “each genre of Scripture has a different set of rules that applies to it”.

    (1) So do you think that we can do hermeneutics without accounting for genre?

    ” If one interprets Jesus’ teaching that enjoins on his followers a non-violent role in the world to establish a hermeneutic that invalidates and falsifies any Old Covenant texts in which God enjoin on his people acts of violence one is evidently using an hermeneutic not used by Jesus.”

    This isn’t actually true, because Jesus (and Paul) did avoid OT texts that enjoined violence! You can read about it in another of my posts, where both Jesus and Paul quote Old Testament passages and omit a section which talks about vengeance!

    So I am not doing something that Jesus didn’t do at all!

    But let me test you with another question. Here are two passages, one from the OT, one from the NT.

    Psalm 137:9: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”

    Matthew 5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

    My questions are: (2) Do you think both of these are equally God’s and Jesus’ advice to us (you and I) today? (3) If not, why shouldn’t we see them both in the same light (to use your phrase)?

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  15. rwwilson147 says:

    Not need for confusion. Applying the hermeneutic proposed for dealing with violence and non-violence in scripture doesn’t in itself deal with genre, just the ethics of violence.

    Jesus or Paul truncating or eliding some texts that deal with God’s acts or intention to do violence don’t eliminate that from all New Testament texts. If you want me to mine the New Testament for those in the latter category it wouldn’t be difficult (“cast them into outer darkness,” “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” etc.)

    The Psalms passage is not “advice.” Jesus’ words to us as his follows are commandments. The Old Covenant teaching/law is not the teaching/commands of Jesus–we are subject to the obligations and mores of the New Covenant. Old versus New Covenant obligations are pretty basic Christian theological distinctions.

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  16. rwwilson147 says:

    No need for confusion. There are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenant commands. There is, however, nothing in the New Testament that vaguely suggests that Old Testament prophets or authors were mistaken about what they said about God vis a vis violence. That is a modern, and I think problematic, theological assertion that undermines the value and authority of the whole of scripture because it is inherently self-contradictory. Read the New Testament open to the possibility that God continues to be seen by its authors as ready to judge the sinful and the whole world through some form of violence and you may need to revise your hermeneutic on this point.

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  17. rwwilson147 says:

    Never said it wasn’t. Just objected to one criteria (non-violence) being used to decide whether biblical texts were true or not.

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  18. unkleE says:

    Well I guess it all becomes a little clearer now. You were assuming I was using “one criteria (non-violence)”, but I wasn’t.

    In response, I asked you some questions about genre, which should have been an indication of at least part of my answer, and would have done so if you’d been willing to answer my questions.

    So OK, I’ll explain more fully.

    1. I asked you questions, not to be cute or to avoid the question, but because I thought you were making wrong assumptions and had an inconsistent hermeneutic. But the way these discussions usually go, arguing directly would only tend to harden your position, so I tried to encourage self discovery. (Which has eventually happened.)

    2. I think there are many factors involved in deciding your original question, which was: “why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light” [as the OT]. You agree that Psalm 137 and Matthew 5 do not have the same status and the same hermeneutic. Similar principles apply to the passages you first questioned me about, and you know some of them, for you say:

    “there are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenant commands”

    “The Psalms passage is not “advice.” Jesus’ words to us as his follows are commandments.”

    “The Old Covenant teaching/law is not the teaching/commands of Jesus–we are subject to the obligations and mores of the New Covenant. Old versus New Covenant obligations are pretty basic Christian theological distinctions.”

    3. So if you follow through the logic of those statements of yours, and also think a little about genre, I think you will understand my post better.

    What do you think now?

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  19. rwwilson147 says:

    What I think is that you haven’t addressed the issue of applying a hermeneutic that says something like: “God can’t do violence because Jesus didn’t and taught his followers to do no violence.” Note: you didn’t even mention it though I keep going there specifically. The issue here is not a question of genre but of ethics and hermeneutics. My question was not “why shouldn’t we see the New Testament in the same light” [as the OT]? But rather something like this: “if one finds it necessary to apply a particular hermeneutic to the OT (the aforementioned non-violence hermeneutic) why would it not be necessary to apply that same hermeneutic to the NT”? I am definitely doing my best to approach the whole of scripture with one consistent hermeneutic, recognizing that there are of necessity all kinds of subsequent adaptations to historical context, genre, authorial intent and re-adaptation to later narrative and theological context. Also being aware that I haven’t tried to delineated anything like a complete hermeneutical schema–I have merely been pointing out what seem to be problems inherent in the kind of hermeneutic of non-violence common in Anabaptist tribal discourse.

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  20. unkleE says:

    Hi RW, thanks for further comment. However I must say I find your approach somewhat confusing.

    1. You ask me a question about why an interpretation of the OT shouldn’t affect how we interpret the NT, but then you say you aren’t willing to work through the issues with me in the way I suggest.

    2. Then, responding to my question, you agree that we should interpret Psalm 137 the same way we’d interpret Matthew 5, apparently agreeing with me that the change from OT to NT and the difference in genre between a Psalm (which is not a command) and Jesus’ teaching (which does contain commands) makes a difference.

    3. Now you accuse me of “applying a hermeneutic that says something like: “God can’t do violence because Jesus didn’t and taught his followers to do no violence.”

    We have already agreed that there are significant differences between Psalm 137 and Matthew 5, not related to violence but to genre and OT vs NT, so why are you simplifying down to this one issue?

    But let’s revise. Check out my post and you’ll see that I started by referring to two Proverbs that contradict each other, and to the case of violence in the OT, which I had previously discussed. I don’t dwell on violence, but rather my opening statement was this: “I concluded then that the Bible God has given us must be a little different from what our theology might tell us, and some sections are corrected by other sections (mostly the New Testament corrects the Old).”

    So I started by referring to the differences between OT and NT, the differences in genre, which indicate that Jesus and the NT revise, correct and reinterpret the OT, – which we have (I thought) agreed on. I then gave another example showing that even within the OT there seems to be change and development or correction. I didn’t discuss violence explicitly, but ended with this conclusion (that doesn’t mention violence):

    “I think it is more honest, more in accordance with the evidence, and a better understanding of God’s character, to see the Old Testament as a record of God’s interaction with humans, who started with many misunderstandings that were slowly corrected until God sent Jesus.”

    So, how do you interpret those passages, except in the way that I have concluded?

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  21. rwwilson147 says:

    UncleE,
    I appreciate the extent of your willingness to interact, and pray I am respectfully honoring your efforts.
    RWW: Re. 1: I didn’t say I wasn’t willing to work through the issues the way you suggest, just “suggested” that you weren’t actually addressing the issues I identified.
    Re. 2: I definitely did not say I would “agree” “we should interpret Psalm 137 the same way we’d interpret Matthew 5.” I actually said that Psalm 137 wasn’t “advice” for us as you said it was, and implied that Matt. 5 wasn’t advice by saying that it was a “command.” You did not take note of the difference between the Psalm “(which is not a command) and Jesus’ teaching [Matt 5] (which does contain commands).” You didn’t say that then, so why should I think you were saying that? This was a distinction I pointed out not one you did.
    Re. 3: That wasn’t so much an accusation as the obvious implication of asking the question of whether “God command[ed] killings in the Old Testament or was it a misunderstanding.” There are lots of Anabaptist type Nerds who are asserting that very thing: that the texts are in error, that God as known through the revelation in/through Jesus couldn’t do or command violence against anyone–hence thinking that God commanded killing anyone was a mistaken human imposition of their will on God. Now, I think I understand how difficult it might be for an absolute pacifist thousands of years after some texts were written to understand how God could “command” or commend some violent acts and then condemn those he had sent to that task. But I don’t think our conception of contradictions in the biblical texts do justice to the texts.
    Sure, the surface dichotomy between 2Kings9 and Hosea 1 may indicate some grounds for critique of the OT redactors as missing this problem. Or it may be possible that we are just not picking up on the subtle differences in understanding what the authors were trying to accomplish. Perhaps, as argued by glenn miller (at http://christianthinktank.com/qjehu.html) the apparent textual discontinuities “should not lead to the conclusion that Hosea is condemning Jehu for fulfilling God’s command. Instead, Yahweh now announces that he will turn the tables on the house of Jehu because of the real issue, i.e., what has happened in the meantime. In the same way that Jehu in 842 had annihilated a dynasty famed for its long history of oppression and apostasy, so Yahweh himself will now put an end to the Jehu dynasty because it, in turn, has grown hopelessly corrupt.” His conclusion is that “instead of having a surface-contradiction that we have to resolve by ‘digging under it’ to find background, context, etc., we do not even have a contradiction on the surface. The passages just aren’t even talking about the same thing. The Elijah passage is talking about Jehu’s actions and the Hosea passage is talking about Israel’s unfaithfulness (and its consequences). There is not even a ‘problem’ here to actually solve.” There is another “solution” to the “problem” here: https://infidels.org/library/modern/leonard_jayawardena/jehu.html and another here:https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/why-did-god-condemn-jehu/
    Whether these resolutions of this issue are completely valid or not really isn’t the main concern, but discrediting the accuracy of the revelation of God’s character definitely is. And that is what you have proposed, that OT authors and prophets “misunderstood” who God was and is. The particular line of reasoning you propose is so globally absolutist that virtually the whole of the OT would also be discredited by the same line of reasoning. Hence, my critique of what you have said.
    I am not “simplifying down to this one issue” of “Psalm 137 and Matthew 5,” as “related to violence” though that IS how you posed it, but tried to clarify because the differences are not just “genre” as per the “OT vs NT.” You asked why I wouldn’t consider them equally “advice” and I replied that neither of them were advice. So, it wasn’t me that tried to over simplify the issue.
    Re: 4. You seem to be arguing that despite the fact that the title of your post implies a debate about whether God could command violence: “Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?” that really isn’t what you were trying to say, at least explicitly. My apologies if the title of your post mislead me into thinking that you were trying to say something about whether God could command killing (which you more explicitly explored in other posts). Excuse me if I’m oversimplifying here, but you do seem to be arguing that the OT is contradictory about what God willed and commanded regarding killing, so we shouldn’t accept it as authoritative revelation of God; and that since Jesus teaches his followers to act non-violently as he did and taught that the NT corrects the mistaken views of God contained in the OT. Am I somehow mistaken about whether this is what you have been trying to say?
    Your saying “differences in genre, which indicate that Jesus and the NT revise, correct and reinterpret the OT,” implies a category mistake. Differences in genre don’t indicate any such thing–differences in genre have nothing to do with revising, correcting, or reinterpreting anything–they are just different literary modes of communication.
    How I see it is that God revealed himself and his will to his people as he has desired to do so at every time in the history of his interaction with those he called to be his representatives as recorded in the biblical narrative, however given the restraints of cultural context. The portrayal of his moral attributes in later texts do not in any way “correct” those of previous revelation, as though those portrayals were mistaken or in error. It seems evident from your line of reasoning that you may actually think you have a more refined understanding of the moral character of God than did Jesus himself. You think the OT authors and prophets were mistaken about what they thought God had commanded them to do but Jesus (as far as is evidenced in scripture) had no thoughts anything remotely like this. How do you explain that?

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  22. unkleE says:

    Hi, please be assured I have no complaints about your respectfulness or courteousness. My only difficulty is understanding what you are saying.

    Unfortunately there was a typo in my last reply, where I said “we should interpret” when I meant “we shouldn’t interpret”. I several times later on talked about differences and made my point clear, but obviously I confused you, I’m sorry.

    So before we move on, let’s clarify. I think many parts of the OT, and the OT as a whole, are different to the NT in various ways, which means we have to interpret them and apply them differently. In the example, Psalm 137 is different in various ways to Matthew 5, so we should interpret them and apply them differently.

    Do you agree with those statements, or not? Thanks.

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  23. rwwilson147 says:

    Yes, of course the OT and the NT need to be understood in different manners. I think that all New Covenant believers and followers of God in Christ have to interpret the texts of the two covenants differently. I take that as a given from the witness of the Gospels and authors of the New Covenant texts. I think this is especially the case regarding violence–in the OT God obviously is said to have commanded violence at different times for different “crimes” whereas in the NT we have Jesus commanding his followers to take up their own crosses and follow him in non-violent witness and ministry to all.

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  24. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks for that answer, with which I agree. And that is at least a part answer to your original question. Just because I interpret an OT passage one way doesn’t at all mean I should use a similar hermeneutic for a NT passage, just as you say. And contrary to what you say, I think genre does matter. I wouldn’t interpret a parable in the same way I’d interpret the sermon on the mount.

    “you do seem to be arguing that the OT is contradictory about what God willed and commanded regarding killing, so we shouldn’t accept it as authoritative revelation of God; and that since Jesus teaches his followers to act non-violently as he did and taught that the NT corrects the mistaken views of God contained in the OT.”

    Yes, I am suggesting that. Even apart from the killing, the OT is no longer authoritative to those of us who live under the new covenant, but it is still inspired revelation. But the revelation isn’t what some of us think (that is, an inerrant indication of God’s character) because it records the process along the way. So we see totally wrong, primitive, developing and very deep and holy views of God side-by-side, and we can see some of the process by which they were changed and developed.

    As I said, Jesus did have a thought on that, because he omitted a reference to vengeance when he quoted from Isaiah in Luke 4, and he corrected the teaching on an eye for an eye in Matthew 5.

    I have looked at the references you have given on the Jehu incident (thanks) and decided it required a longer response, so you can find that in my next post – Should christians accept everything in the Old Testament as truly from God?.

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  25. rwwilson147 says:

    Quick comment (way too late to be very comprehensive or maybe even coherent.

    Why, if as you say:

    ” But the revelation isn’t what some of us think (that is, an inerrant indication of God’s character) because it records the process along the way.”

    shouldn’t we apply this perspective to New Testament revelation as well?

    What is good for the OT goose ought to be good for the NT gander as well, no?

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  26. rwwilson147 says:

    Because otherwise one is justifying one’s own personal subjective/divergent hermeneutic (applies to OT not NT, just an example) and hence condoning each and every other essentially subjective/disparate hermeneutic (as though every hermeneutic is equally valid).

    I realized I should have made this part of the short response.

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  27. unkleE says:

    Do you really think, after all this, that I am justifying my personal, subjective opinions? Haven’t we agreed that we can’t interpret the Psalms and Matthew the same way? Haven’t I offered extensive reasons, especially in my subsequent post, for the conclusions I have come to?

    I’m sorry, I know this isn’t the way you have been used to thinking, but if I’m wrong, surely it is up to you to put a counter argument, not just keep asking me why we shouldn’t interpret the NT the same as the OT when we have agreed that we shouldn’t?

    So let me summarise:

    1. The OT is a different covenant to the NT.
    2. The genres are different.
    3. The historical and literary evidence are different.
    4. The implications are different.
    5. The internal evidence is different.

    Finally, you have been challenging me, now let me challenge you (in a friendly manner). Why don’t you think and pray about whether God could be trying to teach you something new?

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  28. rwwilson147 says:

    I think I am always open to learning new things about the God of the Bible. But when someone says “that isn’t God” about the God of the Bible, I’m very skeptical because if one rejects what the Bible says about God then the only alternative is one’s own subjective justifications for what one thinks God is like (or accepting someone else’s view).
    1. As noted this is clear from the New Covenant witnesses.
    2. Some are different and others are virtually the same: eg., history, interpreted.
    3. This is the issue: how one interprets the historical and literary evidence is critical.
    4. Is it your understanding that the implication is that there is a different kind of God in each? This is the only conclusion that seems reasonable given the assertion that God can’t do violence.
    5. You’ve already mention evidence in 3.
    PS: I’m pretty sure I’ve posed a number of counter arguments; I was sure you’d have noticed by now.

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  29. unkleE says:

    Hi, a few corrections.

    “if one rejects what the Bible says about God then the only alternative is one’s own subjective justifications”

    My posts (this and the next one) indicate my observation that the Bible says different things about God at different points. So I’m not rejecting what the Bible says, I am trying to find the right interpretation of the different things it says. I have said all along that my criterion is the way Jesus reveals God, because (1) I am a christian so I follow Jesus and (2) he is the most compete revelation of God. I feel you are still misunderstanding and minimising my reasons..

    “Is it your understanding that the implication is that there is a different kind of God in each? This is the only conclusion that seems reasonable given the assertion that God can’t do violence.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean here. I meant that the gospels are recognised as historical biographies, which has certain implications for how we interpret them, whereas the OT passages we are discussing are certainly not that, and often appear to be saga, folk tale, chronicles, etc. And to my memory I have never said “God can’t do violence”, but rather I find the OT portrayal of God different to Jesus. Violence is part of that, sure, but not all of that.

    “I’m pretty sure I’ve posed a number of counter arguments; I was sure you’d have noticed by now.”

    Can you perhaps simply list them please. Thanks.

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  30. Thomas says:

    Dear Unkle

    About 1) violence and 2) the change of our understanding of God’s character.

    1) Isn’t God using violence to destroy the temple in 70 AD? Reading N. T. Wright I have come to an understanding, that Jesus coming on clouds is an expression for God’s judgement over those who turned Jesus and his message down. The theological point, however, has a historical component – namely that the destruction of the temple simply happened because of the jews rebellion against Rome.

    A question: How do you view the Olivet Discourse? I have found N. T. Wright to be meaningful to me.

    2) You have quoted C. S. Lewis on the revelation of God through the OT and the NT. Did you know that his book Mere Christianity can be read for free here: http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/vc/pdfs/MereChristianity_CSL.pdf

    Regards
    Thomas

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  31. unkleE says:

    Hi Thomas,

    1. I don’t think God destroyed the temple, I think the Romans destroyed it because the Jews rebelled against them. It was God’s judgment on the Jewish religious system, but he only foresaw it, he didn’t do it (I think, and it seems I am agreeing with NT Wright). I think judgment can mean punishment, but it can also mean an assessment. In this case, God has wanted to bring in the new covenant, and so the old covenant must be phased out – which is his judgment on the old.

    I think the Olivet discourse is mostly about events in the next generation, but is sometimes about longer term events. I don’t think we need to try too hard to separate out which was which, because the urgency to know about those things was for his hearers, not us.

    2. Thanks for the CS Lewis link. I knew some of his writings were now freely available, but I don’t remember if I knew about that one. It is a little out of date now, but is still a good book.

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  32. Thomas says:

    Dear Unkle

    That makes good sense to me.

    What do you mean about “the next generation”?

    I have begun reading Mere Christianity. It really inspires me!

    Thanks 🙂

    Regards
    Thomas

    Like

  33. unkleE says:

    Glad you’re enjoying Mere Christianity. I don’t read Lewis now as much as I used to, but I still appreciate him when I do.

    I meant that I think much, maybe most, of Jesus’ predictions, made about 30 CE, were fulfilled in the next 50 years, especially in the Jewish rebellion of 65-70 and the destruction of the temple in 70. So some of his hearers would still be alive at the end of that time, but many would have died by then and it would be their children who would go through those times.

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  34. Thomas says:

    Thanks!

    Are you in line with Tom Wrigt in that the language in the Olivet Discourse is symbolic? I think about the whole world being destroyed and the moon and sun and stars being darkened and falling from the sky.

    About the persecution: Did the apostles really get persecuted? Isn’t it only af few of them, and didn’t it only happen very late, when christianity already had been spread?
    – I think about the argument that no one would give their life for something they knew was a lie. But if they were not persecuted until late … and when they were it was perhaps too late for them to back-pedal … then how much worth is that argument?

    Regards

    Like

  35. unkleE says:

    Yes, I am sure much of it is symbolic, but probably not all of it. We can see an example of something similar in Acts 2, when Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, quoting from the prophet Joel that “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” – and he says that prophecy was being fulfilled at that time. Clearly he was taking that part metaphorically. So it seems reasonable to say the same about Jesus’ similar statements.

    Many stories of the apostles’ martyrdom were written in the first few centuries, so there is good evidence for it, but many read like legends. Recently some have claimed they were all exaggerated. I haven’t studied it much, but I think, like a lot of things, the truth probably lies between the two extremes.

    I think this summary, admittedly by a christian apologist, may be reasonably balanced. Christians were persecuted, but it wasn’t everyone and it wasn’t as extensive as some think.

    Just out of curiosity, you said you came from Denmark. Do you live in Denmark?

    Like

  36. Thomas says:

    Dear Unkle

    Thank you for the links! 🙂
    I’m always enjoying your balanced views.

    Yes, I live en Denmark 🙂

    Regards
    Thomas

    Like

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