Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Can we reconcile the warrior God of the OT with the compassionate God of the NT?

A comment in a recent post below interestingly arrived in the midst of a teaching weekend intensive on the Old Testament.  Can we reconcile the warrior God with the compassionate God of the NT? (Acknowledged: that compassionate God is also found in the OT).

One immediate recognition in my mind is that there is a very long answer to this question, with some subtle, nuanced work offered by various learned and insightful OT theologians (e.g. Walter Moberley in his Old Testament Theology) which, in turn, builds on the complexity of authorship (competing voices, diverse aims and objectives in the writing community behind the OT documents as we now have them). This, at least potentially, softens our first reading of passages in which God says, swords swing, heads fall, and even children are slaughtered in the pursuit of purity.

My next recognition is that where questions about the vengefulness and vindictiveness of God are being asked outside the gentle, timeless atmosphere of academia, a shorter rather than a longer answer to the kind of questions voiced below might be helpful.

A third recognition is that I do not think it possible to reconcile the two versions of God without the possibility that an adjustment may be required of our understanding of the relationship between the words of Scripture and Scripture as the Word of God.

This is because the simplest route to reconciliation is to emphasise the humanity of certain passages over their "divinity." That is, to emphasise that certain difficult passages

(1) express a theological view of human authors rather than a direct divine command to be taken literally;

(2) may idealise a situation rather than tell us what actually happened. I give an example below.

If this is so, that may be

(i) challenging for many Christians to accept;

(ii) with consequences for how we understand a number of other passages we do not have in mind as we raise a particular question about the violence of God.

Here goes!

Moberly, in his Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), takes up the question of Israel being "A Chosen People" (Chapter 2), which is the summary cause for "the ban" or holy war of destruction (herem) of that which stands in the way of the chosen people achieving possession of the Promised Land. I here give a brief exposition of a part of what is a much longer and more detailed discussion of these matters, which also takes into account material in Joshua.

Taking up Deuteronomy's "prime passage about election", Moberly discusses Deuteronomy 7:6-8 with reference to Deuteronomy 7:1-8 (pp. 54ff). In 7:2 God commands the utter destruction of the nations which stand in the way of Israel's occupation of the land promised to it.

He notes, incidentally, p. 56, that one of the most frequent approaches of scholars to Deuteronomy 7:6-8 on election is to ignore the role of election in connection with holy war. (Check out commentaries on Deuteronomy to see that this is so.)

Moberly recommends close reading of the letter of the text because that steers us away from taking the text literally. 

In doing this we notice several things. One is that the seven nations mentioned do not actually occupy only the promised land; they are more widespread. This suggests that they stand symbolically for the enemies of Israel.

Another observation is that immediately after the words in verse 2 about utter destruction of these enemies, Israel is commanded to "make no covenant" with them and not to "intermarry with them" (v. 3). These instructions are at odds with utter destruction: covenants are not made with dead people and intermarriage presumes not all have been killed.

This close reading of the letter of the text suggests that we do not take the text literally. Instead we should consider its rhetorical nature and its symbolic character.

That is, bearing in mind that Deuteronomy is a text which Israel is reading after the Babylonian exile, in a period when it has no military power to drive out any actual, physical enemies, we ask what it is actually persuading Israel to think and to do, and we ask what the reference to enemies being destroyed symbolises.

Thus Moberly, p. 61, proposes:

"Since, to put it bluntly, corpses present no temptation to intermarriage, the text surely envisages the continuance of living non-Israelites in close proximity to Israel.
In the light of this, I propose a reading of Deuteronomy 7:1-5 in which the text is construed as a definitional exposition of herem as en enduring practice for Israel."

In practice this means, negatively, avoiding intermarriage because this leads to "religious compromise," and, positively, destroying "those objects that symbolize and enable allegiances to deities other than YHWH (7:5)" but not destruction of people (p. 61-62).

Moberly concludes,

"In other words, herem is being presented as a metaphor for unqualified allegiance to YHWH" (p. 62).

He then makes the point that this is not "mere metaphor" because some specific actions are envisaged: avoiding intermarriage and destroying religious symbols which would compromise allegiance to YHWH. But such practices "do not entail the taking of life on the battlefield" (p. 62).

In other words, consideration of the human authorship of Deuteronomy, including the fact that it is not actually a text written at the time of the conquest of Canaan, and recognition of the human intentions of the text, to utilise the past (Israel entering the promised land in the time of Moses) in order to lay down a command for the present (Israel in Babylonian exile and Israel returning from exile to Judah), leads to new understanding.

Our first reading of the text, which implies a savage God bent in destroying people, gives way to a second reading of the text, in which we read something which is consistent with the continuing messages of the whole of Scripture: that God is love and God desires our unqualified love for him.


50 comments:

Andrei said...

Isn't Deuteronomy a historical work written by Moses?

And as such represent his world view which has echoes down the ages in other more recent concepts such as "manifest destiny" or even more recent ideas that neoliberal policies have triumphed and other systems of human governance have been found wanting and are being consigned to the dustbin of history

The bigger question would be what role does God play in human history?

During the Second World War Wehrmacht soldiers wore belts bearing the words "Gott mit uns" - make of that what you will

Father Ron Smith said...

"Our first reading of the text, which implies a savage God bent in destroying people, gives way to a second reading of the text, in which we read something which is consistent with the continuing messages of the whole of Scripture: that God is love and God desires our unqualified love for him." - Dr.P.C. -

Thank you, Peter, for this re-assessment of the traditional conservative view of the origins and impact of some of the O.T. writings.

Your paragraph, above, is the only way in which I, personally, could ever correlate the New Testament writings with the Old Testament. This is contiguous with a modern view that the Scriptures, though inspired by God, are not necessarily the result of a facsimile utterance of God. They are humanly translated and delivered - still subject to a contemporary human interpretation.

For me, all Scripture has to be interpreted in the light and understanding of the teaching of the Incarnate Christ, whose loving-kindness towards 'sinners' has often been misunderstood - to the point of his being declared apostate in his own time by his fellow Jews.

"Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the Feast - not with the Old Leaven of malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and TRUTH." - Easter Anthem

Liturgy said...

I am (positively) fascinated by this blog post, Peter. It says some similar things to what I (and others) have said on this site (and elsewhere) and been castigated. Now you are saying this differently and I think you are saying it stronger: “an adjustment may be required of our understanding of the relationship between the words of Scripture and Scripture as the Word of God”!

Intriguingly, you would have some of the words of the scriptures being an expression of the view of human authors rather than a direct divine command to be taken literally! The Bible, then, becomes a mixture with some bits being human and other bits being “divine”.

I wonder how one discerns which are the human bits and which are the direct divine command to be taken literally? I suspect that one person’s human bits are another person’s direct divine command to be taken literally… cf. many of the debates on this very site...

Certainly, you are giving no time to this text coming from the mouth of Moses prior to the Conquest as the Bible indicates these words are.

As a concluding aside, I am unconvinced that your “close reading” of 7:2 is valid – that what is presented is intended to be chronological, and, because the chronology is impossible (utterly destroy them, then make no covenant with them, and then do not intermarry with them) this, hence, inevitably leads to some sort of metaphorical reading of “utterly destroy them”. The verse is not about an impossible chronology, it is simply expanding on what they are to do by explaining what they are not to do. “You must doom them to destruction: grant them no terms and give them no quarter; you shall not intermarry with them…Instead, this is what you shall do to them…”

Blessings

Bosco

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

'But Jesus called them unto him and said:"Suffer little children to come unto me,and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter it".' Luke 18/16 & 17.

I have never seen anywhere, where He said that one could enter as a theologian or academic.It is fine to try and understand the "nature and Character of God" as much as we can; but perhaps we should spend more time pondering our own nature and character and look at the "ALMIGHTY GOD" in His Completeness of BEING. Academics tend to concentrate on particular aspects of Nature and Character and try to fit Him into a whole series of little boxes. Is He a warrior ??; Does His "righteous anger, wrath and perfect judgement", that He has shown against rebellious man [who was forewarned of the consequences of his actions], show Him to be a tyrant????? NO!!! It is the least that one could expect as the rightful KING and Governor of His Own Creation. Is it not exactly what we what we expect of our own government- that law breakers are treated according to the law.

Anonymous said...

Peter, my most general thoughts on OT violence are in two responses to Jean under your previous OP-- 11th/9:58, 13th/7:34.

(i) "Can we reconcile the warrior God with the compassionate God of the NT? (Acknowledged: that compassionate God is also found in the OT)."

Here, do you not mean something like--

(i') "Can we identify the God who elected Abraham's family with the God who would redeem all people?"

After all, some proponents of *limited atonement* have cited your first reading of these texts in support of their own belief in *double predestination*. But if the election of Israel was God's preparation for the *universal atonement* then the Elector and the Redeemer are as consistent as a means and its end. And please note that the preparation required is not only that of supplying a lineage for the Messiah, but also that of the moral and spiritual education of Israel for the benefit of all humanity. That, as I have mentioned before, was St Irenaeus's view in the late C2.

Some readers may still be troubled by the means, thinking that, if an omnipotent God did not choose a different one, he is still unlike the "compassionate God" who "would redeem all people." This is a theodicy argument, and it would take us far from the OP to answer it. A survey not partial to faith can be found here--

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/

--and in its terms we can say that St Irenaeus's view is consistent with strong consequentialist and soul-making defenses of God's goodness. If readers also agree with Alvin Plantinga's profound critique of theodicy arguments generally, so much the better.

(ii) "certain difficult passages (1) express a theological view of human authors rather than a direct divine command to be taken literally; (2) may idealise a situation rather than tell us what actually happened."

Here, Peter, do you not mean something like--

(ii') "sometimes biblical authors and editors have (1) supplied divine words of command to actors as their presumed motivation for narrated actions; (2) conserved narratives, not as *incident reports* from notable timeframes, but rather as exempla of virtuous actions.

If so, then when you say--

(iii) "...an adjustment may be required of our understanding of the relationship between the words of Scripture and Scripture as the Word of God."

--I hear you saying--

(iii') "the words of Scripture are best read as the Word of God in accord with the ancient conventions by which they were written."

Which is just what the ancients themselves did, of course. There is a challenge here, indeed, but this is, not to the tradition, but rather to the still-modern assumptions of postmodern readers.

BW

Anonymous said...

"... a direct divine command to be taken literally!... direct divine commands to be taken literally?... another person’s direct divine command to be taken literally..."

Can this be said without the construction *to be taken literally*?

I do not know what that phrase means in this context.
.
BW

Peter Carrell said...

(Bowman's comment from 7.34 am this morning on a previous post ...)

Jean, a few delightful liberals who used to comment on Fulcrum mourned the Amalekites in many an interesting thread. I came away from those discussions with five very basic standard replies. After narrowing the field to the presenting vexation, I draw next from these--

1. OT violence is tied to the Land as the unique place on earth of God's Presence. Whatever one makes of that in its context, that Land has not been that place since the C1 at the very latest, and no land anywhere else has ever been that Land or place at all. All subsequent inferences from those texts into later time proceed by analogy, good or bad or disastrous, that expands on some understanding of the Presence.

2. Readers of the canon since at least St Irenaeus in the C2 have seen the history of Israel as an account of the spiritual education of humanity-in-Israel that necessarily preceded the humanity-in-God of Christ. So patristic and medieval (and even later Puritan) readers understood their souls to be the new place of Presence and applied the narrative of the occupation of Canaan in meditation on the sanctification of their souls. When St Bernard urges his monks to smite their Amalekites, he is not exhorting them to rush to Palestine to hunt some down and kill them.

3. When last I looked into it, the archaeological evidence from Palestine did not at all support the hypothesis that what we know as genocide actually happened there. Kindly note that this poses no problem for the traditional reading of the OT, but is awkward-- perhaps only that-- for some more recent hermeneutics of suspicion.

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary TO SALVATION: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary TO SALVATION." Article VI.

4. My dear liberal friends are constitutively sceptical of scenarios in which some suffer for the good of a mere group, just as my dear conservative friends tend to see that sacrifice of the few to the many as the way of the cosmos. OT accounts of violence pose a different koan to each temperament; maybe that is its the eternal significance. Liberals do not get it until they accept St Irenaeus's premise-- with which they may be quite happy; conservatives do not get it until they accept that there has been nothing like the Land since the C1-- which then helps them to see why they feel so chronically embattled.

5. All of the above points to a wider point: persons and peoples of faith should understand the scriptures through the lens of the creeds (*theologically* we even say sometimes, which it is odd to have to do), even if they also bring some valuable critical scholarship to their reading.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman at 7.08
If we think we have a divine command directly given, i.e. God's voice has spoken words to us, we could treat them metaphorically rather than literally. Most people do that with Jesus' command to pluck eyes out and chop off hands.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco

"My" close reading is Moberly's close reading and I am not sure what he would say in response to your alternative reading - but the answer will lie in his book that I don't have time to go back to.

We must take care re dividing the words of Scripture into divine and human words (as though we can then, Marcion like, get rid of the words which do not suit us). I realise what I have written heads in that direction but what I think Moberly (and my following him) is pointing towards is a quest to discern the Word of God in the words of Scripture, that Word being found within those words and not apart from them; and that Word more than capable of being discerned in multiple ways from the same set of words. In the Deuteronomy case in point, the Word in the words, unqualified allegiance to YHWH, is a tough Word to those willing to hear it.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
Academic study of Scripture has great value as an aid to pastoral response. What I wrote above, with Moberly's help, is not some abstract academic exercise, and finding a way to make the gate so narrow as to only allow theologians in is the last thing on my mind. Finding a way for a soul troubled by Scripture is an urgent pastoral matter for me and I am pleased to find such a careful academic and such a compassionate pastor as Moberly come to our aid in this matter is a gift of God.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman at 4.58 pm
It is all very well reading Scripture according to ancient conventions but what OT scholarship is challenging us to consider is which ancient conventions apply (and how might we know). For instance, do we understand according to the conventions of Moses writing, say, 1450 BC, or according to the Deuteronomist writing 550 BC?

Anonymous said...

peter carroll please forgive the lack of capitals and punctuation but i am writing this slowly with only one hand and only limited eyesight to complain about your lack of faithfulness to the scriptures and sound interpretation

horatius cocles scaevola

Peter Carrell said...

Dear "Horatius"
I will permit one comment (the one above) from you using a pseudonym.
For further comments to be published you will need to use your real name.
In what way have I been unfaithful to Scripture and sound interpretation?
AND: what would be your response to the person in distress over genocide in Scripture?

Anonymous said...

Ah, a miracle, I've been healed! I have recently read Walter Moberly's book (and I've met him he's a fine man and a fine scholar). His ideas on Deuteronomy are not new to evangelical circles: I was teaching them about 20 years ago as part of the 3rd year OT work for the Open Theological College in Gloucester. They have also been around for years in works like Paul Copan's 'Is God a Moral Monster?'
Many years ago as well, I read K. Lawson Younger's 'Ancient Conquest Narratives' on the rhetoric of that genre which frequently includes hyperbole and paraenesis, and that's how I've always looked at Joshua. From the earliest days of my research, it was always clear from Judges that the 'conquest' was very far from total. Scholars like Ken Kitchen and Alan Millard always cautioned that Joshua had to be read very discerningly.

Scaevola

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

The point I am trying to make is that ALL the "Attributes of God's "nature and character" are plainly there for all to see; however, when one tries to divide these neat little boxes; it destroys the UNITY of the Righteousness of His KINGSHIP. It is when we look at His "anger',His "wrath" His"vengeance";without considering these within His PERFECTION and RIGHTEOUSNESS;that they are problematic.

Anonymous said...

(Er, that was an attempted joke above. As the fast-disappearing tribe of classicists knows, Scaevola had only one hand and Horatius Cocles only one eye. I meant to say they were biblical literalists 'avant la lettre'. I regret the fundamentalist interpretation of my joke!)

Peter Carrell said...

Either way - and humour, witty allusions and classical insights are appreciated here - we need a name. You sound awfully like Brian Kelly who used to comment more frequently here ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
We may be talking at cross purposes.
I am not attempting to disconnect any of God's attributes from the whole of the Being of God.
I am trying to respond to a question of someone disturbed by some accounts in the Bible which are difficult to square away with the God who is Love and by the time of the NT never, whether in anger or love, commands genocide.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Many thanks for your post, and Bowman for your response as well...alongside other contributors. I have only just had time to look at it all now so too late to digest too much and reply but I anticipate doing so. I have to say though Peter I also viewed being asked such a question as a serious and urgent pastoral matter, as it distresses me to think such a matter impacting a person to the to the degree that it threatens their belief in God. Notwithstanding, it was me they asked for an opinion, gulp!

Despite good intentions I didn’t reply to her today but I did find a moment to copy and paste your post Peter so she had something to start with!

Cheers

Anonymous said...

If, Peter, there are any who hear a divine voice telling them to pluck out their eyeballs, etc then we hope they can and will consider that this voice might be using hyperbole. But those who only encounter divine commands in scripture, have not received *direct divine commands* at all; they have encountered motivated and collected narratives that not only reveal but serve God's purposes. Those guide the reader to a plausible level of concreteness in application. Any application of what is understood will be by inference.

The main question is whether one reads the OT with the Talmud or the NT. If the latter, then what we know of Christ guides what we know of God's purpose for a narrative about the emigration to Canaan. Your analogy from eyeball-plucking to Amalekite-smiting makes sense of that. Problem solved.

BW

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Brian! We have heard so little from you that I was selfishly worried that you had gone to the better place.

"For instance, do we understand according to the conventions of Moses writing, say, 1450 BC, or according to the Deuteronomist writing 550 BC?"

Peter, whichever ancient convention one finds most fitting, one should not read the text according to any modern convention (eg journalism, trial court, lab report, documentary film-making, fact-finding commission, event log, etc) that places facticity prior to the Spirit-reader engagement through it.

After all, we have no evidence from the ground in Israel that the putative genocide ever happened. And if widespread evidence of genocide does emerges, then if facticity is what one truly cares about, then one will look at broken bones and read the field reports, not the Bible. Either way, mere facticity cannot ever explain the consecrated text we have.

And the text was not just written, but edited, then assembled into a history, which was then collected in various competing canons, one of which was adopted by the Pharisees (who as rabbis reinterpreted it with the Talmud), and then appropriated from them by the Way (who as fathers reinterpreted it with the NT). If the ancients and medievals did not take the text to be a bare *incident report* document, then how has it been faithful for moderns and postmoderns to do it? And if that sort of reading is not faithful, then it is not a spiritual problem if one cannot do it. In the Holy Spirit, the meaning of that text must be, as usual, a spiritual one.

Readers, please note: ancient surveillance cameras would have recorded some things we read in the Bible (eg David), but not others (eg Job). Those who enjoy the culture wars can and do make two column lists and fight over them. But what we think of the documentary past scarcely matters when one Lord is meeting one to discuss an eternal future. For most people, the deep devotional challenge confronting them is this: their eschatology-- personal, ecclesial, and creational-- is too unscriptural to motivate a faithful life. Dithering about the facticity behind OT accounts of things is log-eyed mote-picking.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I think you are oversimplifying the challenge Jean's reader poses to this thread. Your reader is knowledgeable, aware of several strategies and able to discern the appropriate one to take. A somewhat "ideal" reader (to coin a phrase)!

But Jean's reader, like many readers of the Old Testament, even with the New Testament handy, is likely, with the help of Jesus himself, to read Deuteronomy as the words of Moses and thus words delivered before not after entry to the Promised Land. In that reading it is going to look very much like a bleak, unrelenting cleansing of the local ethnicities is mandated by divine authority, an action which, of course, in the memories of 20th and 21st centuries people is all too possible to envisage. (Note, also, Bosco's challenge to Moberly's sequential reading of Deuteronomy 7:1-5).

Yes, if per divine providence, Jean's reader chances upon that which (in my experience) is rarely brought to either the pulpit or to the Sunday School room, admission of little or no evidence of such ethnic cleansing actually taking place and/or argument from literary features that Deuteronomy is a post-entry and not a pre-entry document, then Jean's reader is heading in the direction of your ideal reader.

While it is true that from the pulpit there will be much encouragement to read the OT through NT lens, to let the compassionate God of Jesus Christ subsume the otherwise apparently warrior God of the Hexateuch, there clearly are problems in the Christian community (in my experience) which highlight the ethnic cleansing passages as not immediately being cleansed (so to speak!) of their presenting difficulties.

(As an aside, I wonder in those communities in Israel which belligerently claim the right to build settlements on disputed land whether the Talmud plays the role you see it playing in the understanding of Deuteronomy's gung ho attitude to taking up the Promised Land ...?)

Anonymous said...

Alas, Peter, other writing calls, so this must be more brief than your kind subtlety deserves.

"I wonder in those communities in Israel which belligerently claim the right to build settlements on disputed land whether the Talmud plays the role you see it playing..."

That is precisely the role that I do see the Talmud playing. The Jews do not have the problem of reconciling an act of particularism in Canaan with an act of universalism on the Cross. We do, whether violence was a part of the former or not. Ignore that problem and one is preaching a half-gospel that will sooner or later fail to make sense.

For me-- for the tradition, really-- St Irenaeus solved this *theodicy* problem, and Tom Wright has revived his *consequentialist* and *soul-making* solution: making Abraham's family into a nation was a necessary stage in the salvation open to all. We are most likely to be satisfied with that solution if we understand why growth in the Judaic ethos matters in Christ.

BW

Liturgy said...

“The main question is whether one reads the OT with the Talmud or the NT. If the latter, then what we know of Christ guides what we know of God's purpose for a narrative about the emigration to Canaan.”

Sure.

[Let’s just quietly skip over the Owner of the vineyard killing all the tenants (Mark 12 etc), the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), and all the genocide stuff in the book of Revelation.]

But the New Testament, Jesus, Peter, Paul – all assume Moses said what the Hebrew Bible says he said, and that through him God commanded what those scrolls indicate God commanded. That is (extremely) uncomfortable, but we need to be honest about it. To suggest that, when the Bible talks about killing people, God is being metaphorical and hyperbolic is IMO disingenuous.

This thread assumes that there is no “facticity” to Moses saying what the text says he said, that the “conquest” didn’t happen as the Bible said it did. There is no historical evidence of such a conquest. To be fair, there is no historical evidence for Moses, the exodus, all the way back – and forward all the way to David.

I continue to be fascinated to follow this discussion – in the light of (an) other discussion on this site where so much certainty is drawn from a few verses that have far less solidity within the Bible than the God who commands the killing of people.

Blessings

Bosco

Anonymous said...

"This thread assumes..."

Apparently under some time pressure, the thread is discussing Peter's OP on a question on another thread that was posed to Jean by a friend.

The discussion is narrower than it might be, but still broader than you have noticed.

If you have any substantive proposals to make on the matters that fascinate you, I am sure that Peter would gladly approve them.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
(Briefly, obviously a lot more could be said, with nuances and caveats etc).
Issue 1: I myself would not want to extend a reading which looks carefully at the specific matter of genocide with the moral issue of God killing off people who are only guilty (relative to fellow sinners the Israelites) of being the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is, I may have implied but I do not intend to imply, that we can make our way through the Bible with "careful, attentive readings" and do away with all problematic texts. Tenants in the vineyard, Ananias and Sapphira, Revelation visions are about judgments against people who, within the texts concerned, are guilty of rebellion against God.
Issue 2: (un)certainty about what a text means. I have tried to convey with Moberly that there is no uncertainty re Deuteronomy 7 and associated passages that God requires our unqualified allegiance. There is no intrinsic reason why we cannot be certain about texts which otherwise have uncertain features. That Moses did not write Genesis, that Adam and Eve may be symbolic in various ways about the original human beings and a complex biological story of how homo sapiens came to be homo sapiens, need not make us uncertain that there is a theology of marriage taught within Genesis 1 and 2, with confirmation elsewhere in Scripture - a theology of marriage with this shape rather than those contours.

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter;

This issue gets taken completely out of kilter by the use of highly emotive and subjective words such as "genocide".We are talking about the "Eternal God"who created all that is seen and unseen,as well as life-[both spiritual and physical].He,who is the rightful KING and RULER of His creation. He,who has every right to make COMMANDMENTS at both the "Spiritual and Physical levels".
He,who has every right to demand "OBEDIENCE" of ALL His subjects. He,who has every right to make LAWFUL JUDGMENTS against lawbreakers and to decree punishments.He ,whose Judgments are perfect; and we dare to make then claim of "GENOCIDE" against Him.

Come on,everybody,it is coming up to Easter; so bring out all your charges against Him and let's CRUCIFY HIM again.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
God is God and does what God wants.
But creatures are creatures and, strange though it may seem, have an inbuilt sense of what is contradictory and inconsistent.
Hence whether we look at a passage and call it "genocide" or "killing lots of people belonging to the same people group" does not change the fact that some readers of Scripture are (i) sorely troubled by what they read and (ii) not prone to accepting that God's Sovereignty means God can be capricious.
No one is trying to crucify Christ again here and that is an unworthy charge you make.
People are trying to help a fellow believer out. That is an outworking of Christian obligation.

Liturgy said...

If we separate out God from God's attributes (love, justice, truth,...) and say - it's God's reality, He made it, He can do whatever he jolly well likes with what He has made. He can make 1+1=3 if he wants to. Soon we are at "God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I'm the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but he'd rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm."

Blessings

Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Glen, God has given us, God's children, the wonderul faculty of reasoning with an active mind. The beauty of God is that God does not force the Creation into obedience, but rather, in love, beckons humanity into a perfect relationship by example. That example, par excellence, is the documented life, love, death and resurrection of the God/Man Jesus. This is where the Scriptures are our guide. "Written for our learning", Scripture is a record - not only of the work of God but also the response of human beings, in particular times and contexts that actually affect both the narratve and its interpetation and understanding for the purpose of enlightenment and edification; today and into the future.

To achieve God's ultimate purpose; the 'Word(s) in The Book(s)', in God's good time, had to 'become flesh' in Jesus The Christ, in order for God to bring the 'New Covenant' that Jesus was able and disposed to bring - through his sacrificial life and death - for ALL who would receive Chrst as God's definitive and Final Word. Through Him, in Him, and With Him (Jesus - The Word-Made-Flesh) the world was, is being and will be redeemed. Deo Gratias!

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

God is certainly God; but the expression that He does what He wants, must never imply that He wants or desires anything that is not absolutely righteous and the best for His creation. God's Sovereignty and judgments are never capricious. This type of language is unhelpful to clarifying this type of issue.

Yes, all us creatures have an inbuilt sense of what is contradictory and inconsistent; it is called the "original sin" and due to the Adamic Archetypes in our spirits. Bowman makes a good point by questioning, what is the real driver of this persons issues surrounding His judgment on these Nations.He did not boot these Nations off the land or get Israel to wage war on them, simply so that He could give Israel the Promised Land; but because, these Nations had committed treason against His legitimate ruling of His creation..see Jer ch.6.

The actual outworking of Christian obligation is to help people to come to understand what Christ demands of us. With it's notion of a 'broad Church', the trumpet of the ACANZP has failed to deliver a clear sound. Ez 33 and 1Cor 14/8.

Jean said...

Hi all, I am reading and processing everything in the thread and from that doing more reading... In the meantime I received a response re passing on your initial post Peter:
“The author of the blog post you sent through has a similar answer to other's I've read, which is to argue that the text shouldn't be taken literally and that it likely is an example of a time when the human author put forward their agenda (rather than the divine authorship taking precedence). While I would like this to be the case because it gets God off the hook, it is extremely problematic for approaching the rest of Scripture - it feels like a slippery slope once you start picking passages that must be 'human inspired' rather than God-breathed just because they offend our modern sensibilities. Why then believe some of the key passages of the gospel? I don't know, it feels like that opens another massive can of worms. Any thoughts? “
I do appreciate the comments as it is not a simple query and one I would say has had many and varied answers given to it over the years, and will let you know the ultimate words of wisdom (hmm) that formulate my own response to her ‘cognitive disonance’ wrestling but have to apologise it may be Monday before I am able to do so... busy week distracting me from what seem more pertinent or important things to do such as this.
Bowman, I did understand you inference to the differences in respect to land etc and the way of reading the OT through the NT, it has me now looking up my OT notes. All that said I don’t think this is a case of searching for nats or nit picking as a diversion from the ‘real’ things of faith but a personal working out or wrestling with the question, can I trust the God of scripture which is the OT and NT God. The answer when looking at Jesus as God incarnate of course is there but the deep thinkers I believe need to reconcile or see this also in the God of the OT and the OT isn’t exactly easy to digest without formal study and even then... Those who think less deeply often just stick with the God seen through Jesus and put the OT in the too hard basket and are ok with that.

Jean said...

Hi Glen

Christ does not demand. Love is one of the only things in this world that cannot be forced or controlled; the over-riding of free will by implication makes love unattainable.

Yes the Canaanite cities indeed were full of the worship of Baals and this will inform a central part of my response but one also knows Israel itself was not exactly spotless. To want to know or to be able to believe arbitrary violence is not one of God’s attributes (thanks for the reminder re God’s attributes Bosco).... is a commendable thing. Proverbs: Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Your friend raises an important question re "where does it stop?"
Of course that is a risk any approach to reading the Bible might take (e.g. once we read the Bible differently on slavery and seek to abolish slavery, we might start reading the Bible differently on women ...!!).
Also, reading the Bible metaphorically is something we often do and should not avoid, otherwise many gospel readers would be literally one-eyed and singlehanded.
Nevertheless, it is possible - I can imagine it - that we take the reading offered above re Deuteronomy, apply it to other passages and, before you know it!, we have a God of the Bible who is, well, a nice person without any fearsome or even fierce qualities, completely at odds with the God of the Bible who is Judge, whom people fear and who fiercely roams across the world wreaking vengeance on the unjust.
In response then, two critical considerations, at least to my mind:
(1) What was the truth of "the ban": were people, including women and children at divine command destroyed, in order to accommodate Israel in the Promised Land? It is plausible, I suggest, to accept Moberly's reading, to combine it with lack of archaeological evidence for, e.g., the destruction of Jericho in the time of Joshua, and answer the question negatively without thereby committing to drawing similar conclusions for other passages because asking about the truth of those passages might lead to a different answer.
(2) The genocidal passages in Scripture seem to raise a recurring question for a number of people in a way that other passages today do not; and that question seems to be a stumbling block to faith for a number of people in a way that other passages are not, so it is worth giving the genocidal passages extra careful scrutiny.

Liturgy said...

Today’s Gospel reading connects interestingly with this thread: Jesus says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (John 5:46f).

As I have indicated, Peter, I can make far more sense out of Jean’s reading of Deuteronomy than yours/Moberly’s – which turns Deuteronomy 7 into an impossible chronology and hence that "Moses’" (NB scare quotes) instructions are a metaphor akin to Jesus’ call to rip your eyes out.

Has anyone else ever previously turned Deut 7 into a Monty-Python-like script: first kill them and, after that, then don’t marry the corpses…?! Or is Moberly what regulars on this site would call a “revisionist”?

How the thread seems to me to be going: Moses didn’t say this; there’s no historical evidence of this genocidal conquest;… and now has been added: the Joshua story didn’t happen; Adam and Eve aren’t history – so we are well on the way to no history from Genesis 1 all the way to King David. Add to that today’s Gospel reading: no, it wasn’t written by John; Jesus never said what it says he said; Moses never wrote what Jesus said he wrote…

Oh – but, as an aside, what the Bible says about marriage is binding today. Except, of course, the parts about polygamy, or what to do when you find out your wife wasn’t a virgin, its teaching on rape, arranged marriage, concubines, pre-pubescent marriages, interracial marriage,…

Blessings

Bosco

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

It strikes me that your penchant for "social justice" has blinded you to the simple message of both the O.T and the N.T.; Gods "says what He means and means what he says"; when He speaks of the repercussions of worshiping false gods. This is why these Nations were righteously judged by Him.

Was Elijah guilty of murder? 1 Kings 18/40.
Was David guilty of murdering Goliath?

Bringing it into the modern day, are you going to make this accusation against our soldiers of the two World Wars?

If you are truly worried about genocide; forget about contraception and consider " tax payer funded ABORTION.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
I may have been blinded though what I see myself doing is not furthering the cause of "social justice" but trying to do justice to problematic biblical texts.

What I do not see you as doing, when bringing to the discussion examples such as Elijah killing prophets and David felling Goliath, let alone soldiers in the world wars, is making a clear distinction between justified and unjustified killing. Even in the world wars, let alone more recent ones (and our Defence chiefs are in the news again this week re Afghanistan), there is always a question whether killing, even enemies, is justified in all circumstances.

There were qualms of conscience in Britain about the bombing of Germany (killing citizens in their homes as much as workers in munitions factories). I don't think one has to be on about "social justice" if one has regrets about some of the merciless actions of British/NZ soldiers against Maori in the land wars here in the 19th century.

Back to Deuteronomy: did children have to be killed in order to punish idolatry? Why were some peoples killed for their idolatry and not all? (Note in Judges how many Canaanite idolaters remained to trouble and tempt Israel. There are questions you are not asking of Scripture. Notably, if the ruthlessness of Deuteronomy actually took place, how come Israel through most of its subsequent kings was troubled by the high places and the false worship which took place there?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I am not sure what your point above is.
Moberly/me may be reading the Deuteronomy passage wrongly (though please read his whole work and not my potted summary of it!), in which case, what is your resolution of the problem/question which this post initially responded to?
That there are questions about parts of Scripture and what Scripture says does not change the fact that from Scripture we draw demonstrably certain and sure conclusions.
A conclusion I have drawn, with Moberly, is that God asks of us unqualified allegiance. Do you agree or does your reading take you to a different conclusion? And what is that conclusion?
On marriage matters and related matters of human sexuality, the arguments for (say) marriage being this, for blessing that, for certainly not blessing this, can be made strongly and convincingly (at least in the sense of convincing many Christians) through various reading approaches to Scripture.
Again, my question is about the point you are trying to make in your comment, because I am tempted to read it as meaning that nothing at all can be said from Scripture about any matter ... and I am 100% sure that is not what you intend readers here to take as your meaning.

Anonymous said...

[A] "Readers of the canon since at least St Irenaeus in the C2 have seen the history of Israel as an account of the spiritual education of humanity-in-Israel that necessarily preceded the humanity-in-God of Christ. So patristic and medieval (and even some Puritan) readers understood their souls to be the new place of Presence and applied the narrative of the occupation of Canaan in meditation on the sanctification of their souls." 13th/7:49

[B] "...what the Bible says about marriage is binding today. Except, of course, the parts about polygamy, or what to do when you find out your wife wasn’t a virgin, its teaching on rape, arranged marriage, concubines, pre-pubescent marriages, interracial marriage..." 15th/12:37

If St Irenaeus could believe in the inspiration of the OT without advising the Christians of Lyon to practise eg polygamy, so can we.

BW

Anonymous said...

[1] "“For the Catholic, the Church is itself comprised in the deep source of the act of faith: it is only in that I believe with the Church that I share in that certitude in which I may rest my life.” Union with the Church constitutes a “new and wider self” of the believer; and it is this self that is the subject of faith, “the self of the *anima ecclesiastica*, that is, the self of that person through whom the whole community of the Church expresses itself...” Robert Jenson quoting Joseph Ratzinger. Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation. Kindle 2491-2496.

[2] "For me-- for the tradition, really-- St Irenaeus solved this *theodicy* problem, and Tom Wright has revived his *consequentialist* and *soul-making* solution: making Abraham's family into a nation was a necessary stage in the salvation open to all. We are most likely to be satisfied with that solution if we understand why growth in the Judaic ethos matters in Christ." 14th/9:14

[3] "...but a personal working out or wrestling with the question, can I trust the God of scripture which is the OT and NT God." 14th/10:33

Yes, but only if one does not idealise what God improves.

BW

Liturgy said...

Peter, I think BW has taken the words right out of my mouth.
I think revising the uncomfortable passages to mean something quite different to what they plainly mean, and have been understood to mean, is unhelpful (read - dishonest). In the discussion Jean started, I think we first need to be totally honest.
Yes, there is this absolutely terrible stuff in there.
It's not simply a metaphor for commitment to God.
Whether or not historically the Israelites ever got round to obeying God's command changes little to nothing.
There is a trajectory in Revelation.
And that trajectory does not exclude marriage.

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco and Bowman
Let me first say (and to other commenters here): thanks for giving this a careful scrutiny. Moberly figures in a chapter in my slowly burning book on mercy and I may need to reconsider things!
Secondly, I am not sure that what is being proposed is a "revision." As I understand Moberly, he is suggesting we may not have read the text properly before this.
Thirdly, I may be misunderstanding Bowman: I thought you are saying things closer to my position herein than to Bosco's - but likely I am misunderstanding things!
Are you both saying that we shouldn't remit the toughness and harshness of Deuteronomy 7 etc?
(With Bowman saying that nevertheless the Christian tradition has read such passages figurally.)

Anonymous said...

Peter, the usual unusual influences on my reading and the gaps in my knowledge of Bosco's hermeneutic make a quick answer unhelpful and a helpful answer unquick. I shall compromise on Monday.

BW

Anonymous said...

Postscript: Daniel Boyarin would say that the one like to a man of Daniel 7:13 was read in 2TJ as the *warrior god* of Canaan. If one accepts that, then Deuteronomy 7 unexpectedly challenges the unitarian understanding of OT monotheism and the supposition that apocalyptic is peripheral to it.

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Noted, Bowman!

Anonymous said...

Richard Hays on how to read the Bible--

https://youtu.be/RlRqu0anrF8?t=33m39s

https://youtu.be/RlRqu0anrF8?t=44m24s

BW

Anonymous said...

Ellen Davis on how peoples threatened with genocide deepened their scriptural imagination--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=13m24s

Richard Hays and Ellen Davis on personal engagement with the text--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=44m28s

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=54m30s

Stanley Hauerwas on how scriptural imagination shapes ethos, character, and action--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=27m46s

Davis and Richard Hays on why scriptural imagination became so rare in churches but is becoming more common in academe--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=36m15s

Especially--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=42m29s

https://tinyurl.com/y7ofo8tc

Stanley Hauerwas on why Protestants read the scriptures without imagination, and "why we need to fire most of the scripture scholars in most seminaries"--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=46m01s

All on spiritual discipline for cultivating a scriptural imagination--

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A?t=58m38s

At the beginning, Richard Hays explains what is meant by "cultivating scriptural imagination for the renewal of the Church."

https://youtu.be/hTOVoWbRc0A

BW

Jean said...

Hey Bowman aka BW thank you for all the links, it is going to take me all year to get through these and my brain is already full! All the same I look forward to finding about more about this term spiritual imagination. I was going to post today but alas other things interrupted but I shall let you know what response I gleaned to the original OT I received asap. God willing tomorrow : ) ... cheers!

Anonymous said...

Jean, there are only two videos, which you can watch straight through in about two and a half hours. I supplied links to particular moments for busy folk on the blessed isles who might not have the patience to watch a lecture that teaches by example or a moderated conversation of longish comments. Not that either is boring, if you see what they are doing.

I think the term that you are reaching for is *scriptural imagination*, which emphasises, not things methodically done to the text to coax *the one and only* meaning out of it, but the way the text itself engages our hearts and changes our presence to our lives and surroundings. As all the speakers stress, it does feed hungry souls, and for Christians in post-Christendom societies, such exegesis is a primary survival skill. I could go on for a twelvemonth about this-- and will-- but not until next year.

*Scriptural imagination* has an obvious application here-- a desire for it inspired your friend's difficulty-- but it also has a link to P-2 and *virtue ethics* on the other thread.

(P-2) *Sexual intercourse is more virtuous as the couple are more open to conception as a divine gift.*

Both *scriptural imagination* and *virtue ethics* restore narrative and allusive awareness to our thinking.

A nuptial custom of pious Polish couples was to sing the Magnificat when they went to bed. To the mechanistic mind of modernity, that could seem to be imposing an arbitrary religious meaning from the outside on already wonderful, because natural, sex. Since singing has no visible consequences, surely nothing of ethical significance, says the consequentialist. Nor is it in any way obligated by God, church, or state, so it is entirely optional, agrees the deontologist.

But sex is only wonderful when two wonder-filled hearts are doing it. In that custom, a traditional *scriptural imagination*, alert to the similarity of a new marriage to the Annunciation, is enabling the *virtue* in the ethos that they are forming. To Catholics steeped in mariology, this gesture opened their marriage and parenting-- one thing-- to the faithfulness, receptivity, and endurance of the Blessed Virgin. That is, with conscious delight in the irony of it, they aspire to the virtues of her virginity in their procreation. And, as it takes two for that tango, each is making a promise to the other, which is indeed full of ethical consequences, unimaginable in that moment but bearable by faith in the Creator's blessing. Even if the deontologist cannot see it, if there is a sacrament of marriage, there it is.

A different conversation on *spiritual imagination* is sparked here and there by Sarah Coakley in England and Paul Gavrilyuk in Texas. It has some relevance to *scriptural imagination* but I have not seen that developed well in anything recent.

BW

Anonymous said...

"...the seven nations mentioned do not actually occupy only the promised land; they are more widespread."

So the text does not describe *genocide*. Violence is threatened, but since a cultural and social purity is the goal, the emigration of the others would also achieve it.

If the command is attributed to God, how are we to read this? As retribution warranted by the generally depraved state of all peoples? As a special retribution for a special depravity of the peoples in Canaan? As a *teleological suspension of the ethical* in which God simply wants that land and no other land for the family of Abraham?

You have a right to drive on a public street in normal circumstances. Nevertheless, if the city is catching fire and emergency crews are racing to the centre of the blaze, your circumstances are not normal. If a road is closed to non-emergency vehicles, it is best to stay off of it. If you drive on it anyway, you will be stopped by police and taken away. This is an unpleasant indignity, of course, but is it wrong?

BW