God said it, but that doesn't settle it: Questioning the Bible

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I've been noticing a growing trend of people who are becoming increasingly troubled and unsatisfied with a literalistic approach to the Bible. The objection they have is a moral one: They observe that a "straight forward" and "plain" reading of Scripture inevitably leads people to do things that are against their conscience, against the most basic understandings of morality, and to justify doing these immoral things "because God said it, that settles it." In short, we've learned to read the Bible in a way that makes people immoral and proud of it.

One example of this is corporal punishment of children. Many parents feel that it is wrong to hit their kids. Pediatricians and mental health professionals agree. Yet the Bible says that you should hit your kids. Those who take the unquestioning approach to the Bible then argue that despite what your conscience might say, you need to trust the Bible. You need to submit to God's Word here. 

So people are being asked to go against their consciences and do things they feel are hurtful and wrong because the Bible says so. There are a host of similar examples you could mention here. Parents being pressured to disown their children who are gay. Women being excluded from the ministry. Taking a harsh and medieval approach to issues like crime and punishment despite what we know about psychology and mental health today. The list goes on and on. In previous years we would need to add issues like slavery and polygamy to the list (both of which are endorsed in the Bible).

This is obviously a huge problem. The Bible is of course supposed to make us more moral, not sear our conscience and make us immoral. However, as Pascal famously said, "Men never commit evil quite so gleefully and without restraint as when they do it in the name of religion." Looking at history we can see that this is true time and time again. People read the Bible in an unquestioning way and when it says to commit an act of violence and moral atrocity (like genocide, like capitol punishment, like child abuse, like slavery) they turn off their brains and consciences and do it "for the Lord!" with unbridled religious glee.

So when people seeing this problem become mistrustful about the Bible, they do so not because they are immoral but because they are moral. It's understandable in this context that the reaction of some is to simply discard the Bible all together. Or perhaps they discard the Old Testament where the vast majority of these problems come from. This was the reaction of the early church bishop Marcion. He found that the violent and angry depiction of Yahweh in the  Old Testament was simply incompatible with God revealed in Jesus, and so he tossed out the Old Testament altogether.

Marcion was declared a heretic by the early church because of this. They instead took the approach of reading the Old Testament war chronicles as spiritual analogy rather than as literal history. Now there's something very important to notice here: Both Marcion and the early church recognized that the depictions of violence and atrocity committed in God's name in the OT were indeed incompatible with Christ. Both rejected this and declared that if God actually commanded these things then that God would not be good, but rather as Origen puts it, "would be worse than the most cruel of men."

Neither takes a "God said it that settles it" approach, and both reject violence in God's name. Where they differ is in how they then understand it. Marcion thinks it was intended to be taken as history and rejects it. The church fathers (examples include Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and later Augustine) instead read it as spiritual analogy-- it's about the "battles" in our lives with things like pride or unforgiveness.

Now I certainly appreciate that both Marcion and the early church are wrestling with the immorality in the Old Testament, wrestling with a picture of God that would justify people to commit inhuman acts of cruelty, bloodshed, and oppression with religious zeal. However, I have to say that of these two options, I think Marcion's is the better one. Now, let me insert here that I think there is actually a third way of approaching all of this that is even better. However, the approach of the early church does not work for me for two reasons:

First, it clearly conflicts with the intention of the original authors. They were not intending to have what they wrote understood as a spiritual analogy. Such a reading would clearly get you an "F" in a course biblical interpretation in seminary. The reading of the early church is eisegesis not exegesis; that is, it is inserting a meaning into the text that was not originally intended to be there, and acting as if it was.

More importantly however is the second reason: It ends up whitewashing over the problem. This is a moral/ethical objection, rather than an academic one, and thus more important because it can lead to people being hurt. What we see in these OT passages is how religion can become abusive, leading to inhumane and morally appalling actions--genocide for Jesus, torturing and burning people alive for getting their doctrines wrong. We dare not whitewash over that by saying "it's just an analogy" as the early church did, nor should we attempt to erase it (as Marcion did). We need to face it, and we need to have the moral courage to question it.

That moral questioning is what  I see an increasing number of people doing, and I am glad to see this. However the place to start is in recognizing that we in fact have a huge problem: The way most of us have learned to read the Bible leads to justifying things that are simply immoral. What we learn in seminary frankly does not help with this (I'll get into that another time). However, what I see a lot of people doing is acting as if there really isn't a problem, as if the solution was simple and easy. As if it were a minor issue. If we need to adopt a completely different way of reading the Bible from the one we learned, then that is not simple... as much as we may wish it was.

It also does not help to uphold that we still believe that the Bible is "inspired" or "infallible" when we clearly have very different understandings of what that means than the person who advocates the hurtful immoral "plain reading" we are opposing does. 

The reason people who are arguing for a more moral way to read the Bible want to continue to use words like "inspired" is clear: they don't want to freak people out who are still on the fence, they don't want people to panic and run for the exits. I get that, and appreciate that we want to be careful here. The problem is that for those of us who are trying to work out how to read the Bible differently, how to read it morally, such platitudes are not enough. They are not practical. They don't show us how to read differently.

So what might these two very different understandings of "inspired" look like? I think Brian McLaren illustrates the differences well in a recent blog post of his called Q & R: A nasty piece about you. In it he contrasts two vastly different ways of understanding inspiration:

First we have the way of his neo-Reformed critic Tim Challies who maintains that inspiration excludes the possibility that anything in the Bible is "subject to error, evolution, antiquation, or reinterpretation." One wonders how that view is supposed to work with slavery if nothing can ever be reinterpreted. Why is it that we don't practice animal sacrifice if nothing in Scripture can ever be antiquated or evolve?

Brian instead proposes that we see the Bible as "an inspired library" where "stories quarrel with stories" and thus we witness error, evolution, antiquation, and reinterpretation in Scripture itself. We see books with opposing views, engaged in moral arguments with each other. So what I would want to point out here is, it is not any particular passage that is inspired, rather it is the debate that is inspired. What is inspired is the vigorous questioning and debate we can observe in Scripture of humanity struggling to figure out who God is and what faithfulness looks like.  The questioning is inspired, the dialog is inspired.

Here contradictions are not mistakes. They are intended. After all, that's what a disagreement looks like. If there's a debate and someone objected, "but what this one person says contradicts what the other one did" you'd answer "Of course. That's what a debate is." The Old Testament is a catalog of debate, a record of opposing perspectives. So we find in it one story upholding interracial marriage which maintains that a foreign woman can be good and moral and that Yahweh will recognize her faithfulness and "shelter her under his wing" (the book of Ruth), and along side of that we find other stories that instead maintain that all foreign women are immoral and corrupting and command the Israelite men to cast their foreign wives along with their children into the night (Ezra & Nehemiah). 

Now since Ruth clearly (and intentionally) contradicts Ezra & Nehemiah we can't say that the Bible is free from error since one of them must be wrong here (hint: it's Ezra & Nehemiah). However, if we instead see inspiration as being found in the larger debate, rather than in particular verses or books, then we can affirm the inspiration of Hebrew canon as a whole which allows such dissenting voices to stand side by side, while at the same time being able to say that the proposals of Ezra & Nehemiah were wrong and immoral.

Now, if you are not aware of the fact that the Bible contains these opposing perspectives, and instead expect it to all fit together -- infallible and free from error or contradiction -- then this is of course super confusing. People thus go through all sorts of mental gymnastics trying to harmonize it all. But once you recognize the multivocal nature of the OT  it suddenly all makes sense.

The big picture here is that the Old Testament has many voices which present different and opposing views. Some moral and good, and some terrible and cruel. So we need to know which to pick. We cannot embrace and adopt it all, since it is intentionally contradictory -- it presents opposing perspectives and calls us to make moral choices.

The solution is not to just toss it all out (like Marcion) nor is it to pretend it is something that it is not (like the early church), nor is it to unthinkingly accept it all as neo-Reformed folks like Tim Challies do (which creates a schizophrenic Jackle and Hyde picture of God which is deeply unhealthy). These are all poor choices.

No, the solution is in joining into the ethical and moral debate found in Scripture. We need to learn to read the Bible honestly and ethically. My contention is that if we look at how Jesus read Scripture we can clearly observe that this was his approach. I demonstrate this in detail in my forthcoming book. As I argue there, we need to not only adopt his conclusions, but to adopt his approach, his way of thinking and questioning, so that we can use that to address the many issues in our day that he did not face in his. That's what following Jesus is all about.


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47 Comments:

At 2:51 PM, Blogger KC Bob said...

I think that you might like Adm Hamilton's new book Derek. Here is a link to an interview where he speaks about it: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/05/01/adam-hamilton-offers-scandalous-take-on-scripture/

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger Jeremy Myers said...

Love it.

Tim Challie's position is unworkable for many reasons, and you have pointed out the main ones. Well done.

I have some trouble with the inspired library approach too, but it is better by far that most of the other options out there. Maybe I just haven't read enough on it. Do you know any books which defend this position?

 
At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

KC Bob,
Thanks I'll check that out.

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Jeremy,
Can you elaborate on the difficulties you see with the inspired library approach?

 
At 2:00 PM, OpenID evidence2hope said...

With every generation taking a different view on inspiration, violence etc. I wonder if that's part of being a Christian; working things out for yourself.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger kent said...

Our a priori’s subconsciously determine our understanding of bibliology, Christology, etc... Those who hold to the a priori that the bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God limit themselves to a linear interpretation of the bible. This leads to acceptance of the incongruous descriptions of the Father presented by scripture...he is love, yet he hates; his mercies are never ending, yet there are times he shows no mercy; he will never forsake his people, yet he turns his back on them, etc...
God’s revelation of himself has never been bound to the scriptures (this is another a priori). He was revealing himself to mankind long before the bible came into existence, and he continues to reveal himself to those in places where no bibles exist. In fact, I would suggest that my understanding of God as love (which by definition excludes violence) has come despite in depth bible study. His revelation apparently comes through the heart of a person, and this revelation then brings his/her thinking into alignment with the heart.
So, our a priori of God’s nature should determine our view of the nature of scripture instead of an a priori of the bible about the bible. Many who hold to the infallibility, inerrancy of the bible will be uncomfortable with this because they believe that this leaves the biblical interpretation open to subjectivity. Yet, isn’t that what we already have? We all pick and choose which parts of the bible are “true” and which we ignore according to how they fit our present theological understanding. By allowing our revelation of the Father to interpret the bible, this allows us a truer picture of what the bible is saying, acknowledging that everyone’s revelation of the Father will be progressive as he refines our understanding via the bible or otherwise.
This will require trust. Trust that God is willing and able to reveal himself to us in his time, in his way. If we continue to allow an a priori about the bible determine what the bible can and cannot say, then what was intended to protect and refine God’s voice may make it harder to hear instead.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger KC Bob said...

Great summary Kent. Is it okay if I post your comment on my blog? kansascitybob dot com?

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger kent said...

sure KC Bob do what u want with it.

 
At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kent,

Good stuff. Let me see if I can refine what you are saying a bit: I'd suggest that our a priori should not simply be God or the "Father" (as people have different perspectives of who God is, some loving and some abusive), but rather that our a priori should be love. I have a hunch that this is de facto your a priori since you say "God is love" and that this "by definition excludes violence." This provides an objective criteria that we can evaluate together in relationship.

 
At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

evidence2hope,

It's certainly important for all of us to own our own beliefs. That's the process of maturing morally. It's also important that we work to understand how to apply the way of Jesus to the issues of our own day. That's the central task of theology.

What I'm a bit hesitant about though is that saying "every generation taking a different view" could be taken as implying that it is arbitrary. I'd say instead that the reason you and I have a different view from those in the past is because our view is better and truer. Let me explain...

I'd say that we have a different view of violence today than past generation did because we know more about mental health than they did and can thus understand better than they could that it is not "for your own good" to be beaten as a child. Just as we know more about physical science than past generations did, we also know more about social science today than they did. So when each generation has a different view, it is hopefully a smarter and more life-giving view. Science grows, and hopefully we have a faith that can grow with it, rather than fighting against it since science is at its core simply a description of reality and how life works.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I am so thankful for the work you are doing here. Do you have a guess as to when your next book might be ready? I am currently reading Healing the Gospel with my 18 year old daughter. Great stuff!

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Derek,

Long time no speak. I continue to enjoy your posts. I think we're agreed on a great many things, but I'm intentionally going to play a friendly devil's advocate.

I'm all about reading the Bible "morally." However, I see a logical problem with saying that only the internal debate in Scripture is inspired and it is this: you'd agree with me, I suspect, that the Gospels bear strong witness to the idea that God calls us to love those on the margins.

How do we know this? Because Jesus announces this as his mission in Luke, and because multiple passages in both the OT and NT mention that we must love the poor, the widow, the orphan, the least, and the stranger.

This abiding Christian value isn't based on inspired debates only, but inspired passages. We have to have a better paradigm than simply saying that only the questioning and debate are inspired in Scripture.

What do you think?

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger kent said...

Derek,
I agree. Our a priori will be love, but as you pointed out, it takes time for God to untangle our wrong perceptions of him. These misunderstandings come from our upbringing and possibly from Christian institutions themselves, but even these cannot cause irreparable damage. Obviously, God is able to reveal his nature of love no matter where we are. But, if this is the case, it seems to me that we need to allow people time to get to this revelation. Until his revelation of love untangles us, we cannot see it. Love is the epitome of him revealing himself, and once we allow this revelation to mature within us, then we see more clearly. I think that is what Paul was saying in 1 Cor 13:8-11. When love matures in us, we see things differently from before. Not anything we work towards, just choosing to believe what he puts in our hearts.

 
At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kathy,
Sorry I can't say when it will be out. I will certainly post on the blog when I know. So stay tuned! What I'm wanting to do is see if I can get this book to a larger audience, since I believe that it is something that a lot of people are struggling with. Doing that takes a lot of time: If you want to shout something from the mountaintop you need to first climb the mountain!

 
At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kent,
Amen.

 
At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Samurai,
That's a great question. Basically I think you are right, but felt I needed more space to respond than a comment allows. So I made a new blog post where I addressed your comment:
http://www.therebelgod.com/2014/05/learning-to-read-from-margins.html

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Derek, in your critique of the early Church's approach to the OT, you write:

"First, it clearly conflicts with the intention of the original authors. They were not intending to have what they wrote understood as a spiritual analogy. Such a reading would clearly get you an "F" in a course biblical interpretation in seminary. The reading of the early church is eisegesis not exegesis; that is, it is inserting a meaning into the text that was not originally intended to be there, and acting as if it was."

I see a rather glaring blind spot in your thinking here. Let's see if I can unpack this a little for you (and your readers) from my perspective as an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

I hope you are willing to entertain the possibility there are some assumptions underlying your conclusions here (and I recognize you are representative of a whole set of schools of modern Protestant approaches to the Christian Scriptures) which might deserve closer critical inspection (in the light of Christ Himself and the apostolic witness to Him in the NT). That the analogical approach of the early Church to the OT is “wrong” or doesn’t reflect the Christian “truth” of those texts just because it doesn't follow modern Protestant academic historical/textual critical assumptions begs a lot of questions. The first one might be, who says the “intent of the human author of the text” reveals the “real” or “inspired” meaning of the text for those who first identified it as “inspired” and for the members of that same NT faith today? Does the NT teach that the prophetic text’s human author’s intent was inspired of the Holy Spirit, or that the uttering and recording of the Scriptures as a whole was inspired by the Holy Spirit to point (through "shadows" and "types" and "in part") to Christ? John 1:18 teaches Christ, in His incarnation, is the One who has “declared” or “explained” (English rendering of Gk. for “exegeted”) the Father—the Word made flesh is the full revelation of the unseen God of the OT. In John 14 Jesus says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

Take a look at and consider the implications of Luke 11:48-50 for the relationship of a human author’s conscious intent in a “prophecy” uttered under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Whose conscious intent was more important here to the question of recognizing the inspired or prophetic sense of this utterance--the apostolic eyewitnesses who recognized it as such or the Jewish High Priest who uttered it in plotting the murder of Christ? Just to stir the pot a little further, was it Caiaphas’ intent and personal righteousness, or his providential occupation of a divinely ordained position in a certain time and place that the NT suggests was the reason for the Holy Spirit’s “inspiration” of him to say what he did? Maybe we need to look at the situation with Israel “after the flesh” in the OT and much of the OT’s “inspiration” in an analogous way. As I continue to unpack, I’ll break this up into a few smaller posts for easier digestion.

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

(cont.) Part 1:

Let’s take as a point of common ground that we both understand we need to read all of the Christian Scriptures through the full revelation to us of God given in Jesus Christ (I would suggest this is actually the teaching of the NT itself). How do we know about Jesus in the first place today? Who told us Jesus said we are to love even our enemies and that “God is love?” And, who told us that person (or persons) said those things about Christ or God? Well, if we accept the basic premises of the NT accounts, as you know first there was the apostolic eyewitness (attested also by the demonstration of the Holy Spirit). The apostles Christ called and appointed after Christ’s resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit then established local churches committed to faithfully living and passing on their teachings throughout the Roman Empire and beyond and appointed presbyters/bishops commissioned and gifted by the Holy Spirit to lead the local congregations and reproduce themselves in like manner. The first Christians appropriated as their “Holy Scriptures” the Greek translation of the Jewish OT Scriptures (the LXX), including what are today known as the “deuterocanonical books” in the Catholic tradition and as “the apocrypha” in most Protestant ones, as well as the oral apostolic gospel tradition (also eventually written down in four versions primarily in Greek). Gradually, and in a somewhat piecemeal fashion at first, during the period of the NT, the writings of these apostles (or their close associates) began also to be circulated among these NT churches and were included in their liturgies (formal hymns and prayers used in corporate worship and sacramental practice). Being regularly engaged in the liturgy of these churches was the primary way believers appropriated the faith in those early centuries. There was no printing press, and there were lots of illiterate folk accustomed to learning by engaging in practices (i.e., a way of life and worship), and hearing/memorizing orally transmitted teaching (e.g., hymns, prayers, homilies, passages of Scripture read aloud, etc.)

Point number one I want to make is unless those NT Christians and early Church Fathers had recognized the apostolic witness to Christ for what it was, experienced its truth at work in their midst through the Holy Spirit (promised by Christ), and faithfully preserved and passed that message (and experience of Christ) down to future generations in the Church (to the point where a council of bishops in the 4th century could debate and then agree together about what constituted the essential outline of that message and identify those writings that bore witness to it in an authoritative way from those that only purported to do so based on what had been handed down as apostolic teaching in their midst and in their liturgy and practices), we wouldn’t be having this conversation because the Bible as we know it wouldn’t exist. That the library of books in our modern Christian Bibles (with a few deletions in most Protestant Bibles OT) are identified (collectively, we should note, and this is also important) for us as the "Holy Scriptures" at all is courtesy of the writers of the NT and the early Christians and Church Fathers, as I’m sure you know, Derek. But it doesn’t seem to me it has quite dawned on you yet all of the implications of that for how we can rightly understand the Scriptures “inspired” meaning for us today. Could we pause for a moment to allow the significance of this to sink in a bit? . . .

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

(cont.) Part 2:

Point number two I will try to make by asking a question. Logically, then, what is more likely to reveal the real “inspired” meaning of the text of the Scriptures for believers today---what modern scholars, operating on modern “historical” and “literary” textual critical assumptions, consider the various individual texts’ “true” meaning to be in their own immediate contexts, or what the writers of the NT believed (and, by extension, what Christ taught) the Scriptures' “inspired meaning” collectively to be in the full context of Christ (John 5:39, Luke 24:27)?

Here, it is perhaps worth pondering that whether such a modern Bible scholar is atheist/agnostic, pagan, liberal, progressive, Evangelical, Reformed, Fundamentalist, Mormon, Moonie, Muslim, or Jehovah’s Witness, he or she will likely be still operating on some version of the same modern historical/textual-critical assumptions that the literal level of the meaning of each individual text of the writings of the Bible (varying degrees of metaphorical meaning allowed) and their respective human “authors’ intent” as established by "objective" literary analysis, is what determines the “truth” or “real” meaning of the text for apostolic Christians. (Btw, its not at all clear to me how we can know this human author’s intent with any real degree of certainty or accuracy, being so far removed from his context ourselves.) That a “received” apostolic tradition of interpretation based on common experiential knowledge of Christ passed down from the apostles through the apostolic Christian communities they founded and their presbyters/bishops of that historic communion of believers self-identified as the “one, holy, orthodox, apostolic and catholic church” of those early centuries can alone reveal the “truth” or “Spirit-inspired sense” of the text will be summarily dismissed as far-fetched, superstitious, unwarranted “spiritualizing,” the imposition of the “traditions of men” forbidden in the NT, pleading of “special knowledge” like the Gnostic heretics, dead, fossilized, obsolete, distorted, perverted, etc., by nearly all of these modern scholars. What seems self-evident on closer examination of the witness of the NT itself, however, is that it supports this latter approach and not the former.

 
At 11:41 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

(final) Part 3:

Point number three I’d like to make is if we are taking our cue from its interpretation and application in the NT (Hebrews is a key example), the true “inspired” meaning of the OT is apparently not uncommonly quite buried by the Holy Spirit beneath the literal level of the letter of its texts! Let's be clear about this: it is Christ's own use of the OT Scriptures that set the precedent for this typological (or analogical) approach to the narratives and prophecies of the OT in the NT (e.g., Jonah’s “three days” in the belly of the whale being only OT “prophetic” reference to Christ’s “ three days” in the tomb, Matthew 12:40), and I would like to propose it is the apostolic witness in the NT to Christ and Christ’s teaching/interpretation upon which all genuinely Christian teaching and interpretation and application of the OT must be based. Indeed, this is the assumption of the early Christians and Church Fathers. The traditional orthodox Christian approach to the Scriptures is not a modern rationalistic literalistic modern literary historical/textual-critical approach, but rather . . . well, . . . based on an apostolic teaching, that is, a specific “tradition” of interpretation (to directly translate the Greek term used for the English terms “teachings/doctrine” in the NT in 2 Thessalonias 2:15 and other places). Apostolic Christianity, by NT definition, is nothing if not a “traditional” religion--meaning its teachings and practices need to be personally handed down to the properly initiated within its own particular culture and community and which cannot be learned in any other way (e.g. Scholastic, Rationalist) and its explicit verbal teachings, its Scriptures, cannot be fully understood in any other context. I will also say that the Orthodox Church’s interpretation and use of the OT has been remarkably consistent over the centuries and follows the approach of the early Fathers, and I don't think this is unrelated to the fact that there have never been Crusades, Inquisitions, nor a Protestant Reformation in the Christian East. That’s something worth thinking about, anyway.

It would seem the NT presents the OT Scriptures’ "inspiration" and “truth” as more of a mystery of Christ's hiddenness beneath the level of the literal sense of the narratives (the historicity of which it doesn’t, nevertheless, deny) of the "original author's intent". Even Christ commonly “hid” the truth of His teaching in parables that He had to explain later to His disciples, who not infrequently, even after very straightforward explanation from Christ, had difficulty comprehending Him. It would seem understanding even Christ’s own teachings aright is not simply a matter of taking the “plain, common literary sense” of the narrative “according to the author’s intent” (a bit of a stretch that just any old disinterested scholarly person can easily discern that—especially the less personally acquainted he or she is with a certain all-important Author).

Thanks for your patience if you have read all this way! I hope what I’ve said has been clear (at least in places). None of it is original with me. I am profoundly indebted most of all to Fr. Stephen Freeman for his patient and tireless exposition of ancient apostolic Christian teaching in the NT (and other Orthodox stuff) for many years now at his blog, “Glory to God for All Things”, which he especially tailors to the needs of American Protestant Christians (since he was once one himself).

 
At 7:44 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Ofgrace,

Thanks for your pushback. I appreciate the dialog and value your perspective. There's a lot to unpack, so let me see if I can narrow down the issue:

What scholars do, focusing on the author's original intent, does not necessarily get us to reading Scripture as Scripture (as morally formative, as a window to God). For example I show in my Sojourners article how Paul edits OT passages focused on violence towards enemy gentiles, making them instead proclaim God's grace in Christ towards Gentiles. Understanding how to read the author's original intent is important because you can then notice that Paul is (intentionally and provocatively, I believe) contradicting them.

Now, I like accept Paul's message of grace for enemies, and reject the OT message of vengeance towards enemies. So I am not saying that the original intent of the OT authors is "inspired" and thus what we should follow in contrast to what the NT teaches. I think we are in agreement here.

My issue is honestly. The fact is, the NT frequently contradicts and reverses the message (or rather one of the many conflicting messages) of the OT. Or to say it differently, the OT contains many conflicting messages (snow mercy, show no mercy, etc.) and the NT embraces one particular message in the OT (the one about mercy) while rejecting the others. What I object to is pretending like that reversal is not happening, saying "what? it's not really about genocide, it's just an analogy."

In other words, I have no problem with an analogical interpretation. I just have a problem with acting as if this is not a reversal of the original meaning. I think, for the sake of honestly and integrity, we need to own that. We need to say, yes they are reversing the meaning here, and it is good that they are. Yes, they are embracing this one particular message (the one focused on grace, inclusion, etc) in the OT, and rejecting others (focused on hate, racism, etc).

I'd argue that the NT authors and Jesus were well aware that they were reversing things. I see a lot of evidence for this in the NT. So I think we should embrace this too. For Protestants who want to harmonize the OT & NT that's hard to take. Not sure how the EO feels about it.

 
At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Let me add something else: The reason it is important to recognize the reversal from the OT to the NT is that fundamentalists of all stripes and have often (now and throughout history) promoted the OT narrative of committing violence in God's name. We need to oppose that as wrong.

Your EO argument rests on the authority of the EO church tradition. That is really only compelling for people who are in that EO tradition, and so does not engage in a broader dialog with the rest of the church (Catholic and Protestant). I think it would be better to engage in a dialog, because of concern for people who are being hurt in God's name. I think that concern for the "the least of these" compels us to come out of our enclaves. To do that, EO folks need to find an argument that is not circular (as a appeal to tradition is).

Again, I agree that the NT reading focused on mercy is better. The mistake I'd say is basing this on a appeal to authority. That is always a weak argument. At worst it's "cuz I said so, that's why" and at best it's "I dunno, just trust me okay?" I think we need to do better, and demonstrate why the view the Apostles took is indeed morally superior.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, Derek. Of course, I agree with your conclusion that Jesus and the apostles in many areas (not all, of course) reverse the literal meaning (and fundamentalist interpretation) of the OT narratives. I will add that they also many times Christ, his apostles, and/or the early Church Fathers don't so much reverse the literal meaning as transcend it--e.g., as in the case of Moses in his intercession for the Israelites, and Joseph, the "dreamer," as rejected by and then become the salvation of his brothers as "types" of Christ, and Jonah's three days in the belly of the whale being a "shadow" and "type" of Christ's three days in the tomb). I agree with you this is in violation of a modern fundamentalist (and modern historical/textual critical) interpretation of those OT Scriptures.

Fundamentalists (and it appeared to me that you), assume the "historical/textual-critical" method (i.e., the literal meaning of the text in its own immediate historic context) is the means of getting at the "honest" (which I interpreted in the sense of "true, inspired" meaning of the text) from a traditional Christian perspective--which I sought to challenge on the basis of true apostolic tradition. You have clarified, and I see we are both challenging the false "orthodoxy" of the modern fundamentalist hermeneutic from different (but not incompatible) angles, because it is manifestly unorthdoox (false) if we make central the teachings of Christ (and the apostles) in their own context and take them seriously. I'm just pointing out from my own experience that this is exactly what Eastern Orthodoxy has always affirmed and the approach always taken by its Fathers and Saints.

What I wanted to push back about is the claim that the early Church Fathers' analogical interpretations of the OT were in violation of the actual NT apostolic tradition of how to get at true inspired sense of the OT (that's how I interpreted your appeal to the historical/textual-critical method). It is this apostolic tradition that is authoritative (at least in theory for all who would claim to be "orthodox NT Christians"), and which Orthodox would argue is carried over a consistent way into the patristic period (and beyond in their own tradition understood in its own context). I would agree with you that it does no good to appeal to an extrinsic authority outside of, or separate from, that which agrees with the God-given moral sense we have in our gut. I have simply found that with the NT apostolic tradition (and the EO tradition), I don't have to choose between those two options. :-)

 
At 2:38 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Aack! Bad proofreading! Hopefully, the many typos, etc., won't obscure my point. I will just correct this:

"It is this apostolic tradition that is authoritative (at least in theory for all who would claim to be "orthodox NT Christians"), . . ." should read,

"It is this apostolic tradition that is authoritative (at least in theory) for all who would claim to be "orthodox NT Christians", . . ."

 
At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

"What I wanted to push back about is the claim that the early Church Fathers' analogical interpretations of the OT were in violation of the actual NT apostolic tradition of how to get at true inspired sense of the OT"

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think I claimed that. Can you clarify what you are referring to?

"It is this apostolic tradition that is authoritative"

I'd agree that it is formative, but not that it is authoritative. But maybe we have different understandings of what "authoritative" implies. I reject any appeal to authority from anyone, including from Jesus my Lord. I think Jesus would support me in that too.

On transcending the original meaning of OT texts with typologies,you say this "is in violation of modern historical/textual critical interpretation." This is only true if the goal is to "interpret" in the sense of analyze and report the author's intent. If instead it is to say something new (which is what transcend implies) then that's fine. That's what artist do all the time. Art is beautiful and so are the typologies. Nothing wrong with that. It just needs to be clear what we're trying to do.



 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, again, Derek. I appreciate the chance to sharpen my thinking and communication through dialogue. I think you and I are indeed interpreting "authority" in a different sense. What I mean by "authoritative" is equivalent to "in accordance with truth/reality as grounded in Christ" (and, furthermore, not just what someone says that is, but what it actually is). Authoritarianism is a sin against the Law of Christ (Orthodoxy). Period.

With your added clarification, I do indeed understand you were not intending to claim the Church Fathers' analogical approach to the OT to be in violation of the actual early apostolic tradition. "Push back" in my last comment was intended as an affirmation of what I was doing in my initial series of comments to you. Sorry that wasn't clear.

I appreciate and agree with your point about an analogical approach being understood to transcend (and thus not necessarily violate or compete with the historical-critical approach which is just to get at the human author's intent and context). I agree transcend is to say something new. The fullness of the gospel (of which the OT is only a "foreshadowing" according to the NT) is Christ Himself, and analogical interpretations say something new about how the OT texts can be properly interpreted and applied in light of the "new thing" God has done/is doing in Christ.

It seems to me that in view of the two levels of revelation in the OT (the "historic" narratives which contain the objectionable anthropomorphisms about God in light of Christ, and the prophetic calls to radical justice/mercy/compassion consonant with Christ), we could say Christ "transcends the OT" in two ways: first, by reversing the anthropomorphic perspective of its human authors about God by applying its language in those narratives to the ultimate truth revealed in Christ that our battle is not against flesh and blood enemies, but against "principalities and powers of darkness," our own sinful lusts, etc., which are overcome through and by Christ/God. Thus these "prophetic utterances" of the OT can be understood in the way that Caiaphas' Spirit-inspired utterance in the NT about the expediency of Christ's death was--that is, as being intended by the human author to say one thing, but revealed by the Holy Spirit to mean another thing altogether when interpreted in the light of the the full reality of God's intents and purposes in human history was revealed in Christ. The second way the NT "transcends" the OT is that it completes and fulfills the prophetic calls to radical justice/mercy/compassion that are in full accord with Christ and His teachings. A read through the NT in the light of the foregoing overview will discover numerous examples and direct affirmations of our observations here.

Maybe, that's one way you could frame this (and in a way you are already doing so) as you seek to communicate it to those claiming to embrace the truth of Christ found in the NT, but failing to discern the NT's approach to the OT and the implications of this for modern theories of the nature of the Scriptures' truth and inspiration, which are rationalistic and mechanistic, rather than spiritual (i.e., guided by the Holy Spirit).

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

My only point in bringing up early church history and the perspective of the Fathers, etc., is to illustrate that those who recognized the books of our Bible as "inspired" and bequeathed them to us understood their "inspiration and truth" in a different way than modern fundamentalist theories do, I wanted to point out it is not logical or methodologically valid to prefer the modern sense over the apostolic and patristic sense in which the Bible's inspiration was understood). Further, this kind/level of the "truth" found in the Christian Scriptures is not something a historical-critical approach is necessarily designed to reveal either--though certainly it will many times affirm, or at least not contradict, it.

 
At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for your reply. There is a lot that we agree on. What I am still not on board with is reading the OT texts as analogy (in the way Origen for example does). We agree that this method is in contrast the original intent of the author, and that it thus gives the text a new meaning. The difficulty I see here is this:

We could with this method, literally read ANY meaning at all into the text. So the text is at this point no longer a source of content in any meaningful sense of the word. So if that is the case, we need to ask what is the basis of our content that we are projecting into the biblical text? There may indeed be a valid answer for this, but we do need to ask ourselves this question.

Let's say for sake of argument that we find a way of projecting a Christ-centered good content into the text with our analogy reading. Then we still have some more questions:

If we can (1) literally read ANY meaning at all into the text (let's assume a good one), and (2) we affirm that the text as it was originally intended is wrong and indeed evil, then why bother using the text at all as our blank canvas?

Said differently, If we can project a good analogy reading into some terrible genocide passage from the OT (since it becomes a blank slate for our new Christ-focused content), how would this be different from doing the same with other books we find mortally problematic, say Mein Kampf for example? Would that be something we would recommend? If not, how would this be any different exactly?

I do think there are ways for us to engage with the OT, but I do not see that the Father's analogy approach is really a valid one, and in fact I think it is quite problematic for a number of ethical/moral reasons.

Let me add that this disagreement is a "disagreement among allies." We are both moving in the same direction towards grace and compassion, and that's deeply significant. We just disagree about the best way to get there. :D

In the end, I find that the solution of the church Fathers is problematic, and I equally find the solution of biblical scholarship as problematic. I think we can do better.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

So, do you also see a problem with St. Paul reading the OT stories of Ishmael and Isaac as analogies of Israel after the flesh and spiritual Israel (reading his own Jewish Bible narratives through his enlightenment through Christ) in Romans 9? If you don't see a problem with that, but do have a problem with Church Fathers like Origen reading passages from the OT analogically finding meanings and applications that are consistent with the NT revelation in Christ, what would you say makes the difference for you?

 
At 6:48 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

What keeps the Fathers from reading ANY meaning into the text is that the frame of reference is not just ANYthing, but rather Christ as He is revealed in the apostolic NT tradition (and the promised assistance the illumination of the Holy Spirit given to the Church promised by Christ).

Just to clarify also, not every analogy every Church Father has made is considered of equal worth or even after some discernment over time by the whole Church, fully true. The Church Fathers, in their individual teachings are not considered infallible by the Orthodox Church (and Origen is not considered a Church "Father" in the Orthodox tradition, since some of his teachings were ruled heretical after his death. He is just an important early Christian thinker.) It's just that overall the Fathers followed the apostolic pattern of reading the OT narratives analogically (where they could not be applied literally in the Church and remain compatible with Christ's teachings, and knowing from NT tradition that the whole OT "testifies of" Christ in some way (John 5:39), while the fundamentalist does not follow this apostolic pattern and (theoretically, according to their own hermeneutic) can only properly interpret Scripture by following its words literally. However, Fundamentalists don't consistently interpret even the NT literally. Consider, for example, the teaching of Christ in John 6:53-58.

You may be moving toward grace and compassion, Derek. I have already arrived! (LOL! Please note: tongue obviously in cheek!)

 
At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

If we understand Paul to just be riffing on some text, creatively making a new point in the same way a writer today might make some anecdotal reference to a familiar song or idea familiar to our own culture in order to flavor the point she wants to make in her writing with these allusions, then I have no problem with that.

The problem is with thinking that this is actually what the text is about. It's simply not. A writer making an anecdotal reference is not really concerned with whether the song she is quoting is actually being taking in context. It's just flavoring. So I think it's just not plausible to say that something like that--taking a cultural image and riffing on it in a new way--is "right" or "prophetic." The *idea* behind it, the *point* may indeed be "right" and good, but the visual imagery itself is a matter of art, and I think that the categories of "right" is simpy the wrong way to think about art.

I also think that just because Paul used certain images and allusions does not mean that we, in our very different cultural context, necessarily need to. The fact that we live 2000 years later is not insignificant. That also goes for the Fathers as well. Good for them if this worked in their time, if it seemed compelling. That's great, really. I just don't find it a compelling way to deal with the biblical text now.

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

"The problem is with thinking this is what the text is actually about."

So, what would be your reasons for continuing to judge "what the text is actually about" in modern literalistic terms (to a certain point, accepting fundamentalist premises) vs. the more NT apostolic "spiritual" (and mystical) terms through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:16)?

What are your criteria for determining whether an interpretation/application of Scripture "works" or not? Whether it is intelligible and acceptable to the modern (uninitiated) mind? How about whether it is capable, in those believers who are most faithful to these interpretations' meaning, of producing lives bearing a striking likeness to Christ? Would you find that to be significant?

 
At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

The criteria I am applying to determine "what the text is actually about" is the same criteria you are applying when you read what I write and seek to understand what I mean. It's the criteria you and I and everyone else in the world use every time we talk with anyone else. Without this, communication utterly breaks down. So I think it is pretty self-evident.

I do not have a problem with saying that some of the views the OT authors held were wrong and immoral, and thus saying that we should have a different a view. I suppose, although I do not find it compelling myself, I also do not mind if people want to project a new meaning onto the text and thus completely change what it was originally about **PROVIDED THAT** this does not mean white washing over the ethical difficulties the text raises when read in the way the original writers intended it, which we also need to face and own up to.

 
At 8:06 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

"The criteria I am applying to determine 'what the text is actually about' is the same criteria you are applying when you read what I write and seek to understand what I mean."

Derek, do you happen to have ever lived outside of this culture? I'm just curious. Have you ever lived in a different culture that uses another language? Have you ever lived in another culture which not only uses a different language, but which uses symbolic (e.g., body) language in a significantly different way than we do--where what people do and the stories they tell have significantly different meaning than if the same action were taken or story were told by a modern American?

The OT literature takes many different forms and is in the context of a culture and mindset millennia removed and widely differing from our own. Even where it records direct conversation, since the cultural frame of reference is so different from ours, how confident can we be that what the text seems to be saying to us, is what it really meant to the original intended audience? Even historical-critical literary methods coupled with the findings of sciences like archeology can reveal a very different meaning and application than what an initial "common sense" reading from our own cultural frame of reference, and especially fundamentalist mechanistic and literalistic interpretations of the nature of Scriptures' "truth" and "inspiration," might indicate about the meaning of these ancient narratives. Though there is a lot more room for interpretation and error in a science like archeology than, say, physics, nevertheless, it can still be quite revealing of how far removed the possible meaning of a historic text can be than what it seems at first to be on the surface of things to a modern reader. This is even before we get to the way that Christ and the teaching of the NT illuminates mystical spiritual meanings in the OT, which is a whole other mode and level of interpretation altogether.

My understanding is the most recent findings and theories coming out of the archeological evidence for ancient Egypt/Canaan/Israel paints a very different literal history than the Exodus and the genocidal conquest narratives of Joshua would suggest. Modern findings indicate that it was a relatively small group (likely an extended family group) that came out of Egypt (and no decimation of Egypt's army and population in that period) and that the pagan populations of Canaan were not annihilated, but rather assimilated into a new culture (Hebrew) which was not monarchial and built on conquest and slavery but in stark contrast to the dominant political power of the time (Egypt), egalitarian and largely peaceful. Where the OT narratives and modern archeological findings begin to converge (according to this recent scholarship) is with the rise of the Davidic Kingdom of Israel.

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

(cont.) I bring this up because the intentions of the ancient human authors of the Exodus and Joshua are thrown in a different light if rather than being understood as a straight history in a quasi modern sense, elements of these narratives were rather a sort of "true" mythology (built around seeds of historic truth) which truth was found in its symbolic, not literal, meaning. What if the designated audience understood it to teach the superiority of Israel's God in symbolic terms the cultures of the time could understand? What if the long and short of the message the intended audience got was "Our God is strong, sovereign, able to deliver us from the power of our enemies. He reveals his will to those faithful to him to guide and provide for them and their families. His ways are not ours (think of the story of Gideon) and he desires from us courage and faith." Suppose they did NOT understand these stories to be teaching something like "We have a right, and God wants us, to exterminate our unbelieving human enemies and subjugate others in his Name (exactly like the Egyptian overlords do in the name of their gods)?"

Hypothetically, if we allow that this recent archeological evidence is more in accord with literal, material reality than the OT narratives (taken literally), what does this say about how we are to interpret the OT human author's intent? How do we know for sure whether the story was intended as quasi literal history in the modern sense or symbolic teaching designed to be formative of Israelite identity as the chosen people of the one true (superior and trustworthy) God? Admittedly, I'm speculating here and perhaps Christian scholars who are also aware of these modern scholarly findings and theories would refute my speculations with other evidence I'm not aware of.

I can speak with more confidence about living in cultures and using a language not my own, since I have experienced this. The different cultures I lived in were still modern western cultures, but I'm telling you there was far more room for misunderstanding than you might imagine in even everyday communication. It was far from a straightforward thing even though the time and cultural context was nowhere near as far removed from mine as those of ours with the people who wrote the OT. Furthermore, communication was contemporaneous and an exchange, not one way, so there was opportunity for instant feedback for correction of a wrong interpretation of what was being communicated. This doesn’t exist with an ancient historical text. A certain amount of immersion even in these other contemporary, western cultures was necessary before ease of communication began to approach that with others of my own culture and language.

All this is to say I'm finding your assumptions here about cross-cultural an cross-history communication (if I'm understanding you correctly) less than compelling . . . perhaps even a bit naive.

I would not disagree with you at all, however, about the morally objectionable character of much of the material in the OT interpreted as history in a modern sense and the author's intent (especially taken literally as prescriptive of God's ways and not merely descriptive of what happened or as cultural myth). I just have serious questions about to what extent this is a valid approach to its interpretation.

 
At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Perhaps if I share a bit about my background it would be helpful then. Yes, I lived for over a decade in another culture and continent, and am bilingual (I'm not counting Greek and Hebrew here since I read these rather than speaking them). I also have a grad degree from the Graduate Theological Union where a major concentration of mine was in biblical scholarship. So with that background I think I can say I am quite familiar with what you are referring to, and not in the least unaware of the issues involved here in all of their complexity.

It's true enough to point out the difficulties in trying to correctly understand writings of a different culture and time using the tools of scholarship. However there is still the *attempt* to understand it the best they are able with their given methods and knowledge. In contrast to this, if someone simply projects a completely foreign meaning onto the text via an allegorical reading they are not even attempting to understand what the original author meant or intended.

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger kent said...

I have enjoyed the debate between you both. It has brought things into mind that I had never even considered before, but I have a line of thought I would like to get your thoughts on. I perceive spiritual revelation as a process of God speaking to our hearts and then our hearts molding our minds. I used to believe the opposite, and when I thought that revelation entered through the mind and made its way to the heart, the bible (and striving to interpret it correctly) was of utmost importance to me because I saw the bible as the portal through which God revealed himself to man. I no longer see things this way. It's not that I have discarded the bible. It's that I am no longer concerned with it having to "fit" and make sense to me because I know who God is and when the bible resembles the God of love then I accept what is written, and when it doesn't I discard it. I know that this cut-and-paste process makes people nervous, but my revelation doesn't come through the scriptures in most cases anyway. I look at the scriptures as man's writings while struggling to understand heart revelation of God and fitting that with their paradigm of culture, life, etc... This might seem too subjective, especially to bible scholars, but love is not as subjective as one might think, and love is a revelation to the heart for the heart.

 
At 7:30 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Hello Derek, my name is Mark and I have read portions of your blog over the past several months. You have obviously invested a great deal of time into maintaining this site, I respect that, and appreciate the passion with which you communicate. It appears to me you are genuinely engaging in dialog with people in an attempt to help them and yourself grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

For my part, this is why I am venturing into the conversation- as I continue my pilgrimage to the promised land I find the terrain difficult and the markers often obscure. That said, there is always the blessed hope which enables me to move forward- thus my engaging in this forum.

My question is this: do you believe the flood was an actual event in history? If not what is the purpose of its being written? If so, what does this reveal about the character of God vis-a-vis His mercy, love and forgiveness?

Thank you in advance for your reply. I will continue to read and possibly engage the dialog from time to time, which is to say, I don’t know how frequently I will be able to engage. God bless.

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, Derek. I can even better appreciate now your understanding of some of the complexities I am wrestling with about the Scriptures' interpretation. I also don't have any problems with your premise that there are conflicting streams of thought in what the OT teaches about the nature of God in his dealings with us if we are interpreting the narratives on their literal, face value, and that some of these have to be rejected as being incompatible with the teaching of the gospel, while others are consistent with the full revelation in Christ, and I certainly find that perspective compatible with the NT and patristic approach to dealing with certain of the OT narratives symbolically as "types" and "shadows" of the Truth fully revealed only in Christ.

I apologize for my long-windedness and any redundancy in my posts. I seem to be the queen of run-on sentences and verbosity at times (especially about things I care about deeply). :-P

You are indeed a patient and most gracious host.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Kent, that the organ of spiritual perception is the deep heart, rather than the analytical mind, is a basic premise of the Scriptures and the Eastern Orthodox understanding. That is why it is only the "pure in heart" who shall "see [perceive] God." This is often confused in modern English translations because the Greek term "nous" used of this organ of spiritual perception, is often translated "mind" (and in some patristic literature as "intelligence"), which in the wake of the Enlightenment philosophy of rationalism, that has so informed our modern definitions of terms, significantly obscures the true meaning of the Scriptures for the uninformed. On balance, we should also say that the term "heart" in this biblical and patristic sense does not refer simply to our emotional reactions which are biblically better understood simply as our bodily responses and reactions to the thoughts that enter our minds (which can be true or false).

I hope this helps. If you go to Fr. Stephen Freeman's site and search the term "heart", you will find a lot of helpful exposition of the Orthodox understanding.

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

ofGrace,

Thanks for hanging in there too! I genuinely appreciate learning from your perspective and am thankful for the chance to dialog.

 
At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kent,
I think there is indeed validity in the approach you are taking in that it gets at reading the Bible in such a way that we let it become a window for God to speak into our lives. I'll have more to say on this in an upcoming post here :)

 
At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Mark,

Here's my take on the flood: The people who wrote the OT had an understanding that attributed all actions, both good and evil, to the hand of God. So if someone was sick, or got mugged, or died in a famine or hurricane they assumed this all must be God's punishment. By the time of the New Testament the view within Judaism had developed to where they instead understood sickness and death and disaster to be the work of the devil.

What's important to note here is how this shift affects how we treat each other: If a person is sick or suffering because of God's punishment then the response is to blame and condemn them. If it is instead the work of the devil then out response is to see them with compassion and to help them. This is the response we see in Jesus.

While today I would see the causes of natural disasters (like floods, earth quakes, and volcanoes) as having natural causes, rather than being caused by either God's work or Satan's doing, I do think our response nevertheless needs to be one of compassion and care. So the NT, being written in a pre-scientific time gets science wrong, but compassion right.

The flood story, written in a time before Christ (BC) has a more primitive view of things that attributes evil to God. I don't think their perspective is accurate, either from a scientific perspective (there is by the way no evidence at all that such a thing ever occurred) nor from a moral one (it reflects a very primitive view of God that really does not come close to the understanding of God revealed in Christ).

I'd like to re-write the story with Jesus in it and imagine that he chose to stay with those outside of the ark.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Hi Derek! Regarding your take on the OT as moving from viewing God as the Author of both good and evil to viewing Satan as the instigator of evil, what do you do with the "behind the scenes" introduction given in the book of Job where it pictures the relationship between the two? I had heard once that Job is believed to be the oldest of the OT texts.

 
At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

That's an interesting question, and I'd need to really to more research to be able to say for sure. Specifically, The difficulty here is that when someone says they know when something was written, you need to ask how exactly they are drawing that conclusion.

For example, this might be what is going on: One scholar bases the early dating of Job on the use of ancient vocabulary. Another scholar bases a late dating on the similarity of "the Satan" to Zoroastrianism beliefs which became popular later in Judaism (we see this in the NT). How's that possible they both ask? The vocab is referring to the dialogs, which are noticeably different in style to the intro and ending. So another scholar concludes that possibly the dialog part is quite old and the intro and ending were adding in later.

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Interesting. In view of what Job teaches, it seems to me the whole book fits together well as an integrated whole, but I'm not speaking as a scholar here. I do find it totally refreshing that God was not angry with the genuinely righteous Job, but rather with his simple-minded fundamentalist "comforters" (they sound all too familiar!) who "did not speak what was right" about Him (Job 42:7-8), and Job acts as a true priest of the living God on their behalf. Job doesn't get the answers to all the questions he had, but he does get One (a real encounter with the living God) that satisfies him all the same. I think this is one of the most instructive and profound books in the Scriptures.

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Billy North said...

Derek,

I really like this post it; it has me thinking. Your view on inspiration is quite challenging.

I recently listened to a debate between Steve Chalk nd Andrew Wilson discussing violence in the Old Testament. My impression was that both had to do quite a bit of intellectual gymnastics in order to settle on their position.

It does appear that you have framed this correctly it's really the old Marcian debate.

I'm not really sure what the answer is or where I'm going to fall on this. But I do believe that it is the most fundamental issue to answer. And your post at least begins to go in a direction that is very interesting.

I look forward to your book with keen interest. I believe that Gregory Boyd is also writing a book dealing with violence in the Old Testament.

Hopefully your book and maybe his will reach the popular culture at large.

It's a conversation that is sorely needed.

Cheers,

Billy

 

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