For The Bible Tells Me So: How Christians Read Scripture Like Pharasees

Saturday, July 26, 2014

There was a great discussion surrounding Stephen Fierbaugh's guest post Why I Love My Wonderful Errant Bible. This time around, I'd like to continue that conversation by springboarding off of some of the comments. I'll begin with a really challenging question posed by Mike H.
There’s a difference between
1) an infallible text/fallible interpretation and
2) fallible text/fallible interpretation.
At least in the first one people agree on the starting point, just not where you go from there. In the second one there is no starting point. ... There are things that are pretty clear – like forgive, love your neighbor, etc. – but on what grounds can we rely on those as true if the text isn’t “infallible”? ... Even the focus on love – that sounds straight forward but it isn’t. That’s based on Jesus words to love God and love your neighbor – as recorded in scripture. If the Bible isn’t infallible, how are we to rely on these words as accurate?
Let me begin first of all by stating a fact: The Old Testament contains multiple conflicting moral visions.  One vision (for example in the book of Ruth) presents foreigners as moral and good, and advocates showing them mercy and acceptance based on their character. Another moral vision (for example in the book of Ezra which was written at the same time as Ruth was) instead presents foreigners as immoral and corrupting and commands that the Israelite men send their foreign wives and children off into exile.

These are opposite perspectives. If it is a sin to be married to a foreigner, as the book of Ezra clearly claims, then following the moral vision of the book of Ruth would lead us into sin. So if we follow one, we break the other. We must choose one and reject the other. So if infallible means that we can read a "clear teaching of the Bible" and trust that this will not lead us astray, then the fact that the Old Testament contains these multiple conflicting moral vision makes this untenable. Faced with opposing moral visions within scripture (and there are many many examples of this throughout the OT, for examples check out my previous posts here, here, and here) we have no option but to make a choice. So on what basis can we make that choice?

I would propose that the answer begins with our recognizing that Jesus is making choices between these opposing moral visions within the Old Testament (the only Bible Jesus knew), and that we as his followers need to understand what led him to make those choices and learn to apply those same criteria ourselves. I think it is pretty clear that Jesus would agree with the moral vision of Ruth and not agree with Ezra. Jesus makes his criteria for who he calls his "mother and brothers" based on (to borrow from MLK) the content of their character rather than on the color of their skin. "who is my mother or brothers?" Jesus asks. "The one's who do the will of my Father in heaven" is his answer. The same message is repeated by Jesus in the story of the Centurion, the women at the well, the good Samaritan, the parable of the sheep and goats, and on and on.

That brings us back to Mike's question "There are things that are pretty clear – like forgive, love your neighbor, etc. – but on what grounds can we rely on those as true if the text isn’t 'infallible'?" Said differently, the question is basically how can we know what is good if we can't simply trust that we can do whatever the text says and trust that that will be good? Now as I pointed out above, this would not work with the Old Tesament because it contains conflicting instructions. It teaches showing mercy to the foreigner in one place, and it commands "show them no mercy!" in another place. So the option to simply trust and follow is simply not an available option even if we wanted it to be. We must choose. So how do we choose? 

As I have said, with the Old Testament the answer is in learning to read scripture like Jesus did, learning to prioritize what he did. How to do that of course deserves further discussion, but what I can say at the outset is that we evangelicals to a large degree have tended to read scripture like the Pharisees did and not at all like Jesus did. That is precisely why the critique that Jesus levels on the Pharisees very much can be applied to us Evangelicals. Do we have ears to hear that critique and repent?

We come into a second difficulty with the New Testament when we ask the same question "how can we know what is good if we can't simply trust that we can do whatever the text says and trust that that will be good?" Let's take the example of Jesus' command to turn the other cheek. Now I have been a long vocal advocate for nonviolence. So I definitely do affirm turning the other cheek and firmly believe that Jesus' way of enemy love needs to hold a central place in our Christian praxis. However, the fact is that many people have understood turning the other cheek to mean that women in situations of domestic violence should remain with their abusive husband as an act of faithfulness to Jesus. I believe (and hope you do, too) that this is abusive and wrong. It is a misunderstanding of what turning the other cheek means.

And that's just the point: We can only talk about correctly applying something if we understand it. If we can assess it. There cannot be correct interpretation without understanding, and that is not simply a matter of "what does it say?" but "is this moral?" That means this is not just about me questioning the stuff I find objectionable, but also questioning the stuff I affirm in order to be able to follow well. I question so that I can follow. There simply can be no obedience without understanding. Obedience without understanding always puts on a collision course with hurt and error. There is no way around that. The Bible should lead us to moral reflection, not shut it down.

This is the problem with infallibility as it commonly understood: It leads us to shut down all moral reflection, to turn off our brains and conscience. It blinds us to our sin, causing us to justify it with religious language. This was the sin of the Pharisees and how they applied Scripture, and it is the sin of conservative evangelicalism as well. Whatever infallibility means (and it is not a word we find anywhere in the Bible) if it leads us to be less moral, if it leads us to be less compassionate, less reflective, then it is wrong.

So again we are faced with the question: How do we know what is moral, what is good? Even when we say we want to follow the teaching of Jesus (which I do) we still need to understand why and how it is good in order to be able to practice it correctly. To unquestioningly follow the text without moral assessment inevitably leads to abuse. So how do we make those moral evaluations? If it is not as simple as saying "the text says so, that settles it" then what is our criteria?

Speaking of how we can recognize the difference between a real and false prophet, Jesus proposes the following criteria: By their fruits you shall know them. Paul similarly speaks of the "fruits" of the Spirit. From that I would propose that our criteria for moral evaluation is to observe the results in people's lives. Does our application of a particular teaching (like how we practice turning the other cheek) lead to flourishing and love? Or does it lead to harm and oppression? We look at the fruits of our interpretation played out in our practice and evaluate whether those fruits are good or whether they are rotten. Do they lead to life or to death? That's the question Jesus is constantly asking and the question we need to be asking, too.

Take for example the issue of homosexuality: The way that it has been approached by conservative Christians is to basically say, "The Bible says it's wrong. It does not matter that this does not make sense to me, and it does not matter that I can see that gays are being hurt by my rejection of them. The Bible says it, that settles it." As a result we hear stories of parents rejecting their own children, and this being actively encouraged from the pulpit. This leads to broken relationships and profound hurt. That is the fruit, and it is rotten fruit for sure. They recognize the hurt it causes but feel obligated to persist nonetheless because they believe that this is what faithfulness to scripture requires of them. However I would say that they are here reading the Bible in just the same hurtful and wrong way that the Pharisees did, and as a result are "shutting the door to the kingdom of God in people's faces" in that they are rejecting people who very obviously are deeply in need of love and affirmation. We know by looking at the fruit, not by blindly following a text regardless of the fruit, which is exactly how many conservatives are interpreting scripture in this regard.

This brings me to a comment by Kent, who writes,
"We need to be led by our hearts more and our heads less. Love can be subjective to the mind, but not the heart. In my first post, I suggested that revelation was to the heart which convinces the head. What we do as humans is just the opposite. We take in information, process and categorize it with the mind, and then attempt to change our hearts by conforming our behavior to our 'new' paradigms."
When I went to Asbury Seminary our motto was where head and heart go hand in hand. Yes it's kinda cheesy, but I always liked it anyway, and as an artist have always been very focused on the heart. I'd like to suggest that another way of saying essentially the same thing would be to say that it is our experience and relationships which convince our heads. People change their mind about homosexuality because they get to know people, they see them, not as a theory or a statistic, but as a real person who they know and care about and respect, and that ends up changing their minds.

So the "heart" part is really about relationships, about our real lived lives together. If our "head" theology is based on theoretical ideology and doctrinal statements then this is indeed in conflict with the heart and with relationships and with life. However consider that the scientific model is one that is instead based on observing how life works and deriving our understanding based on that. Science certainly involves the "head", but it does so in a way that is not based on ideologies, but based on observing life. Our theology should also be based on life, on observing what leads people to life and flourishing, and what leads to harm.



At 7:16 AM, Blogger sfierbaugh said...

I'm not sure that I accept your basic premise. I don't see the OT containing conflicting moral visions, but rather a continual arc leading people from bad morals to a better (more Christ-like) moral vision. I go right back to progressive revelation.

Poor Ezra is getting quite a bum rap! We named our son "Ezra" because it seemed fitting as Bible translators to honor the scribe traditionally credited with bringing the OT together into the form we have today.

It is easy to make too much of Ezra's expulsion of the wives. This was a different age and Ezra emphasizes the holiness of God. Context is king, and the post-script of Ezra (9 & 10) should be considered in the context of the rest of the book & Nehemiah.

Without Ezra, we probably would not have Ruth. He chose to include the book in the OT, so it is a reasonable assumption that he was comfortable with the theology that it reveals. The difference between Ruth's acceptance and the Ezra-ean (is that even a word?) wives' rejection is in Ruth 1:16 and Ezra 9:1. She accepted the God of Love, while they rejected him. Both acceptance & rejection were before any overt action on Naomi or Ezra's part.

P.S. - Doesn't change the basic thrust of the passage, but it's also probably worth noting that the final verse, 10:44, appears to be corrupted and is a bear to translate. It could conceivably mean "they sent these wives and children away", but most good translations (NASB, NET, NIV) simply say, "some of them had children by these wives", which stays closer to the text.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Really thought provoking post.

The concept of conflicting moral visions is new for me & I’d like to learn more about it. Any books about it? It’s not the kind of thing that would EVER be discussed in the type of church communities that I’ve come from. Neither is progressive revelation for that matter. I think that, either way, you can’t simply look at an OT writing and say that it provides a perfect revelation of morality. It either needs to be contextualized or weighed against competing voices, or both.

In ways they’re the same, but there are differences between progressive revelation vs “competing voices” though. Progressive revelation carries with it the presupposition (at least when looking at issues of morality) that whatever was written was good and right and truly God-revealing. It may look horrible now, but it was a step forward. It truly was God revealing himself. If we struggle to see it that way, it’s a matter of wrestling with the text, getting a better understanding of the context, etc. A competing voices approach, however, says that “this is wrong”. In that sense, there’s no amount of contextualizing that can show us how it’s a good moral example. They thought it was good, but they were wrong. It isn’t.

Now I certainly think that competing voices have to be taken seriously – again I’d have to think more about it and see it for myself. But even if we have the theological expertise to differentiate between progressive revelation and competing voices, it’s clear that not all issues of morality have this kind of conversation going on. If there aren’t competing voices or some kind of progression does that make it absolutely & timelessly true?

With your example on turning the other cheek, the way that you’re discussing it doesn’t really seem to be about “infallibility” – it seems more like “what is the appropriate way to live this out?” The statement itself doesn’t need to be questioned as to being true or false – the interpretation does.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Derek, what I hear you saying is that when looking at what the scriptures actually are (since there must be some freedom to look at the text for what it actually is and not what it “needs to be”) the conversation itself is an inherent part of the text, and it’s useful in guiding people in making ethical decisions today. An ancient text can’t possibly answer every question that every person could ever have, but it might in and of itself model how we might proceed and the criteria that we might use. In that sense, it’s inspired, truthful, God-breathed, etc. – whereas “inerrant” or “infallible” as typically used are terms that address purposes that are foreign to what a book can do? Would you agree with that?

A bigger problem for me is this. The reality is that no text, whether ancient or modern, can sufficiently lay out a set of clear cut unchanging laws about anything and everything that can infallibly guide people to make perfect decisions in all situations for all time. That’s ludicrous. It’d have to look something like an eternal decision tree. I think that what Christians claim is that in Jesus we see the character of God. We study His character and learn from Him, not as a set of principles but as a person, and we can therefore learn how to live (imperfectly and always learning and changing). It simply has to be acknowledged that a fallible errant Bible (not in terms of morality but in terms of theological/propositional truth) is devastating to this approach. And this is why “inerrancy” and “infallibility” are so vigorously (and at times dishonestly) defended. It’s why verbal plenary inspiration is defended as the necessity upon which all of Christian theology stands or falls. If the scriptures weren’t dictated, if the writers weren’t simply divine vessels whose brains were overridden, then how can they claim to either have perfect memories about things that were said and done or have infallible knowledge about what can’t be seen or proven? If there are errors in matters of history or conflicting accounts, why should anyone rely on them for abstract theological concepts – ones that can’t be “proven”?

Also, there are times where Jesus certainly doesn’t seem kind or forgiving. There are parables about torture and slaughtering. 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – God sends them a strong delusion. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 – wrath to come. The entire book of Revelation. God seems just as full of wrath in the NT at times, perhaps even more so than in the OT because there’s an “eternal” component that to me seems absent in the OT.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger sfierbaugh said...

This comment will be about the OT. The next comment will be about the NT. My views are still evolving, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but here's how it seems to me...

The really tough nut in the OT is the Canaanite genocide. I hope we can all agree that genocide is evil, period, with no caveats. Progressive revelation doesn't try to make Deut. 20 good. Instead, it suggests that it is horrible and not God's perfect desire for holiness, but the closest that the Israelites of that time could come to understanding God's desire for holiness.

And oh, by the way, a thousand years later, more or less, instead of killing them, Ezra is sending them away. Four hundred years later, Jesus is saying, "Don't divorce them." That's the arc of progressive revelation, because the people of God in each case were closer and closer to being able to understand.

Show Them No Mercy is another in-depth look at this issue from four different perspectives, .

At 3:23 PM, Blogger sfierbaugh said...

Regarding the NT, several people in recent discussions have referenced its violence. I'm completely confused. What text are you all thinking of?

Revelation is certainly apocalyptic, but it's a stylized writing in a specific genre and hardly a call to bloodshed. Please don't pin Left Behind on John; he's probably spinning in his grave over it. Also note that most of the bloodshed is by the wicked against the godly, not vice-versa.

2 Thess. 2:11 may be theologically difficult, but it has nothing to do with torture or bloodshed. Ditto 1 Thess. 1:10. Jesus tells a number of parables that involve some level of violence in one way or another (eg the Good Samaritan involves an assault & robbery), but only as part of the literary device; it would be a gross misreading of any of them to purpose that Jesus advocated violence in them.

Help me out here, what specifically in the NT are you thinking about, and what are your concerns?

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good Samaritan violence isn't what I'm talking about. There's Luke 12:46, Luke 19:27, the parable of the sheep & goats. They aren't hard to find.

There's Romans 12:19 where it says that we shouldn't avenge yourselves, but the rationale for it is basically that "Because God will do it for you later."

I'm with you on Revelation. I moved on from Left Behind theology long ago. IMO it's a genre that's flat out foreign to us - I don't think that it's as simple as allegory. I think that it's something else all together. That being said, I disagree that it's hard to find violence in that book or that it's usually the wicked against the godly. There's Rev 14 10-11. There's that whole lake of fire thing.

And ultimately there's the traditionally held view of eternal conscious torment - of God eternally inflicting pain on people with no hope of it relenting. I realize that there are many explanations for these texts (hell could be it's own discussion and don't want to get into it here), but it's a lot to explain away and contextualize.

My point with the Thessalonians texts was this - it says that God sends them deceptions. If this is a picture of the Father, and Jesus is like the Father, and we're suppose to be like Jesus, then what are we supposed to make of this? Is it true and "inerrant"? The writer had supernatural knowledge that God is actively sending powerful deceptions? This seems to be one of the ultimate NT "bully texts". You don't agree with me? Well God is sending you deceptions. It has ethical ramifications.

My point is this (and I find this very troubling and difficult to reconcile). It often seems that scripture paints a picture of God who commands one thing (for us to be kind, non-violent, forgiving without end - seventy times seven!), but himself acts by a different set of rules. It creates a confusing ethical foundation. And when we're talking about inspiration / inerrancy / infallibility, I wonder at what to do with these texts.

Anyone seen the movie "Tree of Life"? Highly recommended. One of the main characters in the movie, as a young boy, witnesses the death of a child. It leads to some profound questions and leads to one aimed at God "Why should I be good if you aren't?"

At 7:39 PM, Blogger kent said...

From my perspective, revelation is in the realm of the heart; not in the realm of the mind. In other words, God reveals himself to a man's heart, and the mind becomes involved in interpreting and categorizing the revelation secondarily. If this is true (and I'm not sure how one could prove or disprove it), then progressive apprehension would be the arc of the message within scripture and not progressive revelation. The bible would be a journal of man's apprehension of God's revelation of himself over time. This would allow the moral difficulties that are contained within scripture to be dealt with in a fashion that attributes the culpability to man's distorted apprehension of God's revelation instead of laying the responsibility at God's feet for only partially revealing himself. This arc of apprehension (or misapprehension) continues throughout the whole of scripture, even the NT, because, just like our discussions, the writers were trying to individually come to an understanding that fit their personal revelation into their a priories and world paradigms. This allows for the writers of scripture to not have to get everything right, and still write things that can help us all move towards a truer understanding of God's revelation to mankind (at best any one person apprehends God's revelation as opposed to comprehending it).
I feel that the greatest statement within all of scripture, the closest anyone came to comprehending God's revelation, is John's statement, "God is love." This is my a priori. This is my starting point, and so this is the truth that not only is the lens through which I judge truth in the scriptures, but also is the lens through which I theorize what scripture is in the first place and it's relevance to me. To me, everything contained within the bible stands of falls with respect to God's revelation of himself as love. I think this is what Derek was saying when he expressed the idea of deciphering truth within scripture by an idea's potential to bring life or death. Life (forgiveness, mercy, nonviolence) is a true apprehension of God's revelation; death (nonforgiveness, hatred, violence) is false apprehension.

At 7:13 AM, Blogger sfierbaugh said...

Mike, all of your references are eschatological in nature. None of them could reasonably be read to be condoning or encouraging violence in the here-and-now. On the contrary, Jesus urges non-violence, turning the cheek.

Apocalyptic literature is a crazy genre that isn't easy for anyone to understand (& usually intentionally so). It has multiple possible interpretations, including that the events described have already occurred, primarily during the Roman destruction in 70 A.D.

Whether or not God condemning someone to eternal punishment is loving is an interesting theological question, but it is separate and distinct from saying the NT is full of violence, or encouraged me to beat my wife, etc.

God is love, but God is also justice, and so there must be some balance. The substitutionary atoning of his son is God's balance of the two. Derek may have another view ;-) which he may want to chime in with...

We are getting far afield from the original post. How is it possible to know what to do if we can't blindly trust the text? I'm with Derek and Kent: the answer is loving reason. God gave us a brain and he expects us to use it.

I am curious, Derek, on your view of the Trilemma?


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Agreed – don’t want to get off topic. But I don’t think that we’re talking about the same things. Not all of these are eschatological in nature, and I don’t see how it really matters whether they are or aren’t.

One of the main things that’s been talked about in these posts in terms of application of fallibility/progressive revelation (either way) is the issue of violence and a move towards non-violence. And the rationale behind this view is that God has revealed himself in Jesus who tells us to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to love one another. This becomes the “infallible” foundation that tells us what we’re progressing towards, or how we might confidently say that God didn’t command genocide (or at least doesn’t want us to now). And these commands to love aren’t arbitrary – they’d be based on the reality of who God is as has been revealed in Jesus. So this isn’t contextual, or just another step forward, this becomes timeless or “infallible”. So now, in response to anyone saying that a command to genocide(I don’t even know what that would look like) was from God, we’d be able to say “No, God isn’t like that. It’s not just that God wouldn’t have US do it, it’s that God doesn’t want that because it’s inherently wrong.”

Yet we see God (Father) being violent and Jesus threatening violence in the NT in parables, in epistles, in eschatology, etc. – not in direct commands for people to be violent, but in descriptions of what God will do. Nowhere is that better seen in final judgment. It would seem that we’re told to overcome evil with love, forgiveness, dying to self, but at the end of the day God’s way of making things right will be thru a violent judgment. I’d consider myself agnostic as to specifics of life after death, but if we don’t want to pick and choose in the Bible we’ll have to acknowledge that there is some violent imagery there. It seems that the choices are to explain them away/say they’re wrong, or accept them and learn to redefine “love”, or say that God’s wrath and justice is separate from love. If I’m the only one that sees texts that portray God as violent (or less than what we’d consider to be "loving" at the very least) at times even in the NT then I guess there’s nothing to discuss.

But assuming we do see some divine violence, a couple of questions. Do we pick and choose what we want to contextualize away (Derrick you had a good post on this idea in regards to women & leadership)? Why accept the “infallibility” of love & forgiveness but not the infallibility of vengeance & wrath when both are seen in the NT?

That there is a conflict between justice and mercy seems to be the standard rationale for God’s violence (this is off topic & deserves it’s own post). Personally, I’ve never been able to accept that answer as I think there has to be a harmony between justice and mercy. I don’t see it as unjust to be merciful.

I apologize if this is morphing into a discussion about God’s wrath & violence. But to me there is a vital connection between that and how we form the lens of “infallibility” that tells us who God is and therefore how we’ll look at the Bible and our own lives. Again, I have a really hard time with some of these ideas – judgment, atonement theology, etc. But just like with errors & contradictions, I want to be honest about what I see.

At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


In regards to violence in the NT, this is important theme to discuss, but I think it deserves it's own (or more likely several) blog post. This post is focused on the issue of violence in the OT. So I'd like to stick to that here. I'll see if I can post something about the NT next time.

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I do want to encourage you to look into the multivocal nature of the OT. Once you can recognize it as a reoccurring pattern throughout the OT the puzzle pieces all come together, and things suddenly make sense that just do not fit with the more typical "harmonizing" way of reading that you and I learned. For what it's worth, I think the multivocal perspective is also superior to the Father's method of allegorical reading in that it is a view that works both with scholarship and with an ethical/moral reading of scripture which is what we are all trying to do here. An allegorical reading, from a scholarly perspective, is eisegesis.

To aid that, I have added several links in my above post to other places where I have written on the multivocal nature of the OT in the Psalms of protest, in Job, in the prophets conflict both with the law and with each other, and finally with Ruth & Ezra. Please give them a read.

The multivocal perspective coincides with the idea of progressive revelation, and in fact is the form in which it happens. That is, the way they grow is by allowing for disagreement and debate. This is very uncommon from a Christian perspective with its focus on the one right "orthodox" view, but the Jewish faith in contrast is a probing, questioning faith. They say "ask 10 Jews a question and you get 11 answers" and my rabbi friends often tell me that Jews are more comfortable with the questions than they are with the answers. This can all be seen in what Walter Brueggemann calls the "witness and counter-witness" of the OT, that is, in the debate that characterizes the OT canon.

Returning specifically to Ruth vs. Ezra it's important to stress that the issue is not simply that you or I have a problem with the morality of Ezra. The issue that the multivocal perspective raises is that the author of Ruth has a problem with the morality of Ezra. Scholars believe that Ruth and Ezra-Nehemiah were written around the same time. So this is not about us looking back from the present with progressive revelation and saying that we know better, it is one voice from the OT that has a message that is hostile to Gentiles (and this is a major theme in the OT) and another voice, also from the OT, from the same time, that instead has the opposite message of grace towards Gentiles (a theme picked up in the NT). So it's not OT=bad NT=good nor is it past=bad now=better its the reality that while we find stuff from the OT and from the past that we find deeply disturbing, we also find -- right in that exact same time place -- a beautiful vision of grace.

I think that's pretty awesome. I also think it is awesome that the canon of the OT allows for that voice of protest to be heard. The very fact that the book of Job is in the Bible at all is remarkable. Allowing for that voice of protest to be heard is what keeps a faith healthy. We need to be able to hear self-criticism, to be able to reform, to reflect, to grow.

P.S. as a side point, I do not think it is accurate to say that Ezra "chose to include Ruth in the OT" The canon of the OT was established much much later (as in after the time of Jesus, let alone Ezra). I am unaware that there is any claim in Ezra that he is reading anything other than the Torah (the books of the law). The non-canonical book of Fourth Ezra does make the claim that Ezra put together the OT canon, but this was written ca. 100 AD.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Michael Pahl has a few recent blog posts that express some of the same thoughts as Derrick's posts. If anyone is interested:

At 2:48 PM, Blogger sfierbaugh said...

I'll resist a venture into conservative vs liberal textual criticism would take us way off topic. If you mean canon as in the KJV or even FF Bruce formal sense, then point granted.

Someone, though, had to pick up the pieces after the exile. The destruction of Jerusalem was the ancient equivalent of nuclear war; learning & texts must have been in shambles (Chronicles is evidence). Someone preserved texts as best they could, and this implies some level of editorial selection. I concur regarding 4 Ezra. I'm not dogmatic that it was Ezra, but he's a reasonable suspect.

Reading the links you provide, I think infallibility is doomed when learned people of good heart can read the same passages and draw such different conclusions, even as to the passages' themes.


At 5:34 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Stephen, not sure if you're referring to the link I posted. I just thought that there were some good parallels with genre and different voices and "inspiration", etc. Something specific you saw?

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that most of the problems that people have in handling the Old Testament and especially the command to destroy the inhabitants of the land of Canaan are fundamental misunderstanding of how God works within a covenantal framework, a lack of biblical understanding of the depths of man's depravity, and God's Holiness.

In Genesis 15, when God Himself made a covenant with Abram, He promised to give Abram a land, a people, and that all the nations would be blessed through him. Abram believed God and that faith was credited to Abram as the righteousness required to be God's son; only those that have faith in God and believe God are made His sons and daughters. As part of God's covenantal agreement with Abram, God gave the Land of Canaan to Abram's offspring, but that would involve cleaning the land of the wicked pollution done by the Jehovah-hating peoples of that land. In Deuteronomy 7, God explains why He was using the Israelites to exact judgment on the Canaanites and why it was so crucial to "show no mercy", and why they were not to enter into covenant or marriage with these nations; God was protecting His children, (the Canaanite nations were not His children), from entering into judgment themselves for entering into the same idolatrous practices that God hates. In order to stay in the land, the Israelites must keep their worship of YAHWEH pure or else they would be expelled from the land as well.

I don't think that most people understand God's Righteousness or the depths of man's depravity. I think this is due to a hermeneutic that says that man is only spiritually wounded and has the ability to overcome his sin on his own by trying harder and doing more.

All men are born enemies of God, we are all God-haters in our natural beings; we are dead in sin and "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2). Contrary to popular humanistic belief, we are not all "sons and daughters of God", with a desire to find our way to God. We have proven that if we had the ability to get our hands on God, we wouldn't embrace Him, we would crucify Him! Until we are born-again from above, we continue to be under God's Righteous judgment for our sins (John 3:18). Being born-again is not something that we can do on our own, God must do this through His electing Grace, God must "cause us to be born-again" (1 Peter 1:3)!

The Bible doesn't err in these issues; we err when we interpret the Bible in such a way that when we encounter passages that are difficult for our fallen intellects to grasp, we discount these passages rather than attempt to reconcile these texts with the rest of Scripture.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I disagree with a good many things that you’ve said here, not least of which are your ideas of “election” and “fallen intellect”. This is usually a way to bully other people into thinking that any disagreement is the result of them being “unenlightened” and “twisting the Word” unlike those who just “accept” it. Very gnostic. Different topic though.

In terms of what we’re talking about here, the big take away for me with this hermeneutic is that there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t expect God to command genocide again. There is no progressive revelation in this view, since God is unchanging. In this view there is no morality with which we could say that a divine command (whatever that would look like) to commit genocide would be “wrong”. “Right” is simply what God does. And if God wants to use one people to exterminate another as a result of their sin and his righteous judgment and “holiness”, then so be it. It’s interesting that “holiness” is rarely (if ever) used as justification for mercy and forgiveness, only justification for wrath and pain and death. I find that completely unbiblical.

It’s a “that was then and this is now (although then could very well be now again!) approach” Piper has said as much, and certain interpretations of what the Bible must be necessitate that this be the case. And it explains the general support for the death penalty, most wars, torture, and the general belief that violence is necessary. This hermeneutic really leaves no other alternative, and it paints a picture of a God that is inherently violent. And this shapes everything – how God deals with problems, and how we can therefore deal with problems if we’re given a “divine blessing.” And this has played itself out again and again.
I do agree that reconciling texts is important – that’s a great point. I think the question here is what is the starting point that we’re reconciling to?

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit that I have a hard time believing that someone who treats the Bible with so much contempt can rightfully be called a Christian. I mentioned this problem that I have in a tweet to Derek who told me to voice my opinions on his blog.

I think that anyone that denies the authority and inspiration of ALL Scripture is interpreting the Bible without the illumination of the Holy Spirit that "breaths" the Scripture into existence.

You said, "...there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t expect God to command genocide again." I understand that throughout history nations have made a claim to being a Christian nation and have used that claim to wage war against the infidel. Again, this is a result of being ignorant of covenant theology. The command to destroy the Canaanites was only for the nation of Israel at that particular time and place. God was fulfilling His promise to Abram to give his offspring the land of Canaan and in the process they would be bringing about God's wrath against them for their wickedness. In Genesis 15 God not only talked about the coming judgment of Canaan, but also the judgment against Egypt for the slavery of the Jews. Today their is no such thing as a geo-political people of God, so there is no command or justification for invading another country or people to satisfy God's command.

As far as progressive revelation is considered, I think that there is a confusion on what "progressive revelation" actually is. Progressive revelation according to my understanding is not to be confused with the so called, "trajectory hermeneutic" in which people see a change in direction of God's plan for dealing with mankind. Take homosexuality for example, some people say that because Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and didn't explicitly address homosexuality (I would argue that He affirmed male-female marriage as being God's only plan for marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10) they see this as a trajectory into acceptance of homosexuality on the grounds of love for neighbor. Progressive revelation (PR), rather, refers to God's self-revelation as tripartite and in how He reveals His plan of calling a people unto Himself through means of Covenant. PR is a constant, incremental, truthful, revelation of who God is; He doesn't change, He just reveals more and more about Himself until He was incarnate in Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger kent said...

The problem many of us have with holding to inerrancy and infallibility has to do with the fact that this leads one to have to hold onto the contradiction that love can be violent.
Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world...[if it were] my servants
would be fighting..."
So, what is the difference between the world's kingdom and God's kingdom? Is it
about timing or quality? Most believe it's timing. The kingdom is about
afterlife; not about present life. Yet, this cannot be for Jesus described the
kingdom as being a present reality. Therefore, it must be about the quality of
In the world's kingdoms, the mind, with its ability (or lack thereof) to determine good and evil, is the determining factor as to when and how and upon whom force will be used to promote one's will. So, worldly kingdoms use mind and force to
prosper (unfortunately sometimes in the name of God).
God's kingdom, on the other hand, is a heart-based kingdom. The heart controls the mind; not vice versa. God's kingdom flourishes by love; not force. Therefore, violence is antithetical to the kingdom of God and always has been.
Rene Girard wrote concerning this: "Violence is the enslavement of a pervasive lie; it imposed upon men a falsified vision not only of God but also of everything else. And that is indeed why if is a closed kingdom. Escaping from violence is escaping from this kingdom into another kingdom, whose existence the majority of people do not even suspect. This is the kingdom of love, which is also the domain of the true God, the Father of Jesus, of whom the prisoners of violence cannot even conceive."

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Not sure if this is directed at me or not. If so, I find it incredibly offensive that the legitimacy of my faith is attacked over questions as to what the Bible is or is not – specifically in regards to incredibly challenging and historically vexing issues such as the Caananite genocide. These are the kinds of thoughts that drive people to blogs to discuss difficult matters of faith in the first place – the fear of judgment, accusations of biblical ignorance & denying the Holy Spirit. I find it amazing that so many have such peace about God’s violence in the OT (and NT) to the point that I do wonder if there is something wrong with me since I can’t. Indeed, I have at times questioned the legitimacy of my own faith due to my persistent inability to reconcile a God who becomes a man and forgives His enemies from the cross with a God who commands the death of women and children. I struggle with it, will continue to wrestle with the implications as I believe God to be beautifully good, and don’t apologize for that. But you’ve read 3 or 4 blog posts, infer that I have contempt for the Bible, and question whether I can rightfully call myself a Christian? If my words came across as full of contempt, that was not my intent.

Perhaps “expect” wasn’t the correct word to use – I want to answer the question “Can we definitively say that God will not ask one people group to wipe out another people group in our time”? Can we rule it out or not? Why or why not?

This is a Piper quote. Not picking on Piper, but this is a good illustration of the argument and the implications:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

“But that’s much more complex morally than saying that God does it. He can cause a flood and kill everybody on the planet except 8 people and not do a single one of them any wrong. But he didn’t ask anybody else to do that. It gets difficult when he uses others.”

“So God has his times and seasons for when he shares his authority to take and give life”.

This quote was specifically in relation to discussion of Canaanite genocide. This is just bits and pieces of his thoughts obviously, but the overall tone and argument is fairly represented IMO.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That comment was not directed at you, it was directed at Derek.

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Mike B ("B" is for "BiblicalOrthodoxy"),

I'm glad to have you join our conversation even if we disagree strongly on how to faithfully interpret Scripture. I think it is important for Christians on opposite sides of issues to listen and learn from each other in dialog. So I hope that can happen here.

With that said, I do need to lay down some ground rules. This is my blog, and in that respect you are a "guest" here in my "home" and so I need for you to be careful and respectful of others including me, just as you would if you were a guest in someone's home. That way we can have a safe space where people can ask honest questions without fear of judgement from others.

The internet can be a nasty place where people are really mean to each other. That does not happen on my blog because I simply do not allow it. If people are mean, I delete their posts, the end. My blog, my rules, and my rule is "be nice to others or be gone"

That means that you do not get to tell anyone (including myself) that they are not a Christian. If you can respect that, you are welcome to hang out with us, but we do need to be clear on this.

Can you agree to respect that?

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Biblical Orthodoxy:

This is what you said: "Today their is no such thing as a geo-political people of God, so there is no command or justification for invading another country or people to satisfy God's command. "

I empathize with the shock factor involved with seeing Derek's work for the first time. "Oh God - what is this guy saying?! Is he denigrating all that's sacred in the Bible?!" I also get it that it makes us all uncomfortable not to simply have the surety of being able to just say "here's the text. here's the obvious meaning for all." Then again, you know as well as I do that topnotch scholars who spend their lives studying the Bible can disagree vehemently on the same passage. It happens all the time. So in an intuitive sense, we already know the whole "the bible says so and that settles it for me" approach isn't really practical or concordant with lived experience. But I also want you to reflect on the implications of what you're saying.

How does it make sense to say that genocide (and sexual plunder of conquered women, which the Israeli warriors also committed with impunity) went from moral to immoral ... simply because God's chosen people shifted from a nation to the whole world? I don't understand the logic there. Okay, so it might not be nation against nation anymore, but could it be okay for a Christian to rape a non-Christian woman at the individual level - if that non Christian woman is considered sinful or evil enough?

And yes, I would agree that impugning someone's faith is pretty mean. It probably came from a place of shock and discomfort than an actually malignant place, but there are better ways of expressing that shock and discomfort

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yes, I can abide by those rules, I'm sorry for offending you or any of your guests.

I would like to explain why I am having difficulty trying to reconcile your position on Scripture with your claim to be a Christian.

Some of the things I am about to say may seem hard, but I hope that you will read them and post them anyway.

When I first read your blog, I must say that my heart hurt because you seemed to be pretty proud of your job of "deconstructing" the Bible; this, to me, seems to be inconsistent with a claim of being a Christian. As I read your blog and some other related posts on the "Red Letter Christian" website, I had a huge problem with what I see as a contemptuous handling of Scripture.

My first thought when I read your post "How Can A Fallible Bible Be Inspired", was, how can he have these views of the Bible and still claim to love the Bible? The interpretations that you and others at Red Letter Christians hold, I believe, are inconsistent with a profession of faith in Christ who is the Word and the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (John 5:39, Luke 24:27)

I was so hurt by your attitude toward the Scriptures that I intended to send a strongly worded rebuke to a "brother" who had erred and gone astray from the truth. My heart ached because of your boasting in the fact that you were "deconstructing" the Word of God - the Bible that I read, love, trust, and defend! Then, in my sorrow and grieving over you and your words, I thought to myself, "maybe he really isn't a believer at all and I should treat him as I would any other unbeliever". I tweeted from my Twitter account @Eph2_1_10 asking when you became a Christian and you said that I should contact you on your blog, but when I got there, I started to reply to other instead...I do apologize for the back door attack.

I fear that what you are doing with the Scriptures is choosing to believe what you want to; things that are agreeable to you and choosing not to believe what is difficult or that require serious study and contemplation to resolve. For example, you choose to believe that God is love and that Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but you choose not to believe that God commanded the utter destruction of the Canaanite nations or that homosexuality is sin that will be judged, with all other un-repented sin, by God's eternal wrath.

I hope you post this response. Sometimes hard things need to be said, but I mean no disrespect.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi biblicalorthodoxy,

Thanks for taking the time to express your concerns, and for agreeing to abide by the rules of my blog. I appreciate that.

In regards to what it means to be a Christian, I get the impression that you are defining whether a person is a Christian or not based on whether they hold to a certain set of doctrinal claims based on a particular interpretation of the Bible.

What I don’t hear you talking about is Christianity understood as having a relationship with God--as a life changed by grace and shaped by God’s love. That for me is central to what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps that focus on a living relationship with God is also central for you, but I don’t hear you saying this. I don’t hear you speaking about how God’s love changed you. Again, perhaps this has been your experience, but I missed hearing you speak about it.

That focus on being transformed and shaped by God's grace is central to how I understand my faith. So let me start by sharing what it has meant to me. I was not raised in a Christian home, and so did not know that God was real and that I was loved. So when I met Jesus and encountered his love it completely turned my world upsidedown. Experiencing that unconditional love made me want to give everything to God, and it made me want to show others the same love and mercy that I has known.

I also wanted to grow closer to Jesus, and so I read by Bible everyday and spent time in prayer. I love the Bible because it leads me to Jesus. It is the vehicle, and Jesus is the destination. My study lead me to pursue a seminary degree where I learned to read scripture in the original languages and studied theology as well, all in an attempt to dig in deeper to the reality of God’s grace.

As I studied I also tried to listen to what the Holy Spirit was wanting to teach me, and felt myself being drawn towards Christ’s heart of compassion and way of enemy love. This was not easy for me, it was deeply challenging, but as you said, faith is not about taking the easy road, but the good road, even when it is hard. So I opened my heart up to Jesus more and more, and as I did my heart slowly began to care more and more about what Jesus cares for. The more time I spent with Jesus, the more I came to care about those he cared about—the least, the vulnerable.

At the same time, as I poured over the Bible, I noticed that Jesus and Paul both had a particular way of reading the Bible that was very different from the approach of the Pharisees. I noticed a pattern, over and over again where Jesus and Paul both would embrace a particular moral vision in the Old Testament, and reject another moral vision, and more specifically I observed that what they were embracing was always compassion and radical grace towards outsiders, and what they were repeatedly rejecting was always religiously justified violence.

So when I hold the positions I do, it is because I genuinely believe that Jesus also holds them. I do not do this because it is easy. It is not easy to practice enemy love and it is not easy to go against the grain in the direction of grace. I don’t do it because it is easy, I do it because I myself have known that grace and love and know that I deeply need it, and want to faithfully proclaim that same grace and love to others.

That’s my story, what’s yours?

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


“I empathize with the shock factor involved with seeing Derek's work for the first time.”

I think in many ways it is comparable to when someone says something critical about our family. We love our family, and so it feels threatening when someone is attacking it. But if our family is dysfunctional (as may families are) then we do need to face this if we hope to heal it, even if it is hard to hear. The one who draws attention to this is often seen as the one who is attacking what we hold dear, even if they are a family member themselves.

So what I really want to underline is that when I call attention to the dysfunction of how we have come to read the Bible—a dysfunction that has had deeply harmful effects—I do so out of love and a desire to see our family whole and healthy. That has always been my motivation.

At 4:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely do not believe that one is a Christian simply by holding certain theological views or accepting certain dogmatic principles, however I do believe that one must believe rightly about the character and nature of God as He has revealed Himself through His Word.
Being born-again is primarily a heart issue in which one is, by God’s Grace, united with Christ through the gift of repentance and faith. I call this repentant faith since they happen, in my understanding, almost simultaneously. By faith, one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. One must believe in His death, burial, and resurrection; and His substitutionary atonement on our behalf as sufficient for salvation.
I didn’t grow up in a religious home, my parents raised us Lutheran, but after confirmation we didn’t really go to church much; I don’t remember anyone in our family going to church much after that, in fact, I don’t think that my younger sister ever got confirmed. I lived for 36 years, “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and [a] stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:11). The Lord saved me out of my wicked rebellion in December of 1999; through a beautiful convergence of Grace, tearful repentance, and faith, God caused me to be born-again! Since then I have gone though many changes in my theological understanding; we (my wife and I) started out in an Assembly of God church which we attended for about 5 years, but then I was exposed to expository/expositional preaching and to Reformation Theology by great preachers like John Piper, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul. I also learned much about evangelism from the radio program “Way of the Master” with Todd Friel.
It was through faithful exposition of the Scriptures by these men that the Doctrines of Grace and the sovereignty of God in Predestination and Election came alive to me and made sense of more things in Scripture than anything else had before. Like Jonathan Edwards, when the eyes of my heart were opened to the absolute sovereignty of God over all things and especially over the salvation of man, I felt as though I had a kind of second rebirth! I have found a home in the Baptist church which is very much different from the Pentecostal roots of my Christian beginning.
I enjoy listening to sermon podcasts. Right now I subscribe to podcasts from John Piper, former Pastor of Bethlehem , MN; Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church in Orlando, Fl; The White Horse Inn radio broadcast; Jason Meyer, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mpls, Mn; and some lecture series from Reformed Theological Seminary. I also enjoy reading God’s Word and other books.


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