The Gods of the Old and New Testaments aren’t really different in The End

The Christian Bible with its division of the Old and New Testaments presents on the surface at least what appears to be a somewhat divided picture of God. The God of the Old Testament is shown as wrathful and violent, while Jesus reveals more of the love and mercy of God in the New Testament. Even when the Old Testament law appears to have been broken in the New Testament (Mark 2:24, John 8:5-7), Jesus is described as choosing mercy over a strict adherence to the Law. By contrast, the Old Testament God often appears much harsher, and uses violence such as conquests or catastrophic judgments against entire groups of people. The question examined here is whether the Gods in the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same God, or whether the New Testament presents an image that contradicts the Old. Although there is occasionally exaggeration in regards to God’s use of violence in the Old Testament, there still remains the aspect of God’s judgment that seems to contradict the idea of God as loving and good.      Nevertheless, the aspect of God’s judgment against sin appears to be something the New Testament is fully consistent with as demonstrated especially by the eschatological passages in the New Testament. When Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 concerning judgment and the time of the end is examined, it is consistent with, and alludes to, several Old Testament themes. Historical criticism, in fact, supports the authenticity of Christ having spoken this discourse. Furthermore, when the Old Testament is examined, it also demonstrates themes of justice, compassion, and love that tie it closer to the God of the New Testament than many have realized. Thus, the argument made below is that the eschatological discourse of Christ in the Gospels demonstrates the same plan and story of God. Thus the same God, is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

Questions Concerning the Old Testament God
          It is true that the God of the Old Testament has an image problem in the modern world. Narratives and poetic references to violence, genocide, judgments, and evils ranging from slavery to murder have understandably led to questions from skeptics and Christians alike. At issue is not that such evils have occurred in history, but that the Old Testament appears to give to such actions an approving nod, which seems at odds with the God of the New Testament. Richard Dawkins, a frequent critic of the Old Testament, asked, “Do those people who hold up the Bible as an inspiration to moral rectitude have the slightest notion of what is actually written in it?”[1] Indeed, some Christians reject substantial portions of the Old Testament as a result of the violence in it. Bible scholar Eric Seibert claims that the violence of God in the Old Testament is “clearly at odds with the God Jesus reveals,” and Seibert rejects a particular Old Testament story of God’s judgment, saying, “It is safe to conclude that God, the living God, never issued such a horrible divine decree.”[2] For scholars like Seibert and many skeptics, the Old Testament simply cannot be accurate. A brief overview of problematic Old Testament descriptions is worth considering.

The Violence of God
Those portrayals center on violence. Violence in ancient narratives and writings is certainly to be expected, but in the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as directing others to commit acts of violence such as the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites in the book of Joshua. At other times, God is portrayed using violent judgments Himself such as those against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), Noah’s flood (Gen 6-7), the plagues against Egypt (Exo 7:14-12:32), destroying an Amorite army (Josh 10:11), striking people dead (Lev 10:1-2, 2 Sam 6:6-7), and many other examples. Seibert notes, “Although it would be an overstatement to say there is blood dripping from every page, the pervasiveness of divine violence in the Old Testament is undeniable.”[3]  Certainly some of the actions of God in the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with the justice and fairness that God is assumed to have. Some scholars suggest the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament may simply reflect the attitudes and prejudices of ancient Israelites who wrote the texts. Carolyn Sharp, who refers to the Canaanite conquests as butchery and horrific,[4] claims that any sins of the Canaanites are “irrelevant to the ethical issue, unless you truly believe that every one of those thousands of men, women, and children could have been so heinously immoral as to require their extermination.”[5]
Sharp’s statement exemplifies the concern that so much violence in the Old Testament affects innocents such as children, or is perpetrated against people who are not viewed by modern eyes as deserving of such actions. Atheist author and scientist Sam Harris highlights a passage from Deuteronomy that prescribes death for anyone who entices another to serve a different god. Harris describes such a law as barbaric.[6] The difficulty with these violent portrayals of God’s actions in the Old Testament are the primary reason many attempt to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Before proceeding, however, some corrective points should be made regarding this widely held view of a violent Old Testament.

Evidence that God’s Violence is Sometimes Exaggerated
Violence in the Bible can broadly be characterized in three categories: Violence due to God’s judgment for sins, violence God authorizes to be committed by His people, and violence that God allowed to happen. Of course, modern critics of the Bible such as Dawkins compare the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites as racially motivated ethnic cleansing.[7] The Bible itself , however, does not mention race at all, but places the blame on the sinfulness of the Canaanites. Paul Copan writes that God not only cited sin as the reason for the conquests of Canaan, but warned the Israelites that the same thing could happen to them if they rejected Him.[8] Copan notes, “God was concerned with sin, not ethnicity.”[9] As a result the conquests of Canaan may also be viewed as God’s judgment against sin. Indeed, as N.T. Wright observes, the God of the Old Testament not only punishes nations, but uses one nation to punish another.[10] Thus, there are arguably just two categories: God’s judgment against sin and recorded violence that God allowed to happen.
Two more aspects of God’s judgment in the Old Testament should be noted. First, the biblical and archaeological record do not appear to support the popular notion of wide-spread genocide by the Israelites. Thus, the violence of the Old Testament God is sometimes exaggerated. K. A. Kitchen says bluntly, “The book of Joshua does not describe a total Hebrew conquest and occupation of Canaan, real or imaginary.”[11] Kitchen maintains that the text of the Bible and the available archaeological evidence describe an Israelite invading force that, after destroying a few key sites and raiding hostile cities,[12] generally lived among the Canaanites until Israel was strong enough to dominate the region.[13] Copan and Matthew Flannagan explain that this is also consistent with the biblical language, which did not use terms for extermination, but instead used terms for “driving out” and “thrusting out.”[14] The same terms do not imply killing elsewhere in the Bible and thus would not imply killing in Joshua or Judges either. Copan also notes the descriptions of killing innocents and total destruction was standard hyperbole used in Ancient Near Eastern accounts.[15] John Monson agrees, and explains that mentions of miracles, the involvement of a deity, and hyperbolic language “are recognizable and unexceptional features of Near Eastern texts ancient and modern.”[16] As a result, descriptions of total destruction or the killing of women and children are features of such accounts and should not be understood to be literally true in every case. Nevertheless, it is clear there remain episodes such as Noah’s Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, various judgments against groups, including perhaps some instances of the Canaanite conquest, which do appear to include the death of innocents or questions of barbarism.

Seibert’s Solution
Eric Seibert suggests a Christ-centered solution to reconciling the harsh judgments and violence found in the Old Testament with the image of the loving and just God in the New Testament. He finds the picture of God in the Old Testament to be irreconcilable with revelation of God in Jesus. Since, however, John 1:18 explains that God is revealed through Jesus, and since Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as portraying the image of God, Seibert concludes that if an Old Testament passage contradicts what Jesus says or demonstrates, then the Old Testament passage is to be rejected. Seibert proposes that “the God Jesus reveals should be the standard, or measuring rod, by which all Old Testament portrayals of God are evaluated…Those that do not measure up should be regarded as distortions.”[17] Thus, for Bible scholars such as Seibert, certain passages in the Old Testament are simply wrong, and he believes Jesus has demonstrated this. “Violence is contrary not only to the will of God but to the very nature of God,” Seibert writes, “As God incarnate, Jesus’ nonviolent words and deeds enable us to see clearly the true nature of God.”[18]
Seibert’s solution appears to be challenged, however, by the eschatological passages of the New Testament, which describe God as using violent judgments against sin just as He did in the Old Testament. It also fails to reconcile the Old Testament with itself, and its own emphasis on justice and mercy. Jesus, in fact, warned of judgment against Jerusalem and the final judgment for the world in Matthew 24-25. His discourse demonstrates more unity with the Old Testament than is sometimes believed. An analysis of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 24-25 follows, as well as analysis of several aspects from the Old and New Testaments, the balance of which indicates that same God is in view.

Jesus, the Gospel, and Judgment in Matthew 24-25
          Two initial observations argue for a unity of God in both parts of the Christian Bible. First, in the formation of the canon, the Old Testament was included with the New Testament without any revisions. Bernd Janowski notes, that “no attempt was made to ‘Christianize’ [the Old Testament] by introducing redactional intrusions, as for example, could be the case by adding Christian commentaries.”[19] Thus, it appears the early church had no problems with the God of the Old Testament and saw Him as consistent with the God in the New. Second, as Christopher Wright observes, neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer negatively “critiqued” the God of the Old Testament, or labeled any of God’s violent actions as immoral.[20] There is no hint from any of the characters in the New Testament that God was viewed differently than how He was portrayed in the Old Testament. God certainly was the Judge, but was also viewed as righteous in His judgments as the New Testament declares (Rev 16:7). Dawkins, although he criticizes Jesus in other ways, tries to admit that “from a moral point of view, Jesus is a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament.”[21] However, as the following analysis of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Matthew 24-25 shows, there is arguably a lot of the Old Testament in Christ.

Matthew 24-25: An Overview
In these two chapters, Matthew presents a long discourse from Jesus in response to questions about the destruction of the temple and the “end of the age” (24:1-3, NASB). The precise eschatological interpretation has been debated and space does not allow a full discussion here. Nevertheless, John Nolland’s outline of the passage captures the basics. Nolland divides it into three main sections, the first 24:4-35 containing Jesus’ answer to the two-part question that was posed to Him. The second section 24:36-25:30 emphasizes the uncertain timing of Christ’s return. The third section, 25:31-46 describes a “separation of people in the final judgment.”[22] Parallel passages can be found in Mark 13 and Luke 21, along with Luke 12 and 17, which also include elements of this discourse. Craig Blomberg notes, “Jesus will make clear that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age are two separate events, but probably the disciples do not yet recognize this (thus Mark 13:4).”[23]
That there are two events in view means Jesus’ answer contains elements that include the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D., and also include details of His coming. In 24:4-8, Jesus warns of false messiahs and describes the world scene. The next several verses (24:9-14) describe the advance of the Gospel and the persecution that would come with it. He then warns of the “Abomination of Desolation” (24:15, NASB) in a clear reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, and describes the urgency of people fleeing Jerusalem and the tribulation of those days (24:16-28). The next few verses appear to shift toward Christ’s return with Old Testament descriptions of the Day of the Lord (24:29-31). Jesus concludes (24:32-35) by speaking about the fulfillment of these prophecies and the certainty of fulfillment, before then issuing warnings concerning the need to be ready and watchful (24:36-51). He cites the suddenness of Noah’s Flood (24:37-39), the arrival of a thief (24:33), and the return of a master (24:45-51) as examples of the need to be ready. Chapter 25 includes three parables. The first two, the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13) and the parable of the Talents (25:14-30), emphasize the same theme of being ready for His return. Five of the ten virgins discover they are out of oil for their lamps when the bridegroom returns, and as they go to purchase more, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. In the parable of the talents, three servants are given a portion of their master’s funds to invest, but one servant fails to make any effort and is unprepared when the master returns.  The final parable of the sheep and the goats describes the judgment of nations (25:31-46) as Christ separates those who have shown love toward His people, from those who have not.
Wengst notes that Jesus’ “presentation does not exceed the dimensions of concrete experience. End-time history is presented very realistically.”[24] Indeed, Jesus uses few instances of apocalyptic imagery but brings up real issues and circumstances that would be familiar to His listeners. He encourages people to pray that they will not be forced to flee Jerusalem in the winter, or on the Sabbath (24:20). Wengst points out that Jewish tradition “considered one of God’s mercies that the Babylonian exile took place in summer,” and that fleeing on the Sabbath was a real issue in Jewish Midrash.[25] Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of dire judgments and the end of the age. In chapter 24, Jesus describes wars, earthquakes, famines, tribulations, and the preaching of the gospel. He quotes apocalyptic passages from the Old Testament and also mentions eternal punishment and hell (24:51, 25:30, 25:46). His predictions not only include violent elements, but are based upon Old Testament prophecies and imagery. Some examples follow.

Matthew 24-25: Old Testament Elements
Broadly speaking, the focus by Matthew 24:4-14 on the gospel, rebellion, lawlessness, persecution, and false prophets echo the spiritual battle described in the Old Testament, which pictures the world oppressing Israel and rebellion that ultimately brings God’s judgment. There is nothing in the passage of Matthew 24:4-14 that an Old Testament student would find surprising. Psalm 2, for instance, declares the opposition of the nations and the kings of the earth against God and the Messiah (2:1-6). Nolland points out the centrality of the mission that is reflected in Matthew 24:4-14 concerning the disciples and the gospel. His observation that wars and rumors of wars “do not herald the end, but the completion of the mission does,”[26] also reminds of the centrality of Christ to this eschatological picture. This is consistent with the Old Testament picture of the the Servant in Isaiah, which N.T. Wright says is “the one through whom YHWH’s purpose of justice and salvation will be carried out.”[27]
Several direct allusions are made to the Old Testament as well. Matthew 24:15 directly references Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) in a prophecy that seems to have been literally fulfilled years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, but here points to something that will again be a sign. Blomberg suggests the next two verses use language similar to Genesis 19:17, which describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[28] A period of “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21) echoes a time of great “distress” found in Daniel 12:1, including the mention in both passages that it will be unparalleled. Matthew 24:29-31 mirrors several Old Testament passages from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah that describe final judgment. Nolland states verse 29 “strongly echoes [Isaiah] 13:10 and stars falling goes back to [Isaiah] 34:4,” while the reference to “’shaken’ puts together [Isaiah] 34:4 and [Haggai] 2:6.”[29] Donald Hagner notes that the gathering together of God’s people in Matthew 24:31 was part of the eschatological picture found in several Old Testament passages (Deut 30:4; Isa 60:4; Jer 32:37; Ezek 34:13).[30] In Matthew 24:36-39 Jesus directly relates His predictions to judgment surrounding the Flood of Noah in Genesis. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus again alludes strongly to Old Testament images and concepts. Nolland observes, “The gathering of all the nations for judgment is most similarly represented in the OT in Joel 4:2…[Isaiah] 66:18, both of which use συναγαγειν for ‘gather’ and παντα τα εθνη for ‘all the nations’ in the LXX, as does Mt. 25:32.” Clearly, Jesus discourse contains many Old Testament allusions as it follows an Old Testament-style judgment theme. The mission or story of the Old Testament is simply described here in the New Testament as progressing to a conclusion in Christ.
Furthermore, just as the Old Testament allowed evil and rebellion to occur until finally resulting in judgment, the same dynamic occurs in Matthew 24-25. False prophets will arise and deceive (Matt 24:10, 24:24-26). Lawlessness and rebellion will increase (Matt 24:10,12), God’s people will be persecuted (Matt 24:9). Thus, the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 in which the “Son of Man” judges the nations, alludes to a scene from Daniel 7:9-14 in which the “Son of Man” is given authority over beasts which represent kings or kingdoms on the earth (Dan 7:17-18). N.T. Wright notes, “Daniel 7 is basically a court scene: God takes His seat, and judgment is given for the human against the beasts. This is what God’s justice over the unjust world will look like.”[31] Jesus’ statements regarding final judgment against a sinful world is consistent with Daniel. Jesus’ words in this passage concerning Jerusalem and His description of God’s temporary allowance of evil, also mirror the same behaviors that critics find objectionable concerning the Old Testament God. Wengst notes, “If one takes only the loving God as an alternative to the just God one has given up the concept of the biblical God.”[32] Indeed, in Matthew 24-25, Jesus demonstrates a unified concept of God consistent with the Old Testament.

Evaluating the Eschatological Evidence
          It is not surprising, therefore, that Bible scholars such as Seibert find passages such as Matthew 24-25 to be troubling. After insisting that any Old Testament passages be rejected if they contradict the non-violent picture of God presented by Jesus, Seibert must explain why Jesus would teach judgment and destruction that appears to be very consistent with the Old Testament. He is certainly aware of the problem and admits, “We cannot simply turn to the New Testament, breathe a sigh of relief, and naively assume that every portrayal accurately represents God’s character.”[33] Siebert maintains this is also true for the four Gospels, which he claims do not always accurately reflect Jesus’ words or actions.[34] Despite the apparent danger of rejecting portions of the text that do not fit his own hermeneutic, Seibert insists there are, in fact, several possible solutions. First, he notes some scholars believe passages such as Matthew 24-25 may not “actually reflect Jesus’ view of God…Jesus did not literally mean what He said about God in these instances.”[35] Another solution according to Seibert, citing several scholars as part of the “so-called ‘Third Quest’ for the historical Jesus,” is to insist that the historical Jesus did not actually say what Matthew records Him as saying, including that Jesus never taught that God would use violence to bring the age to an end.[36] Assuming, however, that Jesus did say at least some of what Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Him as saying, Seibert suggests that perhaps “God uses violence only outside the space-time continuum, only for a limited period of time, and only for the sake of final punishment.”[37] In some respects, such a temporary, limited, and final judgment aspect of God’s use of violence is precisely what many scholars argue is the real situation found in the Old Testament. In regard to the former attempts at solutions, however, there are also compelling reasons to accept Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ words as authentic.

Did Jesus Really Say It or Mean It?
One reason to consider Matthew 24-25 authentic, for instance, is the use of the historical-critical method itself. Modern Bible scholars use several tests when attempting to determine if a passage is authentic or perhaps a later addition. The use of such tests is often not applied evenly, and according to Darrell Block, critics often “claim to prove too much” through the use of such criteria.[38] However, these criteria can at least be useful in reinforcing confidence that Matthew faithfully recorded Jesus’ words. For instance, Bock notes that one criterion is dissimilarity.[39] In this case, any saying of Jesus which is dissimilar to something in Judaism or early Christianity is likely an authentic saying from Jesus. No one would expect a later writer to put words in Jesus’ mouth that he or she did not already agree with, thus a dissimilar saying is more probably authentic. There are several instances of dissimilarity in Matthew 24-25 including the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which Judaism would have rejected. Nolland likewise notes that Jewish teaching on Noah’s flood emphasized the “certainty of judgment,” and not the unexpected arrival of judgment, yet “unexpectedness is the point here.”[40] The warnings from Jesus that it may be a long time before He returns (Matt 24:48, 25:5) would arguably not be expected from early Christian writers.
Matthew 24-25 also passes the test of multiple attestation in which a saying of Jesus appears in several “strands of tradition” or “in multiple forms.”[41] Here, too, the discourse of Jesus appears in all three Synoptic gospels. The criterion of embarrassment, which argues any saying that may reflect poorly on the Church, the speaker, or the writer is likely to be authentic since later writers would not add embarrassing fictions.[42] This appears to be present in Jesus statement that He does not know the time of His own return (Matt 24:36, Matt 13:32). Finally, Bock points out the criterion of double similarity and double dissimilarity proposed by N. T. Wright. This criterion argues that texts which are “similar to but distinct from Judaism in some respects and…similar to the early church in some respects but also distinct at other points,” are more likely to be authentic.[43] Certainly, Matthew 24-25 has similarities with Judaism as mentioned above, but to place Jesus as the Messiah, or to include the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were also dissimilar. Likewise, with the early church, there are similarities with respect to the focus on Jesus, but dissimilarities with respect to the apparent focus on works as opposed to faith in Matthew 25:14-46. Thus, using modern historical methods of evaluation, the text of Matthew 24-25 has grounds for authenticity, and thus, grounds for viewing the God of the New Testament to also be involved in judgments that mirror the God of the Old Testament.

Other Consistencies with the Old Testament
Finally, it should be noted that the God of the Old Testament has similarities with the character demonstrated by Christ in the New Testament. The impact of the eschatological passages in the New Testament is to present Jesus as the culmination of God’s work to rid the world of sin. The Seventy Week prophecy of Daniel, for instance, promised a final ending of sin, an atoning for sinfulness, and establishing righteousness (Dan 9:24), which also included the coming of the Messiah (Dan 9:25). The New Testament not only presents Jesus as the Messiah, but as the one who brings all of the predictions and promises of the Old Testament to a final fulfillment.  Thus, even regarding the violent judgments of God in the Old Testament, many scholars see a larger purpose at work. Copan argues, “God’s act of engaging in battle is not for the sake of violence or even victory as such but to establish peace and justice.”[44] More specifically, the Old Testament also highlights the goodness and justice of God. Christopher Wright notes, “The popular idea…that the so-called God of the Old Testament stands for unrelieved anger and violence ignores a massive amount of Old Testament teaching.”[45] Indeed, as several Scripture passages state, God demands His people treat others with justice. He also condemns exploitation (Prov 22:22, Isa 58:3), oppression (Isa 30:12-13, Eze 45:9), and even basic unfairness (Lev 19:36, Prov 11:1). God presents Himself as the one who rescues the needy from such conditions (Psa 72:14, Deut 10:18, 26:7, Isa 1:17). In this way, the God of the Old Testament is very much consistent with the God who judges the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, and with the God of love and compassion. As Christopher Wright notes, the story of Israel is part of “the much larger story of the love of God for the human race for all the generations of their rebellious ways.”[46]  It appears the eschatological passages of the New Testament form a conclusion of the story that began in the Old Testament, and thus argue in favor of viewing the God of the Old and New Testaments as the same God.

Conclusion
          Certainly, the God of the Old Testament is often pictured as wrathful, and sometimes executes judgments against entire groups of people. However, this is not the complete picture of either the Old Testament or the New Testament God. Occasionally, the violence of the Old Testament has been exaggerated, and the mercy and love of the Old Testament God has been downplayed or ignored. Meanwhile, when eschatological passages of the New Testament are examined, they demonstrate a fulfillment of the work and story of God that began in the Old Testament writings and finds ultimate fulfillment in Christ. New Testament eschatological passages such as Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 allude to Old Testament passages to such a degree that it is clearly seen that the New Testament prophecies are based upon Old Testament themes. Furthermore, the same Old Testament descriptions of God judging sin, and also temporarily allowing rebellion, are also found in Matthew 24-25. Critical analysis of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 24-25 argue for its authenticity, and a general consistency with Old Testament prophecies concerning the messiah and final judgment strongly argue for the unity of the passage with the Old Testament. Thus, the eschatological aspect of the New Testament especially appears to indicate the same God is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

 

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, England: Bantam Press, 2006), 248.
[2] Eric A. Seibert, “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 333, accessed December 15, 2017, doi:10.1111/teth.12238.
[3] Ibid., 325.
[4] Carolyn J. Sharp, “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 28, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 18.
[7] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 247.
[8] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 165.
[9] Ibid.
[10] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 58.
[11] K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 234.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 237.
[14] Matthew Flannagan and Paul Copan, “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 303.
[15] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? 176.
[16] John M. Monson, “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10576, Kindle.
[17] Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 185.
[18] Ibid., 197.
[19] Bernd Janowski “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today, Vol 57, Issue 3, (October 1, 2000): 303, accessed December 13, 2017, https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.
[20] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 81.
[21] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 250.
[22] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 956.
[23] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 22 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992), 352.
[24] Klaus Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition, Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 236.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 967.
[27] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 65.
[28] Blomberg, Matthew, 358.
[29] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 983.
[30] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 33b Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. (Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995), 714.
[31] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 67.
[32] Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment,” 244.
[33] Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 185.
[34] Ibid., 187.
[35] Ibid., 248.
[36] Ibid., 249-250.
[37] Ibid., 253.
[38] Darrell L. Block, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 203.
[39] Ibid., 200.
[40] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 993 footnote 135.
[41] Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 201.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid., 202.
[44] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 167.
[45] Wright, The God I Don’t Understand, 77.
[46] Ibid., 115.

Bibliography
Block, Darrell L. Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Vol. 22. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London, England: Bantam Press, 2006.

Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Flannagan, Matthew and Paul Copan. “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 33b. Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Janowski, Bernd. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today. Vol 57, Issue 3. (October 1, 2000): 297-324. Accessed December 13, 2017. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.

Monson, John M. “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Kindle.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.

Seibert, Eric A. Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009.

________. “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 323-341. Accessed December 15, 2017. doi:10.1111/teth.12238.

Sharp, Carolyn J. “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 19-32. Accessed December 12, 2017. Har http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.

Wengst, Klaus. “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006.

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20 Observations About Jonah & the Whale

JonahYou have probably heard about the story Jonah. You may even have seen a cartoonish version of it. Jonah is called by God. Jonah runs from God. Jonah gets on a boat and God sends a storm. Realizing the storm is Jonah’s fault, the sailors eventually throw him overboard and Jonah is swallowed by a whale like Captain Ahab. In the animated stories, there’s poor old Noah inside the whale, warming himself by a campfire.

Which is crazy. Animators and Sponge Bob writers have contributed to generations Americans not understanding the limitations that being underwater can place on people. But I digress.

Of course, the whole story is crazy to many scholars or skeptical scientific types. Surviving in a fish for three days? It doesn’t seem possible and even websites like Answers in Genesis , and to a lesser extent, the Institute for Creation Research are cautious of stories about sailors who were supposedly swallowed and then rescued alive. A story of a Spanish sailor is untrue, and the most famous story of sailor James Bartley is also questionable.

The story of Jonah doesn’t end in the whale, by the way. It ends with Jonah getting spit up on the beach, and this time deciding to follow God’s orders. He marches into Nineveh, proclaims that they will be overthrown in forty days, and the entire city repents. Judgment is avoided. Finally, in another twist to the story, Jonah is upset with God for saving Nineveh. More on that in a second. Before I give away any more, here are 20 observations about the actual story that’s in the Bible that you might not know, which hopefully will help you decide what you think about it. And hey, with this list you don’t have to keep clicking, reloading the page, and suffering through popups! So enjoy!

1. Jesus talked about Jonah like it really happened. He specifically did not treat it like a fictional story. (Matthew 12:40-41)

2.Most scholars view Jonah as fictional, however, perhaps a parable.

3.Interestingly, Jonah is a narrative story, not a prophecy like other books around it.

4. The Bible never says it was a whale. That’s an assumption. It could have been any large fish that was capable of swallowing a guy, even a fish that is now extinct. The Bible also doesn’t mention campfires.

5.Most reject Jonah as true because of the problem with surviving being eaten by a fish. For one thing, there’s generally no air in a stomach to breathe. Without some sort of miracle, weird circumstance, or a specially made fish, Jonah wouldn’t have lasted long.

6.Critics also reject idea that Nineveh would take 3 days to cross (Jonah 3:3)

7. In regards to being eaten… Jonah says he came back from the “pit.” That’s an Old Testament term for the place of death. He said he prayed as his life was ebbing away (Jonah 2).

8. According to the Bible then, Jonah may have actually died. It might not be possible to survive.

9. That’s no biggie. God raises the dead. It’s kinda His thing.

10. Nineveh might indeed have taken 3 days to go through. That’s different than just walking across from point A to point B. Try going through Walt Disney World and hitting every stop. Takes awhile.

11. Nineveh’s area was larger than the walled city anyway. Probably what Jonah referred to.

12. Even if Jonah is a parable and not literally true, it still demonstrates that Richard Dawkins is wrong… That’s always fun.

13. A main point of the book of Jonah is that the God of Israel cares about other nations besides Israel. Dawkins claimed in “The God Delusion” that the God of the Old Testament cared only for Israelites. Well, that doesn’t fit Jonah. Not even close. It also doesn’t fit Daniel, or Genesis, or Revelation, or Isaiah, or Jesus, or etc…

14. Ironically, Jonah himself didn’t care about Ninevites.
He hoped they’d all die.

15. A main point of Jonah wasn’t that he was trying to hide from God. It was that he was running from God’s mission for him.

16. Interestingly, when Jonah showed up at Nineveh he would’ve looked and smelled like the Walking Dead… even IF he had survived the fish. Stomach juices are gross and corrosive. Just saying.

17. Imagine if Death himself walked through your town saying in a fairly hateful voice that you’re all going to die in forty days…  You might freak out a little. I bet someone peed their pants. You know, if they had been wearing pants back then.

18. The people of Nineveh repented almost immediately, which would seem unrealistic until you consider the creepy factor of Mr. Corroded Skin walking through town. The people even threw sackcloth on their animals. Critics think this is silly, but the same critics probably put Christmas sweaters on their dogs.

19. It would seem that getting eaten by a fish actually enhanced Jonah’s ministry. Wouldn’t have enhanced his skin though… Well… maybe it was like a really strong chemical peel and after a few months of healing… Where was I?

20. Oh, yes. The big ironic thing is that all of the craziness might have been God’s plan from the beginning. It may very well be that in order to get the people of Nineveh to change so radically and quickly, God needed a guy who would run, get eaten by a fish, and then walk through town. God still takes our failures and turns them into victories.

But goodness, that was off the hook…

Did the Sun Really Stand Still?

sun2

Interpretative Issues Concerning the Long Day of Joshua 10

The account of the sun standing still, and all of the associated events recorded in chapter 10 of the Old Testament book of Joshua, have inspired a great deal of both derision and debate. Popular skepticism and many in academia reject the description of the miraculous, particularly in this account, due to the scientific difficulties involved.  Meanwhile, biblical scholars themselves have proposed several explanations, each with its own set of problems. The effort to explain the statements about the sun and moon standing still in the sky as Joshua and the Israelites pressed the battle against their enemies is where most interpretations diverge. The traditional viewpoint takes these statements at face value, while other viewpoints argue for alternative understandings of the text, or reject the truthfulness of the text altogether. One noted scholar admits, “None of the explanations is entirely satisfactory,”[1] while another concedes that, “Many plausible elements can be found in almost every solution.”[2] But where then is the average reader to turn, and what then can be believed, when it comes to this account? With such an unsettled state among even the scholars, how much confidence can be placed in any particular interpretation?  To begin to answer these questions, a refocusing on the details present in the Scripture itself, and a careful consideration of where those details lead, is necessary not only to limit unsupported speculation, but may also help in bringing to light a more unified view. With such a goal in mind, this brief examination will attempt to show that closer attention to the text itself will not only narrow the interpretive options, but also highlight that a real event took place, which was intended to bring refreshment and victory to a tired Israelite army.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CONTEXT of Joshua

The book of Joshua reads as an ancient record of the conquests of the Israelites as they entered, fought, and eventually settled in Canaan. Geographical locations are spelled out in detail, along with the descriptions of battles and the strategies used. Nevertheless, many interpretative views substantially sever the connection of the text with a real event. One scholar suggests for instance, that the story of Israel and the Gibeonites was likely nothing more than a fable added to the book for political purposes. “The YHWH temple at Gibeon,” he writes, “was probably abolished in the course of Josiah’s religious reform. The Gibeonites’ strong opposition to the closing of their temple is reflected in the satirical polemic initiated by a [Deuteronomic] author against the Gibeonites and their elders.”[3] Thus, it is alleged that the story in Joshua was invented, “in reaction to the resistance of the Gibeonites”[4] to Josiah’s reforms. Such a viewpoint dismisses the idea that the sun or moon stopped in the sky as pure fiction. The alternative offered, however, is entirely speculative itself, and ignores the context of Joshua as a detailed, ancient record, claiming (without any actual proof) this part of Joshua was just thrown in for a political reason.

Others claim portions of the text are prose, comparing them to the poetic references of stars fighting for Israel mentioned in Deborah’s song (Judg. 5:20), or the sun and moon standing still in Habakkuk’s prayer (Hab. 3:11). Richard Hess notes the specific phrases about the sun and moon follow a chiastic structure.[5] David M. Howard, Jr. suggests, “The language is similar to the psalmist’s who urges the rivers to clap their hands and the mountains to sing for joy.”[6]

Indeed, the book of Jashar, mentioned by Joshua as a record of this event, is believed to refer to a book that preserved nationalistic songs.[7] It is plausible that phrases in Joshua were quoted from such a book and would indeed be poetic. Nevertheless, this does not preclude those statements from any historical accuracy. As mentioned above, the context of Joshua implies the account was making every effort to be factual. As one scholar notes, “Remarkably, every geographical aspect of this campaign—from the ascent of Beth-Horon to turning back to Debir—fits the geography of the regions in which the events transpired.”[8] He then asks the obvious, “Why would the Joshua conquest accounts offer such specific and verifiable geographical data were they not reflective of actual historical events?”[9]

Thus, the weaknesses of the preceding interpretations are that they impose solutions that are contrary to the context of the book of Joshua as a whole, which presents itself as a detailed record of events with real geographical places. The accuracy of the geographical detail alone, attests to this.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the TEXT of Joshua

In fact, there are interesting clues to be found in the text itself. For instance, Joshua prays, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Josh. 10:12b, HCSB).[10] Gibeon was east of the Valley of Aijalon implying Joshua was not asking for the sun to stand directly overhead, but for the sun to remain in the east, while the moon remained in the west. This is apparently contradicted by the next verse, which says, “So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky” (Josh 10:13), but the Hebrew word translated “middle” is far more often translated as “half.” The apparent contradiction is reconciled if Joshua was asking the sun to remain on its half of the sky while the moon remained on the other half. Furthermore, the fact Joshua asked the sun to stand still in the east implies it was still morning when Joshua spoke. This suggests Joshua was not asking for more daylight to finish a battle, but for a cooler day in which to fight it. The Israelites had, according to verse nine, just marched all night long.

Many interpretative views latch on to some of these details, but often fail to account for all. A scientist suggests Joshua’s long day could be explained by a meteor. He writes, “A night-time airburst comparable in energy to a nuclear bomb explosion many times greater than Hiroshima would be seen as the sun shining at night.”[11] Perhaps, but only for a few seconds. The event in Joshua 10 lasted for “almost a full day” (Josh. 10:13b). Benedictus de Spinoza believed Joshua’s long day could be explained by “the presence of hail in the air, together with the empirical knowledge that hail in the air causes additional light.”[12] It is entirely unconvincing, however, that anyone would mistake hail for the sun itself. Hail storms, meteors, and other suggestions such as solar eclipses simply do not last for an entire day as the text of the story describes.

Another view argues the description of the sun and moon, especially the statements that the sun or moon “stood still” or “stopped,” merely reflect the normal language of ancient omens regarding the movement of the sun and moon across the sky. John H. Walton argues that when the full moon occurred, “on the wrong day” it was, “believed to be an omen of all sorts of disaster, including military defeat and overthrow of cities.”[13]  While at least addressing a contextual matter from ancient times, this view has two primary difficulties. First, there simply is no mention in the text that the opposing armies viewed this as an omen, or any mention that omens were important enough to the Israelites that Joshua would ask for one. The book presents miracles as factual accounts, and thus it seems more likely that the same book that described the Israelite force crossing the Jordan after God divided the waters, would likewise be clear that merely an omen was in view if that was the case in Joshua 10. Instead the natural reading of the text, especially after the Jordan crossing and the miraculous victory at Jericho, is that something miraculous happened here with the sun and moon. Secondly, the appearance of the sun and moon in opposition at any point, is not something that would last for “about a whole day,” as the text describes unless the sun and moon indeed stopped their motion.

The text provides several other clues as well. For instance, verse 12 begins with a Hebrew word that is translated into English as “then.” This is not a sequential ordering, however. Howard writes the Hebrew specifically, “introduces important action that took place at the same time…That is, somehow the hailstorm of v. 11 and the phenomena of vv. 12-13 either were one and the same thing or (more probably) they happened at the same time.”[14] Even in English, the text prefaces Joshua’s prayer with: “On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun stand still over Gibeon…” (Josh. 10:12a). Accordingly, Joshua could have prayed this at any time during that day. A morning prayer is consistent with the position of the sun and moon mentioned earlier, and again indicates Joshua’s motive was more than simply having extra time.  Thus, the text itself strengthens some views, but weakens others.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CIRCUMSTANCES of Joshua

Beyond the context of the book and the text, the circumstances surrounding scene in Joshua 10, also impact interpretative views. As has already been mentioned, the Israelite army had marched all night. It is reasonable that Joshua would not ask the sun to stop overhead where the heat of the day could weaken his army. D. Ralph Davis takes this further, noting that the Hebrew verbs translated “stand still” and “stopped” can be translated to say the sun and moon gave less light than normal. He writes, “Which activity of the sun and moon is Joshua prohibiting? Most assume it is their movement. But why could it not be their shining?”[15] This view gains strength from the circumstances of the story, although the historical circumstances regarding the interpretation of these words are less supportive.

Re-translating these words would mean some of the earliest interpretations of the Hebrew by Jews and Christians alike would have been wrong for thousands of years. The Wisdom of Sirach, written in the second century BC, references Joshua 10, saying “And didn’t one day become as two” (Sir. 46:4, WEBA). Writing in the first century AD, Josephus notes, “That the day was lengthened at this time, and was longer than ordinary, is expressed in the books laid up in the temple.”[16] That the Hebrew has been interpreted this way for thousands of years, strengthens the position that the movement of the sun is the correct understanding.

However, tradition is not the same as proof.  It must be admitted that the Hebrew word translated “stand still” also means “hold peace, quiet self, rest” and many other descriptive terms. The Hebrew word translated into English as “stopped,” is also flexible enough to include “standing behind” or “cease,” perhaps in the sense of shining less, or standing behind the clouds. Since the hailstorm is specifically connected to this event by the Hebrew text, it could be argued the storm had something to do with the sun shining less than usual, or the sky remaining darker than usual.  This particular natural phenomenon certainly could have lasted “about a whole day.”

The circumstances of Joshua 10 do indicate a more refreshing day was a reasonable motive, even if the sun was stationary or appeared to remain in the east, which is consistent with the text. The hailstorm would have certainly blocked any overhead sunlight, perhaps only allowing sunlight to the east, while raining deadly judgment upon Israel’s enemies. Although Howard rightly observes “the traditional interpretation cannot be ruled out merely because it involves a phenomenon of colossal magnitude,”[17] it is nevertheless true the traditional interpretation does not rule out that a cooler day was the whole point. It is also consistent with the text, albeit not with historical interpretation, that the cooler day was accomplished by lessening the intensity of the sun’s shining, a possibility in which the storm may have played a role, therefore not necessitating a stoppage of the actual motion of the sun and moon across the sky.

Conclusion

This analysis therefore proposes that the context of the book of Joshua argues in favor of a real event, and when all details are considered, many speculative interpretations of Joshua 10 can be reasonably rejected. The interpretation that the sun and moon stopped their motion in the sky is a natural and traditional reading of the text, which is consistent with the context of the book and the power of God. However, the text itself also allows for an interpretation that the sun was shining with less intensity throughout the day. It is even possible from the text that this was because of the clouds surrounding a hailstorm sent by God. Thus, the interpretative options are narrowed, leaving out some views, but the text continues to allow some flexibility.  Nevertheless, whether the sun and moon appeared to stop their motion, or whether the intensity of the sunlight was lessened, the circumstances including the position of the sun in the east, the condition of the army after a long march, and the presence of the intense storm, suggest the primary motive of Joshua’s request, or at least the ultimate result of it, was the refreshment of his army for the day’s battle and the subsequent destruction of Israel’s enemies by God.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. Donald J. Wiseman (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), loc. 3069, Kindle.

[2] David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua, vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, ed. E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998), loc. 6672, Kindle.

[3] Nadav Na’aman, “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

[4] Ibid., 112.

[5] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3044, Kindle.

 [6] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6743, Kindle.

 [7] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3072, Kindle.

[8] John M. Monson, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10718, Kindle.

[9] Ibid., loc. 10861.

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

[11] Euan G. Nisbet, “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall,” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

[12] Steven Nadler, “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction,” Journal of the History of Ideas 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

[13] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), loc. 4755, Kindle.

[14] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6532, Kindle.

[15] Dale Ralph Davis, Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel (Escondido, CA: The Ephesians Four Group, 2015), loc. 1133, Kindle.

[16] Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17, trans. William Whiston, Josephus: The Complete Works (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 115.

[17] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6611, Kindle.

 

Bibliography

Davis, Dale Ralph. Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel. The Ephesians Four Group: Escondido, CA, 2015.

Hess, Richard S. Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Edited by Donald J. Wiseman. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Howard Jr., David M. Joshua. Vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998.

Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17. Translated by William Whiston. Josephus: The Complete Works. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

Monson, John M. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

Na’aman, Nadav. “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

Nadler, Steven. “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction.” Journal of the History of Ideas. 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

Nisbet, Euan G. “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall.” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

The Genocidal God of the Old Testament

angry-god

by Brian Ingalls

In recent times, atheists have specifically rejected the Scriptures on the basis of God’s perceived lack of character. In the book, The God Delusion, for instance, Richard Dawkins claims the God of the Bible is immoral, stating, “The Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds.”[1]

To be sure, some of the commands given by God in the Old Testament are harsh in their treatment of others. They sometimes command the destruction of entire peoples, including the women and children. How can this be reconciled with the idea that God is love, or that God forgives? It has led Dawkins and others to characterize the God of the Old Testament as genocidal.

Nevertheless, it remains apparent that an Almighty Creator would certainly have the ability, and the right, to exercise some level of authority over that which He has created. In fact, any God who can create such a vast and complex reality as this universe, certainly may also behave in ways that human beings might occasionally struggle to comprehend. The apostle Paul alluded to this in Romans: “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:20, NASB).[2]

The mere fact the Bible records events that are difficult to come to terms with, does not exclude them from being true. Neither does it exclude human beings from misinterpreting those events. Perhaps however, a better understanding of God’s behavior in the Old Testament could bring the picture of the Creator into clearer, more realistic focus. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.”[3] This brief article argues that the harsh stories of war and judgment in the Old Testament, may be the clue to what that “more” is. God’s judgements are certainly terrible, but such judgments remain an understandable action by the eternal, holy, and loving Creator of the Bible.  The inspiration of the Scriptures cannot be rejected on this basis.

Another Look at History

In order to make any assessment on the character of God in the Old Testament, it is helpful first to examine the ancient context. The Scriptures invoke two main images, that of God driving out the nations, and that of God destroying the nations, sometimes including women, children, and animals. Christian apologists, such as Paul Copan, have emphasized that “the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.”[4] Their effort is to downplay the genocide. Two points stand out as central to this argument. The first is that the Old Testament Scriptures purposefully overstate the number and categories of people killed, and the second is that the traditional view of a dramatic, large-scale ethnic cleansing is not supported by the record in Scripture.   The Old Testament does indeed seem to occasionally overstate the results of a battle, using the same custom of hyperbole found in written records during the same time period. After pointing out the practice of exaggeration by other ancient military accounts, Joshua Butler notes, “The Old Testament itself makes clear it is using hyperbole…we only have to go a little farther in the story to find the same enemies (that were supposedly wiped out) are still very much alive, still very powerful, and still causing problems.”[5] Copan argues the vocabulary used by typical military accounts during the time period is more akin to reading a figure of speech. “The sweeping words ‘all,’ ‘young and old,’ and ‘men and women’ were stock expressions for totality, even if women and children weren’t present.”[6] As will be shown, this is difficult to apply to every instance in the Old Testament, however.

Secondly, it is argued that there was no large-scale destruction in Palestine. Instead, Israel gradually pushed out the occupants of Canaan. One scholar notes, “The reports of battles in the book of Joshua make no claim that these cities were possessed upon Israel’s entry into Canaan…Joshua’s campaigns in Cisjordan may well have been only raids or responses to those who resisted Israel’s growing presence.”[7] Butler adds, “This is not an overnight ejection but a gradual eviction.”[8] In fact, both Joshua 13:1 and Judges 2:3 specifically describe the Canaanites as a significant presence in the land even after Joshua’s campaigns had long come to an end.

These efforts to mitigate the severity of the conquest of Canaan, however, ultimately fail to address the primary problem that God Himself appears to command genocidal actions at least some of the time. Dawkins notes “his orders, for example in Deuteronomy 20, are ruthlessly explicit.”[9] It is likewise hard to explain the scene of Moses and his commanders when Moses asks, “Have you spared all the women?” (Numbers 31:15), and proceeds to order the killing of all the male children along with most of the women, sparing only the virgins.

“All this is terrifying stuff,” writes Dinesh D’Souza, “Gore Vidal calls it Bronze Age morality, and whether or not we agree with this characterization, it seems a morality utterly unsuited to our way of thinking.”[10] It thus becomes a question of why God would even occasionally command such destruction.

Another Look at God’s Motivations

The Bible makes two significant claims about the people in Canaan. The first is that they were practicing idolatry and behaviors that had provoked God to action. “It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 9:5). The second is that God had been patient for centuries, indicating to Abraham in Genesis 15, that the Israelites would have to wait 400 years to possess the land because “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Even when the Israelites began their march into Canaan, there was clearly no surprise among the Canaanites. In Jericho, Rahab and her family turned to God precisely because they had, “heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan” (Joshua 2:10).

Thus, God is pictured in the Scripture itself as a Creator sitting in judgment on His creation after a great deal of patience, and with adequate warning. D’Souza adds, “human sacrifice…was widely practiced by the Canaanite nations. When this is understood, God’s judgment of the Canaanites is reasonable.”[11] Yet, despite placing the focus on the sinful practices of the Canaanites, and the patience of God, questions nevertheless remain.

Dawkins writes, “One cannot help marveling at the extraordinarily draconian view taken of the sin of flirting with rival gods.”[12] For him, and many others, the punishment of God simply does not fit the crime. Whether God waited patiently, or whether the destruction was limited, is irrelevant. It is the fact death was prescribed at all. He asks, “If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them?”[13]

This reveals a key point. If a US President wanted to forgive someone for murder, they have the power to do so. Surely, there have been friends and associates that some presidents, and others in authority, have pardoned simply because they wanted to. Society, however, generally condemns such favoritism because it is viewed as unjust. It is notable that the Bible extols the justice of God who is likewise in a position of authority to pardon or condemn. “For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). It prompts D’Souza to say, “God can no more stop being just than he could stop being benevolent.”[14] Thus, whether human beings see the value or not, whether human beings agree or not, God’s justice is clearly at play.

Another Look at God

In fact, the criticism against the Old Testament applies equally well to any of God’s commands for judgment. As one scholar said, “The horrors of Gehenna will be no less than those of Jericho.”[15] It should be observed then, that most critics who condemn God for commanding the death penalty to an entire city in the Old Testament, are just as offended by God judging the earth in general.

Nevertheless, to be fair, by definition God is in a unique position to implement justice. He is not in the same situation as an individual human being. As such, His behavior cannot be accurately compared to individual human beings. To do so is akin to accusing a jury of murder for sentencing someone to death. Positions of authority don’t merely allow, but often require, actions that would be unlawful for an individual. God is not acting as an individual citizen of the earth, but as the Creator with the unique responsibility for all humans, for all time.

With the entire human race as His responsibility, it is certainly within God’s purview to execute judgment and enforce laws for the sake of others, just as any government would. Failure to do so would cause God to be unjust and unloving toward those He could have ultimately saved or helped through His enforcement of His laws. Just as any “good” government would be willing to protect society by war if necessary, God must also, if He is loving and good and just, be expected to take drastic actions necessary to protect humanity from whatever may ultimately destroy it. And even “just” wars are horrific.

A final observation takes note that the Old Testament does not present the Israelites as taking God’s law into their own hands. On the contrary, the Israelites are pictured as obeying the orders of God in the same way an army obeys the order of its government. As a result, the Bible serves as a source for human morality, not because humans are to emulate God, but because humans are to be under God’s authority. Morality is derived from Scripture with the idea that God is on the throne, and that all humanity has a higher authority to which it ultimately must answer.

Thus, when it came to Canaan, the Scripture describes that God had waited for centuries and allowed years of warning before executing judgment. Then by virtue of His position as an eternal God, and made necessary by His love of mankind and the requirement for justice, He was spurred to action against the Canaanites. The judgments against sin, while harsh, do not logically negate the inspiration of the Scriptures.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, England: Bantam Press, 2006), 247.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references come from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins Publishers Inc.: New York, NY, 1940), 33.

 [4] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2011), 170.

[5] Joshua Ryan Butler, The Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2014) 229.

 [6] Copan, Is God a Monster? 177.

[7] James K Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2012), loc. 10593, Kindle.

 [8] Butler, Skeletons in God’s Closet, 232.

[9] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 247

[10] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About God: A Reasonable Defense of God in a World Filled with Suffering (Tyndale House Publishers: Carol Stream, IL, 2013), 203.

[11] Ibid., 216.

[12] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 246.

 [13] Ibid., 253.

[14] D’Souza, What’s Great About God, 231.

[15] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), 37.

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Butler, Joshua Ryan. The Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN, 2014.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London, England: Bantam Press, 2006.

D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About God: A Reasonable Defense of God in a World Filled with Suffering. Tyndale House Publishers: Carol Stream, IL, 2013.

Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Historical Books. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001.

Hoffmeier, James K and Dennis R. Magary. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 2012, Kindle.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins Publishers Inc.: New York, NY, 1940.

What Does the Universe Tell us About God?

Intelligent Design is a term used to describe a certain point of view of many scientists and academics who study the universe or some part of it.  Plus, it’s the point of view of many others who arrive at the same conclusion because of their religious beliefs.  Basically, it’s the idea that there are clues in our universe indicating that an intelligence is behind it all.

For you that may be God, and of course it is for me too. Without question.  Others like to go with the idea that aliens did it, and aliens put us here.  Intelligent aliens are more palatable to some than God.  As silly as that may sound to you or me, (understatement) don’t think for a second people aren’t willing to go there.  A few prominent people have suggested it, and one major movie was built around it.

-all because the evidence that points to an Intelligence behind the Design is substantial enough to convince a lot of people.

But let’s put God in the picture for a second, and take it a step beyond.  Besides just the remarkable facts of how our universe is constructed and how it came to be… what if we asked why?

In the Bible, Romans 1:20 said this about God and His creation:

“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”

Usually, we quote this verse and say the creation proves God exists, but really there’s more than that isn’t there?  It says that through His creation we can discover God’s “invisible attributes” and His “eternal power and divine nature.”

Which leaves us with the conclusion that not only would the creation argue for the existence of God, (and this is precisely what many believe Intelligent Design demonstrates) but the creation would give us clues ABOUT God.

So what are they? Continue reading “What Does the Universe Tell us About God?”

Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

I have friends in Joplin, Missouri, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My friends survived. Two of them lost their home. Another was at his church on Sunday night, and the church was close to the path of the EF5 twister which ravaged a city of 50,000, but it missed them by a few blocks.  Unfortunately, one friend of mine did lose her grandfather in the storm, and some friends of friends were killed as well.  One died while heroically trying to save someone else.  Stories and memories that will live on with us.

Facebook helped many of us keep tabs on each other and when cell phones occasionally worked, we contacted each other that way, too. It’s not my first experience with feeling close to an EF5. I received my last tetanus shot on the sidewalk in Greensburg, Kansas courtesy of a friendly lady from the Red Cross. I believe Greensburg was the last EF5 to hit before this year although I might be wrong. I’ve read that generally those monsters develop and touch down about once every four years. With four EF5 tornadoes this year alone, we’re definitely above the average. The crazy weather combined with all the other disasters and unrest around the world has people talking about Bible Prophecy, but sometimes the questions are more personal.

Why would God allow a high school senior returning from a graduation ceremony to get sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV where he was riding with his father? Why didn’t God miraculously keep him from being hurt like God kept others safe? Why didn’t God at least let the family find him after it happened?  It took days to discover his body in a pond.  Another 15-month old was found at a morgue.  Many other bodies took weeks to identify and families had to wait those weeks to officially discover a loved one’s fate.  Quite often, the happy miraculous ending we would hope for, didn’t happen.
Continue reading “Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God”

The Rapture: Taking it Literally?

The Christian belief in “The Rapture,” made famous by the Left Behind series and various doomsday predictions, comes from two Scriptures in the Bible which speak about the resurrection of the dead.  In neither place is it specifically called “the Rapture” although you can find the Latin word for “rapture” in there if you use the Latin Vulgate Bible.  In fact, the Latin is where we get the term, and the term simply applies to the event described in I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:15-17.   And since saying “The Rapture” is easier than saying “The-Event-Described-In-1st-Corinthians-15-51-52-and-I-Thessalonians-4-15-17”  or T.E.D.I.1.C.1.15.52.A.I.T.4.15.17 for short…

Most of us just say “the Rapture.”

Anyway, the Rapture is basically a simple concept.  In both places, the Bible (Paul was the writer) is talking about what happens to believers in Jesus who are still alive when the resurrection happens.  Obviously, God’s not going to strike them all dead so He could raise them up at that moment.  Instead of that morbid method, the Bible says we will be “caught up” to Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4) and changed “in the blink of an eye” into immortality (I Corinthians 15).  Part of the reason Paul wrote about it in I Thessalonians was to give people hope.  It is a rather exciting thought to consider. And assuming you believe in God and Jesus in the first place, it makes sense.  I mean, if Jesus returned and raised the dead into eternity, it’s only natural to ask what would happen to those who are still alive at the time. The Rapture is the answer for that question.

But we still manage to have huge arguments over it.  Those debates are generally over whether to take it seriously in the first place, or if you believe in a resurrection, the argument is over when exactly the Rapture part of it happens.

THE “WHEN” ARGUMENTS

The “Left Behind” books and movies took a very common position on the WHEN part, Continue reading “The Rapture: Taking it Literally?”