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Brian Zahnd: No, God didn’t command genocide in the Old Testament

"The Victory of Joshua Over the Amalekites," Nicolas Poussin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The following is an adaptation from “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.” I have decided to feature it here because it was one of the most profound and readable theological reflections that I’ve encountered in my life. I highly recommend that you order it. 

Even a casual reader of the Bible notices that between the alleged divine endorsement of genocide in the conquest of Canaan and Jesus’s call for love of enemies in his Sermon on the Mount, something has clearly changed.

What has changed is not God but the degree to which humanity has attained an understanding of the true nature of God. The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.

The Old Testament tells the story of Israel coming to know the living God, but the story doesn’t stop until we arrive at Jesus! It isn’t Joshua the son of Nun who gives us the full revelation of God but Yeshua of Nazareth. It’s not the warrior-poet David who gives us the full revelation of God but the greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. We understand Joshua and David as men of their time, but we understand Jesus Christ as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

Once we realize that Jesus is the perfect icon of the living God, we are forever prohibited from using the Old Testament to justify the use of violence. Using Scripture as a divine license for the implementation of violence is a dangerous practice that must be abandoned by we who walk in the light of Christ. If we hold to the bad habit of citing the Old Testament to sanction our own violence, how do we know that we won’t use those texts to justify a new genocide? This isn’t inflammatory rhetoric but a legitimate question. It’s a legitimate question because the Old Testament has been used by Christians to justify genocidal violence. This was the very justification used by European and American Christians during the American Indian genocide in North America. Here is just one example.

Image courtesy of Waterbrook

In 1637 the English colonial leadership in Connecticut sought to launch a war of aggression against the Pequot tribe for the sole purpose of acquiring their cultivated land. A war party of ninety settlers was raised and placed under the command of John Mason. When some of the colonists expressed moral qualms about launching an unprovoked attack on their peaceful neighbors, the matter was referred to their chaplain, the Reverend John Stone. After spending the night in prayer, Reverend Stone “was ‘fully satisfied’ with Mason’s proposal.”

At dawn on May 26, 1637, the armed colonists attacked “the main Pequot village at Mystic Lake on the central Connecticut River, killing an estimated 400 to 700 Indians. Most of the dead were women and children—often historically the victims of ethnic cleansing—burned to death in their wigwams as the English slaughtered those who ran.” Captain Mason describes the slaughter in these words:

Thus was God seen in the Mount, Crushing his proud Enemies and the Enemies of his People…burning them up in the Fire of his Wrath, and dunging the Ground with their Flesh: It was the LORD’s Doings, and it is marvelous in our Eyes!

Notice how John Mason attributes the massacre of Pequot Indians to the actions of God. What followed over the next few months was the virtual extinction of the Pequot tribe. But apparently not all the colonists were comfortable with a Christian-led genocide. In his critically acclaimed history of Native America, The Earth Shall Weep, James Wilson writes,

There also seem to have been colonists with misgivings about what had happened. Captain Underhill was clearly replying to criticism when he wrote: “It may be demanded, Why should you be so furious? (as some have said). Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion?” He echoes Mason by taking his defence from the Old Testament, presenting the English—typically—as the put-upon underdog in a crusade against Evil:

…I would refer you to David’s war. When a people is grown to such a height of blood and sin against God and man… Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents… We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.

There you have it. The Bible used to bless barbarism. Genocide justified in the name of God. (This kind of biblical justification of genocidal violence against the native peoples of North America continued throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.) There is a sad and twisted logic to evoking God’s will as the rationale for ethnic cleansing. If Captain Joshua can claim God commanded the Israelites to kill Canaanite women and children, why can’t Captain Mason and Captain Underhill claim God commanded English colonists to kill Pequot women and children?

If you leave the door open to justify the Canaanite genocide, don’t be surprised if modern crusaders try to push their way through that same door and then cite the Bible in their defense. We need to say something more responsible about the depiction of God-endorsed violence in the Old Testament. We should acknowledge that in the late Bronze Age, Israel made certain assumptions about the nature of God, assumptions that now have to be abandoned in the light of Christ. It is abundantly clear from the Gospels that Jesus has closed the door on genocide, just like he has closed the book on vengeance.

Adapted from Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. Copyright © 2017 by Brian Zahnd. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

96 Comments

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  • Nothing has changed. God is still homicidal but he is no longer using his human followers to do his killing. Jesus and angels are going to destroy the overwhelming majority of humans at the appointed time.

  • Summing up: The Old Testament is barbaric, and thus very inconvenient. and whenever the bible says something inconvenient, it must be explained away that it means something else entirely.

    “We should acknowledge that in the late Bronze Age, Israel made certain assumptions about the nature of God, assumptions that now have to be abandoned in the light of Christ.”

    The entire idea of Jesus and blood redemption depends on the OT. “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

    The history of Christianity, as the author admits, clearly contradicts everything that Christianity is supposed to be about. But he still wants to have it both ways. One way in which biblical scholars have attempted to resolve the problem of the mass killing of the Canaanites is to suggest that God never commanded it. Or that they were commanded to kill other people, but not all the time, as if that somehow makes it better.

    Somehow, the author seems to leave out the parts where “God said…kill, kill, kill.” In Joshua 6:20-21, God helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” In Deuteronomy 2:32-35, God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.

    either the bible is the inerrant word of god or it isn’t. If it is, then all of it is, not just the parts you like or agree with. If it is not, if it is not “perfect”, as the author claims, then the whole thing is suspect. Especially the idea that “Israel made certain assumptions…” Those assumptions were clearly assumed by the Jews of the early church. That’s what all of their arguments were about, that’s how they developed their theology.

    And let us NEVER forget the flood, because in that event, this god definitely killed everyone on the planet except for one old drunk and his near relations. He killed everyone for their sins, including even the little babies who could not have sinned even if they wanted to. But somehow, he forgot to remove the stain of original sin from the survivors.

    How about this: we stop giving these ancient texts the authority to govern our lives now.

  • I appreciate that if the options are “the Bible is inerrant” or “the Bible is useless” you believe that we should abandon the Bible (because you see the harm that a fundamentalist reading can create). However, ‘idolize them” or “abandon them” aren’t our only choices in how to respond to the Christian scriptures. Martin Luther King used the scriptures to convict a nation of it’s grievous sin. I would argue that his engagement of the Bible was powerful and life generating. I think that Zahnd is calling for a healthy engagement with the Christian Scriptures. I don’t know what your past experience is with people’s use of the Bible, but I can sympathize with an argument that it all needs to be thrown in the trash. I just agree with BZ that there’s a better way.

  • Ben, I enjoy your postings here.
    You are not too far from what Brian Zahnd says.
    Read the book. I think you might appreciate what he has to say. I am almostdone and Ilove it!

  • Zahnd’s work has been well critiqued by Derek Rishmawy here (https://derekzrishmawy.com/2017/08/21/sinners-in-the-hands-of-a-loving-god-by-brian-zahnd-long-review/). I think it would have been helpful to include that in your article…especially when someone is offering a critique of, according to most, America’s greatest theologian. Interestingly enough, Jonathan Edwards wrote quite a bit about love though Zahnd didn’t interact with that work much.

  • Dude, flattery will get you nowhere;-)
    I have what I believe about God. A lot of that belief comes verbatim from the Bible. Love God, love others like yourself, some things in the Bible clearly tell me how to do that some don’t. Reading things like some of your posts help me navigate some of the stuff that doesn’t clearly say love God, love others.
    That God I believe in tells me to listen to you.
    If I don’t always agree with your words please know that I hear the pain in your voice that you sometimes speak them with and the place those words come from matters to me more than any disagreement does.

  • So once again, Christian misapplication of the Old Testament in the past, (though surely blameworthy), simply becomes one more half-baked, skeptizoid excuse to sell today’s Christians on rejecting the trustworthiness and authority of the OT. What a mess.

    This skeptical mess also affects the trustworthiness and authority of Jesus Himself. Remember, Jesus never uttered one single word of disagreement about God’s judgment on the Amalekites, the Sodomites, the Canaanites, or anybody else. Hmm?

    So Christians, your Bible is under attack again. The attackers think you (and your kids) are easy marks. So you gotta do your own homework. Do NOT rely on the media to tell you the truth.

    See Michael’s post (kudos to you Michael). Click on the Rishmawy link that he provided. Or here:
    https://derekzrishmawy.com/2017/08/21/sinners-in-the-hands-of-a-loving-god-by-brian-zahnd-long-review/

  • Thank you, GJ. Those words also mean a great deal to me.

    My point that I didn’t state explicitly was that everyone uses and interprets the bible according to the kind of person that they are, and not the other way around. They don’t read the bible and suddenly decide to become all Old Testament ducks. They were ducks to begin with.

    You are a kind and humane man, so that’s what you find in your bible.

    A very good example of this came out in the marriage wars. The people at the top in the antigay side must have known that most of what they were saying was factually, logically, and experientially untrue. But it played well with their less educated voters and financial sources. Thus, bearing false witness, reviling and slandering (1 Cor) was likely something they knew were doing. But it didn’t matter as long as there was power, money, and dominion to be had.

    They’re doing the same thing right now in Australia. The so-called Christians are already claiming that if gay adults are allowed to marry, their sons will have to wear dresses and everyone will be forced into a same sex marriage– or something just about as stupid as that. I’m not entirely clear, because I don’t speak stupid.

  • Thanks for your words. I won’t disagree with you. But what I said to GJ above is also what I would say to you. The bible is not an instruction manual. Nor is it a set viable set of guidelines. It’s simply a metaphor that one can use. how it is used depends on the person using it.

    King used the bible to convict the nation of its grievous sin. The segregationists used the bible to justify that grievous sin.

    About 50 years ago, I nearly became a Christian. The promise of John 3:16 seemed a real enough one to me. I even wrote a long paper on the subject for my philosophy class. I showed the paper to my Dad, and he asked me: “well, what happens if you don’t believe, or you didn’t get the message?” I hadn’t thought about that, but it didn’t take me too long to see that John 3:16 was also a threat: believe or burn.

    so, which is the correct message? We can engage the scriptures, as you say, but ultimately, the outcome of that engagement doesn’t depend on the bible, it depends upon us. I turned in the paper anyway, and got my usual A. But my Dad’s simple question gave me the insight I actually needed.

    But that wasn’t really my point, either, at least not my explicit one. I don’t think it does us or the bible any good to pretend that it doesn’t say what it clearly says.

  • I have a couple of things to say in response to this:
    (1)Joshua’s war in Canaan is much different than the English war against the Native Americans for these reasons
    (i)The English were foreigners invading the lands of another people. The Israelites were not foreigners invading the land of another people. Their ancestors in the story lived in that land before.
    (ii)The English were colonizers with power and privileged invading the lands of an oppressed people. The Israelites in the Bible were a society of slaves and refugees fighting a coalition of kings with power and privilege for the national survival of their people

    (2)Not all forms of violence are created equal. The violence of the powerful and privileged is not the same as violence used by the oppressed and conquered to liberate themselves and we see this in the Bible.
    (i)In Exodus the Israelites were slaves under the thumb of a genocidal, oppressive empire. The God of the slaves passed a harsh judgement on the empire that oppressed them. The slaves using violence to liberate themselves from imperialism is not the same as the Pharaoh and his empire using violence to keep them enslaved
    (ii)In Joshua the Israelites are slaves and refugees fighting against a coalition of Kings and military commanders who they tried to make peace with by asking for hospitality. The violence of the slaves and the refugees fighting for their liberation is not equivalent to a group of Kings forming a coalition to conquer slaves and refugees.
    (iii)In secular contexts we realize this distinction. George Washington used violence as a means to fighting the British. His violence as a revolutionary is not the same as the violence of the British. Nat Turner the Black slave used violence as a means of fighting the White slave masters in the South. The violence of the slaves in the American south who killed their slave masters on the plantation is not the same as the violence of the slave masters who enslaved them. Nelson Mandela used violence in the form of Spear of a Nation against the White South African government(and their were civilian casualties). The violence he engaged in his not equivalent to the violence, Apartheid regime he was fighting

    3)People tend to ignore the whole peace tradition in the Old Testament
    (i)Jesus’s entire peace theology comes from the Prophets of the Old Testament
    (ii)When David the warrior(mentioned here) asked to build the Temple dedicated to the lord God refused, saying he has spilled to much blood and that the man to build his temple has to be a man of peace(1 Chronicles 22)
    (iii)In the Conquest narratives of Canaan before engaging in Battle the Israelites were required to by Jewish military ethics to attempt to make peace with their neighbors
    (iv)The prophets in Isaiah and Micah speak of a time when nations will beat their weapons into ploughshares and learn peace and war no more(Isaiah 2/Micah 4)

  • Thanks for your kind words, loren. I’ve made several repsoses to this already, so I won’t repeat myself here. But I will comment this.
    Probably no one reads George Macdonald anymore. He was a 19th century
    Christian mystical writer, and a huge influence on CS Lewis. (See Lewis’s “The
    Great divorce” I myself probably have not read him in over 30 years). CS Lewis also had a huge influence on me as a young man, and is a major reason why so very nearly became a Chrisitan nearly 50 years ago.

    But I do remember one thing MacDonald wrote–burned into my memory, still there 40
    years or more later. It seems to apply to our current batch of judgmental and hypocritical
    fundamentalists:

    From his book “Lilith”:

    “… furious battle was raging around me. Wild cries and roars of rage, shock
    of onset, struggle prolonged, all mingled with words articulate, surged in my
    ears. Curses and credos, snarls and sneers, laughter and mockery, sacred names
    and howls of hate, came huddling in chaotic interpenetration. Skeletons and
    phantoms fought in maddest confusion. Swords swept through the phantoms: they
    only shivered. Maces crashed on the skeletons, shattering them hideously: not
    one fell or ceased to fight, so long as a single joint held two bones together.
    Bones of men and horses lay scattered and heaped; grinding and crunching them
    under foot fought the skeletons. Everywhere charged the bone-gaunt white
    steeds; everywhere on foot or on wind-blown misty battle-horses, raged and
    ravened and raved the indestructible spectres; weapons and hoofs clashed and
    crushed; while skeleton jaws and phantom-throats swelled the deafening tumult
    with the war-cry of every opinion, bad or good, that had bred strife,
    injustice, cruelty in any world. The holiest words went with the most hating
    blow. Lie-distorted truths flew hurtling in the wind of javelins and bones.
    Every moment some one would turn against his comrades, and fight more wildly than
    before, THE TRUTH! THE TRUTH! still his cry. One I noted who wheeled ever in a
    circle, and smote on all sides. Wearied out, a pair would sit for a minute side
    by side, then rise and renew the fierce combat. None stooped to comfort the
    fallen, or stepped wide to spare him.”

    Pretty sad. and Accurate.

  • Whatever labels you attach to the Old Testament God, the same labels equally attach to the New Testament God. Because it’s the same God all the time. Jesus doesn’t give anybody (including Zahnd and Merritt) ANY escape hatches on that one.

    By the way, fwiw, your initial post did pretty good at identifying a few biblical problems with Zahnd’s gig.

  • While they may be the same God, the bible clearly says that we didn’t understand God fully until Jesus. So God looks like Jesus. He is the full representation.

    Zahnd isn’t escaping from the God of the OT but rather our understanding of God and how we approach the bible entirely. Its not a flat document.

  • Well, thanks.
    You said it, not me.
    They are only biblical problems if you insist that the bible is the inerrant, unchanging word of god. If you don’t– and Zahnd obviously does not– then it’s an entirely different ball of theology.

  • Luke 12:5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

    Christ affirms the Fathers authority to kill.

    The argument is: People mishandle the Bible, therefore we need mishandle the Bible so we do not need to feel threatened by God’s power to utterly destroy us if we do not repent.

  • But god loves you!!!!! Never forget that when he kills you, he does it out of love. In fact, he loves you so much that he invented Hell just in case you don’t love him back.

  • You last two sentences certainly sound convenient enough, but you’ve already falsified them earlier, in this very thread.

    Re-read your words again, about the crucial (and poignant) conversation that you and your father had about John 3:16.

    Upon reading your intense rational examination of the text, he said: “What happens if you don’t believe, or you didn’t get the message?”

    A fully legitimate question. Fact is, nobody can escape the force of your Dad’s question merely by denying biblical inerrancy.

    Either the specific John 3:16 claim is rationally true or rationally false. No middle ground there.

    If it’s rationally true, then your dad’s potentially painful question is FULLY unavoidable. No escape hatch.

    If it’s rationally false, then not only does your entire term paper go to Hell, but the credibility of John 3:16 itself, and indeed Christianity itself, simply goes to Hell right along with it. There are NO known “non-literal” Band-Aids that can salvage a rationally-falsified John 3:16.

    (No wonder the moment was so pivotal for you.)

    So Zahnd ain’t done anybody any favors. Claiming the Bible to have errors in it, doesn’t solve a dog-lick of nothing. Even you were able to pick out extra holes in Zahnd’s approach, all the same.

  • Everyone has a justification for war and slaughter. God is what is used when only the best will do

  • Umm, one more thing. Somebody seeing my reply to you for the first time, might think I’ve finally cracked and went over to the skeptizoid side. Well, I haven’t.

    I’m just showing how denying biblical inerrancy doesn’t solve any problems nor make things any easier for Christians. We just gotta get on in there and deal !!

  • The two Testaments do not contradict one another, but the pattern of the Old Testament prefigures much of the New Testament, even as the New Testament supersedes the earlier Covenant. From the standpoint of God’s instructions to Joshua, the Israelite’s strategy and practices were wholly appropriate to the task. The awful nature of the tribes of Canaan cannot be gainsaid; but that taint afflicts us all. The whole point of the history of Israel and the Law was: Humanity CAN’T live by the Law.” Thus Jesus. The early European pioneers to these shores would have done well to frame their acts by the instructions of the New, rather than the Old Testament. And the early spiritual leaders of the colonists will bear responsibility for that before God. That is not to say there is no time or place for military conflict, it is unfortunately the unquenchable consequence of the Fall. But it must be applied judiciously. At all events I agree with the precept that Jesus has closed the door on genocide, would that more Christians and non-Christians alike understood that.

  • I would like to amplify GJ here a little bit. Though I’m not sure he and I align on every jot and tittle, that is largely a secondary consideration. Still, like GJ, having read your posts and interacted with you, I have learned a great deal about being able to disagree in the hope of not inflicting pain and expressing my thoughts in the most kind and thoughtful manner that I can. In some respects I have moved on that sliding scale each believer occupies, as it relates to loving my neighbor as myself. I have to thank you for that. I regret that you were once inspired by the Christian faith, but felt compelled to reject it because of the irreconcilable conflicts you felt that you discovered. I regret that I have not been able to help effect that reconciliation for you.

  • Per “the Gospels … Jesus has closed the door on genocide … (and) on vengeance”, brothers Brian Zahnd and Jonathan Merritt?

    Looks to me per Revelation He’s about to take that book again, then break its seals in order to resume “genocide … (and) vengeance” that would make the Old Testament version look like what happens in a food fight!

    Here’s a very old movie trailer of that for you:

    “Worthy are You (Christ Jesus) to take the book and to break its seals” (Revelation 5:9). “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, … (to) Death and Hades … authority was given … over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:7-8). “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal” (Revelation 8:1), “locusts … were … permitted … to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings … Men … will long to die, and death flees from them” (Revelation 9:3-6). Then came “horses … out of (whose) mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues” (Revelation 9:17-18).

  • In context, the command to kill the Canaanites was not genocide at all, so Brian Zahnd either hasn’t read the Bible or doesn’t understand it. It was an execution of judgment against a people who had “filled up their sins,” being held accountable for the knowledge of God which they already had, most likely through the preaching of Abraham (who did not “call upon” the name of the Lord, he “proclaimed” the name of the Lord.) And of course, in the book of Judges, and later history (Assyria and Babylon) God brought other nations against Israel in judgment upon sin as well. Genocide isn’t even in the picture. Did Jesus close the door on vengeance? A better question might be: Did Jesus’ predictions of God judging Jerusalem, referred to by Jesus Himself as “the days of vengeance” come true? Yes, they did. Jesus currently rules the nations with an iron rod. He judges individuals and nations for their sins, not their race. That is the real issue, and that has not changed and never will. Mr Zahnd doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and should stop writing books about things he knows nothing about.

  • Nice try by the author…but alas, Jesus was all for the Old Testament barbarity and his father Yahweh’s depravity. The Old Testament is laughably false and I have doubts about the historical facts surrounding Yeshua himself — but for believers, here are Jesus’s disgraceful exact words…

    ‘Until Heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law, until all is accomplished’ (Matthew 5:18)

    ‘The Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35)

    “[Scriptures – in Old Testament] the commandment of God” (Matthew 15:3) and the ‘Word of God’ (Mark 7:13)

    “[Jesus refers to the Old Testament:] Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God?”(Matthew 22:31)

    “[Jesus confirms Sodom and the death of Lot’s wife]” (Luke 17:29, 32)

    “[…the murder of Abel by his brother Cain]” (Luke 11:51)

    “[…the calling of Moses]”(Mark 12:26), “[and the manna given in the wilderness]” (John 6:31–51)

    “Yea; and have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou has prepared praise for thyself’?” (Matthew 21:16, citing Psalm 8:2)

    ‘Have you not read what David did?’ (Matthew 12:3)

    So no, Jesus accepts and preaches all the genocide, slavery, rape and plunder of the Old Testament…and also adds the incoherent and immoral resurrection story where people are not responsible for their own misdeeds, because he already “saved” them, without asking anybody’s permission…leading to centuries more of barbarity.

    Thanks Yeshua, wasn’t the Old Testament bad enough until you cane along?

  • Well, at least we’re getting lots of semi-agreement on ONE aspect of this gig. We don’t agree on words like “genocide”, “barbarity” etc, but we agree that Jesus doesn’t disagree with those catastrophic OT divine judgments.

    Who says dialogue is fruitless?

  • I have known since I was a very young child that the one true God never commanded killing or genocide. It goes against His very nature i.e. all Love and all Light. However, I could never speak this to a pastor without being told I was not educated in theology enough & I was being prideful/presumptive. It never changed my heart knowledge (given to me as a young child), but I am so thankful to be in such a blessed community of believers as Brian Zahnd and others!❤️

  • I’d be more interested in critique from a circle closer to him. Of course Calvinists disagree and will use Calvinist thinking to do so. If there is a critique that doesn’t hinge on Calvinists theology and the utter supremacy of Penal Subsituionary Atonement, that would be worth a read.

  • Zanhnd doesn’t pretend the passage he is talking about doesn’t say what it says. He says we can no longer believe that it is without error, Any Christian is inevitably commited to believing large parts of the Old Testament have become redundant, eg the Sacrificial system and the Temple worship and circumcision or else they would have to be Jews. It doesn’t seem to me that this creates a problem.

  • I would suggest that you think about what you wrote long and hard, because I suspect that your own point is what is not clear to you.

  • “Any Christian is inevitably committed to believing large parts of the Old Testament have become redundant”
    And yet we have Christians on these very pages that will tell you that the word of god is eternal, that god never changes and is always crystal clear, that god’s word is true yesterday, today, and forever, and is without error. And when you point out that they don’t believe that whenever they have that BLT, they will patiently explain that that part of the eternal unchanging word of god changed.
    I would suspect you are not a conservative Christian, and would disagree with this statement: “The Old Testament is for you. The New Testament is for me.”

  • Who is Brian Zahnd? I see his name from time to time on social media, but rarely are the references accompanied by any identification. What is his Christian tradition/denomination? Where did he go to seminary? Is he currently the pastor of a church, and if so, where is it? I can understand Jonathan Merritt’s appreciation for Zahnd’s book, but as a disinterested party, I need to know more about the author and his context.

  • “Either the specific John 3:16 claim is rationally true or rationally false. No middle ground there.”
    Only if it is rational to begin with.
    But of course, the real problem is that you see it only one way– you’re way. and that way must be true, without a shred of evidence to back it up. There is only your belief that it is true, and so you see it in that light.
    And you simply don’t understand either my Dad’s question, or my response to it.
    If god so loved the world, etc., that he became man and died to redeem to the world, but if you don’t believe that, you will burn in hell forever, whether you got the message, or whether that message was delivered by doc and so discounted because of the messenger, or whether you had a perfectly good faith of your own and so saw no reason to believe another…
    YOU WILL BURN.
    I’m afraid that doesn’t sound like love to me, but extortion on a cosmic scale. Or, simply grifters looking for yet another way to fleece the sheep. THOSE answers cannot be considered by someone like you. But for my dad, and for me, those were the appropriate questions, and the appropriate answers, because unlike you, these are things to be considered rationally.

  • Sure. Many people invoke God to justify war. And many also invoke God as a way to justify peace and peacemaking. Just look at Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Denying biblical inerrancy is far more useful than believing biblical inerrancy. But as you so clearly admitted, without biblical inerrancy, bible believing Christians haven’t got a leg to stand on. Those who don’t believe that obvious nonsense don’t need to defend their faith as much as you do.

  • Its clear. You just made a point that simply is biblically obvious, but your own idea of love makes Gods love look wicked.

  • So if god is used to justify genocide, then it really isn’t genocide.
    That kind of statement bears a rather startling resemblance to 1900 years of Christian sanctioned jew hatred, beginning in Acts, the Gospel of John, and continuing right on down past the ever charming Martin Luther, the Lutheran support for the guy with the funny mustache, the Vatican looking the other way, and “God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew” in 1977.

  • No, its my own idea of morality that makes god looks wicked. he is convicted by the very moral sense that god gave me– or would have given me, were I not an atheist– and by the very same moral sense that a hyper Christian on these very pages, citing Paul, Peter, and timothy, insisted is installed in me by god himself. Something about warp and woof. I’m sure oyu know the passage,.
    you guys need to get your stories straight.

  • In short, god can be whatever you need him to be. Or as Voltaire put it so succinctly: God created man in his own image. and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.

  • “No, its my own idea of morality that makes god looks wicked.”

    Yeah…exactly. And that is why I am not bothered by your sarcasm. You expect your morality to influence me? That is arrogant.

  • Why should we get our story straight? Is that right or something according to your authoritative sense of morality?

  • Crap happens, dude. In a world without God people can slaughter all they want and it doesn’t matter.

  • Yes . God created human beings in his images and then humans went and started creating Idols in their own image. So yes, human beings have different conceptions of God. That doesn’t nully the idea that a God exists just because we have different perspectives on it.

  • “My point that I didn’t state explicitly was that everyone uses and interprets the bible according to the kind of person that they are, and not the other way around.” I think this is a great point Ben. I would like to add to the discussion that Jesus’ disagreements with the religious elite of his day were not about disregarding OT scripture but on interpretation. Paul also talked about misusing the Word of God for wrong motives. I think they would both whole-heartedly agree with you here. “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit” even when reading the Bible.

  • No, but it does nullify anything we have to say about the god or gods that may or may not exist.

  • If you don’t know the answer to that, then you don’t need religion. you need empathy and morals.

  • If you don’t know why am asking that question, it is that you are dense or misleading and I don’t think you are dense.

  • Unfortunately for you there are so many errors and inconsistencies in the Bible that a claim of inerrancy can’t be upheld. Of course you have to –
    and will – dispute that.

  • Then you have obviously not read your Bible. Noah’s Flood, the conquest of Israel and the coming battle of Armageddon involve wholesale slaughter of men, women, children and animals. Certainly meets the definition of genocide.

  • Both the Bible and the Koran are so very useful for believers. If you want to be nice to others, there are Bible and Koranic quotations for that, and if you want to harm or kill them, there are quotations for that, too.

  • Re: “We should acknowledge that in the late Bronze Age, Israel made certain assumptions about the nature of God, assumptions that now have to be abandoned in the light of Christ. It is abundantly clear from the Gospels that Jesus has closed the door on genocide, just like he has closed the book on vengeance.” 

    The whole problem with all of this is that Christians claim the Old Testament — written by Hebrews of the late Bronze Age, based on all their “assumptions” about God — presage the arrival and career of Christ. He was, they say, the walking “fulfillment” of everything those late Bronze Age Hebrews write. If this is true, how is it possible for him to have “changed” everything the Hebrews said about God?—

    Sorry but this article constitutes a massive case of wanting to eat one’s cake and have it, too. It’s yet another attempt to paper over the glaring differences between Christianity and the religion it supposedly came from. 

    Those differences have been obvious since the beginning … so obvious, that the very first Christians had to rationalize it away; and some of them even differed as to the rationales they came up with. Marcion, for instance, taught that the Hebrews’ God and the Christian God weren’t the same being at all. The former was a harsh being, a Demiurge; he and his followers entirely disavowed Hebrew scripture. Other early Christian sects, including some that are now labeled “Gnostic,” similarly viewed the Hebrews’ God as a deficient being, and some of them kept Hebrew scripture, but reinterpreted it as a coded rendition of creation and of history. 

    It’s amazing to me that, so many centuries later, people are still doing this same tired dance. 

  • Religion is used as a tool to achieve goals and as another way to separate “us” from “them”.

  • “What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.” This is just silly. The Bible is not inerrant. It is not infallible. It is a text, written by human beings. Is it “inspired”? Yes, I would say it is, but so is The Brothers Karamazov, and so is Don Quixote, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Shakespeare’s King Lear. People are walking away from Christianity because it has become cult-like, insisting on doctrine that ignores decades of historical research and textural criticism. Come down from that mountain and talk to the rest of us. Then we’ll take you seriously.

  • Anyone reading their Bible knows that Jesus is far, far more vicious, bloodthirsty, and sadistic than the comparatively “nice” god of the Old Testament. Yah-way never threatens people with eternal toture in a Hell, while Jesus does. In fact, Jesus not only threatens Hell more than any other person in the whole Bible, he threatens hell more than everyone else in the whole Bible, combined! A moment’s reflection makes it clear that eternal torture – writing agony for thousands, millions, billions of unending years – is literally infinitely worse than any injury or death on earth. Yes, the Old Testament Yah-way sky terrorist is indeed a genocidal maniac with hands dripping in blood after slaughtering millions of innocent children, women and men, and ordering the slaughter of thousands as well, but that’s nothing compared to Jesus sending billions to eternal torture in Hell. Thus, Jesus is infinitely more cruel, infinitely more hateful, and infinitely more psychotic than the Old Testament Yah-way.

  • This discussion can be reduced to a debate about personal morality verses the group ethic. Societies that sanction the notion of what is “best for their group” can always come up with a justification for the elimination of any “other” group of people they deem a danger to their group. Throughout history various religions and governments have used this to do evil to the marginalized group that needs to go so the rest of society can be protected from whatever perceived danger that the marginalized group presents to the “greater good.” The idea of establishing a personal morality that places value on all people is still not the prevalent notion of most societies. This struggle between a group ethic and a personal morality inside Christianity I find interesting. Those Christians, regardless of how they view the Bible, who adopt the notion of what is “good for the group” is the “greater good” will continue to marginalize those outside of their experience as either poor lost souls, heretics, or infidels who are worthy of death. Those Christians who adopt a personal morality will be forced to see other human beings with some level of value. This will also make them view the “exclusionary” parts of the Bible that come out of a group ethic with horror. The will be forced to view the Bible as a very flawed human book – rather than an absolutist divine authority. Yet inside this flawed human book they will discover parts, here and there, that support a personal morality. Just as those with a group ethic can also support their absolutist and exclusionary claims from the same Bible. I chose to value all human beings. So, I don’t see some as “saved” and others as “lost.” This is my first step in choosing to live by a personal morality rather than by some official group ethic. I do not view belief as just a mental exercise of spouting my notions about life or my world view. I try to live my beliefs by respecting other human beings and trying to be helpful where I can. If you what to know what anyone else believes – look at how they live their life rather than listen to their words. What point does it serve for me to state that I believe this or that about Jesus if I treat other people with contempt because I think my mental theological beliefs are superior to theirs? This human “need to be right” about God, Jesus, or theology (or anything else) is ultimately a lot of crap and leads to seeing yourself as superior, or in Christian terms “saved.” The rest are “lost,” therfore inferior. If you view all humanity as lost you can then justify killing them in the name of any god you choose (i.e. Jesus, Allah, Yahweh) to insure the “greater good” and to protect society from their corruption.

  • “And you simply don’t understand either my Dad’s question, or my response to it. If god so loved the world, etc., that he became man and died to redeem to the world, but if you don’t believe that, you will burn in hell forever, whether you got the message, or whether that message was delivered by doc and so discounted because of the messenger, or whether you had a perfectly good faith of your own and so saw no reason to believe another…”

    Actually, I understood you both just fine. You think your Dad’s question has never been directed at me or something?

    That one question has been asked of me with just the same direct sincerity, intellect, aspects, and perceptiveness as was asked of you. The difference is in the responses and beliefs that you and I adopted as a result of being asked.

  • There are no easy answers to this conundrum. How can God be just and yet loving at the same time? Scripture says that God so loved the world that he sent the Son to offer salvation to those who believe, but in the Old Testament God sends his wrath on those who do not. It is easy to put on the lens of post-truth morality and claim that the actions seen in scripture is wrong. In fact, it is easy to call something “right” one day and “wrong” the next. Such is the nature of our times, where we have morality and beliefs that cannot be attributed to anything but our own experience, whims, or choices. In fact, many philosophers would argue that such categories of good and evil do not exist. It is dominate or be dominated; that is the way of life. It is curious to me where the justification for feeling that God’s actions in the Old or even the New Testament can be described as “good” or “evil” by anyone who does not embrace some sort of truth-based framework (a system of belief, a philosophy of consistent ethics). After all, the same people who are decrying Canaanite genocide now would be the same people advocating for “population reduction” if resources were to get scarce. It is amazing to me that situational morality has the power to address anything of import in our time. The problem for me is that Jesus Christ is alive, and I believe there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence that points to at least the firm conviction of this assumption from those who followed him. Therefore, Jesus confirmed the authority of the Law and Prophets; he came to clarify but did not annul what has been previously written. This is where humility has to come in a bit because we put a lot of emphasis on the foundational writers of the New Testament because they gave us not just an interpretation of Jesus’ person, work, and mission, they also gave as the only accounts we have a the life of Jesus (that are not Gnostic). If I affirm belief in Jesus, then I also affirm believe in what God was doing in the Old Testament to get to this point. Yes, God ordered the complete destruction of people groups but these people groups had a long time to pile up their iniquities and offenses against God. Who knows if God sent them messengers or other ways of trying to repent…we simply do not know. Canaanite society was especially evil (in the biblical definition) and God was actually bringing justice to their oppression and pouring his punishment out on their wicked society. This was not a random conflicted initiated by blood-thirsty Israelites, but a holy purge by God of the land of promise. However, the Israelites did not kill them all, and that let to the degeneration of their society, which the prophets spoke constantly of in the Old Testament. God is a God who offers forgiveness (see the many Gentiles that followed God in the Old Testament), but he is also a God who will not tolerate sin.

    Sin is something that is nebulous, because sin in the biblical sense is not actions but a state of being. I am born a sinner, but I can choose to do right or wrong. But what condemns me to eternity separated from God is the identity of sin that comes with birth, not my bad deeds. In fact, my good deeds do not count if I am not reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. Sin is a serious offense to God and in some cases to others, and God has to deal with this either in justice or mercy. God is merciful and those who turn to him for mercy are not turned away, but those who do not embrace mercy will face justice. Sin cannot go unpunished. We look at such things as unjust because we are permissive and we do not like to stand on things lest we be found to be wrong. That’s not always a bad thing, there plenty of things I have been wrong about in the past that I wish I did not stand upon. But God knows the black and white, whereas I have to deal with various shades of grey in some areas. As Paul admitted, we see through a dark glass, and it will take God returning in Christ to fully understand. At the end of the day, there are no “good” answers, every way of looking at any sort of rock solid belief that doesn’t embrace some sort of power-driven, nihilistic void has issues. I have chosen to trust God, though my mind cannot always wrap around or make sense of what he has done and even what he is doing. I have chosen to believe because despite the baggage and uncertainty, I believe Christ is the only hope for the world. Eternity is forever and judgment is coming. I have always said that if God turned me away from some reason that I would not object; I would be getting what I deserved. In Christ however, I believe there is redemption and reconciliation with God.

    If I am wrong? Well, then I will either be reincarnated or become nothingness in the void…so why does it ultimately matter? If everything really is subjective and nothing can be proven to be true but cold data, then I will choose to live in this way, because despite the warts I believe salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ leads to a better world of faith, hope, and love for those who believe and live as if they do.

  • What decades of historical research are you talking about? The 19th century and 20th century documentary approaches that grew up around textualism?

  • The binary “yes it says what it does and it’s perfect”/”yes it says what it does but it’s wrong” approach, is just one approach to the Scripture. It is motivated by awe and love for the Scripture, but a reflection on the words of the Scripture as the be all end all of the Divine and the meaning, reflects man back upon himself, thus limiting us to ourselves and our limited understandings, rather than leading us more fully to the Divine.

    What do I mean? A binary approach tends to leave us just wanting the answer. Like Marcion: Take it all; or take one piece. A third possibility based on this approach is also prevalent–question ourselves onto a little solipsistic chair asking ourselves, “hmm. Am I really thinking what I think I’m thinking or am I wrong? What am I thinking again? What am I supposed to think? Just forget the whole thing, it is a cult!!”

    The texts say what they say.

    1. Do they record what they purport to record? We assume so, yes.

    2. Do they say it only in one way or only in a way that can be interpreted in only one way? Obviously not, although some denominations insist this to be the case.

    Back to the question: did God order the genocide of the Canannites as the texts proclaim and does God order us to love each other and turn the other cheek?

    The texts are very clear on both points: yes.

    In this sense the texts are inerrant. They record faithfully what was meant to be recorded.

    But then you want the answer: what does it mean? How do we love and pray to a God who commanded genocide? Many paths lead from an answer. Start on a path that joins up with God.

    And why not? The Scriptures are Divine revelation. (This is what we mean by inspired, not inspired as, wow they’re really, really good.)

    The whole point of them is to join us up with God. Part of what this means is that the Divine, by definition, cannot be confined by man and may even–gasp–defy the expectations of man.

    Did God command genocide literally, or is it a story meant to glorify God? There is disagreement. There is no clarity on the matter. May both be true? There is disagreement. There is no clarity on the matter. Is there a “deeper” meaning? Perhaps. There are paths there. When did the word genocide come into existence anyways?

    Did God tell us to love each other and turn the other cheek? Yes. Did He command us to love literally or is it just a story to glorify God? When did love come into existence anyway? What does it mean to love, anyways? There’s a path there, a nice one.

  • Re: “A binary approach tends to leave us just wanting the answer. Like Marcion: Take it all; or take one piece. A third possibility based on this approach is also prevalent–question ourselves onto a little solipsistic chair asking ourselves, ‘hmm. Am I really thinking what I think I’m thinking or am I wrong? What am I thinking again? What am I supposed to think? Just forget the whole thing, it is a cult!!'” 

    I agree there are plenty of ways to take these texts. The problem isn’t so much with the texts themselves, or even how one reads them, it’s with the attachment that they engender, especially because the Bible texts are revered, not merely read. 

    Re: “The texts say what they say.” 

    Also true. The words are there, on the page. Those who revere them, at some point, must take responsibility for those words, if they’re going to continue revering them. Arguably, people like Marcion did exactly that … and took it to an ironic extreme by, ultimately, rejecting the Old Testament entirely. 

    Re: “But then you want the answer: what does it mean? How do we love and pray to a God who commanded genocide? Many paths lead from an answer. Start on a path that joins up with God.” 

    I can provide you a “meaning” for those texts which has nothing to do with any deity, and doesn’t even assume the existence of anything metaphysical at all. Those texts are, in short, an ancient form of ethnic/national jingoism. It’s all a kind of “Rah rah rah, we’re better than everyone else, we can wipe out whole races if we want, and our God can be beat up your god(s)” stuff. Coupled with efforts to use the priesthood for the advancement of political power by people like King Josiah, and some steering/redacting of those texts in a way that specifically promotes their agendas, and you end up with things like the Amalekite genocide in the pages of 1 Samuel. 

    No God needed. God not relevant at all. Just human-crafted propaganda. 

    Re: “Did God tell us to love each other and turn the other cheek? Yes.” 

    A much better question to ask is, why did people who previously had written about their God ordering the Amalekite genocide later decide their God instead wanted them to turn the other cheek? It’s because their agendas changed. The need to express the terrifying power of their deity and brag about his (and their own) military prowess, had subsided, and different sociopolitical needs presented themselves … hence a more apocalyptic, “let’s look for the kingdom of heaven to manifest on earth rather than establishing our own world-embracing kingdom by military force we don’t have and can’t carry out due to the power of the Roman regime” approach. 

    It all makes sense — and again, this leaves out any need to assume the existence of anything metaphysical. 

  • Zahnd’s insistence that the violence of the Old Testament should be laid at the feet of God’s instruments rather than God Himself is ludicrous. The God of the New Testament is the God of the Old. Don’t forget that when Jesus stated that the two greatest laws are to love God and love your neighbor, he was quoting the Old Testament. The Old Testament needs to be understood, not cherry-picked or rejected.

  • “No, God didn’t command genocide in the Old Testament.” Indeed he did not since he does not exist!

  • Well, I agree with you. Outside the USA there are far less fundamentalists anyway, at least in the west. i spend a lot of my time arguing not with atheists but with fundamentalist Protestants and the Catholic equivalent– the Church never changes its doctrine according to them. All best, Tom

  • Not sure if you are aware or this or not but there are multiple views of eschatology. The one you espouse has Jesus renouncing the sermon on the mount so he can kill the “majority of humans” at the end of time. Your view (a view I used to believe) involves what is called a flat reading of the bible. A reading that disregards the reality that many voices speak on the same issues in the bible. Different writers at different times say God desires this or that from people. The bible is not univocal. There are those who say the bible IS univocal and they have to do some amazing gymnastics in their attempt to do so. Jesus puts his own voice into the discussion at times. You have heard it said an eye for an eye but I say do not resist an evil person, so says Jesus. Jesus give the OT a smack down. In their attempt to make the bible univocal and reconcile all the voices they malign God’s character and the second person of the trinity. The bible is a book that changes over time in its understanding of who God is (progressive revelation). You are projecting violence onto God the same way much of the OT writers projected it onto God. They thought their national deity was no different than the rest of the ancient near east deities. Jesus and his coming show their understanding to be limited and distorted. Paul actually reinterprets the OT too. Here is one example: In Corinthians he talks about the Israelites being swallowed up for their grumbling. In Exodus it says God did it. Paul in Corinthians says it was the destroying angel. In light of Jesus Paul can no longer see God as the one causing the violence. BZ says we should never walk around in the OT unless we are escorted by Jesus. If we are not careful we might walk away believing that God is a blood thirsty savage rather than the God we see in Jesus who perfectly points us to God. To see Jesus is to see the Father. Using Joshua to save you from Jesus is a huge mishandling of the bible.

  • I sincerely believe you have misunderstood the towards of Jesus. He invites us to life in all it’s truest fullness and has the love and integrity to tell us what happens when we continue to walk away from him. Gen 3 begins with the Satan telling Eve “Did God really say? … No you won’t really die! Their is no real consequence to turning your back on the giver of life”. A friend of mine died of stomach cancer – I remember her saying, “If I don’t eat, I’ll die – won’t I?” She didn’t eat and she died, believing fully in the hope of resurrection and life with Jesus. The Bible calls us to “Come and Eat” Jesus tells parables of wedding feasts and invitations sent out which are rejected. Who’s fault is it that some (or many) are not in the banquet? It is not so much God “sending us to Hell” but rather us not responding to the invitation…

  • Since I came here for answers, I guess it’s outrageous of me to be contributing one, but, I wanted to posit my own fractured interpretation of the Old Testament and New Testament disparities, with the concession that I am largely drawing upon other people’s fractured explanations in turn. That said, there’s something to be said of “considering the source”. Very early on in the Old Testament we see that the Jewish characters involved, perhaps as a consequence of their time period and not as specifically egregious specimens, are very comfortable with lying. We’ve got this almost right off the bat with Cain “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper”, and it keeps going from there…I couldn’t probably fit it all in if I tried but, one whopping tale was Jacob’s tricking his blind old father, because of the urging of his mother, into thinking he were his brother, Esau, by the use of goat’s skins on his forearms; later, his uncle lying to Jacob about getting Rachel as his wife, by literally sneaking in Leah; later Jacob’s son’s lying about Joseph’s fate; Judah’s daughter in law pretending to be a prostitute to get pregnant, etc. etc. One special story is Jacob’s son’s lying to the people who raped his daughter, Dinah, saying they could merge families through marriage, if only they were to get circumcised, and while those people are recovering from their circumcisions, they murder every last man in that tribe, and take the women and children. Jacob is appalled saying they have made him a stench to the Canaanites, but, the brother’s defend their action because their sister was treated “like a prostitute.” These passages show a lot of different things – but amongst them a lot of pride, egotism, tribalism, and maybe even an incapacity to remorse. I read somewhere how much later Esau forgives Jacob for trying to steal his birthright, and Jacob is trying to bribe his brother to gain his forgiveness, and Esau’s like “what are all these bribes for, I love you brother” or something to that effect, but Jacob always calls him “my lord” and keeps his emotional (and physical) distance. Later we have statements like “Jacob have I loved but Esau I have hated”, even though Esau clearly demonstrated a more Christ like comportment in freely accepting and forgiving his brother. So what to conclude? Well, if this particular branch of early Jewish people had a high concentration of liars given to narcissism and egoism, it stands to reason that this would be the branch that would claim Divine Right, mostly because the other branches would probably be too humble to do so. So what I have come to view the Old Testament as is a compilation of lies about the nature God, but also a historical account of what those lies led to in time. It’s unique in that, the concept of shame or hiding things didn’t seem to fully exist; for example, Exodus starts with Moses killing someone, and it’s clearly not even accepted by the other Jews of the time because the next day they ask “are you going to kill us too?”, and Moses never really self examines, but just runs away into the desert; much later he is the one bring the 10 commandments down, including the commandment not to murder. If the entirety of the Old Testament were just pure lies, you’d think the unsavory parts would have been edited out, not openly displayed, but, we read some of the most depraved things in there. For me, Passover is the most despicable of all, but, at least according to the story, there’s some sense to it in that the Egyptians first were trying to kill the Jews’ firstborn, so we see the natural consequence of this as the Jews, either metaphorically or through their rendition of God helping them, celebrating the death of the Egyptian’s firstborns. I feel like throughout the Old Testament you see a group of primitive people struggling with living in extremely harsh conditions, living in a kill or be killed world of many “gods”, and rampant tribalism, and so, in a culture where lying is no big deal, they lie in part to keep their society cohesive, and in part to keep themselves sane, and in part because they are fallen creatures like the rest of us. But though it may be told through a poisoned perspective, it’s likely that not all of it is without value. Personally I can’t see anything really objectionable about the 10 commandments, which Jesus references when talking to the rich man. Jesus says, somewhere in the New Testament, that “not one letter from the law” shall be overturned, or something of that nature…but then he references the commandments, so he’s clearly talking about moral commandments and not the entirety of every single story in the Old Testament, with the added admonishment of exceeding in righteousness the Pharisees, whom I believe he overtly called sons of murderers and liars. So to me, Jesus openly calling them this, is kind of a renunciation of the fabricated stories they composed about why various genocides, literal or metaphorical, were godly, or why it was OK to do bad things previously, etc., he seems mostly OK with letting the past lie in the past. It is interesting that it’s mentioned he’s raised in Jewish tradition, and most likely celebrated the genocidal Passover, but it’s probably important to also remember that he put up with a lot of various sins – he still talked with prostitutes, murderers, etc. – he came to save sinners, and talked about how John the Baptist had a superlative moral character, and nobody listened to him, so, God can’t win sending someone who appears totally perfect in conduct, or sending in someone who associates with those in a fallen state, so as to elevate them. So I’m sure to some degree he was tolerant of people’s muddled previous opinions on God, and was “picking his battles” so to speak – focusing on bringing them the good news of a God of love. On that note, he may very well reference sinners perishing, but, there are many schools of thought on that, one saying that in the original translation there was no eternal nature to hell, but rather just one extinguishment of the soul that does not adjoin to Jesus’ Way / the way of the Father / love. Also it probably should be noted that there probably have been a lot of revisions to the New Testament too; I feel it’s by the holy spirit and God’s providence alone that the messages of primary import are still in there at all. I know the Gnostics would probably disagree with that, but, looking into that belief system, at least the version I encountered, it’s not just cynical as “hell” – pun intended I guess – but urges the complete renunciation of both a God of Love and the “Old Testament God” for some emancipation into the great unknown – literally – without any shred of proof unless you basically sell your soul to the devil, which, of course, is the good guy. Not particularly inclined to go there. For me it’s a lot more cohesive that the OT God was just a tribalistic interpretation conjured up by people who had not received a spirit of goodness, and that there may be some divine truth to it, but, highly muddled; when God appears angry, genocidal, destructive, ethnocentric, I pretty much just discard that as “false” and am therefore able to retain my image of God as Jesus mostly depicted. A lot of people go on about how Jesus was inspired by Bhudda or Zorastrianism, and how the Genesis story was plagiarized, but, Jesus is very different from Zoraster, there’s nothing similar (to me) of personal, emotional import in the Bhuddist religions, and even if the Genesis story were plagerized, reading some of those plagerisms I have not found particularly enlightening. So ultimately I really think the best we have is the New Testament; it was a huge civilizing influence, and, I believe it’s the way to go. I am disturbed that even in the New Testament there might not be forgiven people but, I still think it’s the best we’ve got.

  • I know this was written 7 months ago, so you may not receive the reply. Nevertheless I thought I’d make a comment. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Christ will not perish. But this does not logically imply that all those who don’t believe definitely will. That is something that you have inferred without warrant from the text. Draw a venn diagram and you will see what I mean.

  • I’m glad someone posted this, Philip. As John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” This passage was a lifesaver for me in terms of my own religious faith, for if the OT is understood to be a record of who God *truly* is, then quite frankly it needs to be chucked in the bin.

    What I have come to realise, however, is that the OT is not the Word OF God, but simply words ABOUT God (as the article points out, the Word of God is a person – Jesus Christ), written by people who had never seen Him and did not know Him in his fullness. As such, if the OT is to be utilised in any practical way for Christians today, we have to understand that its authors were a fallen people, just like us, projecting their subconscious drives and human ideals onto the character of God.

    The OT testament is therefore a warning and a reminder of what happens when we are (mis)guided by our own rationalisations. It is a psychological profile of Humanity in all it’s modes, both noble and barbaric. It reveals something about human nature and what we are capable of, for good and for bad. The key point is to be guided by the teaching and example of Jesus.

  • I think the implication is quite clear, though as you note. It is possible to parse it so that it doesn’t mean that. But, if it doesn’t mean that, then Christianity is completely unnecessary. Or, alternatively, the one unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And what is such blasphemy? Denying that Jesus died for your sins, of course.

    From bibleinfo.com: Yes, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is any sin that a person clings to by continually resisting the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that there is not one specific sin that is unforgivable, such as lying, stealing or murder, but rather a perpetual hardening of the heart and willfully sinning against God and man (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15). In Acts 7:51, Stephen says the following to the Pharisees, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” In a nutshell the unpardonable sin is any sin that a person doesn’t want to give up, confess, or even ask forgiveness for and additionally doesn’t want to hear any more about it from the Holy Spirit.

    Any sin mankind wants pardon for is forgivable. However, if we turn our backs on the voice of the Holy Spirit we begin to silence His convictions and eventually we cannot hear His convicting power. This effectively blocks the working of God in our lives because we have reached a point where we are unable to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    Sounds pretty clear to me.

  • In Orthodox theology, there is no literal, material hellfire. It is a metaphor to describe a person’s relationship to God in the afterlife. Put briefly, all people will end up in the presence of God, but those that hate Him will experience that presence as a spiritual hell, whereas those that love Him will experience it as paradise. The difference between those two experiences comes as a consequence of the individual’s choice to love to God or not. People create their own hell; God does not send anyone there.

  • I honestly can’t tell if you are a fundamentalist Christian trying to rationalise difficult parts of the bible, or a fundamentalist atheist trying to attack Christianity. Bizarrely, it’s the same argument on each side of the fence.

  • This makes zero sense whatsoever! Do you really believe what your saying? How? The God in the old testament is the God in the new! Coming to Earth or sending his Son to Earth to free humans from Sin does not make everything in the old testament ok! The Old Testament is about vengeance, jealousy, anger, sex, murder, polygamy, having slaves, violence etc! It is the farthest thing from a god of love! Which cancels out the New Testament since both claim to come from the pen of the SAME GOD!

  • The Catholics and evangelicals I know do not use group or even individual needs as part of their morality. Philosophers do, but not the religous people I know.

    It is love thy neighbor and God with all your heart-which means practicing charity, which is love for humanity. The end does not justify the means, and group needs do not justify harming individuals. All people are valued and the religion does not have secular nature(should not).

    What I wonder is why

  • Title says: God did not command genocide.
    Article says: God commanded genocide BUT
    ignore genocide so you can be like Jesus.
    Conclusion: God is evil and the Bible is not a reliable source for morality.

  • I could care less what the bible is saying about Gay Marriage & that is why i never cite it. For me, the bible is NOT the reason for my understanding of what is WRONG with Gay Marriage & more importantly the LGBT Agenda. The problem & the reason people have a hard time accepting truth & determining right from wrong (or wholesome/beneficial from unwholesome/harmful) is because of the fact that most people don’t use common sense & wisdom to come to the same conclusions that the bible (for all the wrong reasons) has.

  • A good portion of what passes for Christianity is not scriptural. And that includes the Sola Scriptorum fanatasies— misspellingintentional.

  • It’s fun to laugh at religious myth believers trying to kill each other into extinction.
    gods, like angels, demons and religions, are created in the imaginations of man and believed by fools.

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