A dilemma over Deuteronomy and Job

So a link to this article showed up on the Facebook feed of Biblical scholar James McGrath:

The article explains that the book of Job is basically a critique of the Deuteronomistic covenant, the covenant which basically says ‘obey this, or else’. An unpopular opinion I (as a Divine Command Theorist) have is that I actually like a system of punishment and reward, for it incentivises us to do good. But anyway, the point I am making is that faced with two apparently contradictory texts, ought one text be discarded? (I would choose Job, even though it is one of my favourite parts of scripture) Or is there another solution?

The odds are that the early church fathers who established the cannon of scripture were aware of the seeming contradictions between the different books they selected, and could resolve them in their minds. One thing that is established in the Bible is that no human is able to live without sin, so that even the most righteous human who ever lived is not exempt from God’s wrath. Jesus said that we can’t earn our own way into heaven, but that God loves us, and will accept us, faults and all.
God’s law gives us a guide for how to live. If we followed every one of them, we would avoid a lot of stress in our lives. but as Christians we can relax and not worry about being sent to hell for the slightest infraction.
Somewhere along the way people started to believe that if we followed every rule to the letter, that God would make us rich and spare us from suffering in this life. The book of Job refutes this belief, (the basis of the protestant work ethic) which evidently is not just a modern one. I would definitely keep the book of Job, but I don’t see that it refutes the Law.

I read a lot about Job in a theological study many years ago in preparation for Lay ministry in the Church of England. It does seem to me that Job protests his innocence against his friends who have a simple equation that God brings suffering to bad people as a matter of judgement and therefore his suffering means he must have done something to deserve it. While there may be a natural outworking of divine justice in various instances it is not true that all suffering is a result of wrong doing as the story and dialogue shows. Something Jesus also attested to on a couple of occasions.

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On thing I learned from Walton’s book on how to read Job, was that it is about God, not Job.

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I have never heard of it like that before. In my opinion and in my studies I see the book of Job as a parody of how justice is seen in the secular world in how good things happen to good people and so on. It plays onto the fact the despite Job being good bad things happen to him. It goes into the problem of evil and from what I get out of it is that these things are beyond our understanding and that we need to trust God in all things. I feel Job and a lot of the text of the Law don’t go into conflict as Job isn’t really attacking the Laws of Moses but is giving a play about how bad things still happen to good people. There is no need to take out the text of Job. That would be the same rash argument of saying we need to get rid of James due to it contradicting Paul’s letters, it makes no sense in doing so since both texts teach something that God wants us to know.


Welcome to the forum, Quinn. Good thoughts. Job is one of my favorite books. Your bio left me in suspense, and I look forward to learning more of your story.

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LOL. Good luck with the Bible.

Or you could accept that there are a lot of things we have to hold in tension.


If we take the book of Job out of historical context, we can come up with a lot of contradictions.

Historically, Job seems to come before Abraham lived. I do not see an issue with perhaps after the Babylonian captivity, the Judeans found this text, and claimed it as their own. Perhaps in vindication that God was not always as strict as the Deuteronomistic law, if one feels the need to compare the two. There were a lot of text that could have been written earlier than or during the Babylonian captivity, that were considered and rejected. There were about 75 years, where the Jews were contemplating what happened to them and where they as a nation were heading. Then a few hundred years later, the Greeks and Romans happened and their dreams and expectations were put on hold. It would seem that a close relationship with God on a national level never returned. Perhaps seeing how God considered one person’s life brought some kind of comfort? They could have viewed that Job was representative of the nation of Israel itself.


I do not think Job is a critique of Deuteronomy. It may be a critique of legalism but in that it would have a LOT of company requiring us to throw out most of the New Testament along with Job if that is what you are trying to defend. But that is not my reading of Job either, which is as follows…

I think Job is homiletic rather than historical and it was written along with much of the OT (certainly Isaiah) in response to the Babylonian exile and the severe theological challenge the experience confronted the Jewish people with. They might believe that they were being punished by God for their transgressions, only they could see for themselves a much much greater degree of depravity in Babylon than anything they had ever done. So why were they being punished? Thus Job and the suffering servant in Isaiah represent Israel’s suffering of that time and these books are seeking to understand why?

The two books come up with two different answers to that question. The answer in Isaiah is that the suffering of Israel serves a greater purpose to the benefit of the whole world – that Israel is the sacrificial lamb by which the whole world is changed for the better (this naturally explains why Christians seized upon the suffering servant as a prophesy of Christ). The answer of the book of Job is ultimately not so much that we don’t have the right to question God (for God rebukes this response by the critics of Job) but rather that we simply don’t have the understanding (and perspective which comes with responsibility) to question God correctly. We are like children horrified to see a surgeon cutting people open on the operating table – we simply do not understand enough.

Certainly Job is rejecting the absurdity that all of our tragedies are the product of some sort of divine justice. So while I am a vigorous opponent of Divine Command theory I don’t think that Job is a challenge to that point of view. Indeed, we see God’s justice in the end of the story and I certainly
don’t think the book of Job opposes the belief in an ultimate perfect justice in the afterlife. However, the fact that you feel inclined to remove Job from the Bible can be taken as a sign that you may be a little headstrong in your approach to God and Christianity. You should be learning from the Bible not altering the Bible to fit what you want to believe. I frankly think fundamentalist Christians do this far more than they realize, like when they ignore the complexities in the text and force it into some excessively simplistic interpretations.

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It could be observed that Job is combatting a simplistic, childish, overly-literalistic interpretation of Deuteronomy, not Deuteronomy itself. And not of Deuteronomy alone, but of much of the rest of the Bible, Proverbs to be included. It simply demonstrates the tension that exists in real life, the same thing we teach our children…

On the one hand, we try to teach them basic principles. Work hard and you’ll be rewarded and recognized. Take care of yourself, physically, eat right and exercise, it will benefit you with good health, etc., be wise with finances, save appropriately, and you’ll be financially secure. All those are true principles, and we’d be derelict if we didn’t teach them to our children.

But it is also reality that despite our own best efforts, our hard work might result in someone’s jealousy and false accusation. Our best efforts at health and an unexpected cancer will still strike. Our best financial practices and an unexpected accident can still bankrupt us.

Which is true? Clearly, they both are. Deuteronomy (and Proverbs, and lots of other teachings, including some from Jesus himself) communicate those basic principles of blessing following obedience and curses following disobedience. This is a true and right principle, and ought to be taught and embraced as true.

On the other hand, we know that real life happens in God’s providence, and thus we can’t simplistically equate one individual’s suffering with a curse due to their disobedience.

For instance, Jesus promised “there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time”.

At the same time, he recognized that “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Deuteronomy and Job only “contradict” each other if we’re willing to say Jesus contradicted himself. But I think it far more reasonable that it is ”both/and” in both cases: the larger principle of blessings for obedience is true in general, and it is also true that we can’t extrapolate this in some kind of 1-to-1 ratio so as to determine that if someone is suffering, it can only be due to their disobedience.

I enjoyed Walton and Longman’s book How to Read Job. I remember one of the points I took away is to remember that while titled Job, it is really about God, and Job is just the setting. We tend to focus on Job and his troubles , but need to pay attention to what it says about the nature of God.

I agree wholeheartedly, Job is just a character in the story, not an inspired prophet.

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Job is not really just a character in a story – because the story is too contrived as well as being a skeletal framework for rather long philosophical discourses. That is why it is more accurate to call this a homiletic. The story and its characters are all devices for delivering a message and thus they are more about their function in delivering that message than a role in any story. Job for example represents the inquirer who asks why? The other men represent the typical answers and attitudes that fail to satisfy. God represents the author’s proposed answer to the question.


There are many contradictory texts in the Bible, so discarding those that don’t align with personal beliefs would simply lead to an infinite number of “curated” Bibles. (Note: I personally find the idea of curated this and curated that to be a tad narcissistic.)

Because the Bible contains multiple covenants and multiple understandings about God, it can at times be like a mirror of our own inner convictions and motives. We naturally gravitate towards the passages that mirror what we personally believe about God. We also tend to minimize or even ignore the passages that speak about God in ways that offend us, or we try to take those passages and massage them with typological interpretations until they say what we want them to say.

I’m fairly certain that the author of Job and the author of Deuteronomy were more or less contemporaries who were presenting two very different images of God. Their understandings of God are so different that they can’t be fully reconciled. So it’s our job (if we have the time, energy, and inclination) to wrestle with the diverse portraits of God and to ask for Divine help in seeing God as God really is (instead of accepting human beliefs about God that may not reflect the reality of God’s immense Mind and Heart).

Job’s teachings about God have long been part of a minority religious view that has stubbornly persisted despite repeated persecutions. The teacher who best understood Job’s teachings and expanded on them was another stubborn man with a minority view: Jesus son of Joseph.

I don’t really think they’re of the same genre.

I think, and I’ve come across some scholarly pieces that would seem to support this, that Job is actually a very old story that was told and retold but that was taken and put into its Biblical form in a post-exilic period. It’s above my pay grade, but there are apparent clues in the language that indicate a form of Chaldean that puts it post Babylon.

My additional theory is that it almost bears the marks of Greek drama such as all of the action taking place in essentially a day, which it does after the prologue. Then follows the exchange of antiphonal call and response dialogue of lengthy arias culminating in the crisis before the classic reversal. It follows Aristotle’s plot structure rather nicely. I think of Job almost like an Oedipus or Antigone…but without all the dying at the end.

Of course this doesn’t make it any less inspired. I read a neat quote from Jessamyn West the other day which said, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” I think our God is a storyteller, as was His son. Job is like a grand parable that reveals truth about God and humanity we can empathize with. So I think it’s purpose is completely different from Deuteronomy which would be more of law genre.

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