Asking for help reconciling Deuteronomy with a loving God

Hi, my name is Michael. I made a profession of faith when I was 11. I began to question in my teens and was pretty much an atheist 2 years ago. I had some things happen in 2018 that made me more open to the possibility of a benevolent God, and in the last year I’ve come to the point where I really want to believe in God and Jesus, but its not always easy.

Anyways, Deuteronomy 22 has been really bothering me. I don’t see how a benevolent God could have signed off on some of some of these laws which sound like they’d have horrifically punished the innocent rather than the guilty.

I’ll go in order:

13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. 16 Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels[b] of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Sorry for the text wall but there’s several things in here that really bother me. First, it seems to imply a bloody cloth is evidence of virginity. Not every woman bleeds during her first sexual encounter. Also, it seems like a false accusation is a crime against the bride’s father rather than the bride herself. Most troublingly, I don’t understand why allowing a woman to stay married to a man that tried to have her killed is even an option.

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

My issue with this is it seems to equate silence with consent. Some people freeze in high stress situations. An attacker could just cover their victim’s mouth or threaten to kill them if they made noise.


I don’t have a verse to quote for this one. I can’t find anything in the bible addressing the sexual abuse of children. It seems to me it should have been addressed in this chapter along with an appropriate penalty.

Finally, let me skip ahead to Chapter 26.

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

Does this mean all the laws in Deuteronomy came from God? I don’t get how a loving God could approve of this.

I don’t really have a pastor I trust with questions of this nature. I looked online and asked relatives, and couldn’t find an answer that satisfied me. I found biologos when trying to reconcile the Bible with what I knew about the natural world and came here to ask if I was missing something. I hope that’s OK.

I’d really appreciate any help anyone could give me.

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You raise difficult questions and I don’t have easy answers.

One common theological take on Jewish law is called redemptive-movement or trajectory hermeneutics. The idea is that if you compare the morality required by the Torah to the ideas of what was fine and acceptable in the surrounding cultures of the time, it becomes clear that the Torah was pushing God’s chosen people to a better place than they were at, but one that still falls short of God’s justice and righteousness. God’s standards of justice and righteousness were revealed in Christ, but even then it took two thousand years of the Church on a redemptive trajectory to get where we are morally as far as applying God’s ideal to things like racism and sexism. And we still have so far to go before God’s Kingdom is fully realized.

I have found Kenton Sparks Sacred Word, Broken Word helpful on this topic. Pete Enns did a blog series on it summarizing some of the important stuff: https://peteenns.com/the-bible-is-broken-and-fragile-deal-with-it/

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Greetings @Michael556, and welcome!

I think many of us resonate with your experience–both with questioning and discomfort. I agree with Christy and you, however, that it is just not moral. Randal Rauser and, as Christy said, Pete Enns and Kenton Sparks are great helps with this. I feel the same about Numbers 31 and other violence passages as I do about your quoted ones above. Greg Boyd wrote a book called “Cross Vision,” in which he reports he tried to sit down as a pastor and write a book explaining all the violent passage of the OT. He realized that he really could not justify them, and that he had to look at the Bible backwards. If Christ said He was the new and better revelation, then the old one wasn’t correct. Maybe people just viewed God through their cultural blinders and interpreted Him incorrectly–as Christy said, better than some surrounding folks, but certainly not in the right way. In a way, that helps, though I still feel uncomfortable; I wish I could say that every word in the Bible was good. (however, no one ever said that the truth is easy–that’s something I keep bumping my head against).
George Macdonald wrote in the 19th century in a very similar vein In fact, it was his writings that led C S Lewis to the Lord. A quote of his I relish is this

If it be said by any that God does a thing which seems to me unjust, then either I do not know what the thing is, or God does not do it…Least of all must we accept some low notion of justice in a man, and argue that God is just in doing after that notion.<

If we reject false or immoral things from the OT in order to be more concordant with Jesus, then we are more faithful to God’s better revelation, not less.

Thanks.

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I think Jesus said one can follow the law merely by showing love to God and your neighbour. All the law and the Prophets is summed up in these commandments.

Also, Ezekiel 20:25 would suggest that many of these laws were never meant to be followed in the first place, but were intended to make the Israelites ‘fear’ God.

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A lot of it is definitely harsh. A lot of it was really backwards. These things helped me understand this just better.

  1. God is love. He’s is also wrath, he also jealous, and he is also about justice. Sometimes it seems one or the other things are the stronger attribute at the moment. Such as how can a all loving a God send people to hell for all of eternity because of this or that sin. Well it goes back to how he expects us to live. He does expect us to be perfect. But we fail. Luckily he’s also a god of grace and mercy and sent his son. Because we all fall short. There is a reason why the Bible mentions these two things among all the lovey dovey ones.

Wisdom starts with fear of the lord.
Work our your own salvation with fear and trembling.

God loves us. He will also destroy us. We confuse love with unending grace and mercy on Gods part without any desire to pursue the fruit of the spirit.

Imagine if a woman said she loves her husband. Would be be unloving of her if she left him and called the cops on him because he was beating her bloody? No. She could love him, and call the cops on him and she could love him, and still choose to leave him because he never repents or evil. God is the same. As long as we are pursuing him he will not let us go. If you don’t pursue him, and you decide to serve a new master, it’s you who left.

  1. I look at the culture of the day. Was that cukture the same as ours? No. Not at all. It was still a very violent culture. People always confuse God with handing out laws to make the world perfect. He already gave them over 600 laws and they could not keep that. Why did he not send Jesus 6k years ago and start the gospel of love then. Why wait? We don’t know. But it does show that God worked with the culture. Look at the cultures around them. The Jewish people may seem like barbarians to us now days but to them the other Mesopotamian pagans seemed like the barbarians. The environment you grow up in does affect how hard your heart is and how fast something escalates.

Some couples cuss at each other. Some
Couples the woman shoves the man. I don’t cuss at my fiancée and we don’t hit or shove one another. When I see a husband call his wife a “B” and a “C” to me that’s super extreme. To some, that is nothing. The Israelites seemed to have a much healthier, loving, and safer culture than those around them. Does not change how it seems to modern Americans in a first world country where the wrong pronoun can be seemed offensive and you can’t whip your kid in a store. Back then it was obviously another story.

Why would a loving God put a standard they could not reach? He already seemed to.

I believe that God inspired the words the people chose. I also think a lot of it is just simply recording what it was.

  1. We soften see these extreme laws placed but never read of it being enforced anywhere. Often, we will read what a law is, and then read how that law was carried out and it’s often way less severe.

I forget the verses atm, but will try to find them later, but there is a story where the punishment was like 100 lashings. That was what the law mentioned. Then right afterwards it reads of a man who was punished for it and got a fraction of the lashings. Often it seems that the punishment was not handed out as heavy as it was worded.

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What we need to understand is that many of the Hebrews already had this type of mindset of law and justice and patriarchy when they lived in Egypt and most of the laws aren’t unique to Israel as many other ancient Near Eastern nations had some laws of the same nature. God had to work with the people where they were at and had a redemptive-progressive mission to push the Jews to a better way of living. We read from the prophets that God cares less about sacrifices or rituals, only that they love the Lord their God and do mercy, justice, help the poor and weak and walk humbly with their God. God had to work with the people in the mindset they were in. When Jesus Christ came we saw the full revelation of who God is and that Love is the fulfillment of the Law. However as many here have said, it has taken the Church too long to notice this reality to its fullest.

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What Christy said, Michael, except it is simple. As we yearned up in our savage Bronze Age ignorance, God yearned down. We haven’t come very far at all in three thousand years, even with Jesus’ leg-up two ago; as Dr. MLK quoted, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends toward [universal, social] justice.

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@Michael556, Welcome. I so not think we have talked.

I think that you are expecting too much from then Law. The Law might be from God, but the Law is not God. That is why it was so important that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, came to replace the Law as the basis of our morality.

Also the Law as we find in the Bible is just a guideline for how problems are resolved. The details cannot be specified within the limits of one small book.

Your first example is the problem of the husband who wants to get rid of his wife. The easiest way to do this would be to claim that she was not a virgin when they got married., but that would be a disaster for the wife. What this law doe is give the wife and her family a recourse id the husband makes this claim falsely.

That is good I would say. On the other hand there is a problem as to how to prove this and what to do if the husband lied. Again the Law does not solve our problems. It gives us guidelines to find the truth, but humans need to solve human problems.

Concerning child abuse. There is no way there could be child welfare agencies in ancient Israel and of course with all our agencies and courts we have not stopped child abuse. Some people have claimed that child abuse is proof that God does not exist.

God’s Law cannot solve our problems. God does not solve our problems. We humans using the gifts God has given us must work to solve our own problems. .

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One was to begin to reconcile the Old Testament teachings with the New Testament teachings is to recognize the times were very different.

The OT laws sometimes seem very harsh, but they may have been much kinder than the practices at the times they were implemented.

For example, “an eye for an eye” is not a harsh law to implement in a society practicing “a death for an eye.”

It took time to prepare the world for the truth of Jesus.

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First of all, I really appreciate everyone’s replies.

That said, I think I should maybe clarify a few things:

1). My issue isn’t just that the laws were harsh. Its that some of them seem like they would make it too easy to punish people who hadn’t even committed the offense in question.

2). I was specifically referring to sexual abuse of children. Not just child abuse in general. It really bothers me that AFAIK the bible never outright says not to molest children and doesn’t mention pedophilia in any of its legal codes.

“How can God be real if his book doesn’t even say not to molest kids!?” Is a question I’ve been struggling with for weeks now.

Perhaps your last paragraph has an assumption that is part of the concern.

Should we really call the Bible “his book?”

Or should we recognize that it is a book written by imperfect people?

The “realness” of God in not eliminated by the fact that He did not control and perfect the Bible.

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While the language is not so explicit, I think Jesus was pretty clear about what should happen to those who mess with children with the millstones and such. The OT is problematic in that cultural norms were different, and while it placed a high value on physical purity, the disparity in how it handled women and men is of concern to our modern standards. Also, to marry at a young age was normal then, but would be considered child abuse now.

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Er, He wasn’t talking about literal children Phil.

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True in some regard, but it applies to literal children as well.

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How Phil? And in the Torah children had no legal rights at all. Even less than women.

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Phil is just saying it was culturally acceptable to sell/give girls into marriage at a young age, when they would still be considered children in our culture. Is that child abuse or pedophilia? I don’t think it is the same thing but it’s still not ideal.

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It was culturally acceptable to stone your own children, butcher enemy babies, enslave, execute Sabbath breakers, man on man homosexuals (but not lesbians; it was a polygynous society after all…), witches and mute rape victims.

None of which has anything to do with God as revealed in Christ.

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What? Citation please. Thanks

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For what Randy?

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Okay, Sorry. I’m at work, and was confused. Now I got it. Apparently, Jesus shifted from his focus on children to the little ones come up for the marginalized. I like that. Thanks.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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