Higher Criticism, Pete Enns, and Biblical Authority

Yeah, Paul picked up His riff.

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You keep mentioning God commanding rape in the Old Testament, and I’m not completely sure what you’re referring to. Are you talking about the OT law that says a woman has to marry her rapist (/possibly seducer)? Or the warfare command that after the Israelite kills the fighting men of a region, they can the surviving women for themselves as wives? Maybe there’s some other rape command I’m not recalling atm. Also I’m not as bothered by the “dashing infants” thing in the Psalms as I am by the Canaanite conquest stuff, since that verse was clearly the personal feelings of a fallen man (David) and not a command from God.

Yeah, I’d probably say the same thing to my friend if he used that argument. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense from an inerrancy perspective.

I’m guessing you don’t believe in the substitutionary atonement model, correct? Because a key piece of that model is the idea that any sin, even a relatively minor one, is infinitely bad when compared to the standard of a perfect, Holy God.

There are certainly many homophobes in the church who believe in inerrancy in order to justify their hatred, but there are also many people for whom it went “the other way around.” Because they came to believe in inerrancy, they came to believe that God see same-sex intimate relationships as sin – but it’s obvious from their lives, their words, their actions, and the way they treat people that there is no personal hatred or animosity or suspicion in their hearts. I’m thinking of people like Preston Sprinkle and Wesley Hill.

“Based on the Cross I tend to think [that God doesn’t see same-sex intimate relationships as sin].” You’ll have to connect the dots for me. I don’t see what Jesus sacrificing his life to deliver people from sin has to do with whether same-sex intimate relationships are moral or not.

To your first point, fair enough. To your second point, quite a bit, for those who actually believe in inerrancy, although there is a lot of natural divergence due to passages that are hard to understand or Biblical themes that seem to be contradicted in different parts. There’s unity in the essentials.

I agree with you that committed, consensual, monogamous same-sex intimate relationships don’t seem to be directly harmful or hurtful to outsiders. So these relationships would generally be considered “moral” from a Utilitarian perspective. But the problem is that I’m not convinced that God is Utilitarian. Maybe Divine Command Theory is the correct way to view morality, or Natural Law theory. If that’s the case, then same-sex intimate relationships would be sinful simply on virtue of “going against the natural order established by God,” as Paul seems to imply in Romans.

Also, even if Utilitarianism is correct, perhaps there are serious negative consequences to same-sex intimate relationships that have gone unnoticed by people so far. Obviously God, as God, has a much better understanding of which behaviors are healthy and which relationships are hurtful than we do.

So discovering what is moral unfortunately isn’t as simple as using common sense and seeing what seems hurtful and what seems healthy. Especially when you consider how culturally relative that approach is.

Fair enough. But there are 6-9 passages that touch on it, which is enough to take seriously if it’s true that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. I’d have to take it seriously and really wrestle with it if I were the one experiencing same-sex attraction; especially since there are no positive affirmations of gay relationships in Scripture to “cloud the issue.”

Fair enough. I haven’t studied enough of the arguments against a literal Exodus to know how strong your argument is, but I know some apologists of inerrancy believe the numbers in the Old Testament are mistranslated or possibly even exaggerated and that the Exodus actually involved a much smaller group of people than traditionally believed, which explains the scant archaeological evidence.

I can’t remember if you said you believed in a literal, physical resurrection. But if you do, there are plenty of wondrous dying-and-rising god stories the world over, too. Why not say that the gospel writers invented the story of the Resurrection in order to make some theological point in some mythological genre?
(Also, what does it mean for Jesus to really be the new Moses if there was no historical “old Moses”?)

There are interesting arguments to support your perspective. But why do you think God would allow the Church to put words into Jesus’ mouth in that way? Jesus was the climax of human history in a lot of ways, the most important person and life and event the world has ever experienced. Wouldn’t God want to make sure Jesus’ life was adequately recorded and remembered?

Again, I appreciate the discussion :slight_smile:

If it’s just the Old Testament that’s told from a human perspective, then I have a bit less of an issue. But Enns takes it further to say that even in the New Testament, there are contradictions and debates between authors and culturally polluted passages.

It’s definitely an interesting theory, though, and it makes more sense of a lot of the “weirdness” of the Bible. And I definitely believe that the ancient Israelites didn’t receive a full revelation of God, only a partial revelation that was made more perfect in the revelation of Jesus. That’s compatible with inerrancy, as long as it doesn’t include saying that the Old Testament passages actually “got God wrong” in some way.

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Well, if the Bible is inspired by God in the manner conservatives say, then it is just as much “God’s psalm” as David’s. Isaiah 13 for the rape. Its not my contention that the Old Testament speaks favorable of rape or programmatically suggests it. I mean, women being treated like property and sold by their fathers to whoever he chooses certainty comes close as with the Moses line about taking the unmarried virgins for yourselves, but clearly as a judgment against Babylon God says he will have their wombs cut open, their infants killed and their women ravished. Sounds like a fun guy.

Morality is simpler than most make it in my eyes, If it doesn’t hurt anyone and you aren’t just a self seeking hedonist and are grounded in God, have at it. I have no need for any other primitive morality. There are plenty of odd moral rules in the Bible no one follows, or get conveniently dismissed as “the Old Dispensation.” I can defend slavery and misogyny from the Bible too. It is not difficult. Hell, we can tie misogyny into the very created order. I have no interest in letting anyone from 2,000 years ago that wasn’t God incarnate dictate sexuality to me or convince me that two consensual adults that love one another and are treating one another properly are doing something wrong. I don’t even know if Paul would have condemned this process if he were alive today. Is it all things gay, lock stock and barrel? Or pederasty, male prostitution, cultic orgies, etc., that Paul was opposed to? Paul lives in a very much different time and worldview.

Also, of your 6-9 verses. I am aware of 7ish, the majority of which are in the Old Testament. I would immediately dismiss ANY attempt at arguing for modern morality by proof-text hunting an OT passage. I could quote 50 more no one follows today. And some scholars do try to interpret the verses differently: “The author believes that these do not refer to homosexual relationships between two free, adult, and loving individuals. They describe rape or attempted rape (Genesis 9:20–27, 19:1–11), cultic prostitution (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), male prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10), and the Isis cult in Rome (Romans 1:26–27).” I mean are you really going to use the story of Lot where he so easily offers his two daughters up to be raped over the two men? I mean, that is just insane to me. That story is so far removed from anything I know about the world its absurd to me. And I see little evidence Paul ever speaks on direct, monogamous, loving homosexual relationships. He very well may have, but the context of most of these passages is not completely clear. I am personally not much interested in any of that. All my morality comes from the Love of Jesus on the Cross and how he summed up the Old Testament. I can’t see a good reason why homosexuality is wrong in and of itself.

To them Moses was real and the story does tell a timeless truth about bondage and liberation–oppression and freedom. Jews were under Roman occupation at the time so this story would have been especially poignant and they ultimately did trace the Law to Moses. There are many problems with the Exodus but I can’t say its impossible God didn’t give the law to a guy named Moses 3500 years ago. That is beside the point to me. The foundational narrative was powerful. Their way of life came from Moses on Sinai. Matthew is elevating Jesus way above this. He is casting Jesus in some of the strongest possible cultural terms he could at the time for Jewish Christians. Also, a parable can be as moving as any historical story. We underestimate the value of fiction. Though I do not think anyone really doubted the historicity of Moses in Jesus’ day.

We still put words into Jesus’ mouth today, claiming he meant things he never did. Also, I never said his life was not adequately recorded, just that he didn’t say or possibly do everything attributed to him in the gospels. I absolutely believe we are left a reliable record of the incarnation that the Holy Spirit can use to move believers to repentance and mediate the Sacred. If I didn’t, I would just drop inspiration altogether. What would be the point if overall, the NT gets Jesus more wrong than right?


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Because of the sleight of hand I see evident in the way you are using it. Some of the general ideas in it are correct but I certainly don’t think they exclusively support your understanding of inspiration. You’ve also repeated 3-4 times in various threads here by my count, most of the time where it seemed vague in context if not completely off-topic to me.

That would be an accusation of deception. Maybe you are not perceiving the reality.

No deception intended for you. From my perspective you appear to be using it with the assumption that a certain perspective on the Bible is true. Otherwise it it so vague and applicable to multiple models of inspiration and belief, I am not 100% sure why you have been using it where you have on this forum.

And I concede it is quite possible I am not perceiving the reality here.

Like everything it depends on what you mean by authoritative and how triggering people find “authority.”

I work in an Evangelical context outside the US and have found that inerrancy is not nearly as talked about or as affirmed as in the US where it is often used as some sort of culture-war litmus test of whose team you are on and what parties you get invited to. Evangelical Christians in most other parts of the world just don’t care about inerrancy or talk about it in the same way or insist on it as a test of orthodoxy. (Read some Michael Bird commentary on this if you are interested. He has a good essay in the Zondervan Four Views on Biblical Inerrancy book.)

N.T. Wright has some great articles on where the authority of Scripture comes from if it’s not from its “accuracy.” There is even one published on the BioLogos website:

It goes that way for some people, but I doubt either of them would say that is true for them personally. I think both believe the Bible is God’s revelation and that God’s spirit uses it in a unique way to convict, sanctify, and build up God’s people. You can have a “high view of Scripture” and also think inerrancy is a human construct that has outlived its usefulness in church history.

You could look at the fruit of people’s encounters with the Bible in cultural contexts all over the world over the course of millennia.

Yes. And inspired. And one of the primary ways God has chosen to reveal himself so we can relate to him and participate in his mission.

Absolutely. And that the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to transform lives and bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

I think “correct” and “accurate” and “factual” are often the wrong adjectives to use on the Bible. It’s true. It’s useful. It’s wise. It’s transcendent. It’s translatable and contextualizable in any human context. People whose main question is about how correct the Bible is, are revealing a lot about their own presuppositions of what the Bible is for and what it does. I think the difference between people like a Pete Enns and a John MacArthur is not simply their evaluation of the Bible (wrt inerrancy) but their entire conception of what the Bible is and how we should approach understanding and applying it.

I also believe that the Bible is only going to teach you well what God is like if you are actively pursuing personal encounters with God. The Bible reveals God so you can know him, but you don’t really know God just from reading about him, you know God from loving and worshipping and obeying and trusting God. Your ability to see God revealed truly in the Bible is enabled and fed by your relationship with God as a person who interacts, responds, communicates, loves, forgives, and heals.

I think this is a good example of one of the main things the Enns crowd gets all twitchy about. Usually when people pull out their “the Bible is clear” authoritative declarations about what Christians are supposed to believe and do, what they are really elevating as inerrant and authoritative is their own interpretations.

Is it scary and unsettling to some people to go all post-modern and realize EVERYTHING is interpreted in the process of making meaning? That we can’t escape the perspective of our social location when we try to access truth? Yes, it certainly can be disruptive! But acknowledging that is the reality we have to work with is far more intellectually honest than insisting good Bible teachers can somehow step outside their limited human capacities and finite human experiences and understand the Bible’s ultimate meaning on some kind of absolute level and perfectly apply that to a new context. I don’t think your sexual ethics are necessarily an indication of how authoritative you believe the Bible is. Two people who both have a “high view” of Scripture and its authority can come to contradictory conclusions as they interpret passages and apply those interpretations to modern contexts. It’s an unfortunate silencing technique used by the more conservative end of Christianity to accuse everyone with a different idea of what the Bible “clearly teaches” of rejecting the Bible’s authority and treating it like just another book of ancient manuscripts. What we should be doing is the hard work of evaluating the arguments people are making and the evidence they find compelling. We should be asking what doctrines they are committed to upholding and using as a lens to interpret meaning and which doctrines they are more willing to reframe in light of other emerging understandings or prophetic correctives to the trajectory the church has taken or the traditions it has fallen into.

Agreed. Internalizing the truth bears good fruit in our lives. If what we think we are hearing from God about what the Bible means leads us to act in kindness, gentleness, self-control, if it shapes us so we more closely imitate Christ and more clearly reveal his character and mission to the world, if it motivates us to serve and give and sacrifice, if it sounds like Good News to a hurting, desperate world and brings comfort and healing to the places we are broken, fearful, ashamed, and powerless— that’s God’s word.

I think sometimes we tell the people we don’t see eye to eye with on an interpretation to go in grace and serve the Lord and we try to do the same. We aren’t going to stand before Jesus and be given a theological quiz so we can get an A if we studied hard. We are going to receive the reward we are due for what we’ve done, whether it’s good or bad. So I personally am more concerned that the fruit of my life be good than that the result of my debates be that I’m right. I know that interpretations have consequences and I do believe that some are objectively better than others, but I think Christians get far too hung up on being right. You can love God and love people really well and be wrong about a lot of stuff. Good thing God’s grace is sufficient in our weakness and good thing that when it comes to Christians working together for the coming kingdom, our love covers over a multitude of sins. (Or at least so says the author of 1 Peter, which I accept as the inspired word of God, even if the epistle was pseudonymous :crazy_face:)


The lines are a little blurry. Inerrantists would say, for example, that the words of Jobs’ friends in the Book of Job aren’t the words of God. Similarly, the words of David in the Psalms may also not be the words of God even under an inerrancy model. I suspect that different conservatives may have different opinions on that one.

Ah, I see what you’re referring to. Thanks for the clarification. I agree that this is another one of those passages that seems to present God as tribal and vindictive rather than compassionate and just. No conservative would affirm that it is just to stone infants and rape wives because of the sins of a nation in any normal context, but they have to say that God sees it as a legitimate means of judgment based on this passage.

Still, it’s not a command for Israel to rape the wives of another nation, just a general description of what will happen to Babylon as a result of their sins. The distinction is important.

Yeah, I don’t think any of the Old Testament passages have much bearing on the issue today. The story of Sodom obviously involved a gang rape, which practically everyone today universally understands to be wrong. OT prohibitions against men lying with men can be easily waved away as part of the old dispensation. It’s the NT passages that are more troubling. Romans, 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, etc.

Is it possible that these passages refer to specific practices such as pederasty, temple prostitution, and master-slave domination? Sure. But there were also numerous examples in the ancient world of what we would think of as mutual, consensual, loving same-sex relationships. For example, most lesbian relationships in the Greek world were of this character. Many well-known Greek myths presented these kinds of relationships. That’s why I think Paul was condemning same-sex intimacy in general, not just a few specific types of same-sex intimacy.
Now whether or not Paul’s condemnation should be taken as the authoritative word of God is the larger question I started with.
(P.S. – What was the Isis cult? I haven’t heard that explanation before).

Yes, but we shouldn’t do that. Jesus came with a message, and as the Son of God, his message is worth listening to. If the gospel writers distorted Jesus’ message to present Him as saying something He didn’t really say, that would be lying.

I see. I still think there are some major issues with your view, but thanks for clarifying!
As a hypothetical, let’s say there’s a specific saying of Jesus that historical criticism has determined to be an invention of the early church putting words into Jesus’ mouth. Suppose that these words are a command that applies to believers today. If we know that these words don’t really go back to the historical Jesus, should they still be followed?

Hey Christy, thanks for your thoughts! I agree with most of what you said, there’s just a couple points you made I’d like clarification on:

I agree that there’s a lot of examples of interpretations where conservative evangelicals tend to make too big of a deal out of little things. But there are a few specific cases where having the right interpretation really matters. I think the question of sexual ethic and the place of LGBTQ+ individuals in the church is one of those issues. If the conservatives are right, we’d be “causing people to stumble” and possibly contributing to somebody’s damnation if we adopt an affirming view. If the progressives are right, we’d be hurting people’s mental health and sense of self-worth and dignity by adopting a non-affirming view, possibly contributing to somebody’s suicide or self-harming behavior. I really want to know which of those perspectives God wants his church to take (or if it’s somewhere in between), and I wish Scripture was more clear on the right path forward. If Scripture isn’t actually infallible and inerrant and all that, it just makes figuring out the right path forward even more complicated.

My philosophical/theological question: I can imagine a conservative accuse you of “elevating your personal experience over the Word of God,” of using the former as a way to judge and interpret the latter rather than the other way around, as it should be. Couldn’t one person’s idea of brokenness and healing be different than the next person’s idea of brokenness and healing? Two people can even have different ideas of what Christ’s character and mission was. For example, did he come to save people from Hell, to show a new way of life, or to challenge the world’s ideas of power and privilege? Which isn’t to say that every different idea is equally correct, just to say that it seems shaky to use those categories as a way to properly interpret what God is saying.

My pastoral question: Do you have any tips on what it looks like to better pursue a relationship with God?

When people read the Old Testament they get the impression that God is a God of wrath and judgment, but in the New Testament they find a God of love. Why is there this difference in Scripture?

This question has bothered Christians for a number of years. In the period of the church fathers Marcion pointed out this problem and suggested that the Creator God of the Old Testament was an inferior being to the God and Father of Jesus.

He then set about to remove from the New Testament any influences from this “Jewish” Creator God (for example, in Gospels like Matthew), for the Creator was evil. He ended up with a shortened version of Luke as the only Gospel we should use. The church’s response was to reject Marcion’s teaching as heresy, to list all of the books it accepted as part of the canon and to assert that all of these were inspired by the one and same God. Still, Marcion’s question remains with us.

The reality is that there is no difference between the images of God presented in the Old and New Testaments. John points this truth out when he states that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (Jn 1:18).

What John is pointing out is that what one sees in Jesus is precisely the character of the Father, the God of the Old Testament. There is no difference among them in character; to meet one of them is to meet them both. Thus Jesus is no more loving than his Father.

The Father is no more judging than Jesus. All New Testament writers see a similar continuity between the Old Testament God and the God they experience through Jesus.

There are three points that we can make to expand on this statement:

(1) there is love in the Old Testament;
(2) there is judgment in the New Testament; and
(3) the main difference is a difference between judgment within history and judgment at the end of history.

First, there is love in the Old Testament. God does not present himself first and foremost as a God of judgment, but as a God of love. For example, look at Exodus 34:6–7:

  • And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

This is God’s fundamental presentation of himself to Moses. This is who he is. Notice how he first states his compassion, grace, love, faithfulness and forgiveness. He then notes that this is not to be taken advantage of, for those who do not respond to his love will not escape. He is loving, but he is not an indulgent parent. He will bring justice.

Throughout the Old Testament God continually tells people that he chose Israel out of love, not because they were particularly deserving. When Israel rebels, he reaches out through prophets. When they continue to rebel he threatens (and then sends) judgment, but in the middle of it we find verses like Hosea 11:8, “How can I give you up?” God is anguished over the situation.

On the one hand, justice demands that he act in judgment. So Seeker kid, lets talk about justice.

On the other hand, his loving heart is broken over his people, and he cannot bear to see them hurting and destroyed. As he portrays in Hosea, he is the husband of an adulterous wife. What he wants to do is to gather her into his arms, but he cannot ignore her behavior. His plan is not ultimate judgment but a judgment that will turn her heart back to him so he can restore his “family.”

This is not God’s attitude toward Israel only. In Jonah 4:2 we read:

He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Jonah is unhappy about God’s grace toward Nineveh. He was apparently quite happy about announcing that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed, but when they repent and God forgives them, he is upset. This is not a new revelation to him, for he says, “Is this not what I said?”

He seems to have hoped that if he did not deliver the warning, the people of Nineveh would not repent and would be destroyed. But God made him deliver the warning so that they would repent and he could forgive them.

Jonah’s complaint is, “You are too nice, too loving, too forgiving.” That is the way God is portrayed with respect to a violent pagan nation, Assyria.

Jonah and Hosea are also clues to reading all of the judgment passages in the Old Testament. God is not in the judgment business but in the forgiveness business. Yet he cannot forgive those who will not repent. So he sends prophets to warn people about the judgment that will inevitably come, his hope being that the people will repent and he will not have to send the judgment. When his prophets are killed and rejected, he often sends more of them. It can take decades or even hundreds of years before he comes to the point when he knows that if justice is to mean anything at all, he must send judgment, even though he does not enjoy doing so. And even then he often sends with the judgment a promise of restoration. Every good parent knows that they must eventually punish an erring child, but no such parent enjoys doing it.

Second, there is judgment in the New Testament. A word count on judge or judgment in the New Testament in the NIV comes up with 108 verses. Even more significant is the fact that Jesus is the one who warns most about judgment. He is the one who said,

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Mt 5:29–30)

He is the one who spoke the warnings in Matthew 7:13–29 and 24:45–25:46. Indeed, Jesus talks about judgment more than anyone else in the New Testament, especially when we realize that Revelation is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (that is, a message from Jesus).

There are several types of judgment in the New Testament.

  1. There is self-judgment (Jn 9:39; 12:47–49),
  2. The judgment of God (Jn 8:50),
  3. Judgments on individuals (Acts 12:23) and
  4. Final judgment (Jn 5:22, 27).

There are simple statements that people doing certain things will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10; Gal 5:19–21) and elaborate pictures of judgment scenes (Rev 20:11–15). The point is that all of these involve judgment and many of them involve Jesus. He is indeed just like his Father.

The New Testament preaches grace and love, but grace and love can be rejected. The New Testament also preaches final judgment. Everyone, according to the New Testament, is worthy of final judgment, but God is now offering grace to those who repent. Yet if people refuse this grace, there is one fearful fate awaiting them.
Thus it becomes apparent how like the Old Testament the New Testament is. In the Old Testament God sent the prophets with solemn warnings of judgment and also revelations of the heart of God, who was even then ready to receive repentant people. In the New Testament God sends apostles and prophets preaching the gospel, calling people to repentance in the light of the coming judgment of God. In this respect the two Testaments are in complete unity.

Third, there is a difference between the Testaments in their portrayal of judgment. In the Old Testament judgment normally happens within history. When Israel sins, they are not told that they will go to hell when they are raised from the dead, but that they will be punished by the Midianites or the Assyrians. Therefore there are many judgments in the Old Testament.

In Judges the Canaanites, Moabites, Midianites, Ammonites and Philistines are all used to punish Israel. Later on it is the Arameans, Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

In other words, Israel “graduates” from being judged by the use of relatively local groups of people to being judged by the use of great empires. Yet in each case the judgment happens within history.
It does not happen at the end of time but is already written about in our history books. Even with respect to Daniel most of what he predicts takes place in recorded history in the story of the conflicts of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties between 300 and 164 B.C.

Because of this difference from the New Testament, Old Testament judgment generally does not talk about eschatological scenes like lakes of fire and the dissolving of the heavens and the earth or the falling of stars or eternal chains.

Instead it gives vivid pictures of fearful events that the people living then knew all too well, such as famine, plague, marauding armies and the like. It is unpleasant for us to read the prophets spelling out the details of such events, but they were the realities of life then (and for much of the world, also today). Furthermore, God is spelling them out so that people can repent and avoid them, not because he enjoys them.

Related to these descriptions is the fact that in the Old Testament the idea of an afterlife was only partially revealed and even that revelation comes toward the end of the Old Testament period. Most of the time the people thought of death as going down to the shadow world of Sheol where there was no praise of God and at best only a semilife.

What they hoped for was to die at a ripe old age with a good name, having seen their children and grandchildren, who would carry on their name. Therefore the judgments in the Old Testament are those which speak to such hopes: warning of whole families being wiped out or of people dying when they are still young.

By the New Testament period God has revealed a lot more about the future life. Therefore the judgments spoken of there are the judgments related to the end of history and the resurrection of the dead: eternal life or being thrown into hell, seeing all that one worked for being burned up or receiving a crown of life. All of these take place beyond history, when Christ returns, and thus when history as we have known it has come to an end.

So, does the Old Testament reveal a God of judgment and the New Testament a God of love?

Emphatically no. Both of the Testaments reveal a God of love who is also a God of justice. God offers men and women his love and forgiveness, urging us to repent and escape the terrible and eternal judgments of the end of history.


Hi Paul, thanks for your thorough reply! Issues like these are some of the main reasons why I’m not fully convinced of the unity of Scripture, so I’d love to press a bit deeper into this subject.

I fully agree with you that there are passages in the Old Testament that describe God as compassionate, forgiving, and merciful, just as there are New Testament passages that describe God as wrathful. And in these passages there is often an easy resolution – God is perfectly just, but in his perfect love he also offers mercy and grace to those who acknowledge their sin and turn from their evil ways.

However – there are many passages in the Old Testament (and probably in the New too) that I think clearly contradict other passages in terms of morality. The most obvious ones for me can be found in the Pentateuch and Joshua.

For example, Deut. 24:16 says that “Children shall not be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” This concept is reaffirmed as the heart of God in Jer. 31:30, Eze 18, etc.

But there are many stories found elsewhere in Scripture that depict God punishing children for the sins of the parents. For example, there’s the story of the sin of Achan in Joshua 7 that depicts God commanding Israel to stone Achan, his sons and daughters, his animals, and all his possessions as punishment for him taking some of the devoted things.

There are also stories that depict God commanding Israel to do some really horrible things. Such as during the attack on Midian in Numbers 31. First they kill every male, then they take captive as plunder “the women and their little ones, the cattle, the flocks, and all their goods.”
Then, when they return to the camp, Moses instructs them (presumably on the command of God) to kill every little boy and every non-virign woman among the captives, only leaving the young virgin women alive. Then, ironically, he tells them to go purify themselves from their killing for seven days – as if some ritual could take away the evil of what he’d just commanded them to do.

These are just a few of the reasons why I’m open to the idea that the Bible doesn’t present one unified picture of God. Instead, every author depicts God in a different way, from their own cultural worldviews and limited perspectives. And some of them “get God right” better than others.

For example, you said:

That picture of God, as forgiving and pursuing and hoping for repentance, is definitely found in certain Old Testament books and passages, such as Hosea and Jonah. In fact, Jonah is probably my favorite book of the Old Testament since it lines up so perfectly with the character of God as revealed in Jesus. It depicts God as loving the outsiders, of caring for people outside the borders of Israel, of wishing repentance and salvation even on the most evil nations.

But the author of Joshua does not depict God this way. He does not talk about God sending prophets, about wishing Canaan would relent, about sending many prophets and trying to change Canaanite culture from the inside out. It never describes God as wishing He didn’t have to send judgment on Canaan, or wishing they would change. There’s no promise of restoration. You can find those kinds of things in Hosea and Jonah and in the New Testament, but not in the stories of the Canaanite conquest. At least not that I can recall.

In fact, Israel was commanded not to offer Canaan any terms of peace, not to let them surrender, not to give them the opportunity to repent and change. Just take a look at Deut. 20.

Deuteronomy 20:10-18
10“When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. 15Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 16But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17but you shall devote them to complete destruction,a the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, 18that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.

Maybe there’s something important I’m missing. But that seems like a radically different, radically contradictory understanding of God when compared to the picture of God as hinted at in Joshua, Hosea, and other parts throughout the Old Testament, and finally as revealed in Jesus.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of that, and I’d also be interested to know why you believe the entire Bible presents God accurately.

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I totally agree it matters. I think we have an unfortunate tendency to conflate “this is a secondary issue” with “this doesn’t matter.” But there are a lot of important issues that just aren’t central to the core of Christian faith and practice, and sometimes I think the effort we expend debating them to death with the people who agree with us on the primary issues ends up detracting from the mission in the world that we are called to unify around. I think the church has its work cut out for it hashing out the place of LGTBQ individuals and a biblical sexual ethic for the modern world. I expect Christians are going to come down in different places for quite some time and we need to give each other space to seek God and maybe hear things differently. It definitely matters. The way Evangelicals are failing to steward creation well, the way they are failing to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation, the way they are refusing to welcome refugees and immigrants and stand up against injustice being done to the poor and marginalized, all that matters too. I can argue with other Christians about whether it’s all justified and who it matters to protect more, and what Christian values and doctrines should take priority over other, and it will come down to different interpretations and different convictions about what is really important to God.

I think at this point in my life I’d rather just focus on doing my own part to follow through on the convictions God has given me than to try to convince other Christians they should have the same ones. I’ve been given a lot and I think a lot is required of me and I don’t think I’m accountable for how other people apply Scripture, I’m accountable for my own obedience in light of the understanding God has given me and the purity of my own motivations. I think the Bible shows that God convicts people of different things and some morality really is relative to some degree, because often pleasing God is less about the specific choices we make and more about the orientation of our heart when we make them.

Slight tangent: Do you really think most Evangelicals count failure to follow their idea of biblical sexual ethics a damnable offense? I don’t. Most are quite willing to grant that divorced and remarried people or porn users aren’t going to hell for adultery. (Remarrying after divorce and looking at a woman lustfully being equated with adultery by Jesus himself…) That’s commandment breaking up there with murder and idolatry. But I think Evangelicals would say we aren’t saved by our own righteousness. They have a lot of grace for materialists, gluttons, liars, slanderers, gossipers, and other kinds of persistent sinners, even ones that involve self-harm, but they get extra judgey over sex stuff. Unless it’s hetero-male sex stuff, which is just “every man’s battle.” :wink:

Seems like you are conflating inerrancy and authority here. We’ve established that many Christians who do not accept inerrancy believe in the authority of the Bible. If the Bible is not authoritative, you don’t need a defensible interpretation at all, you can just do what makes sense to you.

Yes, no one’s ideas are identical. My response to the accusation of elevating experience over the word of God would be that there are multiple ways of knowing and that experience is a valid way of ascertaining knowledge. I don’t believe you can objectively reason and calculate your way to a relationship with God. Our right beliefs and right practices as Christians are grounded in the love and grace we have experienced. So there is no way around our experience when it comes to our knowledge of God and his truth and our ideas about how to put it into practice. Experience has to be part of the equation. Plus there is no such thing as a purely objective way of getting meaning out of the biblical text. Pitting personal experience against “what the Bible says” is an abstraction that doesn’t pan out. All of our interpretations of the word of God are subjective and our experience is inextricably tied to how we understand. All of our linguistic competence and all our concepts of reality that we label with language are shaped by our “personal experience.” So if a person thinks that their personal understanding of what the Bible communicates represents some kind of pure objective knowledge untainted by their experience and understanding of language, I would smile and nod and think they were incredibly naive and deluded. (Postmodern philosophy was born out of linguistics, by the way. :nerd_face:)

As Christians I don’t think this means we throw up our hands and declare that knowing truth is a hopeless endeavor. The reason it isn’t hopeless is we believe truth has an ultimate source, and that source is a knowable person who communicates with us. We don’t have to be able to perfectly or exhaustively know what is true, we have to sufficiently know what is true. Micah 6:8 says that we have been shown what is required of us - to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. James 1:27 says the religion God accepts is not a perfectly ordered systematic theology and all the correct boxes checked in our moral decision making. It’s taking care of the widows and orphans and staying uncorrupted by the power systems of the world. It seems to me that getting things right in our ethics, in our sexual wholeness, in our ability to imagine or recognize what justice, mercy, and humility really look like in the complicated situations, all of that flows out of having our hearts oriented toward knowing God better through Christ and cooperating with the work that the Holy Sprit is doing in our lives to make us more Christ-like.

I find it challenging to trust God’s work in my life and in other believers’ lives. I am often incredibly disappointed in the way people in the church screw things up and hurt people. I wonder if I am getting things right. Clearly the fact that we aren’t all on the same page about things and lots of people are not doing a very good job getting sanctified is causing problems. I’m honest enough about my humanity to realize that I’m contributing to some of those problems because I’m getting stuff wrong. But the longer I know God, the more I understand that his grace is really inexhaustible.

I think different people are spiritually wired to encounter God in different ways and you need to find out the places God meets you and make sure you are seeking him there. For some people it’s in solitude, contemplating beauty in nature or art or music, for some people it’s in service work seeing Jesus in the most vulnerable and needy, for some people it’s in study and intellectual exercise, for some people it’s in meditative prayer and introspection and listening for God’s voice, for some people it’s in activism, defending what God loves. I have found in my own life that it helps to figure out what I tend to turn to for fulfillment or comfort when I’m feeling empty or unstable that is a substitute for God. For me it’s constant stimulation in new ideas, books I haven’t read that everyone is talking about, arguments about unimportant things with strangers on the internet. I can make an idol of my own ability to understand things and think that if I can just get enough information or hear enough perspectives on an issue, or think through enough arguments, then I will find peace and stability and wholeness. But it doesn’t ultimately satisfy. I meet God best in silence, when I try to shut down all the voices and thoughts and rabbit trails or second-guessing and what-ifs that my mind goes down, and I concentrate on who God is and what he says is true about me and true about his love for me. And when there are times in my life when I just can’t feel like I can connect with God and I wonder if it’s all just a game we’ve learned to play, it helps me to put myself in the places where people’s lives are being transformed by Jesus and their testimony can encourage me and their faith can sustain my own. God is always doing something in the world, sometimes we need to make the effort to show up where he is showing up in order to see him.


I understand the notion that the Bible does not endorse all it narrates. Some of the speeches in Acts could fit into this fuzzy boat but this is rather complicated… It’s been a while since I read many of the Psalms but aren’t they generally prayers of different types? If they aren’t inspired by God, why are they in the canon? God left us a host of Psalms that aren’t inspired or inerrant? He just made sure we were given inerrant copies of 150 errant psalms? I might extend that thinking to the entirety of the Bible. God wanted us to inerrantly know what Mark errantly thought about Jesus. This is a dubious practice that seems bizarre to me. Also, I am certainly not convinced all these Psalms even belong to David but this area is not one I have studied immensely. At any rate, I wholeheartedly reject your statement “that the lines are a little blurry here.” I have a different view on why this would be the case. Namely, because some people don’t like the implications of some of the Psalms as they appear to violate their doctrinal beliefs, they need to reinterpret how inerrancy applies to them. This is what the Chicago statement does, move goalposts to the point that what they are defending is meaningless. I am sorry but 150 Psalms are in the canon. If God chose the very words then these are as much his Psalm’s as whoever wrote them. If you want to argue for a softer form of inspiration, I am listening. if you want to suggest that the genre of the Psalms changes things, I am all ears.

Yes, as I noted, I never meant to imply God goes around telling people to rape women for fun. You are repeating what I said which does not change the harshness of the passage. What is interesting is your theological-fabric softener of a"general description." The text is quite clear and specific God will bring all these things about,

I have commanded those I prepared for battle;
I have summoned my warriors to carry out my wrath—
The Lord Almighty is mustering
an army for war.
the Lord and the weapons of his wrath—
to destroy the whole country.
I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people scarcer than pure gold,
more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the Lord Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.

I will do this. I. I. I. I. I. Looks very specific like countless other passages in the OT where God murders millions of people. . The admins don’t like the LGBT discussions so I will try to avoid responding to that directly. But in regards to that you said there were 6-9 passages teaching it so the Bible considered it important. We reduced that to three questionable passages, which may go in your direction. Though I wonder why, from my perspective, the Christian world doesn’t get nearly as upset as women speaking in church or every trying to have authority over a man in some capacity as they do the issue that shall not be discussed. Sure, its a “whataboutism” but many of us have so much disdain for hypocrisy its enough to dismiss their charge in and of itself. But anyways, what you call a “general description” is largely repeated over and over again all throughout the Old Testament. So much wrath, punishment, judgment, genocide and so on, we might as well go back to promoting a literal lake of burning sulfur and unbaptized infants going there. Fits God’s character well in so far as a lot of the Old Testament goes.

This is also not a general description of what will happen. This is a specific description of what did happen n=many times. And it was attributed to God and at times Israelites even partook in it. Numbers 31 is a particular interesting text. I hope they do a sermon on it in church this week.

Per the admins I will drop this. Only reiterate that my point was simply the evidence for it is not as certain as you argued nor is it as straightforward. I think that point was made. Your “proof-texts” have dropped to three. Either way that discussion is over for me.

Lying? Maybe to a modern reader engaged in anachronism. Could simply be misinterpreting or authoritatively extending what Jesus said by a prophet. John reframed a ton of synoptic-like material. If this is lying and its was inspired by God then God is a liar. There is no doubting that John reframed material. This is as factual as it gets in Historical Jesus studies. Be careful with your false dillemas.

Early Christians were also very much filled with he Spirit and charismatic. The transforming and risen Jesus could and did still speak to them through the Spirit. There was no necessary need to distinguish between something said by Jesus 29CE and and 38CE to Christian prophets. Those of us enamored with bibliolatry forget there was no NT at the time and Jesus was still speaking. I can only imagine if there is some truth to the book of Acts, the Spirit had to be in hyperdrive to inaugurate a new dispensation. God himself may have inspired specific communities to take the time conditioned words of Jesus given to Galilean Jews and extend them to the larger Roman world. You don’t get to tell God how and when he gets to speak to people. If God wanted to include a reframed Gospel in his canon then we would all be wise and blessed to be able to read it and get what we can out of it.

And even if it was lying, that doesn’t change the fact that that is what it is. That it is lying is not a valid historical arguments against Biblical criticism. Its factual that people do lie and mislead one another throughout history.

It depends on your model of inspiration as they are still in the canon (see my previous thoughts about God speaking to us in whatever method he chooses!). My view certainly has issues. I don’t deny them. But the alternatives have more. The many problems of Biblical criticism are factual to me. They completely and unequivocally rule out conservative stances on the inspiration of scripture. They are untenable and intellectually bankrupt. We need a model like those put forth by Enns and Sparks.


[quote=“Vinnie, post:39, topic:46429”]
John reframed a ton of synoptic-like material. If this is lying and its was inspired by God then God is a liar. There is no doubting that John reframed material. This is as factual as it gets in Historical Jesus studies. Be careful with your false dillemas.
[/quJohn reframed a ton of synoptic-like material. If this is lying and its was inspired by God then God is a liar. There is no doubting that John reframed material. This is as factual as it gets in Historical Jesus studies. Be careful with your false dillemas.ote]

I see accusations like these often. I have never seen evidence that establish their veracity. I have read purported justification for such attacks, but never a valid explanation.
I wish someone would try to make a thorough defense for using them to try to undermind and to condemn Christianity .

God doesn’t mess. He don’t play games. He is love and He exacts vengence. He has never shied away from being Who He is. God, by definition, cannot be unjust. To us, Hitler is getting what he deserves. Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, Heydrich, and the whole gang are burning and rightly so. Our standards say so.
God is perfectly holy, a concept we don’t appreciate or understand or like. Yet, He is holy and his standards of holiness are far greater than ours.


Assertions of what is true by definition aren’t really that impressive. For example, unicorns all have a horn protruding from their forehead. It’s true but you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone there actually are any unicorns to be found.

You kind of have to deal with what’s true by definition in junior high math, though. An F should be impressive enough to want to avoid and to want to know the truth. You really want to know the truth about judgement at the end of the semester of life, too. Your opinion that it’s just opinion won’t persuade the Teacher.

Yes, I think that’s my view. By and large, I don’t think God preserved the Psalms in Scripture for their theology, although they definitely do contain good theology in many places and contain typology of Jesus in others. I think the main purpose of the Psalms is to show how followers of God throughout history have related to Him, showing their praise, and their doubts, and their questions, and their anger, and their requests, and their reverence. They’re deeply emotional, deeply personal as well as communal, and deeply spiritual.

Let me play the conservative for a bit. Do you have any example of John reframing synoptic material that can’t be explained by evangelical harmonization techniques? I think the example that’s most convincing to me is the “I am” statements of Jesus, which aren’t found anywhere in the Synoptics, but that can be waved away with the explanation that “Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t bother including those (historical) statements of Jesus because they weren’t needed for their audience.”

Someone pointed out and it was an astute observation that higher criticism automatically, and up front, removes from consideration every miracle Jesus performed. Miracles are not a part of their critical examination. They don’t study the NT. What they call the NT is not the NT.

It is worth repeating this fact. Their best judgement leaves out a significant portion of the very Book they claim to evaluate with the utmost objectivity and attention to detail.

If this is true, what difference does it make?

“The all-loving, all-good, all-merciful and all-just God as revealed in Jesus (and even the Book of Jonah) would never command Israel to kill every man, woman, and child in Canaan as described in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.”

What else is this God besides being all-merciful, all-loving and all-good?

“An all-good God probably would not send anyone to eternal conscious torment in hell (although that’s more of a personal moral conviction than a higher criticism thing).”

Hell starts now. Living without Christ is hell here and now and forever.

“The Matthean birth narrative is probably an invention meant to present Jesus as a new Moses.”

Different figures can be said to be “types” of other figures. There is no reason to suspect that Matt’s account of the birth of God was contrived. That is silly. The apostles and the rest of the early gang sure had a hard time understanding what Christ stood for, what He was all about and what He came to achieve and they acknowledged it. It doesn’t follow that they made up stuff to sell the Lord to the masses.

Bear in mind that higher criticism automatically, and up front, removes from consideration every miracle Jesus performed. Miracles are not a part of their critical examination. They don’t study the NT. What they call the NT is not the NT.

It’s important not to conflate whatever your idea of higher criticism is with the discipline of textual criticism, which even Evangelical Bible scholars accept as valid and which deals with manuscripts and redactions and authorship and whatnot.


“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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