Daniel, that was an amazing defense based on the way Abraham’s willingness to kill his son is praised in the New Testament. I haven’t seen that presented so well before.
It strikes me that one could make the case even stronger by adding another example, and one where God did not stop the killing. Jephtha is also praised in the New Testament; he appears alongside Abraham in Hebrews’ faith hall of fame. Never does the Bible criticize him. Yet he wasn’t only willing to kill his child for God – he followed through. No heavenly voice stopped him before he plunged home the knife and lit the pyre. No substitute ram materialized in the bushes.
When God’s Spirit filled him, he had promised that if God gave him success, whoever first came from his house to welcome him home would become a burnt offering to God. And even when it was his only child who ran out to greet him rather than merely one of his slaves, he kept his vow. What faith! “The world was not worthy of [him].”
But does that praise end the discussion? What does it mean for the author of Hebrews to see people like Gideon, Samson and Jephtha as models of faith? Does this make their actions beyond critique, their conception of God flawless, their perception of God’s voice without error? Or is it possible to see faith mixed with folly in these men, and in Abraham as well?
Part of the reason some are bold enough to question if a passage is as directly from God as it appears is because we follow someone who modelled this – and it’s not Pete Enns.
In Deuteronomy, the statements about divorce are presented as from the mouth of God. They appear within a section bookended by the identical statements, “This very day Yahweh your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 12:1; 26:16).
Jesus has a different take. “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). It wasn’t God’s righteous command; it was Moses’ allowance to human sinfulness!
This isn’t the only example. Elsewhere, the sacrifice legislation that God spoke to Moses becomes “the gift that Moses commanded” (Matt. 8:4). Back to the sermon on the mount, Jesus refers to words from the Law – including words recorded as spoken and etched into stone by God – as what “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times.” His indirectness is palpable. Walk into a conservative church and speak of Scripture as what you’ve heard was said to people long ago, and you’ll find yourself being walked out.
No wonder Jesus had to reassure people that he wasn’t trying to abolish the law. That must have been an accusation he faced often, based on his seemingly irreverent way of freely correcting (Matt. 5:27-48; 15:10-11), prioritizing (Matt. 22:36-39; 23:23) and filtering (Matt. 7:12; 22:40) the law and the prophets. Then he even had the gall to tell his followers to follow him!
Matthew not only shows Jesus doing this, he gives us a visual illustration of what it looks like. At the transfiguration, when Moses (the lawgiver) and Elijah (the prophet) appear with Jesus, God’s words to the disciples are not “listen to them” but “this is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt. 17:3-5). Jesus supersedes the law and the prophets so that only through him are they rightly heard.
Matthew’s gospel reshaped how I view the First Testament. I no longer see the Scriptures as unbending, pristine records, nor do I think the primary purpose of many texts is to reveal historical facts. I accept that unless my reading is pliant and flexible, those ancient words will be too brittle to carry the new wine of Jesus. When I esteem Scripture highly enough to read it with creativity and cruciformity, I can become like a scribe trained for the kingdom who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.