Inerrancy and mass slaughter

Thanks for the clarifications, I have appreciated the dialogue and reading the book. Let me give my first impression, and please let me know if I’ve missed anything, or have misunderstood your basic perspective. I’ll also try at some point to address many of the other observations you’ve shared, but we can kick off here…

I think this is terribly significant to our discussion, and expands the overall dilemma far beyond that of certain moral difficulties involved in the conquest. If we were to discuss the conquest issues specifically, without addressing this much larger and more core disagreement, I fear it would prove fruitless… like trying to convince a committed atheist of a certain view of the relationships within the trinity.

If you take issue with any situation wherein God is described as either causing or ordering a death as a punishment, your dispute with the Bible goes far beyond the Israelite conquest… this would include the flood in Genesis, the plagues in Exodus, laws for capital punishment, God’s punishments of his own people by disease, snakes, & natural disasters throughout the Pentateuch, the plague against David’s kingdom and other events in Samuel & Kings, pretty much the entire book of Lamentations, and practically two-thirds of every book from Isaiah to Malachi; Jesus’ analogy of the sheep and goats and many other of his parables, significant parts of Paul’s and Peter’s letters and preaching, much of Jude, and huge chunks of Revelation.

In some ways, I wouldn’t know where to even begin such a discussion. My critique would go far beyond even the specific question of your distaste for divine retribution or punishment, and back to the same basic critique I gave against Professor Enns. That being, if we start redefining or reimagining God as per our own cultural preferences, believing that anything I disagree with must have been an accretion of erroneous, primitive, tribal belief, then where exactly does that stop? How do I know the things I want to believe are not similarly erroneous inventions of primitive, tribal peoples?

Related, and even more significantly… and I hesitate to say this as I don’t want to come across as attacking you personally (after you’ve been so kind and generous a discussion partner). But I simply don’t see how this approach does not result in us worshipping a God of our own creation… especially when we’re talking about a character trait of God that is pervasive throughout both Old and New Testament, affirmed explicitly by most authors thereof. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible… when he expurgated all the parts of the Bible that did not fit his preferred deistic view of God, he was left, unsurprisingly, with a Bible that conveniently reflected his deistic view of God. Does not any such an approach all but guarantee that the God we believe in is one of our own making?

If we rid ourselves of any Scriptural description of God which we personally find distasteful… will we not, equally unsurprisingly, find ourselves worshipping a God that so conveniently fits so perfectly within our cultural and personal preferences?

(And to perhaps anticipate… I would agree wholeheartedly of course that God must be absolutely, totally, and completely “just”. But do we redefine what the Bible says about him based on our personal and culturally preferred understanding and definition of justice? Or ought we rather allow the Bible’s descriptions of who God is determine what I ought to understand by the word “justice”?)

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Or have eaten fish.

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Thank you for your post.

Was interesting, yes. I concur with Randal that far too many evangelical Christians turn a blind eye to the violence in the Bible and criticize the Quran for things that are just as easily found in the Bible. People who haven’t read, or just ignore the hard parts of, their Bible.

I can’t remember if I shared this earlier… but my Old Testament professor in grad school was life changing. He was an OT Harvard grad (like Dr. Enns) But had maintained absolute commitment to biblical inerrancy (unlike Dr. Enns)… But did so in a way that his eyes were wide open to every problem, challenge, difficulty. And he forced us to wrestle with all of that.

Anyone who believes inerrancy, in my humble opinion, needs to be ready to defend inerrancy in the face of Israelite conquest, Jephthah’s daughter, slavery, and all the like.

I hate hand waves on difficult topics, especially when done regarding the Bible by evangelicals who claim inerrancy.

The Bible does contain just as much violence and the like as the Quran. However, I would observe one very important distinction, and as such respond to Mervin’s comment earlier…

Yes, I am one of those who ‘operate by the explicit commitment that “finding precedence in the Bible” = “moral endorsement’, so long as the precedence is clearly intended to serve as such.

In fairness, most evangelicals don’t endorse suicide simply because we could find “precedent” in the Bible for it in Judas’ action. We are a bit more sophisticated and nuanced than that.

Additionally… as committed to inerrancy as I try to be, I actually do try to follow biblical principles in terms of determining what is or isn’t applicable for us today. I think it uncharitable to suggest I am simply imagining that I came up with “special reasons” for the things I “ignore.” Let’s take some obvious examples…

I do not follow the command to offer animal sacrifices. Is it because I am arbitrarily choosing not to obey this command for personal or (sub)cultural reasons, while engaging in special pleading and “imagining” I have found a special reason for ignoring this command?

Or, perhaps, in charity, could it possibly be because I have read the Bible itself and discovered that “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… and where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin”?

Or, consider, I don’t abide by many of the OT dietary laws. Again, is this simply because it is an arbitrary choice on my part (due to my love of bbq pork and lobster) regarding what I choose to ignore, while pretending I have some “special reason”? Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is because of Mark’s parenthetical explanation of Jesus teaching that he “declared all foods clean”, the stated lessons of Peter’s dream, and the specific discussion and guidance to a gentile like me by the council in Acts 15?

So, in charity and generosity, let us consider that some of us troglodyte fundamentalists might actually seek genuine and biblical reasons for determining what does or doesn’t apply to us today.

And (coming round to the original point)… it is a simple enough observation that, regarding the commands for holy war… we only overhear God’s commands to others, describing God’s specific command to them to engage in a specific, limited holy war against a certain people at certain limited times. Thus I simply do not have either “precedent” nor any explicit command to carry on this behavior. The description included very specifically limited how far those holy wars went, and we do not ourselves receive a blanket command to do likewise. This is simply categorically different than the Quran, and I think any fair-minded observer would agree with that basic difference.

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The problem would be easier to deal with (though still not solved), were that the case. But we’re faced with passages like this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)

This text seems to speak of unending war upon the Amalekites. While it might be nice to see this as God’s own war that doesn’t require human involvement, in context it was the actions of Israelites that carried out that war in their own generation (Exodus 17) as well as in a later generation (1 Samuel 15). Deuteronomy makes the human involvement clear: “when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand […] you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget” (25:19).

Unfortunately, Jews and Christians in various generations didn’t forget. They used this text to identify certain enemies as “Amalekites” they were called to destroy. It’s almost as if the memory of who the Amalekites were originally was so obliterated that they took on mythic proportions and seemed to surface everywere. Perhaps this happened because they allowed the memory of the Amalekites one safe haven: within their holy Scripture. Ironically, as long as those passages remain, the task they command remains unfinished.

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Very apposite observation! I would certainly grant that in that case, the later generations would have recognized that as a command to fight against the Amalekites as a command from God which was still in force so long as Amalekites existed. Even so, I would of course still maintain that even given our particular place in redemptive history, it is still the case that we are overhearing God’s command to others.

David may have heard and understood this command as applying to him, but we are still overhearing it as a command to others that doesn’t apply to us.

(And I think it helpful to note in this context, that even among those “devoted” to destruction, those who turn to the Lord in some form or fashion seem to get spared. Rahab, Gibeon, Ninevah, etc.)

I wouldn’t doubt it. But what part of a scripture is immune from being so manipulated by someone who wants to use it as a justification for a course or position they have already chosen? I’m probably susceptible to the temptation myself, all the more reason to be careful and cautious with our handling, and be cautious with how we interpret anything before we dare say, “thus saith the Lord.”

Being the inerrantist tr…aditionalist that I am… if I really believe Scripture to be true and inerrant revelation from God, dictating and ruling my beliefs and behavior, then it magnifies my responsibility to the utmost to make absolutely sure that my understanding of Scripture truly does reflect God’s intent, and I need to be all the more cautious that I am not simply reading through lenses of personal benefit in order to satisfy my own needs, preferences, or desires.

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Okay - where did that comic go (about the Amalekites)? Wasn’t that one of you that posted that? In this thread? Now I can’t find it.

Thank you for your notes above, and above all for your patience and thorough discussions.

The more I learn, the more I realize that only God has the ultimate insight to morality. I do think that the OT Israelites interpreted His words with their lenses, and thus imperfectly; but I am horrified at what even our current, self-satisfied (as who is not?) generation lets get go on–thousands of children starving daily, human trafficking, lack of healthcare when we in the West could do far beyond what we do, abortion (that is my personal belief; the moderators can take it down). On the other hand, I also understand better how our morality adapts to necessities–in the ANE, slavery was sometimes a welcome alternative to dying of want in the wilderness, and a way of paying back what scarce resources belonged to the group that took you in; other things are not as clear cut as I thought they were. John Patrick, a Christian speaker for Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), https://www.johnpatrick.ca/ remarked that Africans that we “look down on” for their preference for male dominated culture would never abandon children that we (in practice at least, by living our way in divorce and materialism without attending to them) would do. “The Fiddler On the Roof” played through my mind as I worked in the yard this afternoon–“To Life!”, with Tevye and Laser Wolf celebrating the proposed marriage of Tseitel, the young woman, to a rich man she didn’t love. That whole film is about the clash of new morality and desires with old ones. It wasn’t just a male dominated culture–the mother was delighted that her daughter would be well cared for–and people regularly died and become sick from want. We have a privileged time and place in the West that God will likely judge us for.

I would not say that I reject all of the NT because of the way I interpret it; but I also do not think that saying that because Jesus took the OT seriously, I would take the OT genocide as God directed, either. We can get into that another time.

I finally got a break in my work to read better on the Enns discussion of Acts. I agree–his case was very weak. He would have strengthened his case, rather, to acknowledge that the preponderance of the evidence in that instance was for Luke (or the author, if it wasn’t he) to have been consistent. Having grown up in Africa, I can see easily, for example, how if the author was writing in Greek and his first language was Aramaic, he would not have necessarily chosen as clear a word as desired; I’ve run into the same problem when writing in French or Hausa (the languages where we lived, though my first language is English) (didn’t someone once say that God used bad Greek?). This website was also very good in discussion. https://fromthestudy.com/2014/08/25/inerrancy-and-apparent-contradictions/

My allusion to Hebrew was a bit misguided above–I had meant that if we’re talking about inspired text, the Septuagint wasn’t going to be considered that way, as that was a translation of the original–but I agree. His argument was very weak.

The allusion to a limited instrument of genocide is interesting. Nabeel Qureshi used it in “No God But One,” and I summarized it here for a Sunday school:
d. Nabeel Qureshi: Islamic warfare differed from Jewish fighting
i. While God doesn’t endorse all violence in the Bible, in the Qur’an, He orders most violence directly.
ii. While in the Bible, war punishes evil, in the Qur’an, God fights them only because of believing differently.
iii. While in the Bible God doesn’t favor the Israelites, He favors the Muslims as being the “best” people.
iv. While Bible becomes more peaceful with time, culminating in Christ, the Qur’an becomes most violent at the end. For example, the last chapter of the Qur’an, “The Disavowal” breaks all peace treaties that came before it. Sahih Bukhari: I have been ordered by Allah to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is God’s Messenger…[O]nly then will they save their lives and property from me.”

John Dickson (publicchristianity.org) used something similar.

However, it’s problematic, I think, to say that it was prescribed for only a local time. I don’t recall and “cease and desist” order to stop that form of crushing. God could have used that again at any time, I think. I would agree that Jesus gave us a new way; and heaven forbid that I would tar the peaceful Jews who went to the Holocaust with the same brush as those who killed men, women and children. However, there re Dominionist Christians and zealot Jews who take a very violent bent. And a living God who punishes the innocent for the sins of their parents–no, that doesn’t make sense to me.

I appreciate that you feel it important to avoid hand waving. You have been more than gracious in our discussion.

That was interesting that you were able to sit in grad Bible school with such a great scholar. I have never taken a Bible course (the only one of my family), except an FF Bruce based one on Acts from Moody that I didn’t finish as I was too busy to write all the essays. I do miss that. While I attended Bible study (Intervarsity, CMDA, campus ministry) all through college and med school, and I benefited from a public university education which, I think, was stronger on science and biology because it did not shirk from evolution, I would have liked to have your background as well.

Thank you and God bless.

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Was it this one in the humor thread?

Truly, Very excellent thoughts. I’ll try to respond at some point to give your thoughts the attention they deserve. Bit busy at present but look forward to writing more.

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This I think is very insightful. I hate to sound like a “slavery apologist”… but in the ancient tribal world, constantly at war and at risk of war… when you have a victory over an enemy, it seems you have 3 possibilities of what you do with “prisoners of war.” 1, let them go, knowing with a 99% certainty they will simply regroup, return and continue to threaten your family, 2, slit their throats (which seemed relatively common during medieval warfare), or 3, treat them not entirely unlike prisoners of war in the Geneva convention: kept captive, fed and clothed, and compelled to perform manual labor. In a society where the idea of a final, permanent “peace treaty” simply didn’t happen, slavery of POWs is not categorically different than what all us civilized nations said we ought to treat POWs.

Yes, yes, yes, I know the reality of slavery was far more complicated and ugly. But I do appreciate this thought and agree, that there is something to the recognition that speaking into the reality of societies at that time will include some things that we would initially think horrific.

cannot concur more. The money we spend in the West on frivolous causes and charities when there are children who don’t even have clean water… yes, in a global world where we have opportunity to serve and help those who are hungry, and we prefer some of the most frivolous gofundme campaigns.

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I’m curious how you read the accounts of Rahab and Gibeon in Joshua. From a straight-forward reading, sparing Gibeon seems to have been a mistake due to Israel’s disobedience. Gibeon tricked the Israelite leaders who “did not ask direction from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14), leading them to make a peace treaty in direct violation of Moses’ instruction (Deut. 7:1–3). Bound by their oath, they couldn’t kill them, so taking a page from their own history in Egypt, they subjected the Gibeonites to perpetual slave labour. Making a treaty with God-fearers doesn’t really come out of this story as Israel’s standard operating procedure. Instead, like Achan’s sin a few scenes earlier, it seems to be a case where Israel didn’t follow God’s instruction and so wasn’t able to do their job properly.

As for Rahab, not only is she spared, so is everyone else she can cram into her house, no faith questionaire required. But any God-fearers in Jericho not in Rahab’s black book (perhaps due to plying more respectable trades) seem to be left without options. Again, I don’t see how this story leads us to expect such exceptions whenever someone marked for destruction fears God.

Further, reading those kinds of exceptions into the context we were discussing (the Amalekites) moves quite far from what the text implies on its own. This isn’t even that different from Greg Boyd’s approach where we use God’s character as revealed in Jesus, particularly Jesus crucified, to understand that something different must be going on in places where we read of God acting contrary to this character. I’m curious if you endorse this approach: do you think we can make the mercy we see in one text paradigmatic so that it colours how we read other texts that seem to show no mercy?

Of course I am sympathetic to attempts to see mercy between the lines, but I’m wondering how this works when the original author’s intention is treated as the final word.

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Kind of like Noah. At least one part of the puzzle of why I believe in infant baptism. But I digress…

There are a few assumptions going on here, firstly that there were any others that were “God-fearers” in the saving sense. There were plenty, it seemed, that “trembled.” I would assume not unlike the demons.

Secondly, I’m a firm believer in the principle of historic writing, in the Bible and elsewhere, that when someone describes something, this simply reflects something the author wanted to tell us about… not absolutely exhaustive knowledge about everything.

Hence why I find it no contradiction that John says Mary came to the tomb, and Luke mentions 3 women by name, and at least 2 others. Mary being at the tomb is the only detail John wanted to tell us about, this doesn’t dent there we’re others. This principle is all over Kings & Chronicles, as the authors selected details not for exhaustive historic detail, but for the purposes of their intended narrative and agenda.

So I have no particular reason to assume that others were not saved and invited into the people of God, rather that Rahan and family was the one of this manner that Joshua’s author wanted to tell me about.

Granted, Rahab and her family may well have been the only ones spared, the text at least gives that impression. But even if so, I have no necessary reason to believe that there were others just as desirous to leave their pagan society and be united to God’s people, do I?

I always have a hard time with the idea that Jesus taught something unprecedented. That whole idea of Jesus rejecting the idea of punishment… that the God that Jesus taught would never bring judgment, such as he did by flooding the world or bringing fire and judgment to Sodom… Jesus would never have endorsed or approved such a concept…

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

“And these will go away into eternal punishment.”

“As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.”

I know, radically different and in complete and total contrast to what is found in the OT…!

We’re in full agreement that the Old Testament contains mercy and that the portrait of God revealed by Jesus was superlative, not unprecedented. I hope nothing I wrote led you to think I believe otherwise.

I also fully accept that Jesus taught judgement and even spoke of vengeance – though in the tradition of the imprecatory psalms, he left that vengeance to God (including himself!) rather than his followers. We probably agree that it’s not a good reading of that parable to take “As for these enemies of mine … bring them here and slaughter them before me” as our marching orders as Jesus’ followers. (If we disagree on whether kings/rulers/judges in parables display God as directly and completely as Jesus himself, I’d be happy to get into that.) As such, the conquest texts pose a problem quite different from anything faced in the gospels or even the whole New Testament.

I don’t think demonizing the faith of all but one of the Canaanites is the best way forward. Nothing in the text leads us to see anything distinctive of Rahab’s fear of God at the point the spies meet her. She includes herself in the conclusion reached by her people: “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you … and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites… As soon as we heard it, our hearts failed, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:10–11). That last sentence either continues to state what they all thought, or it gives a new conclusion that Rahab has now reached due to meeting the spies. What is distinctive about Rahab is that the spies spend the night with her and thus confront her with both the opportunity and requirement to sort out how a nascent, nebulous faith works.

There were many widows in Israel, yet Elijah was sent to none of them. There were many God-fearers in Jericho, yet the spies stayed with none of them except Rahab. You don’t know how weird it is for me to be writing this to a professed Calvinist, but I think that, at least in a historical reading, the category of election makes better sense of Rahab in the book of Joshua than desert.

Yes, the text gives the impression that only those in Rahab’s house were saved in Jericho, just as the flood account gives the impression that only Noah’s family was saved. Because of that, I’m curious why you make the suggestion in the paragraph before that “granted” point. Can you see how this might look like you’re on the road to reinterpreting the text to fit better with what you know to be moral? Do you know where that path enns?

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Good thoughts, much appreciated as always!

Where this path Enns…? I think that was a very fitting and most appropriate typo, given this discussion…! I agree wholeheartedly about your cocnern with where the path Enns…

Why? Because it is a critical and universal principle of interpretation too rarely used, which I will always follow whether it hurts or hinders my “cause.” For instance, I would object to someone who said, “Peter was the only disciple that denied knowing Christ on the eve of the crucifixion.” He is the only one we know about. Did Bartholomew also deny knowing Christ? No idea. I have no reason to claim he did. But neither do the gospels as we have them require that he didn’t. He just wasn’t of interest to the author. The fact that Peter’s betrayal was recorded, means I can conclude the Peter betrayed Christ. I can and ought make no case one way or the other as to whether on not anyone she did, who simply wasn’t mentioned.

Or, I would object similarly to someone saying “Luke wanted to teach that Jesus only fed the multitudes once, not twice.” Like only records one instance of this occurrence. It would be exceedingly odd to conclude that Luke was trying to intentionally contradict or correct Mark (one of his presumed sources), or try to paint a different impression of Jesus, by intentionally erasing the second occurrence. Far more likely he just wanted to record one such occurrence and get on to other things.

It was a basic principle of biblical interpretation - and all historical interpretation - I learned in grad school that I think is critical. If an author describes some event or person, it is because he or she wanted to talk about that event, or person. Not necessarily because that was the only event or, person that could have been described.

Off the cuff, just reading the story, I’d give probably about a 95% likelihood that Rahab’s family was the only saved, based on what seems to me to be the impression the author gives. But I would not be dogmatic, as i can’t find any explicit undeniable statement that says “she and her family, and only they.”

Hence, I’m refraining from arriving at any solid or dogmatic conclusion without absolutely clear warrant for so doing. My working assumption is that she and they were the sole survivors, but I would refrain from making that a certain or dogmatic conclusion, or to build significant doctrine on that sole assumption. I would base no final inference either way, I would stick strictly to only what is absolutely clear in the text, and never any “95% likely” scenario… whether it helps my cause or hinders it.

(It is why I detest the argument made by my fellow infant-baptism believing fiends that argue, “surely there were infants in all those households in Acts.” Sure. Give it a 95% likelihood that there may well have been infants in some of those households. I still utterly reject that argument (even though it would theoretically support my position), because I will never base an argument on something that “seems like it probably is the case…” or “it sure looks like the author seems to be suggesting…”)

Sorry, that was probably more than you wanted.
. But it is something I’m passionate about. I see too many on my end of the theological spectrum engaging in that kind of ”wishful” exegesis, and also some on the other, um, Enns of the spectrum, such as Bart Ehrman. I just prefer to be cautious and never let my beliefs be based on a particular interpretation of something that could in theory go alternate ways.

One last example may be helpful… Take the sentence immediately before the statement about Rahab et al being spared:

“they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.”

This at first glance seems to imply that everything was destroyed… except those particular metals that went into the Lord’s treasury, right? everything was either destroyed or made it into the treasury, no exceptions. I think, if we read that alone, we’d say that the “clear” impression the author is presenting is that everything without exception was either destroyed or found its way to the treasury. Nothing went elsewhere.

But the very next chapter deals with the consequences of some things that were supposed to be so devoted finding their way way into some guy’s personal tent.

So for this and countless other reasons, I am just very cautious to read anything in the Bible, or any such literature, and from “this happened to X” to conclude “this happened to X and only X.” It may well be at times the correct understanding, I just like to be cautious, and don’t automatically assume such.

Now, hopefully a bit more brief…

100% concur. And very important observation and well stated distinction

99% concur. We need only think for 11 seconds about Jesus being a lawless greedy nocturnal robber or God being an corrupt and unjust judge to recognize that we dare not simplistically transfer the traits of one parable character onto the deity.

My 1% clarification… I would simply observe that the analogy (not parable) of the sheep and the goats is a description specifically of what the Son of Man himself is going to do, it isn’t a parable, but a literal statement of his future plans using the sheep/goats metaphor as a part of it.

Re The violent king, I also am struck by the fact that the king’s violence at his enemies wasn’t just part of the overall story critical to the main point of the parable (as the unjust judge was)… It seemed a complete add-on to make an additional and self-contained point. Kind of like, “by the way, The kingdom of heaven is like a king that will slaughter his enemies. The end.” Not much room to find different interpretations there, as I read it.

Well, only so long as we exclude “angels” from the category of God’s “followers”…

  • When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…

  • The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.

  • For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

  • The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.

  • So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.

  • And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.

But sincerely, this is not just a rhetorical trick… I really think it is an observation that gets to the heart of the moral dilemma involved:

Was it wrong for God to send an angel to destroy all the Egyptians that died during the Passover? Or the angel that killed 70,000 Israelites in 2Sam? Did the angel misunderstand God’s command? Should the angel have refused on the basis that carrying out such an action would have been immoral?

I am quite genuinely curious about this, and would appreciate any thoughts you may have… I have very often run into people raising a moral objection about God’s commands to Israelites executing such a judgment. But when God commands an angel to do an equivalent action (whether Old or New Testament), no one seems to bat an eye. Why is this?

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God’s judgement is perfect in the first order. If you want to try to understand the reasons that He ordered the deaths of various peoples then you need to go spiritually much deeper. When I have explained this in the past, most people cannot comprehend it.
Best Wishes, Shawn

Without hesitation I would. To limit my conclusions to what seems ironclad and stated without possible ambiguity is to basically ignore all literary and rhetorical skill and reduce words to equations. Face a text expecting everything pertinent to be clearly stated in logical propositions and it can no longer speak to our heart, rhetoric loses its force, and puns get written off as typos.

For instance, I’m quite happy to look at Matthew’s telling of a story about a Canaanite woman (15:21–28) and realize something more is going on. Canaanites don’t exist in his time, and Luke Mark calls the same woman a Syrophoenician. Rather than an error, I see an interpretive cue. Matthew wants us to view this woman, pleading for crumbs for her daughter, as one of those people Deuteronomy wants killed with their children. You can’t get any further outside than this woman.

Meanwhile, Matthew has been telling us about the twelve, the special group of Jewish men in Jesus’ inner circle. Before and after the encounter with the Canaanite, Jesus involves these men in miraculously feeding two crowds. You can’t get any more on the inside than these men.

Yet Matthew gives the Canaanite woman the singular honour of besting Jesus in conversation. She takes an insult and replies with grace and insight: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” While the twelve squander their front-row seats and remain stuck in thick-headed literalism and an economy of scarcity (Matt. 16:5–11), this woman gets it. She knows that with Jesus, even crumbs are enough. Crumbs are plenty. So Jesus, whether gobsmacked by her chutzpah or just pleased by how she’s risen to the occasion he provided for her, praises her faith and heals her daughter.

Matthew gives this Canaanite a delicious cameo, but perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us since he earlier took pains to point out that Jesus himself was part Canaanite (1:5). In Jesus’ keynote address, he says that the meek – not Joshua’s “strong and courageous” – will inherit the land (5:5). He repudiates the conquest of enemies (5:43–48). In marked contrast to Moses and Joshua’s farewell speeches bequeathing the conquest of nations to the next generation in their absence, Jesus promises to be with his followers always as they “go … and make disciples of all nations” (28:18–20).

Matthew, I think it’s fair to say, has a different view of Canaanites than Deuteronomy 7. But to see it, his gospel needs to be read, not solved.

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I don’t think we disagree, I probably wasn’t totally clear. I would resist any firm belief in a specific doctrine, or a specific historical situation itself, on one reading of one detail of one text wherein there is ambiguity or something not explicitly stated. Or in the cases I mentioned, I would not come to a firm conclusion that the author had to mean X and only X if I can see a possibility he meant only X . But what you’re talking about here I don’t disagree with in principle either. Of course we read to get the general idea, and as we collect more and more statements, none of which are necessarily exact, we better and better understand authorial intent in the grand view.

I think I was talking about interpreting a single tree, you are (rightly) saying we don’t need to conclude anything about any single particular tree to appreciate the general outline and character of the forest. I concur.

So for instance… if someone tried to deduce from the gospels, and the particular periscope you mentioned, and tried tell me that, during his entire ministry, Jesus only ever interacted with a single Canaanite… I’d maintain my principle of refusing to make any conclusion where there simplynisntnevidence for such, even while I agree largely with what you wrote herein regarding understanding of the larger story, He only interacted with one Canaanite that we know about. There is only one Canaanite that Jesus interacted with that was recorded.

That is what I mean by being cautious in that sense. Not meaning we can’t determine anything about author’s intent from the larger text or by taking parts of the puzzle together.

This. If I could have given your entire post multiple likes, Marshall, I would have.

[And with regard to learning to read a book like Matthew for all its worth (as Jews of his day would have heard it): Read the tiny little “throw away” verse embedded in Matthew’s account of the cleansing of the temple (21:14) - our eyes fly by it as only an aside, a nice sentiment on the periphery of the more exciting actions capturing attention. And then read on to verse 15 where we are reminded from the lips of children what Jesus’ title is. And now for the treat: to realize how significant this would have sounded to the Jews, go back and read 2 Samuel 5: 6-8 (especially the end of v. 8) Then meditate on what it must have meant to them (and for us now) that Jesus was called a “son of” this man.]

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