The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Did Jesus endorse atrocities?

By ‘valid’ - my thinking is along the lines of - yes, it belongs to the old testament ‘canon’ as it were. Validity in that sense is not the same as saying “yes I endorse that what came out of the mouth of the OT writers, but that it does belong there”. In other words, it still needs to be interpreted, that’s the key.
He did not explicity condone atrocities - and I think that if we are going to attack anyone’s position, we’d best go with the obvious and explicit things that person says.
You will remember that Jesus did NOT condone the stoning of the woman taken in adultery?

As to OT harshness - my position is that our religion is the religion of the NT, that the progress in revelation is apparent and significant. And maybe someone knows of a good exegesis of those verses on rape - in fact a recent thread, if I’m not mistaken. I’ll try to find it.
“The dispensation of Moses, compared with that of Jesus, we consider as adapted to the childhood of the human race, a preparation for a nobler system, and chiefly useful now as serving to confirm and illustrate the Christian Scriptures. Jesus Christ is the only master of Christians, and whatever he taught, either during his personal ministry, or by his inspired Apostles, we regard as of divine authority, and profess to make the rule of our lives.”
That is from W.E. Channing, and I think it is a reasonable approach.

So no, I don’t see any contradictions.

Seemingly the following is the offending passage:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matt 5:17-22 ESV)

The first thing to understand is that “the Law and the Prophets” refers to the five books of Moses and the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. Jesus said that the Scriptures spoke of Him (John 5:39). So Jesus came to fulfill the prophecies which spoke of Him. Not an iota or dot will pass from the Law until Jesus accomplishes all that was predicted concerning Him.

Now some think the next verse “relaxing one of the least of these commandments” is speaking of the Hebrew laws which Moses gave them. I say not.
Rather I affirm that He is speaking of His own commandments which He gave in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Some of His commandments contrasted with the laws of Moses and others went even deeper than the laws of Moses. Jesus then gives examples of His commandments compared to the laws of Moses.
Notice that Jesus didn’t even say that the laws of Moses came from God, but rather, “You have heard that it was said to those of old”.

The first example is one of the ten commandments, “You shall do no murder.” But Jesus says that everyone who is angry with his brother is in liable to judgment. In other words, such a person is really a murderer at heart. The Mosaic commandment was to get revenge, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but Jesus’ command was not to resist and evil person. If someone striked you on the cheek, turn the other and let him strike that one, too.

The fact is, Jesus NEVER committed any atrocity! He was never known to kill anyone, or command his disciples to kill anyone (quite unlike the OT standards in which God supposedly commanded the Israelites to kill and destroy).

Hi Lotharson,

I would agree that certain authors of the OT endorse atrocity. As discussed in some other threads, that does not necessarily mean God himself endorses atrocity.

That being said, I would agree with your “b” above. The question then is what does Jesus mean when he says that each letter of the Torah is ‘valid’? I am no biblical scholar so I would wonder what other ‘Rabbis’ of Jesus time said regarding the atrocities in the OT? Is there a tradition at the time that discounts the atrocities? Is he endorsing the overall divine inspiration of the OT while agreeing that the narrators of the ‘genocide’ texts are ‘unreliable’? (See my post on this thread:[Bash those babies’ heads in - it’s in the Bible, alas) Expert input would be appreciated! :wink:

P.S. I wrote this before the posts of Dave and Paidion above, so haven’t digested them yet.

The arc of Rabbinical tradition is towards merciful interpretation. Now at the time of Jesus the Targums – Rabbinical glosses – on Isaiah’s messianic banquet did change Isaiah’s peaceful vision and envisaged the gentiles being slaughtered in a cherem at the feast. It was obviously such interpretations that inspired the zealots and other factions in their disastrous war against the Romans – which Jesus warned against – when they actually spent a lot of time killing each other in the name of factional religious purity rather tan uniting against the Romans (as is often the case with religious violence).

But alongside this exclusivist element in Judaism there was also a more merciful tradition . The horror at the shedding of innocent blood came to trump all other legal considerations. The tradition of arguing with God for clemency as Abraham did –even if seemingly against God’s decrees was seen as pleasing to God. So the debate about these texts and the questions they raise was not seen as rebellion against a sovereign lord – in Judaism human beings are allowed to argue with God. There were also moves to place the cherem texts as something applicable only in the past but no longer relevant.

The merciful rabbis’ rejection of cherem is a reflection of their own sensibilities. As M. Greenberg has observed, they must have regarded this understanding of the law as implausible because it is so harsh and inconsistent with other values, such as the prophetic concept of repentance and the prediction that idolaters will someday abandon false gods, and the halakhic principle that wrongdoers may not be punished unless they have been warned that their action is illegal and informed of the penalty. In effect, they used interpretation to modify and soften the law in deference to other, overriding principles.”

Thanks, Dick!

That was very helpful and may explain much if Jesus was endorsing the ‘more merciful tradition’.

It seems to me that all of Jesus teachings are consonant with the arc of mercy and of the Mercy Code of the great Prophet’s against the exclusivist traditions. Also his reaching out to the Syro Phoenician Canaanite woman is not merely incidental :slight_smile:

Here’s an article that may be of interest (and I basically support the Girardian position) … _in_Joshua

The venerable doctrine of “divine simplicity” holds that God’s attributes are identical to and indistinguishable from his person. ie. God isn’t loving. God is Love. God isn’t truthful. God is Truth. etc. If this doctrine is correct, then it becomes really difficult not to experience God’s reality.

When I “see” that twice two is four, I am not just seeing truth, I am seeing God, who is Truth. When I see love, grace, beauty, goodness, I am seeing God. As Paul said, “God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen…” That’s very nice… Love, truth etc are invisible (immaterial, spiritual), yet they are clearly seen (with your mind and heart.) This is why Paul can say people are without excuse.

It’s also why strong atheism is nihilism. It denies the existence of love/truth/beauty etc.

However, I do not know for certain that “divine simplicity” is correct. It was taught by Aquinas (who was no fool), yet in our own time, it’s rejected by heavy-weights like Plantinga. Being far too small to judge between them, I fall back into agnosticism.

However, knowing that I cannot know much about God at all, I still have to decide how to live. I choose to live in the light of bright hope: that the good God exists; that all shall be well. I make this choice, not because I know it’s true, but because I know the alternatives are truly hopeless. The alternatives (a bad God, or an imaginary God) suck the life out of me whenever I ponder them, and turn the whole world grey. No one in their right mind would choose to swallow that stuff. Remember, being agnostic, we don’t know God is good, bad or imaginary. Knowing we cannot know, we have to choose which God we will serve.

God had intended to be a stumbling block for those who wish to deny Him. God has handed them atheism on a platter. Atheism is a spiritual reflection, and believing the worst in God is also a spiritual reflection.

John 6:52-67
*"Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. …"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it? But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? …For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” *

These things are said in scripture deliberately. The atheistic look for an excuse, and God gives it to them on a platter. This is part of the refining process.

Marc - a very neat and wise and incisive summary of Jesus’ use of scripture can be found here from the pen of Dr Bob Wilson -

There are some really good resources on this site from wise heads like Bob :slight_smile:

Thank you, Lothar, for bringing up such good questions. I feel very much for you in your nocturnal encounters with those kind of doubts and questions.

Sobernost has pretty much said it all, for me, but, in addition, I’d answer your question about Jesus by pointing first of all to Hosea. The writer of 2 Kings suggests that God actively wanted Jehu to bring destruction to the house of Ahab. The writer of Hosea suggests that God desired no such thing. Compare 2 Kings 10:29-31 with Hosea 1:4, "Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel”.

The above example makes explicit what is obvious to everyone: the Bible has a conversation - an argument! - with itself. It’s Jewish, after all (2 Jews, 3 opinions - so the old Jewish joke goes). You wish it wasn’t all so messy and awkward? Me too. Human involvement tends to do that. What a messy, broken thing the human heart is, and yet this is the fragile organ through which God must try and speak.

The Hebrew Bible is a collection of traditions in which a great conversation, argument, wrestling takes place over what constitutes the most fundamental truth about God and what it means to follow God. The argument continued well into the second-temple/first century period. Marcus Borg argues that a pretty core fissure in rabbinic Judaism at the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry was about whether the Divine nature was most fully ‘imaged’ by holiness ( a certain kind of ‘holiness code’) or mercy. Luke explicitly has Jesus taking His stand on the Mercy-Compassion arc (Sobornost). “therefore BE merciful, as your Father in Heaven IS merciful” "Luke 6:36.

So it’s not so much a question about whether or not Jesus endorsed the ancient Hebrew legal and prophet traditions in their most literalistic entirety, but how He interpreted those traditions, and where He thought their centre of gravity lay. All the evidence points in one direction.

His explicit words - LOVE your enemies, the Law says, but I say to you -blessed are the merciful - place Him in the Mercy-Hosea tradition.

And His actions speak even louder. Jesus’ actions are everything. Where do we find Jesus? In a manger, at the home of people the law pronounces ‘unclean’, touching, healing, restoring people. His position on violence? -the incarnate God is the victim of religiously sanctioned violence. This. Speaks. Volumes.

Re how much did the Incarnate One ‘know’ about things-stuff in his humanity: We’ll all come to our own views on this. I’d just add that, for Catholic Orthodoxy at least (pace Hebert McCabe) it would be perfectly compatible to believe that Jesus is truly God and Man and one, and to guess that, in his humanity - and He really was human, not just playing at it - His understanding would have been kenotically limited by the culture, wisdom and science of that time. In His humanity, He may have believed that the earth was flat, that the sun orbits the world, and all sorts of other erroneous things. And He may not have. The point is, if we believe He really did empty Himself, and take on the weakness and limitations of becoming embodied in time and place, then teasing out the cultural wrapping from the applicable-to-all-times truth in the gospels is a valid and faithful exercise.

Pax, Jess

Great insights, Jess, and very helpful to me, at the very least. :smiley: Thanks!

I agree, Cindy! :smiley:
Great stuff here from Jess and Dick (and Bob Wilson’s summary is excellent as well!)

Thank you so much, it was truly wonderful to have read you!

Allan: as an Agnostic Christian I entirely agree with you, I view no other hope than in the risen Christ, even though I cannot prove the resurrection.

Thank you for your kind comments, my friends! Lots of deep wisdom on this thread.

-Lothar, in what sense do you define yourself as an ‘agnostic Christian’? -Don’t answer if you don’t want to. If I have dark periods where doubts and questions shout very loudly, it’s not towards atheism, but towards the fear that the god of my old scripture teacher-jon piper-the hyper Calvinists - is the real one. When this happens, I calmly ask myself where these questions are coming from, and I can always say they’re coming from the fear side of me. The opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear, for perfect fear always casts out love.

Love you guys, wish you all lived in my parish, even though it would give me nightmares, preaching ; * ) Prayers, Jess

From Steve, above: “I would agree that certain author’s of the OT endorse atrocity”

Steve was also careful to point out that it does not follow that God endorses atrocity. Of course I agree.

This distinction is important, though. We’ve read numerous times on the forum and elsewhere that God must endorse atrocity because He is the author of the OT. Or that the authors, inspired (a Big Thought: inspiration) by God, expressed His attitudes.

I’d like to read a good exposition of the question: In what sense is God the ‘author’ of the Old Testament? I’m not up to it, but if someone could step up with something sort of definitive, it would make a good ‘sticky’ that we could refer people to, which would save a whole lot of repetition in the threads. $.02

Is that our Cindy, Dave?


Well done Cindy - that’s’ great :smiley: And Jess I really loved your post too :smiley:

I don’t know if I can believe that… lol :mrgreen:

“(quite unlike the OT standards in which God supposedly commanded the Israelites to kill and destroy).”

And what’s the problem with that??