I’d just like to add that I’ve been reading the Colloquium on Violence and Religion debates for ten years now and have corresponded privately with a couple of its members. If we are to talk of ‘Girardians’ - we are talking about a group of people who have found Rene’s central insights fruitful and are engaged in an on-going discussion about how they are best applied, how they are badly applied, the fruitfulness of his some of his insights and the limitations of some etc. Rene Girard - although the range of his thought and the range of the applicability of his insights is ‘big’ - is not a guru figure. Indeed he does not think that nay of his insights are new - he’s just expressed the stuff with an abstract clarity. So yes there are a range of Girardians and there are people who find some of his insights useful and others less so who would not associate themselves explicitly with his writings. Girard and wide ranging dialogue go hand in hand
Hermano the substance of Richard Murray’s article concerns a ‘Jesus hermeneutic’ of the Old Testament rather than the ontology of Satan – the latter is a separate though related issue. Just to focus on his hermeneutic to simplify things Richard argues (I think) that –
The Jews in the OT did not have the developed idea of Satan that we find in the NT
In the NT Jesus reveals that God is love and that Satan is the destroyer and death bringer.
In the Jewish Testament the role of God and Satan are not distinguished clearly. Therefore when we read the OT and we are told that the Lord said… or the Lord Commanded we must ask ourselves which Lord is speaking in the light of Christ is it God or the Devil?
That’s how I understand his argument in a nutshell.
Two questions I guess –
Is this a good Christian exegetical principle for the OT
How is it similar to/different from a broadly Girardian exegesis?
P.S> Paidion - And that conversation does get hot - you internet bruiser you What you are saying has much in common with Richard Murray although I’m not sure you’d agree with him in full
Richard Murray has some awfully severe methodology and practical problems in his article.
The chief problem seems to be that RM strongly insists on a total distinction between the OT and the NT view of Satan, which not only ends up requiring we ignore significant data about Satan in both the OT and the NT, but which also requires we end up ignoring or discounting a ton of significant data about God / Jesus / the Holy Spirit in the NT.
RM presents as a spiritually superior hermeneutic, a tactic of BRACKETING (as he likes to all-cap it) any reference to YHWH (or some other clear name of God Most High) in the OT as possibly referring to Satan instead. Supposedly this saves God from being “schizophrenic” in the OT, but the schizophrenia is only put back another stage as now God must be imagined speaking and acting directly with inspired instructions to the OT prophets while allowing Satan to do the same thing on a very regular basis sometimes within moments of God having done so. Either Satan is forcing his way in to do this, or God is authoritatively allowing it – RM doesn’t seem to opine either way, but I can’t see how either way could increase someone’s confidence and trust in God (except by sleight of mind or perhaps desperation to safely discount problematic passages).
On what ground are we called by RM’s superior spiritual insight and teaching and inspiration by the Holy Spirit to do this (as he claims for himself)? The ground of “the New Testament” and its portrait of God on one hand, especially by and through and as Jesus, and its portrait of Satan on the other.
But the NT authors occasionally still portray God or at least the apostles using Satan for punitive purposes (such as Paul in 1 Cor 5 and 1 Tim 1:20, and God Himself releasing devils on mankind in RevJohn – each of which text RM accepts as inspired data we’re supposed to use for radically bracketing OT statements); and the OT authors often portray God as being at war with Satan and vice versa. RM tries to avoid this at one point by playing a Satan name-game where supposedly Satan never appears until 550 pages into the OT, but he voids his own standards by salting references to Satan in the NT with references to devils and to Beelzebub so alternate references in the OT ought to count; and RM himself affirms Satan (as the “dark Lord” though the scripture never calls the enemy YHWH or ADNY or any other divine name like that including in this scene) was the one who tempted Adam into trouble.
Moreover, although RM repeatedly asserts that God never ever ever ever kills or does any kind of violence, even he has to start backing up on that a little eventually when faced with things like Jesus running out the moneychangers with the whip of small cords (though he avoids mentioning that the moneychangers were afflicted by that whip out of the Temple). In fact the NT scriptures are fairly stiff with references to divine violence, including by Jesus (the Holy Spirit, in Acts, even directly kills a husband and wife for attempted fraud, while they’re in Christian communion) – which RM himself likes to reference on occasion when the objects of the violent imagery are rebel spirits! And various authors across the texts synch their references to Jesus with references to YHWH in the Jewish scriptures (as RM seems to be aware), including where YHWH is or has been involved in inflicting divine violence (which RM simply ignores). RM’s repeated references to the Epistle to the Hebrews is especially baffling: is a spiritually superior hermeneutic supposed to just ignore the Hebraist referencing divine violence in Deuteronomy and elsewhere with positive approval?? Even more baffling is RM’s occasional references to RevJohn; are we not supposed to accept its often violent portraits of Jesus as inspired, and interpret the OT refs through that “Jesus Lens”??
But Jesus Himself launches into warnings about coming violent judgment, whether on Jerusalem or upon eviloders at the judgment (or both), and presents parables of destruction as part of such warnings.
So how far is the solvency of RM’s bracketing strategy supposed to go? He himself somewhat accidentally remembers Paul attributing the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart to God, when RM using his Holy Spirit inspired spiritualness attributes it to Satan, and then waves it off. RM then either forgets that John attributes hardening of the heart to Jesus as Isaiah’s YHWH (John 12:36-43), to explain why the half of the Pharisees supporting Jesus refused to really support Him, or else RM is interpreting GosJohn by RM’s interpretation of Isaiah where Isaiah saw and spoke of the glory of Satan or some such Godawful thing which John mistakenly believes to be Jesus. Because of the superiority of the NT revelation in Jesus, as spiritually pure and superior Christians understand, like RM for example.
But shouldn’t that mean we’re supposed to be bracketing the New Testament, too, whenever it talks about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit doing violence? And then what is the rationale supposed to be for doing that? It can’t be by appealing to the NT’s portrayal of Jesus, because the NT often portrays Jesus as approving and even as doing the violent overthrow of evildoers. Or if even the Gospel authors aren’t accurate about representing Jesus, actually talking about Satan instead, then why should we regard them as accurate in anything about Jesus at all? The answer seems to boil down to RM’s feeling of being inspired by the Holy Spirit to interpret God as Satan where that feels most convenient for him to do so – which ironically is what he was accusing the spiritually crippled authors and prophetic reports of, in the OT (just the other way around).
I realize the statements of divine violence in the OT and the NT sometimes lead to heartbreak and confusion; but flatly ignoring or otherwise waving off the NT testimony along that line in order to pit its superior testimony (once tacitly trimmed for convenience) over-against the OT, cannot be any accurate methodology for solving the problems. RM’s methodology, if consistently applied, would end up including a lot of NT testimony, too, at best undermining his appeal to its inherently special spiritual superiority.
His approach could stand a lot of revision and refinement at the very least.
One of the reasons I can accept God killing people is because ‘all are alive to God’ meaning, death is nothing more than a temporary state of being for the person. While I have a huge problem with God eternally torturing people (and hence, reject that notion) the idea that God can take life doesn’t bother me. He can raze and raise. Now to be clear, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be upset and angry at him for taking my children early, my wife, or my parents, etc… Just because I can accept that it is his right to give and take away, does not mean I would not grieve greatly.
At some level God isn’t sovereign (in my viewpoint) if we attribute all suffering as coming from Satan. This is probably one of those topics where ‘each must be convinced in his own mind’ - The faith we have, we have unto the Lord. I’d say most my beliefs fall between L Ray Smith and George MacDonald, each for different reasons. As a father, I truly identify with George MacDonald. As someone who believes God is completely sovereign, I also tend to agree with L Ray Smith.
That said, I do think there are some huge inconsistencies with OT and NT character of God. Jesus reveals a God who is powerful enough to ‘kill the body and soul in hell’ but then goes on to say ‘fear not’ and the reason? Because not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing. God values us more than a bunch of sparrows. The OT has many examples of both retribution and restoration… Much to dwell on.
I should probably try to clarify that I’m not, in principle, against the idea that prophets and even apostles can not only misunderstand things but even go rogue – the scriptures themselves give plenty of examples (even in the NT, but moreso in the OT as might be expected given the much increased time scale). I’m even in favor of a cautious agnosticism or semi-agnosticism regarding the more bloodthirsty sounding reports.
What I’m not in favor of, are clunky methodologies relying on significantly false claims about sets of data, passed off as spiritual superiorities and personal divine inspiration, which only avoid being self-refuting or solvent by not following out the implications and/or ignoring significant chunks of data.
Christian universalists are often charged with this anyway, so I can’t in good conscience recommend a method that actually does it. Even if there are arguments for God’s nonviolence, this approach cannot be a valid one.
Hermano invited me to join your conversation here. Thanks for the invite. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts!
I wrote a longer response which got lost because of a technical glitch, so let me see if I can be succinct:
Part of being able to accept RM’s approach is whether we are okay with the idea that we can observe a developing and changing view of God cataloged throughout the OT. If you can then it makes sense to observe that from the perspective of Jews at the time of the NT, they would have interpreted OT passages differently that the people did at the time. Personally, I see enough evidence for this “developing perspective” that I find it pretty undeniable.
Jason makes a valid critique, showing that there is not a clear cut split between the NT and OT where the NT has a purely nonviolent God picture in contrast with the OT. It’s messier than that, as much as we might wish it were neat and simple.
That brings us to the question: If we can recognize a developing understanding of God throughout the Bible, does that development stop with the closing of the NT? If it did, we would not only have a violent picture of God in places, we also would have stuff like the affirmation of slavery being the final word on the matter. If this pro-slavery view is the final word in the NT, Is it going against the NT that we abolished slavery? Many Christians argued that it was back in the antebellum South. So why do we see it differently now? Do we have a different way of reading the Bible than they did allowing us to reject slavery or are we just being inconsistent here? One way of looking at it is to say that we are moving in the same trajectory as the NT, but taking it farther than they could at the time. So when we abolish slavery we are fulfilling the intent of the NT which was not not intended to be the final word on the matter any more than Isaac Newton was the final work on physics. We can apply this “trajectory” approach to many relevant moral issues of our time…
In short, I agree with the questions RM is having us ask (questions motivated by care for people being harmed in the name of religion, which is the kind of questioning I see Jesus doing all the time), even if I don’t quite agree with the exact answer he proposes (the specific hermeneutical method). IN broad strokes I think it can be helpful, but as Jason points out, it does get messy when you get down to the nitty-gritty details. I’d propose instead a trajectory approach.
Also, let me throw in here that the issue is not only about God’s violence, but also about humans committing violence in God’s name (which we see quite a bit in the OT).
Hi Everyone -
The question of violence and Christian universalism did – once upon a time - seem easy to me. I understand that one of the principles of Robin Parry’s Universalist hermeneutic is to take the Universalist passages of scripture as primary and interpret the more exclusivist passages in the light of these. This seems to me very much the same principle as is in use by Christians employing a non-violent hermeneutic to scripture. They will foreground the core ethical teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. In this light of this they will interpret violent passages accordingly
For example, the cleansing of the Temple – a non-violent interpretation would point to the fact that this is a piece of prophetic enactment of judgement on the temple institution. Many acts of terrible violence had been done by the pious and by the desecrators in the history of the temple. Jesus kills no one. HE does not enter with an armed group of rebels. He simply drives out the money changers and the sacrificial beasts with cords. There is no record of anyone being killed or of animals stampeding and crushing people to death. There is no riot, no drawing of swords. He simply enacts a prophetic sign. It is forceful, and compelling – but not violent as such. It is a protest and sign against a violent and destructive system – as are the Woes against the Pharisees. It uses force but not actual violence.
I know there are many other passages to contend with too – but that’s an example. It seems to me that many Christians who highlight the violent passages have to do great violence to the nonviolent passages. I’ve certainly found the teaching of Neo-Calvinists often seem to come up with a vision of Christ I simply cannot recognise – with the exception of his treatment of his elect Jesus is maximally violent, full of harm and hatred towards the reprobate. And his followers , in a sense, feel enjoined to imitate this violence.
Obviously some of the universalists I have got into the most heated arguments with on this site have also had a maximally violent image of God – with the proviso that when God has crushed and destroyed the people the see as their enemies, political opponents etc, he will somehow save everybody. Being a student of the history of Christian universalism this seems to me a new departure – but it does happen sadly (in my view).
There are also many here who wish to do justice to the full scope of scripture as Jason has done so well here.
I think the problem with Richard Murray’s hermeneutic is that it is far too simplistic – a bit like old Procruste’s bed. And in its oversimplifications and pretentions to certainty I think it is potentially divisive and violent itself. But I’d agree he si trying to address serious and pressing issues and that a trajectory approach is far more promising.
In Christ our Hen
Hey, ST, glad to see you back!
I could get behind a trajectory approach more easily than the clunkily self-refuting approach RM tries. The slavery angle is a good example, although that’s partly because the NT authors talk about slavery in a way which undermines slavery as an institution and as a concept. I forget if it was Lewis or Chesterton who put it this way, but while Christianity was a religion that could live with slavery it was also (uniquely for its time) a religion that could live without it, too, and initial steps were taken in that direction. For that matter, St. Paul flatly tells Titus that as an apostle he could just order Titus to do the right thing about Onesiphorus, and set him free, but (so to speak) he dang well expects Titus to do the right thing on his own regard without having to be ordered to do it. That might not seem to go far enough for abolitionists, especially when confronted with the living horror of slavery, but it’s a bracing statement for any Christian slave-owner to either take seriously or ignore at his peril once he sees it!
To which I could add that in theory the OT actually goes several steps farther than the material found in the NT canon by instituting outright laws, commonly ignored as impractical, for dissolving slavery and weaning cultures off it. Whenever Christians (and Jews) took those laws seriously, slavery was dealt a deathblow, lingering though the results might be for a while; no slave culture could easily perpetuate while taking them seriously. But for practical purposes that didn’t happen often (and so far as I can tell never happened at all in pre-Christian Judaism. Though I would like to be wrong about that. )
Any trajectory argument past not only the OT but also past the NT would have to fit that kind of profile, I think, as well as be thoroughly grounded in (and not merely incidental to) trinitarian theism – or to be fair whatever a group thinks makes the most sense theologically of the scriptures. But as a trinitarian Christian I have an obligation to insist on theological coherency and consistently from fellow trinitarians at least. And after all, that’s precisely how I came to be a Christian universalist in the first place!
Also, ever been driven out of somewhere you don’t want to be by a whip of small cords? Any historian (or for topical reference any slave or slave-master!) ought to be able to tell you, it would hurt and maybe even leave scars – depending on how it was wielded and on how obstinate the person was on staying in the area. We don’t have details of how far Jesus went exactly in doing it, but if he braided the thing Himself He had to spend at least half an hour preparing and that shows commitment to using the thing in an non-incidental manner. On the other hand, if a multiple throwout harmonization is accepted (which I do, Jesus having held the intervening Passover on a hillside of Lake Galilee), then while His denunciations scaled up the next time He may have scaled His actions down a bit: the Synoptics don’t mention the whip. But anyway, that’s an aside.
I wanted to add some mitigations in RM’s favor this morning, having jumped up and down on his article – and I could have jumped a lot more: my original draft ran several pages longer, and I could have easily added a dozen pages beyond that just citing countervailing scriptural examples! I know two more places in Romans itself where Paul seems to accept the idea of God hardening hearts, for example, though I don’t know of any other epistles where he does it – and those places are in chapter 11, the climactic chapter for his Christian universalism argument, or at least for his argument that all Israel including those currently rebelling will at last be saved! I could have also referenced Jesus’ own rationale in the Synoptics for switching to obscure parables, which is connected to His denunciation of His various religious opponents that they themselves have hardened their own hearts so fine if that’s their choice He’ll take steps to keep that in place for a while. On the other hand, had RM checked the context of Paul’s scriptural reference to Pharaoh (rather than simply apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to it), he might have noticed that Paul quotes God complaining about Pharaoh refusing to do the right thing during one of the phases where God is giving him an actual choice – with God promising, if angrily, that He has been going out of his way to be sparing Pharaoh’s life to be a witness for God someday. So the situation is rather more complex than simply hardening someone’s heart or not; and that’s a case of where if RM had stuck with more boring and normal hermeneutical methods, he would have still undercut the typical appeals to hardening as evidence of God’s hopeless non-salvation intentions.
(There’s also a very curious rabbinic tradition-problem regarding the verse St. Paul cites, because the scripture goes on to say Pharaoh dies at the Red Sea and in Hebrew the promise seems to be that God will keep him alive to give serious and sincere glory to God as a witness – which so far as the account goes doesn’t happen! The rabbis had a number of extra-biblical solutions to this, the two most colorful involving God bringing Pharaoh back to life. Theory 1, God resuscitates Pharaoh on the Egypt side of the sea as a radical witness in Egypt as Akhenaten the monotheistic ruler eventually martyred by the high priests in a coup. Or in an even more fascinating and epic theory, God brings him back to life on the Sinai side of the sea whereupon he anonymously follows the Hebrews into the 40 year exile, eventually leaves them in disappointment and disgust while they’re arming up for a few decades at the copper mines east of Jordan, and working his way north where after what must have been some stunning adventures he becomes the freaking king of Ninevah – and then either his descendant or the Pharaoh himself still miraculously alive recalls what happened long ago when Jonah arrives, thus explaining the king’s willingness to lead the whole city in repentance despite the miserably and hatefully minimal preaching of Jonah. I think there’s a good argument Paul is referring to this story at Romans 9: thus salvation doesn’t depend on the man who wills, i.e. Pharaoh, or on the man who runs, i.e. Jonah the rebel prophet who is practically sent to hell for his attitude about Ninevah, but upon God Who has mercy! I wouldn’t hang anything on that, but I’ve always liked it as a theory explaining odd details about what’s happening in Romans 9; had my life gone another way I would have loved to work on a historical fantasy novel with someone along that line, as I think she’d have liked all the plot nuances and would have been able to do a lot of research for it. The theory also incidentally dovetails rather well with Moses borrowing Egyptian legal and religious architecture, which Pharaoh might have been secretly helping him with, though given Moses’ training and upbringing that’s hardly necessary.)
Anyway, I’ll work up a mitigation commentary post next.
Thanks Hermano. I so appreciate your hard work here to promote my article and ideas. I am flattered and honored.
Obviously, one lone article can’t answer every question. But I think I have developed a much more nuanced approach than some of the above criticisms allow for.
Here is a PDF of the 400+ page book which will be available free of charge for a short time. If you will review the index of topics and questions, you will see I have addressed most all of the questions raised above. While some may certainly not agree with my reasoning, I have tried to leave no significant question unaddressed. thegoodnessofgod.com/GOD_VERSUS_EVIL.pdf
However, I would like to respond to a particular point of criticism. Namely, regarding the assertion that Jesus condoned and committed acts of violence in the combined passage which described the “cursing of the fig tree” and the “cleansing of the Temple.”
I have heard the argument that because Jesus once cursed a barren fig tree and it died, Jesus therefore will do the same to us.
So let me get this straight. Jesus verbally “pulling up a weed” by its roots proves God is a wrathful killer of children, women and men as described in a “by the letter” reading if the Old Testament.
As a lawyer, if I tried to convict a man accused of murder by offering proof that he pulled up weeds in his front yard, I would get laughed out of every courtroom in the world. And justly so.
Moreover, the real meaning behind the cursing of the fig tree is directly connected to the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus, just before entering Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple of the sellers and moneychangers, first passes an unproductive fig tree (Mark 11:12-26). Jesus then tells the fig tree that no man shall ever eat its fruit again. He then proceeds into Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple as described below. He then leaves the city. The next day, Jesus passes the fig tree again and sees that it has dried up from its roots and died, all within 24 hours of Jesus first speaking to it.
These two episodes are discussed together here because they are connected in time and purpose. Mark11:12-26 indicates that Jesus cursed the fig tree just before entering Jerusalem to “cleanse the Temple” from the thieving “sellers and moneychangers.” The next morning, Jesus revisited the fig tree to see that it had “dried up and withered from its roots” due to His earlier curse. Since the cleansing of the Temple is sandwiched between the cursing of the fig tree and its subsequent withering, it is clear these events are vitally linked. But before I explain their connection, I first want to make some preliminary points.
First, this passage is the most common Scripture cited for the proposition that Jesus DID engage in physical violence during His ministry. I once had a wrathful pastor use this passage to confidently claim that Jesus was like the martial arts film star Steven Seagal, violently chopping down opponents with “literal” kicks, punches and machine guns.
Sadly, I could see the unrighteous bloodlust in this pastor’s eyes as he used this passage to create a monster I can only describe as KILLER JESUS. The bloodlust I saw in his eyes reminded me of paintings I have seen depicting the Roman gladiatorial games where the rabid crowd gives a frothing “thumbs-down” to fallen gladiators, a sign which required the victors to then slit the vanquished’s throats. The crowd wanted violence. The pastor wanted violence. He used this Bible passage to claim Jesus wanted violence.
There is only one problem with that pastor’s claim: it is absolutely groundless. Jesus hurt NO human being in this event, for if He had, He could and would have been LAWFULLY arrested, something the Jewish authorities had desperately wanted to happen. Mark 11:18 confirms that the scribes and chief pharisees wanted to destroy Him in this passage, so His breaking of the law by assaulting several Temple Jews would have given them all the ammunition they needed. But, this Scripture at no point claims that Jesus harmed ANY human at ANY time in this story. Jesus “knocked over” some tables and verbally “cast out” a group of profiteering thieves who had no right to be in the Temple in the first place.
And in fact, AFTER Jesus cleared the Temple of the thieves, look at WHO and WHAT immediately took their place. The “blind and lame” came into the Temple courts and “He healed them all” (Matthew 21:14). Then, a large group of “children” came and saw the healings and started “crying in the Temple, and saying Hosanna to the son of David.” (Matthew 21:15-16). Jesus rejoiced at this and called what these children did “perfect praise.” The point is that Jesus “cast out” the faithless, felonious and fruitless elements present in the Temple courts SO THAT they could be replaced with elements of fruitful faith and fervent worship.
This passage says that ALL there, including the chief priests and scribes, saw “the wonderful things that He did” (Matthew 21:15). This is hardly a mandate for KILLER JESUS is it? No, when we read the context of what REALLY happened here, we see it was a wonderful healing and worship revival rather than some sort of bloodbath where Jesus is beating and brutalizing people. But, because our wrathful eyes are so trained to focus on violence, we take Jesus’ actions totally out of context and ignore the “perfect praise” and “healing” ministry that resulted from Jesus’ actions. The Matthew 21:1-17 version of events makes no mention EVER of anybody being harmed. It is as simple as that.
But, didn’t Jesus take a whip and beat the money changers away? No, not at all. Matthew’s and Mark’s respective Gospel versions of this event (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:12-26) never even MENTION a whip. And while John’s version does mention Jesus taking “a scourge of small cords” to drive “the sheep and oxen” from the Temple, commentators since the earliest centuries confirm, as have most modern translations, that this passage limits the scourging to just the sheep and cattle, and not to the men. (See Today’s English Version; The Moffat Translation; The Darby Bible; The Goodspeed Bible; The Zurich Bible; The New Revised Standard Version; The World English Bible; The Authorized Standard Version; and commentators McGregor, Temple, Plummer and Strachan). These Bible versions and commentators connect the “all” in John 2:15 as referring to BOTH “all” the sheep and to “all” the cattle, but NOT to “all” the moneychangers.
These translators all believe that the proper Greek construction of this passage can refer to EITHER the sellers and moneychangers OR to the sheep and cattle, but not to both. The common sense context here makes the sheep and cattle the only sensible option, particularly since the following verse (v.16) has Jesus orally telling the remaining den of thieves to leave, an action hardly necessary if he had ALREADY whipped them all away. It is obvious that the cord of small knots was for the animals alone. But was this cruel to the animals? Not at all, particularly since they were all about to be sacrificially executed if Jesus had let them be. If nothing else, Jesus was giving the animals a reprieve to live another day.
The term used to describe Jesus’ actions toward the moneychangers and sellers was that He “cast them out.” To “cast out” merely means that Jesus commanded them out and away from the Temple, and in fact John 2:16 tells us that Jesus VERBALLY commanded the merchandisers to “take their things hence.” Remember, Jesus spoke with an authoritative tone in His voice like no one had ever heard before (Matthew 7:29). He even bowled over several troops by just using His voice in John 18:6.
The bottom line is that to use this episode of Jesus cleansing the Temple, wherein He healed the lame and the blind in the midst of a cadre of children crying perfect praise in His Father’s house, AS PROOF that Jesus used physical violence on men------ is simply ridiculous. If anything, it proves just the opposite. Jesus cleared the Temple courts WITHOUT sword or fist. Did He use aggression? Yes, certainly, but He did NOT use physical brutality. He was not KILLER JESUS!
Now, what about the cursing of the fig tree? Can this be used to justify the claim that God curses men to wither and die just as He did the fig tree? Certainly not! A plant is NOT human, NOT sentient, and NOT made in the image of God. To use violence against a plant to justify violence against a human is outrageous and silly.
Moreover, the real meaning behind the cursing of the fig tree is directly connected to the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus, just before entering Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple of the sellers and moneychangers, first passes an unproductive fig tree (Mark 11:12-26). Jesus then tells the fig tree that no man shall ever eat its fruit again. He then proceeds into Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple as described above. He then leaves the city. The next day, Jesus passes the fig tree again and sees that it has dried up from its roots and died, all within 24 hours of Jesus first speaking to it.
So, what does this mean? Jesus was merely repeating, reinforcing and re-demonstrating to the disciples the exact same dynamic He revealed to them when He zealously cleansed the Temple. UNFRUITFULNESS MUST GO!
Jesus purged the unfruitful elements out of both the Temple and the fig tree. Jesus verbally rebuked the false and fruitless authorities out of His Father’s house which had made it a den of thieves. He cast them out, then what IMMEDIATELY happens? Fruitfulness RUSHES in to fill the vacuum with the healing of the blind and lame combined with the perfected praise of the children described earlier. Do you see? Unfruitfulness is VERBALLY denounced SO THAT fruitfulness can return. So too with the fig tree. Jesus denounced the unfruitful fig tree SO THAT another fruitful fig tree could grow in that same spot.
This is why I believe the fig tree and the Temple-cleansing form a double-helix dynamic where Jesus is modeling the same exact message twice. He denounced the sellers and moneychangers so that fruitfulness would be restored to His Father’s house, which it immediately was. He THEN repeated the lesson by denouncing a barren fig tree so that fruitfulness could likewise be restored to the area being taken up by the worthless plant.
The point of this passage is that Jesus aggressively, but not violently, purges the false identities out of creation which do not bear fruit---- demonstrated here by removing the false motivators out of His Temple, and then by removing the false plant which bears no fruit. Both the Temple and the fig tree had become empty husks---- false identities in other words. Jesus emptied the Temple of the false so He could fill it with the real. Jesus then removed the false fig tree so that a real one could grow in its place. Jesus is zealous that all things Godly MUST bear fruit.
So then, this passage is not about the KILLER JESUS, but rather about the HEALER JESUS!
Hi friends, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread. May I say a good word for my friend Richard Murray? I have often critiqued his methodology this past year as we sparred on Facebook, and while I do not subscribe to his view of scripture (inerrancy) or of the satan (which he perceives as a personal being), or to his allegorical hermeneutic (inasmuch as I am way too postmodern), nevertheless I think that his approach is important to those who hold to inerrancy as it really deals with the problem of theodicy from within those presumed categories in a way that challenges the standard Augustinian reading of the biblical text. While Richard’s approach is not satisfying to those of us who use the historical-critical method or who may be (in my case) considered post-foundationalist critical realists, nevertheless try to imagine yourself as an inerrantist reading Richard’s work. BAM! It is a mind blower and a game changer, and I think it opens the doors to more critical thinking about the biblical text. For me, Richard’s work is a first step for inerrantists out of their box, unlike Richard I think it is just a first step and there are other steps to be taken. But in the end, I am glad to count Richard as my friend as one who sees a ‘better God’ than the Janus-faced god created by Christendom. Peace to all.
How awesome to have Richard Murray and Michael Hardin posting on this thread!
I had been thinking about how to work in Mike Hardin’s A Jesus Driven Life into the thread which [tag]Melchizedek[/tag] and I have just read. [tag]fatherlearningtolove[/tag] may have read it as well. I, for one, was blown away by the book. As a non-inerrantist and a fan of Peter Enns, your work and approach resonates deeply with me. I’m fairly new to Girard’s mimetic theory but it’s completely changed everything for me. I’m currently reading The Girard Reader as a start…
Thanks for joining the discussion!
Thank Hermanus and Richard, they invited me. Glad to see such vivacious conversation.
Richard - Enjoyed your post on the cleansing of the Temple and the Barren Fig Tree.
I apologise for harsh words about potential violence in your method – that was wrong of me. It’s ironic that I’m being so cautious because I’ve been banging the drum for non- violent interpretation of scripture here for two and a half years. But I am glad that we are seeing a range of views here.
Hermano – thanks for starting the debate.
**Anybody ** In terms of tradition I note that the key Early Church Fathers who were also Universalists – Origen and Gregory of Nyssa – also didn’t believe in a violent God. Both used allegory to deal with the violent passages in scripture.
The bottom line for me is that violent interpretations of scripture tends to make Christians extremely violent. I’m reminded of this often here. I’ve just become aware – from an anxious post here - of the ‘Psycho heresy’ movement within American Christian fundamentalism. They claim that there is no such thing as mental illness and that people who are say schizophrenic or have learning difficulties have not made God sovereign in their lives and so the afflictions both come from God and are their own fault. I do a search on this ‘anti-pity’ movement and a few clicks away find awful stories of abuse, violence and suicide covered up. Believing in a violent God often has such terrible consequences and I do feel it is an important issue for Christian Universalists.
Also the older tradition of Christian universalism with which I am well acquainted, shared a key insight certainly with the Girardians that the problematic wrath is not in God; it is in human beings and our loving God hands us over to our wrath but always seeks to save and heal us from it and from or perishing in it. I find this for example in Julian and of Norwich and William Law – who it transpires was a key influence on George MacDonald – articulated this in his exegesis of scripture in ways that hugely anticipate the debate today.
**Mike (Hardin)– **‘how dost thee neighbour’? (I have to say that to you because you are semi famous and I’m half Quaker )When is your book ’The Jesus Driven Life’ going to be released in the UK?
In Christ our hen
All is well Dick. I appreciate your comments.
Wow, what an honor to have two fine scholars in this thread! I wish I could think of a good head scratcher for one of them - I’ll have to see if I can come up with one later.
I thought it worth pointing out that in his book, (not published in the UK ), Michael Hardin spends quite a bit of time looking at the early church in regards to violence which is quite detailed and nuanced with major changes occurring with Constantine and Augustine. Perhaps he’ll wish to expand on this, but if not, I’ll try my best to summarize the chapter later. I don’t believe the universalism of Origen and Fregory of Nyssa is emphasized, but I think universalism is implicit in his whole project.
First off, welcome to the forum, and second thanks for the PM invite to respond. Seems perhaps you saw/read some of my earlier ponderings about Violence and UR…
So let me just jump in with a few comments and opinions (many of which are covered better by others on this thread) in no particular order.
But before I do that, I must say I have deep sympathy and empathy for what I see as your desire to “protect” God’s reputation by trying so hard to disconnect Him from the violence of the OT given it’s apparent “obvious” clash with the non-violent approach of Jesus in the NT.
That said, on to my comments…
While I’m not exactly agnostic about the reality of a personal devil (I tend to find it hard to give up such a central idea from my upbringing!) I am a) not really sure how much is actually added to our understanding of God by having a personal devil and b) have significant sympathy for the idea that Satan is a projection of our own inner evil desires and propensities.
I recall reading that, of his last book - Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrists Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption - M Scott Peck said: The devil could go on an extended holiday to the other side of the Universe, and his absence would hardly be noticed – so capable are we of carrying on his works… (my paraphrase) Far too often, is my experience, Christians take great comfort on having someone else to blame for their own condition.
I’ve a good friend at church who is quite certain that the basis on which sin is destroyed is by destroying Satan! Get rid of Satan and we’d be on our way! is his thinking. This of course prevents him from grasping his own sad condition as sinner! Plus it allows him a scapegoat for his own sins. No, sin is inside of us - of me…
- My sense is that all too many sincere Christians have far more confidence in Satan’s capacity to detract and derail them, than they do in Christ’s ability to save them. And that is utterly tragic… Satan is a defeated foe - plain and simple…
To the essay by Richard Murray which you cite…
- That Murray is a defense attorney fits perfectly. He is not interested in providing a nuanced grasp of the entire issue, the pluses and minuses of the case he fights against, respecting aspects of the opposing view as would a theologian or philosopher for example. No, his intent seems to be to destroy any hint or notion that God would ever be responsible for any and all violence! Which is an attorney’s job!!
But in doing this, he misses, and or denigrates the sorts of understandings that come to those faithful who have wrestled with this very issue for a very long long time. It’s like a giant “short cut” in order to avoid all serious questions about God. He seems unaware that these very questions about God often do result in a deepening of faith – not it’s destruction.
My sense is that Murray’s real interest is in being able to provide a tool to defend God against charges of evil and violence by those unbelievers and skeptics with whom he interacts. Which is all well and good I suppose. But to do this he offers a really blunt instrument in the “BRACKET” theory – when what is called for is more like a fine tool such as a surgeons knife. The use of “BRACKETING” will almost certainly be used to a far greater extent than even he intended and, in the wrongs hands, literally neutralizes the entire body scripture. Agree with Jason on what he said here…
That said, it is undeniable that God, as scripture records, often allows people (His people!) to proceed with some false understandings of reality. In the interest of “moving things along” and of fostering spiritual understanding and maturity. I’m thinking of the early parts of Matthew (7 I think) where Jesus says “You have heard it said” but I tell you…”
So a less mature and less valid understanding is allowed to stand for a time it seems. For teaching purposes; for growth. Slavery has also been mentioned; No sane Christian would today defend slavery with scripture – yet taken at “face value”, scripture is, at best, “silent” on the actual literal topic.
So yes – I am very tempted to imagine that all sorts of evils and violence, especially in the OT, and laid at the feet of God, are actually wrongfully placed there. Nothing would please me more than to discover (though won’t be till the hereafter I’m afraid…) that the entirety of God’s biblical violence can indeed, be blamed on the horrific misunderstandings of the ancients… (‘cept something tells me that’s just a wee bit too easy a way out of this…)
My own personal bias when tempted to solve a biblical problem of understanding by appealing to their ancient ignorance is to wonder how ignorant I myself might seem to those enlightened ones far in my future. It’s just too easy to claim ignorance for those ancients, all at the expense of my current enlightenment, when in fact some day, I myself might be one of those “ancients”… More helpful (my opinion at least) to take those ancients seriously and give them just as much benefit of the doubt as I like to have myself…
Further, I simply do not know how thoroughly God embraced “our ways” when He chose to enter our realm. Was violence something WE invented on our own and God, joining us in our conundrum was somehow “forced” to participate with us in the schemes in which we operated? I just don’t know right now…
When we speak of violence, most often what we mean is of the physical sort. But I honestly have no idea how this translates to the spirit realm – ie that realm of Satan. Violence, to me, means pain and hurting and injury and trauma and rape and loss of senses (eg. eyes gouged out) and starvation and so on and on. I mean how on earth can we know what violence against a spirit must look like? Frank Peretti’s imagination I’m suggesting, only “works” if one transports our physical realities into his imagined spiritual realms.
This may be wrong of me, but I seriously give God a bit more leeway in all this given that He alone is able to redeem and recreate and make whole again. No, this doesn’t give Him ‘carte blanche’ I don’t believe, nor does He ever come close to asking for such a thing.
I will confess that, given my profound convictions about UR, I am inclined to give God a whole lot more leeway in matters such as this…
Lastly, I think the attitude of Job is instructive when he says “though He slay me, yet will I serve Him…” No, of course Job didn’t like it one bit. But he also knew God well enough to trust not just his life, but everything to this God, who seemed, at that moment, to be pretty violent towards him.
And that, I would like to suggest, is precisely the sort of conclusion we are to come to as we struggle with the very same sorts of things only via the lens of our own modern understandings. We can embrace God with all the fierce devotion we can muster – and yet still have serious questions for Him, about how He has managed the affairs of this Universe. God does not need to be defended, in my humble opinion, with things like “BRACKETING”… Though I don’t find it at all contradictory to say that I really enjoyed Richard Murray’s essay and find there are a great many things he says which are quite on target.
(PS – written when the post # was at 27 or so…)