The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Fighting For God's Nonviolence. (Richard Murray's approach.)


I’m going to go ahead and tag Richard Murray[tag]Gadite[/tag] regarding Derek’s question upthread. :smiley:

While I’m here I have a question for Derek regarding this:

My question is whether you see a progression in the OT (as I believe Michael Hardin does) with mercy and inclusion coming progressively to the forefront in the OT narrative? I agree with you by the way, but just wondered if there seems to be a direction in your view to the OT narrative.



There might be, but what I really notice, and find deeply significant, is that we find opposing views, side by side, from the same time. A great example of this is Ruth vs. Ezra-Nehemiah. So you can’t say that “people back then were primitive” because we find examples of people being really inclusive and compassionate from the exact same time as we find really ugly behavior. Kind of like we find now days with people too.

A second thing I find amazing about these side by side opposing views is that it says something really amazing about the Hebrew canon that the dissenting protesting minority views were included along-side the majority “orthodox” perspectives. I think we Christians could a learn a lot from that.


Hi Derek -

I agree with this. So we have OT messy/varied perspectives. And I think we can obviously see the living debate engendered by these varying perspectives in Rabbinical Judaism as well as in non fundamentalist Christianity.

You are also hinting at varied perspectives in the NT and perhaps of some idea of a ‘canon within a canon’ existing for you also in the NT ?


Sure Derek, I would love to comment along the lines you mentioned.

You aptly describe how those who have employed the analogical/allegorical method of Bible interpretation do “reverse things, but act as if the reverse is not happening.” They go far, but perhaps not far enough.

In other words, they DO exercise hermeneutical courage in failing to accept the literal and surface meaning of horrific passages which, when read literally, paint God as the child-drowning, infant-burning, throat-slitting, plague-sending, people-smiting killer we sometimes see in the Old Testament. But, these same interpreters appear unwilling to THEN connect the final and necessary dots by declaring that the “dead letter” declarations of certain passages are, as C.S. Cowles has noted, not just “pre-Christ” or “sub-Christ”, but in fact are “anti-Chtist.”

C. S. Lewis believed that troubling Old Testament Bible passages should be shelved, but not discarded, unless and until Christian mystics come on the scene and open their meaning up with the love of God. Then, the passage will reveal God’s goodness in ways we could never imagine. But, while that may be wise and true on some level, that’s a bit too ephemeral for most of us.

Let me give a couple of other historical examples here which go a little further than Lewis, but not quite as far I am proposing.

I love this following quote by John Wesley, for it shows great guts in standing for God’s goodness. While Wesley here DOES strongly imply that the literal reading of certain passages paints God as worse than the devil, he then comes SHORT of saying the passage is just dead wrong on it’s literal level. Still, the quote is dazzling.

“You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by Scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it can never prove this; whatever its true meaning be, this cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, What is its true meaning then? If I say, I know not, you have gained nothing; for there are many Scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense at all, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it means besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the judge of all the world is unjust. No Scripture can mean that God is not love, or that His mercy is not over all His works.” Wesleys Journals, Vol. VII, p. 383.

John Wesley, by the way, is the originator of the following great righteous riposte. Wesley once told a mean-spirited Calvinist who was claiming God struck down a man for preaching error, “Your God is my Satan!” These five words have blessed me beyond measure in my own hermeneutical walk.

But, more to your exact point Derek, Augustine dismissed brutal passages by insisting that they be read figuratively (i.e. allegorically, analogically). He would reinterpret any passage that painted God as evil by by assigning it a figurative meaning, but that the passage in any event was never to be discarded, just re-imagined.

“Wherefore, in the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, and in the New Testament a revealing of the Old. According to that veiling, carnal men, understanding things in a carnal fashion, have been under the dominion, both then and now, of a penal fear. On the other hand, spiritual men… have a spiritual understanding and have been made free through love which they have been gifted.” Saint Augustine (On Catechizing the Uninstructed 4:8; NPNF 1/3:287).

Finally, my favorite theologian Origen described it this way. “Ignorant assertions about God appear to be nothing else but this: that Scripture is not understood in its spiritual sense, but is interpreted according to the bare letter.” Origen, On First Principles 4:2.1-2, 4. Origen, I believe, would agree that Scripture, it’s literal form, could be deadly, dead wrong, and deadly satanic. For him, the problem was not THAT the entire Bible was read, but rather HOW the Bible was read.

I have said this many times, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t test us on Bible knowledge, but the Bible does test us on Holy Spirit knowledge. Even the literal imperfections of the Bible are perfect, for they perfectly diagnose, expose and reveal both our hidden and not so hidden carnal wrath, SO THAT we can THEN eliminate it through the renewal of our minds.

I think people often come to the Bible table ALREADY full of hidden (and not so hidden) wrath.

“Dead letter” Bible reading doesn’t PRODUCE our wrath. It REVEALS it.

We often ALREADY have wrathful hellfire and brimstone in our hearts before ever literally reading about in the Bible.

Reading about it just brings it to the surface so that God may confront it through His stirrings of our consciences.

And THIS is why God can still use our lazy, hasty, and literal Bible misreadings as a diagnostic tool. It diagnoses our violent impulses, homicidal hearts and mean ignorance of God’s goodness.

This process allows the Holy Spirit to come and convince us that the literal “by the letter” Bible reading is OF a different spirit than is the Spirit OF God.

Holy Spirit promptings seek to trouble our consciences whenever we use the Bible to justify wrath and cruelty. Some respond to these promptings through great searchings of heart, while others reject those promptings through greater hardenings of heart.

But, God wants every reader to have an epiphany about “by the letter” Bible reading as follows: “This just can’t be right. This is not the Jesus I hear speaking in my heart. This can’t be the right way to read this. There has to be a better way, a non-literal way.”

Millions have already had this epiphany and refuse to read Scripture by the letter. But, millions haven’t. Millions do harden their hearts to any such Spirit promptings.

God wants us to use the Spiritual reading to OVERCOME our pre-existing wrath which our literal “by the letter” reading painfully exposes.

So, I am NOT in favor of demoting the Scriptures as non-vital. But, I AM in favor of demoting literalism.

I believe we must allow the character of God to translate all Scripture rather than allowing the dead letter of Scripture to translate God’s character. Sometimes that requires us to declare the Old Testament Scripture, in its inert and “dead letter” form, is not just pre-Christ or sub-Christ, but also on occasion is thoroughly anti-Christ.

So, an obvious question becomes this. Do I believe that an Old Testament Scripture can be anti-Christ on a literal level, but throughly Christ on another level of reading? Yes, I do believe that.

But, sometimes, that Christological meaning is merely a refutation of it’s literal meaning as just described above. The Old Testament often contains negative examples we are NOT to follow. We are never to assume that the Old Testament passage is a positive model to emulate until it passes New Testament muster. And by this, I mean it reveals qualities of God confirmed in the New Testament revelation of Jesus combined with Holy Spirit confirmation. Sometimes, Old Testament passages are there to warn us how NOT to approach God. This is the type of Allegory which says OTHER and MORE than what the text literally says.

This concept is highlighted in the following passage:

“These things happened as EXAMPLES for us, so that we will NOT crave evil things as they did… NOT be idolaters, as some of them were… NOT be immoral, as some of them were… NOT put Christ to the test, as some of them did… NOT complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel (the devil). These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” I Corinthians 10:6-11.

Paul in the above passage isn’t telling us to follow the Old Testament, but rather NOT to follow it. Avoid their mistakes. Avoid their lapses. LEARN form them on occasion what NOT to do. Sometimes we learn who Christ IS by discovering who He isn’t, by negative counter-examples in other words.

Many times however, the Old Testament violence is NOT a counter-example of what not to do, but rather is a metaphorical truth meant to inspire us as to what TO do. It can point to an internalized spiritual warfare dynamic.

I remember at an earlier stage of my life I was struggling mightily with lust, and it was threatening my marriage. Through prayer, I was able to draw an Old Testament image from Samson smashing the 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. For a season, I used this image/metaphor to likewise smash lustful impulses which assailed me. As a former wrestler and football player, this imagery inspired my resolve to stand and contend against these lustful impulses. And it saved my marriage at the time. It gave me the visceral will to fight am army of evil impulses which sought to destroy my family.

Moreover, my rhema usage of this passage was consistent with the Corinthians passage which states that our true battle is with internal thoughts and impulses rather than external flesh and blood. External violence here was converted to internal resolve.

Here is the best definition of allegory I have found. “Allegory is language that says one thing and means either something MORE than what it says or something OTHER than what it says.” — Theologian R.A. Norris, in his article on “Allegory” in THE WESTMINSTER HANDBOOK TO ORIGEN.

To read it allegorically is NOT to deny it lacks any historical value at all. Rather, it is to say that the primary meaning of Old Testament Scripture is symbolic and non-literal. It is more like a heroic “movie trailer” of Christ and His “coming soon” kingdom. The trailer is not in narrative form, but is a series of quickly cut and weaved symbolic snippets which give us exciting flashes of insight into Jesus. But his trailer can only be previewed on a Holy Spirit projector.

The allegorical Jesus Hermeneutic I propose says that there is something to be gleaned in every Old Testament passage about Jesus, His victory over Satan and/or His Kingdom of light, love and learning. Karl Barth said he loved the Old Testament too much than to read it just literally. And I agree.

Sometimes the Old Testament declares divine dynamics perfectly without allegorical adjustment.

Other times, the passage needs to be allegorized as saying MORE or OTHER than what the literal text says.

Sometimes the passages even expose what they didn’t know about God, negative examples of actions and mindsets for us NOT to follow in other words.

Still other times, we must adjust the dialogue from the Old Testament passages as being prophetically said BY or ABOUT Jesus RATHER than being said BY or ABOUT historical humans.

Even the violent passages in the Old Testament can reveal truths about spiritual warfare NEVER to be taken literally against flesh and blood enemies, but rather they instruct us on how to better battle and vanquish our inner enemies-- our Goliaths of fear, our personal Philistines of affliction, and our demonic Egyptian enemies seeking to destroy our lives and enslave our souls, etc.

The Jesus Hermeneutic which I propose then, is simply the light and love of God revealed in Christ. It makes all things new, even the Old Testament! And sometimes, that newness is in itself declaring that the literal reading of the seemingly brutal passage points despicably AWAY from Christ rather than brilliantly TO Him.


Thanks, Derek. :smiley:
I agree and it is interesting that the minority views weren’t “purged” from the Hebrew canon. Is this unique for an ancient religious text suggesting something very different going on in ancient judaism or are there other examples in other religions? Just wondering…

Edit: Just saw your post above, Richard, which is really excellent. I’ll be reading it over again more closely as there’s a lot in there to digest… :smiley:


Steve asks

Yes. As Rene Girard observes, this was unique in world literature where it was exceptional at the time for the voice of the victim to be heard at all. Instead, history is normally told from the perspective of the victors, demonizing and dehumanizing the vanquished. In that narrative, those who suffer are evil and deserving of their suffering. The inclusion of this minority voice of the victim within its canon is is something that sets the Hebrew Bible apart from other writings of the time, especially because it maintains, against the voice of authority, that their suffering is unjust. Girard points out that this is revolutionary in the sense that the inclusion of this voice of protest has the power to expose and subvert the oppression and harm of the dominant voice.


Thanks, Derek! :smiley:


In the OT we have two opposing perspectives. For example one voice upholding interracial marriage which maintains that a foreign woman can be good and moral and that Yahweh will recognize her faithfulness and “shelter her under his wing” (the book of Ruth), and along side of that we find other stories that instead maintain that all foreign women are immoral and corrupting and command the Israelite men to cast their foreign wives along with their children into the night (Ezra & Nehemiah). Two polar opposite views in the OT.

In the NT we instead find different ways of reaching the same goal. So there is agreement that the focus is on mercy, love of enemies, grace, and inclusion, but disagreement of how best to do that. For example we have the conflict between Paul and James.

What I find most significant about the NT however is not really these different approaches, but the idea that what we find in the NT is not the “ceiling” (the final word on the matter), but the floor (where we begin). That means that rather than ending with saying slavery is okay as lonk as you treat the slaves okay (as the NT does), we abolish slavery as an evil institution and this is seen not as going against Jesus but furthering the trajectory Jesus began. We might do the same with, say how we engage with the state and violence. back then Paul was a persecuted minority under Nero (who was kind of like Hitler). Now we have much more influence and can work to make our government more humane, say by outlawing capitol punishment as inhumane and wrong. We can take similar steps with lots of other contemporary issues.



Thanks for your reply. There is a lot that we agree on. What I am still not on board with is reading the OT texts as analogy (in the way Origen for example does). We agree that this method is in contrast the original intent of the author, and that it thus gives the text a new meaning. The difficulty I see here is:

We could with this method, literally read ANY meaning at all into the text. So the text is at this point no longer a source of content in any meaningful sense of the word. So if that is the case, we need to ask what is the basis of our content that we are projecting into the biblical text? There may indeed be a valid answer for this, but we do need to ask ourselves this question.

Let’s say for sake of argument that we find a way to projecting a Christ-centered good content into the text with our analogy reading. Then we still have some more questions:

If we can (1) literally read ANY meaning at all into the text (let’s assume a good one), and (2) we affirm that the text as it was originally intended is wrong and indeed evil, then why bother using the text at all as our blank canvas?

Said differently, If we can project a good analogy reading into some terrible genocide passage from the OT (since it becomes a blank slate for our new content), how would this be different from doing the same with other books we find mortally problematic, say Mein Kampf for example? Would that be something we would recommend? If not, how would this be any different exactly?

I do think there are ways for us to engage with the OT, but I do not see that the Father’s analogy approach is really a valid one, and in fact I think it is quite problematic for a number of ethical/moral reasons. Let me add that this disagreement is a “disagreement among allies.” We are both moving in the same direction towards grace and compassion, and that’s deeply significant. We just disagree about the best way to get there. :smiley:


I’d agree Derek –

As an historian I note that it was Christians who were not bound so much to the letter of the Word who were instrumental in the abolition of slavery as an institution (although it’s making a comeback with Islamic Fundamentalism and is also promoted as a good thing by the Theonomists amongst the neo-Reformed). Gregory of Nyssa was the first to question the institution of slavery on the grounds of the eschatological dignity of all in apocatastasis. But the Quakers were the real movers and shakers at first – when abolitionism was a despised thing long before it had become respectable and alternative and was taken up by the likes of William Wilberforce. And they became movers and shakers in their conviction of the dignity of all in the universal light of Christ in the here and now.

I can see a problem with universalism as expounded by Robin Parry. Whatever his private views may be – and I have every reason to suspect he is a gentle and peace loving man – if universalism is just a matter of knowing how to assemble the biblical arguments for universal salvation it can for some become a bolt on positive thinking happy ending to a set of views about life which are as brutal as any fundamentalism. I’ve had discussion with universalist who have called for nuclear war against Muslims and for the death penalty to be made as horrible as possible for example. So there is an issue here. This is an open discussion site so that’s to be expected – but i have often been much shaken by those who delight in wrathful elements.


Hi Richard –

I’m enjoying your posts and agree with much in them – I really so. What you are saying about Origen completely chimes with the little I know generally and specifically from reading his homily on Genesis. His views about apocatastasis were grounded in a more general exegetical sprit of rejection of God as violent and retributive. I so much applaud this and thank you for your exposition here.

I’m actually broadly in agreement with lots of stuff that you and Derek and Mike are saying – and the spirit behind it is not new to this Forum (which is a discussion site of a plurality of views rather than a community with a common view).

If I can say a couple of things as a boring old historian – a vocation on this site which I often question, especially when I start boring myself
First, being a bit dyslexic, when I stated that Origen had an anagogical level of interpretation and then Derek started talking about analogical interpretation I thought I’d goofed :laughing: . But I’ve looked this up and he did have an anagogical level too

These are my notes on this levels of interpretation (mainly from another source that I’ve mislaid) –

Second, interesting what you say about Wesley -

That’s a wonderful quotation from Wesley - and I hope I’d say that same to this preacher. Wesley’s dispute with William Law on this issue is intriguing. He obviously loved Law as a Father figure but when Law adapted Jacob Boehme’s’ mysticism through the lense of Iranaeus for universalist purposes and for teaching that God is not wrathful and that the wrath is in us Wesley went ballistic and published a letter against Law in which was full of bitter sarcasm and included the sentiment that if you take away eternal scorchings you take away the Gospel. We’ve been reminded of this recently by one Dr McClymond recently who is a TULI Calvinist and wants to defame universalists. I remembered your quotation from Wesley about Calvin when listening to McClymond’s lecture and couldn’t help but smile. Wesley was conflicted in his views about God and violence – but I think under the pressure of encounters with extreme Calvinists he became more and more sympathetic towards universalists – although in edited editions, he did publish books by wide hopers and universalists in his Christian Library for Methodists – Law, Brooke, Bengel, Tillotson and Barclay. SO I think something was going in his very complex soul.

It’s perhaps regrettable that one strand of universalism and indeed non-violent scriptural interpretation was influenced by a re-interpretation of Boehme’s difficult and esoteric writings. I think that happened because other interpretations beyond the literal, logical, and forensic and become dominant and other clearer traditions had become lost (as side issue but one that has interested me recently)

All the best

Dick (the plodder)


Yes I’ve observed that here too and this is indeed deeply troubling. I frankly feel more brotherhood with an atheist who believes in compassion than a Christian who promotes violence in God’s name.

I think that actually universalism is the wrong place to focus, as it seems to lead to a view focused on the afterlife, and as a result justifies horrific harm to others here and now. I say that as someone who deeply hopes for the afterlife as a real place I will enjoy forever, but that belief should not be a license for profound acts of evil now, and that on a mass scale(!)

I’d say that rather than begin with universalism, if our focus is really on loving others (which is the heart of Christ’s message), we should begin with a categorical rejection of anything that harms others (practical active nonviolence) and then go from there (I do embrace universalism too). The heart of this is not what God does (as if we could judge God) but what we do to each other (which we should be responsible for).

That applies to how we deal with war, crime, and so on. When we have a view that allows us to act in hurtful ways towards others, this is unacceptable and incompatible with Christ. If this is the fruit of our universalism, then it is wrong.

Further, when we read the Bible as justifying that, we read it wrong. If it turns out the Bible indeed justifies this (and it does in places) then the Bible is wrong there, and we are morally obligated to reject it (that’s part of what interpreting the multi-vocal text involves: what to embrace and what to reject). We need to learn how to find the good fruit, and spit out the seeds.


I agree with much that has been said in relation to the principle that our approach to Scripture must begin with Lord Jesus, and that He is the lense it must be read through, and with much Gadite (Richard?) and Derek say but would suggest it runs deeper than that. Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus died, buried and rose in the third day ‘according to the Scriptures’ reflects not just some particularly prophecies but that the whole sweep of the OT is about Him, just as He opened the Scriptures to Clopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, here is the same point, not just that He is the surprise climax everything was heading towards but it is about Him and the gospel of the Kingdom. What we see in the Gospel author’s use of the OT and in Paul’s epistles and in fact all the NT writers is the realisation in light of the events of Jesus’ life, Resurrection and ascension that everything was about Him, the whole Scripture was about what had happened and was going to happen. As Paul says elsewhere in the same letter:

'But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:7-8)

There is the conviction that only with Christ was the mystery and wisdom within the Scriptures and of God’s purposes in the history of the Jewish people revealed and understood. And that this was the understanding the church fathers and the early church inherited and expanded upon, as they saw the OT is a commentary on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the true meaning could only be understood now that the mystery had been unveiled, and it could be truly read. Only now could the true meaning and sense that went beyond the original sources and authors understanding and intentions, re-framing, changing and transforming it be heard. The Scriptures are about Him, and the OT is a commentary on Christ and the gospel, so Genesis 1 is a commentary on John 1:1, rather then the other way around. Not just the events of the development of the Jewish people but the manner they came to be interpreted in the developed form of the narrative OT Scripture are not a history revealing God working through things to fulfil the Abrahamic covenant, that prefigure and shadow what is to come, or something that develops to the Incarnation, but rather it all is through the Scripture a commentary on and revelation on the Messiah Jesus, His coming and rescue of the world and the new creation in Him. For instance the Exodus from Paul through to the church fathers isn’t just a narrative in which Christ completes and fulfills in a new and greater Exodus so that the gospel events are referenced to it, rather the gospel is the Exodus which Exodus as in it’s full form references and whose narrative provides commentary and understanding on and gives expression in it’s narrative and imagery to, and indicated without knowing and many misunderstood and misguided ways Israel was responding to the call of Christ. The Exodus story as it came to be told a commentary on the rescue of God of His people from all the manifestations of the tyranny and power of death and it’s chief slave through all it’s complex manifestations represented by Egypt and Pharaoh, and the plagues displaying it’s chaos, and revealed in full in the final plague, through the Passover Lamb and through baptism into and through the Red Sea, out of death into life (even more significant where the Accuser was being identified by some at least with the angel of death, the one Jesus warned held and brought the power of death).

So this is a word in favour of allegory, it was a method driven by this deeper understanding and conviction that everything was a about Christ and the gospel, and which could only be understood now that the mystery that was hidden had been unveiled and revealed when all contained within arrived. This didn’t so much ignore the plain reading as once go beyond it, and allegory was seen as an important method in understanding the Scripture which was always about Christ, hidden until the time came beneath and within the narrative, what the authors and people of the time understood was only only a shadow and and a figure of the Truth but now it can be understood in full. We might disagree with how interpreted some texts and some of the traditions within it, but I think much of the church needs to recover this sense and understanding of the OT that was natural to so much of the early church (and other areas of the church to this day). It becomes less a matter of some voices been truer then others, which I think still doesn’t get there and makes it a case of playing voices against each other, creating a hierarchy of some texts and verses over others, but rather gaining a proper perspective of Scripture. It’s about the Lord Jesus Christ, all of it, and it’s about meeting and hearing Him in it, and encountering through it the true and only Word of God, I think this older wisdom can help clear a path through many of these difficulties we find ourselves in debating around these texts.

As to memetic theory I’ll just briefly add I find it’s insights interesting, but as said first I sense it is remarking more on the outcomes of the fall and death’s effects rather than the driving force, and doesn’t fully relate to the core issue but rather some of the very many complex ways it can outwork in human society. But I can’t follow it as far as some take it, particularly where it seems to lead at least some proponents (though I realise not all or perhaps even most) to deny the Personhood and Divinity of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity (also recognising not all are trinitarians for other reasons). It feels at least in some theologies suggested to be going in a direction of concordism or something akin to it, where key understandings of the Trinity and the Scriptures are made to fit into a theory, but as with all concordism (whether coming from young Earth creationists, old Earth creationists or the opposite direction) is if the theory is either falsified or superseded by an expanded understanding, and the theology that pins itself to close to it, perhaps even using it as a starting point is falsified, giving the impression Christianity is falsified with it, or that it’s existence is bound up with a particularly theory (whether it’s true or not, and I’ll say I do find allot convincing and compelling about it). But it remains a problem in all these situations, rather than when theology should be the initial and wider perspective giving context, meaning, illumination and understanding to other knowing and understanding. This references to the idea of hypothesis as understood by the ancient Hellenistic philosophers which referred to the starting point for thinking that someone would take as a given, by faith that was necessary in order to know anything else, if something then came and made it unviable you would have to return, but they recognised something had to be taken as a bedrock belief as true in order to approach, investigate and know anything else. And if sometime was posited to explain or justify it, then it rather than the initial reason was the first point to be taken by faith, the hypothesis, and this idea was taken up by the early church theologians who put forward it is Jesus Christ, His Incarnation, Life, death and Resurrection that is the first point, the hypothesis and the first point that illuminates all other things. It and what is revealed and understood about God, humanity and creation through it is the first point through which to understand and know all other things. It is the central point of the whole universe, the key understandings it gives about God’s triune nature and humanity illuminates our understanding for knowledge gained from all other fields, including the understanding and work in mimetic theory provides. I know not all will agree, and what I say here is likely deeply flawed, but it just reflects my understanding of things and contribution to the thread :slight_smile: .

As to the last, the issue of non-violence, Jesus is the image and full revelation of God, I’ll just add I agree the Temple clearing did not involve violence against the people there, but chased the animals out (and since when know the Lord ate meat, it would seem a odd thing to have a problem with the symbolic act of herding animals in an act of symbolic judgement on the unjust Temple system and with the fig tree given assuming Joseph was a carpenter, and perhaps Jesus Himself for a while). He confronted violence and death with healing and love, finally taking it all into Himself, sharing our curse as He had shared all our humanity, exhausting and defeating it, cancelling the debt and setting us free to be taken up through the Resurrection to share His Life. He explemippifed what He told Israel (and us) is the way of the Kingdom He brought to the world, that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who use and persecute us, giving our other check when we a struck and confronting evil with love in action, which had national reference as well as between individuals witnessing in self-sacrificial love and service in many different ways and situations even into death, knowing it’s been defeated (though I hope I never have to be faced with that, but there is that scary possibility). As in John 21 when He confronts Rome in Pilate, Jesus tells Pilate His Kingdom is not from this world, it doesn’t use the same ways infected by death but life, and says that if it were of and as this world, His servants would fight for His release, but it is not, colluding and joining death and evil in violence is not the renewal and life He brings. He shows the paradox of true victory but witnessing against Caesar and the kingdoms of the world’s ways of enslavement to death, debating Truth with Pilate, and going in that witness to death, defeating all the forces of evil and death and coming into His Kingdom and bringing in the New Creation and liberty from tyranny.

And in Acts we see the apostles and followers following suit, witness to His Lordship from Jerusalem outwards, to life out of and over death, from Stephen, James and the apostles outwards bearing the truth in love, living in the new life and renewal of all things in Him, loving and serving even to suffering and death displaying in it the glory of Christ and victory over death and all it’s manifestations and corruptions in humanity. Confronting injustice with fearless witness to truth, hurt with healing and service, cruelty with love, and bringing the victory already when through the Spirit living in the new way of things. And the very things tools of death were and are powerless against Him and those living in tune with Him, but become as with Him the very means sometimes of their defeat. As such I take it as absolute, violence as no part new way He has opened, to respond and entering into the life He opened is to not collude with death again and bring violence to any other person, whether you shall not kill meant just civil murder in Israel’s history is irrelevant, with Christ it’s meaning becomes clearer, to kill or commit violence against another human is against the way of God’s Kingdom but is to join with and become part of the slavery of death, and is murder. And of course it goes far deeper then just physical assault and violence, but to belittle someone, to see them as someone less that a unique and beautiful person created in the image of God to share and reflect unique His Life and Being and hate them is murder as is the harm and tyrannize them psychologically. And it places to person as much, and even more than their target, and the domination and slavery of death and it’s power to hurt them and damage them, so I don’t view violence of any kind has a place, but is something to be freed from.


I can sympathise here Grant. I remember when I first read Girard it was like a light on and lots of things started to make sense for me that hadn’t before - as Kevin (Miller) has said. And then after a bit and after a while speaking the speak of mimetic desire, generative scapeagoating mechanism and myth as ‘meconaissance’ etc then I started thinking –‘Wait a minute – this is really giving me insights into human behaviour and how desire operates, and literature and culture and new ways to read the Bible – but I’m feeling a bit like a St Augustine style original sinner. I found James Alison’s ‘Joy of Being Wrong’ very helpful to correct my unbalanced view – we construct our new identity with God’s grace from the resurrection rather than the fall. And I found an essay by Rebecca Adams – who is a lovely person – about positive natural mimesis (which was a Girardian critique of Girard) very helpful (Rebecca sent me a lovely email when I asked her a question via the internet once). And then an essay by her husband on Girardian insights into Orthodox Incarnation doctrine was helpful to. Btu it’s all a bit technical – but then Universalist discussions have their own jargon too.

I do think Giradians have good and compelling tools for exegesis of the violent passages of the bible and the seemingly violent parts of the NT – like the vengeful parables, like the prophecies of the Fall of Jerusalem etc. They also do have a very important insight into the atonement that is compatible with Christos Victor theory, Moral theory and Incarnational theories of atonement but radically critiques PSA.

I can’t face both ways but I sympathise with both you and Derek (above) here. Derek is suggesting that he has more in common with a loving atheist than an orthodox believer who espouses and acts out a theology of hate. I’m with him here - completely. But I also chime with you about orthodoxy simply because if people lose any sense of loyalty or identity things tend to go the way of the Unitarian Universalists where everything is so diluted there is no appeal and I’m always sad that the Quakers have sometimes lost their rootedness in Christian mysticism (and one of the causes for this is too many embraced evangelicalism and total depravity thinking under the influence of the Evangelical revival rather than the later turn towards thin gruel liberalism). I think loyalty to faith tradition and practice, and respect for scripture are all very important – they are very important but not the one thing needful.
All the best



So much excellent thought everyone! :smiley:

Derek, I really like the idea of a sort of “divine thread” of inclusiveness, compassion and a voice of the victims in the OT. I’ve had a hard time finding much use at all for the OT, but this idea gives the narrative a coherence and meaning I can accept as “inspired.”

I also agree about your concerns regarding allegory and though I see some potential value in reading a “good” meaning into the text it does seem that any such meaning would be very personal and without any real authority. We do see some interesting and creative uses of OT scripture where it’s obvious the original OT writer’s meaning was completely different, but I’m not sure any of us would be comfortable doing that ourselves without some major disclaimers… :confused:

I really like this Derek…(my emphasis)

This is something I agree with wholeheartedly! :smiley: It allows for a church and a theology that is really alive and flexible in a sense (really the Kingdom of God I guess)—dealing with the world we find ourselves in and not the 1st century Roman Empire.


Thanks Derek. We certainly are allies. And I greatly appreciate your cordial tone.

I would be delighted to take a figurative stab at answering your concerns.

YOUR CONCERN: “If we can (1) literally read ANY meaning at all into the text (let’s assume a good one), and (2) we affirm that the text as it was originally intended is wrong and indeed evil, then why bother using the text at all as our blank canvas?”

MY RESPONSE: We can’t just arbitrarily read ANY meaning into the text, even a good one. The interpretation has to come from what Martin Luther called “an influx of the Spirit.” The allegorical hermeneutic, above all else, is a spiritually dependent and interactive one. The Anabaptists of Luther’s day, in fact, called this dynamic “Spiritual Reading,” or “Pneumatic Exegesis.”

Here are some great quotes by Martin Luther on this principle:
“If God does not open and explain Holy Writ, none else can understand it; it will remain a closed book, enveloped in darkness.” M. Luther, Works, ed. J. Pelikan, XIII, p. 17.

“Therefore the first duty is to begin with a prayer of such a nature that God in His great mercy may grant you the true understanding of His words.” Werke, Weimer Auflage , XIII, p. 57.

“The Bible cannot be mastered by study or talent, you must rely solely on the influx of the Spirit.” Dr. Martin Luthers Briefwechsel, eds. E. L. Enders and G. Kawerau, I, p. 141.

“No-one can understand God or His Word who has not received such understanding directly from the Holy Ghost.” Werke, Weimer Auflage, VII, p. 546.

“For nobody understands His precepts unless it be given him from above… You understand them, however, because the Holy Spirit teaches you… Therefore those most sadly err who presume to understand the Holy Scriptures and the law of God by taking hold of them with their own understanding and study.” Werke, Weimer Auflage, LVII, p. 185; cf. XV, p. 565.

Sadly, Luther, later in his life, changed his hermeneutic from a spiritual one to a literal one. He became bitter at all his attackers and was seeking to justify wrath toward his enemies and anti-Semitic resentment toward the Jews.

My concern with the modern alternative hermeneutics I see discussed is that they give little to NO acknowledgment of pneumatic dependence. Or, put another way, the Holy Spirit’s role is marginalized at best, and eliminated at worst. When many today (certainly not you Derek) roll their eyes WHENEVER the Holy Spirit is hermeneutically acknowledged, something is terribly wrong with our thinking. This simply is not the way exegetes treated Scripture in the first several hundred years of the Church.

Admittedly, many moderns see the church fathers’ reliance on the Holy Spirit for proper Scriptural interpretation as a superstitious custom from a largely ignorant and pre-critical church. And they also point to the numerous excesses and silliness of past Holy Spirit “claims to revelation” which are floating around out there.

I couldn’t disagree more. Whatever our proper response to OTHERS’ misuse of the term “Holy Spirit” might or might not be, it CAN’T be to eliminate the Spirit’s key illuminating role altogether. That would be the ultimate throwing out the spiritual baby with the bath water. That would be like the people of Jesus’ day rightly refusing to EVER consider Him as Messiah just because other lunatic fringers had previously usurped and misused His title as messiah.

Moreover, to consider the church Fathers as intellectual primitives as many do (again, certainly not you Derek) smacks a little too much of a modern self-sufficiency. Jesus, after all, was a son of man from that same age. We certainly need to rectify the aberrant use of the Holy Spirit’s hermeneutical role, not abandon and forfeit it to hard hearted fundamentalists.

Certainly, allegorical reading can be fraught with danger if the one doing it is NOT being led by the Holy Spirit. My response to that criticism is merely this --then let’s BE led by the Spirit. Origen believed allegories must be spiritually sound to be successful. They must resonate with Apostolic faith and follow the established models set by the apostle Paul and other established exegetes. Scripture must interpret Scripture, etymological meanings considered, and humility applied. But, we must not allow our fear in Satan’s ability to deceive us exceed our confidence in the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.

Allegorical Exegesis is a RETURN to traditional Bible interpretation, not a departure from it.

"Prior to the 17th and 18th century, the Church read Scripture through the lens of the ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei) and therefore with the understanding that the divine author of Scripture could intend meanings that went beyond, if not at times against, the original meaning intended by the human authors.

And it was always assumed (though not always consistently practiced) that the central meaning of all Scripture is Jesus Christ, since Jesus himself taught us to read it this way (Jn. 5:39-45; Lk 24: 25-27, 32, 44-47). This is clearly in line with the probing way Paul and other NT authors approached the OT. They reflect very little concern with adhering to the original meaning of passages while demonstrating a willingness to go to remarkably creative extremes to discern Christ in Scripture…

What’s most interesting today is that, while a host of scholars after Barth, and especially over the last twenty years, have been arguing for a return to the Church’s traditional way of reading Scripture, evangelicals have by and large been the most resistant to this. While evangelicals by and large reject the biblical criticism that accompanies the historical-critical approach to Scripture, they have been the most vocal defenders of the historical-critical assumption that the original meaning of a passage is the only truly legitimate meaning a passage can have." “Getting Behind the ‘Letter’ of Violent Portraits of God”, ReKnew Blog by Greg Boyd, July 18, 2013.

So again, to answer your first concern, I don’t believe we can read into Scripture ANY spiritless thing, even if it’s a good thing, unless the Spirit, Apostolic interpretive tradition, and our reason bears witness. We simply need the Holy Spirit’s influx and illumination to reveal and seal our Biblical readings and interpretations.

My response to your second concern, as to WHY we should read Scripture at ALL, if indeed it is a blank slate, is merely this: that it is NOT a blank state. And here is where we may have an irreconcilable difference, although I hope not. Scripture for me is a supernaturally influenced document. It carries an imbedded meta-narrative of the Christ. It is full of types, figures, shadows, metonymies, symbols, metaphors, mysteries and epiphanies. It is a spiritual document with spiritual subtexts, two subtexts actually, the subtext of the human author and the subtext of the divine inspirer. Sometimes these subtexts resonate with each other and sometimes they clash. This is where a lot of Scriptural confusion comes from, but more on this later.

Again, your question. Why read it at all? Especially if it is just a blank slate? My comes comes from the Emmaus Road. “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself…And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?.. And he said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the LAW of Moses , and in the PROPHETS , and in the PSALMS , concerning me. Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures.” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.

Jesus tells us all the Scriptures-- the LAW, the PROPHETS, and the WRITINGS (the wisdom literature), speak of HIM. That alone is reason enough to read them. Yet, when read literally, the Old Testament does NOT speak of Him. Perhaps a few prophetic passages might be said to implicitly describe Him as a coming Messiah, but the WHOLE Old Testament?? What was Jesus talking about? Well, I believe the whole Old Testament WAS allegorically speaking of Him, and that THIS is what He was explaining to the Emmaus disciples. That is the only way this Emmaus passage makes sense.

Here is another closely connected question which underlies your question? How can we allegorize a passage in a way in which the Old Testament human author did not intend at the time when he wrote it?

Let me first mention the difference between these three important words---- context, subtext, and super-text.

Simply put, context refers to the surrounding surface conditions of what the text literally says. Subtext is what the text spiritually means deep underneath it’s surface meaning. Super-text is how the particular text aligns with the overall flow and meta-narrative of the Bible.

The image of an iceberg helps here. CONTEXT is that part of an iceberg visible above the water. SUBTEXT is the larger part of the iceberg beneath the water. SUPER-TEXT is the direction and location the entire iceberg is flowing.

Now, consider the Bible. Scripture’s CONTEXT is what the text literally appears to say, taking into account the facts we historically know about author and his surroundings. Scripture’s SUBTEXT is the spiritual meaning God wants us to extract FROM the text by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Lastly, Scripture’s SUPER-TEXT is how and in what direction the overall Bible flows on the topic in question.

Here is the unique issue with Scripture. In the Bible, we are dealing with TWO different kinds of subtext. With the Bible, we have synergistic co-inputters who each bring different levels of knowledge and perspective to the text. Thus, we have two different potential subtexts-- the subtext of the human inputter AND the subtext of the divine inputter. Since we are dealing with divine and human co-inputters of a Christological meta-narrative, we need to differentiate between them when we come to allegorical reading. One inputter’s subtext can allow for it, while the other inputter’s subtext remains blissfully unaware of it.

It is important to understand and relate to the two different kinds of subtext.

The author David Baboulene, in his practical academic work on Story Theory — The Story Book — defines SUBTEXT as “the result of any form of gap in knowledge between any of the participants in a story; for example, between the author and a character, between two characters or between the audience and at least one character.”

Baboulene’s above quote on subtext is crucial BECAUSE it explains one of the least understood aspects of accurate Biblical reading. Because the Bible is INSPIRED by God but literally WRITTEN by men, there is always a “GAP IN KNOWLEDGE” between what the human writer CONTEXTUALLY and PARTIALLY knows about when he is writing VERSUS what the divine author PERFECTLY and COMPLETELY knows about the ENTIRE situation.

The bigger the gap knowledge, the more room for subtext there is. Certainly the human authors of the Old Testament were largely ignorant of the subtextual meanings imbedded in their writings, but the Holy Spirit was certainly not.

The human context of his writing usually aids and points to the human author’s intended subtext, but NOT to the divine author’s intended subtext (although Hemingway believed that even human subtext was sometimes subconscious on the part of the author). But, when dealing with the limitless gap in knowledge between God and man, the Holy Spirit can bring infinite subtextual meanings into light, some of which have no relation to the original human context.

In many cases, understanding the context does aid our subtextual reading, particularly when we are focused on discerning on what is the human author’s subtext. But, discerning the divine subtext can allow for contextual negation.

Now, let me answer your question about the genocide. In a literal sense is it resonant with the divine nature? No, certainly not. As a counter-example (which I mentioned in my previous post), does it serve to show us an example NOT to follow? Yes certainly. Such genocide is totally at odds with what Jesus stood for and taught against. So, as a counter-example, it IS beneficial to us. Also factoring in the use of justified violence in God’s name, it further serves as a sickening counterexample which we are NOT to follow.

The use of counterexample is a legitimate hermeneutical technique which Paul approved in the following passage:
“These things happened as EXAMPLES for us, so that we will NOT crave evil things as they did… NOT be idolaters, as some of them were… NOT be immoral, as some of them were… NOT put Christ to the test, as some of them did… NOT complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel (the devil). These things happened to them as [counter]examples and were written for our INSTRUCTION, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” I Corinthians 10:6-11.

So, the counterexample by itself would justify genocidal inclusion. Even apart from this level, genocidal Scriptures carry other spiritual benefits. They can be metaphorically adjusted in many fruitful ways. Just as the Israelites believed they were commanded to conquer the Promised Land, Jesus calls us to conquer the world with the Gospel of love. What the OT saints couldn’t hear, we can. They wrongly used violence. We rightly use love. They wrongly killed every breathing thing. We rightly quicken every living thing with the love of Christ. The OT had an undifferentiated view of God, which confused and commingled God and Satan together. Once we allow for their developmental distortions, we can redivide their Scripture to conform to New Testament light.

Sorry for the length here Derek, but I did want to give a quality response. I want to leave you with a question. What I call the allegorical method (you call the analogical method) obviously concerns you because of the danger of rampant subjectivity toward the text. But, let me reverse the question. How does this differ from Non-allegorical hermeneutics? Far and away, the predominant hermeneutic taught at seminaries today is a literal style of Scripture reading, non-allegorical in other words. And yet, we have 40,000 denominations with 40,O00 significantly different “literal” readings. Rampant subjectivity already reigns with literal exegesis. Allegorical reading can do no worse than the rampant hermeneutical chaos literalism has already begotten.

Reading the Bible as a spiritless lawyer, I could prove most anything I set out to prove. Wars can be easily justified. So can slavery, torture, murder, polygamy, and a million other horrors. History has borne that out. The book simply defies conventional reading styles.

Here is poem I once wrote about it:


There once was a book called the Bible
Inspired by God most reliable
Its pages reveal both problem and cure
The Old and the New have different allure
The wrath of the Old is hard to endure
But the love in the New tender and sure

But the man who reads it is often deceived
Through the lens of opinions harshly conceived
Eyeglasses of hate magnify our need
To justify anger and make enemies bleed
Eyeglasses of hardness sure to condemn
To keep men divided, it’s us against them

But some men who read it see not the dark
For they read it pure from a born again heart
The light of their eyes on the truth rightly shine
Revealing the treasures of awe now aligned
All the riches of Christ in the name of the Son
The wrath of Law, man, and Satan forever undone

The Spirit of love trains the eye how to read
It looks not at words but the space in-between
The Spirit of prayer moves the symbols around
To form bright ideas of meanings profound
Tender tone is the pen to write the word clear
Human heart the parchment on which it appears

So don’t read the Bible in the usual way
As a rulebook of laws to get your own way
Rather, dare to believe the promises imbedded
Exceeding great Scriptures to your mind become wedded
Resolve to not read it by precept or letter
But instead by the Spirit of New Covenant “better”


Thanks Dick. Enjoyed the historical insights. Wesley did have some wrath, but I agree with you that his battles with Calvinism moved him to predominant mercy and goodness. But he was on the front lines of Calvinistic ferocity. He certainly had some spiritual testosterone. William Law’s Spirit of Love and Spirit of Prayer really impacted me years ago. I am sure he and Wesley have reconciled and are laughing it up right now.


I hope so - they clearly loved each other lots :smiley:


Hi Richard, :smiley:

I do have a lot of respect for and see much value in the allegorical approach --especially for individuals reading the scriptures on their own. George MacDonald (who was influenced by William Law) emphasized the role of the Spirit in our understanding of Christ and understanding of scripture. He often used an allegorical approach to scripture–and in fact much of his fantasy has a very allegorical element to it. I think he recognized, though, the limits to the authority any personal allegorical interpretation could have which is no bad thing in my opinion. I sometimes think too much certainty in any particular interpretation of scripture is one of the biggest problems with theologians and pastors. A certain humbleness when presenting any theology is essential. I would have a great deal of skepticism (and do) with any personal allegorical interpretation presented as a “Word from God.”

Edit: I don’t mean at all to say that a lack of humbleness etc applies to you—in fact I’d say exactly the opposite :smiley: , and I think anyone presenting their exegesis --“allegorical” or “literal” —needs to be humble and listeners/readers need to listen to the Spirit to determine the truth in the exegesis.


Steve, the image of an allegorist pridefully declaring that his interpretation is “the sole word of The Lord” on a particular passage is a bit of a caricature. I have never heard anybody say that. Allegory allows for multi-varied interpretations. The great allegorists did not beat anybody over the head. They presented their allegories to bless others who either bore witness with them or didn’t. It’s really no different with any hermeneutic. The interpreter gives it his best shot and it is received or not. And my intent is not to convince anybody that allegory is the ONLY way, but rather that it is “A” legitimate way to read Scripture, particularly the apparently violent OT passages. As Michael Hardin and I frequently discuss, his hermeneutic is more akin to early Antioch, while mine is early Alexandrian. Both have their place and should complement each other. Unfortunately, allegory is often hastily ridiculed and dismissed as fanciful and false by those who have not invested in understanding it. As you say, humility is needed in sharing it, but it is also needed in accommodating it as a viable and time honored hermeneutic. We should never begrudge each other a workable hermeneutic. I think we too often trap ourselves into having to commit to one hermeneutic as false and another as true. We need to give each other a little more hermeneutical elbow room to find our own way in the Spirit.