The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Amalekite slaughter

1 Samuel 15:3
Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Do you think:

  1. God actually commanded this
  2. This slaughter happened, but the Jews misattributed it to God
  3. This slaughter is just a folk story the Jews made up

Here’s the non-denominational, Got Questions perspective:

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We had a wonderful discussion of this back in 2015 - Jason, Paidion, Goeff, Eaglesway and others posted substantial entries. I suggest that you (we) read through that before redoing the whole thing here.

I go for number 2 (except I wouldn’t call the Israelites “Jews.” That appellation came much later).

Thanks for answering paidion. I hope more members share their views. @mcarans @Berserk @llc @Bob_Wilson

Here’s an interesting article I came across:

I suspect that there may have been recollections in the tradition of conflicts with the Amalekites, but the writers projected (made up) their ancient beliefs about the divine role of a superior God in enabling total destruction of perverse opponents. I.e. a combination of 2 and 3 served to encourage those in exile to trust that God’s power could be trusted to yet deliver them from captivity and destroy the enemy empires that humiliated them.

As I show in my recent summary of N.T. Wright on the atonement, the NT asserts that Jesus fulfilled the promises to deliver God’s people from their enemies. BUT it reinterprets that the enemies we really need victory over are not flesh and blood, but the powers of evil that work in our own hearts and lives.

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I think you can guess that as a believer in cruciform theology (that God’s nature and character are exactly like Jesus’s as depicted in the NT), I could not envisage Jesus commanding this, so I’m not going to go for 1!

This leaves 2 or 3. It could be a legend - I do subscribe to the idea that a story in the Bible can be true without being historically accurate if it teaches something. Given this is about slaughtering innocents, I’d be more inclined to go for 2. I might go even further than misattribution and say the Israelites blamed it on God, they scapegoated God for their own evil actions as per mimetic theory.

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How do you guys explain your position in light of the verse that says all scripture is God breathed?

I’d say that no view of the Bible’s nature can shelter us from weighing what we actually find in the nature of the Bible. And thus for me after a life time of study, it’s apparent that God’s role in the life of the writers does not means that they all always agree with one another, or that their individual personalities and difference do not influence what they write.

Thus, whatever theopneustos meant to the writer of Timothy, I’d have difficulty assuming it means that Bible writers never reflect (mistaken) perspectives of their day. If that word did mean to affirm otherwise, since I perceive the Bible to be a manifestly progressive revelation, I’d have to conclude it would be a mistaken affirmation.

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Just as a fyi - we had a good thread on this also a ways back:
https://forum.evangelicaluniversalist.com/t/inerrancy-vs-infallibility/4187

Maybe @paidion can shed some light.

Your translation of the term is commonly accepted (though how to render the grammar of the wider verse is debated). I believe other texts speak of men being ‘moved by the Spirit,’ as they bore witness to their experience and understanding. I am comfortable with that, and with the result of inspiration in the text you cited, as providing what is “useful” for our lives and faith.

As I suggested, what seems to me contrary to respecting the nature of the Bible we study, is the conclusion that God’s work in the writers cancelled out their differences and made everything they wrote correct in terms of some modern conception of what that would mean. My impression is that many religions teach that God directly wrote their Scriptures, even writing the words on plates, or dropping the text out of heaven. But the Judeo-Christian tradition has always recognized that at various historical vantage points, human beings participated in shaping texts that relate to a developing story. And nothing will stop the relationship of the divine and the human in those writings from being debated.

I couldn’t find it in an internet search, but the original RSV translated 2 Timothy 3:16 something like this:

Every writing inspired by God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

And there was another translation that really poked the hornet’s nest:
“Every scripture which was inspired by God is also profitable…etc…”

Paidion, that translation has a different meaning than the majority of translations. Do you think all scripture is inspired? Do you think the Amalek verses are?

There are three separate questions here:

  1. What is “scripture”?
  2. What does it mean for “scripture” to be inspired?
  3. Whatever “scripture” is, and whatever it means to be inspired, do you believe that all of it is inspired?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. What is “scripture”?

The Greek word that has been translated as “scripture” is “γραφη” (“graphā” which some would transliterate into English characters as “graphe”). The meaning of this word is “writing” (Consider the English word “graphology”, the study of writing).

That is why Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, may have meant “every inspired writing is also profitable…” rather than “every scripture is inspired…” (where “scripture” is thought to have a special meaning beyond “writing”).

What all brands of Christendom regard as “New Testament scripture” is the 27 “books” of our present Bibles that were chosen by Athanasius who lived all of his life after he was 8 years old in the 4th century.

The early Christians had debated and had much disagreement as to which writings were to be considered apostolic, and were to be read in the churches. The reason for the disagreements was that the gnostics created many writings that they said were authoritative. Indeed, they created some writings which they falsely ascribed to the apostles themselves. The historic Christian Church had to sort out the authentic from the gnostic forgeries. But the question is, “Why have we accepted ONLY the particular list that Athanasius recognized as authentic writings to be read in the churches?” For example, following Athanasius’ list, we have rejected the apostle Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, that Clement had written shortly after Paul and Peter’s death. Clement was born in A.D. 30. Why have we rejected Clement’s letter to the Corinthians? Not because it is a forgery (it isn’t; it’s genuine)—nor because Clement wasn’t an apostle (he was; he was Paul’s fellow labourer, Philippians 4:3). We have rejected it for only one reason: It was not included in Athanasius’ list!

  1. What does it mean for “scripture” to be inspired?

Some extremists believe that saying the “scriptures are inspired” means that they were all dictated by God. I wonder… do they REALLY believe that God dictated the passage in which Paul reminded Timothy to bring the cloak, the books, and the parchments that he had forgotten at Troas? These extremists also hold that these “scriptures” are infallible and without error.

My belief is that God inspired the apostles to write the teachings that they gave, many of which are in our “New Testaments.” The fact of this inspiration does not imply that every statement the writers made was without error. For example, Jude was in error in stating that it was the historic Enoch (the 7th from Adam) wrote the book of Enoch from which Jude quoted. However, the writer of the Book of Enoch (I have a copy of the book) makes reference to a people group that did not exist in the days of the historic Enoch.

As for “the Old Testament”, the Protestant Bible, the Roman Catholic Bible, and the Orthodox Bible all have different lists. Athanasius’ list is identical to that of the Protestant Bible except that he included Baruch (which is also included in the Roman Catholic Bible).

  1. Whatever “scripture” is, and whatever it means to be inspired, do you believe that all of it is inspired?

I believe that many people have been inspired by God to write truth—not only those who composed the Biblical writings. And, of course, the fact that writers have been inspired by God, does not imply that there are no mistakes or unintentional falsehoods in their writings. The same with the Biblical writers.

For example, I definitely believe that God did not command the Israelites to exterminate particular people groups including women and babies. Nor do I believe God killed Uzzah for steadying the ark of the covenant so that it would not tip. Such statements are but the writers’ explanations of the fact that the ancient Israelites wiped out people groups in their wars, and that Uzzah died soon after steadying the ark. (2 Samuel 6:7)

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Do you think the entire Protestant canon is inspired? What does it mean to you that a text is inspired?

I’ll take the second question first—although I have already answered it my most recent post. Basically I believe it is the writers who were inspired. I usually don’t say that a text is inspired. But to answer your question succinctly, I guess I would say that a text is inspired is the writer of the text was inspired when he wrote it. Having said that, I still affirm that though that is the case, it doesn’t imply that an inspired text is without error.

And yes I think that all the writers of the Protestant Bible were inspired by God to do so—again not to say that their writings were flawless. So when some of the OT writers said that God commanded to wipe out nations, cut off a woman’s hand under particular conditions, showing her no mercy, I disbelieve that God gave such commands. Nor do I believe that God said that as a result of Samaria’s guilt, its infants would be dashed to pieces and its pregnant women would be ripped open. (Hosea 13:16)

Here are some thoughts from an old thread… How do you envisage postmortem punishment?