The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why Are The Punishments In The Old Testament So Harsh?

Many times I’ve struggled with the harsh punishments in the Old Testament. In some instances sinners would die just by touching the ark of the covenant. But I think we can see why. The ark contained the presence and glory of God. The glory of God is the infinite beauty and worth of God. It’s the radiant outshining of His holiness. All sin is not only sin against others but the breaking of God’s eternal law. It’s a sin against God Himself. Indeed, sin grieves God as it belittles the infinite worth of His glory. (committing a crime against someone in Pennsylvania is also a crime against the state of Pennsylvania). The seriousness of a crime depends IN PART on not only the nature of the crime but the TYPE OF BEING sinned against. Different types of being have different value attached to them. For instance: slapping a tree isn’t as bad as slapping a frog. Slapping a frog isn’t as bad as slapping a human. This is true even if the types of being felt no pain. For instance: painlessly killing an ant isn’t as bad as painlessly killing a cat and painlessly killing a cat isn’t as bad as painlessly killing a human. The worst sin in History was the killing of the Son of God. This is because of the infinite worth of Christ. Because God is a TYPE OF BEING infinite in beauty and worth sin against Him is more serious than if it was just against another being. I’m not saying that the just punishment should be infinite but we can see how the punishment should be more severe because it belittles the infinite glory of God.

Everyone thinks God is punitive but He’s not.

He is rehabilitative and concerned about the victim of crime and sin.

This is a multi part series on Moses and has some explanations on the Old Testament Laws.

Moses Second Speech … ch-part-1/

Hey Cloud!

The Bible says He’s both. Both punitive and rehabilitates. This is what we see in our modern prisons. When you commit a crime you pay the price. Yet they try to rehabilitate the prisoners there so that they don’t commit the same crimes when they get out. At least in a lot of them.

Here Jesus repays with affliction those who have afflicted. This is clearly retribution.

The thing I like about the Christian Universalist (Gerry Beauchemin) in his book (Hope Beyond Hell) is that he uses retributive passages from scripture to support this view. I gave a scripture from the New Testament that God’s justice is indeed retribution. But as Gerry points out it’s not SOLEY retributive. Says Gerry:

According to Gerry it is the testimony of scripture that God’s judgments are also restorative and remedial. This is because the paradoxical mystery of God in how he mixes His mercy with His justice as Gerry points out in the book. The fires of God not only purify they punish as well. God is love and He is driven by His love when He takes vengeance on those in Hell. But His justice is tempered with His mercy.

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I read a bunch of books by a bible scholar who explains that it is the world that is punitive. God is rehabilitative and I believe it and His judgments are corrective in nature.

One of the reasons why hell doctrine crept into Christianity is because the Emperors of Rome who had an empire to run adopted Christianity under Emperor Constantine.

The Romans used to keep their subjects under fear. That is how they ruled their empire so this mindset got into Church doctrine with the church father Jerome who taught it to Augustine. Augustine came from pagan Manicheanism and was some how receptive to this doctrine.

Then Dante later on who’d accepted the hell fire view popularized it in literature.

And now there are people who believe so thoroughly in the fallacious hell doctrine that if you mention you don’t believe in it they will classify you as a heretic.

Fire in the bible is spiritual. It isn’t literal…It would be nice if symbology was easy to interpret but it isn’t for lots of people and that is why we really need to consult bible scholars with ancient language skills and symbology interpretive ability who also know world history.

Well, I gave a scripture that proves irrefutably that it’s not only restorative but punitive as well.

Another reason is because the word “eternal” can literally mean “eternal”. I really do think that those who hold to eternal punishment really believe the Bible teaches it.

Yes there are. But if you read Augustine he never claimed they were heretics. Rather, he refers to them as tender hearted Christians who needed to be corrected. I don’t think Universalists are heretics either. I use to. But no longer.

Sometimes it’s literal other times it’s symbolic. I take the fire in “the lake of fire” to be symbolic simply because in other places hell is described as outer darkness.


Bible scholars can catch a lot of translation errors and symbolic misinterpretations that the ordinary believer can’t.

They have pursued God’s knowledge to a higher degree.

When you read Jones you will see that he literally hangs on and researches every word.

Read his Creation’s Jubilee…I have haunted his site and read every work he has written and he is dead on…And I have read so many greats…yet outside of the bible itself his writings are the greatest.

If you have read the whole bible then I advise Jones as the next step because he is sounder than everyone else on the Word, the prophecies, the doctrine, etc.

I have met him personally. He is the son of a missionary and was raised in Tozer’s church and if you’ve ever read Tozer you’d know that Tozer’s church must have been one of the purest in the world in his day. It is good to get our training from the purest and most upright people because people can be spiritual role models.

I will do it. But only because I love Tozer. :smiley:

God is going to love you for doing it because He says in Jeremiah 9:23-24:

This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD."

You can only know God better when you study with a bible scholar of Jones calibre.

Jones knows doctrine better than Martin Luther.

He can tell you about Origen, Gregory of Nyassa, and all the other early church fathers. His grasp of church history is astonishingly good and you can tell by the amount of details he supplies.

Back on subject, perhaps??

Sorry Dave. I’m easily thrown off track sometimes.

Me too.

Cole, brother… I just don’t get you sometimes. You say on the one hand that Hell isn’t harsh and is just and fair. But you think these earthly punishments are terrible and harsh? I’d take the death penalty over the fundamentalists diabolical hell.

James Relly was a Welshman, Methodist minister and mentor of John Murray who spread Universalism in the United States. In, Epistles: or, the Great Salvation Contemplated (, James Relly explains the Old Testament punishments as serving the purpose of being an analogy between the relationship of Christ and sin. Of course, I would recommend reading what he says, rather than listening to my summary. Read it :slight_smile:

This is just my two cents on punishment and the Old Testament. I was thinking a few days ago about how the harsh punishments in the Old Testament were directed towards those who showed brutality. Take the “eye for an eye” principle. This was in a time when penalties were more severe and arbitrary, not to mention very honor based. Like the Code of Hammurabi had a higher penalty for an offense committed against a nobleman than a slave.

Now I had also thought about the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which seems to tell a story of mans pursuit and abuse of power. With the story of Adam and Eve, they sought after knowledge to gain power, and lost paradise for that reason. With Cain and Abel, I have heard the narrative of Cain representing the agricultural society and Abel representing the Hunter-Gatherer society. Now I am not trying to make any myopic assumptions about hunter-gatherer societies, as they had problems too. But the Agrarian societies typically were more imperialistic, and created “power over” structures. Then the whole tower of babel, this shows the whole climax of the corruption of power, and the fall of the mighty.

Now in more historical books, the Israelites typically had run-ins with tyrannical kings. Plus, most of the wrath was against people who abused their power, and the prophets warnings urged a sense of social justice. This is the part of retribution where the culprit is given exactly what they gave. That way they understand what it is like to suffer under oppression. Take the death of the firstborn. If Pharoah was going to cause grief to the hebrews when the firstborns were cast in the Nile, so the same would happen to him and all those who turned a blind eye. Now I know the exodus story is more complicated, and still has the problem of slaughtering the firstborns who had nothing to do with the oppression of the Hebrews.

Joe, I think that when God is seen as bipolar, even in the Scriptures, it is because He is mistakenly being conflated with the devil.

Which biblical descriptions of God should we focus on? We now know God is unchanging, and that Jesus exactly represents Him. We know that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and about abundant LIFE. But the devil, a fallen archangel, the god of this age, is about killing, stealing, and destroying (John 10:10). We know that it is actually Satan who has the power of DEATH, not God (Heb. 2:14).

God warns, and offers protection, healing, rescue, salvation. But the devil looks for the opportunity to come in through the door of sin, to kill, steal, and destroy.

I have argued that satanic attacks are sometimes misattributed to God, even by the prophets.

Please consider “Is God Violent, Or Nonviolent?"

God is trans-rational. Like humans He is filled with a clash of contradictions or paradoxes. It’s a holding together of extreme opposites. It’s a fused together beauty that holds opposites together in tension like we should do in ourselves. Christ is human and divine, God is both 3 and 1. Majestic yet meek. Masculine yet feminine. Merciful yet just. Loves good hates evil. Christ is equal to God yet submitted to God. Transcendent yet imminent. It’s a unity in diversity and this indeed reflects Reality in the universe in which we live. This should be expected for one of the signs of a true revelation from God is that it transcends the finite and selfish nature of man and His reasoning abilities. It’s a true miracle attesting to the truth of Christianity. The natural tendency of human reason is to reject Divine Revelation because of his finite and limited understanding. But once the duality of man’s thinking is broken opposites come together and he is ushered into the circle of love. The understanding and the paradoxes come together in a happy relationship called faith. In a happy love affair self-love transcends itself. A person who has this passionate desire of faith finds his reason fulfilled as he believes that which surpasses human understanding. Far from disproving Christianity, the paradoxes of the God confirm His supernatural accuracy. As Thomas Aquinas says, the fact that humans can come to believe is the greatest of miracles. The natural tendency of man to disbelieve is a confirmation of the truth of the revelation. We should expect a miraculous revelation of God to be impossible to understand, and difficult to believe.

As G.K. Chesterton states:

The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid. The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say “if you please” to the housemaid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery; but because of this his relations with the housemaid become of a sparkling and crystal clearness. He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness; but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health. As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.

Now when you mean transrational, do you mean an infinite amount of information or a whole different way of knowing, something like a higher dimension?

Are you familiar with Richard Rohr’s book Hope Against Darkness or Jonathan Sach’s book on the pursuit of meaning? In both books, they mention other ways of knowing other than intellect. Jonathan Sachs explains the left and right brain ways of knowing, and how the left brain breaks reality into parts while the right brain unites reality into wholes.

Now much of the problem I have noticed with much of the distinction between wrath and love is the way that they are seen as working against each other. I have best understood God’s wrath as an expression of his love in the sense that he hates sin because of the suffering it causes.

That’s an interesting point. I think it was Gregory Boyd who spoke of much Old Testament Violence being God allowing evil to happen. This still has been a difficult problem, as allowing evil seems to be saying that God has no ultimate plan, and providence has no real importance. To be honest, any philosophical answers to explain the problem of Evil is not exactly going to make God seem trustworthy.

I’ve come to the same conclusion of God’s punishments being both punitive & purgative but still wrestle with this and other paradoxical topics in the Scriptures (e.g. whether the metaphysical nature of the fires in Hades & the Lake of Fire – are both retributive & restorative or even in general how passages can be both literal & symbolic simultaneously)


What I mean by trans rational is going beyond or surpassing human reason or the rational. God’s wrath is an expression of His hatred. His hatred and anger last only a moment though and not forever. God hates certain people at times. He will shift from love to hate and then back to love for His love endures forever. Light is His essence and love is His essence. If God is love then He must hate evil. But holiness is more important because it’s repeated three times. Holy, Holy, Holy. This is how the Bible stresses the importance of something. It will repeat the word. Like verily, verily means that what is about to be said is very important. In Revelation it says Holy, Holy, Holy is the lord. So, while God is love it’s a holy love. His wisdom is a holy wisdom. His justice is a holy justice. To learn more about the Trisagion (Holy, Holy, Holy) Wikipedia has an article here:

Here’s something else on it:

But why the three-fold repetition “holy, holy, holy” (called the trihagion)? The repetition of a name or an expression three times was quite common among the Jews. In Jeremiah 7:4, the Jews are represented by the prophet as saying, “The temple of the Lord” three times, expressing their intense confidence in their own worship, even though it was hypocritical and corrupt. Jeremiah 22:29, Ezekiel 21:27, and 2 Samuel 18:33 contain similar three-fold expressions of intensity. Therefore, when the angels around the throne call or cry to one another, “Holy, holy, holy,” they are expressing with force and passion the truth of the supreme holiness of God, that essential characteristic which expresses His awesome and majestic nature.

To be Holy means to be set apart. Therefore, when the Bible speaks of the holiness of God it refers to everything that separates Him from His creation and creatures. His love is no mere human love but a holy love. Just as He is separate from His creatures in that He is Omni-present, Omniscient, Self-sufficient, Sovereign over the universe, infinite in wisdom. all these attributes of God are Holy. Not only is He free from moral corruption but He’s perfect in all attributes. He’s distinct from His creation and His creatures. He alone is God. Here’s scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that speak of the Holy hatred of God:

Leviticus 20:23 - “And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”

Leviticus 26:30 - “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.”

Deuteronomy 32:19 - “And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.”

Psalm 5:5 - “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”

Psalm 5:6 - “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.”

Psalm 10:3 - “For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.”

Psalm 11:5 - “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.”

Psalm 53:5 - “There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.”

Psalm 73:20 - “As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.”

Psalm 78:59 - “When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:”

Psalm 106:40 - “Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.”

Proverbs 6:16-19 - “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

Proverbs 22:14 - “The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.”

Lamentations 2:6 - “And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.”

Hosea 9:15 - “All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.”

Zechariah 11:8 - “Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me.”

Malachi 1:3 - “And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”

Romans 9:13 - “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

God destroys those in the lake of fire with His holy hatred. But He restores them with His love. He kills but makes alive. The pattern we see in scripture is judgment followed by resurrection and restoration. This is what we see at the cross and with Sodom and with the nations and the Kings of the earth in Revelation. They are the enemies of Christ destroyed in battle under the wrath of the lamb. But we see them entering into the forever open gates of the city after their destruction. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

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