Doubts #2: The Old Testament

So I was telling you about how doubt came in after my church broke up and I wasn’t feeling God’s presence. Another thing is always in the back of my mind, and sometimes the front: lingering doubts about the Old Testament.

I’ve read some authors who have highlighted the great things about the Old Testament. I can find in there a God of justice and mercy and love. I’ve also found it really helpful to think about the whole Bible as the unfolding narrative of God’s people, ala N.T. Wright, and that the OT represents the early acts of a story; we’re in the next-to-last act.

The Creation accounts no longer cause me problems either; I don’t feel I have to either be a creationist OR a liberal. Indeed, the Creation accounts really feel like God’s Word to me since I threw out Ken Ham at age 17.  

But the fact remains that the Old Testament causes me a lot of discomfort. There’s a lot of it which seems wrong to me – wrong compared to what I know about God through Jesus.

So I had a strange reaction when Mennonite scholar Ray Gingerich came last year offering a radical reading of the Old Testament… I understood it like this: If Christ is our ultimate revelation of God, then those parts of the OT which are inconsistent with Christ can be understood as less binding, or as a less true revelation of God. (We wouldn’t dare use the word ‘wrong’, but that’s what we’re skirting around, I think.) The OT is a diverse canon of writings… they can’t all be true, argues Ray (I think).

It’s a tempting road to go down. For someone brought up in a conservative Baptist church like me, it seemed to be letting go of a very important doctrine of scripture. (Ie the authority of scripture, I guess.)

So Ray’s solution didn’t solve anything for me. I just felt torn. And I remain so.

I certainly don’t think the Old Testament is the same sort of collection of writings as the New Testament. And it’s so important to avoid the flat-book of much fundamentalism, where every piece of scripture is claimed to be as important as every other bit. But it’s another leap to go from these things that many evangelicals can affirm to what Ray is saying.

 Jesus accepted the Old Testament as scripture, and that’s probably the strongest argument for me to hold a high view of the OT.

So here I am right now reading Chronicles and hoping to hear God speak there. I’m sure he will, but I don’t know just what the OT is at the moment. And some of the things in it bother me.  When I read about God’s chosen people slaughtering other people, it makes me question Christianity.

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6 thoughts on “Doubts #2: The Old Testament

  1. hey, there,

    grew up in the church, have had some of the same struggles, but feel like God has given me some help in realizing that we can’t put God in our comfortable constraints. God’s holy wrath is as much a part of Him as his amazing, redemptive love and He receives glory from both. looking ahead to Revelation, we see Him again standing opposed to those who oppose Him, so it is not just an “OT God of judgment” and a “NT God of love.” The church era is a time of God’s patience, not wishing for any to perish, but He will come again to reward and to judge much like we saw in the OT. It may not be the view of God we struggle with as much as the view of how wretchedly rebellious man is and how deserving of death for rejecting his Creator and the One who came to offer life. that’s my contribution: hope it may help a little!

  2. Hi, yes have had much the same thoughts myself. Being a parent has helped me gain another perspective. When you hear two children trying to explain an adult concept to each other, you realise that while they may be able to approximate the idea, they have neither the knowledge nor vocabulary necessary to truly explain or understand. To me, much of fundamentalism, including much of the OT, seems like this, eg people who lack(ed) a full, mature, evolved, complete understanding of God believe(d) that he wants/wanted them to go to war on His behalf. Seems like much of the NT is Jesus trying to get people to evolve and move on from these “childish” views of God, and of Scripture, and rules-for-the-sake-of-rules which ignore God’s overreaching Commandments. Unfortunately we didn’t really seem to get it! I think many “religious” people still want to reduce God to a simple, easily explainable, it’s-all-here-in-this-book, containable, “human” sort of being, which/who can be described using “human” concepts and words. It’s also a lot “easier” – I came to your blog via your review of John Fowles’ Daniel Martin, which I’m struggling through at the moment. There’s a line in there about “`I believe in God’ being a euphemism for `I don’t like to think'”. I’m sure many people do use religion, especially fundamentalism, as an “easy way out” of life, no doubt giving atheists plenty of reason to feel they are intellectually superior. No wonder Jesus seemed to spend much of His time being frustrated!

    To me, the OT is to be read with all that in mind.
    BTW, I recently read that Bible literalism is a form of idolatry, which I also agree with. I do believe the Bible is inspired by God – but it seems egotistical to think that something humans transcribed, selected, edited and translated could be perfect in every way.

    1. Justine, thanks for stopping by. I think your suggestion about the OT has a lot to commend it. I’ll have to think throught that as a metaphor some more.

      Daniel Martin is a struggle, and I only forced myself through as a personal favour to John Fowles for writing such brilliant novels as the Collector and the Magus. But I probably learned a lot as a writer from reading DM. It does have some interesting things to say, of course. Alas, Fowles was always so hostile to religion. His loss.

  3. Yes, it’s kind of sad to see him toying with faith then rejecting it (through the characters). (I’m only about 1/3 of the way through….read The Collector and The Magus a long time ago, and a friend of my husband’s called Danny Martin mentioned this book the other day – I’d never heard of it.) I think a lot of people of Fowles’ generation felt they had to choose between science and (fundamentalist) religion. Given the same circumstances I might have also chosen science. Fortunately I believe there is room for both in my faith!

  4. Hi Nathan,
    I think that Ray Gingerich is consistent with an Anabaptist perspective. At the Berne disputation of 1538, the Anabaptist participants crafted this statement.

    “We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the Old Testament in so far as it is a testimony of Christ; in so far as Jesus did not abolish it; and in so far as it serves the purpose of Christian living. We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the Law in so far that it does not contradict the new law, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the prophets in so far as they proclaim Christ” (quoted in Estep, The Anabaptist Story, p.141)

    Felbinger made this statement “We do nothing to promote bloodshed, for such does not befit a Christian who is taught by God in His Son…Therefore one must distinguish between the Old and the New Testaments” . (Estep, p.142)

    Marpeck distinguished between the purpose of the OT and the purpose of the NT. Since the NT is centred in Jesus Christ, Marpeck took the view that it alone was authoritative for the christian.(Estep p.142)

    Likewise Meno Simons interpreted the bible christocentrically. We can see that these people did not have a wooden view of the bible.

    Genocide is commanded by God in the OT if we accept it literally. So is aggressive and defensive warfare. But Jesus told us to love our enemies, so I do not think he had a literal understanding of the OT.

    You are aware of all this, so why are you worried about Ray’s view of the OT? Does a high view of the OT mean that its words are equivalent to God’s words?

    Perhaps a “Arminian” view of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the inspiration of the scriptures is required?

    God has not predestined every little detail in the bible but his sovereignty ensures that the message of the bible when considered as a whole and in its immediate and broader contexts as true when Christologically interpreted.

    Inspiration does not mean that the words of the bible are directly God’s words. The bible is God’s
    word in human words in history pointing to the one who is the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ.

    Shalom,
    Joihn Arthur

  5. Hi Nathan,
    I think that Ray Gingerich is consistent with an Anabaptist perspective. At the Berne disputation of 1538, the Anabaptist participants crafted this statement.

    “We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the Old Testament in so far as it is a testimony of Christ; in so far as Jesus did not abolish it; and in so far as it serves the purpose of Christian living. We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the Law in so far that it does not contradict the new law, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe in and consider ourselves under the authority of the prophets in so far as they proclaim Christ” (quoted in Estep, The Anabaptist Story, p.141)

    Felbinger made this statement “We do nothing to promote bloodshed, for such does not befit a Christian who is taught by God in His Son…Therefore one must distinguish between the Old and the New Testaments” . (Estep, p.142)

    Marpeck distinguished between the purpose of the OT and the purpose of the NT. Since the NT is centred in Jesus Christ, Marpeck took the view that it alone was authoritative for the christian.(Estep p.142)

    Likewise Meno Simons interpreted the bible christocentrically. We can see that these people did not have a wooden view of the bible.

    Genocide is commanded by God in the OT if we accept it literally. So is aggressive and defensive warfare. But Jesus told us to love our enemies, so I do not think he had a literal understanding of the OT.

    You are aware of all this, so why are you worried about Ray’s view of the OT? Does a high view of the OT mean that its words are equivalent to God’s words?

    Perhaps a “Arminian” view of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the inspiration of the scriptures is required?

    God has not predestined every little detail in the bible but his sovereignty ensures that the message of the bible when considered as a whole and in its immediate and broader contexts as true when Christologically interpreted.

    Inspiration does not mean that the words of the bible are directly God’s words. The bible is God’s
    word in human words in history pointing to the one who is the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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