Tag Archives: Old Testament

Old Testament God: Monster, Morph or Myth? (3)

Dr Copan repeatedly makes the point that the law of Moses was God’s way of meeting people (the Israelites) halfway, and permitting certain things (e.g. slavery) because of the hardness of human hearts. He refers forwards to Jesus’s comments on divorce in this regard (Matt 19:8).

Please consider the following:

1. There are a multitude of deeply cruel instructions given in the Old Testament, most of which are prefaced with “Thus says the Lord”.

Here’s an example from Deuteronomy 22:20-21. The context here is an instruction for what a man should do if, on his wedding night, he suspects that his bride is not a virgin:

“If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found,  she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” (italics are mine)

(Naturally, there is no mention of the possibility that the man might not be a virgin. This was clearly no cause for concern.) And unfortunately so much more like this. How is this meeting people halfway? And even if one could rationalize it like this, how could a loving God bear to live with this compromise when it must have meant that countless women lived in genuine fear of their lives, and their daughters’ lives, much like they do in present day conservative Islamic states?

I currently have no rational way to marry this portrayal of God, with that of the portrayal in the New Testament of God as a God of love.

Chains-4

2. Slavery is regulated in the Old Testament, which was a big step forward in the ancient near-Eastern world.
(In other words, how master’s treated their slaves was subject to certain rules.) However, considering the enormous impact the Judeo-Christian faith has had and continues to have on the world, why would God endorse slavery at all? A simple declaration of “No human shall have the right to own another human, or have another human working for or serving them without compensation” could have saved millions of lives and an unquantifiable amount of suffering and despair. Many sincere (and insincere) Christians have through the ages used the scriptures as a defense for this practice. And yet a simple instruction to the contrary could have avoided this whole issue.

Another argument Dr Copan employs to defend God as he is portrayed in the Old Testament involves the practice of exaggeration. He states that it was common for historical narratives in the ancient near-East to freely use hyperbole or exaggeration.
So e.g. When a leader declared “We annihilated the enemy and left nothing alive”, everyone knew that it was advisable to read this with a pinch (or bag, depending on the size of the ego) of salt. He gives the example of Joshua, who is instructed by Moses to “Kill every living thing.” They go and do the deed, and declare that nothing breathing was left alive, yet in the next few chapters it states that they’re fighting the same enemy – so clearly there were some who escaped the carnage. Dr Copan says this as if it is more acceptable to kill, e.g. 200 people than 300, and then to lie about it. My problem is with the instruction (allegedly coming from a good God), not particularly with how or whether it was carried out.

Finally: Dr Copan concludes his argument that God is not a moral monster by saying that this is a God who is the ultimate cosmic authority, and that he is entitled to do whatever he wills with whoever offends him. Using the analogy of Aslan in Narnia,

“He is good, but he is not safe. We can never become comfortable or complacent.”

This simply doesn’t work for me, as a defense of God’s nature or as an explanation of why God is portrayed so differently in the Old Testament versus the New. If Dr Copan’s explanations were all I had to work with, I would have to conclude that God is indeed a moral monster.

Old Testament God: Monster, Morph or Myth? (1)

what-is-god-like-570x320-300x168

I have long been puzzled by a seeming dichotomy at the heart of the Bible: the character of God as shown in the Old Testament vs the New Testament. So a few weeks I decided to embark on a study of the subject in order to get some clarity.

What I’m seeing so far:

– God did not seem to have a problem with slavery. Exodus 21 details laws around the treatment of slaves, including advice when selling one’s daughter as a sex slave, as well as guidelines for beating servants. (A beating is an acceptable form of disciplining slaves, as long as it doesn’t cause long-term injury or death.)

OT war pic

– God mandated many battles, too numerous to count (although I’m sure some scholar somewhere has done this), including the familiar story of the destruction of the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). In modern times we call this kind of action a number of things: invasion, ethnic cleansing or genocide.

 

I stopped reading this story to my children years ago when I realized that the sanitized version in their Bible story books was very, very far from the reality. Actually, this goes for a lot of the Old Testament!

(Incidentally, when one of the Israelites decided to keep some of the spoils of war for himself, contrary to the Lord’s command, Joshua stoned and then burnt him, as well as his sons and his daughters. This, according to the writer, appeased the anger of the Lord. (Joshua 7:24-36)

maa-62705-man-carrying-fire-wood-jenu-kurumba-tribal-nagarhole-karnataka-bfnpgc.jpg

 

– Infringement of the Sabbath, including gathering sticks on the Sabbath, was given the sentence of death by stoning. This is recorded as being a direct command from the Lord (Numbers 32:36).

 

– God gives permission for the men to take female prisoners of war as their wives. If they weren’t pleased with her, they could let her go. “If you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free.” In modern times wouldn’t we call this rape?

 

thediplomat_2014-02-21_18-31-32-386x255Also, set her free to what? To wander around in a foreign land, with no way to support herself (all her male relatives having been killed in war) other than presumably prostitution?

 

 

 

– God does not seem to have a problem with infanticide, as long as it concerns the children of the enemy: “Happy shall he be who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” (Psalm 137:9)

Many Christians respond to these kinds of verses (as I have done for many years) by saying that Jesus brought a new dispensation, that we are no longer under the law, but under grace. But how does this work in terms of the unchangeable nature of God
(James 1:17, Malachi 3:6)? The fact that God commanded these things surely says a lot about his character. How do we reconcile this to the God of love that we learn about in the New Testament? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.