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ctrace • 5 years ago

"To speak this way is not Marcionism–not even quasi, latent,
or incipient Marcionism, but an articulation of a perennial theological
problem of Christian doctrine: the very real presence of
both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments."

Yes, a problem if one leaves off the table classical Reformed Covenant - Federal - Theology; kind of like the way Marxists leave free market solutions off the table when discussing directions to move in...

mark • 5 years ago

Hey, let's keep this thing going. Here's an article my brother just sent me that seems very relevant to the ongoing discussion here: Does God Care About the Bible As Much As We Do?

Below are a few excerpts that frame the issue in fairly stark terms. Note two things: IMO, the author is implicitly raising the issue that I keep referring to--first, why do we say that these ancient books are somehow "revelational," and what do we really, I mean really, mean when we say that; second, he offers an example that is uncannily like the examples that Pete was giving in the comments:

For many in the church today, using the Bible as the go-to, definitive, and final answer for everything is the whole point of the Bible.

Otherwise, God wouldn't have chopped it up into nice chapters and verses that we could weaponize at the drop of a hat, right?


But what if God had other intentions for the Bible? What if God didn't intend for it to be the unquestioned final authority on everything that we've turned it into? What if, dare I say it, God doesn't care about the Bible as much as we do?

I don't mean God thinks that it's worthless, but what if we think more highly of the Bible and its authority than we should?


My suspicion begins in the Gospels where time and time again we hear Jesus declaring, "You have heard it said... but I say...." Now, sometimes he's just talking about tradition or the teachings of other rabbis. But a lot of times, he's talking about scripture itself, what we would today call the Old Testament. We tend to gloss over Jesus' words as nothing more than a rhetorical device, but when we do we miss the gravity of what he's actually doing.

He's breaking the bonds of scripture to bring new truth and breath fresh life into the people of God. He's refusing to be held captive to the words on the page in order to get to the real heart of faith.

Then he continues by citing the example of the revelation to Peter in Acts re the food laws--God is telling Peter to ignore the "revealed word of God!" What could possibly be up with that?

Read the whole thing--he has a number of provocative, thought provoking things to say. I'm not gonna say I agree with everything to say, but IMO it's very worthwhile for people who are concerned with the issues Pete's been raising.

Toward the end the author asks, well, if God doesn't seem to care about the Bible as much as we do, then how how is the Bible supposed to be a guide for us? He has a succinct answer, one that is highly condensed, but also highly suggestive of the issues we as Christians need to address:

The same way the church has always let scripture guide us before we fell for the delusion of sola scriptura -- tradition can lead us, the church teach us, reason inform us, and experience shape us into the people of God formed but not shackled to the Bible.
Rob • 5 years ago

Peter, you make me think outside my normal paradigms and for that I thank you. Love the challenge to stretch and grow.
I am wondering how your view of a different perspective on God being presented in the NT is reconciled with the apocalyptic violence of God in Revelation - ie. Rev 19:11ff? Seems to me all the OT illusions of Revelation bring OT perspective of God to a very present and future realization of His divine violence.

Pete E. • 5 years ago

Rob, I think this is a great question. A full answer would take a bit more than I have time for, but in brief, Revelation is apocalyptic literature and as such participates in the rhetoric of violence, which is part of the symbolic world of 1st century Judaism. What that means, practically speaking, is that this culturally sensitive explication of God's justice and ultimate vindication is refracted through that apocalyptic lens, where, for example, blood will run down the street for 200 miles and as deep as a horse's bridle.

To be clear, that does not mean that God does not "experience" anger or that he won't will put "all things to rights" somehow (as NT Wright is prone to say). I am only saying that Revelation presents a picture of that that reflects it's setting.

Rob • 5 years ago

I'm tracking with you, and agree that it must reflect it's setting and be in accord with the genre. Yet it seems that the future putting of "all things to rights" may well have some violence in it, even if not literally as vividly bloody as apocalyptic literature might present it. Still the evil that persists today seemingly will be destroyed in the end, and will that not likely evoke some actual violence of God beyond ancient rhetorical effect? Even if the evil is simply vaporized, that would be violent as it is the divine arrest of the will of those perpetrating evil.
My point is, while the message of the gospel and letters is largely to evangelize and bolster the faith of believers by grace through faith (simply stated) is there not a real violence of God still to be expected against the evil of the present world. Put another way, has God gone soft on evil and has his covenant love lost it's consuming fire?

mark • 5 years ago

Pete, I'd like to return briefly to something you said several days ago:

It is somewhat ironic in this very long (....) discussion that one of Marcion's main problems with his contemporaries is that he took the OT
as an accurate description of God as he is
(rather than as he was
understood). Like his contemporaries in the 2nd century, he knew that
this God and the Gospel were not compatible, but rather than allowing
this tension to invite an allegorical interpretation, Marcion took the
other solution: the God of the OT must be a different God. I'm glad the
allegorists won that skirmish,
but we continue the marcionite error--at
least part of it--if we think the solution can be found at taking these
texts at face value as "inerrant" descriptions of the nature of God.

I think I understand that you're not actually advocating for a full blown "allegorical" approach to "the Bible," as that approach has traditionally, or often, been used by "Christians" of one sort or another. My view, the 25 words or less version, is that an allegorical approach lapses into utter subjectivism unless there is some objective control to which it is subject. OTOH, Marcion is making an important point, laying down a challenge, in effect: If you say that the OT is not to be taken as a specific description of "God as he is," then what approach do you advocate? What are its parameters? How do you justify that approach? (Of course Marcion didn't say that, but that is the challenge for those who disagree with Marcion, as I do.)

The Catholic Church draws a number of useful distinctions in this regard, and a handy resource to for accessing those distinctions is a document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. (Other Church documents discuss these issues, but this document is handy "springboard" for thought/discussion--and not just for Catholics.) The link leads to a very detailed table of contents, which gives a pretty good idea of the ideas that are discussed. I assume that you're familiar with these ideas, but for the benefit of others I'll quote some brief excerpts.

Basically, the document sets up a distinction between the "literal sense" of Scripture and "literalism." By "literalism" the authors mean what they specify as "fundamentalism." OTOH, they use the term "literal sense" to mean the sense of the text when understood within its total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological--whatever. No allegorical interpretation can be considered valid that is not based in the "literal sense." (This distinction has a long history, btw.) So, that said, here are the few brief excerpts, which come from Section "II, B, 1, The Literal Sense":

1. The Literal Sense

It is not only legitimate, it is also absolutely necessary to seek to define the precise meaning of texts as produced by their authors--what is called the "literal" meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas had already affirmed the fundamental importance of this sense (S. Th. I, q. 1,a. 10, ad 1).

The literal sense is not to be confused with the "literalist" sense to which fundamentalists are attached. It is not sufficient to translate a text word for word in order to obtain its literal sense. ...

The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. ...

Does a text have only one literal sense? In general, yes; but there is no question here of a hard and fast rule ...


... The literal sense is, from the start, open to further developments, which are produced through the "rereading" (relectures) of texts in new contexts.

It does not follow from this that we can attribute to a biblical text whatever meaning we like, interpreting it in a wholly subjective way. On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text. To admit the possibility of such alien meanings would be equivalent to cutting off the biblical message from its root, which is the word of God in its historical communication; it would also mean opening the door to interpretations of a wildly subjective nature.

I'd like to stress several points with regard to this document and the excerpt that I provided. First, I'm not going to contend that this document is dispositive of all issues in this field. Second, as the document itself makes clear, there is no simple "paint-by-number" approach to Scripture--exegesis is by its nature interdisciplinary and painstaking. Third, the question of how well the Church has adhered to the principles set out in the document is a separate issue.

Andrew Dowling • 5 years ago

"On the contrary, one must reject as unauthentic every interpretation
alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written

And thus comes the necessary subjectivity. Matthew 16.7 being a prime example :)

mark • 5 years ago

Bad translation. I would have said "inauthentic" rather than "unauthentic," but the Vatican doesn't consult me on these matters. :-(

Mt. 16:7:

And they reasoned among themselves about it, saying, It is because we did not bring any bread.
mark • 5 years ago

One thing I forgot to point out, but which should be fairly apparent. Since the "literal sense" includes the "total context: linguistic, literary, historical, sociological, anthropological, archaeological--whatever," and all other interpretations must be validated by that literal sense, that means 1) that the literal sense must always be primary, and 2) that historical-critical scholarship must also be primary.

Jaco van Zyl • 5 years ago

When I first learnt of "Marcion the Heretic," my initial and years long impression of the man could have been likened to that of a monstrous, second-century Rasputin of sorts. In later years my impressions of the man changed. Most Evangelical Christians will undoubtedly still cling to the monster connotation of him; but Marcion - heretic or not - was a radical thinker of his time, and a formidable one too. While his moral sensitivity led him to "split" the Gods of the OT and NT, his opposers and their successors later came to display the very brutality and violence Marcion was so opposed to. Quite a paradox!

Steve Ranney • 5 years ago

I see it has been stated already by mark and probably others - I was just going to say that this method of guilt by association is common. It really seems to be intended for the faithful masses - once they can categorize a person in a box as bad, then there is no need to read the book or think about the issue. Another example I have seen is 'well that is just liberation theology' about someone advocating some kind of economic reform.

Lotharson • 5 years ago

"To say that there are two Gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New, is Marcionism. To say that the one God is portrayed in various–even conflicting–ways is simply a matter of reading the Bible in English with both eyes open."

Amen to that!
I think that the best way to dissolve the problem is to view the writing of the whole Bible in the same way one views all other Christian books , i.e. as fallible human thoughts about God.
This this (by and large) what liberal Biblical scholar Tom Stark calls us to do, but there is no need to become anti-supernaturalist.

The Gospels and letters of the Apostle have (for me) a more central position because they were closer to the events but not because the authors were more inspired than future Christian authors.

Actually, when I compare the book of Joshua (assuming the literal interpretation is the correct one) with books of C.S. Lewis, I find it obvious that the latter are far closer to a God of love and justice than the former.
It seems extremely problematic to keep apart our current Canon.

"My big concern in all this is that the charge of Marcionism simply
deflects from the real theological/hermeneutical problem of divine
violence by giving a false sense of having solved the problem. "

This is what makes it so frustrating to deal with conservative Evangelical apologists.

James • 5 years ago

Jesus said, if your eye offends you pluck it out, etc. I've seen this recently as a NT way of purging the Canaanites from the land as described in the OT. We are called to die to self and follow Jesus. That means cutting off offending desires and burning them up as an act of worship and total surrender. With respect to this requirement, the God's of the Old and New Testament seem roughly the same!

Beau Quilter • 5 years ago

I'm extremely grateful that Christians tend to read Matthew 5:29-30 and Mark 9:43-48 as poetic hyperbole. Otherwise, our churches would be filled with maimed and disfigured members.

Neo • 5 years ago

I'm pretty certain I'm guilty of being snarky when I ask this but sincerity is at the heart: So is there insinuation that Moses (or whomever authored the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy) loved God but misunderstood Him? I really would be grateful for any response.

Karen K • 5 years ago

I can't speak for others, but I am not necessarily insinuating anything. Only making the observations of what is in the text. Even using a close, literary reading of the texts, one could arrive at various ways of understanding the narrative flow of the Pentateuch. I sometimes think we are not curious enough so we just go with status quo readings.

One could also ask did the biblical authors love God but misunderstand God when it asserted a "Divinely ordained" law that could require a woman to marry her rapist?

My response is that what we see in the law codes are fairly standard ancient Near Eastern law codes. The laws themselves are not necessarily Divinely inspired. They are for the most part cultural products. But they still have meaning because they have been contextualized in the sacred text to portray theological concepts of righteousness, obedience to God, etc.

Beau Quilter • 5 years ago

Now, Karen, be fair about Deuteronomy 22. God didn't let the rapist marry his victim until he paid her father 55 shekels of silver. No crime unpunished.

Carlos Bovell • 5 years ago

Marcion was taken to be a threat to proto-orthodoxy for many reasons, not just for being a protege of Pete Enns : )

First, Marcion denied that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. I don't think Pete denies that. He is not a Marcionite on this score.

Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity. Pete passes this test, too. He sees value in the OT precisely by reading it typologically. He is definitely not Marcionite on this score.

Third, Marcion thought Paul was the only true disciple of Jesus and that the rest were not to be considered authorities. Pete has said nothing like this. Pete is not a Marcionite on this score.

Fourth, Marcion was not a monotheist. It was monotheism (and not the integrity of scripture per se) that drove many of the proto-orthodox to insist that the God of the OT and NT were the same (and that's why they needed allegory, etc.). Pete may have a high regard for the Yankees, but he probably still qualifies as a monotheist.

Fifth, Marcion also viewed matter as evil and could not imagine that the good deity (as opposed to the evil deity) would involve itself with matter. Pete's christology does not match Marcion's. In fact, given Pete's insistence on the incarnation as a helpful analogy for scripture, it might even be that those critical of Pete would have Marcion's approval here.

Lastly, Marcion wanted absolutely no Jewish connection to Jesus and this necessitated a radical dichotomy between law and grace. He accepted only epistles that he considered Pauline as scripture along with the Gospel of Luke which he heavily edited, going so far as to cut out portions of it that he thought were too Jewish. He also was a very strict ascetic. It seems clear that Pete parts company with Marcion on these points as well.

So the only part of Marcion's teaching that can apply to Pete, it would seem--- and this is a loose match at best--- is Pete's taking seriously the discontinuity between OT and NT. Any believer can contemplate this and even insist that there are legitimate discontinuities between OT and NT, but that doesn't make him a Marcionite.

In this particular area of inquiry, the plan of attack Marcion took was to insist that the OT was an accurate, historical record of the people of Israel and to consistently point out that if Jesus' life and ministry is going to be continuous with the OT read historically/literally, it must be reconciled with that history. He thought this could not be done, so he dropped the OT. The proto-orthodox said indeed that this could be done, but it required the use of allegory. Marcion would not allow for this.

One more thing, those who want the OT to be historically accurate and who demand that the OT prophecies be literally fulfilled by Jesus are expecting exactly what Marcion expected from scripture. The Church's response to the problems that arise from this approach was to make recourse to allegory.

To the extent that Pete is self-consciously trying to work through the discontinuities he sees between the OT and NT without restricting himself to literal, historical readings puts him on the side of orthodoxy, trying to find analogous, typological readings that can prove helpful for Christians today.

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

Carlos, thanks for your taxonomy on a number of points on whether one qualifies as a Marcionite or not. Some of your points are valid, some are irrelevant, and some are just way overdrawn. For example, your second point needs a whole lot more nuancing. For one thing, it's quite anachronistic. Purposeful reflection on the practice of allegorical interpretation doesn't really take place till after Marcion has passed off the scene. For another, It just isn't true that, "Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued." This just isn't the case. Many of the allegorists also practiced very literal, historical interpretation. They believed that the recorded events happened, AND, that they could be interpreted allegorically. To be sure, allegorical interpretations of the ancient church fathers could be quite fanciful, but by no means did they regard these as the only way to maintain that Jesus was the Messiah. I'm willing to be corrected on this if you can demonstrate otherwise.

But, the point that you say is the "only" point on which the Marcionite label might stick is, in fact, the important point. Marcion jettisoned the OT because he could not reconcile its description of God with the person of Jesus. He refused to believe that the violent deity depicted in the OT was the Father of Jesus. So the question to ask is whether an approach to the same problem today that relegates significant portions of the Old Testament to "human projections onto God," or "wrong perceptions of the character of God," does not do the same thing as Marcion does. Again, to use, the example of Joshua 6, aside from any question as to whether or not the account is historical, the question is, is the character of God as portrayed in this account consonant with the God whom Jesus called his Father. Did Jesus worship, praise, and pray to, that God. If the answer is "no," then without formally doing so, the approach has effectively decanonized the account, as well as large swaths of the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Ironically, It also ends up distorting our picture of who Jesus is.

Recognition of the discontinuities is not the issue. Methodology in dealing with them is.

Carlos Bovell • 5 years ago

To Jerry:

I'm sorry, I don't follow what exactly you're trying to say or what you would like to talk about. My list enumerating Marcion's views is pretty standard, I think. If you have a problem with #2, though, we can surely talk about that. That would probably make for a good discussion, one everyone can benefit from.

Oh, and where is the specific anachronism you see? It seems to me that the entire discussion is anachronistic. That's why I decided to comment and introduce the list--to try to illustrate that. It's a different world today, we can't place Enns in an ancient context; he doesn't fit and it's simply not fruitful to do so. So if you do see anachronism, I might suggest that it's symptomatic of the broader Marcion/Enns comparison that's being attempted.

mark • 5 years ago

Hi Carlos, all that said :-) don't you think it's the case that when people apply the label of some ancient heresy to a modern thinker that the label is being used as a sort of way to dismiss that person or pigeonhole them in order to advance one's own agenda without the tedious necessity of confronting that person's actual positions? After all, what does the average person know about Marcionism? Only that it was supposed to have been a Very Bad Thing. But by applying that label to Pete rather than addressing what he's saying in more extended fashion he is placed, presumptively, on the defensive: he is expected to prove a negative, i.e., I am not a Marcionite/heretic/bad person. And in this way we can avoid recognizing that Pete is grappling with very serious issues, just as Marcion was--regardless of whether we agree with either of them. And by adopting this approach we just may be able to avoid having to offer solutions to those issues on our own part.

An example of this from my own world: Benedict/Ratzinger, some years ago, was fond of decrying phenomena that he called a new Pelagianism and, yes, a new Marcionism. Well, we all know that Pelagianism was a Very Bad Thing--just as Marcionism was. These labels may have some analogical validity to modern thought, but too often they are misused. Oh, that's what you were saying, right?


Second, and even more interesting, Marcion insisted that the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative. Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued. Anyone arguing against allegory/typology was arguing against a fundamental feature of what became orthodox Christianity. Pete passes this test, too. He sees value in the OT precisely by reading it typologically. He is definitely not Marcionite on this score.

This is a perfect example of how Marcion was actually wrestling with very serious issues. Is it totally unreasonable to maintain that "the Hebrew Bible had to be taken literally if it was going to be authoritative"? I would strongly suggest that, in the absence of a coherent theory of revelation, there is nothing unreasonable about such a position. After all, the allegorical/typological approach (beloved by Benedict, btw), which became "orthodox" under the platonizing influence of the later Fathers, raises a very serious issue. If God reveals truth through texts that must be interpreted allegorically or typologically, but fails to provide the key, what authority then do the allegorical/typological interpretations have? And this is a real problem for a faith that claims to be based in historical events ('"if Christ be not risen ...").

Moreover, some very acute early Christian writers/thinkers--such as Paul--were very much aware of this issue. Paul, after all, persecuted the early Christian believers. He undoubtedly felt fully justified, and probably on the basis that he later describes--that the Christian faith was a "scandal" to any serious Jew, i.e., one who had a serious acquaintance with the Jewish scriptures and the various methods of interpreting those scriptures--both literal and non-literal. On both counts, I would maintain, those Jewish opponents of Christian faith found the new faith to be a "scandal," failing to find a basis in the scriptures. Paul, as I say, recognizes this, and pins his all on historical fact: Jesus really did rise, is risen, lives. And if that be not true, he and we are the most pitiful of men. There's no allegory in that.

I would further maintain that a strict examination of Jesus as he speaks in his own words in the gospels--as opposed to editorial interpretations such as, He did this to fulfill ..., etc.--does not truly base his mission and personal status on the Israelite scriptures. Instead, he taught on his own authority, and was not shy about contradicting those scriptures, about imputing purely human origins/motives to the content of those scriptures, etc. While I haven't done a thorough study of Paul's approach, I believe that such a study would reveal that Paul doesn't make that claim, either. That is, Paul doesn't present Jesus as claiming to fulfill the Israelite scriptures. Rather, Paul himself develops a theology that adopts a midrashic approach to those scriptures with regard to the Christ. However, when push comes to shove, when Christian faith is on the line, Paul's appeal is not to such midrashic theologizing but rather to the factual, historical reality of Jesus' resurrection.

This is all grist for the mill, the "mill" being the construction of a coherent theory of revelation which, logically, must precede any talk of inspiration--incarnational or otherwise.

Pete E. • 5 years ago

Mark, I'm working on a popular book right now (the draft is done) where I echo some of what you are saying here. Paul certainly believed there was a connection between Jesus and the OT, but his midrashic handling of the OT belies the difficult hermeneutical problem here. The gospel is not something that can be adequately captured in Israel's story, yet that was the only "God-talk" the first followers of Jesus had available to them. So, as an expression of their faith in Christ, they transformed Israel's story, which also meant leaving a fair bit of it aside. To get back to one of the points of my post, we are dealing with some pretty serious discontinuity, not justy some nagging problems.

Karen K • 5 years ago

In reading this post and the comments a couple of thoughts come up for me:

1. Its reductionistic to focus on the OT portrayal vs. NT portrayal. More needs to be said about plurality of voices in Scripture as a whole. For example, the depiction of relations with foreigners is quite different in Genesis vs. Deuteronomy (e.g. Abraham has many "pagan" friends, intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob rebukes his sons' slaughter of the Shechemites, etc). Herem is confined primarily to Deuteronomy and Joshua, not to the whole of the OT. So, I don't think its helpful to speak about "violence in the OT" in broad sweeps. These texts were written over large periods of time by different authors. The OT itself contains different opinions about violence and war. The NT was not written over the same expansive period of time, so less time/room to see differences in opinions between authors, but it too contains plurality.

2. I wonder about the role of rhetoric and genre in these kinds of conversations. For example, the curses sometimes found in the OT can be quite brutal and hyperbolic (e.g. listing all the various ways you will die as if you didn't die from the first method). But this language was an ancient Near Eastern way of speaking. So how do we think about rhetoric--the way something is communicated in human terms--in relation to the truths we are to take from Scripture? Similarly Revelation is so symbolic and borrows much of its material from the OT which it then reworks and re-frames. Its a particular genre--a way of conveying ideas from a particular time period.

3. The violence does not so much disappear from the NT as much as the violence is moved into the eschaton. This seems to be the result of the influence of Greek philosophy. You can see in the Old Testament texts (including apocrypha) a trajectory of wrestling with the questions of justice. There is disillusionment with the notion that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people (ala Mosaic thinking). The author of Ecclesiastes says, but hey wait, I see that bad things do happen to good people. What's up with that? Its somewhat pessimistic in its view--good and bad end up in the dust both. It doesn't have any clear answers to the problem of justice. Sirach tries to address some of the pessimism by giving some explanations for how justice still occurs (reinforcing some Mosaic thinking). But by the Wisdom of Solomon, the answer to the problem of justice is fully pushed into the eschaton. The author intentionally plays off of Mosaic concepts of fertility/long life as blessing saying that the barren are blessed and the rich ultimately damned. Justice only seems to be thwarted. Essentially the Mosaic promises/judgments will be given in the eschaton. Wisdom of Solomon definitely shows signs of Greek influences that continue to grow and expand into the NT thought--particularly the greater attention to an Afterlife.

In fact, I would argue that the violence that results in the NT is much more horrific than anything portrayed in the OT. The OT portrays only temporary physical violence. There is no eternal torture. The wicked suffer in the here and now. But now with the development of more expansive thinking about the Afterlife and justice pushed into the Afterlife--what was merely a physical, temporary punishment on earth becomes potential eternal torment (depending on how you read the imagery). There was no threat of eternal torment in hell in ancient Semitic thought. God's punishment was that during your lifetime you would be barren and your crops wouldn't grow and another nation would come and pillage your village.

I have been pondering how we think of judgment in light of the influence of Greek philosophy. In what sense do we really understand hell? How much is the concept shaped by cultural and philosophical expressions of the time? What are we to take from it. As just one example, I was thinking about Revelation and the 1,000 years that Beast is put in the pit and 1,000 year reign of the Saints and possible connections with Aristotle/Plato (see here: http://gramata.univ-paris1..... The biblical authors don't usually accept the cultural myths wholesale (whether Gilgamesh or from Greek philosophy) but they certainly seem to utilize imagery/language etc.

Also, one has to wonder about how development in theology shows evidence of lack of fully clear revelation. For example, in the OT and apocrypha you see the biblical authors wrestling with the questions of justice and theodicy. When their experience tells them that a Mosaic type theology of good things happening to good people doesn't actually work, then they rework their theology. So now we make sense of injustice in this world and God's lack of intervention by pushing it all into the eschaton is how things have developed. But perhaps there is more we can continue to ponder about these realities?

Andrew Dowling • 5 years ago

Good points, although I'd argue the notion of hell as place of eternal torment in the afterlife is not really found in the NT..
Although I agree; justice is served and it gets served after the mortal life in the NT.

mark • 5 years ago

Specifically re the idea of an afterlife, as a solution to the problem of evil. While there may or may not be Greek influence on Israelite thought in this respect, this conundrum is nothing new for cultures within what Eliade terms the world of "archaic ontology," or what Voegelin refers to as a "cosmological" worldview. That would include essentially every single civilization of the ancient world, if we accept that Israelite religion developed over centuries and only reached a truish monotheism at some point probably after the Babylonian exile. Cosmological worldviews rarely if ever have a clearly articulated concept of an afterlife.

Within that cosmological worldview the problem of evil regularly achieved crisis proportions during what philosophers of history refer to as "times of trouble"--times of barbarian invasion, social upheaval, etc. It's possible to see thinkers of these civilizations from China through India to Persia, the Middle East and Greece struggling with the problem of evil in such periods of chaos that challenged the very concept of cosmological order, and offering varying solutions--long before the Israelites (under the weight of historical misfortune) were forced in their turn to come to grips with this problem. If human life ends with death and evil is omnipresent, where is the goodness of cosmic order? Reincarnation was a popular solution--in India, Persia, Greece and elsewhere--but there were others.

Given all this, in what sense are the Israelite speculations on the problem of evil revelatory and the speculations of other civilizations are not? Or are they? Doesn't this issue strike you as crucial for the understanding not only of Israelite religion but for an understanding of its relationship to Christian faith?

Scott Lencke • 5 years ago

In an effort to engage with some of Jerry Shepherd's (and other's) challenges, which I believe are very thoughtful, here is a major component of the discontinuity that I see between the two testaments:

In both testaments, you have judgment being dealt to (or predicted for) the unrighteous. But in the Hebrew Scriptures, whereas you have direct commands for OTHERS to carry out this judgment, in the New Testament, Christ never commands any group/person to be the instigator of the judgment. He never says, "Ok, you twelve, go out and take out all our enemies and do it in my name." Rather there's a focus of the judgment being in the hands of the one who is Judge.

That is one of the bigger "shifts" I see in the fuller text of Scripture.

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

I believe this is correct, Scott.

Jim • 5 years ago

Have you and/or your family ever had any fascination with shipping, shipbuilding, ships in bottles etc?

Neo • 5 years ago

Jerry. Your points are very strong. However, I think an intellectually honest person (I'm not saying you are or are not) would have to struggle, maybe inconclusively, with those Canaanite texts and "Herem" texts of old. Would they not?

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

Neo, thanks for your comments. You are certainly correct that these texts are ones that are hard to grapple with, and require a great deal of thought and hermeneutical reflection. And, of course, there has been a great deal of literature which has been devoted to the issue. One very honest and very faithful book that wrestles with these issues is Christopher Wright's volume, The God I Don't Understand. For me, the deciding factor in how I relate to these OT texts, and not just these, but NT texts as well, is the response I see in the both the OT and NT to the violent portrayal of God. The response is one of worship. Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son is an act of faith and worship, and is regarded so by the NT as well. The "herem" acts are acts of worship. In Revelation, the reaction of the saints to God's execution of vengeance on their enemies and God's is worship.

There are different answers that could be given to the question as to what the Bible is about. But here's one way in which the answer could be given. The Bible is given to us for the purpose of revealing the character of God, and for telling us what our response should be to that revelation. It seems that a major portion of Scriptures is given over to describing God as one who will, indeed take vengeance against the wicked. And it seems that a major portion of the Scriptures is given over to telling us that the proper response to that portrayal is worship. If the Scriptures cannot be trusted in this area, I'm not sure how they can be trusted at all.

Going back to the title of Wright's book, The God I Don't Understand, I would make the observation that sometimes in the Bible, the test of true worship is whether or not we are willing to worship him, precisely when we don't understand him.

WBC • 5 years ago

Really well-said. On this blog, whatever part of God's revelation of Himself that is not understood is rejected as divine revelation. Meanwhile, "fundamentalists" are portrayed as forcing God into a neat, logical, rigid package. The opposite is the case as all your comments on this page more than adequately show.

Neo • 5 years ago

So that's how you reply to Jerry's points, Mr Enns? I get where you're coming from overall on this blog. But that shallow, thoughtless retort to which I saw as very salient and was looking forward to your engaging them is very revealing.

Seraphim • 5 years ago

Dr. Enns, I'm not sure how this post answers the charge. Instead of answering it, you simply defended what you have said before about the portrayal of God in the Old Testament. Maybe Marcionism is the superior option. But that doesn't make it not Marcionism. I understand that you have spent a lot of time being attacked by fundamentalists. But you have spent so long critiquing fundamentalists that we haven't seen a post for you in quite some time about why the Old Testament is essential for the Christian faith. About how it matters. About how it reveals God to us. Undoubtedly there are problems that we need to wrestle with these problems, but it's gotten to the point where it doesn't look like you are wrestling with them. You're just pointing them out and shouting "suck on that, fundies!"

Furthermore, you seem to think that the whole question is just an argument about inerrancy. It isn't. It runs far deeper than that. Jesus claims to be the Son of David. He claims to be bringing about the new exodus. He claims to be fulfilling God's promises to Abraham. And He claims to be revealing Israel's God to the whole world. Now, if you think that (1) David was probably a power-hungry thug, (2) that the exodus, at least for the most part, is ahistorical, (3) that the patriarchal narratives are basically fiction and (4) that the Old Testament depiction of Israel's God is by and large incompatible with the New Testaments, then why should we believe Jesus? If Jesus rooted and grounded His mission in the faithfulness of the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrew Bible, then these things matter a great deal.

Again. This is not an argument about Biblical inerrancy. This is an argument about the coherency of the Christian message. I'm not an inerrantist, I believe in an ancient universe, I believe in evolution, but the question is about whether the Christian framework is even viable when you take out the things you suggest taking out.

Dean • 5 years ago

You have it backward. Start from the ministry of Jesus and work your way back from there. You'll get better answers.

Seraphim • 5 years ago

That's my preferred method. But who is this Jesus character anyway? Well, He bursts on the scene announcing...what? That the Kingdom God has promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is being born. That the ancient hope of Israel is being fulfilled. It's not about Jesus saying one or two things like "the Scripture cannot be broken" (which can be taken in many ways, and as I noted, I'm not an inerrantist.) It's about Jesus claiming to be everything that Moses and the Prophets said the Messiah would be. Here's a post of Dr. Enns I still read from time to time because I found it so insightful:


"In other words, Christians read the Old Testament both respecting what it has to say while also seeing that there is something more to be said. The “something more” is the complex realization that, however connected we are to particulars of Israel’s story, those particulars are now reconfigured in the crucified and risen Christ, who paradoxically embodies and transforms Israel’s story."

I find nothing to hate there and a lot to love. I also greatly enjoyed Inspiration and Incarnation. But what we've been hearing from Dr. Enns lately, or at least the attitude implied by the tone, is that Israel's story itself is not embodied or transformed. It is simply discarded as useless and incompatible with Christianity. This was the sense of Eric Seibert's awful and truly unthinking series on Old Testament violence (posted on this blog) where he essentially suggested that the way Christians should read most of the Old Testament is as a portrait of what God is not like.

Look. I don't walk into this conversation assuming that Christianity is true. If Seibert is right about the almost total lack of continuity between Old and New Testaments, then I don't have the ability to sustain that degree of cognitive dissonance. If the problem is that serious, then Christianity probably just isn't true. But I believe the problems are ultimately surmountable. They require a lot of serious thought. They need to be WRESTLED with, not simply dismissed. But it needs to be taken into account that this is not an ancillary question, and it's not just a debate about the Bible.

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

Well articulated, Seraphim.

WBC • 5 years ago

Jerry Shepherd's clearly articulated, fair, and even friendly comment is worth answering. Dismissing him by shaming him into thinking his comments aren't worthy of a trained expert doesn't qualify as a real answer. It's a cover for what can't be answered adequately.

Dean • 5 years ago

I disagree. All Jerry's post contained were the same tired assertions and platitudes. For someone to say there is no tension between the OT and the NT either hasn't actually read them or is willfully blind. This is the result of the psychosis that comes with adhering to Chicago-mafioso style inerrancy.

To say something can't be explained adequately is infinitely better than saying something doesn't need to explained at all. That's how Mormons talk btw. Have you ever asked a Mormon where the hell the golden plates went? That conversation goes almost exactly as discussions with you guys. Are you proud of that?

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

Dean, I'm sorry you had so much trouble reading and understanding my post. I did not deny any tensions between the OT and NT. And I certainly never gave any hint that these tensions and discontinuities don't need to be explained. But the problem is not simply an OT versus NT problem. As I said there are plenty of violent texts in the NT. And some of them involve the words of Jesus. Your post is horribly lacking in nuance and appreciation of the complexity of the issues. Try again.

Dan • 5 years ago

Unfortunately, I have to concur. There were some legitimate questions articulated that, frankly, were basically articulations of thoughts that had been swirling in the back of my head. It deserved interaction rather than dismissal.

Jerry Shepherd • 5 years ago

WBC and Dan. Thank you for your comments; but, just for the record, Pete and I are former classmates at Westminster Seminary and friends. So, despite the inadequacy and irrelevancy of Pete's response, I'm sure he wasn't attempting to "shame" me. Thanks again.

Dean • 5 years ago

The reason for this phenomenon to me is obvious. Human beings, especially Americans, have a blood lust. They love it that the OT is full of violence because it justifies the violence we condone in our own society and the violence we export to other countries. So we selectively pick and choose versus in the Bible that affirm that way of life and put on blinders when it comes to the actual literal teachings of Jesus Christ, who we believe to be the perfect revelation of God the Father. American Evangelicals are totally complicit in this. This is also how we treat the Book of Revelation, we are really crossing our fingers and hoping that when Jesus comes back again, he's not going to be the pansy he was the last time around, he's finally going to kick some ass and we can't wait for front row seats, because apparently "love thy enemy" only applies up until the eschaton and then it's a free for all on your enemies. The irony is, first century Jews were expecting the exact same thing the first time around and Christians are scratching their heads today wondering how they could have missed something as obvious as the coming the Messiah. How could they possibly be so dense as to not realize that Jesus didn't come to kill everyone he hates until much much LATER?

Grifman • 5 years ago

I love the pop psychology but this is silly and pure balderdash. I don't know of any evangelicals who "love that the OT is full of violence". Most that I know struggle with it just as many others here do. And I don't know of any who take joy in the judgement that will occur before, during and after Christ's return. You really shouldn't generalize and assume you know the motivations of literally millions of people. That's actually pretty insulting.

Dean • 5 years ago

Well look, my only observation is that the Bible is used heavily among American Evangelicals to justify:

1. Capital punishment
2. No restrictions on firearms
3. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
4. Attacking Iran and Syria
5. Attributing natural disasters to the hand of God

It doesn't take much time to discover this, all you need to do peruse youtube or Huffington Post Religion, and you will find ample full-length videos and opinion pieces (taken in context) from leading American Evangelical leaders and their flock in support of a great deal of violence that occurs in the world and then using the Bible to justify it (primarily the OT). I'm a little confused at why this is surprise to you. There are literally "millions" of people who think each of the 5 things above are not only good but mandated by the Christian God.

WBC • 5 years ago

Your view "is that the New Testament leaves behind the violent, tribal,
insider-outsider, rhetoric of a significant portion of the Old

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. . .And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms" (Hebrews 11:30-33).

Did the author of Hebrews also miss Jesus 101? Is it fair to say that you know better than the Old Testament and the New Testament?

Mark Edward • 5 years ago

This doesn't address the issue of discontinuity, it tries to hide it behind the continuity. Enns openly says there is continuity: what people say and do in the new testament is built on an outlook shaped by the old testament. But the discontinuity is that, even when the n.t. people look to the o.t. people as their heroes of faith, there is still a sharp change in how Jesus and the n.t. authors instruct people to act.

Violent retribution as we find instructed in the o.t. (eye for eye, stone the adulterers, massacre all Amalekites and take their young women as wives, etc.) is explicitly overturned and repudiated in the n.t. The continuity is that the people in the n.t. worship the same God as the o.t., they believe Jesus and the Church community are founded upon o.t. prophecy, that God was fulfilling his promises to Israel... but the violent zeal, such as that found in affirmed acts of people like Phineas, is suddenly forbidden.

There's more nuance to it, but simply highlighting the continuity as you do here (which Enns has no problem agreeing with) does not dissolve the co-existent discontinuity.

WBC • 5 years ago

Yes, there is much discontinuity between the OT and NT, including that NT believers are not commanded to kill and dispossess the Canaanites, while OT believers were. That's not the issue. The issue is this: why can the author of Hebrews commend the OT believers' faith along with the deeds God enabled them to do by faith without a hint of censure, and Peter Enns cannot?

Collins • 5 years ago

Pete, for what it's worth...

I don't get it. I really don't understand why you seem to get such a hard time from people over things like this. The implications that people throw at you..they're completely absurd...from the surface level down to the philosophical nitty gritty. It's one thing to have legitimate disagreement. It's another thing to chafe and be looking for pitchforks everytime somebody tries to (from a Biblical standpoint!) challenge "prefered" evangelical presumptions (that's a loaded phrase, but it was the best I came up with)

That's why I felt inspired to write this today on this blog in the comment section that who knows whether or not you'll see. I wanted to say, in somewhat of a convoluted way, "thank you, Pete."

My church was recently going through Genesis. Since I am aspiring to formally expand my theological studies in the near future, I thought I should be a dutiful lay person and really dig in to the text. I found lectuers from Bruce Waltke and Iain Provan. I read the Lost World of Genesis One. I got so into it that one of my groomsman (a "real" seminary student) was watching me pack for my honeymoon and had to say "no, dude, you can't take a Gordon Wenham commentary on your honeymoon. That's just wrong." (I realized he was more than right). In this layman's study binge, I also read Genesis for Normal People.

While I have I&I sitting on my bookshelf, 5 Views on my Kindle, and Evolution of Adam on that same bookshelf calling out to be read, Genesis for Normal People the only book of yours I have plowed through cover to cover. I wrote a review of it on Amazon the other day and I gave it 5 stars. As I was sitting trying to think of what to say about that fantastic, accessible book, here is one of the things that I came to: it was spiritually edifying. That's right, spiritually edifying. I not only learned some of the context and "religious studies" elements of the text--I really felt like I took away from it this sense of "wow, God as Creator is just amazing. Ancient people saw it with very different eyes than I see it...but we all see it is amazing and beyond comprehension. Yahweh blows my mind."

I'm a chemical engineer and I have seen firsthand in my education and profession the value of having people like you that are faithful to Jesus exploring and expounding the Bible to show that really, a lot of these issues just aren't really the issues that sometimes popular evangelicalism wants to make them to be (there are certainly issues, but not what they're caricatured as being).

I'm sure you went through years and years of studying and wrestling with difficult questions and I'm sure it can be frustrating to have people somewhat ignorantly (and sometimes knowingly) lob accusations at you. I just wanted to say that, at least for me and on behalf of a lot of science geeks and/or people that wrestle with the kinds of questions you talk about, thank you for doing what you do. Keep on doing it--it really benefits the body of Christ.

Gregory C • 5 years ago

I had to look up Marcionism a few days ago when someone tried to pin that label on me, because I see a profound discontinuity in the Testaments. But, I don't explain the discontinuity the same way Marcion did. We're not seeing two different Gods, but two different views of God's righteousness. The wrathful God represents a distant view of righteousness, defined as moral vindication. That includes punishment, of course; justice, and all the bloodshed it entails. Think of it as being on the outer edge of a hurricane.

With Jesus, suddenly, justice is not such a priority, to such a degree that he will not cast the first stone or even speak up in his own defense before Pilate. We're not seeing the outer edge any more, but the calm center of righteousness, defined as a right essence of character or spirit. "But now, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ..." Justice is still needed, but righteousness is our first priority. Two sides of the same coin, two translations of the same Greek word, but one God.

Guest • 5 years ago