Apologetics 9: Old Testament Difficulties
Let’s face it: there’s some difficult stuff in the Old Testament. Violence, weird laws, weird people, and a God that is not what we were expecting. Here’s some tools on how to read the Old Testament as a contemporary Christian.
This course was taught live at Wellspring School of Discipleship, at the Quebec House of Prayer (QHOP), November 17, 2016.
Click here to download the syllabus.
Scroll down to read the teacher’s class-notes.
You may also watch the live-stream below. (A better quality video is coming soon!)
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Mention book: Moral Monster
- Road Map (how did we get here, where are we going)
– Progression: God exists, He is personal, He is moral
– (Next) He is the Jewish/Christian/Muslim God
(leads immediately to the question: what about the difficulties with the OT?)
- What are the “Problems” with the Old Testament?
- A) Violence in the Old Testament
– God killing people, and mandating slaughter
– Warlords as “heroes of the faith”
– Violence in general
- B) Evil, sin & “social regression” in the Old Testament
– Wide-spread use of concubines, slaves, torture, sexist laws, etc.
– Such practices included in laws, commands, etc.
- C) “Weird” Laws
– Animal sacrifices, and other “primitive” religious customs
– Cripples, women, foreigners, etc., punished for their physical conditions
- D) Scientific Absurdities
Note: due to time, our emphasis will not be here. But we may discuss these issues after class.
– Struggles with the Creation narrative, and a global flood (already addressed)
– Specific issues like the “floating axe-head,” Jonah, walking on water, etc.
seg. “Oh well. I guess we just need to throw out the Old Testament, and keep only Jesus! Oh wait, we can’t do that…!”
- What are the stakes?
(Many people try to take just New Testament, or just Jesus, leave the rest)
– The dangers of Marcionism (Jesus only)
– The dangers of libertinism
– The dangers of liberalism
seg. “Let’s try to define the issues, then address them one by one…”
(note also the podcast)
1. When God was Mad
- When the saints were bad
- Weirdness in the Old Testament
- SECTION ONE: When God Was Mad
– The Flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom & Gomorrah, The Egyptian Plagues (killing the firstborn), Wilderness Wanderings (Israelites often annihilated in large numbers)
***** BIG IDEA ONE: GOD IS NOT ONE OF US!! *******
seg. we could begin this section by asking, “What right did God have to slaughter the Amalekites?”
- Notice we asking, “Was God right or wrong to slaughter the Amalekites?” We are not asking “is it my preference…”
- Thus, we are appealing to an absolute law, objective morality, the Moral Law, etc.
- As we saw in the class on the Moral Argument, the existence of a Moral Law is strong proof of the existence of God: and we concluded that the Moral Law was located within the mind of God.
- Therefore, in the act of critiquing the actions of God, we are trying to appeal to the character of God.
Let’s pause to reflect on this for a moment…
- Based on our lecture on morality, imagine that absolute, objective morality really existed somewhere (in the mind of God, or elsewhere)
Would you be “righteous” before it?
If you suddenly came face-to-face with it, 1. would it be a pleasant, or a terrifying experience (outside of Christ, the latter)
- Think for a moment about all of the things we mean when we say God is the “Moral Law Giver.”
He is eternal
He sees all, past-present-future, potential
He knows/comprehends all
He is not blemished by personal flaws, such as sin & fear of man
- Do you think that this being would always agree with us, and/or make decisions which are 100% comprehensible to us?
- Do you think the human race would pass by unnoticed, approved of, and not in any way condemned for their sins?
- Based on our course on cosmology, imagine what kind of a “being” God must be, to cause all of the universe to come into being
– Illustration: radiation = wrath
God’s wrath is a powerful force (Holiness + Power)
God’s heart is not to be wrathful
The Love of God shelters us from the Wrath of God
Seg. Often, atheist objections and problems melt away when we just simply “let God be God”…or, rather, when we stop sitting in judgment of the OT, and let it reform us. But even so, we can ask comprehension type questions, which are by no means inappropriate…
*** BIG IDEA #2: FOR GOD, TO KILL IS NOT MURDER ***
- God is the creator and sustainer of all biological life
– Creator (Genesis 1-2): cf. the Cosmological Argument
– Sustainer (Psalm 104:26-30): cf. the Fine Tuning Argument
– When a human kills, they are taking something they did not give: but God both gives, and continues to give life. The situation is not the same
– However, this doesn’t quite resolve the issue:
- A builder may have the right to demolish a building, but a father does not have the right to take the life of his child, merely by virtue of beginning it. Likewise,
- A land-lord may have a right to evict tenants from his/her premises: but not in a snow-storm in the middle of winter, when eviction would mean certain death
- In both these cases, the rights of sentient beings seems to come into play. We could see how a being could be a creator and sustainer, but still not have a right to take life…
- God is the locus of the Moral Law, and the judge of all humanity
– (link to what has been mentioned, above)
- a) God decides who lives and who dies (Gen. 18:25)
- b) All are worthy of death (Rom. 6:23, 5:12)
- c) THEREFORE, God could wipe out all of humanity, and be justified
- d) HOWEVER, He choses not to, but to wait…
- Because He is patient
- Because He is waiting for all to come to repentance
- Because He would rather show mercy than justice (2 Pet. 3:9)
- God orders the progress of the nations
In the Old Covenant, there were three basic groups of people:
- God allowed them to go their own way (Acts 14:16)…
- To provide room for free will (see class on Suffering)
- To allow time to repent (2 Pet. 3:9)
- …in anticipation of the coming of Christ, and of missionaries who would share the Gospel with them (Mat. 28:16-20)
- …with the exception of two groups
- God’s chosen people
- Through whom God will bless all the nations of the earth
- Who will receive the Law
- Among whom Jesus will be incarnated
- With both a blessing and a curse “Judgment begins in the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17)
The Extremely Wicked Nations
- Although letting nations go their own way, He does at times step in to judge when the outcry becomes “exceedingly great” (Genesis 18:20)
- To shepherd to outworkings of humanity
- To judge the pride of rulers
- To demonstrate His rule over the affairs of humankind
…remember, that when God kills, it is not murder!
- SECTION TWO: When the Saints Were Bad
Seg. Further problems, from bad conduct among people…
Could divide into three categories:
- Bad people doing bad things
- Good people doing bad things (but God told them to)
- Good people doing bad things (and God didn’t tell them to)
- Bad People doing Bad Things
– Not much of a problem: it’s what we would expect
– However, could question the usefulness/propriety of Bible for:
- Our enlightened age
**** Tool #1: The Bible is a real book, written about a real God that meets real people in a real world. ****
- a) This is an accurate description of “real life”
- b) This describes the realities of our life as much as it does theirs
– Slavery, sex-trafficking, exploitation of every sort, torture, still part of our world
- c) At some point, our kids will come in contact with this world
- d) Rather than through media, or hard experiences, why not through Bible?
- Accurate portrayal of life
- Evil punished: either in commentary or consequences, can see consequences of sin
- Not like movies: evil so often glorified
- Good people doing bad things (violence), but God told them to
– examples: David, Moses, Joshua, etc. perpetrating genocides,
– Again, won’t say much here. This point already addressed above
– It will be important to note the “Prescriptive vs. Descriptive” distinction below
**** Tool #2: “Don’t judge real history against a utopia!” *****
– Concept: real history is messy. Sometimes, we can judge against a) our own times, or b) against a utopia.
– Don’t do this!
– Also known as the “Psychologist’s fallacy”
– The harsh realities help explain:
- Slavery laws
- “Sexual Slavery”
- Good people doing bad things (but God didn’t tell them to)
examples: Jeptha sacrificing his daughter, David’s sin, Samson’s harlots, Abraham’s concubines, Solomon’s wives & concubines, etc.
(repeat: tools 1 & 2)
**** TOOL #3: There are sections of the Old Testament that are descriptive, and sections that are prescriptive.
– As mentioned, the Bible recounts real history, of flawed saints
– Clearly, not everything that they do is to be emulated!
– Sometimes, their failures are as encouraging as their successes: these really are real people!
– Some of them lived very long ago, in revelation history/progressive revelation (will examine shortly): and so they knew even less how to live
– There are other sections of the Bible, such as the Law, and the New Testamnet, that make right conduct very clear
– Sometimes, the nature of the stories makes it clear whether the behaviour is being endorsed or condemned: either the author will mention the consequences, or there will be an editorial note that “God was displeased by this action.”
– It’s fairly easy to understand that we need to read the descriptive portions in light of the prescriptive portions