Friday, August 6, 2010

Is the Old Testament Ethical?

Often, the main offense people take to the Bible is the old testament. They see the actions of God in the old testament as cruel, unjust, unloving and that's just some of the nice things said; I've heard worse about the old testament and of God. At first read, sure, there are cruel and unjust things (according to us) done in the old testament, there's no doubt about that. After a second read, a second thought, and looking at another viewpoint the old testament is understood clearly.

I've read a good essay about the old testament and its ethics, so I thought I would share it here. This essay is from the Apologetics Study Bible and it's written by Christopher Wright.

1) Prejudice against scripture

  • OT portrays a violent God
  • OT portrays a violent people
  • OT is filled with narratives recounting horrendous events
  • Disreputable people playing major roles

2) Reasons the Old Testament is Ethical

  • It was ethical for Jesus
  1. He accepted the truth and ethical validity of the OT in His life, mission, and teaching.
  2. Mt 6-7 sayings don't contradict, but deepen/correct popular inferences.
  3. Jesus reminded His hearers that Leviticus 19 also says, "Love the alien as yourself," extending this to include "love your enemy."
  4. Jesus affirmed and strengthened the OT ethic.
  • Narratives describe what happened, not what was necessarily approved.
  1. We assume wrongly that if a story is in scripture, it must be "what God wanted."
  2. Biblical narrators dealt with the real world, with all its corrupt and fallen ambiguity.
  3. Shouldn't mistake realism for ethical approval.
  4. OT stories challenge us to wonder at God's amazing grace and to patience in continually working out His purposes through such morally compromised people.
  5. OT stories challenge us to be discerning in evaluating their conduct according to standards the OT itself provides.
  • The Conquest of Canaan
  1. Must be understood for what it was.
  2. It was a limited event. The conquest narratives describe one particular period of Israel's long history. Many of the other wars that occur in the OT narrative had no divine sanction, and some were clearly condemned as the actions of proud, greedy Kings or military rivals.

3) An eye for an eye is remarkably humane

  • Metaphorical, not literal
  • Not a license for unlimited vengeance, but the opposite; it established the fundamental legal principle of proportionality.
  • Punishment mustn't exceed the gravity of the offense.

More OT ethics resources:

Peter S. Williams on the ethics of the Old Testament here

Questions about the Bible

Questions about God

Moral and ethics resources at Apologetics315


  1. i would just like to say that the God of the old Testament is the God of the New! There are lots of Scripture that prove this fact, but most people don't know, or don't want to know this fact! Read carefully the 1st.Chapter of John 1:1. This tells you who exactly Jesus Christ was, and is! Jesus was and is the Logos of the All Mighty Father God!
    Also to further this plain truth, look in John 1:18 and John 5:37. Jesus Christ plainly says no one has seen the Father or heard his voice at any time! Kind A puts a kink in these people that say God talked to them, or they seen God! Kind A makes you wonder who they seen doesn't it! Any questions I will be happy to answer any that I can.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out Buddy! I agreed with your comment, reread my post and seen how you could think I believe in two gods. From my post: "They see the God of the old testament as a cruel, unjust, unloving God..."

    I didn't mean for my post to sound like God in the OT is different from God in the NT. I'm monotheistic as well.
    Thanks for reading the blog and for following it. Feel free to comment as much as you like here.


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