Friday, May 24, 2013

What about that Old Testament stuff? It's unethical!

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 comment:

  1. "Mt 6-7 sayings don't contradict, but deepen/correct popular inferences."

    Also important, they dealt primarily with the moral laws, which are still applicable today. A lot of people take that quote by Christ regarding the Law and the Prophets and forget his overall point.

    "Shouldn't mistake realism for ethical approval."

    Precisely! When people quote bad things being done in the Old Testament, like Lot having sex with his own daughters or David killing one of his most loyal soldiers to take his wife, I'm just like, "Yeah...the Bible teaches men are depraved individuals in dire need of a Savior. What more do you want?"

    "It was a limited event. The conquest narratives describe one particular period of Israel's long history."

    Precisely! It drives me nuts when people respond to passages in the Quran by jumping to verses in the Bible regarding the invasion of Canaan and God's judgment upon the people there (the latter of which a lot of people forget). Whenever this subject comes up, I always ask: "Was there a *perpetual* order by God to kill unbelievers?" They have to answer compare that to the Quran, which *does* have perpetual orders to kill or subdue unbelievers. You just can't compare the two.


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