Q: Greetings from Australia from a Brother In The Lord from Down Under!!
I’ve been reading through the Old Testament for over 12 months in my daily devotions and I would love to hear a ‘pastor’ share on some of the really ‘tough’ verses.
We often hear sermons on the ‘nice’ bits but I sometimes rack my brains over some verses which seem to paint a picture of a different God to the one who came in the flesh and dwelt among us as Christ.
A prime example would be when God told the Israelites to kill all … babies, wives etc. The ‘enemy’ soldiers I can live with …. but why the ‘innocent’. Yes …. we know that the Israelites could become tarnished and led astray by an pagan tribes that were left, but it still seems awfully harsh. And sometimes we’re talking 20,000 + people.
And I find it hard to understand stoning. Is it all possible to stone someone and be human at the same time? Couldn’t they be like Jesus and say …. “go on your way and sin no more.” And when did the practice end?
Also I read the other night about a law (in Deuteronomy) which basically said – if two men are fighting and the wife of one of them grabs the other man by his testicles – then she has to have her hand cut off!
There’s some wonderful verses in the Old Testament about looking after the widow and the orphans and the foreigners who live in your country. Also some great stuff on using correct weights and not to cheat …. but I think you know the verses that I’m referring to.
So if you could add something on this subject in your FAQ I’d be grateful. Cause from what I read you’ve got a bit of ‘theological’ training and understanding and you’re not going to step away from the tough questions.
A: Great questions. And questions that might call for a slightly different way of thinking about God and Jesus. The typical view of Jesus is that Jesus was always non-judgmental, accepting of everybody, pacifistic, and always gracious. And this view seems to contrast with the God of the Old Testament who (at least at times) seems to be judgmental, vengeful, condemning, and violent. Those may not be the exact words people would use, but something similar to that.
(By the way, this isn’t a new view. A man named Marcion in the early church had the same view and created a powerful heresy that the early church had to respond to.)
But I think these views of Jesus and God come from a selective reading of the Bible or a misreading of some of the passages in the Bible. Let me give an example.
You mentioned the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Many people read this story as if Jesus was overturning the Old Testament punishment of stoning – in fact, some people read this event as if Jesus was saying that all the Old Testament punishments were too harsh. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what Jesus is doing. Jesus is being set up by the Pharisees (see verse 6). The dilemma that the scribes and Pharisees are setting up for Jesus is this:
- If Jesus said, “No, don’t stone her” then it would appear that Jesus was breaking God’s law given to Moses (Leviticus 20:10).
- If Jesus said, “Yes, stone her” then He would be breaking Roman law which didn’t allow the Jews to execute anyone without their permission (John 18:31).
Jesus’ fantastic answer didn’t minimize her sin; didn’t get him into a debate about Mosaic law; and didn’t get him in conflict with Roman law. It wasn’t meant as a setting aside of the Old Testament judicial punishment. It was meant to reveal how unfit the scribes and the Pharisees were to be the woman’s judges and executioners. Why were they unfit? Four reasons:
- They were accusing her of adultery, while they were plotting to murder Jesus (see John 7:1). This is a bit hypocritical!
- The law required the execution of both parties (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), not just the woman! Adultery takes two people. So where is the male? More than likely the woman had been tricked into this situation and provision made for the man to escape.
- The Pharisees said that the woman had been “caught in the act of adultery” (v. 4). But compromising circumstances were not sufficient evidence to convict someone. Jewish law required the testimony of at least two witnesses who had seen the act. The Pharisees did not mention the names of the witnesses, nor did Jesus hear testimony from two witnesses, yet he was being asked to give judgment.
- Finally, the Pharisees altered the law a little. The exact manner of execution was not prescribed unless the woman was a betrothed virgin (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Jewish custom at this time was actually death by strangulation for both offenders. So the statement in verse 5 about the Law of Moses “commanding” stoning of such women, was not entirely accurate.
So Jesus wasn’t really setting aside the Old Testament judicial laws. And Jesus wasn’t saying that every person is unfit to render judgment upon another person. If this were the case, then juries and judges would be unbiblical! Jesus was merely turning the trap back on the Pharisees who intended to trap Him!
I’m sorry that I don’t have time to deal with all the questions you mentioned, but I’ll attempt to give short brief answers to some of them. I’m sure that because they are brief, they will be insufficient, but they may point you in a direction of thought or a direction for further study:
- Concerning the extermination of whole populations of people: I might have answered some of this question in this article <http://www.new-life.net/joshua.htm>.
- Concerning the killing of “innocent” babies and wives: Is it a Biblical view to look upon any person as “innocent?” Are we judged because we sin (the committing of individual sins) or judged because we are sinners (our nature)? What role does Adam as the representative and head of the human race (Romans 5:18; Psalm 51:5) and “original sin” (John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3 – “born rebels”) play in God’s justice? Does God, as Creator of every person, have the right to take the life of any creature that He creates (Romans 9:20-21)?
- Stoning = a form of community execution. What are the benefits of community execution as opposed to hiring someone to execute? Does community execution actually place limits on capital punishment by requiring the participation of each person in the community? Does it provide an incentive for the community against further sin in ways that execution by a state sanctioned executioner would not do?
- Deuteronomy 25:11-12 – This is the passage about the two men fighting and a woman who grabs the other man’s sexual organs. I agree that in our eyes this seems harsh. Two thoughts:
- Damage to reproductive organs might cause a man to be unable to leave descendants. Descendants were the Social Security system in Israel for the elderly and widows. A woman damaging a male’s sexual organs could actually be hurting this man’s wife and leaving her destitute.
- In fairness to the Old Testament, we need to say that this is the only place in the Old Testament were mutilation is prescribed. If you read the ancient Code of Hammurabi or the Islamic Quran, mutilation is a very common punishment for a number of offenses.
- You said that the Old Testament paints “a different God to the one who came in the flesh and dwelt among us as Christ.” I sometimes think that Christians read the New Testament selectively. Jesus’ first coming was a time of special grace and mercy. No doubt about that. There is an extreme amount of mercy, patience, and forgiveness shown by Jesus during His earthly ministry. But: (1) Jesus’ earthly ministry was a special season of mercy prior to judgment – See Luke 13:6-9. A focus on the merciful acts of Jesus during His three years of ministry does not give us a complete picture of the character of Jesus. It must also be balanced with the terrible things that Jesus said would happen if people didn’t repent, what Jesus said about His second coming, and how Jesus appears in other New Testament books – for example see Revelation 1:13-18. In other words, our view of Jesus can be somewhat skewed by the period of grace that God is offering to the Jewish people. (2) But even if we disregard my first point, I think many people overlook or ignore Jesus’ tough “Old Testament” side. In order to miss the dangerous and harsh Jesus you have to close your eyes to:
- Jesus being the one individual who speaks more about hell and the punishments of hell, than anyone else in the Bible.
- Jesus’ many calls to repentance with warnings of judgment, if people don’t repent (example: Luke 13:1-5).
- Parables spoken by Jesus, such as the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:24-27) or the Parable of the Tenants (Luke 20:9-19) which end in terrible punishments.
- Events such as the cleansing of the temple or the cursing of the fig tree which are certainly not peaceful actions by Jesus.
- The hard sayings (“pluck out your eye,” “cut off your hand”) and harsh words of Jesus, such as calling people “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “vipers,” “white washed tombs,” and “the one doomed to destruction.”
- Predictions about the terrible destruction of Jerusalem which Jesus says is a judgment from God for the people’s lack of repentance. And predictions about His Second Coming which is a time for “the Son of Man to come” and “separate” and “judge mankind.”
- In fact, I would say that the harshest of God’s judgments is actually found in the New Testament, not the Old Testament. Only in the New Testament do we find an innocent man condemned to die by the cruelest means possible for the crimes of other people. Of course, I’m referring to Jesus dying for our sins on the cross. “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:4,10; Matthew 26:39; 27:46). That’s the harshest judgment in all the Bible.
When all these things are taken into account I believe that the Jesus of the New Testament is really no different, than the God of the Old Testament. Indeed, He is one and the same.