Thursday, June 21, 2007


Yes and no.

What are we to make of God instructing King Saul to kill all of the Amalekites - men, women, children (including infants) and all their animals (1 Samuel 15)? Or the Psalm which asks God to bash their enemies' babies' heads against the wall (Psalm 137)?

Isn't this barbaric? Yes, of course.

In theological college I studied Professor John Bright's book The Authority of the Old Testament. He expounds three classical Christian solutions to this problem:

First, some like Marcion reject the OT altogether as an authority for faith and conduct; or (eg. Bultmann) insist on the subordination of the OT to the NT. But these ideas fail to deal with the issue of Jesus' view of the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Others (like some of my Orthodox and Brethren friends) read a 'Christian' meaning into much of the OT, by allegory or typology. The church father Origen blessed this approach, but many (including myself) reject it, because, as Bright says, it leads 'into the exotic jungle of fanciful interpretations'. Luther said this approach has 'a nose of wax' (because it can be twisted into any shape).

Most modern Christian scholars tend to make a value judgment about the OT based on the teachings of Jesus. They suggest that there is a developmental or progressive approach to humans' understanding of God throughout history, and that the mind/teaching of Jesus is the ultimate/final measuring device for all truth. Put me into this category.

John Bright says that Israel's history is 'a theatre of God's activity': it records real history and a theological interpretation of it. But at the same time it is clearly an incomplete collection of writings, a history with no ending.

The OT is the record of an ancient people's responses to war and suffering and other human conditions. It describes real feelings of rage, guilt, joy and hope which are validated by their inclusion in Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Modern Jews like Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who lost his family in the Nazi Holocaust, can teach us - from the OT - some valuable lessons about dealing with life's mysteries with 'hopeful amazement'...

Watch this space for more...

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