What is a Christian to do with some biblical texts which portray a God who becomes quickly jealous, violent, and destructive? The Bible is the story of God’s work in Jesus Christ but it also contains many passages in which God kills, punishes, burns, and destroys. So, what should we do with these passages?
One approach is to just throw it out! This approach was first taught by Marcion, a second-century theologian who could not reconcile the Jewish God of the Hebrew Bible and Jesus. He saw the Jewish God as being vindictive, manipulative, jealous, and destructive. He essentially threw out the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and just focused on Jesus. One could also call this the Thomas Jefferson approach, whom was well known for cutting out any accounts in the Bible that he did not want to believe. These approaches might avoid troubling passages but just create more troubling questions.
A second approach is to hold to the theory of general revelation. General revelation is described by Eric Seibert, professor of Old Testament at Messiah College, as being: “God exercising general divine oversight in the formation of Scripture in a way that permitted the human element to assert itself more forcefully and independently than certain other views tend to allow.” In other words, God loosely oversaw the writing of the canon of Scripture and gave only minor influence.
This approach allows for supposed mistakes and errors in the Bible. Seibert and many other Christians today believe that the Bible is only infallible and not inerrant. They claim that many passages portray false pictures of God. In fact, Seibert goes so far as to say that it is naïve of Christians to expect that everything recorded in the inspired Word of God lines up with reality.
I find Dr. Seibert’s approach very troubling, but sadly it is a popular view in this postmodern world. I cannot accept this false teaching for three reasons which I will briefly share below.
This position is an un-biblical view of Scripture. Seibert goes to great lengths to deny this throughout his book Disturbing Divine Behavior, but he cannot satisfactorily hold to his doctrinal view of inspiration and still believe II Timothy 3:16-17a. This passage declares emphatically that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete” (ESV). If certain passages of Scripture teach an improper characterization of God, then they are not profitable and certainly hinder proper theological development.
This approach is completely subjective. General revelationists have an opinion that certain passages obstruct the proper view of God. Seibert wrote down many of them in his book. But I can guarantee the reader that even a professor of similar beliefs will probably disagree with Seibert on at least one passage. And since Scripture itself is silent on these “uninspired” passages, one can only accept the opinion of Dr. Seibert. Any acceptance or deviance from his teaching is equally subjective.
This perspective contains a worldview that is incredibly narrow. I say that this worldview is narrow because many people on the other side of the Pacific Ocean hold to an entirely different view of “difficult passages.” Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who teaches theology at the Yale University, says, “If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence- that God would not be worthy of worship.” Dr. Seibert teaches that we must discard the passages of Scripture which show unworthy characterizations of God. A Christian brother from Croatia would agree and then proceed to cut out New Testament passages displaying Christ’s compassion! Dr. Seibert would be horrified to know what his teaching would do if applied all over the world. Americans would cut out the Old Testament while Middle-Easterners would cut out the New Testament. The only Bible left would be passages that exclude God’s name entirely.
A final approach is what I believe to be the teaching of Scripture. God gave his inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word to humanity to reveal himself to us in a deeper way than creation can. Because of his goodness, he gave us the complete and authoritative Word of God. Scripture itself teaches that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” and that it is “profitable.” Also, I believe that “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (KJV). Without an inerrant Word, we cannot have a perfect gospel.
So what do we make of these difficult or seemingly contradictory passages? We must always keep these three points in mind while we study or develop our theology of God.
They are the inspired, inerrant words of God.
They reveal true aspects of God’s character (i.e. his zeal for holiness and his mercy towards his undeserving creation).
They require a lifetime of humble study, focus, and appreciation.
I am convinced that for far too long myself and others like me have avoided or stayed silent on these difficult passages. Teaching the Word of God requires teaching the whole Word and nothing less.
May God forgive us for taking the easy route ourselves and tip-toeing around his clear command to teach his Word.
For Further Informative Reading:
Seibert, Eric A.. Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.
Lamb, David T.. God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament angry, sexist, and racist? Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2011.