Re-Thinking Old Testament Violence: Abraham’s Example

The problem of violence in the Old Testament is something the Church has wrestled with for hundreds of years. Most people intuit that such violence—especially against children—is wrong. Various solutions have been proposed, including allegorical interpretation. The popular medieval study Bible, Glossa ordinaria, insisted that the laudation of dashing infants’ heads against a rock in Psalm 137 must be taken figuratively; God would never sanction the killing of innocents. Instead, the verse was understood to refer to sins that, if not eradicated in their incipient stage, would grow up to be “Babylonian-size” sins, dominating and wreaking havoc in one’s life. In biblical studies today, scholars are giving much attention to depictions of massacre during Israelite conquest of Canaan. These violent events, also known as war-erem, included the killing of women and children and are mentioned primarily in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua.

In many churches such acts of violence are often rationalized as ethical because God allegedly ordered it, and whatever God commands is moral. After all, some argue, the Canaanites were exceedingly wicked and deserved to be killed. Recently, John Piper received criticism for reaffirming this position. I would like to offer another reading to consider. What if the biblical text offers clues that the Israelite entrance into Canaan was less than ideal? What if Scripture actually contains a different model, a model that the canonical narrative suggests was forgotten until the Israelites recovered it in their exile? There are two models presented in the Pentateuch: Abraham’s entrance into the land and the Israelites’ entrance. I propose that Abraham’s is the model that we are to affirm and imitate.

Abraham’s Obedience

God said to Abraham (AKA Abram), “Go into the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). And Abraham did. Abraham left the familiarity of the only place he had ever known in order to trust God’s call. He left his home, his friends . . . and his idols . . . in order to follow God. For this he was considered “righteous” (Gen 15:5-7).

Abraham went to Canaan because God promised to give the land to Abraham and Sarah, as well as their descendents. Significantly, the promise does not mention violent conquest as the method for possessing the land (Gen 12:1-3).  To the contrary, the narrative maintains God desired to bless every people group through Abraham and Sarah (v. 3; 18:18).  Moreover, the patriarch and matriarch were destined to be the parental lineage of a multitude of nations (17:4-6, 15-16). In each re-affirmation of the promise of land and descendants, there is no mention of killing the inhabitants (13:14-16; 15:7, 18; 16:10; 17:1-8; 18:17-18; 24:7). The Covenant of blessing is threefold: an abundance of descendants, land, and through Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed.[1]

Accordingly, Abraham settles peaceably among the Canaanites (13:7, 12). Many leaders in the land respond favorably to him and Abraham treats them well in return: Amorites were in alliance with him (14:13), the king of Salem blesses him (v. 22), the Philistine king,[2] Abimelech, makes a mutual covenant of no harm that applies to descendants (21:22-34), the sons of Heth consider Abraham a “mighty prince” and offer the choicest of graves for Sarah (23:3-6), Ephron the Hittite wants to give Abraham a field and burial cave at no cost (vv. 10-11). In other words, God’s promise to bless those who bless Abraham appears to be operative (12:3). Despite his ostensible military prowess, Abraham does not seek to expel or kill his neighbors.

The promise of the land absent any stipulation to kill continues when it is reiterated to Isaac/Rebekah and Jacob/Rachel (26:3-4, 24; 28:4-5; 29:13-15; 35:9-12; 48:4). This is the case even when a daughter of Jacob is raped by an inhabitant of the land (34:2). If there was ever an opportunity to rationalize violence, surely the rape of an innocent woman would give cause. Instead, through the voice of Jacob, the biblical author rejects the conquest-style warfare Dinah’s brothers unleash on the Hivites (34:30), and he even curses the anger that led to it (49:5-7).

Israel’s Disobedience

God said to the Israelites: “Go into the land I will show you.” But the Israelites were not like Abraham. At first they said no; they wanted to stay in Egypt (Ex 14:11b-12). Then they reluctantly agreed, protesting the whole way. They did not want to leave the only place they had ever known. They did not want to leave their idols (in fact Moses had to remind the people of who their true God is; 3:13-15). For this the Israelites are considered “grumblers” (16:1-3)

The Israelite’s reluctance to go into the land is a significant narrative theme that runs from Exodus through Numbers. When Moses first approached the people about leaving Egypt, they did not listen to him (Ex 6:9). And they barely stepped out one foot when, out of fear of Pharaoh, they asked Moses why he didn’t just leave them alone and let them stay in Egypt as they had first requested (14:11b-12). On the journey to Canaan, they grumbled and tested God when they had no water or meat (15:22-16:21; 17:1-7). They engaged in idolatry while Moses was speaking to God on Sinai (32). Some of the first priests offered offensive incense (Lev 10:1-6).  The Israelites were nostalgic for Egypt (Num 11:1-6). Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses’ leadership (12:1-2). When the people finally got to the edge of the Promised Land, they were too afraid to go in. Instead they complained that they would rather die in Egypt and tried to appoint someone to take them back (14:1-4)! Later 250 prominent men in the community staged a mutiny against Moses (16). Even Moses, who is supposed to be the model of righteousness, is forbidden from entering the land because of his sin (20:8-12). When the Israelites experienced their first attack, they said yet again, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt” (21:1-5)? And if all this was not enough, they began to worship Baal with the Moabites (25:1-3).

Unlike Abraham, the Israelites did not eagerly go into the land. They engaged in multiple incidents of sinful behavior during the exodus and their journey to Canaan. Thus, it is not surprising that they would make a foolish vow—a vow that for the first time in the narrative introduces the most violent form of war: erem. Like Jephthah who makes a hasty vow in hopes of victory and ends up sacrificing his own daughter (Judges 11), so also the Israelites propose war-erem to retaliate for an attack (Num 21:1-2). Later, the author (or redactor) of Deuteronomy expands the notion of erem, believing that Israel’s rebelliousness can only be addressed by killing off the inhabitants who might lead Israel into sin. But, what has been forgotten is that Israel never left her idols behind in the first place. The Canaanites were not the problem. Israel was her own worst enemy.

But What about the “Wicked” Canaanites?

By now it is probably clear that I am making a correlation between Abraham’s righteousness and peaceful co-existence with his non-Israelite neighbors, as well as correlating the Israelites’ disobedience and their violent entry into the land. But, that begs a few questions. Didn’t God send the Israelites into the land to punish the Canaanites for their wickedness? And if so, doesn’t that contradict the original promise which said the possession of the land was strongly associated with blessing for all people? The key to the answer seems to found in the spiritual health of God’s people.

The promise God made to Abraham to bless the nations is closely associated with Abraham’s obedience (Gen 18:18-19; 22:17-18; 26:3-5). Only when Abraham/Israel is righteous would the nations be blessed. Abraham could co-exist with the other inhabitants of the land because he was not tempted by their gods. He had freely and willingly left behind his former sins. In fact, instead of desiring the other nations’ destruction, Abraham pleaded with God to spare Sodom.[3]  And instead of being lured by idolatry, he was the influencer. As the nations looked upon Abraham’s model of righteousness they were drawn to the light. His righteousness earned the respect of many inhabitants of the land.

The Israelites, on the other hand, did not intercede for the nations. They did not model Abraham’s steadfast righteousness. Instead of being a light to the inhabitants of the land, they brought their sin with them from Egypt. Significantly, the narrative describes an Israel whose disobedience is never quite overcome even in the Davidic and Solomonic reigns. The promise of the land (all the territory promised) is never fully secured. Ultimately, the Israelites are vomited out because of their lack of genuine repentance. It is only when the Israelites are in exile that they truly come to term with their own sinfulness. Significantly, when they do, the Abrahamic covenant of blessing for the nations is revived. Jeremiah prophesied that when faithless Israel turned to God and became truly righteous, the nations would follow her example and also worship God in Jerusalem (3:15-17; see also Isa 19:24-25).[4] This call to repentance in order to be a blessing is reiterated by Peter in his speech to Jewish leaders after the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 3:17-16; esp. v. 25).

Did the entrance into the land have to be violent?[5] The Old Testament describes two different responses to God’s call to “Go into the land.” One was life-giving. The other included death and destruction. While there are remaining questions and unresolved issues, the Old Testament clearly provides an alternative to violence, one that is prominent in the Abrahamic covenant itself and in prophetic texts. Abraham’s example teaches God’s people to respond to sin in the world, not through violence, but by actively modeling a captivating vision of what life can be like when it is lived for God. The New Testament affirms this model. As Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place. For all who take up the sword will die by the sword” and “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16; 26:52).

[1] I recognize there is debate regarding whether the text should read reflexively (i.e. the nations bless themselves as they see Abraham’s model). I concur with those who see it as both Abraham mediating blessing as well as the nations blessing themselves as they imitate Abraham’s model of righteousness. For more on this see: M. Daniel Carroll, “Blessing the Nations: Toward a Biblical Theology of Mission from Genesis,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 10 (2000) 17-34; Benjamin J. Noonan, “Abraham, Blessing, and the Nations: a Reexamination of the Niphal and Hitpael of ברך in the Patriarchal Narratives, Hebrew Studies 51 (2010) 73-93; Chee-Chiew Lee, “גים in Genesis 35:11 and the Abrahamic Promise of Blessings for the Nations,” JETS 52 (2009) 467-82.

[2] Historically, the Philistines would not have been in the land during the time of Abraham, but narratively the author places the patriarch among them (John A. Wood, Perspectives on War in the Bible [Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998] 105).

[3] Noonan, “Abraham,” 88.

[4] John Onaiyekan also notices a greater emphasis on the blessing for the nations in the prophets and also names other texts such as Jonah as additional evidence (“La bénédiction promise aux nations,” Istina 39 [1994] 406).

[5] Even if one affirms that the narrative portrays God desiring to punish the Canaanites, it is worth noting that there is no direct Divine speech commanding slaughter. When the narrative gives voice to God, the language used in Exodus is that of “driving out” of the land not killing (e.g. Exodus 23:28,29,30,31; 33:2; 34:11). In Leviticus, God supernaturally “sends out” or the land itself is said to “vomit out” the inhabitants” (Lev 18:24, 25,28; 20:22, 23). In the book of Numbers, where violence begins to appear, most of Israel’s battles are self-defense. The one self-initiated battle, without any prompting from God or an attack, is the same battle where war-herem is introduced. The distinction between driving out vs. killing is significant. The Old Testament often uses the imagery of dwelling/eviction in/from the land as closely associated with being in God’s presence or not. Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden, Cain is forced to be a wanderer, the people of Babel are scattered, and Israel is also pushed out of the land. To be driven out, rather than killed, allowed for the possibility of repentance.

Often it is said, “God commanded genocide in the Old Testament”; however the narrative shows a more complicated picture. No where in the Pentateuch is there direct Divine speech of God commanding war-herem. The book of Deuteronomy is the only one in the Pentateuch that suggests God desires war-herem, as interpreted through the voice of Moses. The narrative suggests Moses is the one who commands war-herem based on his “explication” or interpretation of Sinaitic law (1:5). Repeatedly, the Deuteronomic narrator emphasizes the “statues and rules that [Moses} is teaching.” There are still issues that are unresolved if one considers Scripture inspired. But the text gives plenty of reasons to consider legitimate alternative narrative constructs than that of God sanctioning genocide: 1) the text gives more than one picture of possible ways of relating to the inhabitants of the land, including peaceful co-existence; 2) any punishment of the Canaanites, if described, primarily refers to driving out and not killing (or, the Noahic narrative suggests they are not driven out or killed but placed in servitude. Certainly that is not a laudable outcome either but it is a good example of the various claims made in the texts; there are divergent views [Gen 9:25-27]); 3) Jesus suggests the possibility that Deuteronomic law may include commands from Moses that were not God’s perfect will (Matt 19:7-8).


9 thoughts on “Re-Thinking Old Testament Violence: Abraham’s Example

  1. There is some good theological thinking here! A couple of things to think about. First, Abraham himself was a man who was going to do violence. The other terrible text of violence that I think ties into this is the “Sacrifice of Isaac”. The model of sacrificing to God what was most dear to you, especially your eldest son, was a practice that was common in the Ancient Near East. -That God stopped Abraham’s hand and provided a ram is perhaps the most transformative incident in his life. –Directing him toward another way.

    In the model of behavior of the children of Israel in warfare, I think that the complete and utter destruction of ones enemy was the practice of warfare at the time. (It is also a practice that is still used today when we drop a nuclear bomb on a city.) –Both are rationalized as being terrible but necessary “means” for a good “end”. That sort of rationalization is just one tiny step away from believing that such a practice, and such means were commanded by God, and not just the ends.

    So I agree with you that this is yet another example of how the Children of Israel, “Got it wrong.” However, their belief that doing such was commanded by God was what was remembered/ recorded/ redacted in Deut. 20, a text which has stayed in that form and has come to us today.

    –This is not a problem for those who see the scriptures as the products of faulty human understanding and the biased human recording of their experiences of faith and God. — It only becomes a problem if you understand the scriptures to be a factually inerrant and an accurate portrayal of the will of God that has been divinely dictated to us. Something that I believe the texts themselves do not even attempt to do.

    • Hey Karen! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate it, especially knowing you spend a lot of thinking about the biblical text too. I agree that there are many difficult texts in Scripture–including the Sacrifice of Isaac. I am not in any way trying to white-wash the very real violence that is depicted in the Old Testament. Although I do hope to convey in the present post that we can sometimes be reductionistic in certain interpretations of violence.

      The problem I see is a tendency for rigid modernists (Christian or secular) to go to one of two extremes. One tries to deny that there are any difficulties in the text because problems would suggest Scripture is not inspired. The other extreme exaggerates the problems. Both tend toward reductionistic interpretations as a result. And both fail to take the biblical text for what it is: a human-divine collaborative document. Both extremes act as though the document should be purely Divine–thus, the denial of any human limitations evident in the writing of the text or dismissal of the Bible as divine because it shows evidence of human fingerprints. But Christian doctrine maintains that the Bible is *both* human and divine. Not to accept it as both human and divine is not to accept it for what it is. Peter Enns in “Inspiration and Incarnation” and Kenton Sparks in “Sacred Word, Broken Word” provide some helpful discussion on what it means that Scripture is by nature a collaborative effort between God and human beings. Not just a human work. And not just a text that fell out of heaven.

      I do not try to pluck out or reject certain parts of Scripture despite the difficulties, but rather accept Scripture as a whole. I find the human-divine collaborative piece not to be a problem, but an awesome testimony to God’s presence with us human beings. I also see Scripture as a dialogue. As a result, it has a plurality of voices. The plurality of perspective in the text is brought out in, for example, the very different views on cross-cultural relationships portrayed in Genesis vs. Deuteronomy–a distinction that scholars have noted and discussed for many years. Some want to see these different perspectives as contradictions, but I consider them as important nuance offered by many different people of faith over a long period of time. This dialogue continues as the Church interacts with the voices in Scripture.

      Another example is between the Mosaic tradition that asserts do good and you will live, do bad and you will die versus voices in Ecclesiastes and Job that say–good things don’t always happen to good people. And sometimes the wicked people prosper. It may be generally true that right living leads to optimal outcomes, but other voices in the text testify to complexity. The value of plurality in the text is that it challenges reductionistic and legalistic interpretations that would demand one-dimensional and simplistic theologies. Life is complex and we see through a glass darkly. Scripture reflects the truth of this.

      As for a challenging text like the Sacrifice of Isaac, my interpretive method is to consider its meaning from the standpoint of being sacred text. By definition sacred means the text has been set apart for a specific purpose–liturgical and religious purpose. I look at the history of interpretation and how this story has been used for sacred purpose–what sacred meaning it has given to God’s people over time. Jewish and Christian communities did not interpret this as a text of God sanctioning child sacrifice or of Abraham as a man with violent tendencies. Rather, it was understood, for example, as typology for Christ’s sacrifice. Thus, Abraham becomes the anguished father who gives up his son for the sake of bringing life for others. Interestingly, in Jewish interpretation there is also a concept that Isaac was actually considered as a sacrifice and thus an atonement for Israel. Also in Jewish tradition, Isaac became a source of consolation to martyrs suffering under severe persecution during the Second Temple period. They saw Isaac as a model and example of courageous, voluntary sacrifice. Another interpretation in the tradition is similar to what you mentioned–that God never intended child sacrifice and that is evident in God staying Abraham’s hand and thus it makes a statement about how the Abrahamic religion is not to incorporate those practices.

      While its true that child sacrifice occurred in the ancient Near East, and one could give a “profane” (that is common) interpretation of the text based solely on ancient Near Eastern historical and cultural study, in my own approach to the text I interpret it as sacred text and thus seek to understand why the story was written and preserved for the community of faith. This is not to ignore historical-critical study at all, but rather that a purely historical critical study *alone* does not always arrive at sacred interpretation.

      Sorry for the long response! 🙂

  2. Karen, this is really well written and very interesting. I have been thinking about these questions and reading Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation as well. I like the way you are thinking here. It sent me to look at several passages in the OT. How would you deal with I Samuel 15 and God’s command to Saul for the utter destruction of the Amalekites including the extermination of man, woman, child and infant?

    • Hey Whit! Finally get back to you. I have had a crazy few days. You ask a great question. Yes, there is 1 Samuel 15. That one is difficult to get around because the language of that passage involves more of God’s voice directly and Samuel was considered a reliable prophet (as was Moses). Really, in terms of holding to Scripture as inspired, its difficult to get around the violence in the OT. Although my post is an attempt to look at things from slightly different angles even if it doesn’t completely answer all questions.

      Here are a few points to ponder though. The text says that Saul utterly killed everyone. He just kept the spoil. Yet, this is contradicted elsewhere. King David for example is described as fighting with the Amalekites at a later date after they were supposedly all destroyed. For more see: 1 Sam. 15:33; 27:8-9; 30:1, 17; 2 Sam 1:8-10. This is similar to the contradictions we see in what is supposed to have happened when the Israelites go into the land. Examples include, 1) the Noahic narrative predicts that Canaan will be put into servitude. 2) Abraham has good relations with the people in Canaan and forms a covenant with the Philistines that is *supposed to extend to their descendants* and yet we see fighting between Israel and the Philistines later. 3) Then in Exodus and Leviticus we see language of “driving out”, including language of supernatural expulsion (an angel of the Lord will go before and scare them and drive them out, suggesting no actual fighting or violence occurs). 4) But then in Deuteronomy there is the herem–utterly killing the inhabitants.

      So were the Amalekites killed or not? Were the inhabitants driven out, enslaved, or killed, or was the covenant of peace between Abraham and the Philistines still good and capable of being reaffirmed?

      The differences in the narratives are likely the result of different traditions. Different sources brought together and collected over time. What this suggests to me is that we cannot understand Scripture unless we read it as a whole. If we read only 1 Sam 15 and Deuteronomy and say, “God sanctions genocide” then we have not understood Scripture. Because to understand it, we have to see its not that simplistic. I believe the Abrahamic peaceful relations is just as valid of a narrative to highlight and draw out as anything else. Why should we not draw more attention to the possibilities we find in Abraham? What is to keep us from reading the OT through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection? Just as the NT authors understood the OT in new ways upon Christ’s coming. So, also I think we can read the OT with Christ in mind.

      So, I don’t have a cut and dry explanation. But I think the variations in stories and reading the OT as a Christian (given that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and so Jesus’ perspective must be found in the OT), gives us some room to ponder and consider possibilities in the text as I have suggested in the post.


  3. Someone e-mailed me with the following comment to this post and I thought it was worthy to address:

    “1. You seem to ignore Gen 14, and the quite warrior-like presentation of Abraham there- those 318 “dedicated” men (a passive form from ch-n-k) are hard to explain away in any peaceful way;

    2. Abraham is presented often (not always), as ger. I think THAT status needs to at least be noted, in your thesis.

    3. And about your thesis- actually, aren’t BOTH models of entry into the land failures? Neither achieves what has been promised….”

    My response:

    1. I see no problem with Genesis 14 because Abraham’s military action is used to rescue his nephew–so for a positive purpose. As verse 14 states: “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive . . .” So this was his motivation for getting involved. Abraham certainly has military prowess which makes it all the more pointed that he doesn’t use it to drive out the inhabitants. He could have done so, but he doesn’t. He uses his power in this instance to help someone who was in trouble. He seems to have an army of men for the purpose of protection rather than conquest.

    2. Yes, Abraham is a ger. But he still makes the land his own after doing some traveling around. And he and Sarah die there. He is not just a traveler. He makes Canaan his home and burial place. I think the difference is that Abraham was smaller in number than the Hebrews and so could move into Canaan with the inhabitants more easily.

    But my main assertion is around how the parties respond to God call to go into the land. Ger or not, both Abraham and the Hebrews were told to go to Canaan. And there is a difference in response to God. A difference in level of obedience.

    You know the fact that Abraham and Sarah go down to Egypt during a famine is another important parallel to the Exodus story that I should include. Unlike the Hebrews, he doesn’t remain in Egypt after the famine is over. He goes back to Canaan where he belongs. The Hebrews had grown quite large by the time they were taken into slavery–meaning they were already a sufficient bunch who could have traveled back to Canaan. Their delay might have played a role in their tragic circumstances. How might it have been different if they had gone back to Canaan as Abraham did instead of becoming complacent and staying in Egypt a little too long?

    3. As for #3: I guess it depends on how we define failure. My thesis is based on God’s command to “Go into the land.” In this sense. No, both are not failures. Abraham does go and enter the land and live in it. The Israelites not only did not want to obey, but they failed to enter the land when they finally got to the border, and theye were forced to wander around for another 40 years.

  4. Karen, this is an interesting thesis. I’m intrigued by the juxtaposition of the “shapes” of Abraham’s v. Israel’s stories. The contrast between Abraham’s faith and Israel’s persistent unwillingness to enter the land was esp interesting – I hadn’t seen that before.

    I was going to raise 1 Sam 15 as well – not simply because God commands complete annihilation, but specifically disowns Saul for not following the “complete” part. While, I don’t think that negates your thesis, it makes me wonder if we are forced to contend with the discomfort of such mandates. Or if it challenges our own perceptions of the God of Scripture. I’m not familiar with the history of interpretation, but my suspicion is that discomfort with divinely-sanctioned violence is a relatively modern one.

    Another thesis that I’ve been mulling over comes from a secular saint, Abraham Lincoln. In his Second Inaugural Address, he says:

    Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’

    From my vantage point – I’ve always considered God to be on the side of the North: Of course, the South was evil! But Lincoln saw war as terrible scourge on everyone – and that war was judgment on both sides, North & South. War would be over whenever judgment had been fully meted out. I found this to be a profoundly humble and creaturely interpretation of war, particularly that it came from the Commander in Chief of the victorious side.

    In any case, I sometimes try to read the violence in Scripture through that lens. But to be honest, I have yet to see it fit.

    • Hey frailb! Thanks for leaving a comment. In terms of the history of interpretation, there has been discomfort with the violence going back to at least the first century. Even Philo tries to navigate it. And church history often used allegory as a solution. Other non-allegorical interpreters admit that they cannot fathom it or understand it. And leave it to God’s incomprehensibility, while at the same time confining it to the OT era with no continued applicability. I haven’t figured it out. But its something I am working through and probably always will. In the end, what I know is that God is good. God is love. We cannot read these depictions of violence without reading God’s willingness to take on that violence and suffer under it. We cannot read it without hearing Jesus’ voice: “Love your enemies.” I am going to write another post soon that touches on the OT in light of the Prodigal Son that will hopefully offer more food for thought. Stay tuned!

  5. I find the juxtaposition between Abraham’s entry into Canaan and the entry of the post Mosaic Israelites into the Promise Land very illuminating. It underscores the two ways teaching of Moses (the Didache)between climbing the mountain of curses or the mountain of blessings. It is important to comparatively look at various sections of scripture particularly Old and New Testament. for enlightenment. Consider, the Law of Moses speaks against adultery. In Leviticus this is emphasized without corporeal punishment and yet a few chapters later in the same book stoning is invoked as a punishment. In the Gospel of John Jesus forgives the woman taken in adultery. If one had a “fantasy” Gospel one could imagine Jesus saying that as the Messiah He would keep the Law of Moses by stoning the woman Himself, since He was without sin.The Sanhedrin would have been pleased, although somewhat begrudgingly, but we would have been apalled and this Gospel version would not have been good news at all. Thank God Jesus did not stone her, but died for her and closed the Book of the Law with His Blood. For those who ask if God does not change why does it seem that Jesus would contradict God’s Law and yet be called the Word of God? The literal repeat of levitical prohibitions within the space of a few chapters, now with punishments seems odd. Why would God repeat statutes with micromanaged punishments? Clearly the second version of these statutes include commentary from the priests who devised punishments, not God. In similar fashion the violence in the Deuteronomic sources was apart of the political faction during King Josiah of the 7th century BCE long after the time of Moses. I believe that Jesus was alluding to things in the Law that was man-made as opposed to the revelation of God. Jeremiah also states the same thing by saying that it was revealed to him by God that things were added to the Law that did not come directly from God.

    • Hey John,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. It was good to hear your thoughts. Yes, its interesting how there can be differences in the way various laws are articulated. I haven’t had a chance to yet, but I would like to investigate more into Jesus’ understanding of the Mosaic law. On the one hand he respected it and yet he suggests there is a human side to it that still needed to develop into greater enlightenment. The laws are shaped in part by the genre of ancient Near Eastern law codes. If you get a chance to read my other post “Fifty Shekels for Rape? Making Sense of Old Testament Laws”–I would be curious as to your thoughts.

      Oh–and yeah the comment from Jeremiah is interesting. I am not sure what to make of that yet.

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