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April 23, 2013



Dear Dustin,

Yes, they are not as authoritative. We all know this. We all live this. For example, are the dietary laws or other arcane aspects of the Torah as authoritative as the Sermon on the Mount? Or even if you want to keep the texts within the Old Testament, do we now say that “thou shalt not eat shrimp” is as authoritative as “thou shalt not kill”? To read the Bible as a flat text is simply impossible. Is it an eye for an eye or is it turn the other cheek? To pretend that the Bible itself doesn’t force you into choosing some texts over others is to be willfully naïve.

So what are we to do? Well, first of it all it would be very helpful to establish once and for all that the true Word of God is Christ. The Bible is the word of God that bears witness to the Word of God—Christ. The inscribed word is subordinate to the Incarnate Word. We worship Christ, not the Bible. To worship Christ is called Christianity. To worship the Bible is called idolatry.

Next, we need to establish why it is that Gentile Christians are interested in the Hebrew Scriptures in the first place. The answer is that the Torah and the Prophets launched an inspired trajectory that reaches its telos in Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Torah intended and the Prophets dreamed. The Old Testament is an inspired trajectory—an arrow in flight—but the mark is hit in Christ. Jesus is the true Seed of Abraham, the true Son of David.

Or let me try another metaphor. The Old Testament are the moon and stars in the pagan night sky by which the Hebrew people were able to navigate toward becoming a just and worshiping society. But when Christ appears as the Sun of Righteousness, the moon and stars disappear. They are no longer needed as guides through the night, for the full light of day has dawned.

So do we say that passages of Old Testament Scripture which contradict the full revelation of God found in Christ “were invented” or “not inspired”? No, that is not what we say. What we say is that they were inspired, but they were not the full revelation. They were headed in the right direction, but had not arrived yet. “An eye for an eye” is a big improvement over Lamech’s seventy times seven revenge, but it’s not the non-retaliatory revelation of Christ. I’m afraid we have tried to make “inspired” the same thing as “fully revealed”—but that’s not what it is.

We should also keep in mind that the Old Testament itself is far from a flat text. The God of the Prophets is much closer to the Abba of Jesus than the God of the Patriarchs. Or consider this contradiction: Isaiah says the rebuilt temple will be a house of prayer for all nations (races). But Nehemiah won’t hear of it! Nehemiah won the day, but ultimately Jesus comes down squarely on the side of Isaiah. Isaiah, in true prophetic fashion, was ahead of his time.

Again I raise the question: As Christians why do we read the Hebrew Scriptures? Because it’s appended to our Christian Scriptures as a kind of prequel, giving us the all-important back-story and context. But we don’t go wandering around in the Old Testament unescorted—we always go with Jesus. So when the psalmist blesses those who will dash the infants of Babylon upon the rocks, we look at Jesus and he shakes his head no.

And if you’re still inclined to read the Bible as a flat text with no contradictions…then start at the beginning of my blog and read it again. Something has to give somewhere. Either we question the morality or immutability of God, or we rethink how we read the Bible.

By the way, this dilemma you are citing is a modern one—a dilemma that largely did not trouble the Church Fathers. It’s when we started to read the Bible as a scientific text through the eyes of a die-hard empiricist that fundamentalism was born and our modern hermeneutical problems began. I recommend a return to a premodern reading of Scripture.

I hope this helps.


Brian Zahnd

dustin germain

I"m not sure I understand how you deal with the objection though. You suggest that the texts where God tells the Israelites to kill the Assyrians, for example, are not as authoratative as other texts, and yet we see dozens if not hundreds of times where we read these in the voice of God speaking, either telling of how wrath will burn against people, or commanding them in battle, or whatever. Do we say then that God never said these things, and that they were invented or not inspired? I would love for you to elaborate on this


Florian Berndt


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