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» Ship of Fools   » Ship's Locker   » Limbo   » Kerygmania: 'Ethic' Cleansing: God's Love and the Genocide charge (Page 3)

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Source: (consider it) Thread: Kerygmania: 'Ethic' Cleansing: God's Love and the Genocide charge
Pooks
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Shamwari, I am very sorry that you think my concerns about the integrity of our approach to the texts, as well as the integrity of the texts themselves, is a red herring. But there we have it.

Best wishes.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
Nigel asked for my definition of "love" as expressed by Jesus...

I have no issue with the examples of love given, though they are not, strictly speaking, definitions. The thing of it is that it appears from the evidence there is a facet to God's love being ignored in discussions of this kind. It is there in the gospels and runs like a thread through the whole bible. It is consonant with a covenantal worldview, grounded in concepts related to justice and particularly judgement and sentence. It hangs over every reference to the good news. The love of God is unconditional only in so far as it bounded by repentance. Rebels are not allowed back into the fold without first seeking forgiveness for their rebellion. Love (relationship with God) is unconditional in that it is an offer open to all without fear or favour, but conditional upon repentance. This is covenant worldview – the same as that expressed in the OT passages I looked at. There are some obvious passages in the gospels on this – e.g.

* Mark 1:15 and parallels – the very content of God's good news: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”
* Mark 6:12 and parallels – same message authorised for the disciples to use: “So they went out and preached that all should repent

Which begs the obvious question – what happens to those who do not repent?

You see I think from the passages you quote that you are talking about how people should live their life once they are Christians (love your neighbour...etc.), which is an ethic drawn from the Law and the Prophets, as Jesus said. I've drawn attention to the wider, more universal, aspect to God's love: how it applies to all creation, not just the sub-set we call Christian. The logic must surely be that if God's love is conditional on something, then there must be a sanction in the event of the condition not being met. The ultimate sanction expressed in the OT is herem. I've offered one example (Matthew 10) where the covenant concepts associated with herem are taken over into the gospels. There are plenty more – and I ought to complete this project by looking at, say, Paul and Revelation, to see how things are rounded off, paying attention to context.

The point of the exercise on this thread has been to suggest a reading strategy that would handle in a consistent manner themes across the bible. It so happens I've latched on to this herem thing as is a difficult subject and if the reading strategy works here it should work as an approach to any theme.
quote:
Originally posted by shamwari:
...Jesus was selective in his OT quotes. ... I dont believe you can argue from this that because Jesus quoted the OT he accepted the whole of the OT as authoritative.

I agree that one can't make a logical leap from specific texts quoted to universal acceptance. However neither can one argue that because Jesus quoted only certain texts that he therefore abrogated the rest. Both arguments are fallacious. What I can argue though (and have attempted to do so), is that Jesus (or the gospel writers if one prefers) takes up themes from the OT and validates them. One of the themes he takes up, by way of invoking the world of covenant, is herem. Other themes he overrides by drawing on more foundational writings. Some themes do not seem to appear at all (e.g., where the issue of a promised land for God's people went). The fact that Jesus left some themes out, though, cannot of itself be taken as an argument that the missing themes were un-authoritative. Another argument would be needed for that.

So it's not necessarily an “all or nothing” argument. It's an argument that at least one theme, herem in this case, appears consistently across the bible. Others don't.

I think I have to push things a bit here: Do you accept, on the basis of the evidence, that the aspect of God's love as it presented contextually in the bible includes judgemental facets?

If not, where is the gap in the evidence I've offered? Don't let your fear of a slippery slope influence your reply here – I sense you are concerned that if anyone gives a bit on this ground then Nigel will pull a rabbit with a hatchet (whoops! That's not a reference to Kelly Alves!) out of the hat and say that Christians must therefore slay all pagans. Let's take this one step at a time!

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shamwari
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Nigel: I hear what you are saying (even if I end up disagreeing wholeheartedly)

But I am not happy with the line of argument you are pursuing


It is sylogistic. Along the lines of

Ostriches have two legs

Nigel has two legs.

Therefore Nigel is an ostrich.

Simply not true ( although logical).

[ 25. August 2011, 17:03: Message edited by: shamwari ]

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shamwari
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Nigel: You ask "What happens to those who dont repent?"

And your answer is (ITSTM) that, in terms of covental theology "herem" applies to them.

But consider Jesus' parable of Wheat and Tares in which he concludes "Let both grow together until the harvest". At which point God does the separating and judging.

You seem to me to be wanting to jump the gun and assume God's judgement includes "herem". (But I am still waiting for a validation of "herem" in Jesus' teaching.)

Yes Jesus called for repentance.

But what happens to those who do not repent is not clearly stated. And to imply that the consequence is "herem" ( which is where you seem to be going) is not obvious.

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shamwari
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I think it better for my blood pressure to opt out of this discussion henceforth.

Nigel seems to me to be playing with words, notably the word "herem". And to extend it into a "covenantal theology" which is relevant to the NT escapes me.

In the OT it has a plain meaning.

Nigel transposes it into the NT concepts of Judgement and Punishment consequent on a refusal to repent and I find that a transition which is a step too far and an exegetical exaggeration.

So better if I opt out at this point altogether.

Herem, in the OT meant the total destruction of man, women, beast as a "devotion" to God of all that is opposed to him. (Joshua and also 1 Samuel 15)

I regard that as immoral in terms of Jesus' revelation of God.

No amount of verbalising and weaseling and re-interpretation will convince me otherwise.

I do not doubt that Nigel is sincere in what he is arguing.

But my blood pressure is such that what I regard as "special pleading" elevates it to danger point.

I have had my say and expressed my conviction. Time now to say thanks for the debate but I cant see it going anywhere near the exegesis and outcome which makes much sense to me.

[ 25. August 2011, 19:32: Message edited by: shamwari ]

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Nigel M
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Can you pinpoint the missing link in the posts so far, shamwari? Are you saying that there is an excluded middle in there somewhere? Is there an alternative to saying that either God's nature includes the concept of herem or it excludes it?

I think the argument run thus far is:-

[1] The OT writers attribute herem to God's authority (and herem is defined)
[2] If valid, this attribution would impact on the concept of God's nature.

Then there is a second leg:-

(A) God's nature informs the ethical principles required for right living
(B) Jesus accurately reflected God's nature in what said and did
Therefore
(C) Understanding what Jesus said and did reveals the ethical principles needed for right living.

If [1] and [2] above are brought together with (A) to (C), we could get:-

If Jesus validates the OT concept of herem
And Jesus accurately reflects God's nature
Then herem forms part of a valid ethic that accurately reflects God's nature and that provides principles for living.

Then there's a whole lot of activity around trying to get a good hold on correctly understanding what Jesus said and did, based on the arguments summed up by the theses and assumptions on the other site.

This is not the whole story because I think we cannot stop with the gospels, we have to get the full NT picture to flesh out the concept. Not all of the processes we find associated with covenant herem are dealt with in the gospels; some float up elsewhere. However, to date – based on what as been said thus far – what arguments are there against the above?


Pulling back to the bigger picture...

I was hoping that I would have the time to extend the process I've been following in detail by analysing a passage or two in Paul and then looking at Revelation, but I'm going to called back on duty with a new project in just over a week and I can see that I will probably be unable to access the Ship for a while again. So, to cut to the chase – having looked at a number of passages in the NT, my tentative opinion on where this herem story ends up is that God does indeed reserve it to himself for a final judgement; no warrant is given for Christians in this life to pursue it until then, but interestingly enough there are hints that believers will act as ultimate images of God's responsibility at the judgement, in the role of judges themselves. After that, herem ceases (Rev. 22:3 – cognate of anathema for 'curse' in that verse, the same word base that is used in LXX to translate more often than not herem.

I know there may not be anything really new here – after all, last judgement, we all know about that. But what would have been good to do for consistency's sake would have been to set out the theme in its covenantal context to show how the same worldview can be traced from OT Israel to first century church. Two key words are used in NT and LXX as part of this: agape as a translation of Hebrew ahav = 'love', and anathema as a translation of Hebrew herem). Word studies on their own so not a context make, of course, which is why I would have wanted to show the outworking of covenant procedures in the relevant activities referred to in Paul's works and Revelation.

However, it looks as though I am going to stand on the hill with a flag planted solely in Matthew 10! Never mind, the view from here is magnificent.

If there is time and anyone really wants me to do more to test this out, I certainly will try oveer the next week.

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Nigel M
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Whoops - I started that last reply in answer to shamwari's first post of three. Just seen the other two.

Ignore my last requests, shamwari. I may have climbed a mountain, but don't want to be on a volcano!!!

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Nigel M
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And double whoops, I apologise to shamwari for causing pressure to rise; I appreciate the discussion, which is of help to me, but the subject matter is tough and emotive, and needs time to be considered. I've had the advantage of pondering this material for eons, just not had an opportunity to try it out on a meaty topic like genocide, so this thread was a train already under steam, whereas responders have had to reply on the fly.

All the best,
Nigel

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Kwesi
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I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!
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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M at this site
The English words 'genocide' and 'love' are inadequate to explain the meaning of the related terms in the bible.

quote:
originally posted by Kwesi
I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument.

Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.

When you are dealing with something originally written in a foreign language, you need to figure out the exact meaning of the original words before you can understand the text.

Moo

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See you later, alligator.

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Kwesi
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Moo
quote:
Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.
I'm sure that would bring comfort to Ai and the Amalekites!
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Pooks
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I guess, Nigel, that if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!

Excuse me? Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?
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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?

Host hat on

Kwesi did not make a personal insult. He was criticizing Nigel's ideas; this is entirely acceptable behavior.

Host hat off

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See you later, alligator.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Moo
quote:
Nigel specifically said that the English word 'genocide' is not an accurate translation for the Hebrew herem.
I'm sure that would bring comfort to Ai and the Amalekites!
What is your solution?

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Pooks
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
quote:
Originally posted by Pooks:
Can you tell me how your personal insult to Nigel is furthering our Christian understanding of God and what Herem is?

Host hat on

Kwesi did not make a personal insult. He was criticizing Nigel's ideas; this is entirely acceptable behavior.

Host hat off

yes you are absolutely right. It is not insult, it's innuendos and words like 'you are of all men most miserable'. I just fail to see how that is advancing our understanding of what Herem is. But you are the host, you gave a ruling, so I will shut up and take myself out.

Best Wishes.

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Kwesi
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I sincerely apologise to those who thought I was getting personal in my remarks re Nigel's posts. They were not intended in that way at all. In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

I have not the scholarship to challenge Nigel's research on the link between OT views on the link between herem and love. Indeed, I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of neccessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty. On the other hand, I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

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Boogie

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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Exactly - and Jesus spoke strongly against much of Jewish tradition and was crucified for preaching his views so well.

Like Kwesi said 'Love your enemies' couldn't be much clearer. Hard, hard teaching but very clear.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Boogie:
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Like Kwesi said 'Love your enemies' couldn't be much clearer. Hard, hard teaching but very clear.
Of course Jesus also said that anyone who opposed Him would be destroyed or cast out:
quote:
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

Matthew 21:40 Jesus said, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘ The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

Mark 12:9 “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.

Luke 20:16 He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!”

Matthew 22:6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.

Matthew 8:12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 13:41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 22:13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Is this loving? Is it "herem"?

--------------------
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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

Nigel has not reached any conclusions. He is looking at evidence.

Moo

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See you later, alligator.

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Pre-cambrian
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Well I wish he'd get on with it. As an ex-christian atheist I need to know whether my rejection of god is herem and whether I need to barricade my doors against Christians using the Bible to excuse massacres of people like me.

Said only partly in jest.

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Pooks
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I sincerely apologise to those who thought I was getting personal in my remarks re Nigel's posts. They were not intended in that way at all. In fact my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil. I suspect the Word of the Lord has never commanded Nigel to be an instrument of His herem, and is unlikely to do so in future.

I have not the scholarship to challenge Nigel's research on the link between OT views on the link between herem and love. Indeed, I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of neccessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty. On the other hand, I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view. It would not be compatible, in my opinion, with the universality of salvation he offered. Herem, which to my mind is genocide to all intents and purposes, however dressed up, is an old bottle: you have heard it aforetime, but I say unto you love your enemies..........

Dear Kwesi, Thank you for your most gracious apology. I don't have the scholarship either, but the way I understand it, all Nigel was doing was presenting how the word 'herem' as a concept was used in the OT scripture and how it's 'nature' is very different from what we in the west would call 'genocide', although the appearance and outcome may look the same. He has done this in the manner much like someone would do in court; he presents the evidence for a jury to consider. I have had the privilege of jury service in the past, all we were called to do was to judge the evidence, then decide which side we believe. We do not judge the person presenting the evidence even though the evidence was gruesome and sickening. I have no idea if the Word of the Lord has commanded Nigel to do anything, but it seems to me that the search for truth and understanding is not something we need to fear if we trust the Spirit of the Lord to lead us and guide us as well as protect us from all harm as the result of this thread.

May I assure you that regardless of the degree of scholarship, I am happy to read your posts as much as I do Nigel's or Freddy's in order to understand your view and where you come from even though I may not necessarily agree with you or you with me for that matter. Indeed, I expect to read different views and understandings as a matter of course provided the reasons and arguments are explained clearly for me to consider. I reacted badly to personal comments because they do nothing to help me understand an already tough going topic. Perhaps I have over reacted, but my hope is that we can continue our discussions in the spirit of peaceful respect and care toward one another, regardless of the different positions we may hold.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
...if your years of study lead to the conclusion that genocide is part of the Christian understanding of God then you are of all men most miserable. If your scholarship leads to such an outrageous conclusion that could only be endorsed by men like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot then you might consider examining the fundamental bases of your exegetical argument. Stop kicking against the pricks. When in such a hole stop digging!

Sounds a bit like Paul before Festus!
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
...my concern is with how essentially decent and honourable people, among whom I include Nigel, can be led to conclusions from which they themselves would instinctively recoil.

This is indeed one of the questions that needs facing up to. It's to do with presuppositions, I believe. If one find oneself recoiling from something that appears to be authorised by God, then perhaps there's a need to test both oneself (Why do I react negatively? Is there a risk that I have been restricted in my view of God as a result of the particular Christian environment I have been brought up in?) and also test the interpretation of the message that caused one to recoil.

I should also acknowledge here something not mentioned in this rather cerebral thread: the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation. I'm risking another huge topic here, but just in case anyone reading this thread has been muttering about this under their breath (or yelling at the wall), I'd better say I agree that one key factor in testing a concept will be something around how God's spirit in the Christian will prompt interpretation and reactions to what we read and hear. If I come across a claim that God is calling me to commit an act of violence against others because they are anti-God (that's not the same thing as atheist), I might expect a reaction I could attribute to God's spirit. However, I am still faced with a potential dilemma here: it appears God has made a claim on my behaviour – and yet God has prompted a negative reaction against it. What do I do? I think the only thing I can do (apart from ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away, or dropping out of Christianity) is to test things out. It's hard work, but necessary.

Side issue falls out from this. For Christians who find themselves in a strong community of believers there is a powerful urge not to rock the boat, but to follow the herd. If the leader of that community comes to believe that God is calling the group to take violent action against others (instances in recent history come to mind), it might place an individual in a nasty position. On the one hand there is a cogent argument that God is telling him or her to go along with the action. On the other there is reaction inside to say something is not right with this. There is a need, I think, for Christians to be have the tools to test out calls on a publicly evidential basis – i.e., able to produce evidence that others can observe and take into account, to check against the available evidence we have (focus on the record of Jesus and try to understand his life and work on the terms he set out). Otherwise we might just follow the herd somewhere ugly.

As Moo said, focussing on the evidence is what I have tried to do on this thread. My presuppositions may be wrong, my exegesis may be wrong, the tools I have pulled in from outside of biblical scholarship may be the wrong ones to use, but I guess I won't know for sure until I've tried them out.

So, back to the evidence...
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I can accept that in a context where God is seen as partial to a particular tribe that his love of necessity might include the elimination of tribes that stood in the way of its interests, and that this can be seen as a sacred duty.

It probably goes without saying now, but I don't agree that the Israelites simply thought that God was in favour of their interests. I think the traditions better reflect a context where Israel believed it was in the service of the supreme God, El. This was the same God that the other ancient near eastern nations accepted as being top dog (well, not in that exact term of course) over all specific gods of the nations. Israel therefore saw itself as, in some sense, authorised to act with a responsibility for all of creation. This isn't a post-exilic invention, it's there in texts which are accepted as being composed earlier.
quote:
Originally posted by Kwesi:
I do not have to accept that because Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that he, of necessity, endorsed that view.

Yes, that's a valid criticism of the approach offered here. It has evidence to support it, e.g., Jesus wrestled with the biblical experts of the day over interpretation of the OT. And, of course, if Jesus was God then he could do what he liked (sort of...). My stance on this is that we need to understand how Jesus reacted to the Jewish tradition on the basis of the way he used the biblical texts. There's a sense that Jesus on a number of occasions was combating certain traditions that were not in the bible; they were either extrapolations that actually contradicted what God had meant (e.g., the 'love your neighbour but hate your enemy' line), or they were wrong interpretations (e.g., divorce on the basis of Mosaic law alone). Then there's a sense in which Jesus uses some OT passages to open up a world of thought – a mindset, if you like. This is the concept of 'possible worlds' that I referred to earlier when I suggested Matthew 10 as an example. So I accept your point that Jesus did not of necessity endorse Jewish tradition, but I would want to suggest that he did endorse sets of more holistic views than is sometimes recognised.

This is the sort of issue that impacts on all the direct quotes that Jesus uses. When he quotes a short passage from an OT unit, is he endorsing an interpretation of just that limited section of the OT, or also the surrounding context? For example, in the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12 and parallels), Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23...
quote:
The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s work. We consider it amazing!
I'm happy to grant that he is making a reference to himself here, but it is also possible that he is evoking a 'world' in his hearers' minds that comes with Psalm 118, including the somewhat triumphalist sounding “Yahweh's covenant commitment (hesed) is eternal ... I look in triumph on those who hate me … in the name of Yahweh I cut them off!” If this 'world' is indeed being evoked, then the conclusion of the parable makes sense – that God (as owner of the vineyard) will come to destroy the tenants who had so violently opposed him.

It's the building up of examples like this that cause me look carefully at the likes of Love your enemies to ask, How can this text sit alongside all those others (including the more obvious “unless you repent you will all perish” types that Freddy quoted above) in the gospels as being validated by Jesus? Something has to give. Hence my question: How are we defining 'love' in this discussion?

I've offered my suggestion of how 'love' in the bible needs to be understood. Tackling the 'love your enemies' statement in that light would lead, I think, to an understanding along these lines:

[1] God's 'love' is unconditional in the sense of an offer to all without fear or favour, but conditional upon voluntary acceptance (repentance from rebellion).
[2] Jesus is combating a misinterpretation of Leviticus 19:18 (“You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against one of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself”). Presumably it had been read in the context of Leviticus 19 to be restricted solely to God's people: God said we should love fellow-citizens only, therefore by default we must not love those outside of our community. Jesus' response to this is that although Lev. 19 might indeed have been directly concerned with the Israelites at that point, the only correct extrapolation to take from there was to the universal claim God had on all creation as the senior member of a universal covenant.
[3] Therefore show that covenant love in justice to everyone, but be prepared to accept that at some stage some will utterly reject you and what you stand for. The ultimate test of everything is holiness – which implies perfect commitment to God's eternal covenant (Lev. 19:2 = be holy... Matt. 5:48 = be perfect...).

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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While I acknowledge that the passages of the OT in question are difficult to stomach - for obvious reasons - I don't think that there is any contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations.

I notice that there seems be a concern that these passages somehow condone "genocide", and that the tyrants of this world could use such accounts to justify their actions. This implies a particular approach to the Bible, in which it is viewed as merely a repository of ethical principles handed down to us, which we must now apply. If that is what biblical theism and / or Christianity is reduced to, then God help us. Judeo-Christianity is not merely an ethical system developed by a super Exemplar who intervened in human history through the implementation of certain universally applicable moral principles. I detect that some Christians seem to treat the Bible in this way, hence the "Life Application Bible" approach. This kind of religious pragmatism baffles me, as it seems to obviate the need for a living relationship and walk with God (why bother with God when you can just go through life applying the right moral principles?)

God is not a glorified man, but holds a unique position as One who can perform certain acts that cannot necessarily serve as moral examples to man (even if certain acts can be implemented by human agency under God's command). So God, being the judge of all the earth, may pass sentence on a city or nation, but that is his prerogative (not morally arbitrary prerogative, by the way), which has to be understood in context. How therefore can such an act serve as a moral precedent which man feels at liberty to apply to any other context?

There are many events in the Bible commanded by God, which cannot possibly be applicable in any other context. They are "on-off" events. The command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is one such event. Even God's calling of Ezekiel (Ezek. 3) cannot be applied as a general principle, as there is a specific spiritual context behind the command to be a "watchman" (a principle often used to "guilt trip" Christians into aggressive evangelism), and the leading of the Holy Spirit meant that there were times when Ezekiel was commanded to remain silent (v. 26). Another example is tithing. This is not a straightforward principle in the Bible that can just be applied "across the board" as is the case in many churches. I could go on...

So I find it rather strange that particular events occurring within specific contexts commanded by God under his unique prerogative, should be viewed as moral precedents, that could justify the holocaust, Rwanda etc.

In fact, here's another example. Let's suppose that someone should say that "because the legal system imprisons people, therefore I am justified in abducting someone and imprisoning him in my basement". I think 99.9999% of people would think such reasoning absurd. It is clear that the punishment handed down by a judge does not become a morally acceptable action in any context and for any reason.

As has been mentioned, the nations that were judged were destroyed on account of their great wickedness. We live in a moral universe, which is ruled by a moral judge, namely, God. There is also a corporate aspect to morality, since we live in a corporate world, in which human identity is largely dependent on culture and society. If morally responsible adults within a nation commit evil to the point where their nation is doomed to destruction (and we are talking about serious idolatry producing satanic actions), then the Righteous Judge has no choice but to take action. This action may be of a corporate nature, which tragically may mean that certain innocent individuals within that evil nation have to be punished with their parents. Does that mean that God is unjust in destroying the children? Or does it not mean that the parents have a moral responsibility to their children, and if they act in such a way as to provoke the judgment of God, that judgment may have to go ahead, but the blood of the children is on the head of the adult wrongdoers. (One may ask why the children couldn't be spared, but perhaps the answer to that lies in asking what would have happened if Israel had had to take responsibility for a large number of bitter and resentful children, who would grow up with one rather obvious agenda!)

I find this all extremely unpleasant (and, dare I say, so, I believe, does God), but God cannot be blamed for the tragic necessity of having to judge those who are deeply and wilfully committed to evil.

A crude (and admittedly less than perfect) example would be an aggressor trying to defend himself with a human shield. If it was necessary to attack that aggressor (who was perhaps firing missiles from behind the human shield), then his enemy (righteously defending their territory) may have to take that action, even if it meant endangering the lives of the innocent members of the human shield. Would those who actually physically killed the innocent be responsible for their deaths? Of course not! The person responsible is the one who deliberately put those innocent people in the place of danger.

Therefore I think we need to look very closely at the context of these events in the Old Testament, and also take seriously the spiritual dangers that these satanic cultures posed to the people of God (remember how pagan nations exerted a powerful influence on Israel throughout its history to draw people away from the true God). Those who do not believe in the reality and importance of the spiritual world will, of course, dismiss this point. But I am not in the business of capitulating to those who attempt to construct moral arguments from an inherently amoral worldview.

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Nigel M
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Just read EtymologicalEvangelical's point about the spiritual world, something I haven't mentioned. That too is a strong thread in the bible. It may have been a topic that became more focussed in later Jewish thought before Jesus' time, but certainly Jesus and the first Christians took seriously the idea that there were powers behind the thrones. This might also have connections to covenant and God as head of a divine assembly.

Given Pre-cambrian's concern about investing in shares connected to the timber and nail trade, I think a two-pronged approach is required now: one to allow time to deal with issues arising from the gospel material (which is necessary, given that this relates to Jesus' stance and from there to God's nature), and second to move on to Paul.

So, Paul. As with the gospels, there won't be time to look at every possibly relevant text, but if it turns out that there is only one that opens the door for consideration of herem, then that's enough. Once through, there's no point trying to bolt the door afterwards.

We've certainly got those universal statements of acceptance - “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...” etc. But Paul holds these alongside similar universal statements relating to condemnation – all have sinned... Paul asserts that reconciliation with God through Jesus is available to all, but is predicated on belief (Rom. 3:22-24). This at least appears to agree with Jesus' statements. More than this, though, in Romans Paul covers a wide sweep of Israelite history (as presented chronologically in the OT). He starts from the foundation, Gen. 1-3, in Romans 1 with the creator God, the rebellion against him, and takes it from there. He stresses the point that God has a universal covenantal relationship with all, because he is the creator. God is, therefore, perfectly entitled to be angry with this persistent rebellion and will, indeed, judge and condemn it. Interestingly, Paul also makes the point that warnings have been given (1:32), so what we are talking about here are rebels who knowingly continue to practice an unclean ethic persistently, in the face of warning. I suggest this all sounds very familiar to the conditions that lead up to herem. The question is, Does Paul relegate this to old history in view of the fact that Jesus has now come?

There are major chunks of Romans that might suggest that he does. Take the block running from 12:9 – 15:13. So much that is consonant with so much in the gospels: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love ... Bless those who persecute you ... Do not repay anyone evil for evil ... Do not take revenge ... love is the fulfilment of the law ... etc. It all sounds like it had been lifted from the gospel material.

However, I find myself coming across a thin but persistent thread again. Paul has not abandoned the idea that God will take action against those who have rebelled. Even in the middle of that long section in chapters 12 -15 addressed to Christians, and even when telling them not seek revenge (12:19), he justifies this not on the basis of 'love your enemies,' but by “leave room for God's wrath” and referring to a passage in Deuteronomy 32 - “vengeance is mine; I will repay.”

Is that shorthand for saying “Let God take all those negative emotions off your shoulders; he will absorb them and they will disappear” - in other words, there will be no actual violence? It would surely have been easy for Paul to say something like “Jesus has taken away all need for vengeance.” But he doesn't. He takes a passage about God's anger, as a read through Deuteronomy 32 reveals. Even taking into account that this is poetry, with rhetoric galore, the references in order are telling: Heaven and earth are invoked, and the supreme God (called Most High in 32:8) sorted out the bureaucracy around all the nations (universal setting), there is a rebellion, there is anger from God in response, warnings of the consequences of rebellion are announced in terms of the sentence that will be executed, Sodom and Gomorrah are referred to, and then God promises that he will pay the rebels back (“vengeance is mine; I will repay...”). The song ends up confirming again that God will take revenge and this, as in herem, means that the activity is reserved to God's authority.

I suggest that Paul has evoked another of those possible worlds, deliberately, by taking up the short quote. He has pretty much assumed that the processes associated with herem have not been annulled. They stand.

Does this mean that herem (for Paul) is totally reserved to God and human involvement is removed? On the one had, Yes: all who ignore the warnings and persist in rebellion (with their unclean ethics) will perish “on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts” and this concept is part of Jesus' good news, says Paul (Romans 2:16).

On the other hand... there's that enigmatic section in 1 Corinthians 6 in the context of Christian lawsuits: “...the saints will judge the world...we will judge angels.” If Paul was buying into the covenant worldview, then here we have a reference to our responsibilities as authorised images of the supreme God, as stewards over creation – judging nations and their (semi-)divine heads.

It's a thought.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
While I acknowledge that the passages of the OT in question are difficult to stomach - for obvious reasons - I don't think that there is any contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations.

I understand the point that we are not God and that this makes a huge difference, and so He can judge what we cannot. I do think that this is what we are supposed to assume, and it has worked for a long time. Few Christians over the ages have been upset over these things.

But I think that the fact is that there is a contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. God may permit destruction to happen for the sake of a higher long term purpose, which is that such destruction should never happen and that people live happily and at peace. But God Himself would never be the author of destruction.

I'm not sure that we can get past this central point.

As you know, my solution is that these biblical acts of destruction simply symbolize the way that evil destroys itself. None of these things were actually commanded by God, but were not untypical of the way nations of the time behaved. God then allowed them to be described the way that they were for a spiritual purpose. I know that doesn't work for everyone.

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Moo

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One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

Moo

[ 26. August 2011, 21:32: Message edited by: Moo ]

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

I think that European colonials have often behaved that way. [Paranoid]

In any case, this makes herem a particularly odious concept. Certainly not something we would want to attribute to God.

Here is a quote from New Church teaching explaining why concepts such as herem play such an important role in the Bible. It begins with an explanation of why the serpent in Eden was cursed:
quote:
The inner sense of the Word establishes fairly clearly the symbolism of what Jehovah said to the snake: "A curse on you, above every beast and above every wild animal of the field!" The meaning is that the sensory level of their mind turned away from what was heavenly toward what was bodily, damning itself, or bringing a curse on itself.

Jehovah God--the Lord--never curses anyone, is never angry at anyone, never leads anyone into crisis. He does not even punish us, let alone curse us. It is the Devil's crew that does such things. Nothing of the sort could ever come from the fountain of mercy, peace, and goodness.

This passage and many others in the Word describe Jehovah God as not only turning his face away, being angry, punishing, and testing, but even killing--and, yes, cursing. This was in order to foster the belief that the Lord controls and arranges every last detail in the universe, including evil itself, punishments, and times of trial. After accepting this very general idea, people would learn just how he controls and arranges things. They would see that he transforms the evil involved in punishment and in our ordeals into good.

All scriptural teaching and learning begins with the most general things; for this reason the literal meaning abounds in broad ideas.
Swedenborg "Secrets of Heaven" 245

The point is that these things are said in the Bible for a good reason. Most people think this way, and few have historically struggled with them. They make sense at a very superficial level.

But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
One important difference between genocide and herem is that genocide involves only the killing of human beings. herem involves killing all livestock and destroying all property.

Human beings do commit genocide sometimes. However, I can't think of an episode outside the Bible where all property is destroyed after all the owners have been killed.

I think that European colonials have often behaved that way. [Paranoid]
Even when the property is useful or desirable? I'm skeptical.

quote:
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.
I agree, but I think we should extract as much meaning from the text itself as we possibly can. The concept of herem was important to the Jews, and I want to know why.

Moo

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
Even when the property is useful or desirable? I'm skeptical.

Here is a table describing about one hundred Indian massacres in the Americas. In quite a number of them the colonists slaughtered hundreds of native Americans, including women and children, and completely destroyed their villages.

Native Americans also perpetrated massacres on the colonists, but I don't know if they tended to wreck their houses. Probably not. Of course I may be biased, being of Creek ancestry...
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I think we should extract as much meaning from the text itself as we possibly can. The concept of herem was important to the Jews, and I want to know why.

Yes, that's a great point. I agree completely. When it comes to the Bible, the better we understand the context, setting, culture, idioms, etc., the better.

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Here is a table describing about one hundred Indian massacres in the Americas. In quite a number of them the colonists slaughtered hundreds of native Americans, including women and children, and completely destroyed their villages.

But they didn't have any use for the villages. My point is that under herem everything should be destroyed even if it was very useful or valuable. I don't know of any other situation where that happened.

Moo

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?

What would have happened if God had NOT judged the people of Jericho and others?

Bringing this issue more up-to-date: was the 'love of God' operative in the allies' resistance to Hitler? Was 'the love of God' working through the Normandy Landings, for example? Or does 'love' simply allow evil to flourish and trample underfoot all that is good?

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?
You cannot fit killing by people into a concept of Love and God, and if the OT suggests same, it is one of the bad examples where people decided what they wanted to do was divinely inspired. No bit of hell can fit into heaven. What happens is that sometimes evil ones run things for a while, and then there is a change. The seeing of human affairs as involving the hand of God is pretty ridiculous.

quote:
What would have happened if God had NOT judged the people of Jericho and others?
You really believe this? That God would arrange for the killing of you, your family, your mother, your father, your baby, your pets, your livestock? That is not God. That is an explanation cooked up after the fact, written down later.

quote:
Bringing this issue more up-to-date: was the 'love of God' operative in the allies' resistance to Hitler? Was 'the love of God' working through the Normandy Landings, for example? Or does 'love' simply allow evil to flourish and trample underfoot all that is good?
No. When the bomb dropped on the house in the Rhineland that contained 2 families of my cousins, God did not guide that. It was an American bombardier. When another cousin was killed in a POW camp in Michigan at age 19, it was not the hand of God. When another was killed in Italy, and another on the Russian front, it was also not the hand of God. It was not the hand of God that led soldiers on the other side of my family to shoot Germans in Holland in 1944. It was not the hand of God that led Japan to bomb Pearl Harbour such that the USA would enter the European war after it had been raging for 2 years. Nor was the hand of God involved in the American conquest of the Philippines, restriction of steel and oil imports to Japan and all the underlying other reasons that Japan held out as reasons for war against the Americans.

On another example, it is doubtful that the hand of God was involved in the USA overthrown of the democratically elected gov't of Guatemala in the 1950s on behalf of the United Fruit Company and subsequent sponsorship of brutal dictatorships that killed thousands over the next 30 years.

Yet another, it is doubtful that God wanted atom bombs to kill 100s of thousands of people in Japan. A god who would do such is actually a devil.

The sort of ideas that underlies the assumption that God empowers armies and gets on the side of anyone or any country makes me very sad and mad. God was a tribal god image at most in some of the OT passages at debate. And still is in the ideas that any country or people is chosen by God.

[ 27. August 2011, 23:27: Message edited by: no_prophet ]

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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So therefore God does nothing about evil?

Not a God I wish to believe in.

Certainly this is not the God of the Bible, and therefore nothing to do with Jesus Christ, who affirmed the truth of the Bible (i.e. at least what we call the Old Testament).

[ 27. August 2011, 23:41: Message edited by: EtymologicalEvangelical ]

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
But God is a God of love, and so it is impossible that He would ever do anything inconsistent with that nature.

True, but 'love' contains moral content, and therefore what happens when people not only reject that love but lead others away from the love of God through evil and satanic practices?
They are judged. They are choosing the path to hell and not to heaven.

The point is that it is their own choices and actions that are taking them away from the light, away from love and happiness. This is what is called God's "judgment."

The system is organic. Hell is caused by evil, it is not a place that God sends the evil-doer.

Just as a parent is seen by the child as the cause of both benefits and punishments, the Bible presents God as the author of both. People need to understand that evil will not succeed. The self-destructive nature of evil is not immediately apparent to people.

The bottom line is that bad choices and impure desires bring on judgment, whether from the civil authorities, the social responses of society, or the spiritual darkness left when God is blocked out.

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Nigel M
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I'm intrigued to see that there are still plenty of assertions on the thread based on the “God is Love, therefore he wouldn't possibly do...” theme.

I'm going to have to push again for a clear definition of that English word 'love.' We can't make the logical move to what God would or would not do simply by syntactical assertion. I see from the biblical evidence (linguistic and contextual – including extra-biblical) that the biblical writers understood the word 'love' in covenantal terms. The covenant worldview drove the semantics. 'Love' to the biblical writers – both OT and as validated by Jesus – meant and denoted a semantic field that included affection, which overlaps with the English use, but also included loyalty, obedience, and commitment. Contained within that covenant field is the expectation that non-love, in the sense of voluntary rebellion against the senior covenant partner, would trigger an expectation of punishment.

The argument is that the love of God includes judgement and is allied to concepts of punishment. Jesus validates this wider view, so does Paul.

What's needed, I think, is an analysis of that argument because if it is correct then the obvious question must be: Where, then, are we getting alternative concepts of love from? Upon what philosophical basis are we saying it is logical to conclude that God would never do such and such?

It would probably also follow that if the basis for reaching a conclusion about God's character / nature (and resulting ethical principles) is derived from somewhere outside of the biblical writings, then the question arises: Is it properly Christian?

That outcome might focus the minds!

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The argument is that the love of God includes judgement and is allied to concepts of punishment. Jesus validates this wider view, so does Paul.

Yes, in human terms love includes punishment and judgment. A loving parent must discipline their child. A loving judge must pass sentence on criminals. A loving soldier must kill the attacking enemy.

The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor. The parent does not become enraged at the child.

But Jesus describes God's view this way:
quote:
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
"Perfect" is here defined as making "His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send(ing) rain on the just and on the unjust." In other words, He loves us whether we love Him or not.

The key, I think, is that punishment happens, judgment happens, but God is not the agent of that judgment and punishment. Instead, existence is arranged in such a way that judgment and punishment are inherent in evil, but not in good. I don't think that this makes God the agent of these things, but God is the agent of justice.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor.

Inevitably I am coming at the passages from outside the Swedenborgian paradigm, so my approach to them is different. I think, for example, that one could take up a symbolic view of the herem passages without necessarily having to conclude that they were inspired by the Devil or the Devil's servants. It would be possible to say either that (a) the human writers were just genuinely wrong in their assumption that God would act in accordance with the then contemporary worldview, or (b) that God accommodated to that worldview in the sense that he directed action relevant to the level of understanding at the time. From the NT side of things one could then interpret things symbolically in order to apply the passages to our lives.

I also think it is possible to say that there is actually no contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. Again, this is predicated upon understanding the term 'love' in its context. There may indeed be no anger involved in judgement – it might be passed quite dispassionately – but I'm still stuck with the fact there is a record that combines the affection side of love with the discipline side of love in such a way that there exists room for an ultimate sanction in the face of ultimate rebellion. So even if we discount biblical references to anger in connection with God as being rhetorical (or even unnecessarily anthropomorphic), we still have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. And again, God is recorded as being the authorising agent by the biblical writers.

It would seem to me that there must be a further principle at work in trying to distance God from this particular activity of herem, as opposed to the much more frequent aspect of war generally. General war could be attributed to human activity in the bible, but herem is parked quite consciously in God's ball park. The question is what that principle might be and is it capable of justification from a biblical view?

The two ways out of this seem to boil down to either [1] redefining love in such a way that it completely discounts the possibility that God's nature could ever encompass such an activity as herem, or [2] taking the denotations and connotations of love as expressed in the bible and redefining God's nature accordingly.

On the 'love your enemies' passage, I agree this highlights that God loves all indiscriminatingly. When placed alongside other sayings by Jesus, though, it raises that question about contradictions. One way out is symbolic, based on accepting that Jesus when talking about divine punishment was referring to the form of natural bounce-back caused on those who perpetrate rebellion. The other way is to reconsider what was meant by the word 'love' at the time to see if there really was a contradiction. I've gone down this latter route and show how there is no contradiction in the first place. Such a conclusion, of course, can cause consternation!

Either way this goes, the conclusions will destabilise some. Those brought up with a view of a God who offers unconditional reconciliation will be concerned to find that he might also impose destruction. Those brought up with a view of a God who will actively provide justice in the face of human injustice will be concerned to find that he might actually impose universal reconciliation.

We're dealing here with two state of emotion that we as humans appear to have been born with: the desire that everything would be at peace, but also the sense of injustice that rises when someone jumps the queue and gets away with it!

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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
So therefore God does nothing about evil?

Does not appear to do anything on an individual basis, in terms of intervening in day to day life. Appears to let free will of good and evil intent to play out fully, whether in the stranger attack against a family member of mine, in the various other crimes against innocents that will happen to day, within the gas chambers as people screamed and pleaded for God's intervention, within the ships that slowly filled with water after 07 Dec 1941 in Pearl Harbour, with the wanton slaughter in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, etc. The list is endless. God does not appear to intervene in human affairs directly. Perhaps (s)he did in biblical times, but I sincerely doubt it, even if others interpreted it this way. For whatever unfathomable reason, he let Jesus die too, allowing full suffering to occur, and didn't remove the cup of death from him. The worst of that story is the forsaken bit - where Jesus feels fully the absence of God, a piece of hell I think - which we are not required to do in our suffering, because we have a companion who won't do that to us. (I'll add a dammit to that, because I do want what you want - an active intervening against evil God.)

quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:Not a God I wish to believe in.
If you experience a few random evils, pray about them, and get no answer, regardless of your commitment to live the Christian life, your full intent to follow a specific or general commitment to Jesus, you may, like me, be working with the understanding that God seems to be willing to support you through nasty things, but does not intervene directly. Hence, the goodness of people after our experience of a recent major crime, the excellence of care, support of everyone, even people we're not well acquainted with, kindness and willingness to do whatever to help us navigate through it. I intellectually understood what I am posting before our recent episode, and now am getting it spiritually and experientially. (another dammit here!)

quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Certainly this is not the God of the Bible, and therefore nothing to do with Jesus Christ, who affirmed the truth of the Bible (i.e. at least what we call the Old Testament).

The God of the bible is the the god that people thought he was, just as some televangelists can interpret hurricanes as God's wrath. The bible is people's interaction with God filtred through their very human perceptions. If we are careful we can see God amidst their various interpretations, but we should be very cautious to accept generally as other than a story of faith and belief, and a growing consciousness re who they are in relation to God.

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy:
...when these things are done from love there is no anger involved. The moment the enemy is no longer a threat he is treated humanely. The judge does not pass sentence with rancor.

Inevitably I am coming at the passages from outside the Swedenborgian paradigm, so my approach to them is different. I think, for example, that one could take up a symbolic view of the herem passages without necessarily having to conclude that they were inspired by the Devil or the Devil's servants. It would be possible to say either that (a) the human writers were just genuinely wrong in their assumption that God would act in accordance with the then contemporary worldview, or (b) that God accommodated to that worldview in the sense that he directed action relevant to the level of understanding at the time.
Both (a) and (b) are likelihoods.

The people and the human writers were genuinely wrong in many of their assumptions, and God worked with that.

So God did accommodate to their worldview. But He Himself did not direct actions that harmed people.

Rather, He allowed these things to take place, as He does with all evil that happens. Evil actions can only take place by God's permission, which does not mean that He wills them, only that they must be permitted for the sake of a higher end, or that preventing them would involve taking away human freedom.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
I also think it is possible to say that there is actually no contradiction between a God of love and a God who commands the destruction of cities and nations. Again, this is predicated upon understanding the term 'love' in its context.

I would say that there is no contradiction between a God of love and one who permits the destruction of cities and nations for a higher purpose. Obviously these things were permitted or they wouldn't have happened, unless God was powerless to prevent them.

But this doesn't make them good, and it would be wrong to seriously think that God Himself did these things.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
So even if we discount biblical references to anger in connection with God as being rhetorical (or even unnecessarily anthropomorphic), we still have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. And again, God is recorded as being the authorising agent by the biblical writers.

I'm not sure that we have to deal with the passing of a judicial sentence of execution. Wickedness longs to execute. All it needs is an excuse. God is recorded as the authorizing agent for the reason I gave before, which is so that people would understand that God is in control of everything.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
General war could be attributed to human activity in the bible, but herem is parked quite consciously in God's ball park. The question is what that principle might be and is it capable of justification from a biblical view?

The principle is that God rules everything.

Part 2 of that principle is that there is a mutual covenant between God and the human race. This means that everything has consequences.

Part 3 of that principle is the Lex Taliones, the Law of Retaliation. Everything rebounds on its source. Every infraction must be paid for.

These add up to the precision of herem, because these factors are minutely governed.

Still, this doesn't mean that God is the author of anything evil or harmful. Instead He is the author of a stable universe which necessarily involves consistent consequences.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
The two ways out of this seem to boil down to either [1] redefining love in such a way that it completely discounts the possibility that God's nature could ever encompass such an activity as herem, or [2] taking the denotations and connotations of love as expressed in the bible and redefining God's nature accordingly.

In a broad sense God's love does account for and permit herem. But this does not mean that He wills it, or that its destructive force originates in Him. Instead the arrangement is simply that if something manages to shield itself from the light it is then in darkness. If humans turn way from God then they are left with evil - and this accounts for what is perceived as God's retribution.
quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:
On the 'love your enemies' passage, I agree this highlights that God loves all indiscriminatingly. When placed alongside other sayings by Jesus, though, it raises that question about contradictions. One way out is symbolic, based on accepting that Jesus when talking about divine punishment was referring to the form of natural bounce-back caused on those who perpetrate rebellion. The other way is to reconsider what was meant by the word 'love' at the time to see if there really was a contradiction. I've gone down this latter route and show how there is no contradiction in the first place.

I take the former route. It seems obvious to me that Jesus employed these kinds of metaphors. I can't think of a way of redefining love to include genocide. It is hard enough to accept that God even allowed such things to happen,

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved.

I seriously disagree with you here.

To suggest that God - the God of absolute love - does not show anger, is to completely depersonalise Him. This smacks more of Greek philosophical thinking - Stoicism - than the revelation of God given through Scripture.

I suppose some interpreters would regard the multitudinous passages about God's anger as "mere anthropomorphisms". The problem with that is that these "anthropomorphisms" are all we have to play with. On what basis would anyone judge that these descriptions do not express the reality of God? After all, if this is the way God has chosen to communicate with man, then it follows logically that if (very big IF) God is essentially unlike anything we can understand, then clearly no one has the right to make assumptions about what has to be accepted is a complete mystery.

We can't have it both ways! Where is the revelation that God does not become angry at evil, when the only revelation we do have tells us the precise opposite?

Anger does not imply injustice. It is morally right to feel angry at the phenomenon of evil. "Be angry and do not sin" as Psalm 4:4 tells us (confirmed in the NT by Ephesians 4:26).

God is a real person, not a theological principle (or mere artificial personalisation of a moral philosophy), and surely that is more in keeping with the idea of 'love'! Therefore He has the feelings of a person, as Jesus displayed many times during His ministry (for example, Mark 3:5). The revelation of God through Jesus was not deceptive, and surely Jesus did not display attitudes contrary to those of God.

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You can argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome': but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome, but I'm not saying this is true'. CS Lewis

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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
The difference is that when these things are done from love there is no anger involved.

I seriously disagree with you here.

To suggest that God - the God of absolute love - does not show anger, is to completely depersonalise Him.

Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Clearly the Bible presents God as one who is capable of anger and wrath. He sometimes flies into rages and threatens to destroy people. Other times He speaks tenderly and confidentially to biblical characters.

In order to see God as real and human I think that we need to attribute qualities like this to Him. Similarly we need to give Him a gender, a face and hands, or think of Him as sitting on a throne in heaven, or by our side holding us.

But to actually get at the nature and quality of God I think that we need to think in spiritual terms, that is, in terms of His love and wisdom. We shouldn't eliminate the imagery that is so necessary to our relationship with Him, but we should realize that these qualities are the requirement of our frail human understanding.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Are you suggesting then that God cannot suffer?!

Are you saying that God is completely impervious to any feeling or any heartfelt concern for anything?

What sort of 'God' is that? Is that kind of 'God' even a person? This sounds more like a blind and impersonal force, no different from the forces of nature.

quote:
We shouldn't eliminate the imagery that is so necessary to our relationship with Him, but we should realize that these qualities are the requirement of our frail human understanding.
Yes, but where is the evidence that these images are merely a concession to our "frail understanding"? This is a point I have already refuted in my last post!

If human understanding is "frail", then on what basis can we then say that God is "impassible"?? That seems to imply that those who are making this claim do not possess a "frail understanding"! How so?

We cannot have it both ways!

And... as I made clear in my last post ... are you suggesting that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ was deliberately deceptive? [Confused]

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You can argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome': but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome, but I'm not saying this is true'. CS Lewis

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Christianity has always debated about God's impassibility.

Are you suggesting then that God cannot suffer?!
As I mentioned, this is a long-standing debate.

It makes sense to me that God is impassible because to me it is essential that He be unchanging. It is hard for us to conceive of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who is infinite love. It is hard for us to conceive of a being who can be intimately involved in the lives of trillions of people simultaneously throughout the universe.

It doesn't make sense to me that this kind of God would be irked that a few ignorant Israelites danced around a gold calf. Like He didn't know they were going to do it!
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
And... as I made clear in my last post ... are you suggesting that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ was deliberately deceptive? [Confused]

The revelation of God through Jesus Christ was not deliberately deceptive. The message, however, was accommodated to those who received it. God's message, as it is in itself, is infinitely complex and far beyond our ability to receive it.

[ 29. August 2011, 18:18: Message edited by: Freddy ]

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
It makes sense to me that God is impassible because to me it is essential that He be unchanging. It is hard for us to conceive of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who is infinite love. It is hard for us to conceive of a being who can be intimately involved in the lives of trillions of people simultaneously throughout the universe.

It doesn't make sense to me that this kind of God would be irked that a few ignorant Israelites danced around a gold calf. Like He didn't know they were going to do it!

I find your viewpoint completely contradictory.

If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, as well as being infinite love, then it follows that He is intimately involved with every situation, and with every human life. Therefore it follows logically that because God is infinite love He most certainly would be more than "irked" by the rebellion of any number of His people in any situation. The fact that He foreknew it, is completely irrelevant. We are not talking about the concept of surprise, but God's grief at the reality of evil. It is possible to be angry and grieved about something while at the same time knowing that it is going to happen.

This is true even of human beings. If we see a missile being directed towards a certain country and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it, we can feel anger at what we know is going to happen when that missile hits its target before it does so. And this can be true of God who cannot prevent certain things from happening without violating human free will. (BTW, there is a clear conceptual difference between foreknowledge and predestination.)

Your view of God sounds more like a glorified man sitting at the top of a hierarchy (who can't be bothered with the "trivial" upsets at the bottom), than of an omnipresent God.

quote:
The revelation of God through Jesus Christ was not deliberately deceptive. The message, however, was accommodated to those who received it. God's message, as it is in itself, is infinitely complex and far beyond our ability to receive it.
If you are saying that we cannot understand God - as He "really is" - and we can only understand Him through the language of accommodation, then please kindly explain how we can know that this language is merely accommodation, since we cannot understand the hypothesised "non-accommodation" ideas behind it? In other words, how is it that you can claim to have an understanding of the "true" nature of God (i.e. the nature that does not include emotions such as anger), while at the same time telling us that it is too complex and beyond our understanding?

You're trying to have your cake and eat it! Are you so superior to everyone else that you can see beyond the so-called "language of accommodation"? How???

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You can argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome': but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome, but I'm not saying this is true'. CS Lewis

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Freddy
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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, as well as being infinite love, then it follows that He is intimately involved with every situation, and with every human life. Therefore it follows logically that because God is infinite love He most certainly would be more than "irked" by the rebellion of any number of His people in any situation. The fact that He foreknew it, is completely irrelevant. We are not talking about the concept of surprise, but God's grief at the reality of evil.

Great answer!

Yes, He can be intimately involved with everyone because He is, after all, infinite. So, yes, it would be possible for Him to watch closely and be irked about situations such as that of the Israelites' bad behavior in the wilderness.

And yes, His foreknowledge is irrelevant in that sense. He can grieve things that He knew were going to happen.

But God's foreknowledge is relevant in another sense. That is that He knows how it will all turn out. He knows that His prophecies will come true. He knows that the New Jerusalem will descend.

God's omniscience puts everything done by the Israelites, or anyone else, in context. He is impassible because His will cannot be frustrated. He does everything perfectly. The evils that He allows are only the ones absolutely necessary to achieve the goals of perfect love.

Still, I struggle to conceive of this. So it is necessary for me to believe that God suffers when people suffer. As far as I am concerned this is the kind of thing that love is about. If I suffer and believe that God does not care it isn't possible for me to think of Him as infinite love. This is why it is so important for us to believe that Jesus Christ is God because He did suffer and He did grieve over our imperfect state.
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
If you are saying that we cannot understand God - as He "really is" - and we can only understand Him through the language of accommodation, then please kindly explain how we can know that this language is merely accommodation, since we cannot understand the hypothesised "non-accommodation" ideas behind it?

Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 and John 16:
quote:
Matthew 13:13 "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father."

He was clearly accommodating to the state of His listeners.

Also, we know that human civilization has progressed over time in its ability to describe ideas in accessible terms without relying on metaphor. From that perspective we can surmise that our own capactiy to understand must be similarly limited in relation to future generations, and in relation to God.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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EtymologicalEvangelical
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quote:
Originally posted by Freddy
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 and John 16:

quote:
Matthew 13:13 "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

John 16:25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father."

He was clearly accommodating to the state of His listeners.
Yes, that is true of the parables, but what about this statement from Mark 3:5, which I referred to earlier? Here is the context:

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

Are you really suggesting that Jesus' anger in this situation was merely 'figurative', and we are to understand this as merely a parable?? This is clearly not a parable but an accurate description of how Jesus felt and reacted in the situation.

I can't see how the human race has progressed to the point where we feel justified in interpreting this to mean that Jesus was NOT in fact angry, and that that anger does NOT reflect the character of God!

Furthermore, how is it more progressive to believe that God cannot be angry at evil rather than be angry? I can't see what is so progressive about that conclusion. (And, of course, it depends how we define the word 'progressive' anyway!)

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You can argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome': but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome, but I'm not saying this is true'. CS Lewis

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quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Are you really suggesting that Jesus' anger in this situation was merely 'figurative', and we are to understand this as merely a parable?? This is clearly not a parable but an accurate description of how Jesus felt and reacted in the situation.

I agree. It's not a parable. Jesus really was angry.

This is why he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father, as He says in John. He is who we should love and worship because He is God as we can comprehend Him.
quote:
Originally posted by EtymologicalEvangelical:
Furthermore, how is it more progressive to believe that God cannot be angry at evil rather than be angry? I can't see what is so progressive about that conclusion. (And, of course, it depends how we define the word 'progressive' anyway!)

I agree that being apathetic about evil is not "progressive." It's not that God doesn't care about evil. Rather His omniscience gives Him a perspective that we lack.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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Nigel M
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Not wanting to disrupt other conversations (please do continue!), but I did promise that I would keep the second track going too: tracking herem as expressed in the NT.

On the way to Revelation I should mention 2 Peter 3, because that passage demonstrates that the concept of herem was not limited to Paul among the epistle writers.

I guess that everyone is familiar with the Final Day of Judgement scene as played out in the book of Revelation (chapter 20:11-15). It picks up themes from elsewhere in the bible – both OT and NT. The prelude to the “Thanks Goodness! At last!” vision of a combined rejuvenated cosmos with God over all and every created thing living in perfected peace is quite familiar. I appreciate that the book of Revelation contains quite picturesque language; plenty of poetic imagery and rhetoric. Nevertheless the world thrown up by this type of language does not have to be totally 'other.' There are overlaps with our way of seeing things, e.g., we understand a chronological time line when we see it, and we understand that themes are being expressed. We can also recognised propositions when they are expressed, even in the poetic passages. Consequentially I think it is valid to look to see what themes are referred to in the book to see if any of them relate to herem. Now it would be easy to make a facile connection between that final judgement in chapter 20 and herem, but its shortness does not permit enough of an evidential link. I do, however, find links galore in the book leading up to that point (NET version used in quotes below).

The assertion that God has a universal claim over all creation is made. For example, through Jesus (from the author's introduction): “Grace and peace to you from he who is, and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:4-5), or “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!” (4:11).

Humans will receive authority to judge and rule generally. E.g., “He [Jesus] has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (1:6) and “...you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9-10). These two aspects – universality and human involvement – are consistent with the idea of humans made in the image of God, authorised to rule in God's name as stewards (which is not inconsistent with the idea of ruling as junior kings in a covenant partnership). The author of Revelation incorporates Jesus into this scheme as foundational ruler and then all faithful people on the back of that. Kings were the final court of appeal in the ancient near east, but where does the priestly function apply in respect of judging? It may of been found in a number of ways, but they do seem to have had a lead role in the warning delivered to Jericho (and thus to the whole land) by leading the announcement of punishment and final warning during those last seven days parading around the city. This idea of human authority is linked to...

Humans involved in the punishment exercise. In addition to the passage in the last paragraph, we also have 17:13-14, where Jesus is in war with rebels and fighting with him are his followers: “These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.”

The authority to exercise this judgement is reserved to God alone. This is similar to Paul's 'leave room for God's vengeance' theme: the saints are recorded as crying out, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” The author evokes the concept of destruction in his use of the verb apollumi and the related noun apoleia in the book. In fact, 'destruction' makes a personalised appearance as Apollyon in 9:1, with a link to the Hebrew word for destruction, just in case anyone thought that this Apollyon was a Greek god rather than a very Hebrew activity authorised by God. The activity connected to this destruction is herem.

The coming judgement and punishment was not unexpected by the rebels. E.g., “Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?'” (6:15-17). Included in this passage is the idea that judgement would be led by Jesus, representing God, and also by his followers - 'their' day of wrath. The nearest referent to this 'their' is the set of murdered faithful ones in 6:9-11.

Herem could be avoided only by repentance. “The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing” (9:20-21). Rebellion is here linked with an ethic that did not accord with God's ethic. The link is confirmed in 16:11 - “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.”

Warning is given in advance of the punishment. The image of two witnesses is used to represent this in 11:3-5 (“And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. ... If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way”) and also via heavenly messengers in 14:6-7: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”


All of those points above, cumulatively, are consistent with the worldview of covenant and herem expressed through the rest of the bible. All that has changed is the language use. In fact, although it is usual to say that apocalyptic language arose from an earlier prophetic style of language and related themes, I wonder if, stripped of the flowery, picturesque language, whether apocalypticism does not rather have its roots buried in much earlier themes – that of covenant and associated activities (including herem).

To round things off, Revelation makes a point fitting to its place at the end of the chronological biblical story line: at the conclusion of the final destruction of rebels...
quote:
...there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him.
Another little linguistic snapshot. 'Curse' in that passage is katathema, a prepositional cognate of anathema. Although there is no one Greek word used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the rather technical term herem, they do use the word anathema more often than not. There are only six occurrences of anathema in the NT, all in pretty extreme conditions, not surprising, given the severe nature of herem. These instances are:-

Acts 23:14 - They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul.

Romans 9:3 - For I could wish that I myself were accursed – cut off from Christ – for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen

1 Corinthians 12:3 - So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 16:22 - Let anyone who has no love for the Lord be accursed. Our Lord, come!

Galatians 1:8 - But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell!

Galatians 1:9 - As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!


I think this is a good place to stop the analyses of biblical references in general while leaving open the option of discussing any other particular passage that might be raised. I'll come back with a wrap up in the next couple of days and see where the discussion might lead. From the evidence, though, it really does look as though the activity described as herem in the OT is part of God's nature, as validated by Jesus, and has not just a past but also a present and future aspect. It was seen by the biblical writers to be a consistent theme, part of the aspect of God's nature called 'God's Love' in the bible, that also drove a clean (indeed holy) ethic, which in turn informs ways of behaviour in the world.

Posts: 2826 | From: London, UK | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged
shamwari
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# 15556

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I said that I was orf.

And so I am.

But I have lurked.

And my blood pressure has increased X 1000 at the exegesis of passages all supposedly linked to "herem" and all increasingly "way out" (IMO) to the extent that I will not even bother to lurk henceforth.

Posts: 1914 | From: from the abyss of misunderstanding | Registered: Mar 2010  |  IP: Logged
Nigel M
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# 11256

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Welcome back to the dark side, shamwari!

Happy to discuss said exegesis as and when. Although the 'when' may becoming restricted timewise, alas.

Posts: 2826 | From: London, UK | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged



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