The “historical” Jesus is anything but gentle, meek and mild

Read time: 5 minutes

With all due respect to those who think that Jesus was a kindly, loving, unworldly pacifist who rose above the Old Testament logic of sin and violence, I think that this is a serious misreading of the Gospels. The “historical” Jesus—by which I mean the Jesus who makes sense in the context of first century Israel—was not less than an apocalyptic prophet sent by YHWH to Israel to call the Jews to repentance in light of coming catastrophic divine judgment in the form of war and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He was more than that, but he was not less than that.

I need to keep this brief, so I will focus on the climax to the series of “woes” that Jesus pronounces against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.

The passage culminates in a furious denunciation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … You serpents, you brood of vipers….” Jesus deliberately echoes John the Baptist’s rebuke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, a “brood of vipers”, who thought that they could escape the “wrath to come”.

The axe is already laid to the root of the trees, John says. “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:7-10). Jesus will later tell a parable about a harvest at the close of the age of second temple Judaism, when the weeds will be gathered and burned with fire (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). A Jewish prophet can only have meant by “wrath to come” material destruction as an expression of YHWH’s anger, either against his people or against their enemies.

The scribes and Pharisees will not escape the “judgment of Gehenna” (tēs kriseōs tēs geennēs). The reference is to the terrible destruction of war: bodies of the dead will be thrown over the walls of the city into the surrounding valleys. But “judgment” also makes this an intentional act of God: cf. “Hear, you peoples, the judgment (krisin) of the Lord…, because the Lord has a case (krisis) against his people, and he will dispute with Israel” (Mic. 6:2 LXX). Jesus here repeats the point made by his violent action in the temple (Matt. 21:12-13). The leaders of the people have turned the temple into a den of robbers and will suffer the consequences:

Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. (Jer. 7:11–12)

What did God do to the sanctuary at Shiloh? He razed it to the ground.

The reference to the sending of “prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town” (Matt. 23:34) echoes the parable of the wicked tenants, which ends with the grim warning that the master of the vineyard “will put those wretches to a miserable death” (Matt. 21:41). Jesus is looking ahead here, rather than backwards as in the parable, but the point is the same: the Son is just one of many messengers who have been sent and will be sent to warn the Jews of coming judgment and call them to repentance.

This generation of Jewish leaders was bringing upon itself vengeance for “all the righteous blood shed in the land” (Matt. 23:35). This is a thoroughly Old Testament rationale—there is nothing “Christian” about it.

Jesus was clearly heartbroken that Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it”, would suffer this fate, but the prophetic word was that Jerusalem’s “house is left to you desolate”. Again, we may imagine that he had the words of Jeremiah in mind:

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.

For thus says the LORD concerning the house of the king of Judah: “‘You are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, yet surely I will make you a desert, an uninhabited city. I will prepare destroyers against you, each with his weapons, and they shall cut down your choicest cedars and cast them into the fire. “‘And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbour, “Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”’” (Jer. 22:3–9)

Here we have—remarkably, I think—the condemnation of Israel for shedding innocent blood, the warning that the temple would become a desolation and that the city would be destroyed by an invading army as a direct act of divine judgment, and the more hopeful prospect that a Davidic king would pass through the gates of the house of God. Jesus concludes by saying that they will not see him again until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, evoking the image of the triumphant king coming to the temple (Matt. 23:39; Ps. 118:26-27).

Then, of course, Jesus leaves the temple and answers the question put to him by the disciples: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). Their mission to Israel will take place against the backdrop of the build-up to war. The destruction of the city and temple will mark the vindication not only of Jesus but also of their mission.

So Jesus brought the old covenant to an end, but he did so on old covenant terms. The rebellion of Israel was met with violence from YHWH. Jesus’ insistence that his followers should love their enemies presupposes the eschatological narrative; it does not abrogate it.

peter wilkinson | Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:30 | Permalink

So Jesus brought the old covenant to an end, but he did so on old covenant terms. The rebellion of Israel was met with violence from YHWH. Jesus’ insistence that his followers should love their enemies presupposes the eschatological narrative; it does not abrogate it.

Where does Jesus say anywhere in Matthew 23 that the rebellion of Israel will be met with violence from YHWH? YHWH isn’t even mentioned. For sure, Jesus says all the unrighteous blood shed from the time of Abel to Zecharaiah will come on “you” and “on this generation”. But does that really mean the Pharisees and “this generation” are literally guilty of all the murders that have ever been committed from the time of Abel?

This is the language of powerful rhetoric, but not a literal exposition of how the wrath of God works. It does not diminish at all the culpability of the Pharisees, which Jesus has spelled out in painstaking detail and rhetorical reinforcement in the “woes”.

Then Jesus speaks of his sorrow for Jerusalem in the tenderest of tones, yet they too are guilty by association of killing the prophets and stoning those sent to her. But strikingly, there is no mention of YHWH directly pouring out his wrath on Jerualem; in fact in line with the rest of Matthew 23, no mention of YHWH at all.

Much more careful attention needs to be paid to this, and other passages, which can too glibly be categorised as demonstrating  “the wrath of God”. More careful attention needs to be paid to Jeremiah, who also uses rhetoric to reinforce his message. For instance, did Jeremiah literally mean that YHWH directly expressed his wrath through making mothers eat their children (Lamentations 2:20), or causing women to be raped (Jeremiah 13:22)? If we are going to look at parallels between Jesus and OT prophets, let’s be even handed and look at the whole picture, and especially the detail of the picture.

@peter wilkinson:

So if Jesus tells a parable about the owner of a vineyard who destroys the wicked tenants because they do not give him its fruit, you don’t think that his Jewish hearers, who would have recognised the allusion to Isaiah 5:1-7, would have understood him to be saying that they risked being destroyed by YHWH?

Jeremiah is quite clear: mothers were forced to eat their children, women were raped, priests and prophets were killed in the sanctuary, young men and women were slaughtered without pity, because the Lord was angry with Jerusalem.

It’s all very well dismissing it as rhetoric, but you end up claiming that Jeremiah doesn’t mean what he says. If it is rhetoric, what is it rhetoric for? When he says, “you have killed them in the day of your anger” (Lam. 2:21), what does he really mean? This is basic covenantal theology: if Israel keeps the commandments, YHWH blesses them; if Israel does not keep the commandments, YHWH will punish with them with disease, famine and the sword. Neither is mere rhetoric.

That said, I think the lifting up of Israel’s skirts is not a reference to the rape of women but a figure for the humiliation that the nation will suffer as a consequence of the exile (Jer. 13:22, 26).

By the way, comments from other people are also welcome!

@Andrew Perriman:

You ignore my point: there is no mention of YHWH inflicting violence as his “wrath” in Matthew 23. For sure Matthew 21, the parable of the tenants, is a warning with points of correspondence, but when it comes to more direct warning from Jesus, the issues I have highlighted apply.

The rhetoric, ie non literal language, with which Jesus reinforces his warning of destruction, suggests that prophets like Jeremiah may also have used rhetoric, or non literal language, to reinforce warnings of disaster.

@peter wilkinson:

In my view, as you know, the judgment of Gehenna is a violent image referring to the disposal of corpses in the valleys around Jerusalem during the siege as part of God’s wrath.

The language of blood coming upon someone’s head also naturally suggests violent retribution:

The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon,” let the inhabitant of Zion say. “My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,” let Jerusalem say. Therefore thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will plead your cause and take vengeance for you. I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry, and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant. (Jer. 51:35–37)

Jesus means that the Jewish establishment will suffer violent judgment from God for having violently persecuted.

Luke has Jesus say: “Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress (anagkē) upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Lk. 21:23). This sounds very like Zechariah’s description of the “great day of the Lord”: “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of affliction and anguish (anagkēs)” (Zeph. 1:15). Jesus is using the same language to speak about the same sort of events. He means that the suffering of pregnant and nursing women will be a consequence of the wrath of God. You can’t just dismiss it as rhetoric.

@Andrew Perriman:

I think there is a problem with quoting parts of the OT prophets which sound similar to Jesus, without noting significant variations or omissions that characterise the prophecy of Jesus. It’s noteworthy that Jesus does not use the phrase ‘the wrath of God’, or even directly attribute any violence to God.

The use of rhetoric does not mean that violence is eliminated. It’s just noting, in the language that Jesus uses, that it is unlikely that we are meant to take Jesus literally. The Pharisees were not guilty of all the murders that had occurred since the time of Abel through to Zechariah. They were identifying themselves with that ignoble line, however.

@Andrew Perriman:

I don’t know if you saw my comment which follows the one you responded to, but that sets out my thoughts on comparing extracts from OT prophetic language with Jesus.

The language of Gehenna and your understanding of it isn’t an issue for me. It’s a warning of a violent end, and total reversal for the Pharisees of their self created status.

I’ve already said that the ‘blood upon your head’ denunciation is just that. For sure it warns of a violent end. That isn’t the issue. I’m simply making the rather obvious point that it doesn’t mean literally what it says.

For sure Luke echoes Zechariah. Well spotted. There was certainly great anguish coming. The precise meaning of ‘wrath against his people’ is what is in question. Luke does not make it simple and say ‘God’s wrath’, but there is little question that this referred to the coming armies of Rome. Exactly whether God personally was inciting the Roman armies is another question. Even in Jeremiah God complains that the invading army has gone beyond what he intended, suggesting that his ‘wrath’ is not such a directly orchestrated phenomenon as you imply.

@peter wilkinson:

I think your argument about rhetoric is diversionary. Obviously aspects of the language are figurative, but the fundamental question remains: did Jesus think of the coming destruction of Jerusalem as an act of God in punishment of his people? I think we have to say yes.

  • John the Baptist links being thrown into the fire with the moral failure of the “trees” to be fruit, which points to an act of divine judgment (Matt. 3:10).
  • John says that Jesus will burn the chaff “with unquenchable fire”, echoing Old Testament descriptions of divine judgment (Matt. 3:13; cf. Is. 34:10; 66:24; Jer. 7:20). Jesus is in some sense an agent of the coming judgment on Israel.
  • Jesus repeatedly evokes Old Testament texts that attribute violent destruction (notably the Babylonian invasion and the exile) to the will of God. He makes no attempt to correct the obvious conclusion that he viewed the coming war against Rome as likewise an expression of the will of God. If the temple had been made a “den of robbers”, for example, first century Jews who have understood Jesus to be saying that YHWH would do to Herod’s temple what he had done to the sanctuary at Shiloh and to Solomon’s temple.
  • We have parables of the judgment of Israel at the close of the age in which angels separate out the good fish from the bad, the wheat from the weeds. Angels act on behalf of God.
  • We have parables in which the owner of the vineyard of Israel or the king whose son is getting married destroys, or destroys the city of, the unrighteous. That is theology. No first century Pharisee would have dismissed it as rhetoric.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who thwarts the enemy by waiting until the harvest before separating out the weeds and burning them (Matt. 13:24-30). There is an active “judge” in these stories.
  • At the close of the age the Son of Man will send his angels and gather up the wicked and thrown them into the fiery furnace (Matt. 13:40-42). The violent destruction of Jerusalem is presented as a direct act of judgment by the Son of Man.
  • Sayings about being thrown into Gehenna, etc., are arguably divine passives.
  • Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). He came to cast fire on the land, not to bring peace (Lk. 12:49-53). Destruction is coming on Israel, and Jesus is taking responsibility for it.
  • Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, the person who says, “You fool!”, will be liable to the Gehenna of fire (Matt. 5:22). Who is doing the judging here?
  • Jesus regarded the coming catastrophe as a “day of judgment” (Matt. 10:15; 11:22; 12:36). You can’t have a day of judgment without a judge.
  • The mission of the disciples connects the coming of the kingdom of God with the destruction of the cities of Israel by Rome: “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (Lk. 10:10–12). The coming of the kingdom of God will entail, among other things, judgment on the cities that reject the gospel.
  • Luke’s Jesus says that the blood of the prophets “will be required of this generation” (Lk. 11:51). This is the “Wisdom of God”. This generation of Jews will suffer judgment because throughout the ages Israel has persecuted and killed the prophets.
  • Jerusalem would be destroyed not because the Jews revolted against Rome but because the leaders of the people had rejected and killed YHWH’s servants (Matt. 23:29-39). That only makes sense on the assumption of divine intention.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew — sadly, I don’t have time to respond to all this right now, though I think you have fairly comprehensively missed the points I have been making. Either that, or perhaps I didn’t communicate them clearly enough. As I don’t have time right now to respond in detail, much as I would have loved to, I have made some reference to your approach and my response in a separate reply to Phil Ledgerwood. I might revisit your response when I get to Kenya, assuming my new-born grandson there gives me any time to do so.

@peter wilkinson:

Hey Peter,

What non-violent end result would you say the rhetoric denotes?

peter wilkinson | Sat, 12/02/2017 - 04:41 | Permalink

In reply to by Philip Ledgerwood

@Philip Ledgerwood:

Why would the rhetoric have to denote a non violent end? I don’t full understand your question Phil.

@peter wilkinson:

I don’t think it has to. I don’t think it does, actually, but your contention was:
>> Where does Jesus say anywhere in Matthew 23 that the rebellion of Israel will be met with violence from YHWH? YHWH isn’t even mentioned. For sure, Jesus says all the unrighteous blood shed from the time of Abel to Zecharaiah will come on “you” and “on this generation”. But does that really mean the Pharisees and “this generation” are literally guilty of all the murders that have ever been committed from the time of Abel?

>> This is the language of powerful rhetoric, but not a literal exposition of how the wrath of God works. It does not diminish at all the culpability of the Pharisees, which Jesus has spelled out in painstaking detail and rhetorical reinforcement in the “woes”.

If I understand you correctly, God does not operate through violent means and, this being the case, I was curious as to what you thought the “rhetoric” pointed to? If I misunderstood you, is your objection more about the pinpointing of the destruction of Jerusalem, specifically? In other words, God would do something bad to that generation, it’s just that the destruction of Jerusalem wasn’t it?

You seem to agree that the language in Matthew 23 is judgement coming on that generation. I’m just trying to understand how you understand that.

@Philip Ledgerwood:

Thanks for the clarification Phil. My main point about Matthew 23 still stands — there is no mention of YHWH directly inflicting violence. I’ve addressed the “wrath” issue in the Luke parallel separately.

Nevertheless, destruction did come on Jerusalem, as Jesus predicted. And hundreds of thousands of Jews were crucified, in addition to those dying of starvation in Jerusalem, during and after the Roman siege.

Andrew is going to great lengths to ascribe this to a direct action of God. Why he is so keen on this remains obscure to me. But it we look at what Jesus actually says, rather than parables which do not lend themselves to literal word for word prediction, or to any other prediction of coming judgment in the gospels (none of which I deny), I think we come to a different conclusion.

The judgment on Jerusalem, like most of the OT judgments in fact, worked on a mechanism of cause and effect. Not only did the people turn from YHWH, OT and NT, they also laid themselves open in their preferred course of action to disaster. Judgment when it came was not so much a direct infliction of wrath, despite the rhetoric of the prophets in the OT, but the natural outworking of a choice.

One can argue about words and phrases, though in the case of Jesus my observations on Matthew 23 remain unchallenged in terms of the actual wording of the text. but the mechanism of judgment, and wrath, is beyond dispute.

So where was YHWH in all this? I think a more accurate way of describing how wrath and judgment were applied would be to say that the actual historic mechanism was that YHWH withdrew, and events happened. This is what is called the wrath of God, or God’s judgment.

You can take Jeremiah literally if you like when he speaks of God’s direct imposition of anger, but even with Jeremiah there was an actual historic mechanism occurring, which need not have happened had Israel responded in a way which would have led YHWH to act in a different way. This mechanism can be seen throughout the OT.

With Jesus in Matthew 23 however, things are not presented in the same way as Jeremiah. This does not diminish an any way the severity of the warnings, which became a horrible reality. But the horrible reality is not ascribed to the direct action of YHWH.

As I’ve also said, this also does not diminish any of the warnings of judgment throughout the gospels in the variety of ways in which it is presented.

That’s my case. I would prefer not to be presented as one believing in a dope smoking, kaftan and tie-dyed wearing Jesus walking around in sandals, even with all due respect. I’m just as zealous a critical-historical-narrative believing bible student as Andrew, but looking at the texts in more detail, and asking more searching questions.

It’s a bit cheeky responding to him in a reply to you, but I’m off to Kenya early tomorrow morning, and have a lot of packing to do before a very early start. I just don’t have time to respond to two comments.

@peter wilkinson:

Hi Peter,
Thanks for the clarification. That helps me, and if you need to wait to get back from Kenya to respond further, by all means do so!

I think I understand your position a lot better, and that leads me to a follow-up question on in what way “stepping back” would be seen as wrath, judgement, or justice for, say, the murder of the prophets or any of the other things Jesus accuses the religious power structure of? Are you saying that God’s wrath and judgement are no longer helping Israel through her troubles if/when they come?

Certainly, and I think you’ve pointed this out as well, the OT passages have YHWH being much more active and intentional in these events. “The staff in [Assyria’s] hand is my wrath.” That doesn’t mean that first century Jews of necessity would have heard Jesus the same way, of course, nor does it mean that we have to agree with the Old Testament perspective, but I think you would say that is, in fact, the OT perspective. If not, please correct me.

So, that then brings us to whether or not it is more likely that Jesus was describing God’s lack of involvement meaning disaster or whether or not God in some sense is “behind” the disaster. Personally, it seems less likely to me that what Jesus is describing, here and elsewhere, is the idea that God will not intervene in Israel’s history, and this is wrath and judgement. It -could- mean that. I could see my way clear to reasoning that as a possible reading. I don’t think it’s a silly or nonsensical reading. It’s just hard for me to see something like, “How can you escape being sentenced to Gehenna?” and interpret that as, “How can you escape me not stopping you from sentencing yourselves to Gehenna?” I feel like, without having put in the research that you have, I’m having to see if I can plausibly read the passage in the way you describe (which I can), but doing so requires me to assume the a priori stance that Jesus would not likely refer to God actively doing violent things.

I guess I’m asking you for reasons that Matthew 23 is most likely understood as God’s lack of involvement that don’t require me to first accede to a particular view of Jesus’ views on God and violence.

peter wilkinson | Sat, 12/02/2017 - 21:51 | Permalink

In reply to by Philip Ledgerwood

@Philip Ledgerwood:

There’s so much here I’d like to respond to Phil, and as Andree despairs of telling me, I should.set up my own blog. I hadn’t intended to open up a complete new discussion, honest! I will look carefully at your questions. Thank you for helping me explore further what is, for me, a new and experimental subject.

@peter wilkinson:

I am going to great lengths because it is there, and I don’t think it is right to gloss over it just because it doesn’t easily fit our modern theologies. There is nothing to be gained in the long run from hermeneutical dishonesty.

Both in the Old Testament and with regard to first century Israel clearly history precedes the interpretation of history. The Romans invaded for a political reasons, not because they believed that the God of the whole earth was sending them to punish his people. Jesus foresaw that and presumably understood the political dynamics, but as a prophet he also interpreted it theologically, in light of the covenant and the prophets and Israel’s history. He seems to have relied heavily on Jeremiah, who no doubt likewise appreciated the fact that the Babylonian invasion could be explained in mundane geopolitical terms.

I think that in Matthew 23 Jesus does attribute the foreseen disaster to God. The Romans aren’t going to make the connection between the killing of the prophets and their blood coming upon this generation. Only God can make that connection. Only God can make the war a matter of vengeance for the persecution of his servants. That is the prophetic interpretation of the predicted historical events. It’s theology, not rhetoric.

Where was YHWH in this? Well, where in the Old Testament or the Gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament does it say that YHWH withdrew and simply allowed history to take its course? Ancient Jews were not Deists! They held to a consistent narrative of divine engagement in their history, for better or for worse.

And how, in any case, is the withdrawal of YHWH not active neglect or abandonment? How is withdrawal any different from YHWH directly inflicting wrath on his people? Where’s the consolation in that for Israel?

Finally, what are we to make of Paul’s words at the end of his sermon in Pisidian Antioch?

Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” (Acts 13:40–41)

This is a quotation from Habakkuk 1:5, where the prophet is told that God is raising up a might nation, which will march through the earth to punish unrighteousness in Israel.

Enjoy Kenya!

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew — thank you for your wishes for my trip to Kenya. I will consider carefully what you have said, but I don’t think it will do for you to be making judgments like “hermeneutical dishonesty”. I could easily make that judgment about you, since I do think you ignore, or override, or ridicule very substantial weaknesses in your own hermeneutics.

The OT is all interpretation of history. In fact, all attempts to write history are an interpretation of it. But this is irrelevant to the point you make in your second paragraph. However many echoes there may be of Jeremiah in the prophecy of Jesus, we have to look at what Jesus actually says, and note that it presents points of dissimilarity with Jeremiah. I am also not saying there was no theological significance to the Roman invasion of Israel and destruction of the temple. I am arguing that Jesus never said the event was the direct action of an angry God. It isn’t there in what Jesus says, and with good reason. No amount of attempts to isolate ethics from history will shield God from the accusation of monstrous barbarity if we say God ordained in anger the mass crucifixion of Jews during and after the wars. And don’t say this is a modern, enlightenment problem which wasn’t there in ancient times. It was. The early church fathers saw the problem and tried to find different ways of addressing it long before the enlightenment.

In your third paragraph, repeating what you also seem to say in your second, you get involved in the irrelevant issue of whether the Romans were aware of being the instrument of God’s wrath. I really don’t see why that is an issue from any point of view. Of course they weren’t. You also say that Matthew 23 attributes the disaster to God. It doesn’t anywhere directly attribute the disaster to God. It attributes the disaster to the Pharisees, or rather warns that disaster will come on them. It attributes the disaster to Jerusalem, as the historical consequence of an ingrained history of rejecting and murdering the prophets, and for failing to respond to Jesus who could have protected them from the destruction to come, even have averted it, if they had followed his injunctions. It was violent opposition to Rome which brought about destruction, not God directly punishing his people.

In your fourth paragraph, God’s withdrawal has nothing to do with deism. It has everything to do with God releasing people to pursue their rejection of him to its natural consequences — and maybe reinforcing that as well. This is the mechanism described in Romans 1:18-32, and in fact the passage begins by explicitly saying that “the wrath of God is being revealed”, and then describes what this is: “he gave them over” — vss 24, 26, 28. He let them do what they wanted and did not try to stop them. He effectively abandoned them. He withdrew. He stood aside. This is the wrath of God, and how it works.

Yes, I think you are absolutely right in your fifth paragraph. His withdrawal was active neglect and abandonment. That is very different from “directly inflicting his wrath on his people”. Nevertheless, this is what I believe was the actual mechanism for what the OT especially, but the NT also, describes as the wrath of God.

I’m sorry I don’t have time to look more carefully at the quotation from Habakkuk in Acts 13. I suspect it might be a creative misreading of what Habakkuk meant in context, which is rife everywhere in NT quotations from the OT.

I hope I wake in time for the early drive to Heathrow. This is what Postost does to me.

Alex F | Fri, 12/01/2017 - 21:11 | Permalink

Thank you for your work, Andrew.

It seems contemporary Christians want a Jesus who saves from eternal damnation and/or who teaches a timeless ethics. In those two ways Jesus becomes relevant to us today.

Part of the reason we want Jesus to be primarily an ethical teacher is because we have a distaste for the ethical visions found in his scriptures, the Hebrew Bible. The doctrine of Jesus’ deity, alongside his “new” ethic, relieves some of this tension because Jesus is able to get the record straight about God’s character. The conclusion can be drawn, for instance, that since Jesus teaches non-violence, God himself rejects violence.

So then if we see Jesus within an apocalyptic context, not as a ethcal reformer of Judaism but as a prophet of coming historical judgement and renewal, what does the Bible have to say about how Christians should live today? Does the Old Testament have things to say about the ethical life that the New doesn’t or can’t?

@Alex F:

Thank you, Alex. That’s a good and constructive question. I won’t attempt an answer here, except to say that we have to see it as a continuation of the biblical story without being a simple repeat of the biblical story or any particular part of it. History takes us forwards not backwards. I’ll try and come back to this.

Donald | Sun, 12/03/2017 - 08:21 | Permalink

I am reading a peace theologian / pacifist, (Ted Grimsrud at thinking pacifism and peace theology blogs), coming from a calvinisnist background the non violent God is very attractive, the violent one of OT is now very disturbing, what is the real picture of God portrayed by the narrative historical method?


Thanks, Donald. A good and necessary question. I’ve tried to answer it here, but I’m not sure we’re looking for a “real picture” of God. I think that the “method” requires us to say something about God as creator, but we also need to reckon—as happened in the biblical period and during Christendom—with the God encountered in historical context.

I really resonate with this post! I considered myself a Progressive for a while and did what they all do—rejected most of the OT depictions of Yahweh because they didn’t align with meek and mild Jesus (Yahweh in the flesh). I bought in to the Christocentric hermeneutic and became a functional Marcionite. :)

I am beginning to question the idea that Jesus brought the old covenant to an end (which you expressed in the last paragraph). I like the way Mark Nanos refers to the new covenant as “reaching a new stage in its development” but in actuality a continuation of the old.

Alex F | Tue, 05/01/2018 - 21:29 | Permalink


What is your take on John 2:14-15? Does John intend to depict Jesus as violent against humans here? There seems at least to be a threat of violence.