Did Jesus avoid proclaiming a “day of vengeance” against Israel in the synagogue in Nazareth?

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It is sometimes argued by people who think that Jesus had no interest in violence that when he applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself in the synagogue in Nazareth, he deliberately stopped short of proclaiming judgment against Israel:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour….” (Lk. 4:17–19)

Jesus did not go on to quote the next few words from Isaiah 61:2: “…and the day of vengeance of our God”. See! He’s a good guy, opposed to violence!

But there is a very good reason for the omission, and it is not that Jesus had nothing to say about a coming violent judgment against Israel. The setting for Isaiah 61 is the exilic period. Jerusalem has already been destroyed in an act of violent punishment for the sins of Israel. The city is in ruins, only a few of its former inhabitants remain, languishing in poverty, mourning among the ruins. The prophet announces to them the good news that YHWH will restore Zion; this wretched remnant will become “oaks of righteousness”, and they “shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations”.

The “day of vengeance” that Isaiah proclaims as part of this promise of restoration is a day of judgment against the enemies of Israel (cf. Is. 34:8), against Babylon. On the evidence of the Gospels, Jesus was not interested in a future judgment of Israel’s enemies—that prospect only comes into view when the good news of the coming kingdom of God is proclaimed across the Greek-Roman world. His eschatological focus was entirely on the coming day of God’s wrath against his own people, the immediate horizon of the disastrous revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not the Jesus of popular piety, whether of the left or of the right or of some mushy, self-indulgent evangelical middle.

So he begins his prophetic ministry in Nazareth by claiming the authority to announce good news to the “poor” in Israel and the hope of restoration. But this in no way contradicts the persistent message of coming violent and terminal judgment against the nation as a nation that we hear from Jesus and others throughout Luke’s Gospel. In particular, notice that Jesus will later speak of the period of the war as “days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written” (Lk. 21:22). Not only that, Jesus is described as the one who will judge Israel: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Lk. 3:17).

  • This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (2:34);
  • You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (3:7, 9);
  • His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (3:17);
  • But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep (6:24–25)
  • Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven (6:37);
  • But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great (6:49);
  • I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades (10:12–15);
  • …the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation (11:50–51);
  • Do you think that I have come to give peace [in the land]? No, I tell you, but rather division (12:51);
  • Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:2–5);
  • And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’ (13:8–9);
  • In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out (13:28);
  • But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me (19:27);
  • For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you (19:43–44);
  • He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others (20:16);
  • Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him (20:18);
  • But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. …for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written.… For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people (Luke 21:20–23);
  • For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us’ (23:29–30; cf. Hos. 10:8).

Conclusion? The Jesus of the Gospels is not the Jesus of popular piety, whether of the left or of the right or of some mushy, self-indulgent evangelical middle. He certainly led his followers down a path of non-violence in pursuit of the coming rule of God, but the old covenant narrative ends not with the crucifixion but with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Jesus as prophet and judge was implicated in that violent outcome.

peter wilkinson | Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:58 | Permalink

Your dismissal of Jesus’s ‘peaceful’ omission of the final part of Isaiah 61:1-2 is unconvincing,
You resort to caricature of those who take a different view of its omission. The omission is glaring in view of the obvious background of desire for retribution on occupying Rome by Israel in general, some more than others perhaps. This is understandable, as retribution through violence on Israel’s enemies was the entire thrust of the OT judgment pattern. The perceived enemy in this case was Rome. The actual enemy of Israel was withon. Not only so, but Jesus compounds the offence of his words by omitting the vengeance statement (gracious is a misreading of the description of his words) by referencing examples of God’s favour to Gentiles, not Israel.

The list of “supporting” verses does not prove your case either. No one denies that appalling violence and destruction was coming. Jesus predicted this, and it was entirely brought about by the course which Israel was set on. But whether this was the violent action of an angry deity acting in retribution is not only questionable, it is not proven by any of the verses you cite. We’ve been over this before, and we’ll have to agree to disagree. However, I’m more interested in whether you will address my response to your previous post. Maybe you’ve just done so. I’m on my mobile (big mistake), and another post has just come flying through.

@peter wilkinson:

So who is it then who brings down the mighty from their seats, who burns the chaff “with unquenchable fire”, who punishes those who do not repent, who brings division and a sword to the land of Israel, who cuts down the fruitless figtree of Israel, who slaughters his enemies, who destroys the wicked tenants, who requires the blood of the prophets from this generation? Certainly not the Romans.

@Andrew Perriman:

This is quite a mish mash of different kinds of writing different contexts. Each needs separate consideration. Making lists like this, or the list in your previous post from which this seems to be extracted, does not prove anything. I’m not going to go through it, though some of the texts have been considered at more length in responses to a previous post.

To repeat, no one is denying violence to come on a national level, but the “wrath” language is sparse, and needs particular consideration. Only once is the national catastrophe described as ‘punishment’, implying direct infliction of violence by God. Each allusion you make here is to very real warnings, but the inference you draw of a deity stoking up the fires, wielding a literal sword and wreaking slaughter and destruction because he requires appeasement with blood for blood is a grotesque distortion.

The reality is very different when you look carefully at each of these allusions in their particular context, particular wording and meaning. To make an oversimplified list, then condense it into a flattened summary, violates meaning and is no way to do serious exegesis.

@peter wilkinson:

Actually, the “time of punishment” in Luke 21:22, the only explicit reference to a direct infliction of violence, is not directly related to God, and might equally refer to punishment by Rome for the uprising which led to national disaster for Israel. It is remarkable how the gospels avoid explicit, literal warning of God punishing Israel or anyone else anywhere, in terms which could not in one way or another be called into question for literally meaning such a thing. I include in this every reference in your list. By all means challenge me to substantiate this, and I will do so, but only one by one.

@peter wilkinson:

Jesus says that “these are days of vengeance (hēmerai ekdikēseōs), to fulfill all that is written” (Lk. 21:22). This is presumably a reference to Hosea 9:7:

The days of punishment (hai hēmerai tēs ekdikēseōs) have come; the days of your recompense have come, and Israel will be afflicted… (Hos. 9:7 LXX)

The context makes it very clear that it is God who punishes: “he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins”; he will drive them out of his house, just as Jesus drove the traders out (Hos. 9:9, 15). “My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations” (Hos. 9:17).

Since Jesus makes a point of saying that the coming days of vengeance were a fulfilment of scriptures that attribute violent punishment directly to God, it is very difficult to argue that he didn’t have the same thought in mind.

I’m not alone in holding this view:

22. this is the time of vengeance. Lit. “these are the days of vengeance,” an allusion to Hos 9:7, which in the LXX reads, hēkasin hai hēmerai tēs ekdikēseōs, “the days of vengeance have come,” an accurate translation of Hebrew, bāʾû yĕmê happĕqûdāh. The phrase forms part of Hosea’s complaint against Israel, which has rejected Yahweh and paid no heed to his prophet; it must then face the punishment/visitation which will ensue. Luke has introduced this detail into the Marcan form of the discourse, probably from “L.” But note that Luke does not explain in what sense the desolation of Jerusalem is “vengeance.” Vengeance for what? Recall, however, Luke 18:7. Cf. Deut 32:35; Jer 46:10 [LXX, 26:10] for similar OT expressions of God’s vengeance. (Fitzmyer)

First, the scene Jesus paints is reminiscent of his earlier words in 19:43–44, where it was self-evident that divine judgment would come upon the city on account of its failure to recognize and accept the salvific visitation of God. Second, Jesus draws the details for his portrait predominantly from the LXX, with the result that he produces a virtual collage of scriptural texts that draws the anticipated destruction of Jerusalem and the temple into an interpretive relationship with the fall of the city at the time of the Exile. Indeed, Luke writes that the razing of the city is “a fulfillment of all that is written” (v 22). Third, he actually describes the season of Jerusalem’s fall as “days of vengeance” (v 22), using a scriptural phrase denoting divine judgment. Fourth, the scene Jesus imagines, with Jerusalem “trampled on by the Gentiles” (v 24), recalls the role of the nations as Yahweh’s instrument of judgment against Israel. Clearly, the anticipated fall of Jerusalem is portrayed as divine judgment for its unfaithfulness before Yahweh (cf. 20:9–18). (Joel Green)

The vengeance to be exacted will be the culmination and completion of all God’s acts and threats of judgment recorded in Scripture. It will be the final squaring of the accounts of justice for the whole course of history. (Nolland)

@Andrew Perriman:

Well, there are some questionable statements here, never mind whether you are a Fitzmeyer, a Joel Green or a Nolland.

Fitzmeyer. First and foremost, there is a difference between how the OT presents Hosea’s announcement of judgment, and how Luke presents it. Granted that the phrase “times of punishment” is used in Luke as in Hosea. No doubt it was a well worn catchphrase at the time. But my point is again illustrated. In Hosea, God is repeatedly and explicitly identified and named as the direct agent of “the days of punishment” (9:9, 14, 15-16, 17), which is looking ahead ultimately to the Assyrian invasion of Israel in 722 BC. In Luke, He has no direct identification.

Something is happening in Luke, which is the same as in Matthew 23-24 and Mark 13. The agent of disaster, and in this case the agent of the single mention of “punishment” (or “vengeance”), is not named or explicitly identified. The passage(s) have to be read both as what Jesus said, and also how their authors edited them. From this perspective, I don’t take an echo of Hosea 9:7 (or any other associated echoes in Luke 21) at face value. Neither should you, or you will be forced into the position of approving in your own life, not in academic exegetical semantics, of the appalling suffering of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews as the direct punishment of an angry, vindictive God. Think about it.

Perhaps the scriptures themselves are an encouragement to think about and question the associations of the NT with the OT. Perhaps the internal critiquing processes which the scriptures themselves model encourage this sort of questioning, especially in the light of Jesus. Maybe we are not supposed to find parallels between the OT and NT and accept them as one monolithic structural statement of faith.

Joel Green says something rather extraordinary of Luke 22 -

First, the scene Jesus paints is reminiscent of his earlier words in 19:43–44, where it was self-evident that divine judgment would come upon the city on account of its failure to recognize and accept the salvific visitation of God

But what is self evident about God’s judgment in “being dashed to the ground along with your children”? Again, there is no mention of God in the passage. Like so many, including yourself, Green assumes God to be the punishing agent when He is not even mentioned. Green then says, in the extract you have quoted, judgment has come on the city for its failure to recognise God’s visitation, (which must mean failure to respond to the ministry and message of Jesus). But this is not the exercise of God’s justice, which is what judgment means, in which starvation, cannibalism and mass crucifixion were all part of the supposed judicial price to be paid for this “failure”, according to Green (and you, and others). Or if it is, it is a God whom we should all immediately and clearly renounce, no matter how much we may protest that we are simply engaged in academic exegesis of ancient texts.

Luke 19:44 does not say that the atrocities and suffering of Jews in the siege of Jerusalem and following were the judgment and justice of God nor is it even implied. The passage simply cites the cause of the siege and the suffering as “you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you”. Which means they rejected Jesus as their messiah, and did not follow the pathway he gave them which would have led to peace. If you call this justice, you live in a different moral universe from me. 

This of course takes us into the world of the OT, and its presentation of divine judgment in Israel’s history, especially the history of Jerusalem. Let there be a “a virtual collage of scriptural texts” giving an “interpretive relationship with the fall of the city at the time of the Exile”. If you take all this at face value, agreeing with frequently expressed OT sentiments that God imposed and certainly approved of the most atrocious acts of physical cruelty and suffering as His judgment, and that Jesus was simply being presented as echoing the same sentiments, I argue that this is not true of Jesus, it is not true of the texts for the reasons I have given, and we should strenuously resist any attempt to say that Jesus believed in and approved of a God who would do such things, or even that he would do them himself.

As for Nolland, listen to what he says again, carefully:

The vengeance to be exacted will be the culmination and completion of all God’s acts and threats of judgment recorded in Scripture. It will be the final squaring of the accounts of justice for the whole course of history.

I think anyone who says anything like this is in dire need of an improved way of reading and understanding the scriptures. If not, I suggest Nolland and they consign the scriptures they supposedly believe in and study to the rubbish bin and seek out a better faith and better things to do with their time. Fortunately, with a bit more moral and intellectual effort, they do not need to.

@peter wilkinson:

Neither should you, or you will be forced into the position of approving in your own life, not in academic exegetical semantics, of the appalling suffering of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews as the direct punishment of an angry, vindictive God.

I make no distinction between exegesis and my own life. In any case, pretty much the whole of Old Testament prophecy is predicated on the fact that YHWH was prepared to use, and did use, violent nations (the Assyrians, the Babylonians) to punish his people when they sinned. But his actions are never said to be vindictive—that is you distorting things again. You are beginning to sound like a Marcionite.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). This looks like an allusion to Malachi 4:1:

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

What does John mean by the saying? It looks to me as though he means that Jesus will divide Israel between the righteous and the unrighteous and intentionally consign the unrighteous to the judgment that will come upon the nation.

There is no suggestion in the Gospels that the coming destruction would be just an accident of history. It features so prominently because it was understood (also by Jews at the time—see the apocalyptic literature) as the tragic but inevitable consequence of Israel’s failure to keep the covenant with God. And only YHWH can enforce the terms of the covenant.

I understand your concerns, but I don’t think it helps to judge the ancient world by modern standards. It’s history, and we have to accept it as such.

@Andrew Perriman:

The destruction of Jerusalem was by no means an accident of history. You haven’t actually noted by main observations, so we’re not connecting. I am by no means imposing modern concepts on ancient texts.

@peter wilkinson:

Perhaps I am missing your point, but I have given numerous examples of texts that make it clear that God was regarded as the author of the coming destruction. Why does John say that Jesus will burn the chaff of unrighteous Israel? How would Jews have heard the parable of the vineyard of Israel in which the master of the vineyard destroys the wicked tenants? In the context of the larger apocalyptic narrative about the destruction of the city, I find it impossible to escape the conclusion that Jesus taught that the destructon of Jerusalem would be an act of divine punishment in accordance with the terms of covenant.

@Andrew Perriman:

That’s fine. These are grave warnings, but you have just given one example which is extended metaphor, another is a parable. Neither can be taken literally, and each needs interpretation. I’ve done this to some extent before, and will do so again if you really want me to.

@peter wilkinson:

OK, so tell me why Jesus’ Jewish hearers would have drawn radically different conclusions from his parable of the vineyard, in which the tenants are destroyed by the owner, than they would have done from Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard of Israel, in which the whole vineyard is destroyed (Is. 5:1-7).

Isaiah tells the parable in the context of predictions concerning the historical destruction of Jerusalem, and the reader connects the two. Jesus tells the parable and also predicts the destruction of Jerusalem by an invading nation.

Why is it illegitimate in Jesus’ case to make the connection between a parable in which the owner of the vineyard of Israel destroys the wicked tenants and the unambiguous prediction that Jerusalem would be destroyed with great loss of life? Why is Isaiah’s parable the story of the violent punishment of Israel by YHWH and Jesus’ very similar parable not?

You’re up against some serious scholarship here:

The retold story functioned as a further explanation of what he had done in the Temple, and, by its echoes of Isaiah, offered a justification for that action, suggesting that the Temple, in Isaiah’s day and Jesus’, invited prophetic denunciation and, ultimately, divine demolition. The master, who had sent servants and son alike and seen them all rejected, would come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. This refers most naturally to the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem; Jesus’ temple action was a symbol of the judgment to come. (N.T. Wright, NTPG, 498)

@Andrew Perriman:

Maybe I’m not getting the point, but I’m not saying there is no connection at all between the vineyard in Isaiah and in the parable. I don’t think it is always legitimate to make a direct connection between what an OT prophet says, and what happened in history. That’s to say, Isaiah accurately foretold the destruction of Jerusalem but as with any prophecy, he used the vocabulary and thought forms available to him in his own time and culture, seen through the prism of his covenantal understanding and his own personality. Jeremiah brings a viewpoint expressed through his personality, which is much harsher in what he ascribes to God as the outworking of judgment than Isaiah. Quite how accurate either of them were in describing the dynamic process of the fulfilment of the prophecy (not the event) is another matter.

We do see something of a questioning in the OT about what is directly ascribed to YHWH and what is ascribed to other agents, or not even to YHWH at all. The appearance of “the destroyer” in Exodus 12:23 where elsewhere YHWH himself is said to strike the first born of Egypt is another example to add to the variant census accounts.

The parable of the tenants is not even prophecy in the direct sense of the prophet speaking out a “thus says the Lord” as if God was speaking directly through him. It is not an oracle, to which Isaiah’s prophecy approximates. It is a story which requires interpretation. There is no question as to its general meaning, which is reinforced by the association of Israel with a vineyard in Isaiah and Jeremiah, for instance. The various parts of the parable are easy to read, and the connections obvious enough to the Pharisees who wanted to kill Jesus, motivated in part by envy (his popularity which they saw as rivalry to their leadership/vineyard ownership). They come “to a wretched end”, but unlike Isaiah’s vineyard which is destroyed, this vineyard is rented to others, to give the landowner “his share of the crop at harvest time”.

So while the meaning of the parable is clear, Jesus chooses not to end it with destruction. This is a significant variation from Isaiah, if Isaiah was in the back of his mind.

The only violence in Jesus’s parable is in v.44, but it is not God’s violence. It warns those who fall on the stone, an allusion to Jesus the chief cornerstone, that they will be broken. In other words, get Jesus wrong, or do wrong to Jesus, and you are in trouble. Not because he will be violent, but historically the alternative was violence at the hands of Rome. Maybe the ruin of the temple is there too: those on whom it falls will be crushed. Either way, this is a long way from the direct infliction of violent destruction by an angry deity.

To be honest, I find Tom Wright quite confusing. At first he seems to be talking about the temple. Then he’s talking about Jerusalem. The vineyard is neither of these, but Israel. If he has the parable in mind, he says it refers most naturally to the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem, which it only does indirectly as there is no destruction in the parable. Then he skips to Jesus’s temple action “as a symbol of the judgment to come”. All interesting thoughts, but not directly connected with anything in the parable.

@Andrew Perriman:

But his actions are never said to be vindictive—that is you distorting things again. You are beginning to sound like a Marcionite

Could we avoid this kind of comment? I am not a Marcionite, nor am I distorting things “again”.

The fact is that references to God’s violence and anger are a huge part of the Old Testament, and this has been a problem for the church since the church fathers, though not for evangelical theologians or the commentators you have cited. The full implications of their views need spelling out, and it cannot simply an academic issue, or one where questions are suppressed by dogma. So there does need to be a fresh way of reading those parts of the OT in which egregious violence is directly attributed to or sanctioned by YHWH, and in fact the OT itself starts to do this, eg in the contrasting accounts of the census in 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. One could also look at different attitudes to Israel’s traditional enemies in Ruth and Jonah, and the OT incidents cited by Jesus in Luke 4:24-27 in their OT contexts.

Historically, if you say that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgment on Israel (which the NT does not outright say anywhere, apart from the Luke 21:22 passage, and even that is now debatable), then you are forced into the position of saying that the things this entailed which I have described were also part of that judgment, and reflected God’s justice. If this is justice, then it is justice of a particularly vindictive kind.

Jesus taught and modelled non-violent resistance. He did not model violent physical anger against people, not even in John 2, which cannot be enlisted to support the claim that Jesus reflected or exercised “the wrath of God”

Jesus proved that non-violent resistance is powerful. In his own case, his final act of non-violent resistance had the greatest impact on world history bar none.

@peter wilkinson:

I think the “like a Marcionite” is highly pertinent. You have made it clear that there are two issues here: 1) how the historical texts are to be interpreted, and 2) how the church has subsequently dealt with them. Marcion was as uncomfortable as you are about the behaviour of the God of the Old Testament.

And you’ve not answered my question about the parable.

As I said before, there is no contradiction between Jesus predicting the violent judgment of God against his people and Jesus calling his followers to non-violence. It’s all there in Habakkuk, pretty much.

@peter wilkinson:

“The fact is that references to God’s violence and anger are a huge part of the Old Testament, and this has been a problem for the church since the church fathers”

I’m not sure this is the case. Are there early church fathers that struggle with the idea that God used violence? I’ve read quite a few things from church fathers where they are quite content to describe the destruction of Jerusalem as coming from God and/or Jesus.

@Philip Ledgerwood:

Origen developed the allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament in part as a way of interpreting God’s violence as a battle against sin rather than people; other church fathers who said, “There is no violence in God” were Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses iv.59; Ad Diognetum vii.5) and Hippolytus (Refutatio x.29). Then there’s Marcion of course, of whom, apparently, I am a follower.

Origen responds to Marcion: “Unless those physical wars bore the figure of spiritual wars, I do not think the books of Jewish history would ever have been handed down by the apostles . . who came to preach peace.” He says many “simple” but faithful Christians have a view of God that “would not be entertained regarding the most unjust and cruel of men” (De Principiis 4:8, ANF 4). Their monstrous view of God is because “Holy Scripture is not understood by them according to its spiritual but according to its literal meaning” (Ibid 4:9).

Novatian protected the moral character of God by arguing that God’s revelation had to be “fitted to [the Israelites’] state of belief (De Trintate, 6); the Israelites viewed God “not as God was, but as people were able to understand … God is not mediocre, but the people’s understanding is mediocre; God is not limited, but the intellectual capacity of the people’s mind is limited” (De Trintate 6, cited in Boyd, How the Crucifixion of Jesus makes Sense . . ).

Gregory of Nazianzus speaks of God making incremental changes in His self revelation, allowing for aspects of people’s fallen culture to be mixed in with this, otherwise they would not have been capable of receiving it. God is like a wise physician, who blends his medicine otherwise his patient would not have been able to stomach it (“Fifth Oration: On the Holy Spirit, cited by Boyd, How the Crucufixion etc). Gregory is not here speaking directly of God’s violence, but the same principle applies.

I think there is quite a lot of material in the church fathers which addresses the violence of God in the OT and finds it unacceptable in the light of Jesus. Which is also why, when we look closely at the “wrath and violence” passages in the NT cited by Andrew, we find that the violence attributed directly to God simply isn’t there. You have to read wrath and violence into the passages rather than find them in the passages themselves. I’ve illustrated this most recently in the parable of the tenants (which supposedly is about the violent destruction of Jerusalem, but actually fails to mention violence at all). I’ve illustrated it extensively in Matthew 23/24, Mark 13, Luke 19/21, John 2 and so on. The responses have been largely bluster or sophistry.

@peter wilkinson:

Just adding something to my comment below in response to Phil, from Chrysostom, who was rather inconsistent on the subject of God’s violence, or his sanctioning of the use of it, but to quote from Hennie Stander’s Violence in Chrysostom’s Commentary on the Psalms:

Chrysostom too could not associate violence with God. However, he admits that God is frequently depicted in the Scriptures as a Warrior-God. Psalm 7, for example, says that “God will wield his sword”, and that “He has strung his bow, and prepared it” and that “He has prepared instruments of death”. But Chrysostom’s response is that we should not interpret these depictions literally. He says that there are no bows, no arrows, no whetstone, sword or quiver in heaven. God does not need these weapons since he can even melt the rocks by simply looking at the earth (cf. Ps 104.32). Chrysostom believes that the psalmist is using familiar names and images because of the “crassness and the materialism of the listeners”.

This gives a general idea of the trajectory of his thinking about the state of mind of Israelites in OT times, and their ability to perceive God as He more truly is, which is similar to Gregory of Nazianzus.

@peter wilkinson:

You might have something with Origen. He radically applies the allegorical hermeneutic even to the harsher penalties of the OT law, not wanting to find the death penalty there for children, etc.

However, Origen also wrote:

“But, according to Celsus, “the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews hating chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath.” And any one who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place.”

That’s part of a larger passage in Book 4 Chapter XXII of Against Celsus. Although I will grant you that, in many passages where Origen talks about God’s role in the destruction of Jerusalem, he talks about God’s divine wrath resulting in His abandonment of them, which I believe is a view you’ve also presented. Origen even argues against Celsus that Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was motivated by avoiding the destruction of Jerusalem.

If you look up the primary source of the Irenaeus quote, however, he is talking about how the condemnation of people is a result of their voluntary disobedience. For God’s part, He keeps warning them, but they continue to rebel. Irenaeus’ point is that God’s judgement is not because God’s character is violent, but because people bring it on themselves. He doesn’t mean God never uses violence, though. For instance:

“But why do we speak of Jerusalem, since, indeed, the fashion of the whole world must also pass away, when the time of its disappearance has come, in order that the fruit indeed may be gathered into the garner, but the chaff, left behind, may be consumed by fire? “For the day of the Lord cometh as a burning furnace, and all sinners shall be stubble, they who do evil things, and the day shall burn them up.” Now, who this Lord is that brings such a day about, John the Baptist points out, when he says of Christ, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, having His fan in His hand to cleanse His floor; and He will gather His fruit into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire.” — Against Heresies, Book IV Chapter 4

And Hippolytus:

“”And whereas thou didst pour out His blood in indignation, hear what thy recompense shall be: “Pour out Thine indignation upon them, and let Thy wrathful anger take hold of them;” and, “Let their habitation be desolate,” to wit, their celebrated temple.

But why, O prophet, tell us, and for what reason, was the temple made desolate? Was it on account of that ancient fabrication of the calf? Was it on account of the idolatry of the people? Was it for the blood of the prophets? Was it for the adultery and fornication of Israel? By no means, he says; for in all these transgressions they always found pardon open to them, and benignity; but it was because they killed the Son of their Benefactor, for He is coeternal with the Father. Whence He saith, “Father, let their temple be made desolate; for they have persecuted Him whom Thou didst of Thine own will smite for the salvation of the world;” that is, they have persecuted me with a violent and unjust death, “and they have added to the pain of my wounds.” In former time, as the Lover of man, I had pain on account of the straying of the Gentiles; but to this pain they have added another, by going also themselves astray. Wherefore “add iniquity to their iniquity, and tribulation to tribulation, and let them not enter into Thy righteousness,” that is, into Thy kingdom; but “let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous,” that is, with their holy fathers and patriarchs.” That’s items 6 and 7 in the disturbingly named “Expository Treatise Against the Jews.”

And those voices are very typical. I can appreciate the points raised about God’s revelation being conformed to the people who could receive them, but that doesn’t argue against the issue of violence. For instance, your quote from Novatian is from a passage where he is talking about the issue of anthropomorphism because God cannot be limited by human form, and he gives -several- examples from Scripture, but not one is of violence. He does, however, argue that God’s wrath does not come from hatred, but rather for a desire for our good motivated from fear:

“For that God is angry, arises from no vice in Him. But He is so for our advantage; for He is merciful even then when He threatens, because by these threats men are recalled to rectitude. For fear is necessary for those who want the motive to a virtuous life, that they who have forsaken reason may at least be moved by terror. And thus all those, either angers of God or hatreds, or whatever they are of this kind, being displayed for our medicine — as the case teaches — have arisen of wisdom, not from vice, nor do they originate from frailty; wherefore also they cannot avail for the corruption of God.” That’s from Chapter 5 of the text you quoted from.

Anyway, not really trying to get into a proof text war. Just trying to point out that I think it’s only a very selective overview of the source material that could yield the idea that God not using violence was widespread in the early church or even a significant debate. Origen is perhaps the fluke here.

I could be wrong about that, but we both know how easy it is to marshal bits and pieces of early church fathers to lend support to a later theological development. And of course, just because the church fathers don’t support something doesn’t mean that something isn’t correct.

@Philip Ledgerwood:

Hey, you beat me to it! Sorry to repeat. Plus you’ve put rather more thought into it!

@Andrew Perriman:

I don’t know about the “more thought” bit, but thanks!

I think the data favors most of the early church thinking the destruction of Jerusalem was an act of God / Jesus. Portions of that may be driven by anti-Jewish sentiment.

But as Peter pointed out, Origen does seem to take pains to portray this as an act of wrath in the sense of God standing aside while historical forces took their toll on Jerusalem, so he may be a notable oppositional voice, at least with regard to how “causal” God was in the event. I want to be honest about that, but I think Origen’s certainly in the very slim minority.

@Philip Ledgerwood:

Standing aside hardly absolves God of responsibility. That looks to me like another way of saying the same thing; it just gives more weight to Rome as a historical agent.

@Andrew Perriman:

I agree. There has to be some intentionality in order for “wrath” to make sense as a descriptor.

@peter wilkinson:

That’s a very one-sided and misleading view of the fathers. You should at least consider passages that refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Boyd is an excellent fellow, but he has an axe to grind. I don’t think there’s any doubt the church fathers regarded the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s punishment of the Jews for killing Jesus.

Sometimes you just have to prooftext.

Barnabas clearly attributed the destruction to God:

This is happening now. For because they went to war, it was torn down by their enemies, and now the very servants of their enemies will rebuild it. Again, it was revealed that the city and the temple and the people of Israel were destined to be handed over. For the scripture says: “And it will happen in the last days that the Lord will hand over the sheep of the pasture and the sheepfold and their watchtower to destruction.” And it happened just as the Lord said. (Barn. 16:4–5; cf. 1 En. 89:56-58))

This interpolation in Sibylline Oracles 1 is also unambiguous:

But when the temple of Solomon in the holy land will fall, cast down by barbarous men in brazen mail, And from the land the Hebrews will be driven wandering and wasted, and among the wheat they will much darnel mingle, there will be evil contention among, all mankind; And the cities suffering outrage will bewail each other, receiving wrath of the great God in their breasts, since they committed an evil work. (Sib. 1:393–400)

Significantly, Tertullian wrote against Marcion:

After his time their madness still continued, and the name of the Lord was blasphemed by them, as saith the Scripture: “Because of you my name is continually blasphemed amongst the nations” (for from them did the blasphemy originate); neither in the interval from Tiberius to Vespasian did they learn repentance. Therefore “has their land become desolate, their cities are burnt with fire, their country strangers are devouring before their own eyes; the daughter of Sion has been deserted like a cottage in a vineyard, or a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,” ever since the time when “Israel acknowledged not the Lord, and the people understood Him not, but forsook Him, and provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger.” So likewise that conditional threat of the sword, “If ye refuse and hear me not, the sword shall devour you,” has proved that it was Christ, for rebellion against whom they have perished.

Irenaus compares Jerusalem following its destruction to the vine branches which are lopped off (by God) because they produce no fruit:

But as these [vine twigs] have not been originally made for their own sake, but for that of the fruit growing upon them, which being come to maturity and taken away, they are left behind, and those which do not conduce to fructification are lopped off altogether; so also Jerusalem, which had in herself borne the yoke of bondage (under which man was reduced, who in former times was not subject to God when death was reigning, and being subdued, became a fit subject for liberty), when the fruit of liberty had come, and reached maturity, and been reaped and stored in the barn, and when those which had the power to produce fruit had been carried away from her, and scattered throughout all the world. (Against Heresies 4.4)

Origen says that God was avenged for the crucifixion of Jesus when “Jerusalem was compassed with armies, and its desolation was near, and their house was taken away from it” (Comm. on Matthew 2.19).

Or this:

But when he goes on to say that “those who inflicted death upon Jesus suffered nothing afterwards through so long a time,” we must inform him, as well as all who are disposed to learn the truth, that the city in which the Jewish people called for the crucifixion of Jesus with shouts of “Crucify him, crucify him,” preferring to have the robber set free, who had been cast into prison for sedition and murder and Jesus, who had been delivered through envy, to be crucified, — that this city not long afterwards was attacked, and, after a long siege, was utterly overthrown and laid waste; for God judged the inhabitants of that place unworthy of living together the life of citizens. (Against Celsus 8.42)

Justin saw the destruction of Jerusalem as a fulfilment of Isaiah 64:10-12: ‘That the land of the Jews, then, was to be laid waste, hear what was said by the Spirit of prophecy. And the words were spoken as if from the person of the people wondering at what had happened. They are these: “Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. The house of our sanctuary has become a curse, and the glory which our fathers blessed is burned up with fire, and all its glorious things are laid waste: and Thou refrainest Thyself at these things, and hast held Thy peace, and hast humbled us very sore.”’

Hippolytus of Rome:

But why, O prophet, tell us, and for what reason, was the temple made desolate? Was it on account of that ancient fabrication of the calf? Was it on account of the idolatry of the people? Was it for the blood of the prophets? Was it for the adultery and fornication of Israel? By no means, he says; for in all these transgressions they always found pardon open to them, and benignity; but it was because they killed the Son of their Benefactor, for He is coeternal with the Father. (Against the Jews 6.7)

Lactantius says regarding the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian that “these things were done by God on account of that crucifixion of Christ” (Divine Institutes 46).

And this:

But He also opened to them all things which were about to happen, which Peter and Paul preached at Rome; and this preaching being written for the sake of remembrance, became permanent, in which they both declared other wonderful things, and also said that it was about to come to pass, that after a short time God would send against them a king who would subdue the Jews, and level their cities to the ground, and besiege the people themselves, worn out with hunger and thirst. Then it should come to pass that they should feed on the bodies of their own children, and consume one another. Lastly, that they should be taken captive, and come into the hands of their enemies, and should see their wives most cruelly harassed before their eyes, their virgins ravished and polluted, their sons torn in pieces, their little ones dashed to the ground; and lastly, everything laid waste with fire and sword, the captives banished for ever from their own lands, because they had exulted over the well-beloved and most approved Son of God. And so, after their decease, when Nero had put them to death, Vespasian destroyed the name and nation of the Jews, and did all things which they had foretold as about to come to pass. (Divine Institutes 4)

@Andrew Perriman:

Barnabas, 1 Enoch and the Sybilline Oracles might not be taken as the views of the church fathers. And as with Chrysostom, the views of the fathers on God’s violence and anger are not always consistent, as you have demonstrated. I hope you were reading carefully what they said, which you quote with such relish. My extracts and citations, including Marcion, show that the fathers had a genuine difficulty with God’s violence in the OT, however imperfectly worked through, and however unquestioned their unreconstructed anti Semitism (which shows through their views on the destruction of Jerusalem).

As for Boyd, well! His views apart, I was simply citing the father’s as referred to by him, not Boyd himself.

@peter wilkinson:

I think the relish is all in your mind.

The fathers may have had problems with violence in the Old Testament (though my impression is that they overlaid it with analogical meanings rather than dismissed it), but they seem to have had no problem ascribing the destruction of Jerusalem to God as punishment for the crucifixion. You would have to show how the fathers debated or dithered over the morality of what appears to have been a quite unequivocal conclusion.

@Andrew Perriman:

No I don’t. I am showing by my quotations and citations that they had a problem with OT violence. They were also people of their time, and we can see, clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, their anti Semitic prejudices which tinged their views on the destruction of Jerusalem, and more broadly, the limitations of their concerns with OT violence. And now I want to watch the last episode of The Woman in White in peace please.

@peter wilkinson:

…the inference you draw of a deity stoking up the fires, wielding a literal sword and wreaking slaughter and destruction because he requires appeasement with blood for blood is a grotesque distortion.

Now who’s caricaturing! No one said anything about “appeasement with blood”. The word is ekzēteō. In judicial contexts it means “to look for in expectation of fixing blame, look for, seek… charge” (BDAG). See also LXX: Gen. 9:5; 42:22; 2 Km. 4:11; Ezek. 3:18. It’s about justice, not appeasement. It’s about accountability.

Anyway, I’m satisfied with the argument. Others can make their own minds up.

@Andrew Perriman:

My reply to this, though hardly necessary, has dropped out. I was responding to your statement about a God “who requires the blood of the prophets from this generation” rather than Greek word studies. Your statement suggests to me exactly the kind of deity who needs appeasing with blood. The Pharisees were not, actually, responsible for the death of Abel, or the prophets of the past. That’s called rhetorical hyperbole, to underscore the actual sins of the Pharisees.

“Anyway, I’m satisfied with the argument. Others can make their own minds up.”. Then I say you are too easily satisfied. My comment below sets out in more detail why I think you need to look again.

@peter wilkinson:

Your statement suggests to me exactly the kind of deity who needs appeasing with blood. The Pharisees were not, actually, responsible for the death of Abel, or the prophets of the past. That’s called rhetorical hyperbole, to underscore the actual sins of the Pharisees.

You can misread my statement as you will. But you also have to read what Luke actually wrote.

Look at the argument of Luke 11:45-52 and tell me how it does not mean that God will charge the current generation of Jewish lawyers, etc., with the sins of previous generations.

The lawyers are denounced because they build tombs for the prophets whom their fathers killed. In this way they are implicated in the sins of their fathers. “So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.”

Therefore, the “Wisdom of God” says, referring to the present time, that he will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute, “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation”. Perhaps this is rhetorical, but it is meant to explain why the current generation would suffer such extreme devastation—they are being punished for the historical sins of the nation.

In other words, Jesus attributes to God the intention to hold the current generation accountable for the sins of their fathers.

In Matthew at this point Jesus goes on to talk about “all these things” coming on this generation, the desolation of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple, and the disciples ask him when “these things” will take place (Matt. 23:36-24:3). That is how the sins of the fathers will be charged to this generation.

@Andrew Perriman:

This is quite helpful as the Luke account spells out in more detail than Matthew that the blood of the prophets ( not sure about Abel) will be “charged against” this generation, as their monuments show hypocritical collusion in the murders. It doesn’t make total sense, but improves on Matthew. No misreading of your previous “blood” post occurred, by the way.

To add to your list, Luke will depict the deaths of Ananaias, Sapphira, and Herod at the hands of God in Acts. Paul will even affirm God’s destruction of the nations of Canaan (Acts 13:19). So I don’t think we can conclude that Luke rejected divine violence on account of Jesus.

But what this article shows best I think is just how sophisticated and careful Luke was as a reader of scripture. He could still speak of judgement against the nations (Acts 17:31) but only in its right place according to the twofold pattern — first the Jew, then the Greek.

Peter, after reading through the comment exchange, I have to agree with Andrew, Your argument does come across as weak and unconvincing. It sounds as though you just don’t want to believe that Jesus believed in divine retribution because you find the concept distasteful.

I do think most first-century Jews would have associated the outcome of the Jewish-Roman wars with God’s displeasure. We can argue about whether they would have thought God was wielding the sword or just refusing to protect them against those wielding the sword, but I don’t think they saw much difference here.

What I don’t subscribe to is the teaching we get from Preterists and Partial Preterists that the events of 70AD should be construed as the “return of Christ” or the “day of the Lord.”

peter wilkinson | Tue, 05/08/2018 - 08:01 | Permalink

I think the time has come to draw together some threads in this long (32 comments) list of comments. The underlying issue which has emerged has been the violence of God, a major feature of how God is perceived in the Old Testament. Does this perception of violence carry over without qualification into the New? The violence of God also hovered uneasily over the previous three posts (The Violence of Jesus in the Temple, Death is Swallowed Up in Victory and The Righteous Shall Live by Faith). As issues here were left incompletely addressed, I’ll make comment now before returning to the current thread.

In the “The Righteous Shall Live by Faith” thread, I pointed out that Jesus and Paul exegeted the OT in a distinctly 2nd Temple way, taking verses out of context and giving them meaning which they did not have in their original context. Respect for context does not play the part for 2nd Temple exegetes that it does in modern historical grammatical exegesis. I was therefore questioning Andrew’s importing the wider context of Habakkuk 2:4 in particular to support his view that the NT assumes a continuing historical pattern of God’s violent judgment as direct punishment. I am similarly unconvinced by Andrew’s defence of his approach in the “Death is Swallowed Up” thread in exegeting 1 Corinthians 15, in relation to Paul’s reference to Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. In this case, neither the immediate context of 1 Cor 15 nor an association of Isaiah 25:8 with a broader Babylonian context seems to me at all convincing in Paul’s meaning. Paul also, to my mind, turns the covenantal context of the Hosea passage on its head when the verse is correctly understood in its original context.

As something of an aside, we looked at how Jesus exegeted Exodus 3:6 in Matthew 22:30-32. I cited this as an example of 2nd Temple creative interpretation. Andrew countered this by saying it reflected the interpretation of Exodus 3:6 in 4 Maccabees. I pointed out that this must reflect similar 2nd Temple creativity in the Maccabees passage, since the creative meaning could not possibly have been understood from the passage in its original context. Context, in other word, is not considered to be a guiding factor in 2nd Temple exegesis.

Turning finally in this introductory resumé to John 2:15. Andrew says that the “phragellion roughly transliterates the Latin flagellum—a vicious instrument made of thongs, with metal tips to heighten the pain inflicted, to be distinguished from a mere scutica or “lash”. That may generally be so, but it ignores the second word “cords”, or schoinion, and the context. Most commentators take the phrase “whip of small cords” to mean a whip made of rushes twisted together. I can’t find a single commentator who thinks Jesus went to the trouble of making a flagellum as described by Andrew. And although there is some question as to whether the Greek of the text includes the traders being driven out by the whip, most commentators firmly reject this interpretation of the passage. This is significant because it plays into the violence theme, which Andrew endorses.

This summary will no doubt generate further disagreement, and I’m not wishing to suggest that there will be a meeting of minds. I’m simply wanting to summarise from the various threads my own position, which I think has weight. As this digression has become somewhat lengthy, I’ll send it as a comment in its own right, and summarise my views on the “Day of Vengeance” thread separately.

@peter wilkinson:

That may generally be so, but it ignores the second word “cords”, or schoinion, and the context. Most commentators take the phrase “whip of small cords” to mean a whip made of rushes twisted together. I can’t find a single commentator who thinks Jesus went to the trouble of making a flagellum as described by Andrew.

I said “Jesus makes a phragellion out of cords as a stage-prop”, and “he deliberately made a symbolic Roman whip and acted out a scourging of the corrupt temple hierarchy”. Obviously he did not make a literal flagellum; it was a visual aid, a prophetic symbol, made out of materials to hand, for acting out the coming Roman attack on the city. Please read carefully before criticising.

And although there is some question as to whether the Greek of the text includes the traders being driven out by the whip, most commentators firmly reject this interpretation of the passage. This is significant because it plays into the violence theme, which Andrew endorses.

Most commentators? You have evidence for that? Here are five out of five critical commentaries that disagree with you.

he makes a whip out of cords and clears the temple of the business which is being conducted there. (Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John)

drove the whole pack of them out. Seemingly Jesus used the whip on the merchants. (Raymond, E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII)

Jesus made a whip of “cords” (more probably “rushes”) and proceeded to drive the traders from the Temple with their goods. (Leon Morris, The Gospel of John)

“Them all” (pantas) is masculine, suggesting that he used the whip (or threatened to do so) on merchants and animals alike. (J. Ramsey Michaels, John)

The ejection from the temple of traders, with their beasts and birds for sacrifice and the scattering of their money, is an act of wrath which the traders were powerless to resist. (George R. Beasley-Murray, John)

Perhaps Whitacre agrees with you, but he doesn’t mention the scourge at all: “The confrontation in the temple… culminates in Jesus’ words: Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house in to a market!” (Rodney Whitacre, John). There may be others, but I’d be surprised if they amounted to “most”.

And as I pointed out before, in the Synoptics there’s no question that Jesus drove out the people and not just the animals: “And he entered the temple and began to drive out (ekballein: same word that John uses) those who sold and those who bought in the temple” (Mark 11:15).

@Andrew Perriman:

Yes I misread your comment. According to you, Jesus drove out the traders and cattle with a stage prop. If that was so, it would more likely be a prophetic sign of the Roman destruction of the temple rather than of John’s “political-religious realignment of the nations around the reformed temple (of his body)”.

As regards Jesus being angry, and reflecting the violent anger of God, perhaps he was, and God also, at the abuse of the temple. It’s a jump from there to saying the act was a prophetic sign of anger to come — even if the whip was made to resemble a flagellum.

That Jesus did not use violence on the traders, or even acted-out violence, is the view of many commentators here. I won’t repeat “most”, as I haven’t read every single commentator who has ever said anything about John 2:15. One has to be so careful these days.

peter wilkinson | Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:24 | Permalink

Finally, my summary of how I see things at the end of the “Day of Vengeance” mega-thread (to which Peter’s contribution was that my argument was weak and unconvincing and not wanting to believe that Jesus believed in divine retribution because I find the concept distasteful. “Distasteful” would be a very mild term for my reaction to such a concept, but I have yet to find any adequate refutation of my assertion that nowhere in the NT, in the gospels in particular, is it said that God (or Jesus) was directly inflicting the suffering of Jerusalem in the Roman Jewish war as punishment. (Pause).

An initial flurry of exchanges took place over the omission of the “day of vengeance” in Jesus’s synagogue reading in Luke 4 (another bit of 2nd Temple creative “interpretation, to my mind), leading to some impressive extracts from commentaries by Fitzmeyer, Green and Nolland.

I thought that this raised other issues, such as the absence of any direct agent referent in the Lucan prophecies (19 & 21), contrasted with the frequent reference to YHWH as the direct agent referent in Hosea. For Green, the dashing of adults and children down to the ground is a “self evident” sign of God’s judgment and punishment, and that failure of Jerusalem to recognise the day of her visitation automatically entailed this judgment as a consequence, when the judicial penal consequence is not mentioned at all in Luke 19. Nolland’s summary statement of the destruction of Jerusalem is extraordinary. Origen’s comment about the violence of God in the Old Testament would also have been extraordinarily relevant to the destruction of Jerusalem here, that many “simple” but faithful Christians have a view of God that “would not be entertained regarding the most unjust and cruel of men.”

This then led Andrew to assert that there is plenty of evidence for YHWH being “prepared to use, and did use, violent nations (the Assyrians, the Babylonians) to punish his people when they sinned”, to which his interpretation of John the Baptist’s warning in Luke 3:17 was adduced, and said to echo Malachi 4:1. Without going into detail, I would say initially that reference to the destruction of Jerusalem is assumed rather than stated, and the connection with Malachi 4:1 questionable as an interpretation of general political associations, Both passages use similar imagery, but that does not prove a parallel of any political meaning, since none is given in either passage.

The next example Andrew provided of a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem as “an act of divine punishment in accordance with the terms of covenant” is in Matthew’s parable of the vineyard. Andrew drew a direct parallel between this parable and Isaiah 5:1-7, with the added weight of an extract from NTPG by Tom Wright. I made some tentative observations about OT prophecy, historical events, and their perceived interpretation by OT prophets, since the whole discussion was broadening into the perception of God’s violent judgment in the OT as well as NT. My main focus was the parable of the vineyard, in which there is no reference at all to destruction of the vineyard, which in fact survives and is handed to others to look after. Clearly this is not a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem at all, and the variant ending from Isaiah is either a contrasting commentary on Isaiah’s view of God and his destroying judgment, or a suggestion that the connection with Isaiah is only in the most general of terms: both passages use the imagery of a vineyard to describe Israel. Isaiah has no story about the tenants of the vineyard and their fate. Tom Wright I just found plain confusing.

Andrew did subsequently say I had not addressed his issue about the parable of the tenants, but I thought I had directly addressed it, hence repeating my comments here.

We then jumped to the church fathers and their view of God’s violence, in the light of Andrew’s assertion (later repeated) that I am a “Marcionite”. I’ve provided quite a bit of evidence that the church fathers were uneasy about God’s violent anger in the OT, though none went as far as Marcion. I did not say that any of the church fathers denied that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 72 was judicial and penal, and rereading my comments, I think I was quite careful to limit what I was ascribing to the fathers. Nevertheless, this provided the opportunity for Phil and Andrew to produce impressive chapter and verse from the fathers, showing their (the fathers’) belief that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s punishment of Israel. The fathers went considerably beyond what can legitimately be claimed from the gospels and NT, so whether you assess their beliefs in the light of their evident prejudices remains a question.

Phil helpfully provided Origen’s qualification of his viewpoint, in effect as “stepping aside” to let Rome destroy Jerusalem. Andrew responded to this that God was still “responsible” for the event. I don’t think this is the case, as it supports my view that violent judgment on Israel in the OT and NT is little more than God letting his people go their own way, and realise the consequences of their own actions as cause and effect . Obviously, this is not how the covenantal language and beliefs describe what happened.

The back and forth now is about whether God anywhere in the NT exercised or threatened direct punishment on Israel/Jerusalem in his anger, of a kind comparable with the language of the OT. Andrew made reference to Luke 11:45-52. It’s a parallel to Matthew 23:29-36. The Lucan language is a slightly toned down version of Matthew, but not much, and variations in language and content between the two don’t really make much difference. However, once again, when we are looking for some direct association of the dire warnings with God as the avenging agent, both passages are strangely worded. Matthew is in the passive tense, so avoiding mention of God, and in Luke, it is not Jesus or God but “the wisdom of God” who is said by Jesus to speak, bringing the warnings. This is a very strange structure and wording. Also, both passages are more rhetorical rather than literal. In both passages, Jesus seems to be describing generational guilt and punishment. He would have known that Ezekiel rejected this idea of guilt and suffering for the sins of the fathers. Also even the Pharisees could hardly be accused of guilt for the murder of Abel. I think we have to take the passage in a non-literal, rhetorical sense. He is heightening the actual sins of the Pharisees by some highly charged rhetoric, which is not intended for rational analyis.

This is my summary of the discussion on this thread, as seen from my point of view. I was trying to find Andrew’s catena of NT verses which for him proved the use of judicial, penal violence as judgment by (an angry) God, but I couldn’t locate it, though a couple of the passages are addressed in this summary. It might be asked why I would want to go to such lengths to question and rebut Andrew’s views. Andrew is convinced, I am sure, that I’m just being awkward, “twisting” his statements and so on, and so it must be part of a personal vendetta I have against him. The only thing outstanding between us as far as I can remember is a pub meal he owes me for one we had at the Jolly Farmer by the River Wey in Guildford some time ago, but I’m not holding that against him. I am however committed to challenging a central idea that really governs almost everything that Andrew subsequently says, which is that the death of Jesus on the cross was for Jews (at that time) and not for Jews and Gentiles (in all times), and that this was a human sacrifice required by God to atone for the sins of Israel in their history. Within that summary is the kernel of almost all our disagreements, including on this thread. It’s surprising how extensively it underpins everything else, and indeed our entire hermeneutical presuppositions.

Spring blossom | Sun, 09/25/2022 - 00:16 | Permalink

Luke 4:17

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he stopped there without quoting “the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,” as in Isaiah 61:2.

Next, Jesus continued,

4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,

4:21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

His first coming.

Samuel Conner | Tue, 09/27/2022 - 17:12 | Permalink

Thank you, Andrew. I must have missed this one earlier in my then recent acquaintance with your ‘blog. (I think I first saw it P.OST in comments at the now-closed Internet Monk site). A recent comment pushed it to the top of my attention “stack”.

> On the evidence of the Gospels, Jesus was not interested in a future judgment of Israel’s enemies

As you point out in your citations, Jesus was very interested in the problem of future wrath against Israel, and he foresaw that conflict with Rome was likely to be the context of that.

Is it possible that Jesus’ neglect to verbalize the text’s promise of Divine vengeance against Israel’s enemies was intended, at least in part, to avoid stoking militant nationalist sentiments in his hearers? Jesus did not want to be involved in a revolt against Rome and he would not have wanted his hearers to regard him, or to hope that he might be, a leader of such a revolt. He would not have wanted his public ministry to be regarded to be fulfillment of the elided part of the prophecy.