Walter Kaiser has written a new book on the tough questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament.
The questions Kaiser addresses in this book are all excellent questions. The answers he provides, however, are not.
Below is a list of the questions Walter Kaiser raises in his book, with a brief summary of his answers and a short statement about why I think his answers are wrong. The primary problem with all of Kaiser’s answers, however, is that he poses false dichotomies. I will try to point some of these out.
1. The God of Mercy or the God of Wrath?
Kaiser’s answer is “both” We cannot go to one extreme or the other. Kaiser understands God’s wrath as an act of love against sin which hurts those He loves. He also says that wrath is always preceded by love, grace, and mercy (p. 25).
Kaiser’s big mistake is his flat-out rejection of the revelation about God in Jesus Christ. He does not agree with those who seek to understand the nature and character of God by looking primarily to Jesus. In the introduction to the book, he called this “Christo-exclusivism” (p. 11).
But again, if Jesus claims to reveal God to us (John 1:14, 18; 14:9-11; 2 Cor 4:4; Php 2:6; Col 1:15; Heb 1:2-3), then why would we ever reject the perfect revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the lens by which we understand the actions of God in the Old Testament? Kaiser’s rejection of the revelation of Jesus as an interpretive grid for the Old Testament almost caused me to stop reading the rest of his book.
2. The God of Peace or the God of Ethnic Cleansing
Kaiser’s answer is that God did command the Israelites to practice genocide against the Canaanites, but this is only because the Canaanites were so evil (p. 29-30). Really, God was doing the whole world a favor by wiping such evil people off the face of the earth.
This is such a tired old answer, I had trouble believing Kaiser was still using it. Any student of history or literature knows that all the arguments used to defend the genocidal slaughter of one’s enemies are the exact same arguments we find in the Bible about why the Israelites went to war with the Canaanites. And we cannot say that “It was okay for the Israelites … because it’s in the Bible.” That won’t fly for anybody except the most close-minded of Christians.
Oh, and Kaiser says that this is WAY different than Jihad, or Holy War, of the Muslims. Why? Because God commanded His wars, whereas Jihad is only commanded in the Qur’an (p. 44). All I can say to that is … What?
3. The God of Truth or the God of Deception
Kaiser looks at some passages in the Bible where it appears that God deceives others (e.g., 1 Kings 22). Kaiser gets around these passages by providing the definition of a “lie” as intentionally speaking an untruth to people who deserve to know the truth with the intent of hiding the truth from them (p. 52).
Based on this, Kaiser says that God’s deceptions in the Bible are not really “lies” because the people who are deceived didn’t deserve to know the truth, and God didn’t really intend to lie to them anyway.
Again … what? If you are a parent, would you allow this sort of an explanation from your child about why they lied to you? I sure hope not.
4. The God of Evolution or the God of Creation?
Since I am currently doing a Podcast on Genesis 1, I was eager to read what Kaiser wrote.
But his explanation was quite confusing. As far as I could tell, he thinks that Genesis 1 should be understood scientifically, but not too scientifically. It didn’t happen millions of billions of years ago, but at the same time, a “day” isn’t really a 24-hour day (p. 65) and the only real point of the creation account is to tell us that God made mankind in His image (p. 70).
I also got somewhat upset when he rejected out of hand the idea that Moses was writing a polemic against the religions of his day. He said that this sort of idea has been “thoroughly discredited” (p. 63). I find this funny, because most of the scholars I have read in my own research and study do not share Kaiser’s opinion.
Overall, I found this chapter highly confusing and unconvincing. After reading it twice, I still was not sure what Kaiser was saying.
5. The God of Grace or the God of Law?
Kaiser’s answer is “God is both!” He uses the “Threefold division of the law” argument to make his case (p. 80) that while Christians should still follow the moral law, while rejecting the others.
But Kaiser knows that this arbitrary divisions of the law is not found within the Bible itself, but is forced upon the text by some scholars who want to keep some portions of the law, but not others.
6. The God of Monogamy or the God of Polygamy?
Kaiser’s answer is that while there are numerous examples of polygamy being practiced in the Bible, the clear New Testament teaching is that polygamy was a sin (p. 102).
I find this approach highly interesting, since earlier, Kaiser said that scholars should not allow the New Testament to guide or direct their understanding of Old Testament texts. I happen to agree with Kaiser, but I find it interesting that he appeals to the New Testament when it suits him.
7. The God Who Rules Satan or the God Who Battles Satan?
Kaiser argues that God created Satan to be good, but Satan rebelled and so God expelled Satan from heaven (p. 116). God allows Satan to continue to exist, just as God allows all of us rebellious sinners to exist.
I really don’t disagree too much with what Kaiser writes in this chapter, though I would have nuanced everything quite differently.
8. The God Who is Omniscient or the God who Doesn’t Know the Future?
Kaiser’s opinion is that God obviously knows everything, and that all the verses in the Bible which seem to indicate otherwise are nothing but anthropomorphisms (speaking about God in human terms).
Kaiser’s problem here is that he has created a false dichotomy. From a philosophical perspective, there are numerous other options, including middle knowledge, and knowledge of counterfactuals, and even the omniscient knowledge of all possible future events without knowledge of which future event will actually occur. In that last case, is it omniscience or is it not? I say yes.
9. The God who Elevates Women or the God Who Devalues Women?
This may be the best chapter in the book. Kaiser believes that all ministries and gifts are for all people in the family of God, both men and women included (p. 154).
I agree with Kaiser on this, so there is no objection from me.
10. The God of Freedom with Food or the God of Forbidden Food?
Apparently, Kaiser believes we still cannot eat pork or shellfish. According to Kaiser, all the Old Testament food laws are still to be followed today. Why? Because the prescribed foods are healthier, and the forbidden foods are unhealthy (p. 169).
Again, as with much of the rest of the book, I was shocked to read Kaiser’s answers and the logic he used to arrive at those answers. He completely negated everything taught by Jesus, Peter, and Paul about all foods being clean, permitted, and allowed.
I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Though the chapter on how God values women was worthwhile reading, the damage done by every other chapter in the book to the Gospel, to the character of God, and to the witness of the church in this world makes this book not worth reading.
The saddest thing of all is in the introduction to the book, Kaiser recognizes that the vast majority of those in their 20s and 30s are “the non-attenders at church and the non-religious” (p. 10). Kaiser thinks this is a bad thing (I think it is good), but what Kaiser fails to understand is that it is exactly the kind of theology he presents in this book which has caused most of those people to leave the church and give up on God.
Until our understanding of Scripture and our explanation of theology (and how we live out both in the world) are brought into conformity to Jesus Christ, people of all ages will continue to reject (and rightfully so) the teachings and theology of the church.
I wouldn’t call the deceive stuff bad……………Jesus is cunning and Matt 10:16 tells us to be cunning as a snakes even…………not the afrikaans though.lol
I like the cunningness of Jesus. He pulls someone into a trap they put up for Him – not to deceive, but to let them realize themselves what they are asking or question their own theology. I frequently use this method with great success as that person without me telling them (so they not feeling offended) , but realizing on their own what they just said…………..
Gotta say, I haven’t read the book, but now I want to. Sounds like Kaiser nailed the ‘Mercy or Wrath of God’ false dichotomy. By answering ‘both,’ that in no way shape or form is a rejection of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. I embrace the revelation of God in Jesus 100%, and the wrath of God in the OT 100%. I see no contradiction.
You wrote: This is such a tired old answer.
Just because an answer has been in use a long time, I don’t see how that somehow makes it ‘wrong.’ The answer to ‘who moved the stone?’ has been around for a long time as well, should we therefore change the answer to that question because it is old?
You wrote: And we cannot say that “It was okay for the Israelites … because it’s in the Bible.”
Sure we can. In fact, if the Israelites DIDN’T do this, it would have been a sin, rebellion against God. God was executing His judgment and did so through the Israelites. When they refused, God got ticked off(ie. Saul).
That won’t fly for anybody except the most close-minded of Christians.
I don’t see how being close-minded or open-minded has anything to do with it. I am very open minded and believe that Israel was following God’s commands.
Oh, and Kaiser says that this is WAY different than Jihad, or Holy War, of the Muslims.
I agree with Kaiser, and I’m not so sure why his position is objectionable. I think there’s a difference between:
a) Under God’s command: wiping out an oppressive, tyrannical regime, engaged in torture and human sacrifice(not to mention that some of them may have been hybrids).
b) Randomly beheading random innocent, men, women and children you encounter simply because they they’re Christians, Jews, or non-radical Muslims.
I’m not sure why someone would say that these are even close to being the same thing.
You wrote: but what Kaiser fails to understand is that it is exactly the kind of theology he presents in this book which has caused most of those people to leave the church and give up on God.
Not vouching for all of Kaiser’s theology since I haven’t read the book, but should we change our theology based on the response of people that hear our theological message? How many people heeded Noah’s warning? When people didn’t respond, did he change his message?
So Dave, you asked how is an old tired argument a bad one: if it is appealing to tradition, then it is. First, we would need to know why that answer was used in the first place. So, it was used for an explanation. However, we know new things today. The way scripture is interpreted and research is different, deeper.
You said you don’t see the what’s wrong with the Jihad comment? Then we need to do some answering. What is genocide? Genocide is the complete annihilation of a race. What is Jihad, it is waging a spiritual or physical war–which was meant to be done in defense. You are making a hasty generalization by saying that all Muslims kill non-Muslims in Jihad. You can’t do that, one because not all Muslims wage Jihad against Jews and Christians. Second, Muslims also do Jihad against themselves. I hope that helps clarify some of Jeremy’s stances.
To say that wiping out an entire people group is anything close to Jesus is laughable at best and down right dangerous at worst
Yuri Wijting says
I had his book too. It leans a lot on apologetics so his answers are framed with that in mind.
Clever rewording…and somewhat misleading in my opinion. I didn’t present it as you say.
what I said was: I embrace the revelation of God in Jesus 100%, and the wrath of God in the OT 100%. I see no contradiction.
Context is everything. If you ignore/omit the context and/or mix contexts you can paint a different picture. A respectable individual would never completely disrobe in the Sanctuary of a Church during Sunday morning’s sermon. And yet, that same individual, after a sweaty workout at the gym during lunch hour better do just that and shower in the locker room before going back to work.
Israel had a certain mission. Israel’s mission was different than Jesus’. That doesn’t invalidate Israel’s mission. Furthermore, things were a little different during the incarnation. Jesus wasn’t omnipresent during the incarnation, He wasn’t omniscient during the incarnation, and He didn’t engage in ‘genocide’ during the incarnation. SO then, is it laughable that I maintain that God is omniscient and omnipresent?
I choose to believe that the OT prophets were not deluded and that they were correct whenever they said, ‘Thus Saith the Lord.’ You apparently find that laughable. So be it. I’ll cast my lot with Moses, David, Samuel, Obadiah, the rest of the prophets… and of course Jesus any day.
This ‘old tired’ argument is the testimony of the OT prophets. For me(and I understand not everyone else feels this way), the word of the OT prophets is the equivalent to divine revelation. For me, that never tires. I don’t appeal to tradition, but grammatical historical exegesis.
However, we know new things today.
Agreed, and the more I study, the more confidence i have in my position.
The way scripture is interpreted and research is different, deeper.
The way you and I interpret scripture is different, I agree.
What is Jihad, it is waging a spiritual or physical war–which was meant to be done in defense. You are making a hasty generalization by saying that all Muslims kill non-Muslims in Jihad.
Hold on now, I never said that all Muslims kill non-Muslims in Jihad. There are many moderate Muslims that are wonderful people. However, what I described is a previous post is a very, very common expression of ‘Jihad’ made by many Muslims. An expression that comports with the injunctions laid out in the Koran.
Peter W Rouzaud says
I, like most, have not read the book. I appreciate the review since one can’t read everything printed; especially those who don’t offer new answers for old unsettled questions. And here was the issue with me: I’d love to ‘just believe’ every word of scripture as if were from the mouth of God – and disregard many questions that pop into my own mind, or respond to my inner voice, “get thee behind me satan”.
Modern Christians no longer have the luxury of simply saying to the reasonable inquiry, ‘Because the Bible says so’. The fundamentalist system has refused to acknowledge the hard questions; we treat logic like; “come let us reason together- will ya just believe what you’re told”. Faith like this only make Christians look more like those in the dark ages. And yes, the apologists in the dark ages were, in fact, wrong.
Proponents of this kind argument claim to defend God, but in reality, they are simply supporting church traditions who claim to speak for God. Once I discovered that fundamentalism is a very small slice of Christianity overall; including the world, and the history of the Church predating “canon”, I discovered God was fine with me searching outside the “statements of faith”.
There are ways to read, and believe the Bible without believing God to be inconsistent with the nature that Jesus demonstrated- and still be intellectually honest. However, you may find a sacred cow standing in that way.
Indeed, Mr. Rouzaud. A helpful education is to be found in both of Shlomo Sand’s, “The Invention of…” books.
Once again, it sounds like if God judges anyone for being evil, that somehow contradicts the nature of God. People obviously can believe whatever they want, but I am not in that camp. I am of the persuasion that many people have not come to grips with just how desperately wicked ALL people are. God could have chosen not to send His Son, and chosen instead judge/wipe out ALL of humanity, and still been 100% loving. Total destruction is all that I and every other descendant of Adam deserves. It is only by His mercy and compassion that I, or any other human, continues to live and breath and exist.
Tony C says
“Total destruction is all that I and every other descendant of Adam deserves.” – Dave, I’m interested as to whether by this you mean ‘hell’ or ‘soul annihilation’. (I seem to recall there are an approximately equal number of Scriptures supporting all three afterlife positions: hell, annihilation or universal salvation.)
Jeremy Myers says
Most people don’t actually “believe whatever they want.” Most people have good reasons for believing what they believe. I have different understandings of (1) what it means for God to judge, (2) the nature of sin and evil, and (3) what love can and cannot do. I have written about all of these in various other places on this blog.
Some might find this review of Shlomo Sand’s aforementioned book interesting:
? ..I think you misunderstand when I say, ‘people can believe whatever they want.’ Some people here have clearly and repeatedly expressed a distaste for what i consider to be ‘conservative’ hermeneutics, and some gotten defensive and mistaken me for being overbearing, or a bible thumper. I’m just trying to respect them and say, ‘This is just my take, people don’t have to have the same take as me. There are other views, I’m not using the H-word. etc.’
Rene Joseph says
I hope I haven’t got you wrong, Jeremy, on your understanding about the omniscience of God. But from this article, I understand (correct me if I have understood you wrong) that your conviction is that God doesn’t have the knowledge about future events that will ACTUALLY occur. Rather, He only knows about all future events that could possibly occur. My conviction about the omniscience of God is that He knows exactly every event in the universe that has occurred, that is occurring and that will ever occur, whether the event relates to me or to any other entity in the universe. God has perfect knowledge about future events just as He has perfect knowledge about all past as well as present events. Evidences are many in the Bible about God having knowledge about future events that would actually occur (and not just the knowledge of all possible events that are likely to occur).
God knows all things that exists in actuality (Ps 139:1-6; Matt 6:8; 10:28-30). The Psalmist recognized the omniscience of God in that God KNEW his actions, his thoughts, his words BEFORE he even spoke them, and his entire life (Ps 139: 1-4). Jesus knew that Peter would deny Him, and that was not a perfectly intelligent GUESS, but the foreknowledge that was inherent in God. If Christ did not know that Peter would actually deny Him, then He was making a guess or an assumption. Christ knew that Judas would betray Him, and He was NOT making a guess there either. Should we think that Christ did not know what He was talking about when He made these predictions? God cannot lie and if Christ was making a guess, He would have said that Peter would probably or possibly deny Him or that Judas would probably or possibly betray Him. God knows all future events because God is eternal and knows all things in one eternal act. God knew the nations that would dominate Israel (Dan 2:36-43; 7:4-8) and He knows the events that will yet transpire upon the earth (Matt 24-25; Rev 6-19). If one reads through the Gospels, one will find the various instances that Jesus knew at a distance, past and in the future.
If God is truly infinite and perfect, His knowledge too has to be infinite and perfect. Anything less would reduce God to a less than perfect being with a defect in His ability and would open up possibilities to reduce the abilities of God in other areas as well – His omnipotence as well as His omnipresence. One might argue that freewill cannot operate if God was all knowing. God is not limited by the free agency of His creation. Should one believe that Infinite Almighty does not even know what my cat is going to do in a few minutes?? If the omniscience of God were limited, most of everything in the books of Daniel and Revelation would be mere talk, mere guesses that may or may not be fulfilled; they would not be prophecies. I believe that God is subject to only ONE thing, that is His LOVE. As a consequence, He is also subject to His Law, because His Law is Love. God cannot operate outside His Love, simply because God IS Love.
Jeremy and Redeeming God has been one of the most significant and most enlightening events that has happened in my spiritual life as an adult, having broken down impediments to my spiritual advancement, thereby equipping and empowering me to better appreciate the character of Christ and His purpose. But it’s very disappointing to think that you have reduced God to less than The Perfect Almighty by lowering Him to a level wherein He has imperfect or limited knowledge about ACTUAL future events that will come to pass. The disappointment that I feel is also tempting me against my will to question the enlightening knowledge that I have received from your website which I haven’t got from elsewhere. I just hope and pray that you share the same conviction of the omniscience of God that I do and what the Bible teaches. And I hope and pray that you haven’t in anyway intentionally or unintentionally demeaned God or lowered the perfection and glory of Christ or the Holy Trinity in any manner by giving a different meaning to His omniscience. Glory to God.
Tougher questions would be those tackled by Thom Stark in his two books,
Is God A Moral Compromiser? http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf
The Human Faces of God
Along with Hector Avalos in Bad Jesus, who points out that Jesus’ anger and violence is merely delayed.
Jeremy Myers says
I like Thom Stark. I read Human Faces of God several years ago when it came out. I wonder if I would enjoy it more today… my thinking has changed some since then.