A Non-sacrificial Reading of Scripture

Lisa said, "I’m trying to absorb the concepts in your Easter article. How do you see the sacrificial system given to the Israelites in the Old Testament fitting in? Or the segregation of women? These are aspects of God’s interaction with His people that I’ve always struggled with. What do these things show about His character?"

I'm thinking that the presupposition here, the one that still haunts those of us reared within evangelical fundamentalism, is that the Old Testament stories are not simply true, but 'literally' true. So when the bible say's God destroyed all the cities of the Plain, or when God commands the wiping out of a neigbouring nation, we assume that God clearly and unequivocally communicated that he wanted was the slaughter of the Canaanites.

We dutifully suppose that there is no gap between the record and the interpretation. But this requires us to work out a system like dispensationalism to explain how God used violence to accomplish his will at one time, but uses peaceful means in the New Testament; and presumably will again need to use violent means in the future.

But, as is appropriate to mediate upon this time of year, one of the amazing things that the resurrection uncovers for us is a new understanding of just who God is, what God's character is like; not at all capricious, vengeful, or wrathful but completely gratuitous and forgiving.

If the Passion doesn't utterly change the way see everything, then Christ retains status of a prophet, but nothing more. Gil Ballie says, The spectacle of God dying at the hands of a murderous mob while praying forgiveness on his murderers can hardly be thought to have left intact Old Testament notions of God’s punishing wrath.

But beyond this, it was Christ's return, as James Alison would phrase it, as "forgiving victim" that forces upon us a crisis. And this crisis, when embraced, frames for us a new possibility, a new self-revelation, and a new understanding of God. All this compels us to read scripture anew. That is, in a non-sacrificial way.



  1. A merciful God rather than a vengeful one resonates as true with me. But many would argue that if we do indeed accept there is a gap between the record and interpretation, that the stories of the Old Testament may not accurately portray God’s character, that He didn’t in fact command the slaughter of Canaanites or wipe out entire cities, babies and all, we should stop short of imposing those same interpretive readings on the New Testament.

    Those same people would go on to say that if we do in fact fast-forward our approach to the New Testament and question atonement theology, which is the cornerstone of Christianity to so many, we shouldn’t really call ourselves Christian. Questioning Old Testament teaching is one thing, but that is where they draw the line. Questioning the very cornerstone of the faith deeply frightens most Christians, causing them to feel that without it there is no Christianity. And often, it produces a “fight or flight” response in them, making waves, producing charges of heresy etc….in short, alienating you from fellow Christians.

    I see so much in the life and death of Jesus, but I’ve always had difficulty seeing and angry God that needed appeasing, and so I try (in tiny little ways) to live by those things. But because I’ve questioned that cornerstone theology, I’ve have had my faith and in fact my God questioned, been told it’s a different God I pray to, and been asked why I would even want to call myself a Christian if I can’t accept that most basic premise of the faith.

    In excile? It sure feels like it.

  2. It’s frustrating to try having these conversations online. I wish we could all be sitting in a big circle talking together with facial expressions and body language and interruptions intact. There should be more opportunity for this kind of dialogue in the church. I’m tired of going to bible studies based on best selling books with all the questions printed in them. I want meat, not milk. But I can’t afford the time or money to go to bible college.

    Doubt and questions and debate are important parts of knowing what we believe. It makes me sad when people are to afraid to engage in this essential process.

  3. Lisa: face-to-face would be nicer, true. On-line’s a starting place though, and better than nothing, and fun, I think. But you sound like you need some good new books, if the ones you’re getting at church aren’t satisfying. There’s a pile of them out there, though you may have to go outside of evangelical book stores for anything with a different slant or more in-depth exploration and less pat and familiar answers. Good luck!

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