Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My God is bigger than your god! Pete Enns on reading the Old Testament

Lat week I linked to some posts in which Peter Enns and others looked at the violence in the Old Testament and tried to explain how we deal with these narratives in our modern world. Did God really say "Kill them all!"? 

Today Pete has a post in which he provides a good analogy for understanding the story. Instead of reading and interpreting the Bible as God tell his story Pete suggests that we read it as God letting his children tell his story. Here are a couple of points from his post. 

The Bible is what happens when God allows his children to tell his story–which means the biblical writers told the story from their point of view, with their limitations, within the cultural context in which they wrote.
 When children tell the story of their father or mother, parents are typically delighted by how much they get and the childlike way that they see the world. But they are also well aware that children miss a lot when they tell the story, and invariably refract the complexities of family life through their own youthful vision.
 It’s not a perfect analogy, I know, but roll with it: Think of how young boys talk in the schoolyard about how great their father is. They are ways of telling the story to make sure everyone knows they have the best dad around.
 When God lets his children tell the story, the way that story is told is deeply and thoroughly influenced by the “rules of the schoolyard”; in the case of the Old Testament that means ancient tribal societies that valued in their people and in their gods such things as taking land, vanquishing (i.e., killing or enslaving) their foes, and generally bragging about who has the best gods and the best kings.

Pete acknowledges that as with any good analogy, if you push it too far it doesn't work. But I think he has found a good way to explain it. I have often explained the Bible to my student as a record of humanity's attempts to know and understand God, which means it is not always perfect and is often very human.

Read Pete's post here and let him know you stopped by from the Biblical World. 

1 comment:

  1. John,

    This is a helpful analogy; as far as it goes. As you say, analogies only go so far. This works very well with the particularly violent descriptions of genocide in, say, Joshua...but there is evidence of a more "mature" telling of events, and even self-critique, in other books, such as in the prophetic literature (particularly Amos). So I wouldn't be one to follow it as far as Enns does in his post (by comparing the NT to the "older child"). There's plenty of evidence of infighting in the NT as well, and plenty of mature assessment in the OT. But as a concept, I really believe this is a useful analogy. God does let the kids tell the story. Some seem to have a more balanced, mature view than others. But I don't think one can draw definitive lines between the OT and the New in that regard. In fact, I find the Psalms and the prophets to contain some of the most challenging, mature literature in the Bible. And Leviticus has some (repeat, SOME) very good things to say about how we should treat others, including those "foreigners" other OT authors seem to be so quick to have obliterated (see Lev. 19:9-10, 18, 33-34). So it isn't quite so simple. But on the whole, it's a good picture. Thanks for sharing!