Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Old Testament

I read Genesis 34 and it's a terrible chapter. The deceit and violence is terrible and it caused me to wonder about other examples of violence and sin in the Old Testament... I know that it's all scripture and in the Bible for a reason... but why so crude?

I found an article, The Unchanging Gospel of Two Testaments that address this. Ellis T. Rasmussen explains that the principles of love taught in the New Testament are just as much a part of the Old.  I won't cover that here -- it's better if you read it yourself. But I do want to discuss how he starts out:

Some persons believe that the Old Testament teaches and demonstrates some rather crude theological concepts and ethics. This may seem logical to those who believe that religions are mere social institutions that have evolved and developed over the centuries. But to those who see religion as revealed theology and a divine code of ethics with absolute truths and eternal rights and wrongs, such an estimate of the Old Testament is neither logical nor acceptable.

“Bad examples” do exist among the characters of the Old Testament and are found there simply because there have always been bad as well as good people and practices. Certainly the writers of biblical records were very frank about people and deeds, good and bad. In a way these accounts are disheartening, but on the other hand they enhance the credibility of the whole biblical account. The writers truthfully told both the vices and the virtues of heroes and villains, people and kings, prophets and priests.

In some cases wherein evil deeds were done, the writers pointed out immediately the bad results that came from not following the ways of the Lord. In other cases, results and reactions were recorded months or even years later, as they became apparent. Naturally, readers of single episodes do not always discover such accounts of delayed consequences. Even researchers sometimes fail to follow through and discover whether the end of the Tale is told farther on; as a result, they may make wrong judgments.

The story of violence committed by Levi and Simeon, as told in Genesis 34:25–31 [Gen. 34:25–31], is a case where the reactions of responsible people are not completely revealed until later. Some of Jacob’s feelings about their deeds and some indications of their eternal consequences are given to the reader many chapters later, in Genesis 49:5–7 [Gen. 49:5–7].

And right there he addresses Gen. 34 -- and the rest of the story in Gen. 49.

I think perhaps we're too quick to ascribe perfection to scriptural figures. We're too quick to expect the Bible to be full of lovely things. We forget that just as in our day the world is filled with imperfect people -- the world then was as well. I tried to blame "the times back then" for the violence and craziness illustrated by stories in the Old Testament when the SAME sorts of things STILL happen today. Just like Rasmussen said, not everyone in the Bible is a "good example" -- because it's a history of real people... who sometimes do terrible things. But they have (and will) suffer the consequences -- the same as us. And we can learn from their mistakes. And in that sense the chapters of the Old Testament can give us an even clearer picture of the importance of the divine and eternal principles of the gospel in our fallen world.

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