This post is a book review, and not intended to be an in-depth discussion of the issues in question. [See these previous posts: Polygamy, incest and gang rape in the Bible? – and – Understanding weird or disturbing Old Testament laws for some commentary.]
In the photo, you can see the title and author of this book by IVP books, 2011. I also have a copy to give away which is in very good/nearly new condition. Please leave a comment that you would like to be considered for receiving it. USA only.
I definitely give this book a good review and recommend it to you. It is not an in-depth book for the scholarly – but that doesn’t mean it is superficial. It tackles many serious concerns about troubling Old Testament passages, yet it is written for the everyday person. While the author is a professor at a seminary, he has a down-to-earth way of writing that makes this book very accessible.
An excellent point in the first chapter is that Christians can’t just ignore the troubling passages! People like Richard Dawkins (the hostile atheist) love to bring them up, and Christians can develop doubts or concerns about these passages too. I liked this thought from the book:
“One of easiest ways to misrepresent Scripture is to just ignore problematic texts. Because Bible teachers so frequently avoid certain texts when writers like Dawkins discuss them, it can seem that atheists are reading the Bible more carefully than people who view it as the Word of God.” (page 17)
Each chapter of the book addresses a seeming contradiction about God in the Old Testament (although the New Testament is touched on as well). The chapters include: Angry or Loving? Sexist or Affirming? Racist or Hospitable? Violent or Peaceful? and several more. I was particularly interested in the issue of the Canaanite genocide which was touched on in the racism chapter, and covered more fully in the violence chapter. The author did a good job offering some possible explanations within the limits of a book with only a chapter on each issue.
I thought his general advice on the passages where God gets angry could apply to other issues too:
“Fear of tough texts won’t help…The only way to understand them is to read, study, discuss and teach them…If you are troubled by passages in the Old Testament in which Yahweh got angry, here are 3 pieces of advice. First, ask why Yahweh got angry. Be open to finding a legitimate reason….Second, read the whole context….Third, have reasonable expectations. You won’t be able to resolve all the problems. But some work will help you understand these passages better and save you embarrassment over your lack of biblical knowledge and over the behavior of God.” (pages 41-42)
The author, I must emphasize, doesn’t just speak generally but does specifically refer to or address many of the troubling passages.
Finally, I’ll close by sharing something the author shared regarding certain extra harsh punishments (death!) for non-capital offenses in the OT law. It was a very different time and place and that must be taken into consideration.
“It is first necessary to point out that Israel’s justice system was very different from our own. We can’t naively assume that their system was similar to our overly complicated matrix of jails, prisons, lawyers, trials, appeals, and levels of local, state, district and national courts. In ancient Israel, a city was lucky to have a judge (Deut 16:18-20). Justice, therefore, needed to be simple, swift and straightforward. While we might throw a criminal into prison to serve time, that wasn’t an option in Israel particularly during their wilderness wanderings when their laws were given….Even with this acknowledgement, Israel’s laws can still seem draconian.” (page 104) The author goes on to point out that some of the harsh punishments were directed towards crimes that targeted the weaker members of society, and this can also help bring context.
Each chapter offers discussion questions at the back of the book, for your own thoughtful consideration or for reading this book with a group.