Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Rage of an Old Testament God

From his book, What's So Great about God: A Reasonable Defense of the Goodness of God in a World Filled with Suffering, Dinesh D'Souza responds to some of the most critical issues facing Christianity today, engaging questions raised by the New Atheists regarding a good God and the alleged "problem of evil." As always, I offer posts such as this one for two reasons: 1) some people may not know about the book from which I am quoting and will want to purchase it; and 2) some people may not have the funds for purchasing books but may need the information. This post is taken from the chapter "Rage of Yahweh: Crimes of the Old Testament God." D'Souza writes the following.


In this chapter . . . we take up [the allegation that] God himself is the perpetrator of evil, violence, and suffering. Atheist David Lewis calls this "divine evil." What Lewis means is that God in Scripture is called good but at the same time his actions are depicted as bad. God is described as doing things that we would be roundly condemned as wicked and malevolent for doing. Incredibly, we find these descriptions of divine evil not in atheist literature but in the books of the Old Testament. 

Reflecting on the Hebrew Bible, Robert Ingersoll writes, "The portrait is substantially that of a man -- if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit; a personage whom no one, perhaps, would desire to associate with now that Nero and Caligula are dead. In the Old Testament, his acts expose his vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly. It is perhaps the most damning biography that exists in print anywhere." Along the same lines, Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith, "The Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions -- jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate. The God of Abraham is a ridiculous fellow -- capricious, petulant and cruel. . . . He is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man." . . . 

A careful reading of the Old Testament shows that many -- although not all -- of the evils attributed to God are actually the result of human characters doing things for their own purposes [e.g., Jephthah willing to offer up his daughter, some say to be sacrificed, others contend to life-long service unto God, cf. Judges 11]. . . . Many times atheists presume that because the Israelites are God's chosen people, what they do reflects what God intends or directs. In fact, the Old Testament is a story of both the fidelity and the infidelity of the Israelites. The fact that the Israelites think they are justified in taking severe action against their enemies, or even that they say they are doing God's bidding, doesn't mean that they are always right or that they are actually carrying out God's will. . . . 

A second point that Jews and Christians have long understood is that the actions and teachings of the Bible are an accommodation to the level that man has reached at a given time. In Calvin's words, God through the Bible "accommodates himself to our capacity." In practice, this means that God recognizes that cultures are at different stages of development, and he deals with each group as it is, seeking always, albeit sometimes gradually, to raise it up higher. Certainly some of the ancient cultures of the Old Testament were in pretty bad shape, not only economically but also morally. . . .

The Bible's acquiescence in slavery is another clear example of accommodation to the low level of human practice at the time. Let's recall that all of humanity was, for centuries, at this low level. Slavery was practiced in every known culture, and it was not even controversial. So what does the Bible do with slavery? First, it recognizes that slavery has become an ingrained human institution, and it offers some teachings for how to ameliorate its evil effects. Masters, for instance, are told to be kind to their slaves, and slaves to be obedient to their masters. [We are not permitted to equate ancient slavery with the horrors of American slavery of Africans because the two situations are not synonymous.] Does this constitute approval of slavery? By no means. If I urge the Chinese to obey their laws and also urge the Chinese government to be considerate of its citizens, am I through such counsel approving of Chinese totalitarianism? Not at all. I am simply taking the world as it is and trying to move it in the right direction -- like taking a very warped board and slowly, carefully bending it back toward straightness rather than breaking it by trying to make it fully straight in one quick motion. 

Now the biblical approach to slavery can be faulted for its gradualism, except for one notable fact: historically it is the Christians and no other group that mobilized to end slavery. There is no example of an antislavery movement outside of Christianity. It was the Christians, and only the Christians, who opposed slavery in principle, and they did so for an unmistakably Christian reason. They reasoned that if all men are created equal in the eyes of God -- a central tenet of Christianity -- then no man has the right to rule another man without his consent. This became the core principle of the antislavery movement, which ultimately triumphed over the institutionalization of human greed and human bondage. 

So accommodation is a key idea in understanding the Bible, and yet it is easily open to misinterpretation. By accommodation, I do not mean that the Bible should be understood as going along with the morality of the movement. By that logic, if men were barbarians, then the Bible would have to endorse a barbarian code of ethics. Not so. My point, rather, is that the Bible recognizes that progress takes time to be realized, and that there are periods in history when harsh people have to be dealt with in a harsh way. . . . 

What about the harsh laws of the Old Testament? They are completely gone in the new. Contrast the way that the Old Testament treats adultery, for instance, with the way that Jesus treats the woman taken in adultery, or the woman at the well who has had five husbands. Jesus is, even by the most modern standards, extremely gentle with these offenders. Nowhere does he suggest that adultery is not an offense: in this respect, the New Testament maintains continuity with the Old. But the whole tone of the divine response is different. Thus when atheists cite lengthy passages of ancient Jewish law, Christians have only to respond with a nod of agreement. Rarely have Christians taken such passages as applying to them or to anyone today. The Old Testament is not merely interpreted through the lens of the New; it has also, in important ways, been superseded by the New. 


Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great about God: A Reasonable Defense of the Goodness of God in a World Filled with Suffering (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013), 201-21. 


Hi William,

You stated:
"What about the harsh laws of the Old Testament? They are completely gone in the new."

Recently I've been trying to read scripture from a Hebrew Hermeneutic instead of the typical Greek we go over here in the States. With that said much of our thinking in the West is pretty incorrect especially in regards to the Law. Much of it pertains to our lack of understanding to the Law and in the English translations, words that should have been translated as Torah are instead translated Law. The word Torah really means teachings in Hebrew, yet that's not at all how our western minds view it. If you take Psalm 119 the English translations all translate the Hebrew word Torah to Law(incorrectly), for the word Torah has multiple means but as already stated in a nut shell means teachings. The other words that are usually translated as "commandments, ordinances, statues, all tend to be translated correctly. So the Psalmist in 119 is praising God for the Torah, commandments, etc... Yet many think the Law of the OT is harsh and in the new is no longer. Without making this post too much longer, I would say that is incorrect thinking in many cases, but not all. Ceremonial, Cleansing, Atoning, etc.. Laws are no longer, but the Decalog is not only repeated in the NT, but expounded on(made fuller Matthew 5:17) by Jesus especially in Matthew 5 for Jesus introduces us to the Spirit of the Law, thus making fuller, and it goes much deeper than the OT letter of the Law. Here is just one example of many in Matthew 5:21-22
"21“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

In the OT as long as you didn't commit the physical act of murder you obeyed, but not so in the NT. One last thing in regards to the OT Law(teachings to have right relationship with God and man, it wish we could very this way) is that Grace is given right in the Mosaic Law in Leviticus when God gave His people the sacrificial laws of atonement, knowing man could not live up to the Decalog perfectly and the rest of the Torah.that's Grace. Sorry for the long post but I could go on and on and will stop now.

Bless you,



I think you are correct. (I didn't write this post, by the way, but was quoting from a section of Dinesh D'Souza's book, as I wrote at the very top.) I think many people are under the impression that the NT is the law-less, or command-less, section of the Bible, but that is not so. There are many, many commands in the NT, and we are to obey them. Of course, there is cleansing from the atoning blood of Jesus should we fail to obey them, and we fail daily. By not being under Law, under Torah, St Paul simply means that neither leads us to righteousness -- the Law cannot change us inwardly -- only grace can accomplish that.

Thank you, Russ.

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