Fr Stephen Freeman on Why God Did Not Command Genocide in the Old Testament

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16 Responses to Fr Stephen Freeman on Why God Did Not Command Genocide in the Old Testament

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I posted this today because there is a tweet storm going on right now on how the terror texts of the Old Testament are to be interpreted. So many people believe that we must believe that God commanded genocide because that’s what the Bible says. As Fr Stephen points out, that’s not how the Eastern Fathers interpreted those texts. We must not, they argued, attribute evil to God. Period.

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    • TJF says:

      I think that is the patristic key that opens the doorway to exegesis that leads to universal reconciliation. Once that door was open it was inevitable where it would lead. Now that it has been by great trusted authorities it can never be closed.

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  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    For an instructive Twitter conversation between Jordan Wood and Taylor O’Neill on this topic, see “God’s Goodness and How We Read the Scriptures.”

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  3. Rob says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Having read quite a lot of Fr Stephen’s work over the last few years, it’s nice to see and hear him speak. I’ve added the longer Q&A session from which this is taken to my watchlist.

    Fr Stephen does a nice job of summing up the Patristic approach to tackling such troublesome passages. He says questions as to why the text says what it says are above his pay grade. I would say (no doubt speaking above my pay grade, which is surely lower than Fr Stephen’s) the text says what it says because that’s what the authors believed at the time: they believed God was a war god who would give them victory over their foes. This is just how people understood gods in the ancient Near East. What’s remarkable about the Judaeo-Christian tradition is not that this kind of thing was once believed, but how such beliefs evolved into something so radically different.

    If I’m brutally honest, I still struggle a bit with this allegorical approach to interpreting so-called terror texts. The authors did not think they were writing allegory; they thought they were writing the truth about God. I’m happy to see these kinds of depictions as unsavoury but necessary stepping stones along the way to the fuller revelation that was eventually made complete in Christ; to read them as allegory knowing they were never intended that way feels a little awkward to me. I guess this is probably down to modernist, rationalist bias.

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  4. Timothy says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that what Fr. Stephen Freeman is saying here is of a different spirit than what Fr. Stephen DeYoung is saying in his book GOD IS A MAN OF WAR.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Timothy, what does Fr DeYoung say about the genocide passages?

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      • TJF says:

        Just from reading Goodreads reviews it seems like he holds to the Catholic idea that we must hold together the literal and spiritual readings. Thus he seems to support the idea that it isn’t bad for God to command death since he isn’t the instrumental cause only a proximate one, it’s the humans doing the killing and their attachment to sin and death is merciful to the wicked and the just alike since it saves the one from committing too much sin and saves the other from being sinned against. I think it’s terrible reasoning but that seems to be what I gather. It’s hearsay though from reviews and through my own lens. I may be entirely wrong.

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      • Ives Digory says:

        I recall from The Lord of Spirits podcast that he holds the genocide passages to be directed against demonically corrupt “giant” clans for whom death, even the death of children, is basically a mercy.

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  5. To be sure, there are problems with allegorical readings (some took it too far). And, to be accurate, there were certainly patristic voices that pushed back against it and patristic voices that had no difficulty with OT genocide, etc.
    For me, it’s simply a matter of beginning with Christ. My faith rests on believing that He was raised from the dead and demostrated to be God-in-the-flesh. I do not think we can read the OT (or anything) apart from Him and through Him. As it says in John 1:18 “He [Jesus] has made Him [the Father] known” the word there being, “exegesis.” Christ is the exegesis of the Father.
    So, when I read the OT, I read it for Christ, through Christ, and for Him only. I ponder the history of Israel, etc., but I ponder them in the light of Christ as made known to us. I do not try to get behind Jesus and think of God in any other way.
    I recognize that I’m probably a bit of an outlier on this among modern-day Orthodox. But I rest in the knowledge that I’m not alone – there were Fathers (Nyssa, for one) who taught in this manner.
    In the video, the question was about “what to do with such passages.” I explained what I do personally in the matter – providing a path of faith for someone struggling with the topic.

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    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank You Fr Stephen. Lovely! 🙏
      I find when I place my attention on Christ, I find God is Light. God is Love.

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  6. Elizabeth says:

    Throughout the ages, mystics had this awareness of forces of the ego against the true self, the Holy Spirit working within … this not only had a purpose of service to others but also of what they experienced as becoming One (union) with God. In the Old Testament, Saints and Prophets also (??) … and relating this to the New Testament, Christ in his humanity transcended it all, defeating death itself ( Hebrews 2:14 ). What and if this has any relevance to the topic being discussed, I have no idea!?

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