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The Variety of Views of Suffering in the Bible

Some thirty years ago now, when I taught my class at Rutgers on “The Problem of Suffering in the Biblical Traditions,” I came to realize – or at least came to realize more clearly – that a number of the views set forth in the Bible simply did not resonate with me.  Which, I suppose, is a more tactful way of saying that I simply didn’t agree with them.

By far the most prominent explanation for suffering in the Bible is that God is using pain, misery, and human disaster in order to punish his people because they have failed to live up to his standards and to follow his will.  He penalizes them by inflicting pain  That is why there are droughts, famines, economic crises, and military disasters.   That lesson is taught time after time after time in the Hebrew Bible – just read Deuteronomy, or Amos, or Jeremiah, or, well, any of the prophets.  I suppose when I was a fundamentalist I completely accepted that view.   But eventually – probably when teaching this class — I came to realize that I simply did and could not agree with it.   This is a view of God — starving people to death or having them hacked to shreds, because they broke his law – that I simply couldn’t buy.

Other views found in the Bible I considered more plausible.   For example…

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Explaining a Columbian Mudslide
Teaching about How The Bible Explains Suffering

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Comments

  1. RVBlake  July 9, 2017

    Until God issued the Ten Commandments, how were the people being savaged by Him for violating His standards to know what these standards were?

  2. madmargie  July 9, 2017

    I agree with you about life. Life is short and we should do the best we can with the life we have. I personally believe God will be with us all the way if we just acknowledge that and try to be open to the best direction.

  3. RonaldTaska  July 9, 2017

    A very good example of one of your major blog points over the years: Different Biblical authors say different things about lots of stuff. Thanks.

  4. nbraith1975  July 9, 2017

    Thirteen Bible facts:

    Fact #1: God/Yahweh creates the world/universe along with man and women on earth.

    Fact #2: God/Yahweh warns man/women about some things they can’t possibly understand – because they have never heard of them. Right and wrong? Good and evil? Deception? Pain? Suffering? Death? Sin?

    Fact #3: Another creation of God/Yahweh talks the woman into doing what God/Yahweh told he not to do and she ultimately involves the man. (Note that the other creation of God/Yahweh does have knowledge about right and wrong, good and evil, deception, pain, suffering, death and sin)

    Fact #4: God/Yahweh punishes the obviously confused man and woman for not understanding what the couldn’t possibly understand in the first place.

    Fact #5: God/Yahweh banishes the man and woman from the utopia he created for them and the story of humanity begins – man, woman and the purveyor of evil and death marching through time hand in hand.

    Fact #6: God/Yahweh decides to destroy all men and women because of their sin – but allows the purveyor sin to live on.

    Fact #7: God/Yahweh changes his mind and decides to allow Noah and his family to survive his massacre of all other humans and all but two of every animal.

    Fact #8: Nothing changes and humanity heads back down the same road – hand-in-hand with the purveyor of evil and death. I think we all saw that coming.

    Fact #9: Out of all humanity, God/Yahweh chooses the nomadic Hebrew people to be “his” people – relegating all other people on the planet as their (and his) enemy.

    Fact #10: Even with God/Yahweh as the force behind them, the Hebrew people seem to continue to be overwhelmed by the purveyor of evil and death. Go figure.

    Fact #11: God/Yahweh decides that the timing is right and so sends his son Jesus – who 99.9% of Christians believe is also God and has been eternally by his father’s side – to reconcile mankind to himself because the purveyor of evil and death has had his way for long enough.

    Fact #12: The purveyor of evil and death has Jesus killed and God/Yahweh brings him back to life. Anyone who believes this actually happened is now allowed to live eternally in a place where, BTW, the purveyor of evil and death can no longer influence them.

    Fact #13#: The all loving God/Yahweh promised to punish any person who does not believe that he raised Jesus from the dead with the most horrific and awful pain and misery for all eternity. Wow! The same punishment reserved for the

    Now, more than 2,000 years later, the purveyor of evil and death continues to work his trade on humanity and the world waits – and wonders – when Jesus will come back to put an ultimate stop to all the pain, suffering and death.

    • nbraith1975  July 10, 2017

      Fact #13: Completed sentence – The same punishment reserved for the “purveyor of evil and death.”

    • godspell  July 11, 2017

      I wouldn’t call any of these facts, but it is a fact that some of them are referred to in scripture.

      However, at no point in any book of the Old or New Testament is Yahweh directly quoted as saying anyone who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus will go to hell. That did become a belief for many (not all) Christians, but it seems you’re more interested in angry rhetorical flourishes than in serious study.

      As satire, this is pretty weak tea. As internet ranting, it’s not bad. 🙂

      • nbraith1975  July 12, 2017

        The 13 are all based on OT or NT facts. I wasn’t aware that comments were subject to literary critique – but thank you for your feedback. BTW – Not sure where you picked up on any anger – but there is no anger here.

  5. tompicard
    tompicard  July 9, 2017

    All the examples above are from the Old Testament where the texts are written with the purpose to emphasize God’s great power. The New Testament emphasizes God’s great love
    Did your class gain any insights in the problem of suffering from the teachings of Jesus or John or Paul???

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2017

      I wouldn’t say the God of power and wrath is absent from the NT. Look at Romans 1:18-32; or teh early verses of 2 Thessalonians; or … the entire book of Revelation. But yes, we looked at the NT writings as well.

  6. lawecon  July 9, 2017

    Once again, I can’t quite agree with these remarks. I don’t agree because they present an overly simplistic view of what was going on in ancient Israeli/Judean society in terms of ethics. What was going on was a war between those who wanted individuals judged according to their own merits and those who took the more traditional view that only Peoples are judged. As to the later, it could be argued that most of the Egyptian people had nothing in particular to do with the oppression of the Israelite slaves, but they were all punished. (And, frankly, we still talk and think this way today upon occasion. It might be argued, for instance, that most individual Germans had little or nothing to do with the policies pursued by Hitler. Certainly their children or grandchildren had nothing to do with those policies. But we tend to feel that they were all responsible and feel ethical relief when they all apologize or otherwise try to make amends.)

    Another lesser debate was whether G-d was just or what G-d did, no matter how intuitively repulsive, was, by definition, Justice. Advocacy for the latter position, or perhaps just tracing out the consequences of this view, is the whole point of the Book of Job.

    Since the Jewish scriptures are an anthology of different writings from different authors, writing in different societies in different times, and redacted by still other people, all these views are present. I am sure Bart knows that, but I am not sure that it is clear in the above essay, even though he nods to this account in his closing sentences.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  July 9, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I think it’s difficult for modern people to wrap their brains around the OT notions of suffering because modern people don’t know and understand the role of prophets in Biblical times, and, in particular, how that role evolved over time. I’ve noticed that once I educate people on the role of prophets — and the evolution of that role — the pieces seem to come together in their minds. I explain it, in practical terms, like so:

    — Ancient people believed there were gods, and that these gods had two related powers: 1) They could determine the future (for example, by getting involved in human affairs and directing the course of history) and/or 2) They already knew the future, and if properly approached, the gods might reveal the future to mortals.

    — Enter the priest and the prophet. Each had a profession — a role to play — dealing with the gods. In the case of the priest, that role was to placate and please the gods, so that the gods either, in the first case, directed the course of history in favor of the priests’ people, or, in the second case, agreed to reveal the future, so that the people can make the right decisions and/or find comfort in the decisions they have already made.

    — But it’s important to understand who these priests and prophets were really working for. They originally started out working for sovereigns — kings, princes and nobles, who could afford to fund a temple or a school of prophets. The job of the priests was to please the gods so that they favored the king: aiding him in battle, toppling a rivel king, bringing rain or stopping flooding, stopping famine and plagues. In some cases the request by the sovereign was personal, such as asking the god to bless him with a male heir or extending his empire. In other cases the request was meant to help his people, to prevent uprisings and rebellion, and so on. To the modern person, these are practical concerns, but the ancient mind didn’t separate practical concerns from heavenly ones.

    — So the prophet started out in the courts of the powerful as men (and sometimes women) who were especially skilled diviners. They could connect to the gods, and through the prophet the god could communicate to a ruler. The god could issue admonitions, offer assurances, prescribe action or inaction, etc. This was such a common profession, in fact, that just about every civilized court in ancient times — from China to Briton — had diviners and prophets, whose job it was to communicate with and for the gods. In the case of the prophet, he himself would be the conduit through which the god communicated.

    — Now, of course, with our modern sensibilities, it’s clear to us that these “prophets” were really just charlatans. They were just pretending to speak for the gods. But for ancient peoples, these were real powers and the prophet’s words were really the words of a god. So what would happen if a prophet got it wrong? For example, he predicted victory in battle for the king, but the battle went decisively for the king’s rival. Well, in most cases, that prophet would be branded a false prophet and driven out of the court. In many cases the false prophet would be jailed or executed. Being a prophet was not a job for the unlucky or the weak-hearted.

    — So this is where probability and statistics comes in. Statistically speaking, with hundreds or thousands of “prophets” shopping their skills around the courts, some of them were going to be more accurate in their predictions than other prophets — simply from the law of probability, some would be lucky outliers. Moreover, there was a probability that some would be more often accurate, but would still not be believed, in which case we find the Cassandras and Jeremiahs of the ancient world. In some cases, these prophets may find such disfavor with the ruler and the court that the prophet is forced to take his prophetic message to the streets, where the common people suddenly become the prophet’s audience. Such patronless prophets (let’s call them ronin prophets) were such a pain in the neck to ruling class that kings would regularly try to jail them and drive them out of town. The Bible is full of tales of such wandering ronin prophets: Elijah and Elisha, Ahijah, etc. These prophets were not the servants of kings, but, rather, were seen as the gods seeking to speak directly to the people.

    So what does all of this have to do with Biblical notions of suffering? The Bible was written by priests and prophets. And as the expression goes, to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail. For the prophet, all suffering is a result of people — rulers and commoners alike — not heeding the prophets, i.e. not heeding words of God Himself. Why is there famine and plague? Because the rulers and people did not heed the prophets when God spoke through them that famine and plague would come. Why is there war and natural disasters? Because the rulers and the people didn’t listen when God spoke through the prophets and told the people to stop acting sinfully. It’s nearly impossible to understand the Bible’s ideas of the cause of suffering without understanding how a prophet understands his function in a society. The Bible is, for the most part, the prophet’s critical view of why people are made to suffer. “I warned you. I gave you the words of God Himself. You chose to ignore me, so that’s why you suffer now.” In other words, the Bible is basically a giant “I told you so” written by charlatan prophets with chips on their shoulders.

    • Sharon Friedman  July 10, 2017

      No it’s not clear that prophets were all charlatans.. if we go back to Samuel, the story is that Samuel was famous for finding lost objects and reading hearts. Saul first ran into him while looking for lost donkeys (!) if we recall the story in 1 Samuel 9. For example, in 6.
      “But he said to him, “There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honor. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.” (NSRV)
      It seems that perhaps being a man of God meant that 1) he had gifts of prophecy (which we might call parapsychological today) 2) he had good behavior in the community (man of honor) and 3) his gifts were in the service of God and not other more questionable spiritual entities.

      I think you have to put the existence of precognitive and other intuitive gifts on the table, or you can’t go with Paul and 1 Corinthians 14:1, nor more recent mystics and revelations through history. They’re not always “right” in predictions, they can’t always be speaking for God (unless God tells folks different things) but there’s something going on.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 11, 2017

        A “prophet,” by definition, is a charlatan. For starters, it’s unlikely there is even a God for whom these prophets claim to speak. And even if there is a God, it’s unlikely that He has conveniently chosen these particularly charismatic people through whom to speak. That is, the logic works backwards. God didn’t choose or create these charismatic men so they could be prophets. These men were already charismatic, which allowed them to convince others that they were prophets of God.

        And let’s not get started on the fact that every “prophecy” you’ll ever read — even those in the Bible — read exactly like the words of someone who’s faking it. I mean, it’s not like these prophets, who claim to be channeling the all-knowing creator of the universe, are offering up particularly mind-blowing information, like first and last names, exact date and time, social security number and shoe size, the germ theory of disease or Einstein’s Field Equations. All of their “prophecies” are conveniently ambiguous and vague enough to mean almost anything (hence why they need to be “interpreted”). That’s a tell-tale sign of a charlatan at work.

  8. Wilusa  July 9, 2017

    In my own life, I’ve experienced very bad things having led to very good things. However one explains that, is it possible that some of those Old Testament authors had the same experience, and it influenced their writings? Caused them to make the mistake of assuming the “bad leading to good” phenomenon is universal?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2017

      I don’t think any of them universalized the message; but yes, surely they also had bad experiences that turned out to be for the good.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 10, 2017

      There’s an old Chinese story that illustrates the Taoist notion of balance in the universe. It goes something like this:
      — A man forgot to lock the paddock gate so his horse ran away. (It’s bad that the horse ran away.)
      — But if the horse hadn’t escaped, the man’s son would have fallen off the horse the next day and broken his arm. (So it’s good that the horse ran away.)
      — But if the son had broken his arm, when the Emperor’s general came by the farm to conscript the son for military duty, the son would have had an excuse to get out of it. (So now it’s bad that the horse ran away.)
      — But if the son had been conscripted into the army he would have been the bravest of warriors, ultimately leading the Emperor’s army to victory. The son would have saved China and returned home a great hero. (So then it’s a good thing that the horse ran away.)

      And so on and so forth. I think you get the point of the story.

  9. doug  July 9, 2017

    Compassion was the main reason I stopped believing in God. For example, when babies are born with horrific birth defects, if there is a God, he is allowing that to happen. Indeed, he has knowingly created a world where that will happen. I could not say, “Birth defects are a *good* thing, because God allows them to happen”. Nor could I believe there was a good God who would allow those poor babies to suffer so horribly.

  10. hasankhan  July 9, 2017

    So God’s existence and His attributes are two separate issues. Suppose if God had no mercy at all and was not going to forgive anyone for mistake, how would it then disprove His existence?

    Surely if God is depicted as only love and mercy in New testament (I don’t know) then it can be a theological shock for the believer if he contemplates on suffering. There are many things wrong about how nature of God that’s depicted in New testament.

    The nature of God depicted in old testament is closer to reality. God does test people with suffering and reward the patient with eternal bliss such that after the fact suffering becomes insignificant rather a person would wish that He had more suffering in worldly life so they could be more patient and earn more reward. God does punish the disbelievers with eternal punishment.

    How does it make sense to say that I’m going to disbelieve in God because I don’t like the way He tests people. Why would someone rather be in hell in eternity? God says that person with arrogance will not enter paradise. For example devil was asked to prostrate to Adam and he refused to do so knowing we’ll that He will be in hell for it but he preferred his ego over being in heaven.

    God doesn’t ask us to believe in him because of his nature and attributes. Rather He asks us to find Him through His signs. His revelation, pondering over His creation, etc

    Once God’s existence is proven then there is no choice for us except to submit. So we’re welcome to use our mind and intellect to find Him but we’re not asked to question what He does. He is the master, we’re slaves. There is no blind faith in his existence but there is submission to His commandments.

    Having said that one of the reasons not covered above is that God can also make us suffer to save us from bigger suffering. Yes He could save without minor suffering but His wisdom and will is that things don’t happen magically on earth like falling tree being stopped mid air because child was underneath it. He can if He wishes but He does what He wills.

    • tompicard
      tompicard  July 10, 2017

      hasankhan mostly i agree with what you write except two related points
      1)The nature of God depicted in NEW testament is closer to reality (compared to the Old Testament).
      and
      2) rather than ‘He is the master, we’re slaves.’ ‘He is the Parent, we’re children.’

      Jesus most commonly referred to God as ‘Father’ and taught us think of and to refer to God likewise.
      How about Mohammed? I do believe he came with as prophet of God. But the majority of time, did Mohammed refer to God as ‘Father’ or as ‘Master’?

      Note a filial ‘son’ will obey the commands of his ‘Father’ to the same degree that a ‘slave’ will obey the commands of his ‘Master’, but there is a difference – the son follows his Fathers’ wishes because of love. Whereas a slave follows his masters’ command because of duty

      • hasankhan  July 11, 2017

        Prophet Muhammad had a slave (servant) whose father came to take him back to his family by purchasing him. He refused to go back with his father. He said the way Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has treated me is better than any father would treat his son. He said being his servant is more beloved to me than going back to my family.

        So yes being a slave does imply duty but that doesn’t negate the love specially when master is extremely loving, caring, forgiving and merciful. But He is still the master as we can’t stand up against Him and He has full control over us.

        Makes sense?

  11. Boltonian  July 9, 2017

    My earliest issue with Christianity, apart from the sheer unlikeliness of most of the historical episodes in the Bible, was this: what sort of a being wants to be worshipped and adored – and if you you don’t worship Him sufficiently or in the right way He will punish you horribly. Human dictators behave like that but not, I would have thought, I wise, loving and all-powerful god.

  12. Sharon Friedman  July 9, 2017

    Maybe the point of scripture is that through all the differences.. especially in the HB, the psalms (poetry), the stories (like Job), the wisdom sayings, you will find something that resonates with you when you are suffering. Maybe it’s “To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes 3:1, or “why have you forsaken me” Psalm 22, or comparing your friends with the spectacularly unhelpful friends of Job. Maybe Job is like a support group in which part of feeling better about your suffering is comparing yourself to someone who has it worse than you.

    And of course they work through story and poem somewhere, perhaps in the unconscious, and not as logical explanations.

  13. godspell  July 9, 2017

    Put me in the column with those who think all of these explanations are compelling, particularly if you don’t take them too literally (which is always a mistake with scripture).

    Joseph: Bad fortune often turns into good fortune, and vice versa. Take nothing for granted; you don’t know how the cards will play out until the final hand is dealt. Don’t give up.

    Job: Similar, but different–no, God can’t give you back your dead children, but there will be more children, if not yours then someone else’s. Life replenishes itself, because God made it that way.

    You can’t think of everything as being about you, as if you’re being punished for sins you didn’t commit, because you’re just one tiny mote in a vast sea of life, no better than any other, no matter how good and just your behavior may be. It isn’t punishment, it’s just balance (a very advanced view for the time).

    Everything you have you got from whatever created this world, and because room was made for you here by the death of others. We rose because the dinosaurs fell. Are we any better? We’re sure as hell not going to last as long.

    I think if this was a Greek tragedy, it wouldn’t bother you at all. “Call no man happy until he has died without suffering.” And no one ever does. No one worth knowing, anyway. But you expect more from the myths that gave you the faith you no longer have. It has to be perfect, and it’s not. Why should it be? Men created it, not God.

    Ecclesiastes simply states poetically and philosophically what Job states narratively. There are mysteries to existence we cannot pierce, every joy has its sorrow, every birth is balanced with death, this is the price you pay for being alive–so accept mortal existence for what it is, not what you think it should be. God created us for the world, not the world for us.

  14. cheito
    cheito  July 9, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    This is a view of God — starving people to death or having them hacked to shreds, because they broke his law – that I simply couldn’t buy.

    My Comment:

    According to human law, in some of our own states here in the U.S.A, when a person violates the moral law and murders another person, and is found guilty by a jury, the judge will sentence that person to death. Don’t you agree that there should be consequences for the mortal crime(s) a person commits?

    Doesn’t God also have the right to punish those who practice evil?

    God warned the Jewish people for HUNDREDS OF YEARS, about the consequences of breaking His moral law. Didn’t GOD have the right to punish the Jewish nation by exiling some of them to Babylon, and destroying most of them through King Nebuchadnezzar for their mortal crimes?

    The Jews were murdering their own children, by burning them at the altar of the so-called god, Baal. They were committing adultery with their neighbor’s wife’s. They were stealing the homes of the widows whose husbands had died in war. They had bands of robbers who assaulted unsuspecting passers-by, and they had become callous, and were not even ashamed of all the other obscenities and atrocities they practiced. (Jeremiah 5:8, 26) (Jeremiah 6:15,) (Jeremiah 19:5) (Hosea 6:9) (Micah 2:2,8)

    God himself proclaims: On a nation such as this, should I not avenge myself? (Jeremiah 5:29)

    God is a Judge and a King. He has a throne! He rules over all principalities. God will not be partial. All eye’s, (human and not human), are observing everything God does, and all want Him to be fair, and impartial, when administering justice for all.

    To say that God is “starving people to death or having them hacked to shreds because they violated His law” – is disingenuous. What would you do if you were a king, and some of the people under your rule were SACRIFICING CHILDREN, by burning them in a fire at the altar of a so-called god?

    _______________________________

    • flcombs  July 11, 2017

      We know what the Bible says God did to those people. He ordered HIS people to “kill all that breathes”. He ordered children and babies executed. Sometimes the young virgins were spared for the use of the men. Now many point out that often people’s that were “eliminated” are still around in later chapters. So that isn’t a contradiction, it is often claimed the Hebrews were just exaggerating. Well there is every reason to believe that the “evil” peoples weren’t as evil as described either. It’s really a matter of one group claiming their God tells them to exterminate another group doing what their God tells them to do. The Hebrew God apparently didn’t have the power to prove to other tribes that he was more powerful than their gods.

  15. cheito
    cheito  July 9, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    A paradigmatic case is Joseph in the book of Genesis – betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of a sexual crime, and wrongly thrown into prison, all in order to make it possible for him to rise through the ranks in order to become the second most powerful figure in all of Egypt, and able to save his own family in a time of famine. Fantastic story. Lesson: sometimes the pains and injuries of life lead to a much greater good. I rather like that one, and always have.

    My Comment:

    Joseph didn’t murder and rape anyone. Neither did Joseph sacrifice his children, by burning them in a fire on a altar to a demon, like the nation of Israel was doing in Jeremiah’s time, so Joseph suffering although not fair, (according to the estimation of some, including, perhaps, Joseph himself), was in God’s mind, and foreknowledge, the best way to achieve saving many lives. It worked! Joseph lived and all was good for Egypt, and his relatives.

    As for Israel, in Jeremiah’s time, well, God had to deal with them in a totally different way, according to their crimes. One shouldn’t compare apples with oranges!

    _____________________________

  16. Jason  July 9, 2017

    Since your “conversion to atheism” have you found yourself ever reverting to old patterns but on the other side, as it were? Considering for instance the possibility that suffering happens because God is in fact an all-powerful moronic sadist, or a cosmic creator no more advanced than a child with a magnifying glass over an anthill, and then had to remind yourself of the silliness of such musings, and of their consistency with what you’ve abandoned? I find myself doing this often.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2017

      No, I’ve never had thoughts like that, I must confess!

  17. cheito
    cheito  July 9, 2017

    Dr Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    Even as a (non-fundamentalist) Christian I found this idea offensive, that God can simply replace the lost children to make it up to Job, after having them (or allowing them) killed to prove his point.

    My Comment:

    God did not do any such thing: He did not kill Job’s children to make a point. The book of Job is a myth! The character of Job is fictitious; it’s an imaginary creation of the author(s) of the book of Job.

    However, If the story of Job is historically accurate, then perhaps God did destroy Job’s children, (not to prove if Job would remain faithful), but because Job’s sons and daughters had, as Job suspected, cursed God in their hearts, and perhaps committed the sin of incest when they celebrated their feasts.

    What was Job thinking when he offered burnt offerings on behalf on his sons and daughters to God? According to Job 1:4-5, Job thought, for whatever reason, (I think perhaps incest) that his sons and daughters may have cursed God in their hearts? This is just speculation on my part. I personally believe that the story of Job is a myth! I don’t use the story of Job, when forming theological views about how God judges.

  18. HawksJ  July 9, 2017

    [[He penalizes them by inflicting pain That is why there are droughts, famines, economic crises, and military disasters. That lesson is taught time after time after time in the Hebrew Bible ]]

    This dovetails nicely with the earlier discussion of Marcion – and how his inability to reconcile the gods of the Old and New Testaments was anything but irrational.

    It is surprising how few people seem to recognize the incompatible ways in which the gods deal with sinners in the two Testaments. In the OT, as you say above, that one punishes people – almost exclusively – during their lives on earth. The other striking difference is that he punishes groups of people more so than individuals.

    Neither of those notions can be found in the NT to any material extent, and, more importantly, neither change can be explained by Jesus and the Cross.

    Of course, there weren’t two gods – or one – it was just an evolution to more advanced theology; one of many that you see over the course of the Bible.

    Bart, that (the progression/evolution of theologies over time) might be an interesting line of postings for you to consider. One of the most obvious examples is the anthropomorphic god walking in Eden evolving to the omni-everything god of the NT. Another is how, in the older view, angels did much of the earthly ‘work’ (interactions with the world and with humans), while that ‘work’ later became the job description of the Holy Spirit. Amazing how two-thirds of the godhead were essentially absent from the OT, isn’t it?

    • dragonfly  July 10, 2017

      The anthropomorphic God walking in the garden of Eden was how one group of Israelites thought of God; the all-powerful cosmic being that created the world in 6 days was another. Not so much an evolution as different understandings that existed at the same time. But yes, that does get a bit more developed by the first century CE. But even then I think the range of understandings about God was more diverse than we tend to think, mainly because the orthodox was inclined to rub out other beliefs from the history books. I agree it’s fascinating stuff.

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