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You're not the skeptic you appear to be. How can you disagree with this:

"The Bible isn’t meant to be treated like a bag of “trail mix” where you fish out all the
sweet parts that you like and leave the rest. There are treasures in “the Book” but only if
you’re willing to receive the message in the way it was intended. In God’s word we have
a treasure of literature unsurpassed in the world. It would be worth reading just for that

Really, you of all people live in the same place Ker does.


That is a great paragraph. And there are many more like it.

David Ker

You wrote:
"The Bible wasn’t written for you is a great title."

The title is actually "The Bible Wasn't Written TO You." Careful reading of the title and the content of the book will show you that we have far more in common than you assert.

Did you really get a virus or are you speaking metaphorically? If I can be responsible for inoculating you against a case of bad hermeneutics I'll be pleased.


Hi David,

That's right, I misquoted the title.

You make the claim that the Bible was not written to us but for us. I eliminated that distinction and elided the argument behind the elimination. My thought was: if something isn't written to us, how can it be written for us?

"Not written to us" is a compelling claim but not quite as compelling as you make it sound. There are parts of the Bible, passages in Deuteronomy, the great commission in Matthew, the entire gospel of John, Peter's sermon in Acts, the "catholic" letters, that address a "you" plural that is deliberately open-ended.

Brevard Childs wrote about the canonical shaping of Old and New Testaments. I realize you feel the OT is for the birds so you might prefer to start with his treatment of the NT. You will see that there is a sense in which the biblical text was configured such that it is written to us and for us.

It's a great topic. The Bible is written to us in the final analysis but many of its building blocks are not written to us .

In one sense it wasn't written for us but we were never literally in the mind of the authors. Know it all modern readers certainly do not qualify as the authors' ideal readers.

Still, on a constitutional reading, the Bible *is taken* to be written for us.


Oh, and I didn't actually get a virus. That's because I'm inoculated at this point against your advice to cherry-pick content in the Bible.

The deepest strength of your take on the Bible is that you realize that the God of the Bible is not the one you believe in. Most Christians I know work with a God that is very small and very manageable and very much unlike the God of the Bible but never really notice. You notice. That's a great point of departure.

David Ker

"That's because I'm inoculated at this point against your advice to cherry-pick content in the Bible. "

That made me LOL.

I know you realize that I'm not just making flippant claims about the Bible. The Cyber-Psalms are one place where I've tried to agonize over just the kinds of questions we're scratching the surface on here.

I just discovered that I omitted a chapter from the book: This is probably the most succinct statement of what the whole book is about. It's targeted at people with limited Bible training (remember I'm the populist and you're the elitist) and also it's worth remembering that this is about preaching. But in terms of using the Bible "christianly" for the proclamation of the Gospel I think that post is a good starting point.


I also like your claim that we see the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob differently in light of the revelation of God in the New Testament. Then again, your NT theology and Christology suffer from atrophy. Where is the Son of Man who will return on the clouds? The carpenter of Galilee is also the slain lamb who opens the seven vials of wrath in Revelation 6. Yes, I know you sometimes get this - I still remember your "I stand at the door and knock" post. But then you seem to retreat from the image of an imperious God who does not always respect our freedom.

Your Cyber-Psalms are a witness against your prose. It's as if some things can't be said in propositions. It's good to remember that the psalms and laments and love lyrics and the prophets and Job and Proverbs are poetry.

"I'm the populist and you're the elitist."

A lot of people on these threads agree with you. I blame Sergio Rostagno, my professor of systematic theology. He taught us to preach in such a way that the most sophisticated person in the audience would feel stretched and challenged. One must also be careful to translate on the fly for other sub-audiences - narrative theology is good for that; Midrash, in other words.

David Ker

Yes, I had a post based on one of yours called Are we talking about the same God? Making fun of the cheesy depiction of Jesus knocking at your hearts door. Here's the deal. If he wants in that door, he's coming in.

And this one turns it around and we're the ones pounding on the door hoping to be saved from the lord of rage:

I've always liked Thompson's Hound of Heaven but I like Donne's Batter my heart even more.

Mike K

John, I wonder if you would comment on an article by an old professor from my BA days at Taylor U, an evangelical theologian who critiques the image of God in Joshua etc ( And you note rightly the NT has the coming Son of Man and wrathful Lamb of Revelation (not to mention Gehenna, but Rob Bell's best selling book may be a sign about how most in the pews feel about this too). Actually I just read Tat-siong Benny Liew, "Tyranny, Boundary and Might: Colonial Mimicry in Mark's Gospel" that critiques one-sided liberation readings of Mark that neglects the echoes of imperialism and the same division between insiders and outsiders who are to be destroyed. In the past I have been content to leave this as a paradox but I am more and more worried about the ethical and theological implications for Christians to keep using some of these images in a post-Christendom, multicultural small planet. I get reading the Bible like a constitution of founding individuals and faith communities, but if we are honest do we not all "cherry-pick" to some extent based on a combination of the Bible, tradition, our (limited)experience and knowledge? Thanks

Mike K

Link didn't work, but under articles it is “‘Let Nothing that Breathes Remain Alive.’ On the Problem of Divinely Commanded Genocide.”
Philosophia Christi


Hi Mike,

Excellent questions.

The reference to Rob Bell is interesting because he has a more *robust* concept of hell than is the norm among evangelicals. Or so it seems to me.

I've read Bell's book (I mention it because so many people commented on the book before reading it). His thesis is that "Love Wins" which means that some people end up in hell (like Dives of Dives and Lazarus fame, a passage he exegetes remarkably well). Love wins but also in the sense of allowing people to choose separation from God.

As is true in this life: no matter how much love is lavished, some people end up in a hell of sorts and others, even if they don't, clearly deserve to.

As for Catholics, at least in my experience, very few, priests or lay, speak about hell though the Catechism does. IMHO this is mostly an index of the extent to which religion is a form of wish-projection. It is refreshing - but they are all gone now - to speak to Catholics raised on pre-Vatican II catechisms. None of them expected to go to heaven. They expected to go to purgatory. I can't help thinking that this is much more in tune with the biblical witness.

Here are some points to consider. You are concerned about

"these images in a post-Christendom, multicultural small planet."

Still, they were an important resource in a pre-Christendom, multicultural small planet. They were also essential for Christian minorities in the age of Christendom. Can you tell I'm a Waldensian? Joshua and the book of Revelation were the books that kept the Waldensians alive in the face of attempted genocide.

I think the texts in question are there for a reason. I looked at Rauser's article briefly. I concur with many of his criticisms of Copan. But I don't agree with Hauser's solution.

There is no way to gloss over the fact that in Deuteronomy the God of Israel legislates the use of herem, that Joshua is said to have put it into practice, and, mother of all paradoxes, it is the Slain Lamb who unseals the vials of wrath in Revelation 6.

The Bible's monotheism is an enormous stumbling block in today's world; the Christocentric monotheism of NT Son of Man eschatology and of the Apocalypse of John, perhaps more so. The answer though is not to set these things aside but to think through them all the more boldly. If one concurs with the Christ against culture and the Christ transforms culture paradigms, they are prima facie part of the solution, not part of the problem.

This is what I wrote about on another thread re: cherry picking:

I hold to verbal inspiration. That is, I trust that the words of Scripture are the very words God deploys to instruct us, elevate us, humiliate us, and lead us into all truth.

I do not believe that cherry-picking is an option for the believer. On the other hand, the principle, "Scripture interprets scripture" is essential. So each individual scripture is contextualized by all others. At the same time, creeds like the Nicene creed, the Augsburg Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism serve as benchmarks and help establish a hierarchy of truth. On top of that, Augustine's hermeneutic of love, though it can be abused, is worth activating.

All of that is a far cry from the inherent resistance in a libertarian and libertine culture (our culture) to *any* imperious standard of faith and practice.

Here's the paradox. The more a religious and intellectual tradition accommodates the modern Zeitgeist in which the only permissible form of authority is the covert kind (covert domains of authority are rampant in society), the more it sows the seeds of its own destruction.

End quote. What is meant by covert forms of authority? I replied:

In The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch takes a long hard look at our culture and identifies symbols of wealth as those which establish powerful yet covert social hierarchies.

They are covert because they are inherent and go unchallenged. In our culture, freedom is empowered only insofar as it serves a consumer society.

Lasch went so far as to say that in our culture even art, sex and religion lose their life-enhancing potential.

The Bible teaches an alternative set of hierarchies. It is the greatest resource we have if the Christ versus culture and the Christ transforming culture paradigms are to be articulated and made effective.

To return to the pair you mention: insider/ outsider. Now go apply that distinction, not only to the global village, but to your neighborhood, preferred retail center, restaurant, church, and university. The insiders are the ones you find in these places. The outsiders are the ones you don't.

We live, I submit, in a society in which apartheid of various kinds is accepted absolutely as the norm.

Mike K

Thanks for the quick response. I have not read Bell's latest but the controversy brought to a head some of my struggles with evangelicalism. My first thoughts to the cries of "unbiblical" was that the Bible is not monolithic on the issue, but my main concern is how language of orthodoxy & heresy is really being used to construct boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Another reason why this has been an issue for me is my MA thesis was on adversus ioudaios texts (Barnabas, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, etc) where the language of election and chosenness and New Israel was used to positively build up their communities, but the negative implication was that Jews outside the community forfeited the right as Israel and was a short step to being dehumanized and the history of Christian anti-Semitism. So it is not a problem for me that a group recognizes their distinctive self-identity and what sets them apart (whether in a resteraunt or village or university or church/synagogue), but I just find the bad side of the insider/outside divide is how it so often leads to the superiority of "us" and the dehumanization of the Other. So the Other is so wicked that they have forfeited their right to the land or life itself or those who resist our kingdom now will get what is coming to them and more in the eschaton. I get the desire for vindication and vengeance when oppressed and persecuted, but sometimes some of this seems less about justice than about the desire for power. So I don't think Christians should no longer see themselves as a family or a congregation (ecclesia) or people of Christ, but some of my issues have been how some individuals are so confident about who is in and who is out and the respective treatment of each. Sorry it is kind of a tangent but maybe gets to the root of what we do with those texts of terror in our canon and thanks as always for your articulate responses.


The adversus ioudaios tradition is an interesting test case. For a century or two (longer in the East), Christian ecclesiae of the Roman world were a beleagured minority relative to the better established and better entrenched Jewish communities of which the former were, in effect, offshoots. The tradition in the 1st and 2nd centuries needs to be seen in that light; Chrysostom, too, will be read differently if the context is kept firmly in mind (see Robert Wilken).

For the rest, formerly mainstream Protestant churches are in the grips of a crisis of confidence I would hope evangelicals never succumb to. The goal might be to have chastened confidence in a counter-cultural mood rather than supine accommodation to the status quo.

On the insider/ outsider polarity, you might enjoy this old post:

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.