Jesus and the Old Testament

Pious biographies biography revel in the sweetness of Jesus, who showed the other cheek, when hit on one. They avoid commenting on Jesus’ anger, when he whipped the traders out of the Temple of Solomon. Apparently, Jesus’ preaching is not as simple as they presume. For others, Jesus always spoke in hyperboles. It is true that He recommended removing the log in one’s own eye, before worrying about a speck in the eye of one’s neighbor: but this exquisite sense of irony should not be mistaken for a lack of registers. In much the same way, it seems popular among exegetes to interpret all divinely mandated violence as a manifestation of the brutality of ancient societies. Abaelardus wonders whether these apparent contradictions can be reconciled.


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The hardest words spoken by God do not appear in the Old Testament, but they came from the lips of Jesus Himself. Of Judas, Jesus said, that it were better for him had he not been born. Of those who scandalize young children and cause them to sin, He said that they had better be drowned in the depths of the sea, with a millstone tied to their neck. He rebuked Peter, the elected rock upon which He would build His Church, for impersonating Satan, even though He must have appreciated that Peter merely attempted to dissuade his beloved Master from falling in the hands of the Sadducees. And how many of Jesus’ parables do not end with the description of that horrible place, hell or Gehenna, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”?

The Old Testament has its challenges, too. There can be little doubt that God ordered King Saul to exterminate the Amalekite population, for He later rejected Saul for not having obeyed His mandate.

Most Christians shrug their shoulders when asked about hell and extermination. Many theologians try to minimize the scandal, suggesting that the inspired biographers of King Saul were unable to appreciate the difference between God’s mandate and the ancient-Jewish anthropomorphic interpretation of it. Abaelardus believes one cannot have it both ways: on one hand, consider the Bible as a divine revelation, and on the other, consider that the inspired writers simply miss the point, even with respect to the core of the message they try to convey. The intellectual challenge is how to reconcile the inconceivable depth of eternal damnation with the just as inconceivable love Jesus showed for His executioners. As long as it has not been proven that these two cannot be reconciled, why not give it a try?


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