Texts of Terror – UPDATED

Roger Olson’s blog is one of my favourites. He writes from a moderate evangelical viewpoint, is a first-class theologian, and he makes me think. And now he’s taking on the ‘texts of terror’:

The phrase “texts of terror” usually refers to stories in the historical books of the Hebrew Bible that describe God as commanding his people to slaughter groups of men, women and children and “show them no mercy” (to quote on such command).

Here I will lay out all the theistic approaches to interpreting these texts I am aware of. Every “other” approach I know about seems to me to fall under one of these—as a version of it. You may be aware of others. Feel free to post them here.

As you can see, in my opinion, all have serious problems. This is almost certainly a question that will have to wait for answer until paradise or the eschaton.

If you have ever struggled with these texts. I strongly recommend that you read Roger’s whole post. Warning: he will not give you easy answers. Every approach he mentions has its strengths and weaknesses. But he will make you think, and that’s always good.

UPDATE: Please do read the comments to this post on Roger’s blog, and especially his replies, some of which are real gems. Here’s his answer to a question about what he actually teaches his students on this issue:

I offer them all options and their strengths and weaknesses and tell them I willingly await the eschaton for the definite answer to this and many other seemingly insoluble problems of theology. I make no secret of the fact that I think much theology is simply far too speculative. We need to label our speculations just that–speculation. My problem with many people who claim to have a definite answer to this and many other problems that have plagued theology for centuries is that they don’t admit the problems their views have and that their answers contain elements of speculation.

There are some views I cannot personally accept. I’m more than willing to tell students that. One is that the God of Jesus Christ really willed and commanded the merciless slaughter of thousands upon thousands of innocent children in ethnic cleansing “holy wars.” I don’t consider my rejection of that belief speculation because of my firm commitment to Jesus Christ as the full revelation of the character of God. People who claim to believe that God literally commanded ethnic cleansing in Israel’s history are, in my opinion, choosing to believe that and not to believe that Jesus is the full revelation of God’s character. They accuse me of not believing portions of the Bible; I accuse them of the same.


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