Friday, August 15, 2014


I'm going to comment on some related statements by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:
The same is true for the Bible itself. The text has many images of violence on which Christians rarely pause to reflect. We’ve learned to read many of these passages selectively. (See, for example, my article “On reading the Bible’s texts of terror“.) Others we don’t read at all. When I read Ezekiel 16 to students they are aghast as they see God depicted as a horrifying, abusive husband who plans the vicious murder of his own (adulterous) wife. 
Christians and other religious people do need to confront and reflect upon depictions of God as an abusive consort within their traditions. For example, I regularly challenge Christians to consider Ezekiel 16, a passage that depicts Yahweh in terms that would immediately be considered abusive were they applied to any other agent. To fail to reflect on this text while decrying this kind of behavior in all other circumstances is a recipe for cognitive dissonance. Consequently, we do need to reflect on these types of images and in what sense they are to be appropriated and/or critiqued within communities of faith. 
Lanier completely ignores all the morally problematic depictions of God in the Bible. To take but one example, in Ezekiel 16 God is described as adopting Jerusalem like an abandoned child and then, when she reaches sexual maturity, as taking her as a romantic consort (Ez. 16:6-8). That’s awkward enough. But after Jerusalem then becomes promiscuous God becomes enraged and marshals a mob that can “stone” Jerusalem and “hack [her] to pieces with their swords” (v. 40). Only after Jerusalem is finally lying dead and dismembered in the dust does God’s wrath subside (v. 42) 
This is an extremely disturbing description of God as acting like the worst kind of abusive husband. And any apologist who is going to appeal to the “biblical teaching on God” had better be prepared to address such deeply disturbing images.
i) I don't know if Rauser is simply incompetent, or if he willfull misrepresents the material to further his theological agenda. He probably misrepresents the material because his theological compromise requires him to misrepresent the material. He used to be a conservative Christian. He's moved far to the left of the theological spectrum. He's trying to cling to some semblance of Christianity while repudiating Biblical revelation. 
ii) Ezk 16 is ugly. Ezk 16 was meant to be ugly. This isn't a difference between a backward, sexist prophet and how sensitive modern readers view the same situation. 
In this chapter (as well as chap. 23), the prophet goes out of his way to be offensive. He's using graphic, ugly imagery for shock value. He's trying to get under the skin of hardened sinners. The description is deliberately cringe-worthy. 
iii) This is an allegory. A very anthropomorphic allegory. 
Some scholars deny that classification because they think an allegory demands one-to-one correspondence between each detail and what it represents, but that' a wooden understanding of allegory. Even in Dante, many of the details are window-dressing. So this is basically an allegory, although the underlying historical referents break through from time to time–since the allegorical depiction is just a means to an end and not a literary masterpiece for its own sake. 
iv) An allegory operates at two levels: the fictional narrative and what it symbolizes. It's crucial to interpret each level consistently. God doesn't adopt the woman. Rather, a man adopts the woman (baby girl). You may say the man stands for God, but if you're going to take it to the next level, then you need, at the same time, to say the woman stands for the Israelites. God is to the man as the woman is to (personified) Jerusalem. It's the man (in the allegory) who relates to the woman. God doesn't relate to the woman. That confuses what's inside the story with what's outside the story. Confounds the fictional characters with the external referents. 
v) The allegory is not about men and women. Not about how men should treat women or vice versa. That's not its concern. In terms of the intended referents, the woman stands for men as much as women. She symbolizes male and female Israelites. The allegory assigns to men as well as women the status of the adopted girl/wife/prostitute. 
vi) In the Mosaic law, adultery was a capital offense for men and women alike. 
vii) In the allegory, the woman is burned/put to the sword, not because that was the legal punishment for an adulteress, but because that foreshadows the actual fate of the apostate Jews when Jerusalem as conquered by the Babylonians. That's a military image, not a judicial image. Inhabitants hacked to pieces by invading soldiers. Cities torched. 
viii) Among other things, the residents of Jerusalem were guilty of child sacrifice (Ezk 16:20-21). That's the kind of literal infidelity which this allegory figuratively depicts.  
ix) The allegory has elements of folklore, like Shaw's Pygmalion. Pauper to princess. A mentor falls in love with his youthful charge. Does Rauser think Pygmalion is "awkward enough"? Even at the allegorical level, this isn't child marriage. 
Of course, it would be inappropriate for God to take a consort, but that objection confuses the allegory with what it stands for. In the allegory, God doesn't take a consort. Rather, her human benefactor does.  
x) Instead of being offended by what God says should offend us, Rauser is offended by what God says. A complete moral inversion. 
xi) Is this really the first time that Rauser's students at Taylor seminary had ever read Ezk 16? Christians need to know what's in the Bible.
Of course, they may be aghast, not at the real meaning of the allegory, but Rauser's twisted interpretation. You need to understand Scripture. Don't wait until someone like Rauser comes along, with his subversive agenda. 
xii) In the allegory, a benefactor discovers a newborn girl who was left to die. He adopts her. When she matures and "blossoms," he falls in love with her. He not only makes her his wife, but his queen. But she replays his love and kindness by becoming a prostitute. He's enraged. 
(There's a Hebrew pun on nudity and exile, which have the same root word.) 
That's the allegory. It trades on common primal emotions. Passion, compassion, ingratitude, betrayal, rage, revenge. 
Don't confuse the allegory with the reality it represents. The allegory is just a rhetorical vehicle. 
xiii) Although the Bible would be a nicer book without Ez 16, the world wouldn't be a nicer place without Ezk 16. This chapter presages the Babylonian deportation. The horrors were only too real, as well as the wickedness which precipitated that punishment. 

1 comment:

  1. According to Jude 1:5-7 Jesus destroyed the people He saved out of Egypt, and was pretty rough on the rebellious angels, not to mention the "ugly" judgment meted out on Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Pretty disturbing stuff indeed...apparently the God of the Bible expects to be honored or something, and He's more than willing to pour out divine displeasure of the worst kind upon those who thumb their noses at Him.

    Randal Rauser needs to deal with his problem with God before God deals with His problem with Randal Rauser.

    I can't believe people actually pay money to sit under his teaching.