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Summary of Love of God: A Canonical Model: Chapter Eight: “The Reciprocal Aspect of Divine Love”

Summary by Gary Yates

Chapter eight of John Peckham’s Love of God: A Canonical Model focuses on the ideally reciprocal nature of divine-human love. While God has a universal love for all persons, he “enters into and enjoys a particular, intimate relationship only with those who freely reciprocate his love” (p. 220). Humans must choose to respond to God’s love in order to enjoy its blessings and benefits, and this reciprocity is necessary because of the nature of love, which involves the free and mutual giving of the self to the one who is loved. This discussion of reciprocity in divine-human love overlaps in many ways the previous discussion of the foreconditionality of God’s love in chapter seven.

God has foreconditionally bestowed love on every person, enabling a reciprocal response by humans to that love. God seeks these relationships because he is by nature love (1 John 4:8), and the revelation of God’s triune nature reflects that the Father, Son, and Spirit have eternally enjoyed a reciprocal love relationship. God is not in need of relationship with his creatures, but he desires and seeks relationship with humans. He expects that humans will reciprocate his love and responds with love and special intimacy to those who do so. In the Old Testament, God shows his “lovingkindness” (hesed) to those who “love” (’ahav) him and keep his commandments (Exod 20:5-6; 34:7; Deut 7:9; Neh 1:5; Jer 32:8; Dan 9:4). Similarly, the New Testament teaches that both God and Jesus respond with love toward those who love and obey the Son (John 14:21-23; 16:27). Followers of Jesus enjoy an intimate friendship with him because of this reciprocal love (John 15:14), but must remain in that love (John 15:9-10).


The Biblical Evidence for Reciprocity in Divine-Human Love

The reciprocity of divine-human love is especially reflected in the covenant and kinship relationships that God enjoys with his people. God initiates covenant relationships through calling and election prior to any human response, but those in covenant with him are expected to love him in return and to keep his commands. Providing a corrective to the sharp distinction between promissory and obligatory covenants in the Old Testament, Peckham rightly emphasizes that all covenants between God and humans contain elements of conditionality that place obligations upon those in covenant with the Lord. Even promissory covenants like the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants that guarantee the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises place conditions of loyalty and obedience upon those who wish to personally experience their blessings  (cf. Gen 18:19; 22:16-18; 26:4-; 1 Kgs 2:3-4; 8:2; 9:4-9).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The use of marriage and parent-child metaphors to portray the covenant relationship particularly highlights the bilateral “give and take” involved in divine-human relationships. God has an enduring and patient love for his people, but he also expects the love of his people in return (cf. Ezek 16:8-13; Jer 2:2). God’s compassionate love for his people surpasses that of a human parent (Isa 49:15), but humans can also reject God as husband or parent and thus sever the kinship relationship (Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Hos 2:2). In the Old Testament, Israel’s repeated apostasy brought a rupture of their special relationship with Yahweh so that they forfeited their claim to be his “wife” (Jer 3:1) and “children” (Hos 1:6, 9; 2:4). God gave his wife a certificate of divorce (Isa 50:1) and sent her away into exile. God’s love for Israel was enduring so that he called for their repentance and return even in the midst of their apostasy and he promises to make a new covenant with those who seek him and return to him (Jer 31:31;36; Ezek 16:60-62; Hos 2:19-20; 14:3-4). In the New Testament, only those who respond by faith in Jesus Christ are allowed to be called children/sons of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:14; 1 Jn 3:1-2).

Regarding the human reciprocation of divine love, Peckham makes two important clarifications.  Reciprocal love does not mean that humans can love God equally or that the relationship between God and humans is symmetrical, but it does mean that a relationship between God and humans is possible in which “God’s love is responded to positively so that humans become conduits of divine love” (p. 231). The second is that the reciprocal nature of divine-human love also means that human love for God is not the result of God’s unilateral action. While God is the prime agent and initiator of divine-human love, he does not unilaterally cause humans to enter into a love relationship with him. Peckham states that “humans possess the divinely granted freedom to reciprocate or reject God’s love” (p. 231) and views this understanding to be in line with the numerous exhortations in the Bible for humans to love God and statements in the Bible concerning human love for God. He argues that “the divine exhortations for human love would be superfluous and misleading if human love were unilaterally determined by God such that those who do not love God could not love God” (p. 231). The numerous passages that speak of the reward given to those who love God “strongly imply genuine contingency and significant human freedom” (p. 231).


God’s Universal and Particular Love

Peckham’s view of divine-human love as ideally reciprocal necessitates a distinction between God’s universal and particular love. There is a universal invitation to all, but God’s relational love can be rejected and forfeited. There is a special “insider love” for those who respond to God, but those on the outside who reject God’s love could have been insiders as well but were not willing. Humans do not earn God’s love by responding to his initiatives because their response “is no more meritorious than the acceptance of a gift from a benefactor” (p. 234).

Pekcham rejects universalism in all of its forms, because God’s love ultimately can be rejected and resisted. He also rejects the idea that God’s particular love reaches only those whom God as chosen as his elect. Peckham, in agreement with Walls and Olson, finds it problematic to say that God truly loves those whom he has unilaterally chosen not to save. He also raises the question of why God does not save all if he truly can unilaterally impose his love on humans.  A reciprocal view of divine-human love instead asserts that God does all he can “within the bounds of bilateral significant freedom” to bring about the salvation of all, but ultimately each individual must choose to accept or reject the offer to enter into relationship with God.


A Further Canonical Perspective to Consider

Peckham’s model of the reciprocal nature of divine-human love accords well with the canonical interplay between the divine initiative to enter into relationships with humans and the contingency of human responses to those initiatives. Peckham also raises important questions regarding how divine-human love can be genuine and mutual if unilaterally imposed on humans. At the same time, there appears to be a canonical movement in Scripture that perhaps does not receive enough attention in Peckham’s treatment. In the new covenant that God would make with Israel, there is a greater emphasis on the circumcision of the heart, writing the divine law on the heart, or the giving of a new heart that would serve to override Israel’s unbelief and that would guarantee the nation’s fidelity to the Lord (cf. Deut 30:16; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19). Walter Brueggemann writes of this movement from a “Deuteronomic model,” stressing human repentance as a condition for Israel’s restoration, to a “Prophetic model,” in which restoration occurs without Israel’s repentance. This movement does not eliminate reciprocity, because human repentance/response remains a part of the equation, but Peckham could devote more attention to this greater emphasis in the new covenant on divine initiative in securing the human responses that God desires. Peckham states that “those privy to God’s particularly relational love allow God to love them forever” (p. 243), but it seems that there again needs to be greater emphasis on the indwelling of the Spirit (also a new covenant reality) that seals the believer in this love relationship and that secures the believer’s enduring love in relationship with God. The power of God that acts to hold the believer in this reciprocal love relationship once it is initiated is also an important part of the canonical presentation concerning divine-human love.



Summary of Chapter 7: “The Foreconditionality of God’s Love” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Gary Yates

The key question in chapter seven of Peckham’s Love of God is whether God’s love for the world is unconditional or conditional, the answer to which is also essential for determining if humans can forfeit divine love or if it is unilaterally consistent. Peckham employs the term “foreconditional” to express his understanding that “God’s love is freely bestowed prior to any conditions but not exclusive of conditions” (p. 192). He further elaborates: “God’s love is both prior to human love and yet responsive to and conditioned on human love, which is itself response to God’s initiative. This is the foreconditionality of divine love” (p. 196).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Peckham contrasts his understanding of the foreconditionality of God’s love with both the immanent-experientialist and transcendant-voluntarist models, which both in different ways view divine love as unconditional and as something that cannot be forfeited. In the immanent-experientialist model, divine love is ontologically necessary in that God has an essential sympathetic relationship to the world. In pantheism, God is bound to the world and is mutually dependent on others so that God is unable to choose not to love humans. In the transcendant-voluntarist model, God is self-sufficient so that his love depends solely on his sovereign will. Divine love is thus not conditioned on any external factor and is spontaneous and unmotivated in every way. In this system, the object of divine love can do nothing to inhibit, decrease, or forfeit divine love.


The Conditionality of Divine Love

Peckham opts for a model of divine love that recognizes the priority and necessity of divine initiative but that also sees conditionality and reciprocity as essential to the relationship between God and humans. He argues that Scripture depicts divine love as conditioned upon human response. In the OT, God’s “lovingkindness” (hesed) is for those who love him and obey his commands (Exod 20:6’ Deut 7:9-13). What God has promised within this covenant “is presented as explicitly conditional on the ongoing relationship” (p. 194). In the same vein, Jesus declares that the one who loves him is the one that he and the Father would love (John 14:12) and that the Father loves the disciples because they have loved Jesus (John 16:27). Mutuality is evident in these texts, which indicate that believers remain in the love of God and Jesus by obedience.

This conditionality in divine love is complemented by the evaluative aspect of God’s love that Peckham has developed in chapter five of this work. The Lord loves the righteous but hates the way of the wicked (Prov 15:9). Divine mercy is conditioned upon humans showing mercy to each other (Matt 5:7; 18:33-35). Friendship with Christ is also conditioned on obedience to his commands (John 15:14). God loves all persons and bestows his foreconditional love on all (John 3:16), but his “particular, intimate, relational love” is only received by those who respond to his foreconditional love.

The conditionality of divine love means that humans may also forfeit the benefits of divine love. The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah speak of God hating his people, not loving them, and withdrawing his hesed from them (Hos 9:15; Jer 11:15; 12:8; 14:20; 16:5). Jude’s exhortation for believers to “keep themselves” in the love of God (Jude 21) reflects that fellowship with God can be forfeited. The need for believers to “abide” in God’s love (John 15:5-10) also demonstrates that enjoyment of God’s love demands a proper response to it. Peckham argues that this biblical evidence does away with “the sentimental notion that God’s love is monolithic, constant and unconditional,” and he concludes that “God’s love relationship with the world, then, is not dependent on God’s will alone but takes into account human disposition and action” (p. 199).


Three Objections to the Condtionality of God’s Love

Peckham addresses three common objections to the idea of the conditionality of divine love. The first objection is that some would argue that such conditionality might mistakenly attribute primacy to human action in the divine-human relationship. In response to this objection, Peckham asserts the “absolute priority” of God’s love in the divine-human relationship (1 Jn 4:7-8, 16, 19) and argues that God “is the primary source of love and draws humans to himself prior to any human action” (p. 201). God’s love not only precedes human love, but also follows it as well, energizing love for God and obedience as an expression of that love.

The second objection is that the conditionality of divine love might appear to suggest that God’s love is something that could be earned or merited. Peckham explains that his foreconditional-reciprocal model makes a sharp distinction between conditionality and merit. God’s love toward humans is always undeserved, just as was his love for Israel (cf. Deut 4:37; 7:7-8; 10:15), but divine love can be unmerited while at the same time contingent upon human response. The individual who freely receives God’s love has not merited that love, because even the ability to receive divine love is something that comes as a gift from God (cf. 1 Cor 4:7).

The third objection is that the conditionality of divine love might seem to diminish the greatness of God by removing the assurance of divine love or suggesting that God’s love is not faithful. Peckham counters this objection by noting that God never arbitrarily rejects humans or withdraws his love, The removal of divine love always occurs in response to unrelenting human evil. Divine love is conditional but never capricious.

Peckham also assesses if God’s love would be greater by reconciling all to himself in a reciprocal love relationship. Certain forms of universalism are based on the premises that God desires a love relationship with all and also possesses the ability to effect such a relationship with all persons. Deterministic models of divine love would affirm the second premise, but some forms of determinism would deny the first. According to this understanding, God loves all in some respect but he only chooses some to irresistibly receive the benefits of divine love leading to eternal life. Humans do not possess the ability to accept divine love or not.

In contrasts to these perspectives, the foreconditional-reciprocal model accepts that God desires a love relationship with all (cf. Ezek 18:32; 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4-6; 2 Pet 3:9), but that a truly reciprocal loved relationship between God and individuals “cannot be unilaterally determined by God” (p. 207). This conditionality is not due to any defect in divine love or lack in his power but rather to the fact that any truly loving relationship requires “significant freedom.” Peckham argues that “it is impossible for God to determine that all beings freely love him” (p. 208).


The Conditionality and Unconditionality of God’s Love

The final question that Peckham addresses in this chapter is how we should view the many passages that speak of God’s love as everlasting (cf. Jer 31:3; Rom 8:35, 39) in light of the conditionality of divine love. Distinguishing between God’s subjective and objective love, Peckham argues that, “Divine love is everlasting in some respects, yet may nevertheless be discontinued in other respects” (p. 212). God’s subjective love refers to his loving disposition toward all humanity, and this love is everlasting because it is grounded only in his character. God’s subjective love is unconditional and everlasting because his character is unchanging. God’s objective love, however, is conditional because it is “foreconditional and requires reciprocal love for its permanent continuance” (p. 212). Humans possess the freedom to either accept or reject divine love, and God only removes his love relationship with humans “in response to the prior rejection of God’s love” (p. 213).

Peckham also argues that God’s love is unconditional and everlasting in a corporate sense. He writes, “That God will love and save some people is unconditional.” The Lord’s saving purposes and covenantal promises will come to fruition for his people, but conditionality is maintained at the individual level in regard to who will belong to the remnant. The remnant will only consist of those who favorably respond to God’s loving initiatives (cf. Isa 65:8-9; Rom 9:6; 11:7, 22-23). The interplay between the unconditionality and conditionality of divine love is specifically reflected in the working out of God’s covenant grants in the OT. These covenant promises are unconditional in terms of ultimate fulfillment, but individuals or even entire generations may forfeit the blessings of the covenant and even their covenant status. In the Davidic covenant, Christ is the “entirely faithful servant” who receives all of the blessings that are part of that covenant and to confer those blessings to all of his spiritual offspring. However, individuals may either choose to enjoy those blessings through adoption into God’s family or reject these intended blessings and the love relationship they might have enjoyed with God.

In concluding this chapter, Peckham summarizes the differences between God’s subjective and objective love in this manner: “While God’s subjective love never diminishes or ceases, God’s objective love will eventually no longer reach the one who finally rejects it. Those who respond positively to God’s love, however, enjoy everlasting reciprocal love relationship” (p. 217).

Find the other chapter summaries here.


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Summary of Chapter 6, “The Emotional Aspect of God’s Love” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Gary Yates 

In chapter six of The Love of God, Peckham explores “The Emotional Aspect of God’s Love.” God’s love is more than emotion and includes the qualities of volition and evaluation (as developed in previous chapters), but the emotional aspect of divine love uniquely reflects its passion and intensity. Peckham argues that “God’s love for humans is ardent and profoundly emotional” (p. 187). He further elaborates on the range of divine emotions reflected in the biblical portrayal of God, “Scripture presents God as affectionate and loving, devotedly interested and intimately concerned about humans, affected by the world in feeling joy and delight in goodness, yet sorrow, passion and intense anger at evil, alongside profound compassion and the desire to redeem humans” (p. 189).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This aspect of divine emotionality raises the question of whether God can be affected by the actions of humans. Because of the intensely emotional nature of divine love as portrayed in Scripture, Peckham rejects a view of God’s immutability that incorporates belief in his impassibility, the idea that God is not emotionally affected by the world or that he cannot be affected by anything outside himself. Peckham instead argues that God’s love is passible in the sense that “God is intensely interested in and affected by humans, and may be pleased or displeased by their response to him such that the quality of his life is affected by the state of affairs in the world” (p. 187). At the same time, Peckham acknowledges the very real differences that exist between divine and human emotions.

The Biblical Portrayal of Divine Emotionality

Peckham’s presentation of the biblical portrayal of divine love is both exegetical and devotional. He begins by exploring the most prominent terms for love in the OT and NT—the word groups for ’ahav and agapao respectively. Both terms denote a type of love that is “affectionate, passionate, warm, compassionately concerned with and interested in its object(s); love in the sense of high regard, value and appreciation for its object(s); and love that includes enjoyment pleasure and fondness” (cf. Col 3:9; 1 Thess 2:7; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8) (p. 149). Jesus had a deep love for his followers (John 13:1) and even for the rich young man who would make the choice not to follow him (Mk 10:21). God takes genuine joy in his people (Zeph 3:7), and familial images of various types particularly reflect the emotionality of divine love. The Lord loves Israel as his bride (Isa 62:4; Jer 2:2-3; 16, 23; Hos 1-3) and has adopted Israel as his son (Hos 11:1-4). God’s compassion even exceeds that of a nursing mother for her newborn child (Isa 49:15). The Hebrew word for compassion (racham) is etymologically related to the noun for “womb” and thus likely reflects “a womb-like mother love.”

God does not merely will to love volitionally; he loves with “an emotion that is stirred and roused, responsive to the actual state of affairs” (p. 151). One of the primary NT terms for compassion (splagnizomai) belongs to a word group referring to the inward parts of the body as the seat of emotion and thus depicts compassion as a visceral emotion and a “gut response.” Jesus often reflected this type of compassion as he encountered people in need (cf. Mt. 9:36; 14:14; Mk 1:41; 6:34). The “yearning” of God’s heart (Jer 31:20; Is 63:5) in the OT reflects the churning of internal organs as God is touched by the pain and grief of his people. All of this language conveys “profoundly passible and intense emotionality” (p. 153).

God’s emotional love is particularly reflected in those times when he relents from sending judgment because of the entreaties of his people for grace and mercy. The Lord is moved to pity even at the plight of his rebellious people. The revelation that Yahweh is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger” so that he shows mercy and forgives iniquity (Exod 34:6-7) is foundational to the OT portrayal of God. The Lord continues to “bestow compassion beyond all reasonable expectations” throughout Israel’s history when they betray him and turn to other gods (cf. Judg 10:13; 1 Sam 8:8; 1 Kgs 11:33; 2 Kgs 22:17; Neh 9:7-33). The Lord relents from judgment when humans cry out to him for grace and mercy (cf. Exod 32:9-14; 1 Kgs 21:25-29; Amos 7:1-6; Jon 3:6-10). At the same time, God is not obligated or compelled to show mercy and he may not relent from sending judgment, and he may also withdraw his mercy when humans persistently rebel against him (Jer 16;5; Hos 9:15). The Lord’s “lovingkindness” toward Israel was unconditional in terms of his enduring commitment to the relationship, but conditional in that the blessings and benefits of that lovingkindness were for those who reciprocated with love and loyalty toward the Lord (Deut 7:9; Matt 18:27-35; Rom 11:22). God does everything that he can to avoid the outcome of judgment and destruction, but divine mercy may be forfeited by persistent human rebellion. Jesus lamented over those he desired to save but who were unwilling (Matt 23:37).

God’s compassion is complemented by his passion. God’s jealousy (qana’) in the OT conveys a passionate love and concern for his people and name (cf. Deut 4:24, 31; 5:9; 6:15) without the negative connotations associated with human jealousy. God is provoked to jealousy by Israel’s unfaithfulness (Deut 32:3`; Ps 78:58) and is often portrayed as a scorned husband (Isa 62:4; Jer 2:2; 3:1-12), but this aspect of divine emotionality reflects his protectiveness of the exclusive covenantal relationship he has with his people. God is not jealous in a manipulative, controlling, or envious way but in a manner that reflects the depth of his passionate love for Israel and his desire to protect his people from the consequences of their sinful choices.

God’s love manifests itself in both positive and negative emotions, but these negative emotions are never arbitrary or unmotivated. They always come in response to sin and evil, and God’s wrath is so terrifying because it is the divine response to the rejection of his powerful love. Even when humans sin, God is constantly pulled toward forgiveness and mercy. God is also deeply pained by human sin (Gen 6:6), because he can see the terrible consequences that will follow.

The Issue of Passibility Versus Impassibility

In light of the biblical data, Peckham concludes that maintaining divine impassibility and supposing God’s impassible passion and/or feelings fails to do justice to the many biblical passages in which God experiences responsive emotions. There are simply too many passages like Hosea 11:8-9 that “use passionate, gut-wrenching language” to depict God’s intense emotions, and this pervasive canonical witness argues against imposing an ontological presupposition of God’s impassibility onto the text that leads to reinterpretation of the biblical data (pp. 161-62). Impassibility is particularly difficult to maintain in light of texts that place God’s emotionality within the contexts of give-and-take-relationships where God reacts to unfolding events and human responses to his various initiatives. Based on his analogical understanding of language about God, Pekcham concludes that God’s emotions are real but not identical to human emotions. Nevertheless, there must be similarity for this language about God to have any real meaning. Because of his canonical approach, Peckham particularly seeks to establish a view of divine emotionality that prioritizes and is consistent with the canonical depiction of God. This approach recognizes anthropomorphism in the biblical portrayal of God, but also insists that divine emotionality should not be viewed merely as metaphorical language unless there are canonically derived reasons for doing so.

While rejecting the idea of impassibility, Peckham sees validity in the qualified impassibilist attempts to maintain divine transcendence and the ontological invulnerability of God to the effects of his creatures. God’s passibility is voluntary. God’s emotions may genuinely be affected by the free choices of his creatures and he may feel emotions in response to the free actions of his creatures that he does not causally determine, but God is not involuntarily invulnerable to these effects. God experiences emotions differently from humans because his experience of emotions is “entirely flawless” (p. 180). He is never overwhelmed by his emotions or manipulated by others because of some form of emotional codependency. God has freely opened himself to being affected by his creatures. While God maintains the sovereign freedom to remove himself from this arrangement, he also elects to remain constantly committed to it as an expression of his faithfulness (p. 181). In concluding the chapter, Peckham summarizes: “While none can overpower God, he is affected by worldly events because he has willingly opened himself up to reciprocal love relationship with creatures (p. 189). God loves in highly emotive ways but not in ways that are beyond his divine control.

Find the other chapter summaries here.

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The Humanity of Jesus: A Response to Brandon Ambrosino

By Gary Yates

Like other evangelicals, I appreciate the candor and forthrightness of Brandon Ambrosino’s article “The Best Christian Argument for Marriage Equality Is That the Bible Got It Wrong” in recognizing the problems with revisionist arguments that the Bible condones or affirms same-sex relationships. He further recognizes the unlikelihood that Jesus as a first-century Jew would have approved of such relationships, but he also argues that Jesus’ commitment to male-female complementarity is not binding on followers of Jesus today, because “Jesus’ knowledge is limited to what was knowable in the first century.”

The purpose of this response is to specifically address whether Ambrosino’s understanding of the limitations of Jesus’ knowledge fits within an orthodox view of the humanity of Jesus, as he has suggested. I am not writing this response as a personal attack on Brandon and felt compelled to respond in part because of some of the less-than-kind responses I saw in social media yesterday. I do not know Brandon personally, but have had some interaction with him as a student at Liberty, and I hope my response reflects a proper sense of grace and humility, in spite of the fact that I strongly disagree with his conclusions concerning the nature of Christ’s humanity. I am far more concerned with the issues raised in the article of how we view Jesus and respond to his teachings and will not be treating the larger issues relating to the biblical teaching on same-sex relationships that are found elsewhere.

The Gospels present a Jesus, who even with his human limitations, possesses knowledge that is at least superhuman in some cases and that is clearly supernatural in others.
Ambrosino is certainly on the right track in asking his readers to reflect on the implications of a human Jesus who learned and processed new information like any other human as he progressed from infancy to adulthood. Luke 2:40 states that Jesus “grew in wisdom” like any other human being. In his book Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, Chris Wright makes the point that Jesus’ reading of the Hebrew Bible informed his understanding as a human of his mission and calling.

It is another thing entirely, however, to then make the argument that Ambrosino does that “Jesus’ knowledge is limited to what was knowable in the first century.” Ambrosino qualifies his own statement when he writes, “Jesus is, in many senses, limited by the first century.” His lack of precision here raises the issue whether he believes Jesus is fully limited to what was knowable in the first century or if he is only “limited in many senses.” If he is arguing the former, his argument is problematic for an orthodox view of Christ. If Jesus as the perfect and unfallen human did not progress in his understanding of the world around him beyond that of his contemporaries, he certainly made poor use of his unfallen intellectual capacities. If Jesus did not progress beyond first-century understandings of a culture living under the noetic effects of the Fall, then it also seems difficult to merely believe that Jesus was just a guy “who was wrong about stuff.” This view of the humanity of Jesus seems to require one to believe that Jesus also held to beliefs, practices, and prejudices that were sinful and evil in the eyes of the Creator.

The Gospels clearly reveal a human Jesus whose knowledge had certain limitations. In the Incarnation, the Son of God surrendered the independent use of his divine attribute of omniscience, and thus he states that “only the Father in heaven knows the hour of his return” at the second coming (Matt 24:34). Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus had limited knowledge concerning the timing of the second coming does not mean that the other information he reveals concerning eschatological events is invalid, and it is wrong to infer from Matt 24:34 that Jesus was “horribly mistaken about the end of the world” or that Jesus’ predictions concerning the end-time events constitute an example of “failed prophecy.” Why would failure to know the exact timing of an event invalidate the entire prophecy?

If Ambrosino is arguing that Jesus was “horribly mistaken” because of the way in which he conflated events from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE with his second coming, then he would have to say the same about virtually all eschatological prophecies found in the Scriptures that combine near and far events in precisely the same manner as Jesus did. The fact that Jesus views Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” as yet future despite its connections to what had happened historically with Antiochus and the Jews in the second-century BCE suggests that he would intend his prophecy of future events to be read in the same way. Or, one could simply argue for a more figurative understanding of the prophecies in Matthew 24, which also would not require one to conclude that Jesus’ prophecies were false or mistaken.

The implications of Ambrosino’s argument that one can hold to an orthodox view of Christ and believe that “Jesus was a guy who got stuff wrong” are far more serious and complex than he reflects in his article.
The Gospels present a different portrait of the human Jesus than the one offered by Ambrosino. They present a Jesus, who even with his human limitations, possesses knowledge that is at least superhuman in some cases and that is clearly supernatural in others. Already at the age of twelve, he has knowledge of the Scriptures that confounds the religious authorities, and he has a deeper understanding of his mission, calling, and unique relationship with God than do his parents. He has knowledge of the thoughts, intentions, and motives of the individuals he interacts with at times that clearly goes beyond psychological insight (cf. Mark 2:8; 10:52; Luke 5:22; John 1:4-49; 2:24-25).

As others have noted, the use of questions, such as “Who touched me?” does not necessarily entail a lack of knowledge (cf. Gen 3:9). Jesus accurately predicts his rejection, the defection of his disciples including Peter’s three denials, his death, resurrection, the destruction of Jerusalem, and his second coming. At the very least, he speaks with the revelatory insight of a true prophet. The clearest indication that Jesus was much more than a product of his first-century environment was how his view of his mission as Israel’s messiah radically conflicted with contemporary expectations. If the Gospel witness is true, then Jesus combined the roles of Davidic messiah, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and Daniel’s heavenly “son of man” in ways that were unique in perspective and novel for his day.

Even viewing Jesus as an inspired prophet creates significant problems for the argument that Jesus’ affirmation of “male-female pattern of coupling as the proper domestic arrangement” or his likely agreement “with the Levitical assessment of homosexuality as a sin” is merely the product of being first-century Jewish male. As Robert Gagnon has already noted:

Contrary to what Ambrosino suggests, Jesus’ position on the male-female matrix for marriage was not an offhand comment or an undigested morsel of his first-century Jewish cultural environment. Nor did Jesus view the matter as ancillary to Christian faith. He treated this as part of the foundation of creation upon which all sexual ethics is based. He predicated on the God-intentioned duality and complementarity of the sexes a principle about number: There should be a duality of number in the sexual union matching the duality of the sexes required for that union. In other words, the twoness of the sexes in creation, obviously designed for sexual union, is a self-evident indication of the Creator’s will for the twoness of the sexual bond.

If Jesus as God’s supremely-anointed spokesman simply defaulted to a first-century Jewish understanding when teaching on something as vitally important as the marriage relationship, then it raises serious questions about his credibility as both prophet and son of God. Ambrosino himself acknowledges that Jesus challenged current Jewish thinking regarding lust, adultery, and divorce, but perhaps Jesus simply did not go far enough in jettisoning his first-century worldview.

Should we view his teaching on adultery as antiquated because it was based on the belief that the woman was the property of her husband or should we abandon insistence on the duality of the marriage relationship because it was based upon the literalistic reading of the story of Adam and Eve that prevailed in Jesus’ day? What other issues related to Christian life and practice that the teaching of Jesus bears on should be subjected to the same type of scrutiny? If Jesus’ practice of casting out demons was merely the product of a pre-modern understanding of physical and mental illness, does it invalidate the gospel message that Jesus came to destroy the power of Satan and evil? To what extent do antiquated Jewish views of blood sacrifice and atonement influence Jesus’ understanding of his death as a “ransom for many”? These questions are not easily answered, but the implications of Ambrosino’s argument that one can hold to an orthodox view of Christ and believe that “Jesus was a guy who got stuff wrong” are far more serious and complex than he reflects in his article.

A significant piece of Ambrosino’s argument is that he equates Jesus’ teaching on male-female complementarity in marriage with his affirmation of Mosaic authorship of the Torah, which is problematic for several reasons. He engages in a bit of “chronological snobbery” in thinking that the non-or post-Mosaic materials in the Torah that are so evident to us courtesy of critical biblical scholarship would not have at least raised questions for even a first-century thinking individual like Jesus who was not simply constrained by tradition in his beliefs. If Jesus could quote Deuteronomy three times when under the duress of temptation from Satan in the wilderness, he might have at least pondered once or twice how Moses could speak of Israel having a king (Gen 36:31) or why Moses wrote the account of his own death in Deuteronomy 34. If I can figure it out and Brandon can figure it out, then I expect that Jesus was intelligent enough to do the same.

The larger issue is that what Jesus means by attributing the law to Moses is a complex issue. As Ambrosino acknowledges, Jesus’ references “to the Torah with the shorthand ‘Moses’ is hardly proof-positive that Jesus was wrong about the books’ provenance (many scholars refer to the books metonymically).” Was Jesus merely using a form of citation or was he accommodating himself to current Jewish belief? Was Jesus saying that Moses wrote every word and verse in the Torah, or was he attributing Mosaic authority to the whole of the Torah? Ambrosino is correct to argue that a literalistic reading of the words of Jesus as proof that Moses wrote every word of the Torah is wrong, but incorrect inferences from the words of Jesus do not mean that Jesus himself was wrong. Even with prophetic updating, revision, or expansion of an original core of Mosaic material (or a core of material originally attributed to Moses), there is nothing untruthful or misguided in Jesus attributing the law to Moses. Ambrosino’s argument that this proves Jesus “got stuff wrong” goes beyond what is really here.

Finally, Ambrosino’s argument that Jesus’ incorrect attribution of the law to Moses because of first-century Jewish beliefs makes it likely Jesus was also wrong in affirming Jewish beliefs in male-female complementarity as normative for marriage fails because it compares apples and oranges. Ambrosino’s argument rests upon the same rather simplistic understanding of what is meant by “inerrancy” as the literalists he seeks to refute. Even if conceding the possibility or likelihood that Jesus believed that Moses wrote all of the Torah, the attribution of authorship is simply not the same kind of truth claim as the normative teaching of Jesus on marriage. In their 2013 work, The Lost World of Scripture, John Walton and Brent Sandy have advanced the discussion of biblical inerrancy by distinguishing between “locution” and “illocution” in biblical texts:

The communicator uses locutions (words, sentences, rhetorical questions, genres) to embody an illocution (the intention to do something with those locutions—bless, promise, instruct, assert) with a perlocution that anticipates a certain response from the audience (obedience, trust, belief). (p. 41)

Further, Walton and Sandy argue that doctrinal affirmations of inspiration and inerrancy attach to the illocution of the text and what is intended by the communicative act rather than requiring the truthfulness of every locution in the text. Whether the mustard seed really is the smallest seed is irrelevant to the truthfulness of the illocution concerning the kingdom of God conveyed by Jesus’ words about the mustard seed. Similarly, the locution of attributing authorship to Moses could be a culturally-bound perspective, but the illocution of ascribing prophetic and divine authority to the Torah is truthful and inspired.

Whether one agrees with every aspect of this view of inerrancy or not or whether one believes that a human Jesus could have believed that something was untrue or not, this explanation helps in part to demonstrate the problem with Ambrosino’s argument. One cannot simply equate an attribution of authorship in one text with normative teaching on marriage in another text. In both cases, the illocution of what Jesus proclaims (prophetic authority of the Torah and male-female complementarity in marriage) is truthful and authoritative for followers of Jesus. One can choose to believe that Jesus was wrong in one or both cases, but one cannot reject the teaching of Jesus in either instance within the boundaries of orthodoxy as easily or comfortably as Ambrosino suggests.


Image: Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Video: Genocide and War in the Old Testament

Liberty University recently hosted a lecture by Dr. Gary Yates & Dr. Don Fowler on “Genocide and War in the Old Testament.” If you’re interested in this topic, Yates and Fowler provide a compelling explanation of these Old Testament narratives that is well worth your time. If you’d  like more on this topic, you can listen to Yates’ podcast on the subject here.


Image: “Joshua Passing the River Jordan with Ark of the Covenant” by Benjamin West. 

Mailbag: On the Morality of God’s Judgments in Ezekiel

From the Mailbag:

Dr. Baggett, I’ve read your co-[written] book with Dr. Walls on the moral argument and have found it to be very helpful for solidifying my belief in God. I understand that by definition, we should trust our moral intuitions and due to that, we can rule out portraits of God that violate those baseline intuitions (e.g. God commanding rape). I see possible and probable interpretations of the genocide texts via Paul Copan that leave my moral intuitions intact, but I’m not sure how this would work for other texts. Consider Ezekiel 5:10 and 26:8. It seems there that God’s direct punishment leads to cannibalism of children and the killing of young daughters (ESV). As the parent of three young girls I can’t square this with my basic moral intuitions. How would you recommend proceeding?

By the way, thanks so much for your work. I understand if you’re not able to answer this due to time restrictions. If you don’t have time, do you mind pointing me in a fruitful direction?

Keith Brooks

Thanks for the question, Keith! For illumination on these matters I turned to my colleague, Old Testament professor Dr. Gary Yates. Here’s his reply:

These are direct punishments from God, but the OT prophets do distinguish between God using these enemy armies to carry out his judgments and the culpability these nations have for the moral atrocities they commit when carrying out these judgments. We can see this in Isaiah 10:5-15, where Assyria is the “rod of Yahweh’s anger,” but the intent of the Assyrians is not to carry out God’s intentions or to act in the kinds of humane ways that God demands. The intent of the Assyrians is to “destroy” (10:7) and to usurp God’s sovereignty (10:15). We see the same thing in Jeremiah’s oracle against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51. The Lord uses Babylon as his “hammer” to strike the earth, but the Babylonians were actually only carrying out the evil intentions of their own hearts (Jer 50:11, 29, 33). The Lord uses the evil actions of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies to accomplish his purposes, but he does not compel them to perform their evil actions. They do them of their own accord and out of their own sinful and corrupt motivations. The prophets always make the case that the Lord will temporarily use these nations to judge Israel but then he would then hold them accountable for their crimes (see also Jer 25)—could he really do this if he had simply compelled them to kill, rape, and pillage? The atrocities of siege, starvation, cannibalism, and military defeat are highlighted in the prophets for two reasons—1) the Lord was motivating repentance by showing the people how terrible the judgment would be if they refused to repent; and 2) these were the specific covenant curses that the Lord had warned would come against Israel if they were not faithful to the covenant he had made with them as his chosen people (cf. Lev 26; Deut 28).

Two other points to consider that might help here. In Genesis 9, God establishes the Noahic covenant with all humanity which calls for severe punishment on those who shed blood (Gen 9:5-6). Isaiah 24:1-5 teaches that God will judge the world for violating the “everlasting covenant” (24:5). Since this covenant is with all nations, and since there is reference to bloodshed in Isaiah 26:21, the covenant in view here is the Noahic covenant. God will judge all nations for their violence and bloodshed in the final judgment. Passages like Amos 1-2; Habakkuk 2; and Nahum 3 also indicate that God’s judgment of nations (like Babylon and Assyria) is based on the fact that they have committed crimes that involved bloodshed against other nations and peoples. If God is directly responsible for the bloodshed and other acts of violence, then he is directly violating his own covenant.

The other point is that OT law expressly forbade Israel from practicing the kinds of atrocities against non-combatants that we are talking about here. When waging war outside of the land, they were not to kill non-combatants (Deut 20). They were given explicit instructions as to what to do with female prisoners of war that they wished to take as wives, and observance of these guidelines would have protected against wanton rape and abuse of females (Deut 21:10-13). God’s concern for widows and orphans reflects his concern for the oppressed. When we see Israel taking female captives for sexual purposes at the end of Judges (from their own people), the point there is that the Israelites are acting more like Canaanites than the kind of people that God designed them to be. In sum, we have to look at passages like these from Ezekiel 5 and 10 that you have pointed out in light of the whole canon and in light of the explicit moral commands and structures that God has put in place. I hope this helps.

Dr. Gary Yates


Photo: “Mailbox” by J. Rozler.  CC License. 

Podcast: Dr. Gary Yates on the Character of God and the Problem of the Canaanite Conquest

On this week’s episode, we have an in depth conversation with Dr. Gary Yates concerning what the Old Testament says about the goodness of God. One of the main aims is to turn back objections that are often raised in light of the Canaanite Conquest. By the end of the conversation, Dr. Yates explains how an honest reading of the Old Testament is compatible with character of God we see revealed in Jesus.


Photo: “Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon” by John Martin. Public Domain from NGA.GOV.