Biblical Scholar Robert Write, in his new book, The Evolution of God, suggests that to understand the Biblical teaching on “holy war” we must learn to unlock the “code that is hidden in the Scriptures and that, once revealed, unlocks the secret.” But it turns out that Write believes there is no real code at all. The Bible is hopelessly contradictory, sometimes teaching tolerance and sometimes forbidding it. He adopts an evolutionary model of religion where the God of the Bible “had bursts of moral growth.”
The traditional evolutionary thinking on religion suggests that primitive man believed in patron tribal deities that sought the interests of the tribe. This concept gradually evolved into the more sophisticated concept of ethical monotheism. In Write’s thinking, however, ethical monotheism is the more primitive, since it naturally tends toward intolerance. The hallmark of polytheism, on the other hand, is its ability to absorb all religious ideas and assimilate them into a single religious stew.
At the end of the day Mr. Write’s advice is that Jews and Christians should accept the teaching in the Bible that we find agreeable and dismiss what we find objectionable. It is hard to believe that the absurdity of this suggestion escapes him. If we sit in judgment on the Bible (a merely human document in the first place) then what religious authority could it possibly still possess? We should dismiss the Bible entirely as a source of religious inspiration, and view it only with an historical an academic interest. Let us come up with a new document that we can fully subscribe! Furthermore, how can Write reply to a Jihadist that views the “intolerance” of monotheism to be the more progressive ideal contained in the Old Testament?
The Bible, however, displays a consistency of teaching that refuses to conform to evolutionary theories. We find, in fact, that the Bible contains no timeless principle of holy war to either affirm or deny.
In the beginning, when God expelled the first couple from his holy paradise garden in Eden he established a common grace order with sinful men. He promised to strive with sinful man and postpone his judgment to make room for repentance. But at specific moments in redemptive history there were divine intrusions of judgment. These intrusions of judgment serve as an illustration of final judgment. Most notable of these intrusions was the flood. After the flood God promised that he would never bring a worldwide destruction again before the end, “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).
Abraham abided by this common grace order. When God appeared to Abraham and promised to him the land of Canaan, Abraham lived in that land as a stranger and good citizen. With God’s approval he made covenants with the polytheistic inhabitants, obeyed their laws and benefited those he dealt with (Gen 14; 20:17; 21:22-34; 23). The only portion of the land of Canaan that he owned was the burial site he purchased for his wife. God told him that the time for receiving the land as an inheritance was postponed until “in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen 15:16). God allowed the inhabitants to continue to increase in wickedness, even sacrificing their children, until the Day of Judgment.
At the right time God purposed to establish his holy kingdom in Canaan. This paradise land “flowing with milk and honey” provided a picture of Eden renewed. If God’s people obeyed the curse of the fall would be reversed: they would not suffer plagues or famine. It would be for them a Sabbath land, giving rest for their souls, and a picture of our heavenly reward (Deut 12:9, Ps 95; Heb 3-4, Heb 11:10, 16). At this time, therefore, God’s common grace order ended for the inhabitants. The Israelites were to guard the sanctuary of God and protect their boarders. Once they occupied the land they were never commanded to engage in “Jihad” against other nations or to “slay them [infidels] wherever you find them” (Surah 2:190). The common grace order ended for the Israelites as well. The land did not belong to Israel but to God, and in time He came as the holy warrior against them, just as He told them, “Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut 8:20).
When God fulfilled his word and expelled his people from the land and settled them in pagan Babylon they were to resume the good neighbor policy of Abraham. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). Such teaching must be an embarrassment to the liberal Biblical scholars, since according to their theory; ethical monotheism didn’t fully develop until during the exile.
Christians in the New Covenant live in the period of God’s common grace. We are prohibited from taking judgment into our own hands, as it belongs to God alone (Rom 12:18-19). If need be we endure injustice, and resist all use of force in defense of our faith, even at the cost of martyrdom. Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies and obey unrighteous rulers rather than seeking to drive them out in order to establish a holy culture (Matt 5:38-48; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). For this reason Jesus taught that he does not now judge the one who hears his word and rejects him (John 12:37) and he rebukes James and John who desire to call down fire from heaven in imitation of Elijah (Luke 9:53-55).
Therefore the Apostle Paul teaches Christians that we have no business judging those outside of the Church (1 Cor 5:9-13; 6:9-11). We are to defend the purity of the church, but we are armed only with the keys of the kingdom. The church is not entrusted with the sword, but with Word and sacrament. In the New Testament the holy war theme is spiritualized. Christians put on “the full armor of God.” But this armor consists of the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the God’s word, and the shield of faith (Eph. 6:10-17). “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-6).
But it is not as if God has outgrown the sort of judgments that we find in the Old Testament. Judgment is merely postponed. We are warned of the day when God will establish that holy kingdom that Canaan merely foreshadowed – the New Heavens and New Earth where righteousness dwells. That day will see the final Day of Judgment which all the other judgments merely foreshadowed. When “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction” (1 Thess. 1:7).
Mankind is at war with God, but Jesus Christ today is the emissary of peace calling all to repentance and faith in him. Now is the time of God’s favor; today is the day of salvation.