Michael Novak on the Old Testament

Michael Novak has posted a piece at The Catholic Thing on two recent challenges to Christianity–one from a letter writer and one from his granddaughter–denying belief in God because God, in the Old Testament, commands Israel to do evil.

Novak tries the typical “that’s how people were then, and Israel wasn’t as bad as the pagans” defense. I would say that, if that is his defense, I agree with his interlocutors.

Either God inspired the Old Testament, and, when the Old Testament God says something, He said it, or else He didn’t.

You can’t pick and choose what parts of the Old Testament were “really” God and which you think are human invention.

The Navarre Bible commentary on Jesus’ prohibition of divorce points out that the only mention of Divorce in the Torah is “If you get a divorce here’s how you do it.” Moses does not, technically, even “permit” divorce. He just doesn’t raise the issue of whether divorce is wrong. He just says, “If you have to get a divorce, here’s how to do it, to make sure it’s done justly.”

Jesus comes along and says, “Moses only said that much because of your weakness.”

Novak quotes his letter writer thusly:

“I take this episode as expressing the idea that God’s authority is
absolutely without limit, that there are no values apart from God’s will, thus
man has no dignity or rights on his own account. If he wishes us to slaughter
one another, we are in no position to question or to disagree.”

That’s sound theology. God’s authority *is* absolute. Its only limit is His own Love, and we are fools if we wish to limit God’s love to human terms. The ultimate message of the Book of Job is that God is ineffable.

People extrapolate from a couple verses in the Gospels that Jesus was a nice, tolerant, liberal hippie. They then construct an entire religion based upon this caricature of the Savior. They ignore and reinterpret anything in the Gospel that doesn’t mesh with the “hippie theory”, then they basically deny the divine inspiration of the Old Testament to make it fit their theory.

I’d have thought Michael Novak capable of a better defense of Old Testament warfare than this.

Anyway, the argument I heard on EWTN years ago (I *think* it was Scott Hahn) is that there was no salvation then. Mortal sin was literally mortal.

God is our Father, and Israel were His children. He had not yet given the Savior or the Sacraments. He had only given the Law. Like a good father, He did not want his children hanging out with “bad influences” until they were mature enough as a people to handle it.

Now, one thing that’s confusing in the case of the Midianites, for example, is that they were an Abrahamic people (and wasn’t Abraham’s wife a Midianite?). But the point was that pagans could not be allowed to influence Israel.

Genocide was the only way to do that. The later history of the Old Testament shows what happened when they didn’t obey God’s commands regarding pagans.

It is easy, from Christian theology, to see why the New Law has changed that, because we now have the capability of being forgiven–and we should never presume to judge God’s motives in these matters.

But I wonder why the Jews do not believe they have orders to slaughter the non-believers in their midst?

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