Closing The Book On Vengeance

Jesus-Synagogue (1)

Closing The Book On Vengeance
(A reflection on Luke 4:14-30)
Brian Zahnd

To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God.

This is how Jesus read Isaiah 61:2 when he returned to Nazareth after beginning his ministry. Jesus edited Isaiah. Reading from this familiar passage in Isaiah, Jesus stopped midsentence and rolled up the scroll! It would be like someone singing the national anthem and ending with, O’er the land of the free. Everybody would be waiting for and the home of the brave. Jesus didn’t finish the line. Jesus omitted the bit about “the day of vengeance of our God.”

In announcing that God’s jubilee of liberation, amnesty, and pardon was arriving with what he was doing, Jesus omitted any reference to God exacting vengeance on Israel’s enemies. In claiming that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in their hearing, Jesus is claiming to be Jubilee in person. But the scandalous suggestion is that this Jubilee is to be for everybody…even Israel’s enemies.

Jesus edited out vengeance, and this gives us a key to how Jesus read the Old Testament. And lest we think that Jesus’ omission of “the day of vengeance” was simply an oversight or meaningless, consider what Jesus says to the hometown crowd in the synagogue following his edited reading of Isaiah. Jesus recalls the stories of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper — Gentiles who instead of receiving vengeance from God, received provision and healing.

Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Lord’s favor, but he is emphasizing that it is for everybody…even for Sidonians and Syrians, even for Israel’s enemies! Jesus is making clear that in bringing the Jubilee of God he is bringing it for everybody!

How was this message of God’s inclusive favor received in Nazareth? Not well, not well at all. Initially Jesus’ hometown “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But as soon as Jesus made clear that he was closing the book on vengeance, that he would not endorse the idea of divine retribution on their enemies, the crowd turned viciously against Jesus. They drove him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff!

Jesus refused to read Isaiah’s vision of vengeance in the synagogue, just as he would refuse to be a violent, vengeful Messiah in the model of King David and Judah Maccabeus. And that ignited the rage of the crowd. It’s amazing just how angry some people can become if you try to take away their religion of revenge. As long as Jesus announced that it was the time of God’s favor, the crowd spoke well of him. But as soon as he made it clear that God’s favor is for everyone, as soon as Jubilee was made inclusive and not exclusive, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

Until we are captivated by the radical mercy of God extended to all, we will cling to the texts of vengeance as cherished texts. We do this not for the noble sake of justice, but for the spiteful sake of revenge. With the incident in the synagogue of Nazareth we learn that Jesus has closed the book on vengeance.

The Word made flesh prevents us from rifling through the Bible to find texts of vengeance to fling upon our enemies. If we try to hold onto a divine warrant for vengeance, Jesus passes through our midst and goes away. If we cling to vengeance, we lose Jesus. If we don’t want this to happen, we need to learn to give mercy to our enemies. If we commit to loving our enemies, Jesus will abide with us and help us learn how to do it.

Jesus didn’t come to bring vengeance, he came to close the book on vengeance. Jesus announced the Jubilee good news of pardon, amnesty, liberation, and restoration…but not vengeance. Jesus doesn’t bless revenge, he blesses mercy, and teaches that the mercy we show to our enemies is the mercy that will be shown to us. God does not allow us to hope that the book of divine vengeance will be closed for us, but left open and inflicted in full upon others. This is not how it works in God’s economy of grace revealed by Jesus.

Does this mean there’s no divine judgment? Of course not. Certainly there is divine judgment, but it is a judgment based in God’s love and commitment to restoration. The restorative judgment of God gives no warrant to a schadenfreude yearning to see harm inflicted on others. Jesus has closed the book on that kind of lust for vengeance.

We must constantly resist the temptation to cast ourselves in the role of those who deserve mercy, while casting those outside our tribe in the role of those who deserve vengeance. Jesus will have no part of that kind of ugly tribalism and triumphalism. Clinging to our lust for vengeance, we lose Jesus. But if we can say Amen to Jesus closing the book on vengeance, then Jesus will remain with us to teach us the more excellent way of love.


  • Chris Blair

    I like this a lot, I just have one question. How do we interpret Paul’s words in Romans when he quotes from the O.T. saying “Vengeance is the Lord’s”?

  • Vengeance IS the Lord’s, but we should not presume to know what God’s vengeance will look like. All we know for sure is that God is love and always acts from love. Perhaps we could say that God’s vengeance upon the Syrian general who had been leading raids into Israel was to heal him of leprosy and thereby transform him into a clandestine worshiper of Yahweh.

  • Piet de Groot

    Thanks! Really appreciate this one.

  • Yes, Jesus stopped where He did. But He stopped. He did not draw a line through the remainder of the verse as you did. It simply was not what was being fulfilled at the time. It was time for mercy. For the gospel. It will be fulfilled at the proper time. As to what vengeance looks like, we should simply follow its definition. For instance in Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians he used words like “flamIng fire.” Nobody likes that. But its day will come. Pure pacifism has so many theological problems and errors, but I refrain. And I am not angry and I believe God is love. And I am not a shallow Americanized fundamentalist dispensational evangelical. I also do not see any value to constantly juggle and interpret Scripture to fit my own theology, as I think pacifism does, and as Calvinism does also.

  • “constantly juggle and interpret Scripture to fit my own theology”

    As you should know, Randy, it was Jesus and Scripture that changed my theology. I was completely content for thirty years with a “violent God” reading of Scripture. I was quite good at it. I didn’t adopt a nonviolent view of God out of thin air or from some nefarious motive. I adopted a nonviolent theology because Jesus led me there.

  • I respect that that is your view. I just don’t see it at all from a simple (perhaps there is a better word) view of Scripture. If you are going to explain away Paul’s passage I mentioned, I just don’t know what to say.

  • KentonS

    I might go a little further than BZ and say that the idea of vengeance in Romans is indicated by what follows: if you see your enemy hungry give him something to eat and if you see him thirsty give him something to drink.

    I’m thinking that’s the kind of vengeance Paul means by “vengeance is the Lord’s”.

  • Chris Blair

    I like that.

  • Chris Blair

    I was thinking that same thing but I wasn’t for sure. I mean when you think about it why would Jesus command something of us that he doesn’t even do?

  • KentonS


  • KentonS

    If it was simply a misunderstanding of timing, Jesus could have clarified it. (“Oh hey… yeah… day of vengeance… Yeah, it’s still coming, just not YET.”) The mob was furious and all it would have taken to lower the collective blood pressure in the room was a simple reassurance,.That didn’t happen. And it wasn’t because Jesus was concealing something.

  • Are you saying His lack of clarification established your theology? He often didn’t on many of His statements. Also, the fury of the mob was deeper than vengeance. IMHO. 2 Thess. 1.8 on God’s vengeance in a simple format, regardless of what surrounds it. There is so much else. Again, I just find pure pacifism untenable theologically with the Scriptures. Even from the Word Himself. I’ll just rest it there. We just disagree. Np.

  • KentonS

    It’s not a lack of clarification unless you think God is violent. If you don’t think God is violent, the redaction is crystal clear.

    Based on how you hang your hat on 2 Thess 1, it’s fair to say we have a different hermeneutic of scripture.

  • OK. We do. We will both find out someday! 🙂

  • Jerry Shepherd

    There are just way too many reasons why this exegesis will not and does not work. The following are only a few.

    (1) Note that not only does Jesus not quote “the day of vengeance of our God,” but he also leaves out “to bind up the brokenhearted.” Does this mean that Jesus is going to do all kinds of wonderful things, but binding up the brokenhearted will not be among them?

    (2) There is also a line added from Isaiah 58:6 about releasing the oppressed. This, of course, raises the question as to whether Luke himself has, for his own purposes, taken some liberty in his citation of this passage that Jesus reads from the scroll. This addition, taken together with the previously mentioned deletion, makes any attempt to draw exegetical and theological conclusions drawn from what is omitted awfully, awfully tenuous. It isn’t really a very responsible hermeneutical practice to exegete a passage of Scripture by trying to exegete what wasn’t said.

    (3) Jesus is not at all portrayed as reticent to use the “vengeance” word elsewhere in the gospels, even in Luke. In Luke 21:22, in the midst of a discourse about the judgment which will come on the people, Jesus expressly declares that “these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (ekdikesis — NIV, “punishment”; NRSV, ESV, NASB, and most translations, “vengeance”; NJB, “retribution”). It takes a feat of hermeneutically acrobatic proportions to hold that Jesus is saying anything other than that God (and Jesus himself) will come against his own people in retributive vengeance for their accumulated sins (see also Matt 23:35). If anything, Luke 21, along with all the other retributive violence passages in the gospels, gives greater credibility to the possibility that, if there is any theological reason at all for the non-citation of the vengeance clause in Luke 4, it is indeed precisely because Jesus/Luke is working with the two-stage coming construction in which the vengeance element is specifically reserved for the second stage, when “the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory.”

    (4) Finally, given the flow of the discourse, it is most likely not the case that what irked the crowd was Jesus’ message of inclusion. Rather, it was the exclusionary element in his message. Jesus was pointing toward a time when the good news of the kingdom was going to take a decisively Gentile turn, and the proper, natural subjects of the kingdom were going to be on the outside looking in. That is what was offensive about Jesus’ message.

  • John E. Beck

    I have two concerns…1. If we take this “closed book on vengeance” far enough, you start to embrace universalism…everyone will be saved someday. I hope the author would stop short of that. 2. A confusion about the role of the state vs. the role of the church. After the 9/11 attacks the US was perfectly within its rights and even obligated to hunt down and destroy those responsible. (Whether or not this was carried out properly is another topic.) Neither do I have a problem with Christian soldiers acting as agents of the government to carry this action out. But it was an action of the state…not the church. I would agree that the church should not have had any active role in carrying out this act of vengeance. As Paul wrote, “The state does not bear the sword in vain.”

  • John Hickson

    This is eisegesis at it’s best. Using your logic we would have to say Jesus also didn’t want us hear “To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” If Jesus was really “editing” Isaiah’s “poor theology”, then He probably would have went on and quoted the lovely verses right after those eight words you think Jesus didn’t like. Jesus didn’t do that. While I agree with parts of some of your points, the problem is how you arrive at them. Your reading is highly speculative. You assume a lot. In fact, Jesus said a lot about divine vengeance and judgment. So did Peter and Paul. What we can say is that we are called to leave vengeance to God. God will have vengeance. He also uses governments (evil or good) to meet out His vengeance at times.

  • Loved this one Brian. I think it is probably my favorite BZ post ever.


  • Good exegetical points Jerry.

  • Thank you, Benjamin.

  • Dennis Greer

    Respectfully, Jesus closed the book of Isaiah, but did not excise the rest of the Scripture. The Jews of that time did not did not understand that the Deliverer would come twice: once in mercy and once in judgment.

  • Matthew

    First time viewer of the live stream church service. I’m in Western Europe. Are the Sunday sermon topics/themes always then posted on the blog as well?

    The sermon was indeed a good one. I suppose I need to rethink Revelation 19 and Jesus coming with a sword in his mouth to judge the nations? My background is relatively conservative evangelical with a strong emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement and final judgment.

    PS My wife likes the picture above. Where did you get it?

  • JenellYB

    I think there’s as much common confusion about “vengeance” as there is about “love.”
    Vengeance is emotionally charged with hate, and strong desire to hurt, harm, even kill, in retaliation against one that has offended against us. In vengeance, we psychologically make ourselves “more than human,” and the target of our rage, “less than human.” In that mental maneuver, we are setting ourselves as a god with authority over another human.

    Being emotionally charged, vengeance is irrational. Fueled by anger and outrage, vengeance lashes out to hurt, harm, often with little to no consideration whether our action will be just, set the matter right, or the collateral damage against innocent others. The response to 9/11 of invading Afghanistan and Iraq is a good example.

    Vengeance is often cloaked in language of justice, but justice is about setting things right.

    Pacifism, quietism, in response to violent offenders, often presented as loving, are more often about cowardice, apathy, and protecting self interests, our own safety. The oft used justification for pacifism in face of violent offense, that of Jesus telling us that if someone slaps us on the cheek, turn the other cheek to them, is about not giving insult for insult. A slap on the cheek is NOT deadly violence.

    Acting against violent offenders with violence to protect one’s self or others against further harm is not vengeance. It is actually an act of love toward the victims of the offender’s continuing and future acts of hurt and harm. In it’s purest form, this us justice, that is dispassionate and rational.

  • Matthew,

    Here is something on Revelation 19.–listen/sermon-archives/the-war-of-the-lamb/

    I just found the picture somewhere. I don’t remember.



  • My experience has been that it requires a lot of courage to contend for Christian nonviolence in America.

    Here’s a piece I wrote called, “You’re Not A Pacifist Are You.”

  • Matthew

    Thank BZ!

  • Wayfaring Michael

    I really appreciate this message. I think its something that needs to be reiterated often, but it seems particularly appropriate in this highly-charged political season.

    Not to pick on one politician in particular, but the idea of carpet-bombing other countries is bad enough, but when a bunch of presumably “Christian” voters cheer the idea wildly, that makes it worse. Do they really understand what the term carpet-bombing means? And if they knew that carpet bombing is by international treaty signed by almost every country in the world–though not the US–a war crime under international law, would that make any difference at all?

    I don’t think most USAmericans appreciate just how widespread a belief in pacifism was before the Cold War, before people like Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Civil Rights Movement, William Sloane Coffin from the Vietnam period, not to mention people like Pete Seeger and so many others.

    Actually, many of the people that we look up to as our greatest champions of social justice in all its various forms from the late 1800s through World War II were pacifists. Here’s just a hint of the kind of people I’m talking about: Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Julia Ward Howe, Helen Keller, Linus Pauling, Albert Schweitzer, and Dorothy Day. Names that are not so familiar but should be would include Belva Lockwood, Jeannette Rankin, Emily Greene Balch, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns.

    Pray for peace, but work for it too. Not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren and all who will come after.

  • Chris Blair

    You know, I think it’s interesting that people chafe at the idea of a non-violent Messiah. I find it comforting. Otherwise, I might be the one on His hit list! However, if Jesus’ interpretation of the Isaiah passage isn’t convincing enough, why not take a look at Paul’s interpretations of Old Testament passages? He clearly takes O.T. passages that spoke of God’s destruction of Gentiles and reapplies them as ones in whom God will save. I defer to “Disarming Scripture” by Derek Flood. I don’t agree with him on everything, but this was one chapter I was amazed by. Also, I find it hard to believe, as some have said on here, that Jesus didn’t advocate a non-violent approach in His Sermon on the Mount when He said things like “Turn the other cheek,” but if that doesn’t convince you concerning Jesus’ response towards brutal violence, then the cross should clear that up for you. As we know, Jesus was unjustly and brutally victimized on the cross; the ultimate act of extreme violence, but yet while we would have been cussing, crying, screaming, and bringing down curses upon the ones who were nailing us, Jesus’ response was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Not only did He forgive, but He even ascribed their evil actions to simple ignorance. That’s amazing! If that’s not the final word on Jesus’ reaction towards violence I don’t know what is.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much for the Revelation 19 podcast link. It certainly helped and I will investigate the book suggestions as well. That said, something came to my mind as I was listening to the sermon:

    “A righteous war, but a war nonetheless.”
    “A lamb conquers, but conquers nonetheless.”

  • Jefferson W. Slinkard

    The event of 911 was indeed tragic. I’ve since wondered what we would of done if the tables were turned and “they” occupied us for almost 70 years? Would our young men too have flown an airplane say, into the “Khalifa Tower” in the United Arab Emirates? Just a thought to consider, we have had our thumb in their eye for decades.

  • Chad

    I believe Jesus life was exemplified by an active type of non violent pacifism . It was in your face to those that had an angry, and vengeful view of judgment. Jesus kept on talking about the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It wasn’t some distant future concept. To some this kingdom of heaven way of doing life might seem like they were “in hell…. fire” because it’s so against the way of “the empires” form of justice.

    I and the Father am one Jesus kept on saying. The view of God they had in Torah was only a pegan influenced shadow of who He really was …. exemplified and clarified through Jesus and how He did life.

    The age to come was one of Restoration and we are in it. Our Lord is the bloody lamb…. the sword coming out of His mouth is Him speaking to our hearts.

  • Mark

    So I have a question? How many Christians acting on behalf of the state constitutes participation of the Church. 50% of a local body, a majority of a denomination, 23 of born genuine believers. Can one differentiate between the actions of individual christians, members of the body of Christ, and the church. So the little toe, a few fingers, the arm is going to war for the state but the body is not? When does the Church become complicit? If one wants to argue that individual christians can serve as duel agents, why not all christians and if all christians go to war is that a church action?

  • That is in fact what I say. In that passage we see that love is experienced as torment, but the only action is one of love. It’s how I understand hell. Hell is the love of God wrongly received. This is common Orthodox teaching on hell.

  • They were Saudis not Palestinians. And who is “we”? Are you referring to Israel? I agree our response to 911 was misguided, but the 911 action was of course more jihad based.

  • KentonS

    So when it says, “these are days of vengeance”, how do we know the vengeance is coming from God as opposed to coming from man? Or is it at all possible that you are reading your own predetermined eschatology into the text?

  • Days of Roman vengeance against Jerusalem (AD 70). Here is my a full sermon treatment of the text.–listen/sermon-archives/jerusalem-jerusalem/

  • KentonS

    That’s where I was going… 😉

  • Matthew

    I’m simply not completely there yet. The arguments are compelling, but I need time.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    There is nothing at all here about a “predetermined eschatology.” Note that Jesus says here that this is all going to happen in “fulfillment of all that has been written.” That is, this is in accord with all that is said in the Old Testament prophets that God will come in vengeance against his own people when they blaspheme his name and disgrace his reputation among the peoples. There is no doubt that the initial fulfillment of these words takes place in the destruction of Jerusalem. So the Romans carry out these actions. But the Romans are not engaging in “vengeance” or “punishment” or “retribution.” That is, rather, God himself is orchestrating his vengeance against his own people via the Roman army. This is the same thing that God did in the Old Testament with the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other foreign nations. He himself orchestrates the actions of the nations to execute his judgment. God’s involvement in this is unmistakable. Sit down one afternoon, and just read through the prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and this becomes abundantly clear.

  • KentonS

    I have read through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. What is abundantly clear is that they were all too happy (at times) to co-opt God for going to war and killing their enemies, just like their ancestors did in Judges and Kings. This is why the idea of Jesus redacting “day of vengeance” is so important. (Not to mention loving enemy instead of killing him.)

    I have also read though Josephus’ “War of The Jews” and it is abundantly clear the Romans were engaging in vengeance, punishment and retribution. They too learned to co-opt the divine for going to war and killing their enemies.

  • Jefferson W. Slinkard

    Gee-wilikers bat man! We, the USA. Go to the source why something came about. We, us, USA has been in their ‘World’ for over a half century! Would that not piss you off, if “they” (meaning anyone of the Arab peoples we’ve had our thumb on,) occupied us? We have to go deeper into a problem, than just the present, or a decade ago. I am sorry if you cannot see it for what it is.
    It is no different than them occupying Montana, or any state in the U.S. for 70 yrs, It would rile those in the other states. Palestinians are Arabic, Montanians are Americans. I really don’t mean to be quarrelsome. It is the way it is.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Your response here does not constitute a fair reading of these prophetic books. For the most part, the prophetic speeches in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not dealing with God executing vengeance against Israel’s enemies, or as you say, “co-opting God for going to war and killing their enemies.” Rather, the emphasis in these books is on God using those foreign enemies to execute judgment against God’s own people. That is what Jesus reflects in the passage in Luke.

    To take another example, again, in the Gospel of Luke, the very same Gospel where Jesus supposedly closed the book on vengeance, Jesus says this: “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all” (Luke 11:50-51). The Romans could not have cared less what the nation of Israel did to all her prophets throughout the nation’s history. The vengeance that is to be carried out in the destruction is God’s own vengeance, but one that he orchestrates to be carried out by Roman hands.
    It’s pretty easy to see that, on any fair reading of the texts in Luke, Jesus did not close the book on vengeance. And it is extremely bad hermeneutical practice to pit what Jesus doesn’t say in one passage against what he so clearly says in other passages.

    And by the way, just to clarify, I too believe in Christian non-violence. I am a Christian pacifist. But, as very astute Christian scholars have remarked, the reason I can be a pacifist is because God isn’t one. And that’s what Paul means in Romans 12:19. And that is why Paul has no problem whatsoever talking about the wrath of God and the execution of God’s judgment as a future reality.

  • KentonS

    Prophetic books: It is not either/or, it is both/and. To deny that the prophets were used to justify violence is to ignore a lot of the history between the return from exile and the time of Jesus (or really to the destruction of the temple). Jews in that time used scripture to justify violence toward their enemies, and the scripture they used was often from the prophetic. Isaiah 13-19 – The whole thing is “__(fill in the blank)__ is going to get their @$$ kicked” one right after the other. In Ezekiel, it’s Gog and Magog that get theirs.

    And yes, Jesus is warning the residents of Judea that if they don’t stop their acts of terror on the Romans, the Romans will come in and wipe them out. That doesn’t take a revelation from God to know that, it just takes some common sense: if you keep poking a lion, the lion is eventually going to eat you for lunch. That does not make God the subject of the vengeance. The Romans have free will (to the extent that we all do) to attack Judea or not. They weren’t under some sort of obligation just because Jesus predicted it. (That, by the way, is a totally “fair reading.”)

    And if your commitment to non-violence is predicated on the fact that God will unleash holy hell on your enemies, you’re not really committed to non-violence, Jerry. You’re really just cloaking a trust in violence within a charade of non-violence.

  • For those who have asked: The “vengeance” in Luke 21:22 (the Olivet
    Discourse) is the Roman vengeance on Jewish rebellion of which Jesus repeatedly

    Here is an entire sermon on the Olivet Discourse: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”–listen/sermon-archives/jerusalem-jerusalem/

  • I have blamed America, and I have been Constantine. I have blamed myself, and I have blamed society. But nevertheless, this truth remains, many of us seek out and hold on to the “violence/vengeance” of God – because in theory, that looks much closer to our own selves than the hesed and agape Jesus brought and brings. We make God in our own image, instead of submitting to the Spirit and letting God make us in the image of His Son.

  • Wow. “Christians” in quotes. I’m glad you are so theologically astute as to exclude all your brothers and sisters who don’t agree with you. And who are just as theologically serious as you might be.

  • I don’t know what to say. Your history is incredulous. Also, last I checked, I’m not Batman.

  • OK. My main thought here is that there are good Christians on both sides of this divide. I know there are proud, arrogant, vengeance mongers on one side. But there are also theologically mature brethren who are not violence mongers, but who see pacifism theology, and God’s vengeance totally redefined, as poor exegesis. The same holds true of the Calvinism/Arminianism divide. I come down for Arminianism in that one 🙂

  • Jerry Shepherd

    First of all, Kenton, you need to read what I wrote more carefully. When I said, “for the most part,” this certainly implies both/and rather than either/or. Of course, there is lot in the prophets about the destruction of God’s and Israel’s enemies as well. And these oracles are the word of the Lord. How they might be used misused by those who heard them is not the fault of the prophetic word itself.

    Second, no, Jesus is not warning the Jewish people of what will happen to them if they keep up their attacks against the Romans. There is not a single word about this in the contexts of the passages that talk about the coming destruction of the nation. To argue this position is just eisegesis pure and simple. There are only two reasons given as to why this destructions will take place: (1) They have rejected Jesus as their Messiah; and (2) They kill Jesus, just like they killed all the prophets who came before Jesus. And God brings the Romans against his own people because of this history or rebellion against him. Now, the Romans certainly had their own reasons, and that certainly included the rebellion of the nations against their governance. But that was not God’s reason. Jesus tells the people what God’s reasons were, and they has specifically to do with the entire history of the people rebelling against God, killing his prophets, and then finally, killing his Son. And, again, this accords with what was written in the prophets. So, no, your reading does not constitute a fair reading of the text. You end up importing material that has nothing to do with what Jesus warns against in the passage, and you end up ignoring what Jesus actually said.

    Finally, I am not committed to non-violence as a principle. Rather, I am committed to Christ who commanded his servants not to engage in acts of retaliation or violence. And I don’t trust in violence. I trust in God who is sovereign over all peoples, who has revealed himself in Holy Scripture and in his Christ. This God has declared that vengeance belongs to him. Jesus trusted in that God, as did Paul, as did the martyrs in Revelation 6 who had confidence that this God would avenge their blood. And no one has the right to reinterpret that God to conform him to one of their own liking.

  • Again, good, simple, straight forward exegesis Jerry. This is what I was typically referring to in my initial reply to Brian. I would also agree with your position on violence. It seems at times if one is not “committed to non-violence in all and every circumstance and that includes God” then one is labeled as a violent bad guy.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Of course, the simple response to this statement is that it reads extraneous material into the text, and completely fails to deal with what Jesus actually said. The Romans are not going take to vengeance on the Jewish nation because of how they rebelled against God all through their nation’s history, or because they killed all their prophets, or because they killed Jesus. The vengeance that is talked about in this passage is God’s vengeance, and his motivations for doing this are not the motivations that the Romans had. Jesus castigates the Jewish leaders for all kinds of reasons: turning the temple into a den of thieves, rejecting Jesus, a centuries-long history of rebellion against God, killing the prophets, hypocrisy, killing Jesus himself, persecuting Jesus’ followers, etc. But rebelling against the Romans is not one of them.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Thanks, Randy. Some people find it very hard to fit those who are committed to non-violence, and who nevertheless put their trust in the God who certainly reserves the right to exercise vengeance, into the categories with which they are prepared to work. Simply because we believe in God’s own self-revelation in Scripture, we are then dubbed as people who “cling to a cloak of violence.” Rather, our attempt is to take God on his own terms as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in his Christ, rather than engaging in the idolatrous practice of creating a domesticated God who happens to look just like we want God to look. The Christian’s responsibility is to worship the God who is, rather than the one they create.

  • Chad

    Jesus closed the book on their understanding that vengeance was from God. He came to reconcile man to God. If they did not live a life of enemy love the natural consequence would be the empire destroying Jerusalem I’m 70 AD… thus preventing any future uprisings.

    It’s so easy for us to attribute all negative outcomes to our decisions to God. If all destructive judgment comes from God where does Satan fit in.
    Expecting good and bad things (judgment or not) to come from God is walking a very fine line which in earth’s history sometimes led to child sacrifice. … for appeasement.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Hi Chad. I appreciate your desire to have a God who is free from violence, doesn’t exercise vengeance, and from whom we cannot expect bad things. However, you have a huge problem in that the God you want is not how God has described himself in Scripture. Jesus certainly didn’t believe that. There are literally dozens of places in the Gospels in which Jesus describes his Father as someone who will engage in retributive punishment against the wicked. I have mentioned only two of those places in some of my comments above. Jesus did not close the book on the idea of a God who will exercise vengeance. Unless you deal with the actual concrete realities of the text, then making up a God who does not exercise judgment is just that–making up a God of your own liking. And Jesus never tied the idea of the destruction of Jerusalem to the failure of the Jewish people to love their enemies. As I said above, there are two main reasons that Jesus gave as to why the nation would face destruction: their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, and their centuries-long history of rebellion against God, killing his prophets, and eventually killing the last and greatest prophet, Jesus himself. The Romans did not care about any of those things. The “vengeance,” the “punishment” described in these passages is God’s punishment toward the nation that rebelled against him.

  • Chad

    The Romans did care about the constant uprisings they had to deal with though. As a ruling empire they had had enough and wanted to make an example. Why else was the temple (Israel most important icon) so destroyed that all construction material was ground down. They were to be an example to others under subjugation.

    I guess we have to decide. Does God insight us to do evil? According to the two accounts of David taking a census of Israel both Satan and God insight us to do evil. If God does how do we know when evil is from God or from Satan.

  • Jefferson W. Slinkard

    Yeah, sorry about the ‘batman’ thing. 1953 U.S. and Britain’s placing the ‘Shah’ of Iran in power, earlier and up to the 60’s puppet govt’s in Saudi Arabia and else where, all put in place by the U.S. You can have your vengeance Randy and your ignorance of world history. I am done with this thread.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Hi Chad. Yes, of course the Romans cared about the constant uprisings they had to deal with. And that provided their motivation for what they did. But that does not explain the “vengeance,” the “punishment” that Jesus talks about in the Gospels. Rather, Jesus is telling us what God’s motivations are.

    As for how we decide whether evil is from God or from Satan, we really don’t have to decide. Indeed that is one of the lessons from the book of Job. Satan is the one who is immediately responsible for what happens to Job in the narrative in chapters 1 and 2. But God is the one who is ultimately behind it. And Job declares, rightly, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” And then the narrator confirms that Job was not wrong in attributing the trouble as having come from God’s hand, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” And then at the end of the book, the narrator refers again to “all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.”

    Even the most evil act ever committed in human history was done by the determinate counsel of God: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23); “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer” (Acts 3:17).

    Evil men have their purposes in the evil acts they do, and God has his purposes in those same evil acts. Even though Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, Joseph could still declare, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:8). The brothers had their motives, and God had his motives: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen 50:20).
    Examples like these occur over and over again in Scripture. This is how God has revealed himself to be.

  • KentonS

    It’s interesting, Jerry. When I mention that the prophets “at times” call for the destruction of their enemies, I’m not being fair. But when you say add the disclaimer “for the most part”, I’m not reading you carefully. When I read the text critically using historical contexts, I’m importing ideas, eisegeting the text and ignoring Jesus. When you read things through a theological lens handed down to you from Constantine, it’s the fair reading, completely objective and rightly understood.

    I guess it’s no wonder your Jesus ends up looking like yet another Caesar.

    And let me go on record that if you’re right, I don’t want to be a part of that kingdom.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Kenton, I did not criticize you at all for saying that “at times” the prophets talked about the destruction of their enemies. Again, read more carefully. The fairness had to do with the fact that you were failing to acknowledge that for the most part, the pronouncements from the prophets, who proclaimed the word of the Lord, was against the Lord’s own people, rather than the enemies of Israel. Additionally, the prophets did not co-opt God for their desire for violence. Indeed, a careful read through the prophets demonstrates that they wished they didn’t have to deliver such messages. But their messages came from God, and they had no choice but to deliver them. And Jesus never, never, never repudiated the message of the Old Testament prophets. He came to fulfill the prophets, not to abolish them.

    There is nothing wrong at all with reading the text critically, paying attention to historical contexts. That’s exactly what we should do. The trouble is that you are importing ideas that are not in the text itself. You are actually ignoring the context. You are not reading critically enough. The text gives no hint whatsoever that what prompted the vengeance talked about in the passages about the destruction of Jerusalem had to do with Jewish rebellion against Rome. The vengeance was for things in Israel’s history that Rome did not even care about.

    I am not using a Constantinian lens. If I was, then I would not be a pacifist. And simply because Jesus declares that his Father will indeed execute retribution against the wicked–does that really turn Jesus into a Caesar? Again, you are failing to deal with the texts. And you are being selective about which words of Jesus you have decided you will agree with.

  • KentonS

    Saying never three times doesn’t change the gist of this post. Nor does stomping your feet claiming that you’re reading carefully and I’m not make it so.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Kenton, yes, we can certainly agree to disagree. But keep in mind your expressed desire above to read the text “critically using historical contexts.” I have ransacked the critical commentaries on the Luke 21:22 passage I mentioned above. None of the ones that I have checked so far support the “Roman vengeance” thesis that you propose. They all recognize that the vengeance in that verse is divine vengeance. Now perhaps there is one that differs, but it would certainly be in a very small minority. Right now, your reading doesn’t really pass the “critical” test. Being in the minority doesn’t mean that you are wrong, but it does suggest that the burden of proof would be on you to demonstrate why all these critical commentators are wrong. It would be far more “critically” responsible to recognize that the “Roman vengeance” explanation versus the “divine vengeance” explanation just doesn’t deal fairly with either the literary or historical context, especially when Jesus explains that the vengeance executed will be in accord with what is written, which, of course, in Jesus’ day, would have been the Old Testament prophets.

  • KentonS

    I have no doubt that all of the commentaries you have checked support your thesis. I’m persuaded that that’s not so much a comment on the amount of criticism that’s been published as it is a comment on the commentaries you consult.

    And if I thought I could get a fair hearing I would offer a defense. As it is, I will leave our disagreement where it is.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    You would certainly get a fair hearing from me. I have no interest in suppressing valid arguments. As for the commentaries I consulted, they are all the standard critical ones that any biblical scholar would consult when doing academic preparation for the writing of a scholarly article or book. And they are of all varieties: Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, Mainline, etc. Which ones have you found to support your thesis?

  • KentonS

    Jerry, I have zero confidence in your ability to give a fair hearing. Just for grins, when have you had significant change in your theology? If you can tell me some of those instances, I might give you more credit on your ability to grant fair hearings.

    As for commentaries, I generally don’t read them. They tend toward the systematic whereas I tend toward the narrative. From what I have observed, narrative theology does not lend itself well to verse-by-verse commentary. My influences are Michael Hardin, Peter Enns, Rene Girard, Brian McLaren, Kenneth Bailey to name just a few. I doubt that any of them would suggest that the vengeance in Luke 21:22 comes from Jesus. If I’m wrong about that, I’d love for you to point it out to me.

  • RV Spivey

    If you want to teach on this subject so badly, why don’t you do your own blog post, instead of contending with every single person here who disagrees with you? Just a thought. Peace.

  • OK. Up to you. We will both find out in time how it truly is. I’m fine with that.

  • Wow. RV, so answering a couple people in an honest discussion is “every single person who disagrees with you?” — and merits a more or less “go away” type push? Where is the civil theological discussion in that? How is the issue in this type of discussion someone writing their own blog? That would be cool. Everyone have their own blog and only those that agree with the author need post.

    This is Brian’s blog, and I am certainly sensitive to that, but I doubt even he wants only one-sided posts. If that is the preference, I will certainly follow his wishes and go away.

    Some here, for being non-violent, are pretty sassy 🙂

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Thank you, Randy. You pretty much captured my own sentiments with regard to this rather odd request. Blessings.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Hi Kenton. Of course, I think you know that your first request is really irrelevant to the discussion. The topic under discussion has to do with vengeance in the Gospel narratives, not the history of my theological development.

    There are some commentaries that have more affinity with systematic theology. But the better commentaries have more to do with biblical theology, and certainly give a great deal of attention to literary devices and structuring, rhetorical strategies, and narrative development; and these are the ones I was referring to. If you are not aware of these commentaries, then it really would profit you to make their acquaintance.

    As for as your last request, it is not my responsibility to do your research for you. Again, the burden of proof is on you.

  • Chad

    I used to quote the same texts to make sense of it all. I’ve shared the same theology. Then my wife and I had repeated miscarriages….. and peoples well meaning encouragements of that it was God’s will and part of His plan brought us to a point where we either stop believing in God altogether or figure out what part God truly plays in the tragedy that happens (so called judgment ) around us.
    Then we truly descovered Jesus, how he did life and his heralding in “the kingdom of heaven”.
    I respect where you come from but I cannot unsee and unexperince the path my life has taken in descovering who God truly is through Jesus.

    I’m just tired of calling evil good and good evil. It is a very dark weight I’ve had to carry but has been now lifted……

  • Matthew

    Could it be that right now, before the second coming, there is only grace, love, compassion, mercy, etc. coming from Christ, his followers, and the church? Could it be that judgment comes later? Is that the vengeance of God the Bible talks about?

    I mean even the creeds say “to judge the living and the dead”.

  • Matthew

    I´m a little confused (all this is very new to me), but the Bible itself seems to clearly talk about God´s judgment, vengeance, and wrath.

    With regard to wrath, for example, I believe it´s in John´s Gospel chapter 3 where it says:

    “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

    What I am having trouble with is this theological idea that God will never judge the unbeliever, never pour out his wrath on idolatrous nations, never have a day of vegeance when the Bible seems to so clearly talk about all this — and — even if we agree there will be judgment as Brian says … when does this judgment take place and how will it look practically? Is God really a loving God to those who believe in Christ if God never sets everything straight?

  • RV Spivey

    The irony …

  • RV Spivey

    Do yall tag team Brian’s supporters often, or is this your first time together? And there’s a difference between civil discussion and trolling. Count the number of posts in the comments and see how many are yours.

  • KentonS

    Hi, Matthew-

    BZ’s latest sermon talks some about what God’s judgement looks like if you’re up to listening to a podcast. It was a good one, but then again they all are. The short version is that his judgment is restorative and done out of love not retributive with an intent to “pay back.” Justice in this understanding is about making things right between the wrongdoer and the wronged, not what we usually understand as a form of revenge. I like to turn to the prodigal son story a lot. The older son is “on the outs” as it were at the end. Does the father beat the $#!+ out of him? No. Does he let the older son make a mess of everything at the party? No. Judgement and justice take the form of pleading with the older son to reconsider his attitude. Does the older son ever relent? Jesus leaves the story unfinished. Doing so is brilliant. 🙂

    The phrase “wrath of God” is understood as the natural consequence of sin. That’s a short version. Again as BZ says, “we are punished more BY our sin rather than FOR our sin.”

    Jesus is redacting a phrase out of holy scripture in Luke 4. That is a radical idea to grapple with. Some folks can’t handle it and they insist that that that’s not what Jesus is doing.

  • KentonS

    It’s completely relevant to your ability to give a fair hearing. If you flip a coin over and over and it keeps coming up heads, it’s probably not a fair coin. If you go through life discussing theology over and over and you never admit you’ve been wrong, you’re probably unable to give a fair hearing.

    You’re a troll, Jerry. You don’t come here to engage open minded, you come here to be beligerent. I’m a fool for feeding you.

  • Matthew

    So are we saying that it´s the attitude of God that we need to consider? Not that God doesn´t judge, but that he judges in a way that is contrary to how most humans judge? If so … what does that mean in the context of hell?

  • KentonS

    Hmm… I think so. God is love. Does that answer your question about attitude? God never takes off his love cap and puts on a judgement cap. If we think his judgement is not somehow done in love we’ve missed something and we should go back and try again.

    What is hell? In the context of the prodigal son story in my previous comment, hell is the older son refusing to join the party. It’s missing out on the great food being served and your favorite line dance being played. It’s watching all your friends and the cute girls walk past you cooking up a stringy goat as they go into the fattened calf party being thrown for your little pissant brother’s homecoming. It’s NOT dad sending his goons after you to wail on you.

  • Matthew

    Yes it does answer my question about attitude. Thank you.

    So at the second coming, when Jesus comes to judge the nations righteously and as a lamb, those who reject Jesus will not be sent to hell, but in essence send themselves there? When Jesus does judge the nations and the unbelievers at the second coming, he will do so out of an act of love, not vengeance or wrath, but he will judge nevertheless. He will conquer as a lamb, but conquer nevertheless?

  • KentonS

    The short answer is yes to both questions. The longer answer gets into a discussion of Matt 25 and the wild irony of a lamb that conquers (found in Revelation). Both of are difficult. My approach insists God loves all of us and any understanding to the contrary is a misunderstanding. At times it’s like Jacob wrestling with God. It leaves you walking away with a limp (but blessed).

  • Wow. If you define trolling like that then I undertand that I would not be welcome. Not a problem.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much KentonS. More food for thought.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Thank your for sharing this narrative, Chad. I don’t come out at the same place you do, but I very definitely appreciate your struggles. Sometimes there is clash between our faith and our experience, and we find ourselves having to tread a path that is more fraught with danger and more slippery than we had anticipated. The greatest comfort for me in those situations is to remember the words of Isaiah: “in all their distress he too was distressed” (63:9), and to remember that we do not serve a cold, dispassionate God, but one who suffers along with us, and that he has done so in particular in the incarnation of his own Son. The one who did not spare his own Son the sufferings of this life; how will he not also graciously give us all things (Rom 8:32). Blessings.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Wow, indeed.

  • BRIAN – I’ve just discovered your ministry and your writing through the Patheos blog by a United Methodist ministry colleague whom, I follow – Morgan Guyton (blog: ‘Mercy, not Sacrifice’); Morgan shared your “Water Into Wine” blog posting; and I have read your current one “Closing the Book on Vengeance”….. both are excellent and personally transparent [as are your replies in the discussion/comments]…..all of which evidently make your writing (and preaching/’proclamation’) engaging and relevant. I am looking Fwd to following you and reading ‘Water into Wine”.

  • Thank you, Roger.

  • charlesburchfield


  • charlesburchfield

    for those who have ears let them hear! *{|:-o

  • charlesburchfield

    judgement of jesus: ‘forgive them father they know not what they do.’ So is ‘I & the
    father are one.’ this is the god of love and mercy do you know him? *[|:D

  • charlesburchfield

    mere operative instigating insurrection on both sides for respective oligarchs. war Industries pay huge dividends to shareholders! the price of property in the Northern Hemisphere (Canada
    for instance) skyrocketing in anticipation of further global warming perhaps. *¢]:-o

  • charlesburchfield

    if the Vengeance is coming from God it is not man’s vengeance. if the vengeance is coming from man it is not God’s vengeance.
    if the vengeance is coming from jerry it’s scary! *¢]:D

  • mcm

    As a student of Luke, I find Brian’s reading quite sound and I don’t find your arguments persuasive, Jerry.

    (1) The year of the Lord’s favor is a natural contrast to the day of his vengeance. To not quote the second half of a well-known verse is a very natural way to emphasize something in terms of a missing contrast. The “something” in this instance would be the character and emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. If one looks at the commentaries on this passage by Jesus’ contemporaries, such as those by the community at Qumran, the emphasis falls on the second half of this verse— “the day of his vengeance” – making the contrast all the more emphatic. Not quoting the rest of the chapter or the rest of Isaiah has no significance in this regard. That’s just not the way normal discourse works.

    (2) This conflation is very much in keeping with the Jewish practice. Jesus is alluding to the expected eschatological Jubilee and referencing/conflating Isaiah 58:6 makes good sense in this context. This is not unusual in the Jewish practice of handling Scripture and is common, everyday practice in Christian circles as well.

    (4) If considered within the broader context of Luke-Acts, precisely the opposite is true. It is Jesus’ message and embodiment of radical inclusion that leads to self-exclusion on the part of certain Jews. “Given the flow of discourse” this is precisely the narrow minded and parochial mindset that Jesus is addressing in the entire second half of the Nazareth sermon—a pattern of rejection and self-exclusion that readers of Luke-Acts witness repeatedly from Luke 4 through Acts 28.

  • Ruthie McGee

    I thought the main reason for Jesus’ reading the given passage from Isaiah was intended to announce that He was/is Immanuel – God in the form of man, come down to earth to dwell with us. [Later they would come to know, through His death and resurrection, that He came, also, so that man could have the choice to dwell with Him and His (our) Father in heaven forever.] Other N.T. passages do refer to a time when God will show vengeance upon those who choose to remain the sons of satan, having rejected God’s plan and path of salvation.

  • Conceptually Hebrew

    The way Jesus exegetes and interprets Isaiah 61 while interjecting Isaiah 58 is a very specific, very Jewish, hermeneutic called “Gezerah Shavah”. To understand what’s going on it this passage in Luke requires acknowledging a layer of cultural context in which it takes place.

    Steven Notley has discussed this in length and is a tremendous resource – I highly suggest looking up his research into this specific issue.

  • Lazar Sretenovic

    Stealing from KS, ‘I might go a little further than BZ and say that the idea of vengeance’ also involves, in the context of ‘knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:22), a recognition of God’s attitude toward ‘evil’. It is a most ‘soothing’ theological and philosophical notion in the entire Bible: ‘God’s vengeance’ upon something. The problem arises when we confuse ‘something’ with ‘someone’. I believe that in the phrase ‘God’s vengeance’ we are witnessing a divine passion on the same level as ‘love’, but, not to override love, not in juxtaposition with love, but in the service of love.

    The ‘vengeance’ of God is very real! It expresses a most profound ‘hatred’ of evil. It defines God most fundamentally. These strongest of the terms are needed, I believe, to emphasize God’s ‘otherness’ to, or ‘incompatibility’ with evil. Hence the call for us to separate from evil …

    ‘”Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’ (Rev 18:4-5 ESV)

    Taken personally, the phraseology can be most frightening. But, the overriding and all too often misunderstood context (in the traditional ‘some saved v some lost’ framework) is provided by the previous verse,

    ‘And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for EVERY UNCLEAN AND DETESTABLE BEAST.’ (Rev 18:2 ESV. Capitals emphasis is mine.)

    Personally, I experience ‘God’s vengeance’ as a most comforting ‘insurance policy’, and the source of greatest assurance when faced with the problem of ‘evil’.

  • intrcptr

    How is accepting what the NT says it will look like “presuming”?

  • intrcptr

    The personal swipe displays all too well where you are spiritually, K.

    Biblically, though, perhaps you can explain God’s pacifism as expressed in Deut28.

  • intrcptr

    “Destructive” judgment comes from God; that’s why it is judgment. Destruction comes from Satan, but it is not judgment, it is sin.

  • intrcptr

    So just what is the unforgiveable sin? And what happens to the one who commits it (or rather what does God do with that man)?

  • intrcptr

    It means they go digging in the lexicons and adapt the meaning of hell (Hades, Gehenna, Abyss, Sheol) that best fits their predetermined position; which is that such “torment” is merely the subjective response of the unrepentant sinner to God’s love and glory and mercy.

  • KentonS

    Jesus was known for taking personal swipes on occasion when encountering the smugly religious. I’m in good company. 🙂

    I can explain Deut 28 the same way I explain the day of God’s revenge: it is a case of humans projecting their own violence on God, not a reflection of the God revealed in the person of Jesus.

  • KentonS

    My understanding of Mark 3 and Matt 12 is largely influenced by Rene Girard, and it’s a lot more than I’m willing to engage in on a blog comment. To grossly oversimplify, I would point out that both texts say, “[the sin] will not be forgiven.” It doesn’t say, “God will not forgive.” I don’t think God clings to unforgiveness. Humanity does. And when we start falsely accusing and attributinging the demonic to our enemies (like the Pharisees do in this context), it whips up rivalry and conflict and it spirals into death before forgiveness can have a chance to resolve matters peacefully.

    If the Pharisees had considered their rhetoric and had come to Jesus with contrition and asked for forgiveness, I think Jesus would have forgiven them. And eventually when Jesus was on the cross, I think he did forgive them although they didn’t know what they were doing.

  • Well done.

  • KentonS

    That moment when you see someone replied to your comment very quickly and you roll your eyes imagining the argument continues then you’re pleasantly surprised to see one of your heroes is commending you.

    Thanks, BZ!

  • intrcptr

    Thanks for the response. You will forgive me I’m sure if I feel the need to ask for references to Jesus’ personal swipes. I will also point out that it seems a tad off, arguing that Jesus was “taking revenge” against his enemies with those swipes all while arguing further that Jesus deconstructs the entire OT edifice of a vengeful god.

    And I do wonder though just HOW one explains all of that by moving the locus of control from God to Moses. Especially in the context of the blessings for keeping the covenant, and the imprecations for failing it.

  • KentonS

    Personal swipes: “Brood of Vipers” in Matt 12, “Whitewashed tombs” Matt 23

    I am not arguing that Jesus was taking revenge with those swipes. Nor was that my intention in my response to Jerry. (Unless I’m being dishonest with myself in my self-examination.)

    And pardon me, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying/direction you’re going in the last paragraph.

  • intrcptr

    That is an interesting dodge. But if sin is not forgiven, who is it that is doing the not forgiving? Jesus agreed with the crowds that only God can forgive sin, so removing the locus of control out of God’s hands is rather demeaning (nevermind the Sisyphean task of showing it from Scripture), I think. Either God is in control, or He is not.

    I understand what you’re saying here (big part of why I disagree). But Jesus says ALL sins against himself and the father will be forgiven; the context is not intrahuman relations, but the one between men and God. I don’t know this Rene Girard (thus I do not read his commentary), But it is impossible for man to forgive other men for sinning against God, so this interpretation fails on its face. There is also the niggling problem that Jesus says that this unforgiveness extends into the world to come. This highlights a huge hole in this scheme; either it is men hanging onto this unforgiveness, or it is God. But this idea of restorative judgment (which is a horrid abuse of the Greek words used, beyond being a phrase never encountered in Scripture) demands that God is going to “judge” men in order to force them to surrender this unforgiveness. But Jesus plainly indicates this does not happen.

    Concerning the Pharisees, such contrafactual pondering sounds nice, but disregards the words of both Jesus and Paul, quoting Isaiah, that God would blind His own people to the truth of Messiah. It was not God’s intention to spare them, and this was for the sake of the Gentiles.

  • intrcptr

    He did, to John, 60 years later.

    And yes, Jesus was concealing something, always; or have you forgotten his rationale for speaking to the crowds in parables?

  • intrcptr

    Someone led you to change your thinking. Considering how often you redefine terms, i shouldn’t be so positive it was Jesus acting as your angel of light.

    It is the Bible, rather than theologians, which claims it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

  • intrcptr

    Pointing a “satanic verse” gun at the Bible is disturbingly close to blaspheming the holy spirit, I should think. You may wish to rethink your concept of Scripture here.

    Indeed, when Jesus told Nicodemus that he came into the world not to judge it but to save it, he continued by revealing that the unbeliever was “already condemned”. Remaining in disbelief precludes restoration.

  • intrcptr

    Brian, I am disheartened to see such shoddy thinking in this. I have no doubt that some do harbor vengeance in their hearts against their enemies. But not all of us do; some of us recognize the impulse and fight it. And such is not the photographic negative of mercy. Jonah wished the Ninevites punished, but knew that God would have mercy once he preached.
    Arguing that judgment is restorative argues against the texts to start with; Hebrews is plain in stating that the Lord disciplines only those who are his sons. And judgment and discipline are quite different concepts, and thus words.

    I do wonder how familiar you are with the synagogue practice of reading Torah and the prophets. Jesus opened his ministry with this Torah service in Capernaum, by reading the Haftarah portion attached to Nitzvaim, which you will notice is immediately before Rosh HaShana

    You read far too much into his phrase “this scripture” to indicate that only those two verses matter. As another commenter here points out, blending passages is common and acceptable in Judaism. But so too is truncating passages as shorthand for the entirety, as Jesus does with Psalm22 on the cross. This particular haftarah portion is well accepted as messianic, os it does stand in as a claim to divinity. But in reading just the opening portion (which Jesus actually jumped forward on a few verses), Jesus is reading the entire passage in short. And both show that God’s mercy is matched by His wrath against sin and the sinner.

    Indeed, Isa63:6-7 is clear; the two aspects of His holiness are inseparable. And it is this that Jesus proclaimed that day in Capernaum. If the people had understood that the real enemy is sin and death, they would have welcomed him, yes. But their failure is no excuse for us to proactively misunderstand what the Lord has revealed to his prophets and servants.

    It baffles me that the Lord’s mercy and love are understood almost hyperliterally, yet his wrath is taken allegorically, or misapplied to us in His place. Is not the Bible clear that the Lord does all these things? So then why do we comfort ourselves in thinking that those who prefer their sin will be redeemed BY rejecting Him? Why do we imagine that God takes His son’s love so lightly that he will forgive those who die in disbelief (it is appointed unto men once to die, and then the judgment; no posthumous redemption)?

    What do we do with Rev6:9-10?

    These are faithful believers, presumably conformed to the image of ([the pacifist] Christ, murdered by men for keeping faith, crying out to God for vengeance. And rather than being corrected in their sin?, they are given the white robes of the saints and told to wait until their number is fulfilled, which echoes the cup of wrath which the Lord is filling in the hand of the Whore.

  • KentonS

    One of the things Girard helps us see is that the text is anthropological as much as it is theological. So just as the violence and hostility in scripture is often a human projection onto the divine, so is unforgiveness in scripture often a human projection onto the divine. In other words the line between God forgiving/unforgiving and man forgiving/unforgiving is often blurred. Naturally that raises the question what does God look like? Is God violent? Does God forgive (and whom and how and when)? And the response I would give is that God looks like Jesus. Even when we were violent toward God and killed Him, God resurrected and did not return our violence back on us. This God forgives us even when we know not what we do.

    I know that doesn’t address everything you are saying. I’m not going to attempt to do so. It took me a long time to deconstruct my understanding of the violent God into an understanding of a God that looks like Jesus. If you’re interested I’d be glad to recommend some books and articles to consider, but if you’re not, I’m just not all that interested in dragging out the argument further.

    Grace to you, intrcptr.

  • intrcptr

    I don’t mean to be oppositional except insofar as I do not see these arguments as particularly strong.

    I’ve never heard anyone take those judgments of the Pharisees as personal swipes; and since he immediately calls them evil, thus demonstrating (as per John5:19 & 30, John 7:24) that he is both repeating John the Baptist’s judgment, and Ezekiel’s, of the false shepherds, I’m not at all certain how you can consider them personal. And for me, the word swipe implies both a verbal attack (or counter-attack, like calling Jerry a troll) and a measure of impetuosity or flippancy, neither of which I can justifiably apply to the Messiah.

    My last point is getting at the newly (to me) apparent effort in these circles to place blame, or responsibility, for the torment of judgment onto the shoulders of the sinner, as misperceiving the love of God as condemnation, rather than where the Bible places it all, securely in God’s hands as a God of judgment. A part of this, it seems to me, is arguing that the OT authors quite frequently, it seems, heard poorly from the Holy Spirit and inserted their own carnal desires into holy writ, painting a picture of God at variance with the image Jesus revealed (I am getting a Gnostic flashback with all this dichotomizing).
    God revealed himself to Abraham as one who favors men who seek the truth and His righteousness and keeps the promises once made. God promised Abraham a heritage, revealing in visions and dreams the coming redeemer, who is Immanuel. But he also revealed that God did not partake of sin, nor did He abide it forever. I take the references to Sodom in the prophets as God’s mercy on those who sinned in ignorance (re Rom5:13), and not to the ultimate fate of those who explicitly reject the Gospel.
    God sent Moses for the sake of calling Abraham’s children to a different, higher calling. But that call, that covenant, was founded on treating the sons of Israel as equals; the covenant has blessings, and it has curses. God takes credit for both. I do not find it faithful to the texts to ascribe the blessings to God and the curses to ourselves, especially if the principle argument is that the Israelites were cribbing from pagan religion or simply getting that major an aspect of God’s character wrong.

    I take the revelation of the Lake of Fire not as just deserts visited on my enemies, but rather motivation to make certain that my brothers do not fail to endure to the end. I am troubled by Brian’s characterization of the acceptance of God’s wrath as a binary choice between seeking mercy for our enemies and seeking their judgment. I preach mercy precisely because I also see a coming judgment. As Penn Teller has suggested, hiding the cliff’s edge of eternal judgment from someone is hatred. Pointing it out is mercy.
    I am a servant of Yeshua. I am to be like him, seeking the father’s will. But his leaving us commands for this present age in no way implies that he will be following those same commands when he returns to claim his kingdom. Indeed, it is Jesus who states that the king will wreak vengeance on his enemies when he returns, in the parable of the talents in Luke19. It seems fairly clear that he is not loving unwilling subjects here; he is punishing subjects who have rejected him.

  • KentonS

    Let me claim innocence on the “measure of impetuousity or flippancy.” Perhaps I am misjudging the situation, but I thought I had suffered Jerry for a long time, and I thought I chose my words carefully. I don’t believe he came here to engage in meaningful dialogue for mutual edification. I think he came here just to be argumentative… to look for a fight… to troll. Maybe that’s being harsh. Maybe Jerry is really trying to see if the point Brian and I are making is valid. Maybe it’s a sign of insecurity in a theology that can become so distasteful in its violence and it is masquerading as confidence. Either way, I was exhasperated, but I don’t think I was impetuous or flippant.

    As for the heresy, do you mean Marcionism as opposed to gnosticism? Usually Marcionism is the rap this gets. It’s very different from Marcionism. Marcionism is rooted in an evil anti-semitism. I would say, though, that Marcion was right to ask the question whether the God of the Hebrew scriptures is the same God that was revealed in Yeshua. I just think his answer was wrong.

    You are right that this position is not faithful to the texts. That’s precisely the point. Jesus is revealing something that flies in the face of the text. Rather, I am called to be faithful to the person of Jesus. That requires a level of faith in the texts, but my submission is to Jesus, not the bible.

    As for Luke 19, there is an understanding of this parable from William Herzog that says that the king is not the Abba of Jesus, but rather that he is a tyrant king much like the emperors of Rome people in Jesus’ day were familiar with. So the hero is the one who refuses to participate in the system of exploitation that doubles the wealth of the king (at the presumed expense of the oppressed). I haven’t made up my mind on that interpretation yet, but allow me to at least use it as an example of something we may see is “clear” in scripture, but may not be after all.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Thanks for your comments, mcm. Here are my responses.

    (1) I am not denying that not reading the vengeance line from Isaiah is significant. I am denying what Brian says that significance is. When Jesus leaves out “bind up the brokenhearted,” that does not mean that he is closing the book on binding up the brokenhearted. When he leaves out “the day of vengeance of our God,” that does not mean that he is closing the book on vengeance. Given that Jesus, and of course Luke in his two-volume work still portray God as being involved in vengeance against his enemies and the enemies of his people, that cannot be the meaning. Rather, for this particular period, Christ’s incarnation and ministry during his first advent, his message and ministry will be focused on what Jesus does read from the Isaiah text. When he comes in glory and great power, the line from Isaiah that Jesus didn’t read will come into place.

    (2) You are certainly correct on your second point, and it doesn’t contradict anything I said in my original response.

    (4) Your are partially right about this one, but it is not an either/or but a both/and. And in fact, according to Luke 21, what also enrages the Jewish leaders is that the line about “the day of vengeance of our God,” will be one in which they experience God’s vengeance, rather than their Gentile enemies. And, of course, there are several places in Luke-Acts where God takes vengeance on those who reject him and his Christ.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Of course, this understanding of the passage will not work. It is well known that Jesus himself, as well as the Rabbis, often put a statement in the passive in order to avoid overusing the name of God. And, of course, the sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What mere “human” would have the authority to forgive that sin? Jesus is definitely referring to how God would not forgive that sin. Jesus words things very strongly: the sin will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come. Who is it that would not forgive the sin in the age to come? Only God would have that authority.

  • KentonS

    He returns! This time with two occurances of “of course” and one “definitely.”

    I’m not engaging you again, Jerry. My original comment stands. The understanding works fine. It’s contrary to your paradigm, I know, but not to the text.

    Epistemic humility: try it out sometime. It can make your life better. It did mine. Try replacing “of course” and “definitely” in conversations with “as I understand it”. Hold your perspective with an open hand. It will do wonders for you, Jerry. I promise.


  • Jerry Shepherd

    I will reword what I wrote:

    This understanding of the passage will not work. It is well known that Jesus himself, as well as the Rabbis, often put a statement in the passive in order to avoid overusing the name of God. The sin of blasphemy in this passage is against the Holy Spirit. What mere “human” would have the authority to forgive that sin? As I understand it, as well as every single New Testament scholar in the entire universe, Jesus is referring to how God would not forgive that sin. Jesus words things very strongly: the sin will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come. Who is it that would not forgive the sin in the age to come? Only God would have that authority.

    Both I and intrcpctr have demonstrated, from the text, how it is illegitimate to make a distinction between, “will not be forgiven,” and “God will not forgive. There is no “paradigm” being employed here, other than the one that the text itself imposes. To suggest that there is some distinction is to introduce an alien paradigm and to ignore the teaching of the text.

  • Jerry,

    I don’t engage in these ongoing debates on my blog site. The are endless and generally fruitless. But I do feel compelled to say something here.

    When you claim that “every single New Testament scholar in the entire universe” would agree with your interpretation of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit passage, I must tell you that that is simply false. You need look know farther than N.T. Wright (generally regarded as the most important New Testament scholar of our generation) to find a New Testament scholar who doesn’t interpret this passage as you do.


  • Jerry Shepherd

    Actually, Brian, I checked NT Wright’s commentaries specifically before I wrote the above, and there is nothing in them that would be different from the interpretation I and intrcpctr have supplied. Only God can forgive sins. Only God can forgive the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of God in this passage, not some general vague forgiveness from who knows where, especially since Jesus refers to forgiveness in the “age to come.”

    But since we’re quoting NT Wright, here’s one that relates to the whole tenor of this discussion, where Wright is talking about the judgment speeches of Jesus:

    “Jesus, like Micaiah, saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd, and interpreted this coming judgment not as a coincidental and unfortunate political happening but as the coming of YHWH’s wrath on his people. It is this that distinguished the prophet from the mere political analyst.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 185).

  • KentonS

    It’s not just the wording, Jerry. You can’t just replace a few words here and there and expect to achieve epistemic humility. It’s an attitude first and foremost. To suggest you have an objective paradigm independent of anything but the text itself is hubris fully void of self-awareness. That’s pretty much all you have demonstrated here.

  • Randy Walterman

    Our human understanding of vengeance is all about US. OUR hurt feelings, OUR loss. But God’s vengeance is never merely punitive or to make the grieved party feel better. Surely thinking that God gets pleasure out of a retaliation against evildoers is far, far below the passionate love of the Father determined to protect the victim, but CHANGE the victimizer. Anything less is defining God by our human weaknesses and wicked hearts. Let’s stop defining God by our unloving “They got what’s coming to them” and extend the same mercy to others God gave to us.

  • Nugraha Suprana

    Beautiful. I used to agree completely on PSA, but the more I read your articles, the more I’m convinced that PSA is very wrong.