Yahweh’s Suspension Of Free Will In The Old Testament: Divine Immorality Or Sign-Act? -- By: Brian P. Irwin

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:2 (NA 2003)
Article: Yahweh’s Suspension Of Free Will In The Old Testament: Divine Immorality Or Sign-Act?
Author: Brian P. Irwin


Yahweh’s Suspension Of Free Will In The Old Testament:
Divine Immorality Or Sign-Act?

Brian P. Irwin

Summary

Several passages in the Old Testament portray Yahweh as behaving in ways that seem unfair or immoral. Two such narratives are the episodes describing the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the spirit dispatched to deceive Ahab. In each of these two cases, careful attention to the literary context and the final form of the MT shows that Yahweh’s behaviour is best understood as a sign-act directed toward a specific end.

In an article published in 1996, R.N. Whybray1 evaluates several narratives in which Yahweh might be accused of ‘immorality’. To these passages he might easily have added two further narratives that have long troubled scholars—Exodus 414 with its references to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and 1 Kings 22 with its vision of the lying spirit sent to deceive Ahab. At the heart of both passages lies the difficulty in understanding how a moral God can force an individual to disobey.2 Since the story of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart has been the more troublesome of these two passages, it will be discussed first.

Interpreters have attempted to resolve the difficulty of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in at least six ways. (1) Hyatt attempts to solve the problem by adopting a tradition-history approach, arguing that over time, repeated telling of the exodus story resulted in the view that the will of Yahweh could in no way be resisted.3 (2) Wilson employs the source-critical method and attempts to show how in J, E, and P, the hardness motif is used to connect originally independent plague stories and provide structure to an extended narrative block. Wilson concludes that while the J source records that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, the E and P sources make Yahweh the direct cause of the hardening.4 However, even if one can confidently separate J from E in the plague narrative, the source-critical approach does not address the moral-theological problem that emerges only with the final form of the text. (3) Some scholars have maintained that since God is the ultimate cause of all things, no moral problem exists.5 (4) A common approach has been to observe that, while God announces in 4:21

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