Bible Study #29: Full Spectrum Morality (WHY II)

In this class we continue trying to understand the conquest of the Holy Land in the Old Testament.  Fr. Anthony makes the case that there is more to morality than just being nice and that we cannot understand the Old Testament if we don’t accept that violence is sometimes necessary.

Check out this episode!


OT Bible Study #29: The Problem of Herem II – the rules of war

Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Administrative: Last Pre-Lenten Bible Study: 2/13. Lenten –


General question for these lessons: what are we to make of the commands of God and the actions of the Jews regarding the cleansing and taking of the Promised Land?

These three weeks will be hard (and we’ll probably have to work on understanding this as long as we live) BUT when the Bible gives us something that just doesn’t make sense, we can be sure that we can learn something useful if we take the time to understand it in an Orthodox manner.

Some ways of dealing with the problem (that don’t make God a monster or the Bible unreliable):

  • Allegorize the difficult parts. This is good and safe. It is the modal solution. 1 Cor 10:11
  • Rework the words. Changes in context, language, and meaning.
  • Demonize the Canaanites. How bad were they? Can’t turn this into an excuse.
  • Progress. As long as we don’t see progress as literal, this can work (the cake).

This is huge and I don’t expect us to get it all at once. We are going to circle around and add layers. We are so used to seeing the Bible (and everything else) through our own expectations that it can be discomforting to try to see it any other way. Trust me: we aren’t going to end up with anything other than your grandmother’s Orthodoxy. I am just providing you with the opportunity for a “deeper” understanding. Salvation is simple. Trust God, not just with your life, but with what He has done in the past.

Heat your oven to 350 F; morality as sanctity, order, and loyalty (& not just vs. harm/unfairness)

  • Now care/harm and fair/unfair are the universal moral instincts
  • Traditional moral instincts of sanctity, order, and loyalty are now seen as being conservative or even illegitimate (why?)
  • ALL of these are present in the Old Testament.
  • ALL of these are present in the New Testament.
  • ALL of these are present in Orthodox Christianity.

In moral decision making, we cannot just look at one “rule” and follow it (although this is the way our psychology works; we back into our decision making). We consider all of the options. It is rare that only one will dominate.

  • But what about “love”? Yes indeed, what about it! Love God and love your neighbor; but how? Can’t just follow your feelings (but conscience is part of it). All the virtues and moral categories come into play.
  • If our instincts tell us that violence is never sanctioned, then we cannot understand much of the Old Testament. There will be no violence in the new paradise, but until then… ?
  • For fun: take the “Moral Foundations Questionnaire” at

Some Actual Bible for our Bible Study!

Deuteronomy 20. The Rules of Warfare. (e.g. see also Deuteronomy 7:1-5)

St. Clement of Alexandria focuses on the rationality of the rule. Those who would be distracted should not be forced to go to war. Compare that with the parable of the wedding feast. Similarly for the crops and trees. What would the similar logic be for the destruction of the nations?

St. Augustine delineates the applicability of the rules. “When you have received lawful authority, do all this. Where authority has not been given to us, we don’t do it; where it has been given, we don’t fail to do it. Many pagans have these abominations on their estates. Do we march in and smash them? The first thing we try to do is to break the idols in their hearts. When they too become Christians, they either invite us in to perform this good work or else they get in first with it before us. The thing we have to do now is pray for them, not get angry with them.”

Origin is not a Saint, but he sets the standard in this allegorical and practical interpretation of the rules. There are certain diabolical races of powerful adversaries against whom we wage a battle and against whom we struggle in this life. However many of these races we set under our feet, however many we conquer in battle, we shall seize their territories, their provinces and their realms, as Jesus our Lord apportions them to us. For they were once angels; they were glorified in the kingdom of God. Or do we not read that Isaiah says of one of them, “How did Lucifer fall, the one who rose in the morning?” That Lucifer, without a doubt, had a throne in the heavens until he became a fugitive angel. If I should conquer him and set him under my feet, if I should deserve that the Lord Jesus “crush Satan under my feet,” I shall be ready as a consequence to receive the place of Lucifer in heaven.

Thus we understand the promise to us from our Lord Jesus that “every place we set the soles of our feet” will be ours. But let us not imagine that we may be able to enter into this inheritance yawning and drowsy, through ease and negligence. The wrath of his own race possesses the angel [Lucifer]. Unless you vanquish this [wrath] in yourself and cut off all violent impulses of anger and rage, you will not be able to claim as an inheritance the place that angel once had. For you will not expel him from the land of promise by your slothfulness. In like manner, some angels incite pride, jealousy, greed and lust and instigate these evil things. Unless you gain the mastery over their vices in yourself and exterminate them from your land—which now through the grace of baptism has been sanctified—you will not receive the fullness of the promised inheritance.

Deuteronomy 34. The Death of Moses.

See Jude 1:9 and, relatedly, Zechariah 3.

St. Theodoret of Cyr. This is also a type of our situation. Just as the avenging and wicked devil was very opposed to Joshua for being high priest and making intercession to God on behalf of the people, so in turn this same enemy was an opponent of Jesus the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek for taking away the sin of the world and wished to bring him down.

Next Week. Herem as cosmic warfare.


Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (p. 3). IVP.

Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. IVP.

John H. Walton. (2017) The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest. IVP.
Ferreiro, A. (Ed.). (2003). The Twelve Prophets (p. 239). Downers Grove, IL: IVP.