Phinheas was a hero in the Old Testament. There are only two figures in Israel’s Scriptures about whom it is said that something was “reckoned to him as righteousness”: Abraham and Phinehas. What made Phinheas a hero? He saved the Israelites from God’s wrath. How? In his zeal for God, he killed an Israelite man who had taken a Midianite woman, with his spear (Num 25:8). This act of killing stopped an epidemic that God had brought on the Israelites for their disobedience. Why is this story important? What does it have to do with Paul and with us?
Phinheas stands for the Old Testament idea that violent zeal causes righteousness. Two other examples are the Levites who killed the other Israelites (Ex 32:28) and Elijah who killed the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18). They all represent the idea that violent zeal makes people especially holy.
Paul, before he met Jesus in Damascus, had dedicated his life to studying the Old Testament. His studies led him to the conclusion that violent zeal is one way to find God’s favor. Before Damascus, Paul found in Phinehas the paradigm of righteousness. Accordingly, he zealously used violence to abolish the growing Jesus movement (Gal 1:13).
Studying the divinely inspired Old Testament led Saul of Tarsus to the conclusion that violently persecuting the young Christian church was the task God required from him. What changed his mind? Jesus! After Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus he went away to Arabia (Gal 1:17). Why? Meeting Jesus had shaken his theology to the core. Many things he had believed so far needed to be reevaluated. He went to Arabia to deconstruct his Old Testament theology and to reconstruct it with Jesus at the center. His letters are filled with examples of him reinterpreting the Old Testament around Jesus. He even reversed violent Old Testament scriptures and gave them new meaning.
Saul studied the Old Testament without the Jesus lens and it lead him to conclusions that were actually opposing God’s will. Paul read the Old Testament through the Jesus lens and it led him to understand the Old Testament in a completely new light.
Why are Christians today not killing sinners anymore? Because Jesus showed us that this idea is not his way. He taught us to love our enemies and to forgive those who harm us. God has always been the God of enemy love and forgiveness. This becomes progressively clear throughout the Bible.
We need to read biblical texts through the lens of Jesus! Only then will they align with God’s character and his will. Every interpretation that contradicts how Jesus revealed God is a misinterpretation.
God loves his enemies. God forgives. God cares for the broken, the poor, and those no one else welcomes. God’s justice is restorative in nature and not retributive. God is love and his love will never fail.
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