There are lots of troubling stories in scripture: the sacrifice of Isaac, the banishment of Hagar. I’m going to get personal and share some of my spiritual struggles with these stories with Dr. Christopher Thomas, a theologian at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. How will he respond?
GT: But, at any rate, the whole story about Abraham trying to sacrifice Isaac, that story just bugs me so bad. I know it’s supposed to be a [symbol for Christ.] Christians have taken that story and say, “Well, it’s like Christ.” Jews who have kind of rationalized it, “Did God really command Abraham?” There’s an ancient Jewish scholar that said, “Well, Abraham misunderstood, and it was an angel that was sent to Abraham and said, ‘Don’t do that.'” If we look at Abraham’s day, especially, human sacrifice was common. If we look at the Book of Abraham, Abraham was going to be sacrificed, which is apparently an Islamic story as well. I’ve always wondered if there’s some parallel, if that Book of Abraham story is related to Islamic texts, because that’s in the Quran, apparently. But, at any rate, I would much rather follow the interpretation that Abraham was a product of his day. His dad tried to sacrifice him. He’s trying to sacrifice Isaac, because that was kind of what you did to show your devotion to God and that it was an angel that said, “No, Abraham, you’ve got to stop.” That was a bad revelation, or whatever. To me, that is much more palatable of an explanation than God said, “Abraham, go kill Isaac.” It just boggles my mind. And even that God would say that with Jesus, “Jesus, you’re going to have to die for everybody sins.” I guess if you go with the idea that Jesus did this willingly, and somehow His body is going to atone for billions, maybe trillions of people that have ever been born, [it’s really hard to grasp.] It’s mind boggling to me, and it still bothers me that God would require this. I mean, can you talk me down from the ledge here?
Chris: No. I think we’re so close to the stories that their power sometimes escapes us. I have a friend who told me about her grandson who went to this children’s church, her two grandsons. She asked the oldest one, she says, “What did you learn today?”
He said, “Oh, we learned about Abraham and Isaac.”
She said, “Okay,” and so she asked the younger one. “What did you learn today?”
He said, “Was that that guy that tried to kill that kid, or murder that kid?”
I mean, I think we sanitize the stories, often.
GT: I know. I think we really do sanitize it.
 Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham’s “imagination” led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes “How could God command such a revolting thing?”
Do you like the traditional interpretation of the Abraham and Isaac story, or does it bother you? How can Christ’s atonement really work for billions of people? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Thomas.