The work of William Webb and Gordon Oeste

I have really appreciated the research done by William Webb and Gordon Oeste in the book entitled Bloody, Brutal and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts. It was published in 2019 by InterVarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, Illinois. The book is heavy reading and quite detailed, but I highly recommend it for those who are willing to put out the effort and the time to dig deeper into this topic. I will be sharing a number of insights from the book along with thoughts of my own in this blog and the ones that follow.

Webb and Oeste approach texts like Deuteronomy 21:10-14 from four perspectives. I will label these four with the capital letters A, B, C, and D, for easy comparison. The first perspective is to understand the reality of the times in which the Bible was originally written. The Bible is not directly addressing the issues of our times, it is addressing another world a long time ago. While human nature has not changed all that much in the last 3500 years, human culture and practice has changed quite a bit in more recent times. The Bible was not written to address our questions and concerns, it was written to address the world of the Ancient Near East. So “perspective “A: seeks to understand the wider world to which the Bible was written, as far as that understanding is available to us.

The second perspective, which I will label “B”, addresses the ethics of the Bible itself. In the Bible we see a God who understands human weakness, and does not expect His people to understand or practice the highest ethical levels that He is capable of. Instead, He encourages His people to “be all that they can be” in their fallen condition and in the context of a very messed-up world. The ethics of the Bible are, in a sense, “frozen in time”, God’s recommendations within a specific context, not God’s ultimate ideal. One of the key insights we learn from the stories of the Bible is how God meets people where they are. God encourages people to reach for the “ideal”, but is accepting of the “real” as humanity’s best effort. In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, we will come to see God “settling” for small, incremental improvements in His peoples’ understanding and practice.

The third perspective, which I will label “C”, approaches the Bible from the ethics of today. And while this may come as a surprise to some, the ethics of today are often better than whose of Bible times. Why would that be the case? In part, it would be the influence of the Bible as a whole on the culture and ethics of our world today. Whether or not people acknowledge it, we are living in the light of Jesus’ teachings and example, and the world is a much better place because of it. Given the influence of Jesus on our world today, the ethics of today can often seem superior to the ethics of the Bible, because we are reading from the perspective of a world that has gained much from the gradual influence of the Bible as a whole, when read in light of the life and death of Jesus.

The fourth perspective, which I will label “D”, reads the Bible in the light of God’s ideals and in light of the ethics of the final judgment. D discovers in the Bible the way that God always wanted to rule on this earth, but was not able to because of the hardness of human hearts. The final judgment will be a time when all the injustices of this world will be set right, and God’s true ethic will be clearly seen. Perspective D moves beyond God’s specific responses to specific situations to see the heart of God in the biblical text as a whole. The ethics of the final judgment will move far beyond the Geneva Conventions and other ethical advances of our time. But we are not there yet.

When you compare C (the ethics of today) with B (the ethics of the biblical text) the Bible often looks out of date. It can even seem repressive, a step back from what we know today to be right. But that is misreading the character of the biblical God, who steps into the sewer of human depravity to reach us where we are and take us a step or two in the right direction. He takes us no faster that we are able or willing to go. In so doing, He takes the risk of being misunderstood by later readers of the Bible. Instead, if you compare B (the ethics of the Bible) with A (the realities of the Ancient Near East) you will see in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 a tangible movement in a positive direction. It is an incremental, redemptive movement toward a better ethic that the ethic of the time. When we read the Bible in its original context, we will discover the goal of that strange text in Deuteronomy, better treatment of female prisoners of war. From our perspective (C) that step may seem too small, but it is a real step and led Israel to treat women much differently than their neighbors at the time did.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14: How Israelites Should Treat Female Captives After Battle

Deut 21:10-14:
“When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”

Are you OK with these instructions? Should we make this passage the law of the land today? After all, it’s in the Bible. And the kind of battle this passage is talking about is a God-directed battle. It is God who “gave” these captives into the hands of Israelite soldiers, so the instructions that follow the battle must represent His will in some way. One option many choose is to say, “If God says it, it must be OK.” But for me and many Bible-believing readers of the Bible, that answer is not good enough. We expect God’s actions and directions to be on a higher ethical level than our own.

There are at least five aspects of this passage that trouble me. 1) The description in this passage is all about the male soldier, the captive woman’s opinion about what is going on doesn’t count. She is treated as an object. She is “spoils of war”. She is treated as property, rather than as a person with thoughts and feelings. 2) The focus is entirely on her outward beauty, not her character or her personality. The Hebrew behind “beautiful woman” combines two Hebrew words that could be translated “beautiful in shape”. The soldier is not attracted to her as a “soul-mate”, it is all about her looks. The text as written seems to reduce women to the sum total of their physical attractiveness. 3) The captive woman gets one month to grieve the loss of her parents. Keep in mind that she has not only lost her parents, she has lost her home, her friends, and her neighbors. She is a victim of war trauma. She may have seen her parents killed with her own eyes. A month would not be nearly enough to get over all of that. 4) This ruling doesn’t require her to agree to the marriage (verse 13 uses the language of a marriage covenant). This is a “shotgun wedding”. What the captive woman wants or feels is not being considered. 5) The man is not required to gain her consent for sexual intercourse after the marriage. It is treated as normal that he can have that privilege once he has waited a month and gone through the appropriate ceremony.

If I’m really honest, many things about this text seem ethically deficient. At the same time, this passage is part of the Bible, the Word of God. Shouldn’t the Bible always encourage the highest of ethical standards? Atheists often point to texts like this as reasons to reject the God of the Bible. They see the God of the Bible as someone they cannot respect and, therefore, they assume or wish that the God of the Bible didn’t exist.

The problem is that people today tend to read texts like this through the lens of contemporary culture. We are all familiar to some degree with the the Geneva Conventions and the Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflicts. Civilized people today are expected to treat captives in humane ways, and some of the actions recommended in Deuteronomy 21 could be prosecuted as war crimes today. But shouldn’t the Bible at least equal our ethical standards, if not exceed them? That is the challenge a passage like this poses for many readers today. I will seek to address issues like these in future blogs.

Women, War, and the Bible: Reflections on Deuteronomy 21:10-14

The world as we experience it is a mess. There are mass migrations, leading to tragedy and cultural conflict. There are mass shootings in many places, particularly in the United States. This was rare, even in the recent past. Cries of genocide are voiced by Ukrainians in Russian-controlled territory, and by Gazans under assault by Israel. Children growing up today are faced with unprecedented levels of gender confusion. Concerns over climate are expressed all around the world. Artificial intelligence is feared as the potential cause of the extinction of the human race. There are more and more weapons of mass destruction, and more and more places are faced with a breakdown of law and order. Among these tragic events is the horrific treatment of women in war, as we can witness in places like Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, and also Haiti in recent days.

Is there a word from the Lord for our situation today? Do we have any idea how God would handle a mess like the one we are living through? I think we do. I believe that is a major reason why there are so many troubling and violent texts in the Bible. God has given us the Bible as a record of how He handled many messy situations over a period of 1500 years. These stories do not give us the last word on how to handle any situation we might face. But they do exhibit a God who gets deeply involved in the human condition, and often acts in ways that risk Him being misunderstood by those reading the stories later on. But these stories are written up as examples of the way God handles messy situations. These things were written down for those upon whom “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11).

One of the messiest of all situations in the Bible is Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Like today there was a mass migration of people from one part of the world to another. Illegal immigrants were pouring over the border of Canaan. There appears to be a genocide of the original inhabitants of the land in order to make room for a whole new group of people. As a result, there were wholesale injuries and many premature deaths. Families were separated, there were refugees everywhere in the land. The fact that these things seem to have happened at the direct command of God makes them even more troubling for many.

A full exploration of Israel’s conquest of Canaan would be too large a project for a short series of blogs. I propose instead that we look at one specific aspect of that conquest, the treatment of captive women in the wake of war. God through Moses gives some very direct instructions on how captive women should be treated by the Israelite soldiers (Deut 21:10-14). At first glance, these instructions are troubling to the point of being offensive in the minds of many. But I believe that a careful examination of this passage will help us understand what God was trying to do in the conquest, and by extension, help us gain a clearer picture of how to deal with today’s messy world. That is what I hope to do in this series of blogs on women, war, and the Bible.

A word of caution. The Bible addresses issues like this with great frankness and sometimes graphic clarity. If this blog were aimed at children, I would not do this, because not everything in the Bible is intended for children. From here on this blog series will be for adults only. Stay tuned.

Conclusion to the Series on Michael the Archangel


My attempted contribution to understanding of Michael’s identity here is a small one. But given the long-standing dispute among biblical scholars, even a small contribution can be helpful. In the book of Revelation multiple symbols often refer to the same entity (note, for example, the five designations for Satan in Revelation 12:9). The literary strategy behind Revelation 12 strongly suggests that Michael is not some esoteric, angelic figure who appears once and then appears no more. In Revelation, I suspect he is one of a number of designations for Jesus Christ, who is the primary subject of the book (Rev 1:1). Within the Adventist tradition, Michael plays a major role in the cosmic conflict, embodying in his name the very character of God.

Further arguments from Revelation 12

Since writing up the above blog sequence and presenting it at the annual meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies in San Antonio (November 2023), I have observed further aspects of the context of Revelation 12:7 that lean me in favor of identifying Michael with Jesus Christ. For one thing, the male child appears in verse 5 never to be mentioned again. When the scene moves to heaven, Michael appears as the adversary of the dragon/Satan. It is likely that Michael and the male child are two ways of describing the same historical entity, Jesus Christ. Michael is powerful enough to cast out Satan (Rev 12:9-10) and make way for the authority of Jesus Christ (12:10). Outside of God and Christ, Michael is the only person in Revelation powerful enough to defeat Satan. Designations of Jesus Christ switch frequently in Revelation, He is the “son of man”, the “Lamb”, “the male child”, the rider on the white horse, “Christ”, and “Jesus Christ”. Adding Michael to the list is not a stretch. Also the language of Revelation 12 recalls the messianic premotions of the Old Testament, such as Psalm 2 (“rule with a rod of iron”) and Genesis 3:15.

In fact, according to Ekkehardt Mueller, the entirety of chapter 12 reads like a midrash on Genesis 3:15. The “male child” of 12:5 echoes the male offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:15 that will crush the serpent’s head. The renaming of the dragon/Satan as “the ancient serpent” (12:9, cf. 12:14) introduces a structural parallel to Genesis 3, making Genesis 3:15 a foretaste of the cosmic conflict language in the rest of Scripture. The use of language like “seed of the woman” in 12:17 to describe the enmity between the dragon and the remnant would be rather odd if we were not dealing with an allusion to Genesis 3:15. So the warfare between the dragon and the woman, and between the dragon and “the remnant of her seed”, and the ultimate defeat of the dragon, all reflect John’s awareness that Genesis 3:15 is a prototype of the whole plan of salvation; which culminates in the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and heavenly reign of Jesus Christ. In that larger context, equating Michael with Jesus Christ makes the most sense.

Perhaps even more decisive is the fact that the Greek word for “war (polemos) appears 14 times in the book of Revelation. Eleven times the warfare is either neutral or is engaged in by the enemy powers of Revelation (Rev 11:7; 12:17; 13:7; 17:14; 19:19, etc.). Only three times is war waged by positive powers, in Revelation 2:16, 12:7, and 19:11. In Revelation 2:16 it is Jesus who makes war against the Nicolaitans. In Revelation 19:11, it is the rider on the white horse (Jesus) who judges and makes war. In both cases, the means of Jesus’ warfare is by “the sword of his mouth”. I take this odd metaphor to mean that He fights the war with persuasion rather than force. In Revelation 12:7-8, it is Michael and his angels who make war with the dragon and his angels. It seems that is also a war of words (Rev 12:9-11). It was through words that the ancient serpent deceived Eve (Rev 12:9). It is through accusations that Satan seeks to gain an advantage in the war (Rev 12:10). It is through the “word of their testimony” that the people of God counter those accusations (Rev 12:11). This use of war language as a metaphor for heavenly conflict over the character of God is further evidence within Revelation that Michael is Jesus Christ by another name.

A Literary Pattern

The previous blog was a short summary of the debate among biblical scholars regarding the identity of Michael. In this blog, I would like to explore some fresh evidence regarding the identity of Michael drawn from a literary pattern in Revelation. I’ve noticed that whenever the author of Revelation introduces a new character, it is as if he hits a pause button on the vision and gives a visual description of the new character, followed by a glimpse of the character’s back story. John then continues the vision. including the new character into the narrative. A few illustrations should suffice to establish the pattern. In Revelation 1, the voice of a son of man breaks into John’s self-introduction (Rev 1:9-11). When John turns to see who is speaking, he sees a glorious image of the heavenly Christ (1:12-16) followed by a brief back story (1:17-18). The vision then continues with messages from the same Jesus to the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22).

In Revelation 13, the vision of the dragon and the remnant (12:17) adds a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth. The beast from the sea (Rev 13:1-10) gets a visual description (13:1-2) followed by a considerable back story (13:3-7). The sea beast’s actions within the vision follow in 13:8-10 and are also mentioned in passing in 13:12-18. The beast from the earth (Rev 13:11-18) gets a very brief visual description (“two horns like a lamb”—13:11b) followed by an equally brief back story (“it spoke like a dragon”—13:11c). The beast from the earth then plays a major role in the rest of the vision (13:12-18). What adds to the picture in chapter 13 is that the visual descriptions and back stories are told in past tenses (13:1-7, 11), while the ensuing visionary sequences are in present and future tenses (13:8-10, 12-18). So the distinction in these literary elements seems quite clear.

I recently realized that the above literary pattern had implications for the identity of Michael in Revelation 12:7. Michael is the fourth of four new characters that are introduced in Revelation 12. The first of these new characters is the woman of 12:1-2. It is quite evident that the literary pattern applies to her. When the woman appears, John hits the “pause button” and offers a distinct visual description of her in verse 1 (“And a great sign was seen in heaven, a woman dressed with the sun. The moon was under her feet and upon her head was a victory crown of twelve stars”, my translation). This is followed by her back story in verse 2 (“She was pregnant and she cried out in pain as she labored to give birth”). Then a new character appears in verse 3 of the vision, a seven-headed, ten-crowned dragon (“And another sign was seen in heaven; a great, fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven crowns”). This is followed by the dragon’s back story (“His tail dragged down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth in order that when her child was born, he might eat it up”). Up until now, Revelation 12 follows the literary pattern with detailed precision.

A third new character is introduced in Revelation 12:5. It is the male child. But in contrast to the woman and the dragon, there is no visual description of the male child at all. And instead of a back story, there is mention of the child’s future (“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne”). The most likely reason for this shift is because the male child needs no introduction. He is clearly identified as Jesus by His birth and His ascension to heaven. So the male child has been in the story before, as the son of man in chapter 1 and the Lamb in chapter 5.

After noting the woman’s flight into the desert (Rev 12:6), the narrative moves to the war in heaven (12:7-8). The dragon, seen previously on earth (12:4), is now seen in heaven (12:7—“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels gathered to fight against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels also fought.”). The male child, snatched up to God in verse 5, is nowhere to be seen in this battle. Instead, a new character named Michael appears. He is not called an archangel here, but he is clearly commander of the angels in the heavenly conflict.

The awkward Greek of the verse (tou polemesai meta) mirrors the Greek (Theodotion) of Daniel 10:20, where Michael battles the satanic “prince” of Persia. As was the case with the male child, the narrative of Michael in Revelation 12:7 is missing the typical visual description and back story. The most likely explanation for this absence is that, like the male child, Michael is a character who has appeared in the story before. Who would that be? I would suggest the son of man in chapter 1, the Lamb in chapter 5, the male child earlier in this chapter, and Christ in 12:10. The great antagonist of Satan in Revelation 12 would be none other than Jesus Christ, from His birth as the male child (12:5), to His heavenly battle as leader of the angels, to His casting down of the dragon/Satan, to His enthronement in heaven (Rev 12:10).

Response to the Counter-Arguments

While the counter-arguments against equating Jesus and Michael are impressive in their own right, they overlook another line of evidence. Portraying Jesus as an angelic figure is compatible with early Judaism, which often portrayed the coming Messiah in angelic terms. Some scholars have referred to the picture of Christ in Revelation 1 as “angelomorphic Christology”. The mighty angel of Revelation 10:1-2 bears striking resemblance to both the exalted Christ of Revelation 1 and the man clothed in linen of Daniel 10:5-6 and 12:7. The Son of Man appears in the midst of a series of angels in Revelation 14:14. Since the angel that appears in 14:15 is dubbed “another angel”, it could be inferred that the son of man on the clouds is also an angel. While angels are created beings, so are humans, and Jesus’ humanity was an act of creation (John 1:1-3, 14). So spending time in the form of an angel is not inconceivable for Christ. Evidence that the incarnation of Christ should not be limited to a single act is found in Genesis 18, where both Yahweh and two angels appear to Abraham as “men” (Gen 18:2, 10, 22; 19:1).

Counterarguments Against Michael Being Christ

While the identification of Michael as Jesus Christ finds support in certain passages, many scholars and theologians maintain that Michael is solely an angelic being, distinct from Jesus Christ. This is often done to protect the divine nature of Christ and the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Identifying Jesus with the angelic figure Michael, to many, seems to threaten the full deity of Jesus Christ.

There are other counter-arguments. In Daniel, the Christ figure (portrayed as the son of man in Daniel 7:13-14 and 10:16) is distinct from Michael (Dan 10:21). In Revelation, worship of angels is discouraged (19:10 and 22:8-9), while Jesus Christ is clearly an object of legitimate worship (Rev 5:9-14). Christ is connected to God in Revelation by the common use of the divine titles “the first and the last”, “the beginning and the end”, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Angels, on the other hand, are created beings. Only God is worthy of worship (Rev 4:8-11), no created being deserves worship. For John, therefore, Jesus is clearly superior to the angels. If John had intended to identify Michael with Christ, he could easily have done so, but he does not.

Identifying Michael as Jesus Christ

Identifying Michael as Jesus Christ is widely supported by reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Paul there associates the Second Coming of Jesus with the voice of the archangel. The word archangel (Greek: archangelos, archangelou) appears only two times in the New Testament. In Jude 9 the archangel is named Michael, in 1 Thessalonians, the archangel is not named, but is present at the Second Coming. In both instances, the archangel is involved in the resurrection of the dead. It is a small step from there to the conclusion that the archangel Michael and Jesus Christ are one and the same person, although this is not explicit in 1 Thessalonians or Jude.

Further evidence for identifying the two is the fact that both Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Rev 12:7) and Jesus Christ (Matt 4:1-11; Rev 12:7-8) do battle with Satan. Michael is one of the chief princes (Dan 10:13—he is chief ruler in the Greek: archōnton tōn prōtōn), the great prince (Dan 12:1), and an archangel (Jude 9). Jesus Christ is king of kings and lord of lords (Rev 17:14; 19:16), the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5). In Revelation 13:4, the worshipers of the sea beast (who is portrayed as a counterfeit of Christ) cry out, “Who is like the beast?” This cry echoes the name of Michael (Rev 12:7), which means, “Who is like God?” So there is significant evidence that at least some writers of the New Testament identified Michael with Jesus Christ.

Michael in the New Testament

The first reference to Michael in the New Testament is found in the book of Jude, where he is referred to as “the archangel Michael” (Jude 1:9), one of the leaders among the angels. This is compatible with the testimony of Enoch, noted above. The passage in Jude recounts a dispute between Michael and the devil over the body of Moses, a narrative which is drawn in part from Zechariah 3 and in part from the lost ending of the Testament of Moses, as noted above. According to scholarly reconstructions of the Testament of Moses, the story went something like this. Moses on Mount Nebo sent Joshua back to the camp of Israel to tell them Moses was dead. When Moses dies, God sends the archangel Michael to recover the body of Moses and bury it in an unknown location. The devil appears in his role as the accuser, slandering Moses’ right to an honorable burial on the grounds of his murder of the Egyptian. Michael, who was Moses’ advocate, not his judge, did not take it upon himself to reject the devil’s accusation, but rebuked him in the name of the Lord. At this, the devil then fled, and Michael buried Moses.

Jude uses this illustration to expose the arrogance of his opponents. If the archangel Michael himself refused to slander Satan when the opportunity showed itself, then the false teachers Jude is writing about are on dangerous ground in blaspheming (slandering) the glorious ones of Israel’s history, like Moses (Jude 1:8). What Jude contributes to our investigation is the affirmation that Michael is a major adversary of Satan, a role that is reminiscent of Daniel 10. But while the scene in Jude is clearly one of conflict, warfare language is not used, so Michael’s role as commander-in-chief of the angels is not in view here. And there is also no hint in Jude that the author equated Michael with Jesus Christ. Jude has mirrored Michael’s traditional roles of archangel, advocate of the righteous, and opponent of Satan.

The last biblical reference to Michael is in Revelation 12:7, the text at the heart of this paper topic. While there are many references to angels in the book of Revelation, Michael is the only angel that is mentioned by name. In Revelation 12:7-9, there is a cosmic war between Michael and his angels, on the one hand, and the dragon/Satan and his angels, on the other. One might have expected John to have placed Christ in this role rather than Michael. Throughout Revelation, Christ is presented as a conqueror or victor (Rev 3:21; 5:5; 17:14; 19:14-15). Be that as it may, Michael emerges victorious in this conflict, casting the dragon/Satan out of heaven. This narrative aligns with the widespread New Testament theme of the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan through his death and resurrection (John 12:31-32). And the mention of Satan as the “accuser of the brethren” reminds readers of the New Testament of Satan’s accusations against Moses in Jude 9, and of Michael’s response in defense of Moses. So the actions of Michael in Revelation 12 raise the possibility that he is more than just one of the archangels, more even than the leader of the archangels, he is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. In that case, the Michael of Old Testament and Jewish narrative would, in fact, be the pre-existent Christ. But this identification is not made explicit in Revelation, hence the need for further study.