Let There Be Violence?

A growing rift emerges within evangelicalism over how to read the dark side of the Bible.

Do you have to believe in God to be a moral person? According to a new study by Pew’s Global Attitudes Project, 53 percent of Americans say yes. The ironic fact of the Bible, however, is that it is full of individuals who believe in God, who act immorally and violently, and whose God appears to bless their actions. Many Christians today are critical of the violence they see in other religions — especially Islam — but there’s an inescapable cognitive dissonance if you are appalled by the violence done in the name of one religion but not by the violence done in the name of your own.

Poussin,_Nicolas_-_The_Victory_of_Joshua_over_the_Amalekites
Nicolas Poussin, “The Victory of Joshua Over the Amalekites,” 1625-1626.

It is hard to miss the passage where Moses slaughters 3,000 Israelites for worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32) — a death toll comparable to September 11. Or the passage telling of Moses’ anger upon discovering that his army had spared enemy women and children (Numbers 31), later commanding them to kill the males and older women, but keep the virgin girls for themselves.

This disturbing side of the Bible has some Christian academics calling for a more discriminate reading of it. Venturing into territory often reserved for Richard Dawkins —  who, in The Virus of Faith, compared Moses to Hitler — these Christians offer strong criticisms of the same book they hold sacred.

I asked a few of them to explain how they read the Bible’s violent passages.

Sunday school Samson

The Bible contains many moments where immoral actions are condemned, like King David’s murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to cover up their affair (2 Samuel 11). But there are also many passages where immorality is not only not denounced, but celebrated.

SamsonDestroyTemple
Image from a Bible illustration in 1890.

Take, for example, Judges 13-16. If you went to Sunday school, you may remember the story in which God restores the blinded Samson’s super-strength while his Philistine enemies are tying him up during a worship service at the temple of Dagon. Samson pulls down the entire structure, killing everyone present, including himself.

Did your Sunday school teacher present Samson as a hero? He was not so, says James McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University. This act is “almost a ‘suicide bombing,’” he told me. And yet, the New Testament book of Hebrews (11:32-34), in what many ministers refer to as the “hall of faith,” portrays Samon’s act as redemptive.

Similarly, Joshua’s armies engage in a God-commanded systematic genocide (see Joshua 6:20-21) of the Canaanite men, women and children. Though some scholars question the historicity of this passage (along with many others), the fact that many Christians see Joshua, Samson, and Moses as “godly” role models is troubling to some of their fellow believers.

“I don’t think that we have in the Bible revealed truths not produced by or mediated through human minds,” said McGrath, who identifies himself as a liberal Christian. “To treat commands to commit genocide as though they originated from God is to empty of all meaning any claims we make about God being loving or interested in redemption.”

McGrath’s comments might not surprise conservatives, coming as he does from the mainline Protestant left. But his position has support from some academic contrarians in the evangelical world, too.

Do evangelicals give God’s violence a pass?

The slaughter of Moses’ enemies in the Old Testament rivals that which “opponents of Islam have depicted for Muslim extremists,” says J. Denny Weaver, professor emeritus at Bluffton University and author of The Nonviolent God. “Christians who accuse Muslims and fail to recognize the violence in the Old Testament are giving Moses, the Israelite kings, and God a pass.”

Weaver told me, “As a Christian, my answer to divine violence in the Old Testament starts with the story of Jesus.” But this is in no way intended as “a simple assertion that the nonviolence of Jesus . . . supersedes the Old Testament.”

The Old Testament portrait of God is not “uniform,” he said. One must embrace “the entire Old Testament” to see that “the Old Testament in fact does not present a uniform picture of a violent and immoral God.”

In rejecting Bible-sanctioned violence, some Christian scholars have found themselves under fire from conservative evangelicals.

According to Weaver, the Old Testament includes portrayals of God and his people that stress nonviolence. The prophet Daniel’s refusal to end his praying (Daniel 6) — a violation of the Babylonian law — was an example of “nonviolent cultural resistance of God’s people in a strange land.” He adds that Jesus’ work is to say that this nonviolence “most truly reflects the character of God.”

Peter Enns, a professor of biblical studies at the progressively evangelical Eastern University, also finds the Bible’s violence disturbing.

“Biblical portrayals of . . . God-sanctioned violence are typically given a free pass by Christian communities that look to scripture to give accurate and absolutely authoritative information about God,” Enns said in an email.

“For Christians, the tectonic shift away from tribal thinking and killing enemies is certainly driven home by Jesus and the apostle Paul,” said Enns. “It is in the teachings and actions of Jesus — culminating in his death and resurrection — where we see the truly authoritative presentation of God.”

Calling out heretics?

These evangelical voices are far from unanimous. In rejecting Bible-sanctioned violence, some Christian scholars have found themselves under fire from conservative evangelicals.

In 2013, for example, Messiah College’s professor of Old Testament, Eric Seibert (author of The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy), drew significant controversy for guest-writing a three-part series on the Bible’s portrayal of God’s violence at Peter Enns’ Patheos blog.

“To put it bluntly, not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good, or good for us,” Seibert wrote. “At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept.”

While some might see this as blasphemy, Seibert wrote on the blog that an engagement “in an ethical and theological critique” of the Bible — like Jesus did — is “an act of profound faithfulness.”

Aren’t these academics cherry picking which parts of the Bible they accept?

But in a blog post of his own, Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, called Seibert’s views “shameful,” offering this evangelical critique: “God is the one who ordains all things, and God is the one who sets our moral standards. We do not judge God.”

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, compared Seibert’s views to those of Richard Dawkins.

Another controversy arose when Christopher Rollston, a formerly tenured professor of Old Testament and Semitic studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, published “The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About” at The Huffington Post.

Rollston’s article takes issue with the Ten Commandments treating women as property (Deuteronomy 5:21), and the requirement for women to marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), refusing to look past the Bible’s ancient misogyny as a tool for promoting violence against women.

Rollston says that the net effect of his article was a strong backlash from conservative donors to the seminary and the eventual loss of his teaching position.

Christian contrarians

Conservative evangelicals — and, in an unusual alliance, many atheists — might fairly ask: given their refusals to sanction the Bible’s violence, what keeps these contrarians Christian? Aren’t these academics cherry picking which parts of the Bible they accept?

Weaver, Enns, Rollston, or Seibert might offer this challenge to their conservative evangelical friends: simply believing in God — contrary to the Pew study — does not make one moral. Being a Christian requires “an act of profound faithfulness”: the courage to challenge a sacred book.

What seems clear to me is that if it’s appropriate (and I believe it is) to challenge violence in sacred books, then it’s a challenge that applies equally to any sacred book, be it the Bible or Qur’an.

Image of Anthony van Dyck’s “Samson and Delilah,” 1630via Wikimedia.

Brandon Withrow
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  • R Vogel

    Where are the Jewish voices in these discussions? I see atheists pointing to these disturbing episodes as evidence of the bibles depravity and evangelicals trying to come up with some sort of satisfactory answer, and generally failing miserably, but I rarely hear anyone, even in the non-evangelical christian space, opening a dialogue with the people whose book it is. Can they really offer us nothing as we struggle with understanding these texts?

    • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

      Christians betray their own bigotry by never turning to the Jews for help with biblical interpretation. After all, “those Jews are God-haters”, so they say in their minds, “and we must not fellowship with these Jewish Jesus-deniers” …

      • R Vogel

        Have you been reading Martin Luther again? ;p Seriously though, there is certainly some sort of underlying bigotry as you say for even in the most liberal and progressive camps I see very little appeal to Jewish thought. I expect that sort of thing from Fundies and Evangelicals. I just recently read a slate of reviews by Jewish reviewers of the movie Noah. The perspective they brought to the character of Noah was something I have never heard before. Could it be that if Jews and their views of the bible don’t conform to the caricature presented in the New Testament they fear it will undermine their faith? What do you mean Jews see the heart of their religion as love and compassion? I thought they were supposed to be burdened ‘under the law’ – is the cognitive dissonance just too great?

        • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

          Recently, I have really stared down the deep end of metaphysics and epistemology, and have realised that ultimately, metaphysical truth is relativistic, in the sense that each human being must decide for himself what is meaningful, and what isn’t. Religion can offer you a version of metaphysics that you may like or dislike, but it can never decide morality/meaning for you. The decision has to come from yourself. The Jews seem to have realised that a long time ago.

          More importantly, the Jews know better than anyone about the origins of their own religion and culture. In fact, it really baffles me why Christian theologians can completely neglect the vast volumes of Jewish commentaries that have been written throughout their long history; those commentaries should be used to help Christian theology develop a proper understanding of the Hebrew bible.

          The greatest crime of Christianity could arguably be their arbitrary invention and assembly of the “canon” of scripture, instead of recognising that all scripture is necessarily human writings. Similarly, taking the Hebrew bible away from its context of the Jewish oral tradition (and commentaries, etc.), is probably the greatest hermeneutical atrocity committed by Christians.

          (Reposted as my reply originally contained a link to a video, which seemed to require approval from a moderator.)

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            I certainly would agree that it is dangerous to put one text (or even group of them) above all others and consider anything else suspect. Of coarse they should have read and considered the works of those whom their religion was based. But as I suspect you already probably know that politics got involved at the highest of levels (anyone ever heard of emperor Constantine and Justinian) and forced and all in or out scenario having (at times literally) grave repercussions throughout the rest of Christian history.

        • tearfang

          Could it be that if Jews and their views of the bible don’t conform to the caricature presented in the New Testament.

          Almost certainly*. But then modern Jews are 2k years removed from that time. It can reasonably be argued that Christianity represented a split in Judaism. Those persuaded by Christian thinking became known as Christians. Since then the branch of Judaism which kept its namesake has gone through quite a lot- theologically, persecution wise, and as a nation. It is no surprise that their current mainstream beliefs are slightly different/refined than they were then, just as mainstream christianity’s beliefs are different.

          * describing the NT’s description of Jews as a caricature is probably not helpful to your case and almost certainly divisive fighting words. Especially since the bible describes the views of some Jews quite central to christianity, namely Jesus and the apostles etc.

    • Doug Wilkening

      There’s plenty of Jewish commentary out there, and it’s pretty easy to google and find it. However, Jewish thought would likely come as a shock to most Evangelicals at the most basic level. I’m not talking about the level of actual opinion, but the very level of “what is a commentary for in the first place?” The Evangelical is always asking, “What is the one and only one right answer to this question?” An Evangelical becomes disturbed and disoriented at the thought that there could be two or more valid opinions, and will experience discomfort until the options are narrowed down to one correct one for him.

      Jewish commentary is by its very nature diverse, and the diversity of thought is valued. As they say, “Ask four Jews, get five opinions.” That’s the Jewish tradition on interpretation of their scriptures. It wouldn’t sit well with the Evangelical mindset, I’m afraid.

      • R Vogel

        Doug, while I agree that most of the Jewish though I have read would be troubling to say the least to the Evangelical world-view, I find the silence in the liberal and progressive communities is just as deafening.

        • Matt

          I was always taught that those killed by the Jews were pagans. These pagans believed in killing children through burnt offerings. I was told that some people find this bad and immoral. That may not be true nowadays. Today, people blame God for not killing those who commit atrocities similar to these. However, in the old testament, where God does exactly that, he is thought of as evil. Doomed if you do. Doomed if you don’t. It’s not like the cultures of the old testament were just sitting outside painting and then, bam, Jewish people start slaughtering them. I don’t know. That sort of intellectual suicide seems a bit simplistic.

          • Pixie5

            There is a child sacrifice to the God of the Bible in the OT, with God’s full blessing and I am not talking about Abraham and Isaac. I am curious if you know your Bible well enough to know what I am talking about. Most Christians do not.

            It becomes an ethical problem when the Israelites were just as immoral as supposedly the pagans were. For one thing under Mosaic law it was legal to murder your disobedient child (honor killings anyone?)

          • Matt

            My only recollection is Jephthah in Judges, which is funny because non-Christians always mention Abraham and I am the one that has to enlighten them about an actual sacrifice. I even had a philosophy professor who thought he was really smart because he convinced himself that Abraham was a murderer. If he had just read Judges. But then again, Jephthah asked for it. I am not sure what you mean about honor killings, but yes, a disobedient child can be stoned based on the judgement of the leaders. I find that slightly different from sacrificing a child as a ritual to a god, which many pagan religions condoned, especially the Canaanites. Trying to make killing a drunken/disobedient child morally equivalent to burning a baby to appease Baal is a tad of a stretch. However, abortion is perfectly fine and dandy so nowadays it is not a big stretch. The atrocities of the old testament are not much different from today. People just like to pretend they have evolved. Too bad those same people also profess to believing that evolution takes millions of years. The ethical dilemma is not as you present it since God judges the Israelites for doing wrong. The ethical dilemma is that atheists are no different from the pagans in their morality. You have to admit, killing your child because you don’t want it is pretty morally reprehensible. Although, people will argue Utilitarianism much like Hitler and Stalin.

          • Pixie5

            “My only recollection is Jephthah in Judges..”

            Bingo. Glad you know that.

            “But then again, Jephthah asked for it.”

            If God was not okay with that then he would not have let him win the battle. That means that God sanctioned child sacrifice, in fact actually demanded it since God was the one who chose the child to be the first thing that came out of the house to meet Jephthah. (Of course it had to be SOMEBODY, but wouldn’t it have been nice if it had been a pet, instead of a HUMAN?)

            Beyond that the issue was not about Jephthah asking for it, did his DAUGHTER ask to be killed? Really the mental gymnastics to excuse this is really incredible.

            “The ethical dilemma is not as you present it since God judges the Israelites for doing wrong”

            Except that he didn’t. That is my point.

            “The ethical dilemma is that atheists are no different from the pagans in their morality.”

            I am not an atheist but I do not see any evidence of that in general.

            “You have to admit, killing your child because you don’t want it is pretty morally reprehensible”

            The Bible does not condemn abortion, in fact in one case it was mandantory. I assume you know what I am talking about?

            The Jewish belief in those days was that within the first 40 days of pregnancy there was nothing but water in the womb and the soul was incarnated sometime after that. In fact there was a lively debate amongst both Jewish scholars and also amongst early church fathers as to when a fetus was considered to be “a life”. Abortion is not a new issue.

            I am sure you are aware that the Torah said that if a pregnant woman was inadvertantly struck in her abdomen and lost her baby the person had to pay a fine. However if the woman was injured and died then that same person got the death penalty. That indicates that the fetus did not have the same rights as adults.

            I see the Hebrews as having more in common with the “pagans” in their practices than in our secular culture which values human rights. They were just another ancient near eastern culture amongst many and more like their neighbors than many Christians would like to admit. The main dfference just seems to be that they worshipped a different tribal God than the others.

      • Eli Odell Jackson

        There is only one right everytime, relativism is of the devil, where will you find it in the Word of God.

        • Doug Wilkening

          I have a question for you then. Which is the only one right, the stars and stripes or the stars and bars?

  • BM

    The bigger issue is the history of said events. Did they actually happen? According to 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis, Abraham and Moses were myths. Noah is probably a myth but maybe an embellishment of Babylon floods. The Jericho walls did not fall from horn/god vibrations/shaking so based on that did any of the following really happen and if any of the incidents did take place, were the body counts accurate? Probably not. Next topic.

    •Exodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden
    calf.

    •Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the
    Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried
    girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.)

    •Joshua: ◦Joshua 8: 12,000 men and women, all the people of Ai, killed.

    ◦Joshua 10: Joshua completely destroys Gibeon (“larger than Ai”),
    Makeddah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. “He left no
    survivors.”

    ◦Joshua 11: Hazor destroyed. [Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987),
    estimates the population of Hazor at ?> 50,000]

    ◦TOTAL: if Ai is average, 12,000 x 9 = 108,000 killed.

    •Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath
    destroyed.

    •Judges 3: ca. 10,000 Moabites k. at Jordan River.

    •Judges 8: 120,000 Midianite soldiers k. by Gideon

    •Judges 20: Benjamin attacked by other tribes. 25,000 killed.

    •1 Samuel 4: 4,000 Isrealites killed at 1st Battle of Ebenezer/Aphek. 30,000
    Isr. k. at 2nd battle.

    •David: ◦2 Samuel 8: 22,000 Arameans of Damascus and 18,000 Edomites killed
    in 2 battles.

    ◦2 Samuel 10: 40,000 Aramean footsoldiers and 7,000 charioteers killed at
    Helam.

    ◦2 Samuel 18: 20,000 Israelites under Absalom killed at Ephraim.

    •1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another
    27,000 killed by collapsing wall.

    •2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties.

    •2 Chron 25: Amaziah, king of Judah, k. 10,000 from Seir in battle and executed
    10,000 POWs. Discharged Judean soldiers pillaged and killed 3,000.

    •2 Chron 28: Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Judeans

    •TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in
    the Old Testament/Torah.

    The New Testament has only one major atrocity, that of god committing filicide
    assuming you believe in this Christian mumbo jumbo. Said atrocity should be
    enough to vitiate all of Christianity.

  • http://readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    “Giving God a pass?” What a concept! I wonder what the Apostle Paul would say about that idea. Oh, wait a minute—he’s already addressed it! “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20) But, of course, you probably think that’s just Paul talking.

    • Pixie5

      It WAS Paul talking. In fact it is interesting that he was the one who came up with the Christian doctrine, and yet he never even met Jesus. There are also indications that there were conflicts between him and the apostles over doctrine, So it seems reasonable to conclude that it was “just Paul talking.” Aside from that Paul did say at times that he was NOT speaking for God and that people should use their own judgment on many matters. His primary concern was to create a harmonious community of believers. His own words were obviously NOT scripture as they were only included in a canon much later.

  • chris reno

    If you want to consider the Jewish perspective I recommend Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Prophets. Heschel distinguishes between God’s wrath and mankinds anger with God’s wrath being a pathos for either human redemption or repentance. Another good book albeit far less complicated is Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill. Here Cahill, describes Judaism as an evolving religion where mankind’s understanding of God has evolved over time.

  • EqualTime

    Is it not possible that man created god in his own image, and as the society of man gradually civilized over 3,000 years, man’s concept of god civilized as well, resulting in a less violent god over time?

    • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

      Religion is realistically a man-made construct. The bible itself claims that God spoke through the prophets. But whether the prophets were speaking about a God in their own imagination/rationalisation, or whether God was truly the one speaking, we can never know for sure.

      • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/ Hydroxonium

        Or both! It’s not necessarily a dilemma :D

        • Pixie5

          I would say that if the goal was political in nature, then that would make the idea of God being behind it very suspect. Religion is intended to control people. That is different from true spirituality, which has no ulterior motive behind it.

        • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

          I can see true expressions of God in the cannon of literature; However they at times are in direct conflict with other portions of the cannon. I would say God, The Devil, and man are all expressed within, however not always when we are told they are. One of the spiritual tests we all have to face is how to think for ourselves and stand up and say no this is evil even when we are told something is good and Godly.

    • nwcolorist

      A look at the last 3,000 years shows us that man has not become more civilized. Wars, famines, flood, and disease have kept pace right along with the times. In fact, the 20th century is arguably the most violent and deadly time of all. We may have increased our technical and scientific knowledge, but as far as getting along with each other, we’re still back in the stone Age.

      • EqualTime

        Thanks for your reply. But to be clear, I was referring to the years between “an eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek”. Man’s creation of god has evolved in the last 2000 years too, as evidenced by Joeseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard.

        • nwcolorist

          Yes, I agree, there has been a definite progression of the concept of God since Abraham’s time. No doubt about that. But the nature of God has been one of those chicken or the egg debates. Has man invented God out of his needs, or is he just recognizing what’s already there? I believe in the latter.

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            I might agree about the evolution of mans concept about God progressing, however the more I think about it the more I recognize many enlightened concepts have already existed throughout the millennia. Unfortunately most of these had be quashed out by more violent competing ideologies. Just look at the Cathars’ who lived predominantly in southern France. They were primarily vegetarian, believed in the feminine divine in harmony with the masculine, and believed in reincarnation. Then Pope Innocent the 3rd, that name always cracks me up knowing just how brutal he really was, invited anyone who would go on a pogrom to stamp out such heretics could have their lands. It’s no wonder little of their texts have survived. But my point is if we read their texts today we’d find they had some very progressive beliefs for the time.

      • Pixie5

        I am not sure how famines, floods and disease reflect anything about mankind’s moral progress, warfare however is a legitimate criteria. But it is kind of the glass half empty/half full dilema. In the Western world we have more freedom and less violence that most cultures have ever had. The Constitution is ranked up there with veneration of the Bible, but ironically it is arguably NOT in agreement with the Bible. It’s morality is superior to the Bible which means that we are making progress.

        On the other hand, though, it is true that the U.S. has done a lot of warmongering, some of it legitmate like in WW2. And mankind as a whole tends towards violent conflict

        Maybe a better view of this is that mankind is going through “growing pains” and hopefully we will grow out of our violent ways eventually.

  • Wayne Pelly

    Maybe we’re on to something, but just have it backwards. Take Samson, for example. It is not hard to understand why he might have been regarded as a hero to Israel, acting at a time when Israel was struggling for its very existence against a vastly superior culture – the Philistines. Perhaps the real lesson here is to extend the same grace to the suicide bombers: Instead of demonizing them, we should try to understand their context as well: what motivates them, what is driving them to such desperation. Ask how can we get to the root cause of this conflict. Maybe more understanding now would result in less needless deaths (on both sides!) in the future.

    • Pixie5

      Interesting point. Yes I can see that the Samson story would be inspiring to them, but of course from our standpoint it sets a dangerous precedence. As far as getting to the root of the problem with Islamic terrorists, the root is a complex interplay between their religious beliefs AND some legitimate grievances. How do we separate the two?

      We COULD possibly address their grievances but the religious beliefs would remain. Remember they don’t even treat THEIR OWN PEOPLE very well, especially women. They are stuck centuries behind us in terms of freedom and human rights. They literally have gone back to the barbaric OT laws of Moses.

      Just to make things clear I am referring to the repressive fundamentalist Islamic factions, not all Muslims.

      I do agree with you in principle, I just think it is more complicated than that. Their belief system says that we are evil, and that would be hard to overcome, no matter what we do or do not do.

      • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

        And lets not forget that our governments foreign policies at times even fanned the flames of such ideologies for their own purposes. But yes, the dysfunctional potential was always there. I’ve often stated when “scared” texts have imbedded within them injustices touted as virtue eventually it will raise its ugly head.

  • http://sez33.com/ Bruce Card

    Yes and it is a good thing He is patient & long-suffering, because He grinds His enemies into dust. He hates liars, false-anything (weights, witnesses, teachers etc.). The Bible is filled with His judgement, front to back! He curses (in the OT) any Israeli soldier whose sword is bloodless. He is above all, to be feared by all, at least until this war of good vs evil is over. We can ask a lot of questions and even try to intellectualize it, but nothing will detract from Col.1:16. To Him this life is a “vapor”, meant to establish all mankind’s hearts whether they’re followers of Truth & goodness, or not. Choose wisely because more judgement is on the way. Why? P O R N.
    … See my pic? Please visit the web site!
    According to scripture, Jer.50:24. America invades Israel, unsuccessfully.

  • phreedm

    So…the God of the OT is violent and the God of the NT is loving? Exactly what was Calvary all about? The problem with this overly simplistic view is that it views actions in the bible through man’s definition of war, violence, and wrath instead of studying the revealed Word of God, to understand the attributes of God.
    “For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form”…Colossians 2:9 and “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”…Revelation 6:16. Wrath of the Lamb? Sounds non-violent to me.
    I understand that I’m commenting on a primarily secular board. However, I’m sure most on the board would claim science as their foundation of belief. With that in mind, come let us reason together through the “science of religious studies” and not let emotions and personal views cloud the discussion.

  • Doug Wilkening

    I see no compelling reason why a creator of the universe would have to respect human 21st century North American and Western European cultural preferences. Did God sign our Geneva Convention? No? Then it would appear that he is free to set his own rules, whatever they might be.

    • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

      Yes, and if you believe that you are not far off from being someone who commits genocide in the name of God. Treating a book like it is the words of God is idolatry. If you truly want the answers go directly to the source without preconceived conceptions of who God has been told to you to be and to have done.

  • Wemedge1

    What is the tenor of the entire Bible? It is fundamentally the story of man’s estrangement from, and eventual reconciliation with, his creator. The key elements in that process are repentance, which in Greek means “change of mind,” and faith, which in the Greek means “trust.” The Bible maintains that God, as a benevolent being, gives all people the chance to repent. But here’s the rub: His patience eventually wears out. Every instance of genocidal activity in the OT came after the people group being killed had been given hundreds and hundreds of years to repent, and failed to do so. This, unfortunately, is the final fate of all who do not care to understand who God is, or that ultimately He loves us with a tender, abiding affection. Hell exists, and people have been going there for thousands of years. The good part is that heaven exists, as well. But Jesus said clearly that the way was narrow, and few would pass through it. Our job is to give him a fair hearing, make out choices as free beings- and then live with the consequences, good or bad.

  • EqualTime

    Some comments here remind me that many accept their God on a “heads I win, tails you lose” basis. When something good happens, that’s God’s benevolence. When something bad happens, it’ “God works in mysterious ways which are beyond our comprehension and it’s not for us to question.”

    Time magazine posited years ago that two characteristics of God are that he is all good, and all powerful, but evil exists. Logic would observe only two of the three can be true.

    • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

      I am by no means a fundamentalists, in fact quite the opposite. But I do believe in the Divine.

      With that being said evil can exist as a byproduct of freewill which it is indeed a virtue to have given us. As an exercise try to imagine a universe that is completely controlled.

      • EqualTime

        Thanks for the reply. I believe we have free will too. What is the relationship between free will and prayer to God, say, for the safe return of a serviceman from Afghanistan? Is there a point to the prayer? Or does the free will of the Taliban always trump the prayer?

        • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

          Good question. Prayer is not some form of magic, nor is God a puppet to do our bidding. Prayer at its best is a way for us to affirm that we are open and receptive to all good virtues, and in extension is to be used as a setting of our intentions, to use them in service of the greater good.

          • EqualTime

            I agree, Paolo. Though I would have to admit I no longer believe in a deity, I continue to pray on occasion, for the reasons you share – a meditation, of sorts, expressing my intentions. Thank you for your elegant post.

  • Stephen Manning

    Even if you succeed in whitewashing the Bible’s God into Mr. Rogers in order to please the cultured despisers, the universe that He created is absolutely structured on violence, suffering and death, on a massive, continuing and unavoidable scale. God is not a theology professor.

  • nwcolorist

    This article seems to be built upon a faulty understanding of what the Bible teaches. The author apparently believes that the heroes of the Bible should all act like perfect ladies and gentlemen. You know, like in the movies. But the Scriptures cleanly show that all are sinners, saved only by God’s grace. He also seems to miss the distinction between a righteous man and a good man. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Faith in God is the key to righteousness. There are many who live good upstanding lives, but that doesn’t make them righteous.

    The Bible is God telling the story of mankind from His perspective. When we try to impose our finite understanding of God’s plan on this story, which was created by an infinite Being, we get it all wrong. Kind of like trying to run United Airlines scheduling software onto our laptop. It doesn’t work.

    It concerns me that Mr. Withrow teaches at the university level.

    • BM

      It concerns me that you believe that some god is relaying messages via a book. Why not simply write them in the sky for all to see????

      • nwcolorist

        Interesting that you should mention that, because He has done it. The sun moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies are an ongoing testament to God’s creation, and have been ever since man first looked up into the sky and wondered about it.

        Psalm 19

        The heavens declare the glory of God;
        And the firmament shows His handiwork.
        Day unto day utters speech,
        And night unto night reveals knowledge.
        There is no speech nor language
        Where their voice is not heard.
        Their line[a] has gone out through all the earth,
        And their words to the end of the world.

        • BM

          Give us a break !!! The Sun, moon and stars are messages from your god noting things like the Ten Commandments? Please translate !!!

          • nwcolorist

            Why did the editors remove my response to BM? It was a straightforward, factual reply, giving references to his question.

      • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

        I agree. Fortunately there is an even more direct way of receiving them. And yes, they are written upon creation as well.

    • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

      I would disagree that “the bible is God telling the story of mankind from his perspective”. I’m afraid it is the exact opposite. It is men telling other men what to believe about who God is and what “he” has done. But that is Ok. Though I believe in the existence of the Divine, it is we who are trying to fine him/her with our own thoughts and definitions. Truth be told, God eludes us all as any good mystery should.

  • dangjin1

    Too many of you apply your own ideas of morality and violence to God’s word instead of applying God’s. Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are higher than ours and that he does not go by earthly human standards but by his own holy ones. God punishes sin but for some reason you do not allow him to do so.

    The question is—what have you accomplished in your life that allows you to stand in judgement of God?

    • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

      It’s not about judging God. It is about man’s ideas of who God truly is that is getting in the way. Many terrible things have been justified in God’s name, things that continue unto this very day.

      When you allow yourself to believe in morally questionable things you can then be manipulated to do morally questionable things, even if you think you are a messenger of God. The truth is the truth. We can’t change what that is. But it can and has been silenced for a while.

      Our light as a society has been under a bushel. And for the first time in quiet a long time we finally have the chance to see the truth for what it is without having to die as a heretic. This is how society was controlled for so long. And it’s effects are still ongoing.

      Don’t believe somebodies long dead beliefs which were in essence a primitive yet highly effective form a mind control. This does not mean God does not exist. It only means we have to find him/her for ourselves.

      If we idolize a text and rely on it for all our answers, at best our logic will be circular and we will be in a hell like stasis thinking we’ve found all the answers, when in fact the greatest aspect of who God is is the Unknown.”

      If we idolize a text and rely on it for all our answers, at best our logic will be circular and we will be in a hell like stasis thinking we’ve found all the answers when in fact the greatest aspect of who God is is the Unknown.

      • dangjin1

        but your judging God and you are using your idea of morality to do it. Is God not allowed to punish his disobedient creation? Whom, by the way, was patient with those pagan societies by giving them hundreds of years to repent and change their ways.

        You are also selective in the examples that you use for anyone who brings up this argument ignores and fails to mention Jonah and Ninevah. God sent Jonah and the city repented. do you not think he may have sent other prophets or messengers to those civilizations first before pronouncing and carrying out punishment?

        If you are going to accuse God then you need to see the whole picture not the parts you decide fit your views.

        as for finding him for yourself, start with the Bible, an open mind and a willingness to see the truth.

        • Kyle S.

          Everyone judges God. Christians judge him to be good, otherwise they wouldn’t worship him. I judge him to be unworthy of worship even if his existence could be proven, and so I don’t worship him.

          • dangjin1

            who are you and what have you done that allows you to feel you are capable of judging God? Either you do not know the correct meaning of the term or you think you are superior to Him.

          • Kyle S.

            Would you worship God if you didn’t think he was good?

          • dangjin1

            answer the questions or do not respond to me.

          • Kyle S.

            I think I’ve made my point. Good talk.

          • dangjin1

            the only point you have made is that you are worse than you claim God to be. You can’t even answer a question honestly which tells me you are in no position to judge God and deem him unworthy of worship.

        • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

          I very much have an open mind, so much so I’ve been down your road already. I prayed that God would open my eyes even if it meant understanding things that were contradictory to what I had believed. My prayers were answered and I am so thankful because many of the things I believed then only lead to suffering. My ethos was rigid and my emotional base line one of fear. Now I have no fear of God because I truly know what God being love means. And it certainly doesn’t mean a despot of an entity full of egoistic wrath that will command genocide, execute women who were raped & or those who believed in other religious ideas, permit sexual slavery, or worse the eternally torture of ones soul all for his glory (though this is more of a religious opinion). To attribute any of these evil ideas or practices to God is to besmirch his/her name. God is so much better than fundamental Christian/Muslims or other religions have portrayed her to be. And for this I thank God.

          • dangjin1

            So God, who owns heaven, is not allowed to make any rules regarding who gets to reside there? He must follow your sinful ideas just to get you to worship him? I wouldn’t want to worship a God that followed your ideas as you would let sin enter into paradise and ruin it for everyone.

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            God can do whatever he/she wants. However God will not go outside of God’s nature which is good. It is certainly not good to do any of the things i have listed above. What has happened is that various people for a variety of reasons have projected things onto God that are simply not Godly, but instead have projected of on to him/her their own egos. What we see for example in the old testament is nothing but a projection of tribalistic man which unfortunately entails taking other peoples lands and goods and either killing and or enslaving the rest of the population.

            Most of the rest of the laws are meant to exert control over the population by the ruling priestly class who helped justify them doing very difficult things. Doing extreme evil, contrary to some peoples understanding, is very difficult for most people to do. They need to be coerced. The Old testament, especially the first five books did an excellent job at doing so. Those who dissented in short were killed perpetuating the social eugenics all the way to present times and hence the staunch fundamental beliefs we see even today.

          • dangjin1

            you really do not know what you are talking about do you? If what you say is true, where are the ancient manuscripts backing you up? WHere are the different biblical pages talking about this different God of yours?

            No, the god you claim to serve is just one of your own making and you designed it to fit your ideas not a Holy God’s.

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            Where are the ancient manuscripts of a more gentle, compassionate, and wise God, mostly burned, and otherwise suppressed & marginalized. Not that God needs an ancient manuscript to be validated.

        • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

          So let me get this straight, God cannot exist in the form I have proclaimed unless it is documented in an ancient text? Sounds like you are trying to fit the boundless infinite inside a box. The most Grand aspect of The Divine is the mysterious.

          But let’s put that honking elephant in the room aside for a moment. A moment of thoughtful criticism would lead one to the conclusion that texts of similar (not same since all people have differing views of the divine) have been suppressed from the time “Christianity” first became state sanctioned and hence used for political means.

          One small example, have you ever heard of the Cathars? They were Christians who predominantly lived in Southern France. They were predominantly vegetarian, believe that the Divine was not simply masculine but also feminine, as well as believing in the reincarnation. Long story short they were persecuted by the Catholic church and killed off upwards to half a million people (which was a tremendous amount considering the relative population at the time). And low and behold their spiritual texts were destroyed as well much like other considered heretics texts were throughout the ages.

          Unfortunately the religions that have survived in mass have been those willing to be violent against those, and by extension their texts, who have a diverging opinion. Hence the prevalence fundamentalist beliefs even in current times are a vestige of such a eugenics system.

          • dangjin1

            Uhm…yes. All you have is a make believe god that has no history, no revelations, no teachings, no justice, no mercy, and on it goes.

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            You are the one straw-manning all these no’s together and attributing it your perception of a false God you think I believe in. All these can be attributes of a God other without bowing to the current fundamental paradigm. However you at this time do not seem not open to any other possibility. I suspect this is because a change in ethos would be too mentally painful. I know this from experience.

            I also know from experience when it doesn’t serve to debate a topic anymore. When someone beliefs are in status nothing can be said or done to change that. Only the person themselves can open themselves to the truth, whatever it is that it may be.

            But to find truth you must be willing to challenge whatever has been preached at you. Listening to enough preaching inevitably becomes indoctrination. But a willingness to risk it all in order to see things for the way they really are not only brings the initial pain of internal transformation, but also a truth that will break loose any mental chains so that you will be able to find a much deeper sense of joy..

          • dangjin1

            You do not know what you are talking about.

        • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

          I am not judging God. I am however discerning some men claim of who God is and what “he” has done throughout history.

          In reality I am defending God honor as the depictions of who God is and what “he” has done throughout history is downright evil. I believe in God/Goddess and believe it besmirches His/Her name to say (s)he commanded, pillaging, kidnapping, rape, murder, and genocide (including but not limited to infanticide). This is not God at all but instead indicative of primitive tribalism. The Torah is more of a political text than a spiritual one, one meant to galvanize the tribe of the Jews to go out and do terrible things in a harsh time period and place in which they lived. In some sort of messed up way it served their tribe on a material level. But it certainly wasn’t what I would call moral nor spiritually advanced.

          With that said their are some ideas and stories that can be used to help one find God and self actualization on ones own personal Journey. I for one am all for reading varying “religious” texts. But please do not try to pass it off as being (w)holy good and Godly. Instead listen to your heart. You know what is good. And It’s not what your been inculcated to believe. It is inwardly innate. Stilling your mind via meditation will not only give you the room to see it,,, but help you to know the true and living God.

          • dangjin1

            you are making excuses for yourself now. where is your real verifiable evidence that the Torah is only a political text and whatever else you said. you cannot quote scholars either as they have no evidence to support your point of view.

            you do not want the torah to be a spiritual text for then you would have to believe Genesis 1 instead of secular science. also, your new age mormon philosophy is nothing but false teaching meant to lead people astray

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            If we are going to play the question game then riddle me this, how do you know the cannon of literary works you call “The Bible” is the one all be all form of spiritual texts? And if you quote me a passage from it that is nothing but circular logic. That is like me writing down on a piece of paper and stating I am God. Next as I proclaim I am God people inevitably ask me to prove it. And to demonstrate the power of circular logic all I have to do is simply point to the piece of paper stating that I am.

            Again, the basics of what is right is written on our hearts not on a piece of paper. The Devil uses the details to lead us astray. See here God commanded genocide so it must be ok. If you think genocide was ever ok you are already on the path to hell. Not the one with brimstone and fire but the one in which you have allowed to be created in your own mind. The kingdom of God being at hand has more to do with our present states of being than it does some future event.

          • dangjin1

            1st Paragraph:
            #1. you take it by faith
            #2. the salvation experience means you meet God and know he is real and his word is true.
            #3. the evidence supports the claim
            #4. the longevity and popularity of the book supports its claims
            #5. the unchanging words supports its claims
            #6. people rip off the Bible to attract adherents. they do not rip of the Koran, the book of Mormon, the Hindu vedas and so on. they all steal from the Bible
            #7. the historical record supports its claims

            2nd Paragraph:

            Don’t think you can think for me or answer for me. obviously you do not understand the Bible and apply secular ideas to God’s acts God is allowed to punish people for their sin and since he is just, he gets to choose how it will be done. You wouldn’t want people interfering and mislabeling your discipline and punishment of your children so don’t interfere and mislabel God’s.

            You really do not know anything baout the kingdom of God or even of God himself.

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            You’re right… I can’t think nor answer for you, only you can do that for yourself. That is my whole point and encouragement, for people to figure things out for themselves and be a better person for it.

          • dangjin1

            you have nothing to offer and your dismissal of the answers to your question only shows your closed mind and refusal to discuss properly

          • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

            There is psychological phenomenon called projection. You have projected the labels of me being closed minded and refusing to discuss the issue properly. However I have been nothing but cordial and have contributed valid points. I have not resorted to ad hominems and wish even those who disagree with me well. This is what I believe is the spirit of Jesus.

  • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

    “To put it bluntly, not everything in the ‘good book’ is either good, or
    good for us,” Seibert wrote. “At times the Bible endorses values we
    should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we
    cannot accept.” Seibert is correct. God did not put us on this earth to be mindless robots but to use our minds wisely to critically think, especially when our God given compass is screaming something is wrong.

    It doesn’t matter what why or when but genocide is never morally justified. Many of the Jews experiencing Hitler’s insanity I’m sure had this very same epiphany even though ancient Judaism states something that is quite contradictory.

    The truth of the matter is “The Bible” is a collection of books, written by many authors, and refined over the years, manifesting differently across the various Christian faiths. They are not God’s thoughts, or even at times historically correct. At best they manifest man’s ideas about who God is.

    And now with time… and allowance (being relatively free of the fire of the stake) we are evolving to see that God is indeed better than he/she has been portrayed by those tribal men so long ago whose goals were often control of the population (with high priests on top) as well as conquest of other nations, including but not limited to stealing, killing, infanticide, environmental degradation, and sexual slavery. These were not claimed to be merely the acts of men but commands and allowances of the highest among the high.

    I remember in my fundamental stage praying on my knees for forgiveness because I dared questioned that what was so morally obvious. I was trying to deny my heart from speaking the truth. I allowed what many call The Bible to be my idol. I put it above God’s law which no book can contain. I rejected my direct connection with the divine but instead relied on men who sought to control my mind via interpretations that had been eugenically handed down throughout the centuries.

    Any rudimentary study of “Christian” history will tell you that it has been fought with the deaths of “heretics”, another things the bible teaches, the killing of those who preach any other God. So what happens when you kill those who do not believe as you wish? You are left with those who either agree, or pretend to agree, or in the very least keep quiet. This cultural spiritual scar has been carried down all the way to present manifesting itself still in the most rigid of fundamental belief systems.

    But thankfully we are starting to heal and with this gift can truly see the face of God. Yes he exists and she is good.

    • Pixie5

      Very well put.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Thanks for a well-written article with a number of good points. I’m a former Evangelical of many years now, but still with friends and family as Evangelicals, and paying attention to this strand of Christian faith… and am now very progressive. I can’t tell you how refreshing it has been to see so many Evangelicals facing the hard questions and realizing the black-and-white, simplistic theologies so many of us were immersed in are just inconsistent and unworkable… the problems can’t be relegated to mystery or “God’s ways are higher…”

  • Marta L.

    This is an important topic and one we need to discuss more. What bothered me was the assumption (or at least the failure to comment on the fact) that there is no divine violence in the New Testament. You don’t see glorious warriors triumphantly wiping out whole pagan clans, but you do see people dreaming of the day that God (Christ?) will come riding in with a sword in hand, ready to forcibly make all the non-Christians bow down and throw them into the outer darkness. Revelation in particular is a pretty violent portrayal of what we would be led to believe is a nonviolent, redemptive God.

    I say this as a mainline, not-particularly-liberal Christian, by the way.

    • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

      I agree in spirit revelations does have a violent undertone to it. But the difference between it and the Old Testament is that in the Old Testament people were actually tortured, raped, and killed, the environment scorched to the ground and all in the name of God. Revelations on the other hand is more theoretical where Divine forces are going to bind evil, etc. Big difference, but yeah revelations needs to be taken to task as well. And while we’re at it the concept of ever lasting hell which is one of the most violent spiritual concepts ever created, a concept way more evil in spirit than even the people who are supposed to go there.

  • MarcusBorg

    I agree with the claim that parts of the Bible portray a violent God inconsistent with God as revealed in Jesus who is for Christians “the norm of the Bible.” The Word become flesh in Jesus trumps the Word in words. That has been “orthodox” Christianity from before the distinction between orthodox and non-orthodox was thought of. But I regret the focus on the God of of the Old Testament. Parts of the New Testament portray God as violently as anything in the Old Testament, most obviously but not only in Revelation. The difference is not a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, not a difference between Judaism and Christianity. but a contrast found in both traditions.

    • Pixie5

      “Parts of the New Testament portray God as violently as anything in the Old Testament, most obviously but not only in Revelation. The difference is not a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, not a difference between Judaism and Christianity. but a contrast found in both traditions.”

      Exactly.

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    “An act of profound faithfulness” to deny the Word of God, to substitute the Gospel of the Risen Lord for another, that is not another at all.

    And the link led me to Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman and guiding her to repentance, brother, Jesus is God, you are not, if Jesus ‘did’ change the scriptures then He could, for He was God, you are not, God judges you, being the only infallible and All-Good, only He can, you cannot judge Him, you are spiritually stillborn and utterly depraved from birth, every one of us is since Adam, you promise you won’t sin and then go sin right away, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.(Jer. 17:9)
    If you deny Jesus He will deny you (Matt. 10:33), if you are found to be lukewarm when the Lord takes your taste He will spit you out.(Rev. 3:15-16)

    So I ask you revilers, defilers and deniers, Will ye also, go away?

  • nwcolorist

    What I’m getting from reading many comments here is that, since God condones and even sometimes encourages violence, he is therefore deficient and at fault, and unworthy of being worshiped.

    But what I may have missed is a discussion of God’s eternal justice. Just as the universe works on highly precise and definite physical laws, His spiritual laws are ordered to be perfect. Disobedience to these laws results in severe consequences, which are suffering and spiritual death. By sending His Son, God has created a way to escape this fate. But man must actively believe in the Son.

    Ultimately, Justice must and has to be carried out. In His mercy, He has put off the final reckoning as long as possible, That’s why the Lord takes on the two earthly forms. The first as the gentle lamb, and finally as the terrible lion.

  • sdcaulley

    I appreciate Mr. Withrow’s courage to look at this question, and take the time to get the thoughts and opinions of others. When I look at this topic, I have to take into consideration the level of social development that both the subject of the story was at and the author of the story. Where in the realm of development were they? The majority of the Old Testament was written about a time period when the Warrior God was prevalent. It was written by people beginning to move into a more conformity and compliance view of God. Because of that God does seem to be more violent and condoning of violence.

    It is somewhat a matter of “God being made in the image of man”.