Was God As Violent As Old Testament Claims?
By Mike Edwards
God commanding violence in the Old Testament makes no sense in light of New Testament emphasize on non-violence. Check out I Sam. 15:3 where God says: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them: put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” Many OT passages advocate violence in God’s name. If you don’t think this is morally shocking to many, think how you would react if you read this same command in the Koran. How do scholars justify these commands by God in a book God supposedly inspired thus seemingly approved how God is depicted?
Bible inspired view #1
Many scholars may hold on the idea that God inspired the Bible because if not inspired we can’t know then what God is truly like. Those who suggest God approved or agreed with every word declared about God defend violent passages in several ways:
- God is God, these are special circumstances, so God at times may make commands that seem contrary to human moral intuitions. The Bible advises we should imitate God but how can we do that if God’s actions seem evil at times? Are we to imitate those actions?
- Warfare rhetoric was common in ancient literature to induce fear and victory. But, even if God wasn’t meant to be taken literally, why would God inspire violent metaphors to specifically include women, children, infants, and animals? Even human leaders don’t use such rhetoric.
Bible inspired view #2
Some scholars suggest that God inspired/influenced the Bible, but sometimes God allowed the writers to get God wrong to contrast with Jesus’ teaching about God. But “inspired imperfection” leads to guessing what passages are true views of God and which ones are not. Even if you believe in “inspired perfection,” you still must interpret if the language is warfare rhetoric or exactly what God meant to be carried out. Using our moral intuitions in deciding what God is like and would do is unavoidable.
An uninspired view of the Bible may be a better option
I think most would assume God approved what the writers penned if God inspired or influence such a thought. God either controlled the writers’ thoughts and writings to perfectly represent God, or God did not control writers reporting their views of God even if false portrayals. Writers/editors of the Bible didn’t intentionally lie but were honest about their understandings of God at the time. This may explain violence wrongly contributed to God. I doubt God inspired any writings contributing acts of violence to God in the OT.
Why it matters?
People read the OT and since it contradicts their intuitions of a loving God, they tune out God. Who blames them! How do you follow One you don’t respect? Also, the Bible says: “Follow God’s example…” (Eph. 5:1). We know evil people are looking for an excuse for violence; good people may be trying to be obedient to God and sincerely believe their circumstances may warrant what God commanded in OT times. After all, God inspired such views. We might know God better if we assume the Bible isn’t inspired. One cannot avoid using their moral intuitions when it comes to interpretation or statements made about God in the OT. Do you have a hard time believing the OT’s God at times? I got a hunch you are right! Don’t leave your moral brain at the door!
Mike Edwards has been writing for Done with Religion for some time and has been a great addition to the site. Mike also has his own site where he writes that can be found at What God May Really Be Like He can be contacted by email at: email@example.com