Violence In The Old Testament is an ongoing series of reflections designed to help Christians make sense of Jesus’ teaching on peace and enemy love when juxtaposed with the images of an often violent and vengeful God found throughout the Old Testament. After all, violent Old Testament passages, such as those attributing genocidal acts to God, ought to be problematic not just for pacifists, but for every moral, Bible-believing Christian.
Many Christians genuinely struggle to reconcile Jesus’ teaching on peace and enemy love with the images of an often violent and vengeful God found throughout the Old Testament. If you’re confused about how to resolve these conflicting teachings, you are not alone. In fact, the violence of the Old Testament tends to be the primary roadblock preventing Bible-believing Christians from otherwise embracing what they see as Jesus’ clear teaching to love our enemies and never harm them. This is not a new predicament for the Church. The violence of the Old Testament has been a point of contention, debate, and scandal for Christians throughout Church history.
The Next Three Posts In This Series:
Before explaining how I, as a Christian pacifist, have come to reconcile the seemingly contradictory teachings on violence contained in the Old and New Testaments, it is important that we address here at the onset three preliminary questions. They are:
- Is there really a contradiction between the Old and New Testament teaching on the permissibility of violence and treatment of enemies?
- What are some of the ways that Christians throughout history (including today) have made sense of these seemingly incompatible teachings?
- What ethical stance should Christians embrace while they are still grappling with these apparently incompatible teachings? In other words, until we have figured out how to reconcile these two sets of teaching (which admittedly is a goal we may never attain in this life), what stance should Christians take? Do we solely follow Jesus’ teaching or the Old Testament’s ethic, or do we compromise both by devising a middle-of-the-road stance?
A Word of Pastoral Advice:
This first question is the focus of today’s post. But before diving into it, permit me to offer a word of pastoral advice: The most important topic to be discussed in this entire series is the third question I just listed. What or whose teaching should we follow during those times in which we are confused by (what at least appears to be) varied and incompatible sets of biblical instruction? More important than knowing how I and other Christians have come to make sense of the violence-condoning portions of Scripture, is for you to know which teaching to follow while in the midst of being confused by apparently contradictory biblical teaching.
Let’s face it. There’s a good chance that you may be dissatisfied or even disagree with the way in which I’ve come to reconcile these two sets of teaching on violence. I’m all right with that, as long as you have learned what criteria to use in determining your ethical stance during those seasons of confusion. And those seasons will occur often…not just on this specific topic. So stay tuned for this upcoming discussion!
Just How Extensive Are The Opposing Teachings On Violence & Peace?
In this post—which is the second reflection in our ongoing series entitled Violence In The Old Testament—I want to highlight the extent to which violence is a theme in the Old Testament and peace an equally common motif throughout the New Testament.
Violence In The Old Testament:
It is no exaggeration when I state that violence saturates the pages of the Old Testament. For example, based upon one comprehensive study into the prevalence of violence throughout the Old Testament, Raymond Schwager calculated there to be “six hundred passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Scriptures, one thousand verses where God’s own violent actions of punishment are described, a hundred passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (e.g. Exodus 4:24-26).”