Violence in the Bible

David waged a sacred war of extermination against the Amalekites

This Sunday, (29th in Ordinary Time, year C) the first reading is about the Israelites conflict with the Amalekites. In a new video, Fr. Robert Barron addresses the claims of the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al) that the God of the Bible is a dreadful entity because of the violence in the Old Testament, which seems so out of step with the God of the New Testament.

Of course, this is not a new problem in the Church. The Marcionites, founded in 144 AD, thought that there were two gods, the horrible god of the OT and the cuddly god of the NT and they jettisoned the OT from their Canon of Scripture. They taught that Christ was not the Son of the God of the Jews, but the Son of the good God, who was different from the God of the Ancient Covenant. They anticipated the more consistent dualism of Manichaeism and were finally absorbed by it (both were condemned as heresy of course).

Fr. Robert here states that if you read the Bible in such a way that you think violence is OK you have ipso facto misread it. You have to read the Bible from the perspective of the Lamb Standing as if Slain. He emphasises that this is not some new issue discovered by Hitchens et al, but something long pondered and answered by the Church. Indeed the Early Church Fathers taught that you can relate every verse in the Old Testament to Jesus, a game I have played on occasion with Mgr Paul Watson at Maryvale.

Personally, I always consider the Bible in terms of its literary genres. History, Epic, Didactic, Poetry, all can be found therein. Beyond their obvious significance, historic texts also teach us something about revelation. Revelation is something we can view through the lens of history, like a whisper becoming clearer, until God sent His own Son to express the message in clarity to us. Thus often in the OT you get the story of the Jewish people who felt confident with God on their side. Life was difficult and they interpreted God's message to them in that contemporary context. This is history and there's no denying life was different then.

The Bible is different to Al Qur'an for instance. The latter purports to be a discourse in Arabic, perfect in every way, from the lips of God, dictated to Mohammed. The Bible is a collection of literature written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means:
...since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.(Dei Verbum 12).
Overall, this is just another reason why the Magisterium is so important when we read Sacred Scripture. You are attempting to interpret text which is thousands of years old. How do you expect to be able to do this without some sort of soci-historical context? Yes you can still get something from it, but there is a real danger of literalism and misinterpretation.

So...There's nothing to be nervous about when confronting these issues. Like everything in the wonderful Church of Christ, it's pretty much a dead-cert that some clever clogs has thought of your question already and found a really good answer to it. See what you make of Fr. Robert on this issue: -


  1. 'David waged a sacred war of extermination against the Amalekites'

    Perhaps you meant Saul in 1 Samuel 15? How would you justify the killing of innocent women and children?

    Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”’

  2. Did you read the post? If you did, I think you've missed the point. This is not an apologia for violence in any way, I'm simply saying that one has to read such passages in their social and historical context.


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