How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.

5 thoughts on “How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

  1. The Old Testament is still the Hebrew Testament for Jews. We Christians are not Holier than thou as you pointed out. We too have used violence against our enemies conquering new land that we were sure God intended us to live and thrive in. What I think we need to do is realize how to make peace with those who now seek to do what we have done in the past. Non-violence sounds good. It makes us feel like we are the nice people on the block. But when a person or a nation is bent on invading and conquering us, we can let them and turn the other cheek, or we can resist them anyway we can. Some will choose to turn the other cheek and others will meet violence with violence. Violence and resolving things violently is a quick way to end things. As nature shows us, a storm clears the air. Turning the other cheek and tolerating the other’s hatred toward us, hoping and praying for the other to have a change of heart prolongs the suffering snd the injustice. As a strategy to make the other look bad, it works as long as the other has the same moral values and cares enough about his/her reputation in the world. It works as long as the other feels the heat and cracks under our moral pressure. In my view, dialogue and discussion alone can not resolve conflicts as long as people demonize the “other” and claim “their enlightened view” is better than their neighbour’s “old” unenlightened view. Loving our enemies, is not an easy thing. We can’t let them conquer us or our families and we can’t let them terrorize us, intimidate us, or overwhelm us to give up what we believe and hold sacred. The same holds true for them. Somehow we must co-exist with them and set our boundaries and respect theirs.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!