Monday, July 1, 2013

On the violence of the Old Testament

From Fr. John Whiteford's blog, a post entitled 'Stump the Priest: "What About the Violence in the Old Testament?"'

Question: "What are we to make of passages of Scripture in the Old Testament in which God commanded the Israelites to slaughter entire cities or tribes, including the women and children? How do we square such a vengeful God with the merciful God we find in the New Testament?"

This is a question that is often raised by atheists to attack the Christian Faith, but it is also raised by sincere laymen who are unsure of how we should understand these passages. To answer the question requires that we consider several issues, and not look at the question in a superficial way.

What is interesting is that people do not generally raise moral objections to the flood in the days of Noah, even though every man, woman, and child, except Noah's family, was drowned. Nor do they raise moral objections to the fact that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even though women and children were no doubt killed. And no one raises moral objections when the Scriptures talk about God sending other nations to destroy the Israelites, even though men, women, and children were killed as a result.

The problem we have with God telling the Israelites to kill women and children is that we live in a rationalistic age, and people are not so sure God really talked to people like Joshua. Also, we don't want folks to go around killing people because they claim God told them to do it. But if God could wipe out a city with fire and brimstone, there's no reason why He couldn't do it via the Israelites if that was indeed His choice. And so if He did indeed tell the Israelites to utterly destroy a city, He had the sovereign right to do so, and the people of Israel, who had seen so many miracles worked by God had every reason to believe that God was speaking to them through, Joshua, and later through their Judges. The Church has not taken this as a precedence, but has seen it as something of literal application only to that specific time and place. The applications we can make from these passages today would be primarily of an allegorical nature, from a patristic perspective...

Complete post here.

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