Learning to Read the Bible Nonviolently

Today’s post is the third and final one by Dr. Eric Seibert, Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College (post one is here and post two is here). Much of Seibert’s work is centered on addressing the problematic portrayals of God in the Old Testament, especially his violence. He is the author of Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Fortress 2009) and The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy (Fortress 2012). Seibert is also a licensed minister in the Brethren in Christ Church and formerly the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Initiative at Messiah College. He is currently working on his fourth book, Disarming the Church: Why Christians Must Forsake Violence to Follow Jesus (Cascade).

Since the pervasive presence of “virtuous” violence in the Old Testament constitutes a major problem for modern readers, I want to devote my last post to what can be done about it.

As I see it, overcoming this problem involves learning to read the Bible nonviolently, in a way that increases our love for God and others, promotes justice, and values all people. In The Violence of Scripture, I suggest several steps we can take to help us read this way.

One very important step we can take is to be intentional about problematizing and critiquing “virtuous” violence when we encounter it in the Bible. This is not hard to do, especially if you are willing to read violent verses from the perspective of the victims. For example, when reading the flood narrative, try reading the story through the eyes of those people outside the ark. Or instead of reading the story of the battle of Jericho with the Israelites who are circling the walls, try reading the story from the perspective of the Canaanites sitting inside the city.

Reading in this way complicates the notion of “virtuous” violence considerably. It is hard—some would say impossible—to justify the killing of infants and toddlers in stories like these. Reading this way sensitizes us to the problem of violence in these texts and keeps us from simplistically classifying such moral atrocities as good.

When read from the perspective of the victims, the myth of “virtuous” violence is exposed for what it really is: a myth. As I said in my previous post, violence is not a virtue. Violence is destructive and harmful. It is not the kind of behavior that should be sanctioned or celebrated, even when the Bible suggests otherwise.

Critiquing the violence in these texts does not, however, render them useless. Rather, it allows us to deal with them more responsibly. For example, even though I do not believe God commanded Israelites to slaughter Canaanites, I think that narrative can still be used constructively. The conquest narrative in Joshua 6-11 reminds us that religious violence is extremely dangerous because it gives divine sanction to behaviors that in any other context would be deemed immoral. Moreover, if one assumes the narrative was intended to bolster the political ambitions of King Josiah, it stands as a sober reminder of the way political leaders sometimes use religion to promote their own agendas.

Similarly, while we should certainly critique texts that contain violence against women and/or depict woman as second-class citizens, we should still attempt to use texts like these for positive ends. For example, some of these texts can be used as starting points to discuss the problem of domestic violence which is so endemic in our own day. We can use these texts that oppress, devalue, and subordinate women to begin conversations about the way woman are still mistreated in the world.

Using such texts to name these issues—issues which are infrequently discussed in the Church—can be a first step toward raising awareness and can help us begin to confront these problems more directly.

Reading the Bible nonviolently involves a commitment to read it in ways that are faith-affirming and life-giving. It means learning to read in ways that preserve the dignity and well-being of all people. This will require us to be critical of “virtuous” violence in the text while at the same time looking for ways to move beyond critique, to see how these texts can function positively for us despite the problems they raise.

In short, what I am suggesting is that we find ways to both critique and embrace troublesome texts, always reading in the direction of justice. I believe this represents an ethically responsible way to deal with the problem of “virtuous” violence in the Bible. What do you think?

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com Bill

    This is excellent. I especially appreciate the idea of looking at the violence from the perspective of the victims. Unfortunately there are many examples of horrific supposedly God-sanctioned violence from which to choose. For example Exodus tells us that God “struck down” the first born of every person and animal in Egypt, from the Pharoah’s first born to the first born of slaves and prisoners (who were therefore doubly victims and surely innocent of any offense against the Hebrews). “…there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” That thought calls me to mourn with those parents, rather than celebrate some victory.

    For what it’s worth, I found the Christotelic hermenuetic described in Inspiration and Incarnation to be very helpful in dealing with texts like this. It helped me finally come to peace with the Conquest narrative, for example.

    • http://markcaudill.me Mark

      I’m also working my way through Inspiration and Incarnation. It’s very freeing to finally have ways to understand these troubling passages without feeling like I’m compromising or ignoring the scriptures.

    • http://activefaith.wordpress.com Stephen Enjaian

      Dr. Seibert’s suggestion to view violence from the victims’ perspective would be useful if he applied it in a more thorough way. In these posts he has not mentioned the sickening violence and evil committed by the Canaanites against their own children and others, for instance. I’m not suggesting that this by itself resolves the slaughter of infants or enslavement of non-Jews. I am saying that his approach does not deal honestly with the problem of justice against unrepentant sinners. In fact, Dr. Seibert’s blanket use of the term “victim” presumes injustice, and so is really a form of simplistic question-begging.

      (By the way, Dr. Seibert seems preoccupied by accounts of God’s judgment of pagan people, but he has said nothing here about God’s judgments against the Jewish people).

      One of the oddest outcomes of Dr. Seibert’s logic is that it validates the bizarre misreading of Scripture by those who use the accounts of God’s judgments against evil to justify committing violence to promote their own agendas. In effect, he agrees with the fallacy that Biblical narratives are prescriptive, telling us how we should act in similar circumstances. That is rarely, if ever the case. The texts he references can be used in positive ways. But not when they are misread.

    • Reverend Robbie

      Pardon me for being the atheist who butts in with the 30,000 foot view of the issue while you are discussing a nuanced items of the religion on whose basic premises (that God exists, is good, etc.) you all basically agree. But I cannot help but point out that this article and many of the comments on it reflect much of what I feel is wrong with superstitious belief in a God. Please take my following comments as legitimate concerns and not as trolling just to cause trouble.

      One of the things I regularly see believers do with scripture is accept all of the things they like about it and then try to disregard or inconsistently provide “context” to the things they don’t like in order to continue believing in an omnibenevolent God. In this case, the post disregards the negative parts (genocide) as flawed writings of humans without applying the same judgment to the rest of the text, especially all the good stuff that we like. If God did not command the slaughter of Canaanites, then how do you claim that he inspired the Ten Commandments or instructed us to love our neighbors, other than just by saying that you like to think your God would do one and not the other? If you say that it’s because the good stuff is in God’s character and the bad stuff isn’t, then how do you determine God’s character without invoking circular reasoning by using selective bias regarding God’s actions when gathering evidence about what his character actually is?

      The comments brought up many more issues that I regularly see, but I’ll try to keep this brief and focused. Ultimately, all this back and forth about what God wants, what he inspired, what he didn’t inspire, whether he works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand (but somehow we’re still confident in our assessment that he’s good), and when and how he will save some or most or all or a few of us depending on what we do or say or believe; it all makes me wonder why all of these discussions don’t just lead us back to one simple question: Could it be that this guy just doesn’t exist and we’re part of a universe that wasn’t made specifically with us in mind? Could it be that there’s nobody guiding all of this and we’re on our own to do our best with our existence? Is it possible that even though we would, for some reason, prefer that our lives are given value by a supernatural being, that the only value to our experience is that which we assign to it? That even if there is no afterlife, we can still make the most of our lives and care for the lives of others who live now and are yet to come?

      Given all of the difficulty we have reconciling our image of God with the facts of reality, I would expect us to conclude that an omnibenevolent, personal creator is not very likely even though we would like for that to be the case. Maybe, just maybe, the universe came into being for causes we don’t understand but without any sentience or purpose behind it. That reconciles a whole lot better than all of these intellectual hoops we jump through to explain a benevolent, sentient creator.

      Does this perspective resonate with anyone? Or am I the only one who finds this whole discussion downright nutty? No offense meant, honestly, but that’s simply the way it appears to me and I prefer to call it like I see it.

  • Don Johnson

    His suggested solution is to negate what the texts say and then try to redeem them? I can agree with the latter but not the former, as it sure seems to deny inspiration of the texts by God.

    • http://anonymoustheologian.wordpress.com Christopher Baca

      That depends on what you mean by “inspiration.” If, by inspiration, you mean that every word written in the text is historically true and meant to unequivocally show God’s character, regardless of how immoral the actions committed are, then you would be correct. However, this doesn’t serve to show us a God who is truly loving or is the same God that is depicted in Jesus.

      • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

        Of course not every word in the text–we aren’t to conclude fro the story of Jacob that God supports lying to your father, cheating your uncle, and stealing from your brother–but acts of violence like the conquest of Canaan are difficult because they were not only sanctioned but ordered by God. If I may try to clarify what I think Dr. Seibert is getting at, I don’t think he’s merely judging God-sanctioned violence by modern, western standards, which would be an act of blasphemy. The dilemma is that these OT portrayals of violence conflict not with our culture’s perspective on violence, but on the perspective shown by Jesus, God in the flesh, in the NT. Reconciling these views is not trivial and, while I don’t agree with the extent to which he supports critiquing the Bible, I appreciate that he recognizes and faces the difficulty instead of brushing it aside.

        • Matt Thornton

          Doesn’t a set of stories as dense and complex as the Bible pretty much demand that one read it critically? Demand that one brings everything one has to bear?

          I mean, what does one take away from a literal reading of parable?

      • Hanan

        Christopher, please help me understand. You believe in this God and the God of Jesus. But this God, is the God of the bible. What other witness do you have for this God other then the text? Jesus believed in this text. So then you believe in the text only where it serves to show you a loving God, but not the rest of the text where you don’t like it? The same God that said take care of the widow and orphan is the same God that said slaughter children.

  • Randy

    I’ll refrain from giving my opinion on this post since I pretty much let it known what I think about this issue on your last post, Peter.

  • arty

    “Raising awareness” seems like pretty thin gruel to me. Dr. Enns: Has anyone in the scholarly community suggested that this may just present us with a false choice-that it misuses the English language to argue that sanctioning something is equivalent to regarding it as a virtue?

    • http://anirenicon.com Allen O’Brien

      That’s a good point. I’m not sure if “God sanctioned violence” is much easier to stomach than “considering violence a virtue”, but it’s worth some thought. This brings to mind David, with so much “sanctioned” blood on his hands that God wouldn’t allow him to build the temple.

  • Doug Mitchell

    Beyond the concept of critiquing violence in scripture, and the rejection of violence in the name of God (which is more effectively addressed in the New Testament) this is pretty weak stuff. Violence in response to evil is not always wrong, and I believe the evidence throughout Creation supports the concept that not all violence is evil. Nothing here substantial enough to challenge that view.

    • John I.

      Pretty weak reply

  • Bob

    Hey Peter

    Here is the best article I think I have ever read on this matter – Rachel Held Evans – The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart.

    http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/scandal-evangelical-heart

  • Jim

    I think this third post by Dr. Seibert provides a helpful approach to reading the OT (by squeezing out positives from negatives) for those who are seriously trying to reconcile the OT as God’s word applicable for them in some way. For me, the OT is primarily Jewish history and the stories were designed and/or recalled from tradition (factual and/or embellished) to keep the southern kingdom of Judah unified during their captivity and for those who subsequently returned to their Jewish homeland. The OT was very successful in this regard, as many other nations taken captive in BCE times had totally lost their national identity.

    However as I am historically challenged, I tend to disregard the OT (positive and negative stories alike). Nevertheless I think that Dr. Seibert presents a helpful approach that I may apply if ever I decide to read the OT again. I do appreciate the work of scholars who study the OT as it contributes towards understanding some aspects of the NT.

  • TPD

    OK, more than ever I am convinced Seibert is just inventing new justifications for the old pacifist arguments. This is the type of thing we argued about around my table at home as we discussed why many of my relatives refused to stand up to Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers. “If we kill their soldiers we will be killing good people who were forced to fight.” “By bombing their cities we will be killing non-combatants like women, children, and elderly.” “We will become no better than they are.” “Violence is never the answer.”

    I respect these people standing strong in their convictions in the face of intense presser and ridicule, but I disagree with the premise that violence is never the answer. The world is a much better place because Hitler and the Axis Powers were defeated. Even with collateral damage and the atrocities committed on both sides, no sane person could make a case that it would have been better if we all just stood there and sang “Kumbaya” while evil conquered the world. In this fallen world violence IS sometimes the answer.

    We don’t know why God condoned some of the killing in the OT because we don’t have the whole story. But I think it is a matter of faith to trust that He had good reasons rather than willy nilly reject portions of the text in favor of our modern sensibilities.

    • Larry

      TPD, I agree that when it comes to human beings, violence is sometimes the answer, and collateral damage sometimes is unavoidable. The question here is God. Why does God have to resort to violence, to the killing of innocents, when God has other means available? Why didn’t God simply throw a few selected thunderbolts at Hitler and his henchmen?

      • TPD

        “Why does God…?” “Why didn’t God…?” Those sorts of questions are too big for me to answer with any certainty. I can speculate, but my answers would be just that. Although I don’t know “why”, I do know “what.” The world is what it is; a place that God made perfect and we ruined with sin. So now we do our imperfect best in this ruined world where one person’s sin collides with the next person’s sin until the snowball effect threatens to take us all over the edge. We suffer with our best guesses at right and wrong during our brief time here and try to be faithful in hopes that the next world is a better one and things are clearer when Jesus sets up His kingdom. The Bible acknowledges the tragedy and moral complexity of the world I see around me while Seibert’s overly simple approach of “throw out what you don’t like in the Bible” doesn’t do it justice.

        • Matt Thornton

          For a “ruined” world, it sure is beautiful.

          • Marshall

            You should have seen it before.

          • Matt Thornton

            Before when? In terms of dates.

        • Larry

          TPD, that’s very wise and perceptive IMHO, particularly your conclusion about a broken world creating moral complexity. My point was simpler: just because we must sometimes resort to violence is no proof that God must do the same. Naturally, I cannot prove that God need NOT resort to violence, though I can’t imagine a reason why he’d need to. The fact that humans must sometimes resort to violence is (again IMHO) only because of the limited options available to us.

          Regarding the Hitler baby, he could have been kidnapped, taken someplace where there were no Jews (Madagascar?) and put up for adoption. Kidnapping is not nice, but it’s not as bad as murder.

          • TPD

            Larry, I would respond that the complexity negates the simpler question. My point is, since the moral situations we find ourselves in, where we can distinguish relatively few threads of cause and effect, are extremely complex then we shouldn’t try to second guess God who sees and deals with all the threads of cause and effect. We don’t know the whole situation so we don’t know why God chooses some to die and others to live.

            As to your assertion that God is all-powerful so He should be able to come up with less violent solutions, I would respond that in His sovereignty he chose to give us a large measure of freedom. Why did He put the tree in the garden? Why did the father of the prodigal give his money/permission to his son? I don’t know, but I do know that because God allows us to sin, that the chaos caused by our cumulative interacting sins makes violence necessary at times. So I suppose, if God would just take away our freedom to chose wrong, then violence would be unnecessary.

          • Larry

            TPD, I come to a different position than you, but based on fundamental agreement with most of what you have to say. I suspect that we both believe in a God who is incapable of doing evil. My belief is that I am not capable of always distinguishing between good and evil, perhaps not even with God’s help. Like you, I believe that I live in a morally complex world, and that sometimes I am presented with morally complex choices and am compelled to act even if none of the choices strike me as particularly good.

            Perhaps logic dictates that I agree with you: if God did it, it must be right, so why second-guess? But I believe in the moral imperative of questioning God. Maybe that’s arrogance, but I don’t think so, because I think I have to name it when I don’t understand, and I have to name it emphatically when I don’t understand how God could do something that appears to be evil. Job asked, and was answered; I could accept the answer Job received, but I think it’s OK to repeat the question.

            Like you, I read difficult passages in the Bible, and my first reaction is to wrestle with them, to try and understand them as coming from a just and loving God. I could not trust that a Bible which was easy and agreeable in every respect could possibly BE from God. But in my hierarchy of belief, my belief in a just and loving God transcends my belief in the Bible, so when the Bible presents God as performing acts I would normally classify as evil, I AM willing to consider that the Bible got it wrong.

        • John I.

          God didn’t say he made the world “perfect”, he said it was “very good”.

    • Damien

      What bothers me about this argument is that a non-Christian could make the very same argument. I’m afraid that if someone were to suggest that, perhaps, the Christian option is prayer, it would be rejected in favor of warfare because violence is seen as more effective. Prayer is very good for the little inconsequential things but, when we really want things to get done, then we need to rely on our own strength! Perhaps the main question is whether we truly believe that we can receive what we ask for in prayer. Does God really need Christians to bash people skull in and bathe in human blood for evil to be defeated, or do we trust him to listen to us and act in history, on his own time and using his chosen means? Would God “let evil conquer the world?”. Actually, we have the answer in Scripture: God eventually delivers his people and he can even use pagan rulers to do so (Cyrus the Great).

      It is easy to ask “what if American Christians had refused to fight in WWII?”. But we might as well ask “What if German Christians had refused to fight in WWII?” or “What if Christians had not condoned anti-semitism and militarism, which made the rise of Hitler possible”. Or, even more to the point, what if US Christians had allowed Jews to immigrate to their country, instead of sending them back to Nazi Germany as in the shameful case of the MS St. Louis? Or what if “Christian” countries had accepted Hitler’s offer at Évian to let Jews leave Germany if other countries were ready to take them in?

      WWII is one instance when pacifism seems inappropriate. But it cannot be divorced from millenia of church-sanctioned violence and discrimination that sowed the seeds of this conflict. What Christian pacifism does it set general moral rules. Are there times when they might seem inappropriate? Certainly (although I would say that the fire-bombing of German cities and the nuclear strikes makes WWII an unjust war even by traditional just-war standards). But we can’t really tell what would happen if, from now on, Christians refused to engage in violence. Perhaps we should give it a try? I am saddened when I see the extent to which the US church glorifies warfare and military service.

      • TPD

        Damien, your first sentence reveals the core problem you have with condoning violence in some situations. It is the same problem expressed by Seibert and others. You’re afraid that if violence is a valid option in some situations then it will be misused in other situations. You’re right; it has been and will continue to be misused. But it is still a necessary tool in this fallen world.

        It is interesting that you should talk about bashing people’s heads in as opposed to faith in God since I have a personal experience that deals with those two elements. I was in Brazil on a mission trip when I heard a lady scream for help. She was being accosted by two men with knives. I had very little time to consider the situation. I was scared but I just grabbed the closest blunt object I could find, yelled and charge at the men. Fortunately they ran off, probably less because of me and more because others had responded to the lady’s scream as well. Had they not run off I was fully prepared to try and bash their heads in to defend that lady. I was very scared but I acted in faith because I believed that God wanted me to go to her rescue. If someone attacks me I believe it is my responsibility to turn the other cheek but the situation is different when I witness someone else being attacked. I’m sure you can come up with a lot of “what ifs” and “you should haves” but things are what they are and I did what I did in that split second. I assert again that in the real world violence is sometimes a necessary tool.

      • John I.

        Jesus kingdom is not of this world, the Christian experience (growth in numbers, etc.) in the first three centuries demonstrates that Christ’s kingdom could have flourished in a world under the rule of Hitler. Democratic and other freedoms are not necessary to the living of life by a disciple of Jesus, nor are they necessary for Christians to turn the world upside down–which they did under Roman persecution.

        Would fewer people have died if Hitler had not been opposed with war? Yes. Would Jesus and his disciples still triumphed? Yes.

        Jesus did not command his followers to fight for human rights; he gave his followers only two commands which summed up all other commands: (1) love God, and (2) love others like God (Jesus) loved them, i.e., to the point of sacrificing their lives for those who hate them and want them dead.

        • TPD

          I’m not talking about trying to spread Jesus kingdom via violence. That is wrong and only the most extreme fringe would argue in favor of it. The issue here is natural law and justice for all people inside and outside of the Church. We are talking about citizens of a country, police, and soldiers.

          BTW, fewer people would not have died if Hitler had been unopposed. We know for a fact that the slaughter of Jews, handicapped people, and anyone who opposed him or was useless to him was part of his master plan. If he had won, they would still be slaughtering anyone who didn’t live up to their eugenic ideal.

      • Raymond

        Actually, it could be argued that prayer is not good for the little things either.

  • Larry

    I think the discussion here is terrific, but one thing disturbs me: I sense here an almost Marcionite tendency to ascribe God-violence exclusively to the OT. Maybe it’s just me, but I see plenty of violence in the NT. See, for example, the Book of Revelation. So, if you’re willing to challenge violence in the Bible, I say “great!”, but I think you should at least consider the entire Bible within your challenge.

    • Craig Wright

      Larry, it is not just a problem with violence. The question is, “Is it ever right to command the killing of babies?” We are struggling with our understanding of the character of God here.

      • TPD

        That’s a good question, Craig. It brings up the classic moral dilemma of, “If you had one chance would you go back in time and kill the ‘innocent’ baby named Adolf Hitler?” No matter what you choose, it isn’t an easy or bloodless answer. It’s a lose/lose.

        Regarding the character of God; we need to trust that He is what He claims to be. I’m sure His moral decision making process is exponentially more complex than the fairly straightforward example above.

        • Josiah

          If you had a time machine, why would you go back to when Hitler was a baby? It strikes me as odd that you would set up a counter-factual where of all the instances in his life you could kill him, you choose to do so when he’s a child. That is both cowardly and disturbing!

          As for Hitler and the time machine, why not go back to when he was preparing to speak at his first rally? It was his ability as a speaker that gave him power over others. If at that moment you cut off the end of his tongue, you wouldn’t have to kill him, and the evil of his heart would be like the evil in the heart’s of most of us, unable to be implemented.

          And as for the possibility that all over the Western world everyone said, “Jesus told us to deny ourselves pick up our cross and follow him, not deny him pick up our guns and destroy the axis.” If that had have happened, then we would be forced to live our faith in a similar situation to how Christians lived for the first few centuries of Church history, in total dependence on Jesus. Who’s to say that that wouldn’t have been the most effective way to bring about Christ’s will here on earth as it is in heaven? Why must our privilege of safety and security be at the expense of our Christian witness? Even to this day other Christians live in ‘hard places’, should we be exempt because we place our faith in our standing army? our counter intelligence agencies? and our gun in arms reach? why can’t we put our faith in Jesus and his mustard seed kingdom instead?

          All arguments against pacifism fail precisely because they fail to adequately consider faith and its outworking.

          Ps. I personally wouldn’t cut out Hitler’s tongue. There are worse things than living under tyranny, for instance denying Jesus. – Just to end things on a note of ‘virtuous violence’.

          • TPD

            Josiah,

            I didn’t invent the “Hitler as a Baby” scenario; I chose it because it was the topic of discussion in an ethics class I took long ago as well as a point of consideration in literature I’ve read since. Please refrain from trying to psychoanalyze me based on it :) The point of the scenario isn’t necessarily to arrive at the One Right Answer, but to realize that moral dilemmas sometimes become more complex with more information.

            The question of pacifism isn’t a simple one. Why didn’t john the Baptist require that Roman soldiers leave the army as part of repentance? Why didn’t Peter require the same of the Roman Centurion whose household the Holy Spirit fell on? Why did Paul affirm that “the sword” was given by God to governments to maintain justice? Etc. It seems to me that Jesus command not to resist an evil man applies more to my personal safety and pride than it does to me allowing some else to suffer harm. If we must suffer persecution, then God will provide grace. But there is little advantage to letting evil spread when God has given us the power to stop it. I’m not talking about vigilantism; I’m talking about lawful resistance to evil.

          • Josiah

            I apologise for any offence, not all of my points were directed at you specifically. I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to respond nevertheless. I’ve not come across the ‘baby Hitler’ counter-factual before. Usually ethics forces one to resolve a dilemma. It seems to me that it would only be a dilemma for someone with an inclination toward murdering babies. For the vast majority of people there is no dilemma, which is perhaps the reason why this counter-factual has fallen from use?

            I concur that pacifism can be complicated, it certainly challenges one to make hard choices. Thank you for pointing out the verses dealing with governance/army personnel, I hadn’t considered the John and Peter verses before. From Romans, the state authorities are God’s servant for rewarding/punishing conduct but they’re not servants in the same sense that Christian’s are called to be. I don’t see that there’s any issue here unless a Christian was in the position of administering justice on behalf of the state – perhaps like the soldier examples you’ve given. However, I would speculate that if John and Peter had advised soldiers to leave their roles these soldiers may have been killed for desertion – it wasn’t the kind of career you could just walk away from before your time of service was up. In which case someone who became a Christian while serving in such a position or who was conscripted to such a position would be governed by their conscience and the Holy Spirit.

            A peacemaker is someone caught between opposing sides, and I would think that much of being a peacemaker is answering difficult dilemma’s. New Zealand’s police don’t carry guns or tasers but they frequently deal with situations of family violence. Although I wouldn’t join the police, I state this as an example better than some counter-factual. I know pacifists who have no qualms with relying on self-defence – an issue of conscience; if they were so inclined I suppose they might join our police. [And in case you were wondering, game hunting is a national pass time. There have been occasional shootings in my lifetime but they're fairly rare.]

        • John I.

          The answer is, in fact, easy: no.

      • Larry

        Craig, understood. My point is that the questioning here seemed to be limited to the OT. I think that the NT needs to be questioned, too. If you look at the NT and conclude that there’s nothing that needs to be questioned, fine, and if you want to discuss it, you’ll find that I disagree, but for the moment all I ask is that both Testaments be examined with the same criteria. As you said, we’re considering the character of God, and it’s the same God in both books.

    • Jim

      Good point Larry, but it seems that John of Patmos (whoever he was) was a Jewish Christian with strong leanings toward the Jewish apocalyptic (Daniel, Enoch etc.) and probably represents OT prophetic theology better than NT theology (of say Paul) in my opinion. Also, I don’t like Marcion’s anti-Jewish tone, but I do like his idea that the Bible is too long – I’m all for a lot fewer pages.

      • Larry

        Jim, I always suspected that Marcion wasn’t all bad!

        As for Jewish influence in the NT, I’m sure it goes beyond the Book of Revelation. My point is a simple one: let’s wrestle with the entire text.

        • Jim

          Larry, you are right about the large Jewish influence in the NT. I just didn’t word my comment very well, but it was meant to refer to the Jewish “apocalyptic style” literature of 200 BCE – 150 CE. Next time I’ll try to construct my comment gooder. :) I guess regarding the OT/Marcion comment, I think that the early Christians hijacked the OT. That’s not necessarily bad, but I think OT and NT are two different types of literature and fusion has resulted in some theology that neither implicates directly. That being said, I’m not a Bible scholar so this is just my unprofessional opinion.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Trying to read from the victims’ perspective is an interesting thought. The OT narratives were not written from that perspective. But the Jesus I see in the gospels would certainly identify with the suffering of those who, by circumstances of their birth, were considered enemies of God’s people.

  • Dean

    Well, I have to agree that this final post was kind of a let down. I’m reading Brian McLaren’s new book right now, the one with the long title that I think is pretty lame (I am almost embarrassed to recommend it to others because of it), but I wish some of those posting here who think that violence in the OT is just fine and good and can be used by Christians today to promote war abroad and violence at home would read some more of his work and others like him and let us know what you think about his arguments, which I think are pretty compelling. It seems pretty clear to me that the Church has been co-opted by the state, starting with Constantine, and has been used as a tool to justify horrible acts of violence over the centuries in the name of God. The United States, far from being “exceptional” in that respect, is simply just another successor in this terrible tradition. I’m not saying I don’t love this country and I’m not saying we haven’t done a lot of good things in this world, but as Christians we really need to be questioning why we are so quick to support violence as a solution to the world’s problems, be it the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, support for more access to guns at home, the death penalty (even for minors), corporal punishment, etc. I find it odd that Evangelicals, supposedly the standard bearers for the message of Jesus Christ, would be so nonchalant, dare I say, eager to pursue violence as a solution to anything.

    I understand that the OT has a lot of violent passages, but if we really believed that Jesus was God incarnate and we read what he taught and how the early Church responded to violence, even in the face of total extermination, I simply find it unfathomable that Jesus would advocate many Evangelical positions on the use of violence today. What it really sounds like to me is a preference for certain passages that affirm our preconceived notions. There are so-called “literalists” who read this blog who talk about reading the Bible literally, I’m confused as to why everything Jesus said about violence shouldn’t be taken literally? I understand that it may be “impractical”, but pretty much everything Jesus said was “impractical” wasn’t it? I find it strange that so many Christians don’t struggle with this more but reflexively flip to the OT or Revelation and simply say, well, the Bible says it’s ok to commit genocide, kill women and children, or enjoy burning people alive in a lake of fire for eternity, I guess it must be ok. Normal people don’t respond that way to reading any other text. I completely affirm that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but I’m certainly not going take those passages for face value and let that be the end of it, hasn’t history proven definitively how dangerous it is to do that? Would love to hear a reasoned response.

    • arty

      Who argues that anybody “enjoys” genocide or eternal punishment? Yow, I’m in danger of being suffocated under an entire barn-full of straw men. A reasoned response requires that there first be a reasonable question.

      • Dean

        Just because I overstate a position to make a point doesn’t make it a straw man. How about this one:

        http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/01/27/christianism-and-violence/

      • Dean

        Artsy, by the way, I didn’t properly respond to your post, there are plenty of neo-Reformed folks who make the case that when we “get to heaven” we will finally be able to hate sin as much as God does, and then we will understand why genocide and eternal conscious torment is appropriate for sinners and in fact, we will enjoy seeing people punished eternally for their sins as much as God does. This is actually quite a common position. Check out this video below, Todd Friel may be cartoonish, but he is certainly not a straw man and his position is well in line with most conservative Evangelicals, particularly in the neo-Reformed camp, today.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zBMM813l3I

        • arty

          So it looks to me like we’ve got an argument of the form: “if you believe, x, then you’d be wrong to do that”, which isn’t the same things as supporting a generalization that a large body of people does in fact believe x, and that this fact has non-trivial, practical results. I have no idea who counts as neo-Reformed, but if they generally have this violence problem, as you suggest, then it looks to me like a sub-species of the broader problem of Theodicy. I doubt you’re going to get anywhere with the violence problem, without addressing the Theodicy problem first, and personally, I find the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart to be the most cogent, creative thinker I’ve ever run across, on that particular problem.

          • Dean

            I agree that it is absolutely a problem with Theodicy. The neo-Reformed are probably the most vocal and influential branch of Evangelical Christianity in America today. They are the likes of John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, Kevin Deyoung, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Justin Taylor, RC Sproul, I could go on and on, these are big names and they wield a lot of influence in the Church and popular religious discourse, which worries me a great deal.

            In fact, I have recently become very interested in reading more about the Eastern Orthodox tradition, thanks for the recommendation.

          • arty

            What makes them Reformed? That they think Calvin was more often right than wrong? What they take Calvin’s general view of sovereignty to be the right one? I’ll agree with you that Driscoll seems kind of cartoonish–isn’t he the guy that wrote that exhibitionist sex book recently? And, I’ll agree that Keller’s take on evil isn’t particularly persuasive–my wife read one of his books not too long ago, and neither of us was too impressed with the logical results of his thinking on matters of Theodicy.

            I guess my basic skepticism stems from a variety of the Pauline Kael syndrome, as in “I don’t know anybody who voted for him.” I know plenty of people who probably consider themselves to be basically of the conservative evangelical stripe, and I can’t see any of them holding to the views you describe. I can see them getting emotionally and temporarily connected with a hypothetical sermon that earnestly desired to see justice done and that maybe crosses the line from wanting to see justice done into doing it yourself (to put it in terms of another comment below). But, I don’t know anybody who is really going to go as far as you suggest, possibly because the loudest voices are rarely in the majority, which is why they have to shout.

            Check out Hart’s book “Where was God in the Tsunami?”, which is a take-off on an essay he published over at First Things, which itself was a take-off on a NYT column he did. Incidnetally, I’ve always like Plantinga’s “God, Freedom, and Evil,” too. You read that one?

  • Evan Hertzsprung

    To the question, “When the Bible sanctions violence, must we?” Dr. Seibert answers with an unequivocal “No!” I applaud a reading that considers the perspective of the victims, but why does he only see the Egyptian soldiers as victims, for example, and not see the ancient Hebrew people as victims in the Exodus story?
    Let me give a contemporary illustration. On October 10, Muslim extremists entered a Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad. They shot the priest as he performed mass. They murdered all three priests and then began shooting the men, women, children and babies in that church. Raymond de Souza, a columnist for the National Post, wrote these words in reaction to the slaughter in Baghdad: “”Vengeance is mine says the Lord.” So Scripture teaches us, and so it must be for us, leaving vengeance to the Lord, and imploring the grace of reconciliation and mercy. But let us not blanch from raising our voices to the Lord, with righteous anger and hot tears, to visit His vengeance upon those who did this, to bring down His wrath upon their heads, to exact upon them a terrifying price in full measure for their grievous sins.”
    Reflecting on what he had just written, de Souza commented: “That’s not the language of hatred; it is the language of the shepherd when the flock is being slaughtered.”
    What language does Dr. Seibert think we should use when the flock is being slaughtered? I question the wisdom of answering with an unequivocal “No!” as he has done.

    • Matt Thornton

      Hoping that justice is visited on those who do evil makes perfect sense.

      Working to see that justice comes to those who do evil likewise makes perfect sense.

      Becoming the ‘justice’ is where things go off the rails.

      • Mary

        Very good point!

    • Mary

      Evan,

      Of course that incident was evil. However, keep in mind that these Muslim extremists believed that what they were doing was “God’s Will”. Their traditions stem from the same OT traditions of violence that many Christians defend in their own faith tradition. We have to make sure that we do not cross the line and become exactly the same as the people we condemn. Certainly that is what happened when we went to war with Iraq.

      • Evan Hertzsprung

        My argument with Dr. Seibert concerns his blanket condemnation of violence, whether or not humans were involved in perpetrating the violence, as in the Exodus story. Contrary to Dr. Seibert, I think a Christian can celebrate God’s working of justice and be glad that the enemies of God’s people do not have the final word. Is there a danger that Christians can find justification for taking matters into their own hands in their pursuit of justice? Sure, but let’s warn against that danger rather than saying “Such violence is never justifiable and should never be condoned.” It is Dr. Seibert’s absolute condemnation of violence that I have a problem with.

    • Josiah

      Sometimes the hardest thing to do is forgive those who sin against us, but unless we do so neither will we be forgiven – its right there in the Lords prayer. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not pray for their destruction. Praying through anger is a great release and if we want to align our will with God’s we ought to be praying for the salvation of those who commit atrocities against our brothers and sisters. Vengeance is the Lord’s, we can trust that He will act as and when He desires, and that He’ll act appropriately. In response we are freed from having any concern about vengeance.

  • Jim

    Dean, lots of things to think about in your comment. Do you think that some of this comes from the apocalyptic view that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil, and there is nothing we can do about it just sit back and wait for Jesus/God to come back and deal with it? Interested in your opinion.

  • rvs

    Thanks for the great set of posts. My extensive experience of playing violent video games has prepared me for this conversation, perhaps. Might we allegorize a lot of the OT violence? Might we read it as ritualistic storytelling more so than actualized history-history… history? –Not, of course, that I think the Flood is only a mere metaphor. I accept the Flood as an event of some sort, and I am now–thanks to this post–thinking about it in terms of those who were not on the boat. I’m now wondering if it was a massive thief-on-the-cross situation–an exodus to Paradise.

  • James

    Yes, look at violence through the eyes of the victim–always an eye opener. But don’t forget to read the story! Allow yourself to get caught up in the ebb and flow of epic. I’m in Genesis among polygamous patriarchs at the moment where, obviously, the story hinges on violence against women–no, Abrahamic Promise! Follow the theme imaginatively from blessing the nations in Genesis to healing the nations in Revelation. Yes, pause and wrestle with the horror of human sacrifice, the unthinkable act of offering in sacrifice the son of promise. Note the irony of divine command yet the human willingness to obey, the stay of the knife, the ram caught in the thicket, and the rationale provided by the story itself–and be moved!

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    I’m a Christ following pacifist (or do my best to be one), and think all believers who seek to obey him should be also, but….. Siebert’s argument, and his hermeneutic, seems to go something like this: many people find the things God commands or is characterized as doing in the Bible unacceptable, hence we don’t have to believe what is written in the texts as actually being about God, therefore we can dismiss them as being in error and decide what we think is true for ourselves. That would be a big relief I suppose except for the fact that this same hermeneutic can be–and perhaps should be if the argument is true–used to dismiss the whole Bible are unreliable, as merely human and most likely not true about who god actually is and whatever god may actually be about, or simply false by most peoples’ standards. This same approach can be used to dismiss the characterization of God we ostensibly derive from the image of God revealed through Christ–in scripture–as predominantly non-violent in His pursuit of justice. Doesn’t anyone out there get that?

    • Margreet

      My thoughts exactly!

    • Nick Gotts

      First, I query your characterization of the “image of God revealed through Christ”. There is plenty that is ethically problematic in the NT, and that includes reported acts and words of Jesus himself. Jesus is depicted as using violence, in the clearing of the Temple; as deliberately splitting up families and treating his own mother with disrespect; and as threatening violent divine punishment of both individuals and whole cities that refuse to acknowledge his claims. Second, I agree with your main point: Siebert’s approach is to treat the OT as subject to moral criticism of its authorial point of view in the same way as Homer or the Epic of Gilgamesh. Of course to an atheist like me, or someone following a non-Abrahamic religion, there’s nothing problematic about that. But belief in the special status of the Bible has been so central to Christianity that what I expected from this final post in the series was Siebert’s account of how he regards the Bible: does he consider it “inspired”, and if so, what does he mean by that? And how did God allow himself to be so misrepresented in the OT as, on Siebert’s account, he was.

  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    As a woman, (and one of the very few female respondents on this post) I’ll say that it is very easy for me to imagine the role of a victim in the bible. I have no easy answers for the points discussed and think people’s comments thoughtful and reflective. Likewise, I very much appreciate Siebert’s call to use these texts to explore issues pertaining to violence, for not doing so is its own form of denial and negation of the Gospel. For instance, I found it astonishing that when studying the OT in seminary, the female perspective (or lack of it in the narrative) was acknowledged but often just accepted. Yes, the gang rape of the concubine in Judges is disturbing but we must remember, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” For me, I can’t simply gloss over these texts. I have to sit with them and honor my shock and outrage. Feminist J. Cheryl Exum, in her book “Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives” has a chapter entitled “Raped by the Pen” In it, she discusses how literary representations of rape in the bible occur twice. There is the account of the rape (written by a male author) and then the failure to give the victim her voice about the experience. Negating this, she is disempowered a second time around. Of course, the texts where written in an entirely different time period and context so Exum is not blaming or devaluing the bible (or God). But in our modern context, we have to look at the story behind the story because it’s a story that is occurring today – whether it’s a woman on a bus in India or a girl at a party in America being gang raped by a football team while others stand around watching taking pictures on cell phones and posting them to FB.

    Related, there is a collection of monologues in a book called “Lady Parts: Biblical Women and the Vagina Monologues” that give voice to some of the women in the bible – i.e. Jael, the woman caught in adultery, Jephthah’s daughter, etc. It’s a very powerful experience to perform these, embodying these women’s possible experiences – which we can only imagine and reflect on really. But it is its own form of midrash.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sirlemming Aaron Saraco

    I understand how this reading can be applied to the Promised Land narrative (although I respectfully, if also a bit vehemently, disagree with it). What I don’t understand is how it should be applied to the flood narrative. If the flood was a “moral atrocity”, who is being blamed for it? God? Are we then to conclude that it never happened? Or that it was just a natural occurrence that God warned Noah about? Unlike the Promised Land narrative, this can’t possibly be attributed to human error.

    I agree that we have to work against the dehumanization of the victims in these accounts. We need to see their deaths as tragedies, whether we believe God was behind them or not. I personally believe that God’s behavior, as recorded by the scriptures, is justified in all of these accounts, but if they don’t weigh on my mind as incidents of human suffering, I’m missing the point.

    • Nick Gotts

      So, you believe genocide is sometimes justified. On that issue, I find myself on the same side as Dr. Seibert.

      • TPD

        Nick, genocide is the natual couse of things in this fallen world. Look around you, everyone dies and this happens because of God’s judgement on our sin. I fail to see how Chistians can have such a problem with death at the age of 10 or 20, but not at the age of 70. If the flood had not swept those people away, today they would be just as dead. Complaining about the timing of death ignores the larger problem of death itself. Answer that problem and you have answered all the problems with all the killing in the OT.

        • Nick Gotts

          How you die makes a lot of difference. I have a son of 17. I would much rather he lived a full life and died peacefully in old age, than in pain and terror now, in some god-ordered massacre. But I agree with your main point: the existence of any evil, including death, makes it abundantly clear that there is no omnipotent and benevolent god. The excuse that this is “because of God’s judgement on our sin” is absurd: in the first place, trillions of animals lived and died before any human beings existed; but in any case, if god were benevolent and omnipotent, any world he made would be perfect, and so, incapable of “falling”.

          • TPD

            Nick – Sorry about the previous post, I totally misunderstood your reference point. The discussion you want to have is a completely different one than the one I was engaged in. I’ll just offer a few related thoughts. Of course you would prefer your son live longer. We’ll take every year, day, hour, or minute for ourselves and those we love. But if this is all there is then it seems rather futile since in the end death catches us all. This past year I have seen people I care about die and if that is The End then right now they don’t care how long or short, good or bad, their life was. That is one of the reasons I choose faith, otherwise it all seems rather meaningless.

            Secondly, a benevolent and omnipotent Creator doesn’t guarantee a perfect world here. The Bible says that once He made the world He gave it to us to do with it what we would. Look around you to see what we have done. We are responsible for the problems, not Him. But since He gives us second chances here and hope in a hereafter, we don’t have to despair.

          • Nick Gotts

            But if this is all there is then it seems rather futile since in the end death catches us all. – TPD

            No, it doesn’t; take it from me, who firmly believes this is indeed all there is. But even if it did, this would not make any difference to whether or not this is all there is; like Ellen Painter Dollar, you evidently choose wishful thinking over intellectual honesty.

            Secondly, a benevolent and omnipotent Creator doesn’t guarantee a perfect world here. The Bible says that once He made the world He gave it to us to do with it what we would. Look around you to see what we have done. We are responsible for the problems, not Him.

            Utter tosh. According to you, God has the power to intervene; he chooses not to prevent the child being murdered, and so is responsible for it; just as if you or I stood aside although we had the power to prevent an atrocity, we would be responsible. But more fundamentally, he could easily have designed people so they would not sin in the first place. According to your own beliefs, people will not sin in heaven, so either they will be free but always choose rightly, or they will not be free, but then, freedom evidently isn’t necessary to a blissful existence.

          • TPD

            No Nick, I don’t choose wishful thinking over intellectual honesty. Just the opposite, I recognize that there is evidence on both sides of the issue and I am intellectually honest enough to admit that my belief is a choice rather than ignorantly claiming (as many atheists and theists do) that my belief can be proven beyond doubt.

            As to the “Utter tosh,” The designed freedom to choose is offered in this life and the consequences are primarily received in the next. We choose to be with God or He will honor our wish to be without Him. IMHO hell, as represented in the Bible, is nothing more than a figurative description of what people who reject God will make of their own circumstances when all goodness is gone and all restraint is thrown off. No literal fire and/or brimstone are needed. And yes, God’s shoulders are big enough to bear responsibility for any intervention He chooses to engage in or not engage in during this life.

          • Nick Gotts

            Yes, you do engage in wishful thinking. The existence of evil is quite enough to make that of an omnipotent and benevolent being untenable to anyone valuing intellectual honesty, since no remotely feasible explanation has ever been given as to how the two could coexist. As to gods in general, I of course admit I cannot prove there are none – but there is not the faintest scintilla of worthwhile evidence for them, any more than for leprechauns and werewolves – I can’t prove those don’t exist, either.

            We choose to be with God or He will honor our wish to be without Him.

            It really is amazing how reliably you trot out the Christian apologist’s most stale and hackneyed excuses. Utter nonsense, even if there is a god. You are not being given a free choice if reliable information about the choices on offer is withheld from you; and it is abundantly clear that there is no such information about the properties, requirements, or indeed existence, of any god, generally available. If it were, everyone would believe in the same god or gods. In reality, even among those who pick on the same particular compendium of middle eastern mythology and protohistory as an infallible guide to the nature of God, differ radically among themselves as to what it says about that nature, as we’ve seen here.

          • TPD

            “Utter tosh.”
            “…no remotely feasible explanation has ever been given…”
            “…not the faintest scintilla of worthwhile evidence…”
            “…the Christian apologist’s most stale and hackneyed excuses.”
            “Utter nonsense…”
            “…abundantly clear that there is no such information…”
            My goodness! Did your doctor proscribe for you twice the daily dose of hyperbole? :)

            If you were intellectual honesty rather than just stringing together the most extreme list of adjectives that spring into your mind, I think you could admit that there is a fair amount of evidence on both sides of this issue. You may say that you don’t agree with the conclusions drawn, but you can’t say the evidence isn’t there. Consider the diverse work of William Lane Craig, R. Douglas Geivett, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Gary Habermas, and many more.

            Anyway, why do you even read and post on a blog like this? Are you just a troll or is there some nagging in your heart that says there must be more than what your 5 senses can perceive?

          • Don

            And this is one of the reasons why Biblical Creationists reject evolution; not just that the science does not add up, but that God did not allow animals to die, suffer disease and terror for millions of years before the “Fall”. No, the world was created a relatively short time ago, around 6000 years ago and the fossil evidence we see came from the results of the Flood about 1500 years later. One brief point; the “Cambrian Explosion” has life appearing with fully formed creatures with virtually no previous fossils in the Pre-Cambrian strata. This would be a contradiction to the evolutionary scheme, even accepting their dating of this strata at 500 million years ago or so (whatever! Not 4500 years!) However, a global Flood with accompanying geological catastrophic events would produce massive amounts of sedimentary rock, quickly burying animals so that they would not rot before they could be preserved in the again quickly forming rock layers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sirlemming Aaron Saraco

        I believe God is justified. He created the universe, He makes the rules. Who am I to tell Him which of His creation He can and can’t destroy? Life is a miracle in itself. He could easily just ditch the whole experiment if He felt like it. But amazingly, He also loves us enough to constantly offer us a way out. He loved those people in the Old Testament, too. He was constantly telling them, “all you have to do is turn to me and you’ll be saved”. And they constantly refused.

        Of course, the fact that God has this authority also means I can’t go around killing people. And personally, I don’t believe God orders the killing of people in a post-crucifixion world. I approach any notion of a God-approved war in today’s society with extreme skepticism.

        • Nick Gotts

          Yes indeed: clearly, every one of the children slaughtered by the Israelites had been offered the chance to “turn to God” and had wantonly refused it.

  • http://all-thought-is-practical.blogspot.com Scott Coulter

    While I appreciate his project here (and I call myself a Christian pacifist), I find Dr. Seibert’s offerings in this series unsatisfying. Perhaps if I read his books I will find something more, but in these blog posts something feels profoundly lacking.

    I find something like Ted Grimsrud’s comments on Joshua and the Conquest (here: http://peacetheology.net/the-bible-on-peace/08-the-conquest-gods-dark-side—joshua-1–11/) much more satisfying, specifically because he offers explicit points of both continuity and discontinuity between Joshua and Jesus. Highlighting the stark contrast, for example, between Joshua’s victories won by fighting and Jesus’ victory won by refusing to fight back, helps me to feel I have more firm ground (specifically theological ground) to stand on when I turn to say, with Seibert, that the murder of infants is unjustifiable, that the violence of the Conquest is out-of-harmony with the way of Jesus (and hence out-of-harmony with the way of the God I follow and worship), and that weeping for the victims of OT violence is an appropriate Christian response to these stories (although I do not want to *reduce* the appropriate Christian response to these stories to weeping for victims of violence–celebrating the freedom of the Hebrews from the Egyptians is also an appropriate Christian response).

    IMO, we should let the book of Joshua speak for itself, and do all we can using the exegetical tools we have to hear its voice. (Grimsrud says: the Joshua story should not be “read in isolation as a “problem passage” that must be explained away.”) But once we’ve heard what the book of Joshua says, we should turn to hear what Jesus says (or, more properly, what the NT Gospels and the rest of the NT says about Jesus as the perfect revelation of God) and note both points of continuity and discontinuity in the messages of Jesus and Joshua. (The same goes for Exodus, and other biblical texts involving violence, mutatis mutandis).

    This isn’t Marcionism. It’s good Orthodoxy. If we believe Jesus is the Word of God and the perfect image of the invisible God, superior to Moses and the angels, then we must read the whole of scripture in light of the revelation of Jesus.

  • matt

    This article is horrible. Dr. Siebert is accusing the Bible of endorsing immorality as he uses his own standard of morality that he gets from….. where? Another deity? His feelings? This is the classic, self-refuting approach of using the Bible against itself to prove something it doesn’t teach. Siebert is a philosopher, a pagan, not a Christian. How unsurprising it is that Enns loves this guy.

    The Cannanites were killed as a judgement against their wicked ways. Scripture clearly teaches this. It also foreshadows Christ’s return in glory when he judges the living and the dead. Liberals – will they ever learn? Makes me think of James White’s “blessing of the apostate” concept.

    • Nick Gotts

      Yes, all those wicked infants, wickedly sucking milk from their mothers’ breasts. Do you think the righteous warriors of the Lord killed parents first while their children looked on, or the other way round?

      • matt

        You don’t have the ability to understand God’s justice as you call good evil and evil good. You’re much like Seibert because you decry the (supposed) immorality of God while using your own perceived (but completely wrong) notion of justice which is based on your feelings.

        • Jim

          Not necessarily in my opinion. Maybe God views those events as really really sick, even more than we can comprehend. All we have are writings documenting how the authors perceived it from their very own (broken, political etc.) perspective. We are the same today when it comes to issues like national security etc.
          Also I’m sure that some of the authors in trying to justify their view added words like “God said …”.

        • Nick Gotts

          You are the one calling the mass murder of children good, not me. My opposition to genocide and child murder is not based on my feelings, but on the interests and preferences of the victims. Your approval of genocide and child murder in particular cases is based on the contemptible, craven worship of a dishonest, genocidal, pathologically jealous, hideously misogynist, psychopathic sadist, which is how God is portrayed in much of the OT.

    • Mary

      “Dr. Siebert is accusing the Bible of endorsing immorality as he uses his own standard of morality that he gets from….. where? Another deity? His feelings?”

      And what is wrong with feelings? Didn’t Jesus say to love and treat others as you would be treated? True morality is based on empathy. To endorse cruel acts against others would mean that God is a sociopath, not a loving God.

      The fact that there are so many Christians out there like you that have a complete disconnect with their hearts is extremely disturbing. God does not exist in a book. He exists in our hearts.

  • Don Johnson

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2013/02/can-a-messiah-college-ot-professor-really-teach-the-bibles-immoral/

    There are many things that I disagree withOwen Strachan about, but I am concerned like him on where such an argument might lead.

  • KEITH DAGER

    The flood story in Genesis is a pivot point in how God interacted with man’s sin and evil. With the flood, God responded in a global, massive way. It was his ancient “nuclear option” style, basically starting over. After the flood, God promised Noah that he would not do that kind of flood again. So that means God restricted himself from the “nuclear option” of near extinction to fight sin. Following the flood, God used only “surgical strikes” to fight sin and evil. However well that God’s subsequent “surgical strikes” might have worked in that moment to deal with spots of sin, it’s clear their effect would wear off requiring more and more “surgical strikes”. Is the violence in the Bible that God prompted (Jerricho) or caused (Gomorah) in a sense his pouring water on earthly fires of sin here, just to see new fires start up there? Is Biblical violence like the modern gun debate: “guns don’t kill, only criminals kill” i.e.: God’s violence isn’t bad, just Satan’s violence is.”

    • Nick Gotts

      Um, this “God” chappie is supposed to be omnipotent, no? He can do anything, at least, anything that’s not logically self-contradictory. So he could “fight sin” by making delicate adjustments to human brains at times when we are tempted to “sin”, in order to constrain the wicked impulse – no need for mass murder, or even well-targeted smitings. He could still leave us the free will to choose between many non-sinful options, with some perhaps being more gloriously virtuous than others, if you want to maintain an element of moral striving. Or, of course, he could have made us originally so we wouldn’t sin. After all, we know God doesn’t sin, even though he has free will, so the attributes of free will and sinlessness must be compatible.

      • Hanan

        As John Hick would say “A “wholly good person” is a logical impossibility, a meaningless conjunction of words.” to the question of whether a good God would want to prevent people being evil.

        • Nick Gotts

          Utter tosh. You give no reason at all why a “wholly good person” is a logical impossibility, and John Hick was a useless babbler whose “solution” to the problem of evil was morally rotten to the core – apparently, God allows children to be tortured, raped and murdered for the good of their souls. Also, in Christian theology, isn’t God supposed to be both a person, and wholly good?

    • Dean

      Not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but that does seem to be what many people here are suggesting. I guess what God really needs is a fleet of drones! Lol.

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  • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

    “In short, what I am suggesting is that we find ways to both critique and embrace troublesome texts, always reading in the direction of justice.”

    From all the hooplah I’ve seen raised over Seibert’s articles, I feel as if they are implying that he is saying to throw out the parts of the Bible he doesn’t agree with. This quote doesn’t imply that whatsoever. If we find ourselves unable to critique a piece of literature, no matter how divinely inspired it is, then I believe our focus is on the wrong thing.

    Also… I’d like to find someone who can tell me why Biblical authors are more “inspired” than anyone else. I’m not trying to start an argument, but that has always bothered me, especially after leaving the Mormon faith.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Here is an unedited excerpt from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible that discusses the inspiration of the Bible:

      Bible, Inspiration of the.
      Theological term for the influence God exerted on the writers of Scripture, enabling them to transmit his revelation of himself in writing.

      For the early church, two factors were significant in their total acceptance of the OT as divinely inspired. One was the constant assertion throughout its pages that “God spoke” or “God said” this or that. Also, many OT prophecies concerning the coming Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus, and to Christians it seemed clear that such prophecies must have been directly communicated by God himself. The second factor was Jesus’ attitude toward Scripture. He declared that the OT “cannot be broken” (Jn 10:35; cf. Lk 16:17). Jesus loved the OT and lived out its essential message, demonstrating his acceptance of it as the Word of God. For the early church, his recognition of its inspiration (Mt 22:43) validated its divine origin and verified its historical accuracy.
      Christ’s view of the OT became the view expressed in the NT, which is saturated with quotations from the OT and allusions to it. Constant use of formulas like “the Scripture says,” “it is written,” “God said,” or “the Holy Spirit said” shows that in the NT, Scripture is equated with the written Word of God.
      But what about the inspiration of the NT itself? The first preachers of the gospel were sure that they had received divinely communicated “gospel” (Rom 1:16). The gospel message, given in oral form to the apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2), was later embodied in writing by the action of that Spirit. When the NT eventually took its place alongside the OT as Scripture, it was with awareness of the specific and established meaning of the term: “Scripture” connoted “God’s Word written.”
      The two Testaments consequently belong together and are regarded by Christians as constituting a single utterance of God. “Inscripturation” is the process by which God’s self-disclosure was committed to writing so that the resulting product can be accurately designated the Word of God. God’s revelation is said to be inscripturated in the biblical record. Certain NT passages specifically refer to the supernatural inspiration of Scripture, but to Christians the evidence of that reality is seen throughout the entire Bible.
      The Nature of Inspiration.
      Before the middle of the 19th century, the church was unanimous in its view of inspiration: God gave the actual words of Scripture to its human authors so as to perpetuate unerringly his special self-disclosure. In the and century, Justin Martyr called the Bible “the very language of God.” In the 4th century, Gregory of Nyssa said it was “the voice of the Holy Spirit.” In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Protestant reformers echoed those assertions. But in the second half of the 19th century the pervasiveness of evolutionary ideas and the rise of “higher criticism” in biblical studies led certain theologians to question the historic concept of verbal inspiration. Attempts were made to modify the concept or to replace it altogether with a new doctrine of inspiration allowing for a theory of religious development and a patchwork OT. Some theologians shifted the locale of inspiration from the objective word to subjective experience. The experience might be that of a religious genius, or of a prophet whose insights and glimpses of truth are preserved in the Bible. It might also be the experience of a person today who, gripped by a biblical word or message, avows the Bible to be an inspiring book.
      Such drastically altered views do not satisfy the Bible’s understanding of its own inspiration. “For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old; men they were, but, impelled by the Holy Spirit they spoke the words of God” (2 Pt 1:21 NEB). Thus, according to the NT, the OT prophets proclaimed a word initiated and controlled by the Holy Spirit. What they spoke was not merely their own thoughts, nor divine thoughts in their own words, but “the words of God,” as they were impelled (Greek, “borne along”) by the Holy Spirit. Although the passage deals specifically with spoken prophecy, the apostle Peter seems to have been using the action of the Spirit in the prophets to emphasize the divine origin of Scripture as a whole (cf. 1 Pt 1:3–25). The same Spirit of God also impelled the apostle Paul to write (cf. 2 Pt 3:15). For both the spoken and the written Word the Holy Spirit enlightened the mind and superintended the work.
      According to Paul, the very language of Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tm 3:16). The Greek word, as Paul used it, means more than that the Scriptures are an ordinary type of writing, simply “breathed into by God.” Paul also meant more than that the Bible is a book that “breathes out the Spirit.” Theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) was one who took the lesser meaning, as if to say that the Bible is the sort of religious literature than can inspire its readers with a sense of God’s presence. Paul’s statement means rather that Scripture is the product of God’s creative breath and hence is a divine product.
      In the OT, Hebrew words for “breath” are frequently translated “spirit” in English versions (e.g., Gn 1:2; 6:3; Jgs 3:10; 6:34). God’s “breath” is an expression for his Spirit going forth in creative power (Gn 1:2; 2:7; Jb 33:4; Ps 104:30). That creative power is the source of those special human activities and skills required by God for the fulfillment of his purposes (Ex 35:30–35; Nm 24:2; Jgs 6:34). Throughout the OT the breath or spirit of God is specifically associated with prophecy (Nm 24:2; Is 48:16; Jl 2:28; Mi 3:8). Such observations provide a background for understanding Paul’s word, “God-breathed.” By “the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6); likewise, by God’s outbreathing the Scriptures were produced. By sending forth his Spirit (104:30) God performed his creative works at the beginning. God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life “and man became a living being” (Gn 2:7). Similarly, God breathed through man the words that make up the Scriptures, which carry God’s image and which alone are able to “instruct for salvation” and “train in righteousness.”
      Also significant throughout the OT is an association of “Spirit” and “word,” the distinction between the two being comparable to that between God’s “breath” and “voice.” The voice is the articulate expression of a thought, whereas the breath is the force through which words are made actual.
      In the NT the divine breath, the agent of God’s Word, is the Holy Spirit. The relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures is thus so close that to assert “the Holy Spirit says” is the same as saying “Scripture says” (cf. Heb 3:7). Paul asserted that what he set forth in writing to the Corinthian church was imparted “in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:10, 13). Paul added that through his Spirit-taught words he was “interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (v 13). Theologians generally refer to the process by which the Spirit makes the Scriptures understood (by a reader) as “illumination” rather than inspiration.
      Consequences of the Biblical View.
      Two corollaries follow from accepting the Bible’s own account of its inspiration.
      Inspiration Is Plenary. First the inspiration of the Scriptures can be said to be “plenary,” a word meaning “full; entire; complete.” That is, Scripture is God-breathed in all its parts. To say that inspiration is plenary is to reject any “illumination theory,” in which inspiration is held to be only partial, or a matter of degree. The Spirit’s activity is not limited to a few texts or special passages of Scripture, but belongs to the written Word as a whole. Plenary inspiration also stands in opposition to any “insight theory” that views inspiration as merely a natural activity.
      Yet plenary inspiration does not require that every statement in the Bible is necessarily true. The mistaken view of Job’s friends (cf. Jb 42:7–9), the falsehoods told by Peter (Mk 14:66–72), and the letters of heathen kings (Ezr 4:7–24), although quoted in the Scriptures, were not Spirit-inspired. Whether they are actually true or false must be discovered by reference to the context. The recording of such words by the writers of Scripture, however, was subject to the Spirit’s inspiration; God wanted them to be part of his revelation.
      Inspiration Is Verbal. A second corollary of the Bible’s affirmation is that inspiration applies to the biblical words. God-breathed Scripture consists of God-given words. The Scriptures are “sacred writings.” Inspiration functioned in the inner connection between the thought and the word, influencing them both. That understanding of inspiration historically has been referred to as “verbal.” The term directs attention to the products of the divine outbreathing, the actual words. Because the Holy Spirit was concerned with the words of Scripture there is no limit to the trust and reliance a believer may place in them.
      Yet to say that inspiration is verbal is not the same as declaring that the process was dictational, or mechanical. The fact that early church fathers held such views shows their high regard for the biblical Word, but hardly serves as a basis for an adequate theory of inspiration. Objectors to the historic doctrine of inspiration often associate verbal inspiration with that mechanical view, however, and consequently reject it out of hand as materialistic. To them the term “verbal” indicates that the writers of Scripture were like stenographers taking down words they scarcely understood.
      When evangelical theologians today speak of verbal inspiration they are not specifying a method; they are emphasizing that the Spirit’s activity was concerned with the very words of Scripture. The precise nature of inspiration cannot be given exact definition. The process should be considered God’s secret—a mystery or miracle, with no explanation outside of God himself.
      The term “verbal” does lend itself to ambiguity, as some conservative scholars readily admit. Most evangelical theologians agree that any statement of inspiration that regards the words of Scripture as “dictated” by the Holy Spirit to machinelike writers should be rejected. Yet they retain the word “verbal” as best able to convey that the Holy Spirit so influenced the writers of Scripture that their words are to be taken in the fullest sense as the Spirit’s words (cf. e.g., 1 Kgs 22:8–16; Neh 8; Ps 119; Jer 25:1–13; Rom 1:2; 3:2, 21; 16:26).
      The words of Scripture, however, are at the same time fully human words. Scripture can be said to have dual authorship. It is the joint production of God and of individual human beings. Evidence of human authorship is obvious in stylistic features, historical outlook, cultural context, and so forth. From a psychological viewpoint, each biblical book is a distinctive literary creation of its author. From the theological viewpoint, its content is God’s creation. Moses, the prophets, Jesus Christ, and the apostles all considered their words to be, in a literal sense, from God himself. The prophets spoke God’s words (Jer 1:7; Ez 2:7); Jesus spoke the words of his Father (Jn 7:16; 12:49, 50). The apostles issued commands in Christ’s name (2 Thes 3:6) and claimed divine authority for them (1 Cor 14:27); their doctrines came from the Holy Spirit (2:9–13).
      The doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration thus asserts that in a unique and absolute way the Holy Spirit acted in relationship with the biblical writers so as to render them infallible revealers of God’s truth; hence, the Bible may be spoken of as God’s infallible Word. In Scripture, as in the person of Jesus Christ, the divine and human elements are regarded as forming one indissoluble whole, dynamically united. The language is human; the message is divine. The human writers were not passive in the process. They were God’s penmen, not merely his pens. The result assures that God is the primary author of Scripture, so that the whole biblical account is rightly designated the Word of God.
      Conclusion.
      Inspiration has been defined as that direct influence of God on the writers of the Bible by which, while they did not cease to be themselves, they were so moved, guarded, and guided by the Holy Spirit that their resulting productions constitute the written Word of God. Augustine called the Bible a letter of God Almighty addressed to his creatures. Martin Luther (1483–1546) asked “Where do we find God’s word except in the Scriptures?” The Westminster Catechism (1647) affirms that since God is the author of Scripture, “it ought to be received, because it is the Word of God.” Evangelical Christians continue to regard the Bible as absolutely trustworthy and wholly reliable because of its divine inspiration.

      Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (306–308). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com Lana

    Thank you SO much for your story. You give hope to evangelical Christianity. Oh may we feel again.

  • Jesus Christ

    It’s amazing how so many of you feel you can change my words as you see fit to serve you own personal ends. I wrote the bible along side my father to leave behind a record for mankind, since then you have committed endless blasphemy claiming it is my will and disobeyed my command. This shall go no further, submit before my word, or be judged before my will.

    • peteenns

      Dear Jesus,
      Thank you for taking the time to post on my blog. I had no idea I attracted so much attention.
      Thank you for writing the Bible along side of God and for giving us a record. I am sorry we are so bad at understanding it. Please do not judge us before your will–at least until I have a chance to explain.

      You see—if I may, knowing how you can’t wait to judge us–some of us who are really trying to pay attention to your book get very confused about what exactly it wants from us. For example, why did you and God say in one part of the Bible that killing our enemies–even women and children–was your will, but then, you and God change your mind about all that in other parts (the parts where you are speaking, Jesus)? Also, please clarify, if you would, that part about smashing the heads of Babylonian babies against the rocks, and also the part where drowning everyone on earth was the best way to deal with sin way early in the book you wrote, but later you took a very different approach.

      Those are just some questions I and others have had since the days of the Apostle Paul. I have other questions, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask them at some other time, if you haven’t judged me by then.

      See you Sunday.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Lame, lame, lame. Whoever you are, your attempt to confront what you see as objectionable challenges to the Bible does not have impact or credibility. To present your words as the words of Jesus Christ is exactly what you charge that others here are doing: changing the Word of God as you see fit to serve your own personal needs. Shame on you, if you truly do confess Jesus Christ as Lord. You are not Christ; you do not speak for Christ and I will not submit before your word, or be judged before your will. By they way, I do believe in the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16. But what you have said here is not God-breathed; and it certainly is not profitable for reproof, correction or training in righteousness.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Here are the true words of God in Isaiah 55:1-11:
      “Come, everyone who thirsts,
      come to the waters;
      and he who has no money,
      come, buy and eat!
      Come, buy wine and milk
      without money and without price.
      2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
      and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
      Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
      and delight yourselves in rich food.
      3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
      hear, that your soul may live;
      and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
      my steadfast, sure love for David.
      4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
      a leader and commander for the peoples.
      5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
      and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
      because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
      for he has glorified you.
      6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
      call upon him while he is near;
      7 let the wicked forsake his way,
      and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
      let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
      and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
      8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
      neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
      9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
      so are my ways higher than your ways
      and my thoughts than your thoughts.
      10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
      and do not return there but water the earth,
      making it bring forth and sprout,
      giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
      11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
      it shall not return to me empty,
      but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
      and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

      Whoever you are, your word does not rise to this standard.

  • David

    Pete & Eric–Thank you for a thought-provoking series on violence in the Bible. My thoughts for you guys: while you seem to be comfortable with historical criticism on the Old Testament (as am I), the image of Jesus/NT ethics presented here doesn’t seem to engage historical criticism of the New Testament. The general consensus of historical Jesus scholars (though certainly not unanimous) is that Jesus was a millenarian prophet who predicted the imminent end of the world, in which God would finally bring judgment to the earth. The in-breaking of the Kingdom would not be at all pleasant for those on the wrong end of judgment day. Furthermore, to prepare for that day, Jesus called his followers to a radical obedience to the Torah. Thus Jesus seems to have thought that the command to love God and neighbor don’t contradict the Torah, but rather summarize and, above all, apply it. See, e.g., E. P. Sanders, Bart Ehrman, or Dale Allison for a good summary of this view. In other words, is there a place where I can where you or Eric has dealt with this issue?

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  • Andy

    Is it too simplistic to say that Seibert has made his commitment to pacifism more authoritative than the Bible? I appreciate the difficulties with these OT texts and the NT passages on non-violence, but using pacifism as his primary hermeneutic appears to be reading his own presuppositions into the text. At the risk of sounding like a fundamentalist, when God commanded violence then I’ll go with Scripture over Seibert.


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