The majority of Christians have no problem with most of the Old Testament—Psalm 23 is a favorite for many—but the violence in the Old Testament (=OT) causes concern for both Christians and non-Christians who read the Bible. The problem is not just that violence and war are prominent in some OT books, but that God is often complicit in war and even commands war.
As a response to these issues, I’m sharing three videos from “Seven Minute Seminary” on this topic that are taught by an evangelical Professor of OT. I share these videos not because they have all of the answers, but because they might help you to reread some OT passages and to rethink some of the conclusions you might have made about God and violence in the OT.
My notes don’t summarize each video, but only highlight points that stood out to me.
Warning! Don’t quote my notes below as though I wrote them because some of my notes may include quotes from the videos. Unfortunately I wasn’t careful enough to note when I was quoting the professor…bad research methods!).
- Jesus and the New Testament writers never complain about the violence in the OT. Do we think we are more morally sensitive than them? Did they see something in the OT that we might miss?
- Canaan had suffered under the oppressive rule of Egypt, so when Joshua and the Israelites arrived to take over Canaan (“the promised land”) the various people groups living in Canaan might have viewed the Israelites as the arrival of order, justice, and peace.
- Jesus was schooled in the OT. Jesus called his followers to love their enemies, not in spite of the OT, but because of it.
Video 2- focusing on the book of Joshua and “holy war”
- The violence in the book of Joshua was not aimed at Canaanites and all the people living in the land (e.g., not against peasants). All the battle narratives name city kings who were appointed by Egypt and who exploited the Canaanites.
- Typical of this ancient genre, claims of “total annihilation” were not literal but were a way of claiming total and unquestioned victory, much like how a hockey team today would say “we killed them,” when they have a decisive victory.
Video 3- focusing on the book of Judges and hero war
- The wars in Judges come not from a righteous group of people, but from an apostate group of people, and suggest that if the Israelites had been faithful to God, they would not have needed war heroes.
Seven minute seminary has many helpful videos worth watching. Check out more here.