August 29, 2008

Does the Bible encourage violence?

With greater frequency and with greater boldness the television talking heads are comparing the Christian scriptures to the Koran and saying that the Bible encourages violence as much as the Koran encourages violence. Some even say that the Bible encourages violence more than other religious scriptures.

Ezekiel 9:3-6

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark.

The quote from Ezekiel is an example of what they are pointing to when they make such comments.

My first response to this is that such accounts as what we read in Ezekiel are historic in nature and are not indicative of what we as Christians must do. In other words, we are not to read this account and then go out and kill everyone that doesn't have a mark on their head. I also notice that we are not told anywhere in the Bible that we should force others to conversion under threat of death, as the Koran does.

But that still leaves us with an account of God commanding the slaughter of women and children, with no one to be spared unless they have been given the mark. Even though this is a vision and is not an actual conversation that took place (making it symbolic in nature), it still seems to paint God as an evil character. The events prophesied in this vision were not carried out by men with swords in their hands as was pictured in the vision of Ezekiel, but were carried out by multiple different things including famine, disease, and war with the Chaldeans. But, even so, what are we to make of God commanding the slaughter of women and children along with the men?

I think this is one of those situations in which we have to trust scripture (God-breathed and accurate in every way) over our natural inclinations (limited, sinful and finite). It is hard for us to understand how God could do such a thing. But we must remember, he is God and not one of us. He knows the heart and he created everything. We do not know the heart of others, or even our own hearts, and we do not have the rights and abilities of the Creator.

Verses that tell us of God's nature can help us to come to terms with such seeming problematic portions of scripture:

  • Psalm 11:7For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright.
  • Psalm 145:17The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works.
  • Daniel 9:14For the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice.
  • Zephaniah 3:5The Lord is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame.
  • John 5:30I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

To boil it all down—if a clear reading of scripture makes us think that God is evil in any way, it is an indication of our human finite nature and our inability to understand the things of God. God reveals to us the things we need to understand and some things remain somewhat mysterious. If our finite intellects have trouble accepting some things we read in scripture, we must accept scripture at face value. God is righteous—whether we can understand his righteousness or not.


Today's Bible Reading Ezekiel 9-12

I'm also reading:
Family Driven Faith   Voddie Baucham, Jr.
Solomon Among the Postmoderns   Peter J. Leithart


  1. Yes, Anonymous poster (against the rules, but allowed in this instance) - we know the Quran encourages violence.


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