Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Should We Understand Violence In The Good Book?

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan. "Patrick Allitt reviews Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses by Philip Jenkins:"

Early figures in Christian history approached the genocidal passages in different ways. Marcion, leader of a highly influential Christian movement of the second century AD, argued that the God of the Old Testament, capricious, brutal, and violent, was the antithesis of the God of Jesus in the New Testament. His own proposed version of the Bible omitted the Old Testament completely. So, a century later, did that of Mani, founder of the Manicheans, who thought of divine history as a great battle between light and darkness and denied that the New Testament fulfilled prophecies made in the Old.

Arguing against the Marcionites and the Manicheans, some of the Church Fathers, including Origen and Augustine, denied that the genocidal passages should be taken literally. In Origen’s view they should be read metaphorically or spiritually so that the Canaanites or Amalekites were not actual groups of people, deserving of death, but the tendency to sin in every human heart, against which we should make perpetual war.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Here's Jenkins in his own words with his argument. A little slimmer and more readable.

He's an eminent scholar, but I'm disappointed with this outing. The Old Testament story of Phinheas is pretty ugly, as is stoning adulterers and gays per Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But there's no record that these things ever became normative practice for the Hebrews.

So too, with the violent passages in the Quran, fairness requires we see if they were translated into normative practice in Islam. If not, then it's an unfair criticism and idiotic use of theology/scripture.

There's also the matter that Christianity doesn't follow the Mosaic Code nor slaughter Amalekites. These things have meaning in understanding the New Covenant in preference to the Old, but that's the limit of it, and I think Jenkins is off here in terms of how Christianity normatively understands itself theologically.

If Phinheas has made a comeback in the past century or so among Israel's Jews, I suppose that's a problem---but only if they're as murderous as he.

I think a point that's missed in these things: if God no longer requires the death of those who disobey Biblical Law [and Christianity has never normatively believed it does], that doesn't mean that what was once proscribed is now OK.

Phil Johnson said...

That's the elephant in the living room, Tom.