Why the violence in the Old Testament?

Estimated read time 4 min read

Many contemporary Christians find it hard to accept the violence depicted in the Old Testament. When the sinners left Sodom and Gomorrah they were turned to salt if they looked back for just a moment. The doubter’s concept of a loving God and the message of his son, Jesus Christ, to love thy neighbor seems contradicted by this history. However, going back to the earliest history of an ecumenical meeting, Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, these early Christians decided that the Old Testament and the violence therein was a vital part of the Messiah prophecy.

When I was studying the Bible in the Diocesan school I remember they always stressed that whenever you have a difficult issue to work out to first go back to creation. In Genesis 1:28 (NSRVUE) he say’s Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Here God is saying he gives us the power to exert power over all our living realm. How we exert this power by our free will can have consequences. If you have raised a child you know about teaching them “natural consequences” for bad judgment and so does God. Paul in Galatians 6:7(NRSUE) says God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.

Those who argue that the terrible violence portrayed in the Old Testament would not be allowed by a loving God. Yet look at the world in modern history and even today. We have widespread inequity, poverty, wars, trafficking, genocide and other terrible situations without relief.

Our hope for a better world lies in the prophecy of a Messiah of the Old Testament. Again it begins in Genesis 3:15 and continues on in over 300 instances going through the Psalms, Isiah, and remembered in the New Testament. Paul has said that God created man with two natures, beastly and spiritual. When Jesus came he came to better interpret God’s message that the way to create a Kingdom of Heaven on earth was to freely accept God. To accomplish this our beastly nature must freely be overcome by our spiritual nature.

The Jewish Midrash notes that in God’s interactions in the Hebrew Bible are complex and often include a mixture of retribution and mercy. For the prophecy of the Messiah to happen his lineage had to be protected . The free will of those who acted against the prophecy had to be dealt with violence. Yet in every occasion God would give warnings for the aggressor to repent. God sent Jonah to Nineveh and when they repented they were saved. Pharoah was warned by astrologers, plagues, and the Passover before facings God’s judgment. Theologian James Anderson has done a mathematical analysis of the violence done by God finding that the most severe where those against those who had accepted the covenant with God and then broke it.

God is patient. His timeline for change is long and though much of it we think we understand we also accept that a major tenant of the Christian faith is that much remains unknown. When we try to apply human evaluation of divine actions in the Old or New Testament we fail. In Ephesians 3:3-6, 1 Corinthians 2:7,and Colossians 1:26-7 Paul says God’s plan was not known exactly in the old teachings but now is more fully known with the coming of Christ. We accept that God is our creator and benefactor who is all knowing and all powerful. Psalm 119:105 states Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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