How To Defend OT Harsh Laws?

My question is how do you defend some of the stuff in the bible that seems so harsh? I’m sure this has been discussed many times but I had no luck with my search. For example, killing women who cheat, not eating shellfish, etc? If someone can point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it!

Not eating shellfish is a harsh law?

Did you think that the Old Testament was written by a Ph. D in theology? Nope, it was written by those of the times and culture, as they were able to understand the inspiration and the word of God. Some of the OT is poetry and some handed down through tradition and oral history. A good part of the OT is absolute and can not be questioned; for example the Ten Commandments. This is just a simple example. But why do you need to explain the OT when Jesus said He came not to replace the OT, but to make it better?

We don’t need to “defend” anything in the Bible but we should be able to explain it in terms of Catholicism. As another poster has already pointed out, remember the times these laws were written in. In most cases, historians have revealed that the culture had even HARSHER penalties. Believe there’s a passage where someone challenges Jesus to explain why Moses permitted divorce in some cases and Jesus told them it was because they were stiff necked and didn’t understand the law. Jesus also warned us about not things we put into our mouth (eat) but what comes out of our mouth because it comes from our heart (speak).

We should remember the Bible is to be taken in its entirety and not picked apart as others do. Those who use Biblical verses to attack Christianity and the Catholic church don’t realize they are attacking God Himself. Be patient with them and remind them that God’s message is simple: He loves us and His Son’s sacrifice proves it. God Bless you.

…Jesus 2000 years and the body of Christ which lives today!
Being Catholic is cool because we have reason to believe the same authority behind the OT is still alive and kicking in the Magesterium.
If the Magesterium believed death penalty for adultery and abstaining from shellfish were laws God wanted His Church to uphold, it would be trying to put them into practice.

Meanwhile, if a militant atheist is trying use certain OT passages to show that Divine Revelation is immoral or contradictory, I found the links I was given here to be more than helpful:


Okay - there’s a few different things here. Many of the food laws may have originally been a list of what things were safer to eat (eating shellfish, for example, can kill people if the shellfish have spoiled before cooking; pork can make people sick if it hasn’t been properly cooked, etc.), but they, along with the other ritual purity laws became a way to show that this was a “people set apart for God”.

However, as for punishments for certain sins, it seems to me that these punishments were to show the true horror of the given sin. The early Israelites didn’t have a very clear idea of the afterlife (actually, pretty much not believing in one at all, unless you count Sheol, the “abode of the dead” as an afterlife, but it’s considered synonymous with “the grave”). This also shows why many seem confused in the OT about why the evil often prosper in the world, while the righteous often suffer. Death and illness were considered punishment for sin (the righteous were expected to live longer than the wicked), and if one’s sins were scandalous, it was the duty of the people to remove the scandalous person from their midst. But… in a way, it’s God dictating to a people the horrific nature of sin because they can’t fathom the idea of an afterlife and justice in the next life. Notice that almost all of the sins listed as deserving death are mortal sins. For us, we leave the judgment up to God, and allow the person to repent. But in the time of the early Israelites, who had no such notions about an afterlife, meting out punishment in the here and now was the only way to display the wretchedness of sin.

I love reading the Hebrew Bible and understanding it in terms of Jewish history and practices. If you take the Torah (the first five books of Moses) and pull out the 613 commandments that are in it, you can really see the system that was in place up through the Second Temple period. Here is a list of the commandments, both affirmative and negative, organized in a way that makes a lot of sense. There are commandments about God and how to worship, how to love each other, take care of the poor, take care of family. Then there are the Temple laws, and even business laws. Purity laws and dietary laws, many of which we know well today.

This is who Jesus was and how he lived his faith. Isn’t it fascinating?

I have to add that the Israelites were forbiden from eating certain animals because it was believed it was unclean for sacrificial offerings. But after Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, there is no need for animal sacrifices anymore. Therefor we are allowed to eat anything now.

Wow, that’s a really interesting idea!

In keeping with “the culture of the times”, it has been pointed out that, say, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was actually limiting the penalty by making the penalty proportional to the offense. You remember Genesis 34, where Shechem raped Dinah, tried to marry her, and Jacob’s sons pretty much wiped out the entire city’s male population in revenge, then plundered the livestock and enslaved the women and children who were left over? Do you think that’s the only time in history in that area where Person A does something bad, and Person B goes berserk with their retribution?

Try The Code of the Assura (Assyrians), the Code of the Nesilim (Hittites), the Code of Hammurabi (Babylonians) are examples of codified law from different points in time in that area.

But you can compare it to, say, more recent laws. In Tudor England, theft of anything over 5p was punishable by death. In Les Miserables, didn’t Jean Valjean start off with 5 years’ imprisonment for stealing bread? Is five years of your life proportional to a loaf of bread? Are there any laws in the modern world which you think are disproportionate to the crimes committed?

You have to remember that the society of the Israelites, at the time of these laws, was broken down into very small villages and towns, which existed in the harshest of environments. The survival of everyone in these communities depended on everyone working together towards one end. Something like, say, adultery threatened the cohesion of the community, which demanded the harshest punishment as a deterrent.

The Church does not “defend” these things. The ancient context must be taken into account when interpreting the scriptures.
Good place to start:
Sections 37-42 especially

I have never had a problem with this (at least once I became a Catholic Christian). The OT is truly the “OLD” Testament. The New Testament contains none of those “harsh” things - works for me… :smiley:

I’m not so sure if a lot of these so called laws really came from God in the OT but rather from the men of religion at that time. I believe there were over 600 strict laws that were instituted. I doubt very much if many of the people even could recite 100 of them much less know over 600. So it may have been more from men’s doing that from God’s doing. That is one thing that Jesus pointed out himself about the Pharisees…how hard they made in on the people.

In understanding the OT and some of the seemingly brutal scenes in it, I think it important that the first consideration be that we look first at Jesus Christ. What sort of Person was He? Healing the sick, curing the blind, leprosy, paralytics, palsy, … Teaching love and forgiveness, especially going out to the sinners and making them his priority. Showing strictness for himself, and leanionsy for others. Never asking for himself but always giving himself away to others. And in the end, he had nothing more to give because he even gave us his life.

From this I would then approach the God of the OT, since Jesus is the God of the OT. And I would deduce that whatever happened in the OT must have been for the good of all, whether or not that seems to be the case at that time. For God doesn’t change. And I know that whatever it looks like, it was really for our good and mankind’s good. The end…trust Jesus.

May God always be there for you.

The Old Testament laws were the first controls on an out of control situation. They were not intended to be the final solution to these problems.

As an example, slave owners would kill and torture slaves, sell children away from their parents and break up families. Rules on slavery were the first attempt at some sort of humane treatment. You could not beat your slave, had to release them at the end of seven years and could not break up families.

Anyone who reads and studies the Book of Genesis knows that cannibalism, incest, bestiality, homosexual gang rape, child sacrifice, murder and torture were the norm. The Laws of Moses were the first attempt by a loving God to bring some control and mercy to mankind. This is why Kind David delighted in God’s law and other nations stood in awe of the Laws of Israel.

The law of love in the person of Jesus Christ perfects the Old Testament laws, completes them and contains all mercy in them.


Now kosher food is the same. Sharia law in Judaism is cancelled. I asked a Rabbi why they don’t practice it anymore and he said they had a conference and voted to cancel Sharia as archaic. Don’t know what year. Muslims get Sharia from the OT the Jews. The first case tried by Mohammed was a Jew who came and complained of his wife cheating on him. He had his wife and the adulterer w him. Mohammed said,“What do your people do” The Jew said, "We tear our clothes and cover ourselves in ashes and they are outcasts. Mohammed asked for the Torah and read the law and he ordered the stoned as Sharia in the OT stated.
So how can we not have Islam see Sharia as archaic.
Pork= we would get trichamonas from it. Mildew would kill us=throw it out. Shrimp= allergy to iodine??
in Christ’s love

??? Halakhah (in Hebrew) is the law, the lifestyle, and the practices of the Jews. It comes from the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, expanded upon in the Talmud and other writings, and Orthodox Jews very much keep it today.

Now Jews who are Conservative or Reform might not keep all of the Halakhic laws, but they still exist and are observed.

Sharia (which is Arabic for ‘the way’ or ‘the path’) is Islamic. Two separate sets of laws.

PS. Just in case someone brings it up, the Jewish laws pertaining to the Temple rituals are not observed, obviously. No Temple, no rituals.

The difficult passages are not so much the ones in which we see evil happening (passim) or tolerated (IF a man divorces his wife . . . ) but apparently commanded. Herem war, or placing peoples under “the ban” of utter destruction (man, woman, and child) is imposed, e.g., in Dt 20 and 1 Sam 15. If God is all-good, and that all-good God commanded such slaughter, then the slaughter - at least in that particular, commanded case - could not be morally wrong. But how do we coordinate that with other revealed or divinely-protected (i.e. magisterial) data that forbid the slaying of innocents? There I think the “punishment for sin” explanation the most likely contender. Every one of us, born in iniquity, deserves death. It is a testament to God’s great mercy that He allows any of us to live.

Apart from those very difficult cases, the other responses about 1) mitigating neighboring cultural norms and 2) respecting/displaying the true gravity of the offenses do a perfectly sufficient job of explaining the severity of the Law.

I think it’s important to ask what we’re defending these laws against. What is the argument that is attacking them?

If someone uses the laws to try to show that God is unjust, well, I would ask them where they get their idea of justice from. How do they objectively define and determine what is just, and to what do they appeal to do so?

If someone simply finds these laws to be an emotional barrier to faith, well: God is the author of life, and ultimately, our lives are not our own, and they belong to Him. God doesn’t owe every individual at least 29 decades of life before daring to end their earthly exile. I’m just a creature. I’m not here to indulge each one of my fantasies, and God isn’t a big meanie when He tells me no. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t understand this, since we basically indulge every one of our appetites until our emotions are never controlled by our reason, and our intellect is pulled all over the map by them, often veering into insanity. That’s the first point.

Secondly, as part of a convenant with a group of people whom He ultimately chose to become incarnate within, God may very well have taken certain measures to ensure a certain degree of moral purity. These measures may have included taking certain sins incredibly seriously, such as worshiping demons, killing one’s children in sacrifice, “laying with mankind as with womankind,” and committing adultery. Yes, our culture basically loves to do those things, and so I can understand why they might be shocked that such sins were a capital offense in an ancient theocracy. We’re also basically brainwashed that anyone who lived before maybe 50 years ago lived in a backwards and ridiculously naive culture, so that doesn’t help.

Lastly, I have complete faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and in God’s wisdom and His goodness. If He decided to lead ancient Israel in a certain manner, and I think His ways are somehow harsh or weird or whatever, I can only conclude that I need to realign my thinking. Obviously, I don’t particularly feel a need to make pronouncements to God that He could have done things a bit better with regard to that ancient society. God didn’t permit me to be born, and He doesn’t sustain me in existence, and He hasn’t given me the Catholic faith, and He hasn’t given me my intellect, such as it is, to simply to sit around and correct Him.

I think a lot of people miss the fact that God adapts the law depending on where the people are spiritually. IIRC Augustine noted this in Confessions. For example, neither Testament explicitly bans slavery. Does this mean that we ought to bring back slavery because God likes it? No. Jesus called for people to love their neighbor. Paul and the other writers reinforced this point in their letters to the various churches. You can’t expect an end to slavery until that happens.

The Corinthians were told they needed milk rather than solid food for a reason and the Old Testament is really no different. Different peoples in different ages required different sets of laws. God meets us where we are and we go from there.

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