Violence in Old Testament against infants


I am not sure where this post goes. I am reading the entire Bible and want to know what it means to say it’s the Word of God. I accept that…but I am really confused. I had no idea until I started reading it, how violent it is!

I am still in the old testament but there are instances of the Lord demanding people kill infants and children, and even getting angry if they are spared. I just…can’t understand that.
What does one do with such violence in the Old Testament? It is one thing if it’s from man, or how man understands God. But I thought this was the Word of God? It will actually say “The Lord said…”

Why would God bring a helpless baby into the world and then demand a group of people kill him/her? I am not understanding.


I think it is very helpful to interpret the Bible with the mind of the Church and by comparing other passages that help enlighten us about the meaning of more difficult passages. These verses, for example, show that God does not like violence: Eze. 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9, Eze. 18:23, Lam. 3:33, Eze. 18:32, Wis. 1:13, Matt. 18:14

These verses tell us some of the things that God wants to teach us through the violent passages of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 10:5-11, Deuteronomy 9:4, Jeremiah 18:7-8, Leviticus 18:25-28

These verses show that it is not immoral for God to take someone’s life: Job 1:21, 1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:7, Deuteronomy 32:39

And these verses show that the violence of the Old Testament doesn’t perfectly reflect the will of God: John 8:2-11, Jeremiah 31:28-33, Isaiah 9:5-6, Isaiah 42:1-4

One thing we can conclude from all this Scripture is that the penalties and wars in the Bible are there to teach us the consequences of sin. I don’t think the Bible wants us to see violence and death as a good thing. I think it wants us to see violence and death as a terrible consequence of sin, and sometimes God makes this clear by inflicting a swift and/or violent death on sinners. Which is something only God can morally do, because only He has absolute rights over life and death.

You mention that in some parts of the Bible God takes the lives of children. Even that, I think, is meant to show us how horrible sin is. One of the worst things about sin is, it always harms the innocent. I think God may have shown us that by having the Israelites kill the innocent along with the guilty, which, again, He alone can morally do.

The Church has occasionally spoken about the violent passages of Scripture in authoritative documents. An example is the document Verbum Domini by Pope Benedict XVI. It says:

Verbum Domini 42 - “[Some] passages in the Bible [contain] violence and immorality [and can] prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them.”

Verbum Domini 42 - “Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback.”

Verbum Domini 42 - “[It] would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has [the Gospel] as its ultimate hermeneutical key.”

See also the Catechism:

CCC 1964 - “under the…Old Covenant [there were] people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit…[and] there exist [wicked] men under the New Covenant [who are] still distanced from the perfection of the New Law: the fear of punishment and certain temporal promises have been necessary, even under the New Covenant, to incite them to [virtue].”

CCC 1008 - “Death is a consequence of sin. The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. … Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin.”

Let me know if any of that is helpful. God bless!


It helped me. Thanks.


It is quite violent !

My priest suggested I start with the New Testament, and the 4 Gospels.

In Mass an Old Testament reading is read first, then a New Testament reading. In the Homily, the priests in my Parish ( I imagine its the same everywhere) , usually tie the readings together in meaning.

It has helped a lot, in understanding


Here’s something else that may help you have a clearer understanding.


Hi, KC!

…yeah, it is perplexing… but consider the fact that these people were being displaced by God’s chosen people because of their idolatry and practices…

…did God Command Israel to continuously war on all the nations around them? No.

…it was the practice of the times (in some places in the world it is still being practiced) that the weak would perish under the assault/rule of the strong… we must view this violence in that particular term… God wanted His Chosen people to survive… in my estimation, a weak Israel would not have survived past the first few decades of living amongst people bent on their destruction (present day tangent: around the 60s Israel was set upon by Arabs who wanted to eradicate them–only through a powerful defense were they able to survive).

Conversely, all foreigners who would abide by Yahweh God’s Law and Commandments were allowed to become part of Israel–contrary to Israel, other nations (some still do today) did not cohabitate happily with others–their motto was “the last one standing”–all others, if they could, would be razed to none existence: convert or be killed!

If you truly feel for children, pray for humanity and for the children that are suffering now… check out human trafficking, state sponsored infanticide programs, and world-wide on-demand and forced abortion.

Maran atha!



Jesus says that God can cause destruction as
well when He said: “fear not those who can
destroy the body but after that can do no more.
But fear Him WHO IS ABLE TO destroy the
body and soul in hell, [where their worm never dies
and the fire is not quenched]” Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5
Jesus also said:“whoever causes one of these little
ones who believe in me to sin, it is better for him to
have a millstone tied around his neck and he be
thrown into the depths of the sea” Luke 17:2
Jesus has HIGH REGARD for children, which was
NOT the case in His society, children were ranked
very LOW in importance in His time on earth, I
guess that they also had very few rights.

P.S. “Do not bring on your own death by sinful
actions.God did not invent death, and when living
creatures die, it gives Him no pleasure” Wisdom 1:12-13
Also, the DEVIL holds the power of death!! See Heb. 2:4


If the infants are spared perhaps they would plot one day to take revenge for their parents death?

Since the cattle were also commanded to be slain I would say this was to show the Israelites how serious it is to be contaminated by pagan practices and must refrain at all costs to the point of anything associated with them must be wiped out


In the Hebrew OT, the word for “kill” in the Decalogue is “murder”(ratsach), meaning “not put to death without just cause”. So God didn’t command any of the Israelites to kill their enemies without just cause. Nor did God command them to intentionally slay women, children, and the elderly while in battle with their military opponents. Rather, He allowed the casualties of war to happen. The language in the OT is sometimes hyperbolic, and so what we sometimes read in the Scriptures shouldn’t be taken literally.

But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per′izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb′usites, as the Lord your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 20, 16-18

Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.
Joshua 6, 21

And all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand, all the people of Ai.
Joshua 8, 25

First, did God have just cause to annihilate these people? He certainly did. God may have had them killed, but He didn’t murder them. So let’s look at the situation in the land of Canaan which the Israelites were to inhabit as their inheritance. The Canaanites were a wicked people whose cultural practices included pagan idolatry, child sacrifice, male cult prostitution, and a host of other unimaginable immoral things. All the pagan societies that stood in the way of the Hebrew migration stood in the way of God’s will for His chosen people, that they be His own possession true to the covenant He had established with them, a holy nation, and obedient to what He had spoken to them through Moses. And the land that the Israelites were to possess could be rightfully theirs, since all the earth belonged to God (Exodus 19:1-6). God has the right to uproot all that He has planted as much as He has the absolute right to cut a withered branch from a vine and cast it into fire (John 15:1-17). The reason God willed the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites from the land of promise was so that they wouldn’t be corrupted as a nation through the dark influence of their neighbours. Meanwhile, God was pronouncing His just judgment on these pagans for their wickedness with the same right He has to pronounce judgment on our souls. Unfortunately, what God foresaw should happen did happen, because all the Canaanites weren’t driven out of the land as God desired. His own possession espoused those evil practices of the remnant that survived. Despite what had happened to the Canaanites, and their other pagan neighbours, their evil culture continued to thrive and flourish and consequently infect the religious culture of the Hebrews. (See 1 Kings 14:20-24).

God shows no partiality. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar reduced Jerusalem to rubble and burned the Temple down. The evil Davidic king Zedekiah was forced to watch the slaughter of his sons. The people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah were captured in slavery and deported to Babylon, save the poor of the land. Their exile was the result of the people’s obstinacy in sin that had been going on for centuries despite the warnings of the prophets God had patiently sent. And it lasted for 70 years until God saw fit that it was time to stop disciplining them and restore their nation in view of the promise He had made to the patriarchs and the coming of the Messiah. What happened to the Judeans followed the same thing that had happened to the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom because of its sins. The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 of the tribes (excluding Judah and Benjamin). It lasted for about 210 years until it was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC. Its capital was Samaria, in which inter-marriage took place between the Jews and Gentiles, who assimilated with them, in disobedience to Mosaic law. And they built a Temple for Baal and constructed an altar where they made sacrifices to the pagan god. (1 Kings 16:30-33). Every king of Israel was evil and met death by violence. The people as a whole (practically everyone) broke their covenant with God, and so He had just cause to punish them. They brought suffering and death upon themselves by ignoring the warnings of the prophets. The Northern Kingdom was in schism right from the very start.

The few faithful remnant among the Judeans and Israelites, including innocent children, didn’t deserve to be punished for the sins of the unfaithful kingdoms, but they, too, went into exile by having been implicated in the peoples’ sins. The command to “utterly destroy all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword” is hyperbolic language typical of accounts pertaining to conquests. This same form of language or expression is used by the prophet Jeremiah (Chapter 5) as he foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Judeans. God surely didn’t explicitly command Nebuchadnezzar to slaughter everyone, but He permitted the Babylonian ruler to conquer Judea and destroy Jerusalem because of the Jews apostasy and infidelity. Meanwhile, God wasn’t morally responsible for the atrocities that happen in war.



Hello kc,

did you (or someone else) have specific examples of the most troubling cases. (for my own reading).



I’ve been studying Judaism and discovered more and more that Old Testament scripture contains metaphors. For example, there’s a big difference between “getting on a donkey” versus “getting on the donkey.” The latter meaning a stubborn ego.


Yes, it would be great to know all the idioms in the original languages. Scripture must be richer for those who know these figurative phrases.


Pope Benedict’s passage from Verbum Domini has already been quoted so I will not repost it.
The most important point is, Jesus is the fulfillment and hermeneutical key to scripture interpretation. If an interpretation portrays God in a way contrary to Christ, then it is contrary. P Benedict is very clear that these passages detail under-developed ancient understandings of God’s will. I believe P Benedict uses the word “culturally conditioned”.

God would never, under any circumstance, command the slaughter of innocents. It’s not part of his nature, or essence, to will the slaughter of innocents. It’s not a matter of his rights to all things, or his dominion over all things, or his omnipotence, it’s a matter of who he reveals himself to be in Jesus Christ. Remember, Christ is the fulfillment and summation of all revelation.
(the only logical rebuttal is “the children were not innocent”, and these kinds of assertions should strike terror into us". )


I may not be able to answer your question directly but only give some other side of it.

You love Jesus because he was not only God-man, but he was gentle, kind, loving, thoughtful, and seemed always thinking about others who needed his help. Like when he was resting at the roadside one day, and mothers with their little children came up to him to see him. And when the apostle tried to stop them, he insisted that they let them come … “let the little children come to me.” He placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. And then later gave up his own life on the cross from love.

This is what we need to hold on to and put the rest in his hands trusting him.



It helps to keep in mind Holy Scripture is the story of Salvation History. It speaks of the relationship between God and Man.

This relationship began at the initial primitive state of humanity - firstly, innocent of sin, yet, there was a fall. Our relationship with God was harmed. This fall darkened our understanding, weakened our will, and left in us a strong inclination to evil.

The stories in totality explain how man is slowly being led to the promise land, Heaven.

In many of these stories we bear witness to very primitive cultures.

For example, some early tribes treated crime (i.e., theft, assault) with no distinction or proportion; it was met with the death penalty. God then led the people to the moral principle of proportion; “an eye for an eye.” God then led humanity to the moral principle of justice with avoiding revenge when Jesus shockingly uttered, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…” There’s a journey being explained in sometimes harsh or poetic language.

Much of the OT is the story of man and how God failed to abandon us – though we certainly didn’t warrant the love and loyalty.

So try and keep this in mind when reading such stories. And also seek out what the Church teaches regarding these readings.


Thanks. Interesting. Valuable article



THANK YOU!:slight_smile:

First allow me to briefly define GOD:


Then we ask ourselves if being “Fair”, being “Just” are good things? Of course they are, so we CAN know that God in an absolute sense HAS TO BE both fair and just.

Your perceptions are precisely why as a Catholic Catechist [teacher], I recommend first time bible readers begin by reading the New Testament first. WHY is that?
Because the GOD of the OT is the SAME God in the NT; but the perceptions are vastly different. Not the TRUTH, only the perceptions.

One has to factor in the times and circumstances of BOTH testaments

Here then my friend, are 3 articles that give an objective and fair evaluation of the OT events. I encourage you to take the time to read them



[3] **

Notice in the definition I shared for GOD, the term “perfected”…. This means that God cannot error; that God IS in Charge! But we must also understand that God is a MYSTERY:

Isa.55 Verses 6to 11

[6] "Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
[7] let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
[8] For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
[9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

[10] "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and return not thither but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
[11] so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

If you still have questions please let me know. [PJM]

God Bless you,


I don’t understand why people are so keen on reinterpreting parts of the Bible into symbols and metaphors only when it is convenient for them to do so.

So judging from the context of verses like 1 Samuel 15:3, there is no indication whatsoever that this should be taken as metaphor or as anything else other than an actual description of what really happened. No authoritative source in the Catholic Church has ever taught otherwise.

Believers from the time these texts were written until the 20th century didn’t seem to have a problem with such passages to the degree that they radically reinterpret them; and yet now we are supposed to believe in 2017 that we have suddenly arrived at a point where we can reinterpret these thousands of years old texts appropriately and the proper light which somehow eluded all of the scholars and saints from the previous two thousand years? I find that hard to believe.

If we reinterpret these passages of OT violence against infants, why not reinterpret basically all of Genesis? “The loving God I know wouldn’t drown people en masse in a flood, so the whole Noah story is merely symbolic.” Why not do this? Where does the reinterpretation end?


If everyone is scared about God commanding innocents, remember there is none righteous, not one. Those who lived uprightly among them moved to Sheol and now are with God in Heaven.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit