Violence in the Bible


#1

Bishop Robert Barron posted a video a while back to discuss the issue of violence in the Bible, a topic commonly referenced by atheists as a way of minimizing Christians’ belief in an absolutely good and merciful God. Bishop Barron’s video is here: youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

The sense I got from His Excellency’s explanation was that the strong, graphic language used in the Old Testament against Israel’s enemies is best interpreted allegorically, as a way of depicting the ultimate spiritual struggle of humanity. While these violent passages in the Bible are, more or less, easier to read in light of this allegorical method, it does seem, I think, to ignore the fact that Israel, at one point, would have endorsed violence against her enemies and praised God for his hand in supplanting them. Was there not a physically violent struggle that took place as Israel sought to take hold of the Promised Land, and did not future Israelite historians and scribes commend their ancestors for engaging in violence in the name of the LORD? In other words, though Christians may now read these passages allegorically, were they originally intended to be read as such? especially if the events described actually took place in one form or other.


#2

He seems to suggest near the end of the video that all the violent passages were, in fact, originally written as poetic metaphors.


#3

Religious critics have always argued that the bible, both Old Testament and New Testament contain violent passages. But what religious critics fail to understand or acknowledge is that in Judaism and Christianity, these “violent passages” are placed in historical context, to be understood metaphorically or in the worldview of an earlier time.

Religious critics in my opinion are either naïve or dishonest in their approach.

I’m very grateful that we have awesome people like Fr. Barron.


#4

Violence via biblical theology does not ascertain that the primordial content is actual. Biblical theology only asserts what is possible in the mind of humans. Therefore, it is immoral to change its context in any way, shape, or literal form.


#5

With all due respect to His Excellency, this contradicts the unanimous voice of Jewish and Christian tradition that such passages in the Old Testament are not in fact historical, so it seems at best to be rash to hold such an opinion. The problem really is with the notion that violence is always bad, when it isn’t. Putting gross idolaters, child-sacrificers, and those who commit other execreble crimes of this nature to death is by no means evil. God is certainly within His rights to order the execution, and one would in fact be justified in going to war against them even without explicit Divine approval. A more serious difficulty comes with Divine commands to put children to death. Now, of course, there really is no injustice in this - God has decreed the moment and manner of each of our deaths, so no injustice is done if a minister be used execute such decree. But, still, it seems like God punishing children for the sins of their parents. The best explanation, in my opinion, is that simply, lest these children grow up and oppose Israel, God decreed their death.

Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas


#6

To clarify what you’re saying: the “unanimous voice of Jewish and Christian tradition” agrees that the events described in the Old Testament books are at least quasi-historical, if not fully historical? Or are you saying the opposite?

One more thing: Anyone who’s even slightly familiar with Bishop Barron knows that he is not a rash man, nor does he have rash opinions. He is a Doctor of Sacred Theology, an ordained bishop of the Church, and a very intentional person with a deep, deep knowledge of Catholic teaching. So can you specify what parts of his opinion were “rash” (supposing you watched the video for which I provided a link) and also what scholars and other experts down the ages you’re referring to when you cite alleged unanimity in the Judeo-Christian tradition of biblical criticism? What qualifies you to call the bishop “rash”? Bishop Barron himself cites Origen of Alexandria—an invaluable scholar of the early Church, despite his later heresies—as supporting his opinions.


#7

You need to understand biblical theology, it is not actual but primordially essentiable.


#8

There’s unanimity that they’re quasi-historical, and very large consensus of Catholic exegetes that they’re fully historical. Origen’s overly allegorical exegeis is an abberation. Augustine (“In Heptateuchum” (beware, this has not been translated, as far as I can tell)), Theodoret of Cyrus (“Questions on the Octateuch”), Thomas Aquinas (S. Th. II-II, q. 174, a. 4, obj. 2 and reply), Cornelius a Lapide (“Great Commentary” (see parts on Joshua, Judges etc.)), Augustin Calmet (see Intros to Joshua and Judges), Alphonsus Liguori (“Hom. for feast of St. Joseph”, as well as numerous other places throughout his homilies), Robert Challoner (see his intros to Joshua and Judges), Fulcran Vigoroux (“La Bible et les decouvertes…”, see part “Livre I. Josue”), the author of the old Catholic Encyclopedia (see entry on Joshua) all hold Joshua and Judges (where most of the problems occur) to be fully historical. Even the commentators of the NAB and RSVCE both assume the historical nature of the conequest of Channaan and the battles of the judges, as can be seen in their notes. This is just to name a few.

Also, in 1905, the Pontifical Biblical Commision decreed that, barring very strong evidence, not easily and rashily admitted, we cannot declare a book to be non-historical that the Church has declared to be historical. Now the citations above show that Joshua has been held to be fully historical by a very large majority of Catholic exegets, so the reasons would need to be very convincing to hold differently. There seems to be no need.

Even moreover, the author of the old Catholic encyclopedia rightly notes that since the Church has decreed the first three chapters of Genesis to be historical (albeit using figurative language), a fortiori the Church would not allow anyone to deny the historicity of Joshua (and presumably Judges as well).

And if all this is not enough, Sirach, in Sir. 46, assumes the historicity of Joshua, as does St. James of Rahab (concerned with the battle of Jericho) (cf. Jas. 2:25).

I have no doubt about Bp. Barron’s learning or good intentions, but he does admit some rather novel opinions that I (and many others) do think rash, such as his views of Hell, Genesis, and the like.

I hope this was helpful,
Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas


#9

The Pontifical Biblical Commission issued their guidance on Bible reading around 1992 in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. It discussed the pros and cons of certain methods of biblical interpretation and came to the conclusion that there is no one such method that the Church uses to understand scripture.

So, I think Bishop Barron’s advice is fairly good overall advice for use today. But, I think it fails the usual test we hear of, to try to understand what the writer was expressing to his audience.

And, Bishop Barron almost gets there, when he summarizes his views in a homilistic way, of how we should thoroughly route out evil in our own lives.

But, there is the larger lesson of how God protects Israel, as in the incident of the death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. This shows the power and dominion of God. And, I think that element is there in at least some of the other violent incidents, such as in the command to exterminate the Caananites. Our God is a powerful God and He is in control.

This was a big lesson the Israelites failed to grasp after the 40 years of wandering in the desert. They were afraid to engage their enemy. So, that’s a pretty literal meaning that the text sometimes wants to convey.

The atheists who want to argue about the evil god of the Old Testament, first of all, do not speak as anybody who reads the text with faith, as we are told to do. And, when we do so, we approach the text with trust and acceptance of God’s will and plan. Dry academic inquiry will miss the focus of God’s word.


#10

I agree with you, and, therefore, by extension, the Church’s consensus that the content of the Bible should be treated as historical. To what extent we interpret the people and events described therein as literal points of objective history has varied among exegetes down the ages. Origen’s emphasis on the allegorical nature of the biblical text is not in competition with Augustine’s more literal approach. The Church needs both! Nevertheless, too great a deal of literature has been promulgated by the Church on this topic, so it’s not worth debate here. The Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a document in March 1994 on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, and Dei Verbum speaks thoroughly on this issue as well. Several apologists here at CA have also tackled the issue with fair sufficiency.

As for the bishop’s “novel opinions” on topics like hell, Genesis (I assume you mean cosmogony and transformism by citing the book of Genesis, yes?), etc., none of what he’s said is in violation of Church teaching, and certainly not rash. (By the way, who are these “many others” you cite?) If he were speaking rashly, he would be a very sorry Thomist, indeed. If you watch his video where he speaks on Balthasar’s conclusion that “we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved,” you will find not an ounce of heresy. He, in fact, expressly rejects Origen’s apokatastasis as well as Augustine’s massa damnata in one swoop. Origen’s teaching is heretical, and Augustine’s is simply nightmarish and has proven to be a breeding ground for Calvinism. I’ve written to an apologist here at CA asking about this subject, and here’s his response to me: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=999832. This does, oddly enough, contrast with Tim Staples’ express condemnation of His Excellency’s views, but I’m not sure why there is a disagreement between the two apologists when addressing the same question.


#11

Well said :thumbsup:


#12

Well, he says in one of his videos, “don’t read Genesis as history”, which, in his context, is not absolutely wrong, but is still liable to be misunderstood. The first three chapter of Genesis do contain real history, even if couched in somewhat figurative language. Also, his opinion on hell isn’t heretical, which is why I call it rash. It’s not absolutely opposed to the faith, but it is dangerous, if you ask me, and Catholic Answers even posted a rebuttal against him for doing so, if I remember correctly. I’ll try and find the link. When I say one of his opinions is rash, I know they’re not flat out heretical, which is why I use the word. Rash means opposed to well-establish consensus of exegetes/theologians without good reason, or something of that sort, not opposed to well-defined and expressly supernaturally revealed truths.

Remember that not all apologists agree on everything. As I said, I don’t think Bp. Barron is a heretic by any stretch, or even a rash man; on the contrary, I think he means the best, and has done a lot of good in other areas. Saying an opinion is rash is different than calling the man rash. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of good Catholics who hold dangerous or even flatly erroneous (still different from heretical, by the way) opinions, but they’re not bad people (and even more sadly, priests and bishops are not exempt).

Augustine’s intepretation is hardly literal. He definitely belongs to a more allegorical school (which is why I note him; Origen is allegorical to excess).

Also, the 1993 document of the PBC is not authoritative, as it explicitly states, whereas the 1905 decree is, so I think it right to give precdence to that (not that the 1993 document is to be rejected, although I disagree with some aspects of it).

Thanks for the thoughtful insight,
Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas


#13

I won’t push the issue of Bishop Barron’s comments on hell any further, as they’re not relevant to the topic at hand. I might like again to steer you away from that word “rash,” however. The word implies impetuosity, which doesn’t apply to the man in question. Intellectuals don’t sentimentalize their passions; they overthink them. (But this is really just a petty debate over semantics. I don’t care what word you use, honestly.)

The link to Tim Staples’ rebuttal is here: catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/are-there-souls-in-hell-right-now

Where is an English translation for the 1905 document you’re citing, De narrationibus specietenus tantum historicis? I’m guessing this is the one you mean. There were two that were published by the Commission in 1905, according to the Roman Curia’s website.

Barron’s imploration not to read Genesis as literal history is simultaneously an affirmation to read the book in the light of salvation history, in accordance with Dei Verbum, which states:

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation [bold added].

Also, I said earlier that “Origen’s emphasis on the allegorical nature of the biblical text is not in competition with Augustine’s more literal approach.” I meant John Chrysostom and the Antiochene school, not Augustine. I may have gotten “Antiochene” and “Augustine” mixed up; I don’t know. My bad.


#14

True, and well taken.

I might like again to steer you away from that word “rash,” however. The word implies impetuosity, which doesn’t apply to the man in question. Intellectuals don’t sentimentalize their passions; they overthink them. (But this is really just a petty debate over semantics. I don’t care what word you use, honestly.)

True enough, but the word is used in a theological context in the manner above. Granted, I don’t have magisterial authority, but I can still say a certain opinion seems this or that way. But I grant that since it might cause needless offense I can steer away from the word.

Where is an English translation for the 1905 document you’re citing, De narrationibus specietenus tantum historicis? I’m guessing this is the one you mean. There were two that were published by the Commission in 1905, according to the Roman Curia’s website.

A translation appears here: catholicapologetics.info/scripture/oldtestament/commission.htm. This website, alas, is a traditionalist Catholic that seems to dissent in other areas, but I can assure you that these translations, at least, are correct (as you may have guessed from my name, I’m a fairly proficient Latinist).

Barron’s imploration not to read Genesis as literal history is simultaneously an affirmation to read the book in the light of salvation history, in accordance with Dei Verbum, which states:

But the dichotomy is false. Salvation history is literal history, not some mythic past created by the Church. It’s similar to the way that American history is literal history. In fact, the 1909 decree of the PBC concerning Genesis 1-3, explicitly condemns those who deny the literal historical sense of the passages, at least concerning the fundamental truths of faith contained therein:

[quote](in Latin)I. Utrum varia systemata exegetica, quae ad excludendum sensum litteralem historicum

trium priorum capitum libri Geneseos excogitata et scientiae fuco propugnata sunt, solido fundamento fulciantur?

Resp. Negative.

(in English)1. Whether the various exegeitcal systems thoughout and defended under the guise of science, to exlcude the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis, rest on a solid foundation?

Resp. In the negative.

The emphases are mine, as is the translation.

In the way that His Excellency and others mean this, it’s okay, but it’s poorly stated. That, for example, God literally created all things from nothing, and made them good, that he made man in his image, etc., these facts, which are real historical events, are truths of faith. They cannot be disputed with.

Also, I said earlier that “Origen’s emphasis on the allegorical nature of the biblical text is not in competition with Augustine’s more literal approach.” I meant John Chrysostom and the Antiochene school, not Augustine. I may have gotten “Antiochene” and “Augustine” mixed up; I don’t know. My bad.

I had a feeling that’s what you meant, and I can understand this. Of course, we must be careful that the literal sense is not pitted against various allegorical senses. The catechism excplicitly notes that all senses hinge on the literal. In other words, a literal reading and an allegorical reading need not be opposed to each other per se, as long as it is recognized that the allegorical is a distnct sense. Now, of course, sometimes, as in the Song of Solomon, the literal sense is an allegory, and the allegorical sense, is an allegory of an allegory. But this is not the case in the books and passages mentioned above.

Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas
[/quote]


#15

This comes down to an issue of semantics. Merriam–Webster gives one definition of “literal” as “free from exaggeration or embellishment,” or another as “characterized by a concern mainly with facts.” There’s a wide semantic range for the term. I don’t want to get hung up on that. Obviously, salvation history is literal history. But it’s not the physically obvious and easily observable history of the world—for it requires special spiritual insights. I think we know that’s what Bishop Barron meant. And His Excellency has acknowledged in several speeches—because of this problem you identify with his opinions being stated poorly by himself—that a sacrifice he has to make with his short-video ministry is fully elaborated arguments and claims.

All scripture is literally true, but according to what interpretative lens do we discern this? That’s why I said the Church needs a variety of senses of interpretation in order to discover what the Bible is literally saying. The Pentateuch is not a reducably definitive book of observable history.

To your example: man being created in imago Dei and residing in the Garden of Eden are historical facts, but how did those literally take place? You see, sometimes biblical exegesis goes the other way round, in which the literal truth of Sacred Scripture is textured by allegorical devices.


#16

With all due respect to Bishop Baron, I think this type of explanation is easily dismissed as an attempt at whitewashing the hard fact that God judged the Canaanites, Hitites and others and punished them by means of the army of Israel.

IOW, God could have sent a plague or a flood or some other calamity to bring his judgment upon them (like Sodom and Gomorrah); instead, he sent the army of Israel. The end result was the same. :thumbsup:

This may help:

Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims
By: Clay Jones
equip.org/articles/killing-the-canaanites/


#17

This may justify the writer’s intentions in illustrating, in that way, God’s justice against sinfulness, but this doesn’t contradict what Bishop Barron said. Israel’s conquering of the land is historically verifiable, but numerous scholars contend that the process was much more gradual than what is depicted in the Heptateuch. Israelite authors used graphic images, in that case, in order to highlight the theological significance of their place among the nations.

I think we should always bear in mind this tendency for the authors to embellish their history for the sake of teaching others about the character of God and of Israel. And we must always remember that the same texts that speak of God’s judgment also use anthropomorphic language when speaking of the divine attributes. To say God was literally angry with any of the sinful groups—Canaanites, Hittites, Amalekites etc.—would be heretical, for instance; the Church teaches divine impassibility. So, we must read these texts in the light of Christ, not only in the light of the ancient Israelites.


#18

I think the “big question” as to why an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent god, full of love and grace would allow pain and suffering… can be explained by two simple points.

• Everything is predetermined
• Free will is allowed

The second point seems to be the game changer.

I borrowed this from an ancient rabbi…. However his name slips my mind.


#19

You’re venturing into theodicy, with which this thread is not concerned.

But to respond briefly, I agree with the second point but dissent rather vehemently from the first. I also disagree that the problem of evil is resolved “by two simple points.”


#20

I believe theodicy is very relevant to most discussions involving “violent passages” within scripture, including this topic/thread.

It is almost inevitable that a Christian will face this issue in discussions with people who “cherry-pick” these types of passages.

In regards to the “two points,” the second pretty much makes the first null & void… so it’s fair to argue that it can’t be “predetermined.”

I can’t speak for the rabbi who said it but, that’s my take on it.


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