Violence in the Old Testament & Catholic Teaching


#1

I’m hoping someone can assist me on this question, because it is one that I feel I can’t deliver a good answer to critics of Christianity on. So often critics of Christianity or the Bible will point to old testament violence as a reason to disregard the Bible as being inspired by God. And in my study of Catholic teaching and the Bible I am finding it hard to reconcile Catholic teaching with certain acts of violence in the old testament.

Let’s start with a portion of the catechism says concerning killing:

2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous."61 The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

[vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm]](http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm])

Now, this passage from my perception seems to prevent the excuses of people justifying the killing of innocents due to whatever reason. But taking this passage into account, how do we reconcile this with certain details among old testament passages such as these:

Numbers 31:17-1817

17Slay, therefore, every male child and every woman who has had intercourse with a man. 18But you may spare and keep for yourselves all girls who had no intercourse with a man.

Deuteronomy 20:13-14

13 and when the LORD, your God, delivers it into your hand, put every male in it to the sword;14but the women and children and livestock and all else in it that is worth plundering you may take as your booty, and you may use this plunder of your enemies which the LORD, your God, has given you.

(does this mean killing elderly or sickly men as well?)

Deuteronomy 20:16

16But in the cities of those nations which the LORD, your God, is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive.

(including children?)

Joshua 6:21

21They observed the ban by putting to the sword all living creatures in the city: men and women, young and old, as well as oxen, sheep and asses.

[Pasted these verses from the Vatican website which has the New American Bible]

How does one reconcile Catholic teaching on killing, specifically the prohibition against taking innocent life with elements among these old testament verses? One of the answers to these passages often rests on the notion that not all of the Bible is inspired, something we reject as Catholics. Proponents of this idea would most likely argue that these aspects of the text aren’t inspired and perhaps it was just the Israelites attributing to God something they wanted to do to justify their actions or to encourage readers that God was on their side. But as I just said, Catholic teaching on Biblical inspiration would reject such a view I believe. Another response is tailoring what is meant by “innocent” but I just don’t know how that argument unfolds, and if such an argument is in line with Church teaching.

I’m hoping someone can provide me with a good apologetic response here.
One of the things that contributed to my making of this thread was the recent Boston bombings, and they got me wondering because although we Catholics would consider such bombings evil, it’s disconcerting to me, because the two bombers (if indeed motivated by religious reasons) thought themselves as doing something righteous in the eyes of God and that they were justified in targeting innocent people. But when it comes to a certain instance in the old testament where children are killed for example are we not supposed to consider it awful, but justified because God approved it? I just find it very hard to reconcile a prohibition against killing innocents which the Church upholds with certain actions going on among these verses. Moreover, it’s also disturbing to me in another way, like when I get a bit discouraged spiritually and someone may try to comfort me by reminding me that God is love and loves me more than I can ever imagine, I think about this, but then these verses in the old testament that startle me come to mind leaving me feeling confused at times. Hoping for some good answers!


#2

We received much fuller revelation of God’s nature and will via the advent of Christ. Humankind, through God’s chosen people, was being taught and molded into greater spiritual maturity throughout their relationship with Him, until the time was ripe for the Incarnation, but man came from an original place of great darkness beginning with the Fall. IOW, the Jews perspective of God’s will may not have always been perfect, and yet He worked with and through them.


#3

I had a hard time responding to this one: "Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go away, baldy!” they chanted. “Go away, baldy! Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them” (2 Kings 2:23-24). If anyone has a good answer, would much appreciate it.


#4

The Old Testament was the old law. The ancient world was a violent place, to put it mildly. The Christian faith is based on the New Testament. Christ came to redeem the world with a new law of non-violence.


#5

We cannot hold God by human standards. It is different when He takes life away, because He is the one who put life in a person in the first place. Even our own bodies and soul are not ours. They belong to God. That is why the church lists suicide as mortal sin.

It is hard to accept, but perhaps it helps if one ponders God’s mercy. How many times have we slapped Him in the face by rejecting Him and giving into sin? Yet, He did not give up on us. He actually took our place on the cross. By right, we should have been put on trial, beaten half to death, carried our own cross and be crucified on it. But God took it all for us. Every sin we have made and are going to make in the future, He has taken upon Himself.

If we go back to the Old Testament, the people of Israel were a stubborn and sinful bunch. They worshipped foreign gods, they had relations with foreign people, they were adulterous and so on. It is incredible that God had so much mercy for them-and for us.


#6

The “dark” passages of the Bible

  1. In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, 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. 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, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So 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 as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.[140] I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

~Pope Benedict XVI

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini_en.html#The_Interpretation_Of_Sacred_Scripture__In_The_Church


#7

But God taking life isn’t the issue to me, God is God, He can take life as He wishes. The issue is the fact that human beings did the killing, and specifically the killing of children. If God takes a child’s life through illness, we don’t hold God to account at all, but if a child is killed by another human being don’t we normally add a moral component to what occurred? We certainly do now, but in the time of Joshua for example, how do we view such actions?


#8

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=352863&highlight=genocide

I hope this helps.


#9

In one sense i can understand God asking then stopping Abraham to sacrifice his Son Issac as a burnt offering.
Later On in scripture God says human sacrafice is Sin. Yet in Judges 11:29-40 Jephthah makes a vow and it so happened that Jephthah’s daughter became the Object of sacrafice for burnt offering. If God said Human sacrafice was Sin. Why did not God stop this human Sacrafice burnt offering ? :shrug:


#10

From the Commentary in the New American Bible, St. Joseph edition:

“This story, like the one about Elijah and the captains (ch. 1), is preserved for us in Scripture to convey a popular understanding of the dignity of the prophet. Told in popular vein, it becomes a caricature, in which neither Elijah nor the bears behave in character. See note on 2 Kings 1:12 and the contrasting narrative in Ch. 4.”


#11

I don’t really see where Pope Benedict is offering any detailed interpretation here, it sounds more like he is offering advice on how to interpret without exactly doing any specific interpreting. So I still don’t see the reconciliation here.

And as I want to reiterate, the concern for me in this thread is not so much the OT violence itself, as is reconciling that violence with Catholic teaching. One of the apologetic answers I’ve heard for OT violence (Can’t remember if it was from a Catholic o a Non-Catholic source for what it is worth) was that God was just using human instruments to take life He wanted to take. But, with this in mind, does this make the killing of children justified when it is done by humans? It’s very troubling to me, because it seems to bring up a variation of Euthyphro’s dilemma wondering if something is wrong because it is wrong in itself, or because God does not permit it (perhaps implying that if God permitted it it would not be wrong). It seems from my perception that the Church’s point of view is that the killing of innocents is wrong always and everywhere, binding on everyone. Like it says in the Catechism:

2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous."61 The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

[vatican.va/archive/ccc_cs…/p3s2c2a5.htm]](http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_cs.../p3s2c2a5.htm])

And I’m just noticing now, the fine tuned vocab here in the catechism, such as the phrase “the deliberate murder of an innocent person…” Does this open the door for an explanation that not all killing of innocents qualifies as deliberate murder? And that killing of children in the OT was justified on this basis or something similar?

I’m just finding it hard to come to a theologically consistent conclusion here. Allow me to quote Deuteronomy 20:10-18 from the NAB on the Vatican website:

10"When you march up to attack a city, first offer it terms of peace.11If it agrees to your terms of peace and opens its gates to you, all the people to be found in it shall serve you in forced labor.12But if it refuses to make peace with you and instead offers you battle, lay siege to it,13and when the LORD, your God, delivers it into your hand, put every male in it to the sword;14but the women and children and livestock and all else in it that is worth plundering you may take as your booty, and you may use this plunder of your enemies which the LORD, your God, has given you.15"That is how you shall deal with any city at a considerable distance from you, which does not belong to the peoples of this land.16But in the cities of those nations which the LORD, your God, is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive.17You must doom them all - the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites - as the LORD, your God, has commanded you,18lest they teach you to make any such abominable offerings as they make to their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD, your God.

And so I’m basically just asking, if such actions are morally justified in Catholic teaching, and if so, on what basis? Is it solely out of obedience to God? Does this passage indicate that all of the people living in the promised land did not qualify as innocent and were justly killed, even children? And what about the cities outside the promised land which at the beginning of the passage are offered terms of peace, where not fighting meant the people inside the city would serve in forced labor, how is this justified in Catholic thought? Does this all boil down to God permitting something in scripture? I just find this incredibly confusing given what is in scripture, and my understanding of Catholic teaching, and I would love for some real in depth explanation, and I just haven’t seen the core issues in my mind addressed adequately thus far.

And just to ask a question here, what is the Catholic understanding of what sins are? Are sins, sins because the actions are wrong in themselves, or are sins sins because of the prohibition God ties to a particular action? Or is there no real difference between the two? For example, is murder wrong, because of the act itself, or because of the prohibition God puts on the act, or are they actually the same thing?


#12

The*** Catholic Church*** has been given the authoritative role of defining for and conveying to us the nature and will of God. If the OT appears somewhere out of line with her teachings then the problem lies somewhere in our understanding of the OT and its sources and purposes. Every time an OT author claims that the Lord said to do such and such we don’t have to believe this to necessarily be more than the authors belief.


#13

But isn’t the Holy Spirit the author along with the human author?


#14

Yes not detailed but giving very fine pointers. It is not meant to be that kind of work but is one section in larger document on Sacred Scripture.

He then ends with:

“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”

That is very important to keep in mind.

And especially it highlights that a forum like this is not really the “forum” (deliberate pun) for such.


#15

Yes not detailed but giving some rather fine notes. It is not meant to be that kind of work but is one section in larger document on Sacred Scripture.

He then ends with:

“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”

That is very important to keep in mind.

And especially it highlights that a forum like this is not really the “forum” (deliberate pun) for such.


#16

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The Holy Spirit is the author of the Church’s understanding of the faith, based both on Scripture and her Tradition. Read Ecclesiastes and consider whether or not every proclamation of Solomons was necessarily a truth revealed by God, or Solomons opinion based on his understanding which itself was informed by his experiences and whatever revelation he was privy to at the time, which was certainly less than we have now.


#17

Yes not detailed but yet giving some rather important aspects to keep in mind.

The document it is fromis not meant to be that kind of work but is one section in larger document on Sacred Scripture.

Pope Benedict XVI writes towards the end:

“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”

That is very important to keep in mind.

And especially it highlights that a forum like this is not really the “forum” (deliberate pun) for such.


#18

It seems that your dilemma is not about the violence itself, but rather with the seeming contradiction between Catholicism forbidding violence now and God permitting violence in the past.

Part of this is that the Church is the mouthpiece of God for the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, God spoke His commands through His prophets and the patriarchs, and yes, sometimes what they were supposed to do was different than what we are supposed to do. Sometimes they were commanded to destroy those cultures completely. But we are not commanded to do that – we are commanded never to do that, ever, in any circumstance.

This really does get into the difference between the Old Testament’s commandments and the New Testament’s. They are different revelations and the latter shows the true meaning of the former. If you tallied up every time you saw a difference between the Old Testament’s laws and the New Testament’s laws or the Church’s laws, you’d get a very big list. The key is to see that God is not bound by this stuff and He can give us different laws to teach us different things. There are good theological principles at work behind why He said to slaughter those cultures. And the morality of fulfilling those commands cannot be doubted because God gave those commands and He has the authority to take life away when He chooses.

If you want to talk about why God destroyed those cultures, and why He permitted the innocent children to be killed with the guilty parents, we can talk about those reasons. But the fact that we are not allowed to do that today does not imply that God couldn’t have commanded it in the past once you understand that it is not immoral for Him to do that and there are important spiritual lessons that He teaches us through those commands.

Anyway I hope that helps. Let me know if you’d like to know more. God bless!


closed #19

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