Did God order the slaughter of women and children?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: How can you defend the violence in the bible? I'm a Christian but I don’t believe that it’s not full of errors and contradictions. Jesus said seek the truth not read the truth. The bible has been written by at least 40 different men. Never mind the hundreds of copies to get to the bible we have today. I believe Jehovah, Jesus,& the Holy Spirit make up one God, and he's a God of love and mercy. There's no way a perfectly loving God ordered the slaughter of woman and children or accepted a human sacrifice as it says in Judges 11.39. Its pastors and priest that sell these stories as truth that help turn God-loving people into atheists.

Answer: It will be my pleasure to address some of your concerns today. Let me say at the outset that your affirmation of the Trinity tells me that you might be a true Christian. But if you are… you are a train wreck! Perhaps I can help you get back on track. Let us begin by taking each of your points in order.

Your first point concerns violence in the Bible, and you are correct. There is a lot of it. Please note that it comes in two flavors. First, there is the God-ordered type as when Israel was conquering the Promised Land at God’s behest. Second, there is the incidental type as is common to humankind, and upon which the Bible merely reports as a history. As to the first, one of your specific complaints is “There's no way a perfect loving God ordered the slaughter of woman and children…” God did order such a thing, of course, as the following attests.

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:16–18, ESV)

The first thing that I want you to do concerning Deuteronomy 20:16-18, is to notice the encapsulated nature of these war instructions — especially as this relates to places, people and time. First, this passage limits these commands to those cities that God promised to his people for an inheritance and to no others. Second, this destruction will be limited to their occupying people — and God names them: the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and the Jebusites. No other people are in view. Third, these instructions are time-sensitive, valid only during the time of the initial conquest of Canaan. Thus encapsulated, the standard use of language prevents you from connecting to other segments without a legitimate catalyst, like a biblical type (which is a specialized biblical symbol) or a New Testament quotation of the Old Testament passage.

You cannot force a global doctrine or constraint upon sundry biblical passages from a contextually isolated source, and your question does just that. It implies that God destroys innocents as one of his salient characteristics. That is simply a misrepresentation of God. There are over 31,103 verses in the Bible, and Deuteronomy 20:16-18 contains three of them. This command to destroy is singular in nature and it takes up only three verses. Therefore, only about 0.009 % of God’s revelation deals with this severe treatment of the enemy, while the vast majority speaks of his love and provision. It is fraudulent to represent either a singular event or such a tiny percent of content as a dominant characteristic of God — one which is globally problematic.

In like manner, the account of Jephthah and his vow in Judges 11 is singular, so, even if he did kill his daughter under God’s aegis, the same rule of proportionality would have applied. But that is not what happened. As a judge, Jephthah would never have offered up a human sacrifice. That was the high crime of the pagans who surrounded him! And nowhere in the account do we see him killing his daughter or do we see his daughter dying. This is because he offered her up as a living sacrifice, to remain a virgin all of her life. Read the biblical account. It’s all about her virginity and nothing about her death. Do not be so quick to blame God, especially when the Bible’s account is ambiguous. The rule of reading known as synergy requires that you give an author every break and that you do not work at installing roadblocks to understanding. Why not give God the same courtesy as is commonly given to Hemingway?

I find it interesting, by the way, that you believe the Bible is full of errors and contradictions…yet you have determined that these two singular accounts (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and Judges 11) are true enough to complain about. The alternative is that you are challenging as true, accounts which you know to be false…which can only be absurd or an evil waste of time. So, I need to ask, what methods did you use to determine that these two accounts, which according to your question, must live in a sea of error and contradiction are true? Did you draw Bible verses out of a hat and call those true? Did you consult a Magic 8 Ball? Those sound silly, but they are of equal value to any alternatives to God’s word being true as it stands.

You infer that the Bible is too violent, but the Bible is merely reporting what the history books and newspapers report — that we are a violent people who make war continually. If the Bible did not report on that, it would either be false, unreasonable or missing important information. At this point, your question confuses me. Are you beating up on the Bible for not being false — because seems to run counter to your complaint. Or would you prefer it if God lied about the nature of humanity so the Bible would seem less violent?

Also concerning biblical violence, although many people make war and perform mayhem in the name of God, only a tiny percentage of biblical and worldly wars is specifically God directed. Such wars are righteous because God cannot act any other way than righteously, this by definition. As you noted, however, history shows that there was plenty of violence to go around, but since God is only responsible for a small portion, what of the rest? The vast majority of violence is caused by the evil natures of its human purveyors. We live in a fallen world where sin rules the hearts of people as well as the air we breathe. With this complaint then, you are either blaming God for being righteous or blaming him for activities performed by other beings. Remember, just because people are doing things in the name of God does not make them godly behaviors. (See the Crusades). Note also Jesus’ commentary on such people in Matthew.

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22–23, ESV)

As to your second point, you claim to be a Christian, but you have no faith in the Bible. This really makes me nervous about your salvation. I am a Christian because of the veracity of the person of Jesus Christ and the testimony of the Scriptures. If any person could impugn these to my satisfaction (or to my dis-satisfaction), I would abandon my faith in a heartbeat. So I must ask, what do you have your faith in? If you have no faith in the veracity of Scripture, then you have faith in a Christ that is made-up rather than in a real historical person. You see, if you only believe that parts of Scripture are true, but then go on to say that God’s word is full of errors and contradictions, then that would leave it up to sinful humans to pick and choose which biblical elements are true, and they’d be free to synthesize at will. Synthesizing makes the author’s intentions null and void. Therefore, in any piece of writing, the Bible included, this would be no different than making a whole story up from scratch. The veracity of God’s word boils down to a yes-or-no question. God is either competent to deliver us a faithful word for he is not. Indeed he is. Indeed he has.

On what basis do you make that claim that the Bible is full of errors in contradictions? I ask because I also have a claim about the Bible: The Bible has no errors and no contradictions. I’m not sure about your background, but I’ve spent over 40 years rooting around in Scripture trying to find even one error or contradiction…and I cannot find even one! Forgive my frankness, but your tone is not one of an earnest seeker. Yours is the tone of a complainer — a guy who has a few ideas — but one who has not done his homework. I’ve run into plenty of people who share some of your conclusions, but who have done so through applied study and hard work. If that is where you are, I apologize. But if you have not done your due diligence (and your questions tell me that you have not), then you are attacking the veracity of God’s word out of hand, which is the definition of foolishness.

You have also brought into question whether or not the Bible can be trusted because of its many authors and its many copies. Allow me to add a little difficulty. The Bible was also recorded over a period of about 1600 years in the cross many cultures. However, what you see as problematic is actually one of the “proofs” that the Bible is indeed God’s word. Here’s how it works. It is relatively easy for a single author who writes in a single time about a single thing to come up with a cohesive work. But the Bible’s multiple authors, multiple genres, broad scope of time, and broad scope of topics still tells a cohesive story. This is remarkable! Miraculous even!

The connections between the Old and New Testament alone are enough to seal that deal. But you do not have to take my word, or the word of any other Christian, that the ancient documents underpinning all modern translations of the Bible are reliable, because there is a science that deals exclusively with ancient documents, and this science is not the special purview of Christians (although we Christians cannot help but be involved because of the many thousands of documents that have to do with the Scriptures). The science is called paleography. A paleographer studies the manuscripts and their writings, compares and refines our knowledge of ancient alphabets and words, assign relative dates, etc. It is these people, and not Christians in particular, who attest to the veracity of our ancient documents. It is these scientists, who may or may not be believers, who testify that we Christians have a highly reliable word of God at our fingertips.

Jesus never told us anything like the following phrase from your question. “Jesus said seek the truth not read the truth.” Jesus taught the opposite, in fact. He often (126 times) quoted the Scripture by beginning, “It is written…” Why would he bother saying this over and over if he did not value the Scripture or if he did not value the reading of it? I agree that Jesus did indeed want people to seek truth. But he taught that he himself was the Truth, that God and his word were true, and that truth could be in no other place.

Your question posits another incorrect notion — that a God of love and mercy cannot punish. I hear this a lot, and this is just silly. Mercy, by its very nature, is not automatically administered to every person in the world. It pardons sinners from their just deserts. Do you subscribe to universal salvation where God will (or must) save everyone somehow? Well, if you require him to thwart his holy justice by the universal application of mercy, that is what you have done. God’s love always wins, but part of his love is that I will not have to deal with Hitler or Stalin for all eternity. Are you requiring that God apply his mercy to these murderous and unregenerate souls? Again, this is silly.

Your last statement makes no sense because telling (I take exception to “selling”) the truth turns no one into an atheist. Atheism is an advanced philosophical construct. It takes time, and an amazing amount of faith, to become one. Paganism, not atheism is what most people unwittingly subscribe to. That being said, there is a lot of fundamentalist idiocy that is neither true nor helpful to the Kingdom that we hear on TV and radio — and I’d love to stop that stuff altogether. But their “spiritual” caprice cannot make false doctrine true any more than your objections can make a true thing false. Here is the overarching answer to your question: The Bible is not true because some of us believe that it be true. It is true because it cannot not be true while a true God stands. Therefore I ask, do you know the true God truly? Perhaps you should revisit your salvation. Go to the following link.



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