Friday, February 1, 2013

Eric Seibert on the Violence of Scripture

In previous posts I have touched on the problem of how Christians should handle passages in the Bible that do not line up with the way we think in the 21st century. In particular, how do we interpret and apply passages in the Bible that endorse violent acts like that of genocide? 

Among those working on this topic is my friend Eric Seibert who teaches at Messiah College. Eric's most recent work on the topic is The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testaments Troubling Legacy (Fortress, 2012). I began reading the book this past weekend and look forward to learning more from Eric. 

In the mean time, Eric will be doing a three part series on Pete Enn's blog. Here is a bit of what Eric has to say. I hope this is enough to entice you to read the rest. 

Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided  interpreters.  And this certainly is part of the problem. But, unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this.  It runs right through the pages of Scripture itself.
To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us. I realize this may sound blasphemous to some people and flies in the face of everything they have been taught to believe about the Bible. When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach. We are taught to read, revere, and embrace the Bible. We are not taught to challenge its values, ethics, or portrayals of God.

Read the rest of the post here


  1. With me, the OT only has a "troubling legacy" if we're ignorant of it's realities and refuse to factor in the hermeneutic key called "Jesus".

    For example, isn't it( or shouldn't it be to an avid reader) obvious that anything lower than the command to "love Yahweh with all your heart,mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself" belongs in the category of ideas God tolerates and doesn't prefer? I could hardly beat a slave half to death and love the guy at the same time, I couldn't see my wife as second class and do so, etc.

    Didn't Jesus clear that up when He stated the entire Torah hangs on that statement for us? So, do I need to "challenge what the OT teaches"? No, I need to grasp what it teaches accurately. The nuance to me is significant because I get the feeling a lack of respect is the result of the "challenge it's teaching" view.

    Jesus made this clear when asked about marriage/divorce in Torah compared to marriage/divorce ideally as created by and preferred by God ,"in the beginning".

    He made it clear beyond doubt that the part of Torah allowing divorce for many reasons were not God's will, rather they were "tolerated", probably because the alternative would have been more violence and hatred between couples.

    Or , when Jesus said, "I have come to fulfill Torah" shouldn't we use our brains and grasp Jesus did not own a slave, beat a slave, disrespect women, because those elements were not God's ideas, but, His tolerance of ancient ignorance for a greater goal,etc?

    In fact, what Jesus did was the opposite, He elevated Torah and heightened it's requirements then fulfilled that, i.e. "I say even lusting after a woman in your heart is adultery".

    Genocide ? Yes. The question I pose is do we believers think God had to do that or desired to do that? Even if we see it as myth, how do we define that God in that text?

    While it has become chic to simply view parts of the OT text as mythical( at least to a great extent among many modern exegetes), I think it makes good logic even if we view it that way to at the very least take all the text's logic.

    If we are going to use the term genocide as relates to the herem placed on groups by God in the text, at least let's add in the logic for it.

    Failing to do that leaves an inaccurate view of God and the herem.

    Every group included in the herem had hybrids, both human( and apparently even demon possessed animals) and demonic type creatures implacably opposed to God and His people. If it's all a myth, so be it, but, to make this case w/o adding that vital part of the textual logic leaves us with God being more Adolf Hitler and less IKE as an analogy.

    Since Jesus claimed to be that Yahweh, I think an accurate hermeneutic takes this view of the herem myself. It was a matter of God being forced to deal with these creatures or failing to fulfill Gen 3:15 myself. Not a best option, the only option.

    As God's people, I think we're wiser to approach the OT this way because after all, Jesus did validate this text for us, we know it held incalculable value to Him and I think His views and His reality demonstrate a view of the OT that sees anything below Deuteronomy 6:5 as tolerated only and the herem as something God had no option but to accomplish.