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Is the Bible Too Violent?

Bible Study //

Sometimes I struggle with the violence in the Bible. There…I said it.

Do you ever struggle with the violence in the Bible? Here are a couple thoughts that help me make sense of it (at least a little).

Every year, as I spend the opening months doing a Bible Read Thru, the days are spent coming face-to-face with some pretty horrific violence.

Whole people groups annihilated. Whole cities wiped off the planet. War, with a side of war, and then topped with a dollop of war.

I have said many times, “If the Bible was a movie, it would definitely earn it’s R rating.” Actually, I’m not sure it could even just be “R.” As I am reading through the Bible this year, I am realizing again how horribly violent some of it is.

Here are some of the responses I have heard over the years from people either doing the Bible Read Thru, or friends from my church:

“My 15-year-old daughter decided to read through the Bible. I’m not sure I’m okay with this!” 

“I’ve got to tell you I am really struggling with reading some of this. I’m the kind of person who skips certain scenes in movies because I don’t want the images stuck in my mind. And yet…it’s the Bible!”

“I am having to force myself to stick with it because some of the stories are too violent.”

Yup. I totally get it.

As I have been trying to process the violence during this year’s Bible Read Thru, there are two thoughts that keep coming to my mind. They certainly don’t answer all my questions or get rid of all the discomfort, but they’re helping me walk though it without being completely overwhelmed by it.

The violence reminds me of how seriously God takes holiness (and how not seriously I do).

Much of the violence in the Bible is about wiping out evil. Take a look at this command in Deuteronomy 20:16-17, NIV (and think about the process of carrying it out):

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

Now look at the very next verse – giving the reason for the command:

Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.”

It is so easy for me to live like “a little evil” won’t have that much of an impact. It won’t affect me that much. It isn’t really that bad. God doesn’t really hate evil, right?

But when I read about the violence in the Bible, I am reminded that God doesn’t just “dislike” evil. He hates it.

After all, the evil contributes to our separation from Him. It goes against everything He loves and all that He has been working toward since “In the beginning…”

Evil is serious business. The violence in the Bible makes this truth inescapable.

The violence actually points us to God – and our need for Him.

As I read the Old Testament I am reminded of what happens when “Everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

When you and I do whatever “seems right” to us, it might not manifest in violent actions, but the result is just as deadly.

When there is an opportunity to walk toward evil…we do.

When there is an opportunity to hurt another for our own gain…we do.

When there is an opportunity to take advantage of someone for our own pleasure or glory…we do.

And yet – even in the midst of the violence of the Old Testament (and the rebellion in my own heart) – God still sought (and seeks) a way to be in relationship with the people of Israel (and with me).

No, I don’t like the violence. No, I don’t understand it all. No, I don’t like to read it.

And yet – even in the midst of the violence – I encounter a loving God. A forgiving God. A patient God. A God who won’t relent until He gets what He wants. (By the way, if you’re wondering what He ultimately wants, take a look in your mirror.)

Question: How have you struggled with – or made sense of – the violence in the Bible?

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About the Author

Keith Ferrin is an author, speaker, blogger, and storyteller who is passionate about helping people read, study, engage, and enjoy the Bible. He was a youth pastor for six years before writing and speaking fulltime. He is the author of three books, including Like Ice Cream: The Scoop on Helping the Next Generation Fall in Love with God’s Word. He and his wife, Kari, have three kids who are the source of both his big smile and gray hair. They live just outside of Seattle. Keith also holds to the belief that coffee and ice cream are proof of a benevolent God.