Question 47:

The Gospels are distinguished through their beautiful language and content. But how are we to understand and interpret the many verses in the Old Testament which contain violence (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:15; Exodus 32:27)?


Answer: Please read the second part of the answer to the above question number 28.

I would like to add (from the book: “Glaubensverkündigung für Erwachsene”. Deutsche Ausgabe des Holländischen Katechismus, Nijmwegen-Utrecht, 1966): He who opens the Old Testament himself happens upon pages of compelling magnificence and others, which appear stony and sparse like rough mountain terrain.

Much of the confusion we feel reading [the Old Testament] stems from the fact that we really expect a nice and edifying book, a book which shows us many good things. However, already in the stories of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis, raw, cruel and, to our mind, immoral deeds are being told with great calm. We who read it should know that the Bible is not an edifying book, but that it reflects reality. God is accompanying a yet primitive mankind. Only in the due course of time morals, or at least views on ideal morals, become more refined. In the story of Abraham, we are not invited to do everything just as he does, but to concentrate on the overall moral of the story: how he has remained faithful to Yahweh throughout. To read the Old Testament well, a long, overarching view is required. You have to be able to imagine that other people do things differently.

Reading will not be so difficult in cases, where the misdeeds are clearly highlighted as evil, for example concerning the sin of Sodom, or where the sins are specifically mentioned, for example the deception of Lots daughters (Genesis 19). Sometimes, however, it appears as though God stood behind it, as for example in the case of the deception of Jacob (Genesis 27) and even more strongly, in the case of the extermination of the Canaanites (Joshua 8). It says there that Yahweh himself gave the order for this. (See above, answer to question 27.)

However, we also have to consider these cases as a kind of primitive imperfectness. People didn’t know any better in those times, or, in order to keep the service of Yahweh clean, they had to use the methods of their time and their level of cultural development. The ways of God had not yet been understood deeply enough. Remaining faithful to Yahweh alone was already very much.

How incomplete and prone to human error matters in the Old Testament are can be deducted from Jesus words about the fact that a man could simply send his wife away. This occurred, as Jesus said, because of the hardness of their hearts (see also Matthew 19:8). It was by no means God’s true intention. The same can be said for the murders mentioned in the book of Joshua. These, by the way, were much less numerous than the quoted figures suggest; much smaller than the exterminated Native Americans in the USA, or the Jews under Hitler.

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