Question: Some say that the Bible advocates murder, infanticide, rape, child abuse, slavery, and genocide.  Is this true? And does the Bible justify jihad?


Here are two answers to the question:


1. By William P. Griffin, Ph.D.


There are people and websites who go out of their way to discredit the Bible and Christianity. While I won't pretend that I can answer all their objections to the Bible, these folks often inaccurately cite the Bible (i.e., without paying enough attention to the context) with a slant on many verses which shows an agenda, not an understanding of the text.


One thing they often do NOT do is make a distinction between what people did in Biblical times and things God commanded in Biblical times. For example, Judges 21 is part of a section in the book which shows the utter chaos going on in Israel because they had no king (including not having God act as their king). And as for specifics there, the girls were taken and forced to become wives, but not raped and then made into wives.


Second, many do not understand the commandment in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, "Thou shalt not kill." The best translation there is "thou shalt not ever commit murder." It is not a prohibition of all killing. The penalty for murder, homosexuality, RAPE, kidnapping, idolatry, etc., was capital punishment, and this capital punishment was not murder. Further, the OT has rules for war (Deut 20), and God has the right to kill anyone He pleases. We owe every breath to God. God did command the destruction of the Canaanites, who were involved in child sacrifice, beastiality, idolatry, sacred prostitution, etc. (Incidentally, Israel failed at that command.) Granted, moderns do not tend to view anyone who invades a country and kills non-combatants as anything but genocide. However, it is interesting to note that Amos 1-2 condemns so-called ethnic cleansing.


It has been argued that Exod 13:2 tells people to sacrifice their first born son, asserting "It is clear from the context that `consecrate' means a burning sacrifice"--No, it doesn't. The term means to set apart as holy, not to offer up as a burnt offering. That would be a different term.


Joshua 7:15 describes a method of execution. The Bible has many methods of execution: stoning, the sword, being burnt alive (as in this instance), etc. However, execution for a crime is not human sacrifice, no more than lethal injection or the electric chair is human sacrifice.


Jepthah's sacrifice of his daughter (Judges 11) was during a time when Israel was just coming out of tremendous idolatry, and he had been raised without Biblical principles. Yes, he sacrificed his daughter, but a priest should have told him 2 things: (1) human sacrifice is forbidden in the Law of Moses (Deut 18:10; cf. 2 Kgs 17:17; 21:6; 23:10); and (2) there was a sacrifice available for making foolish vows (Lev 5:4-6). This event probably occurred because the priesthood had dropped the ball during an idolatrous time and was not teaching the people God's ways.


As for the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, that one has always seemed strange to me as well. However, it says that God tested Abraham, and God also did not allow Abraham to follow through with it.


As for Psalm 137 (which I consider the saddest Psalm in the whole book) calling for someone to dash the babies of the Babylonians against the rock, that is what happened to the Israelites' children when the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem--the author was calling for God to do to Babylon what Babylon had done to Israel.




2. By Wave Nunnally, Ph.D.


First, despite the spin put on various descriptive passages of Scripture, there are none where God approves of, promotes, and commands murder or rape--they just don't exist. It is true that the bible DESCRIBES these activities, even committed by heroes of the faith. however, these examples are usually disapproved of when read in context (Judges 11, for example), and actually attest to the honesty of the bible. Other collections of sacred literature tend to whitewash their heroes. Second, God condescended to where people and culture were at the time of revelation, met them where they were, and took them closer to the ideal--reflecting his image. An example is Abraham and Hagar--according to existing Mesopotamian laws of the time, surrogate mothers could be summarily dismissed and sent away with nothing after giving birth (Code of Hammurabi 170; 19th Century BC Assyrian Law Code). Abraham, however, did not want to do this, and when forced to, made sure Hagar left with the provisions she needed to survive. This would be an example of God raising the ethical/moral bar for those who serve him far above where current culture was. Third, the Israelite treatment of the Canaanites was far from standard operating procedure. Scholars of the period of Joshua's Conquest refer to these extreme measures as "Intrusion Ethics." Note these restrictions on what seem to us to be incredibly barbaric acts:


1) these "rules for engagement" came with geographical limitations. There were lots of "Amorites" living all over the ANE, but only the ones living within the biblical borders of Israel were to be exterminated.


2) There were ethnic limitations. Only the "seven nations of the Amorites" were to be exterminated--this would exclude from extermination the most vicious enemies of Israel: the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Arameans (Syrians), and the Edomites. It would even exclude the Phoenicians, whose export of Baal worship continually plagued Israel down to the Exile.


3) There were chronological limitations: when the conquest was basically complete, these rules of engagement were suspended, never to be reinstituted again, and Israel (or some form of Israel) existed for three or four times the amount of time the USA has existed as an independent nation.


4) the decree of destruction was STRICTLY limited to PEOPLE--the destruction of homes, vineyards, and orchards was expressly forbidden. Only the people were to be destroyed--the God of the Bible had no "Scorched Earth Policy" as did Saddam Hussein. Instead, God's commands, even in the midst of a giant conflagration, were incredibly environmentally friendly.


5) the form of the Hebrew verb used in the "intrusion ethics" commands requires that the word be translated "execute", which precludes prejudice (sparing certain ones because they were pretty, strong, small, young, wealthy, influential, etc.). this meant absolute equity in carrying out the sentence. It also ensured that torture would not be employed, and that rape would not be employed to demoralize the surviving elements of the defeated society. God even decreed that the Israelites make an "offer of peace" to outlying enemies before attacking them (Deut. 20:10), wait to be attacked (Deut. 20:12), and spare non-combatants (Deut. 20:14)--none of which were standard operation procedure in the biblical world.


Now we have to deal with the question of why. Why would God command the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children, most of whom were non-combatants? Is this not the same as the jihadist mindset of today? Again, the answer is found in the Bible. God had already given many faithful witnesses to this culture: Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. He had already sent a shot over their bow in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he had extended their opportunity to repent by more than 400 years (Gen. 15:16). In reality, however, the Canaanite culture only continued to devolve into acts of child sacrifice, sacred prostitution, sexual immorality, and the like. W.F. Albright, the "Father of Modern Archeology," stated after years of excavating the remains of Canaanite cities that their religious practices were the most debauched in human history. God exhibited incredible patience with this culture but finally decreed its destruction so that survivors would not pass down its debauched practices to the new inhabitants. When their just destruction was decreed, the scope was incredibly limited and the manner in which it was done was as humane as could have been accomplished in the second millennium BC.


But did God "play favorites" by destroying one people (the Canaanites) and giving its land to another (the Israelites) whom he preferred? Lev. 18:24-30 (cf. Deut. 9:5-6) tells us that it was God's intent to preserve the integrity of the land, and that if the Israelites conducted themselves abominably as did the Canaanites before them, they would be spewed out as well, and in fact this very thing happened in 722BC and 587BC when the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were destroyed and the remnants were sent into exile in Assyria and Babylon. As God used the Israelites as human agents of judgment against the Canaanites, so also did He use the Assyrians and Babylonians against the Israelites. And He has continued to use humans agents to bring both blessing and judgment throughout history--He is a VERY consistent God.


Therefore, the question is not really a difficult one at all. The problem comes when people approach issues in Scripture with pre-set agendas, preconceptions, and ignorance. Having the full-meal-deal and contextualizing the message generally sorts out 99.999% of the problems.