We are working our way through some of the views about how God could command the Israelites to kill and annihilate various people groups as they entered Canaan.
The bottom of this post contains links to some of the other views we have looked at so far. After I get through summarizing the views, I will present my own view, which (so far) I have not read anywhere else.
The view in this post is quite similar to the view which believes the Bible is wrong. Christians who hold this view simply cannot believe that the God revealed in Jesus Christ would do the things that Yahweh is said to be doing in the Old Testament. Those descriptions of God are clearly wrong.
But whereas the people who hold the previous view state that the Bible is in error, there are other Christians who argue that these passages are not in error, they just should not be interpreted literally. Instead, they must be understood allegorically. The tough texts of the Hebrew Scriptures which have God commanding Israel to go kill men, women, children, and animals are taken out of their historical context, and are given spiritual meaning which fits with what we find in the New Testament.
Allegorical Interpretation was Popular in the Early Church
This view was the dominant view of the Early Church Fathers, and is how most of them taught and understood these Old Testament texts.
They believed that since the portrayals of God in the Old Testament do not accurately reflect the values and example of Jesus, then there must be a way of properly understanding the Old Testament when does reflect the values and example of Jesus. And to get at this, they allegorized most of the violent portrayals of God in Scripture. That is, they explained them away by spiritualizing them.
When early church leaders read about God waging eternal war against the Amalekites, they interpreted this to mean that God was waging eternal war against evil, that God was fighting against sin, death, and the devil.
By spiritualizing the text, they were able to remove it from its historical context and pull spiritual meaning from it that applied to their congregations and which fit the message of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament (cf. Eph 6:10-20).
Allegorical Interpretation Still Practiced Today
Though few people today practice true allegorical interpretation of Scripture, it is nevertheless quite common for modern pastors and Bible Study leaders to spiritualize difficult Old Testament texts so that they can be applied to the lives of modern people.
One of the challenges of preaching is how to teach these difficult Old Testament passages in a way that is meaningful and helpful for modern Christians. One direction that many pastors go is by transporting the historical reality of God’s war against the Canaanites to the spiritual reality today of our war against spiritual forces of wickedness.
Such a move is not necessarily wrong; it just does not properly face the difficult challenges of understanding how and why God commanded Israel to wage war against the Canaanites and Amalekites in the first place.
Though allegorically spiritualizing the text may be a popular way of teaching and applying the ancient text for modern minds, it does not do justice to the ancient texts or the problems they contain.
Other Posts on the Violence of God in Scripture
- Introduction: God is Guilty
- Common Solutions to the Problem of Violence in the Old Testament
- God, Violence, and Atheism
- Allegorical Genocide
- Is God Bipolar?
- God-Inspired Error
- The Kingdom of God vs. The Kingdom of God
- Divine Accommodation to Violence
- Bible Violence is Exaggerated
- Sometimes Death is Merciful
- Descriptions of a Violent God are Inspired and Inerrant
- Jesus Rules
- Read the Bible Backwards
- Jesus Reveals Israel
- Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?
- Destroy the Devil's Work
- Cruciform God
- The Love and Horror of the Cross
- Jesus Became Sin for Us
- God Pleads Guilty
- God the Sin Bearer
- God is NOT Violent
- Is God Lying about Violence in the Old Testament?
- Let the Condemned God Die
- Violence of God and the Love of Jesus
- Chaos Theory and Violent Scriptures
- God's Policy of Non-Intervention
- God is Not Absent
- Why Nature is Destructive
- Storms are Not From God
- Incarnation of God in the Old Testament
- God Appears Guilty; Just Like Jesus
- Incarnation of God in the Violence of Israel
- Satan seeks only to Destroy
- God Sometimes Withdraws Protection
- Bloody Jesus
- Is the Flood a Beautiful Story about Rainbows?
- Translations of Genesis 6:13
- Context of Genesis 6-8 and the flood
- The Flood and ANE Cosmology
- How Genesis 8:21 reveals God's Purpose in the Flood
- The Flood According to Job 22:15-18
- The Flood According to Isaiah 54:7-9
- The Flood According to Jesus (Matthew 24)
- The Flood According to 2 Peter 2:5-7
- More Coming Soon! Subscribe to the Blog to Keep Updated!
- The Violence of God and Evil
- Did Jesus Condemn People? No!
- John Piper on the Violence of God
- Is God Lying About His Involvement in Violence?