Paul Copan reviews Eric Seibert’s The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy:
“In OT prophetic fashion, Jesus regularly issues denouncements and threats of judgment. He routinely pronounces temporal judgment on Jerusalem, which would come at the hands of Rome in AD 70. He also assumes Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon had been divinely judged, which serves a springboard for condemning Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum in Matthew 11:21-24 (cf. Matt. 10:15). Notice these warnings of judgment immediately precede Jesus’ self-description as gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:28-30)! Jesus likewise takes for granted divine judgment in Noah’s day (Matt. 24:37-39). And in a symbolic act, an enraged Jesus makes a whip to drive out moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Does this act not have a touch of the kind of “violence” Seibert condemns? What of Jesus’ indictment of stumbling blocks who should have a millstone tied around their necks and be drowned (Matt. 18:6)? Christ also threatens the “wretched” vinegrowers (Israel’s leaders) with judgment (Matt. 21:41; Mark 12:9)—just as he does the Nicolaitans and “Jezebel” in Revelation (Rev. 2:16, 21-23). Unlike Seibert, Jesus clearly believes in the appropriateness of temporal divine punishment.
…[W]hat about the rest of the NT? Paul references severe temporal punishments on Israel as an example to us (1 Cor. 10)—some Israelites laid low, others destroyed by serpents, others by “the destroyer.” He acknowledges the judgment of sickness and even death because of the abuse of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:30). Stephen matter-of-factly mentions nations dispossessed by Joshua (Acts 7:11). Paul says Israel “overthrew” the seven nations of Canaan (Acts 13:19). The author of Hebrews speaks of the faith of those who “conquered kingdoms,” “became mighty in war,” and “put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11:33-34). He also commends Noah and Abraham for their faith (Heb. 11:7, 17)—the very settings of “virtuous violence” Seibert rejects. And what about the temporal judgments—and final judgment—on unbelievers mentioned throughout Revelation? Jesus and the NT writers don’t actually read the OT the way Seibert thinks they should. Contrary to the advice Seibert gives about reading carefully and critically, he himself glosses over clear pronouncements (or descriptions) of divine judgment by both Jesus and the NT authors. Seibert’s approach includes downplaying or even denying the historicity of numerous OT events as well as clear statements by Jesus because of their connection to divine wrath. He claims only a “few cases” are historical events essential to our faith (Disturbing Divine Behavior, 120).
However, imposing this non-violent grid on the words and actions of God/Jesus requires significant hermeneutical gymnastics—an approach that creates an interpretive straitjacket for Seibert. Unlike various other Christian pacifists, Seibert’s absolute pacifism requires him to dismiss or ignore Jesus’ own authoritative statements, vast tracts of Scripture pertaining to divine judgment (e.g., the prophetic books, Revelation), and sections of Scripture where force—even of a lethal nature—is warranted. These include God’s ordaining the minister of the state to bear the “sword” (Rom. 13:4) or Paul’s benefiting from military force when his life is under threat (Acts 23; cf. Luke 3:14). What about Peter who strikes down Ananias and Sapphira, who have lied to God (Acts 5)? What of Paul who blinds Elymas (Acts 13)? Seibert calls us to read the Scriptures discerningly, but his own hermeneutic promotes undiscerning selectivity that ignores the very stance of the NT and Jesus himself.
“Behold, the kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). Seibert emphasizes God’s kindness but, in Marcion-like fashion, denies God’s severity—essentially expunging many “divine judgment and wrath” texts from his “non-violent canon.” Even the chief OT text describing God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6) is immediately followed by these words: “But he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod. 34:7; cf. Exod. 20:6). Moreover, the prophet Habakkuk pleads with God in light of pending judgment on Judah: “in wrath, remember mercy” (3:2). Seibert is right to remember divine mercy, but wrong to fail to acknowledge divine wrath. Despite his attempts to correct the church’s thinking about violence in Scripture, Seibert himself often does violence to Scripture in the process.”
Read the whole thing here.