Why so much honor-based violence in the Bible? Part 1

Honor-based violenceThe Bible is a great big book about violence.

One could rightly say that the Bible is at once 1) God’s revelation of the origin of violence among humans, 2) a series of stories and case histories on the kinds of violence common to humanity, and 3) God’s revelation through the Jesus Christ as the cure for violence on the stage of human history.

Of course, the Bible is more than a great big book about violence, but it is certainly not less than this.

In the Old Testament, there is an enormous amount of murder, raping, bloody revenge, the stoning of sinful people, decapitation of enemies and kings, the offering of infants in ritual sacrifice, whole cities being destroyed, entire peoples and armies either enslaved or annihilated … and so much more.

In the New Testament we read of the murder of infants, the decapitation of John the Baptist, the stoning of righteous people, the bloody torture and crucifixion of the holy Son of God, the martyrdom of saints.

Blood and honorLet‘s face it: The Bible is a big book with a lot of violence, much of it honor-based violence. But why?

In this series of posts, I am proposing:

  • The Bible reveals the origin of human violence—and that it is largely honor-based.
  • The Bible describes the kinds of violence in the Bible and in our world today—and that what they have in common is that they are both largely honor-based. This reflects the pathology of sin/shame permeating humanity—as well as the cultural value of honor/shame.
  • The Bible reveals that the cure for humanity’s violence is found in Jesus Christ, and we will see that this cure may also be considered honor-based.

And if there will be one point to grab hold of from these posts, it will be this:

The numerous stories of honor-based violence and bloodshed in the Old Testament—often considered obscure, repulsive, or irrelevant—are, to the contrary, profoundly relevant entry points for the gospel in today’s world.

Gory stories and glory stories

What else will this series of posts lead to? I will contend that we must rediscover the Old Testament’s stories of violence—what I am calling the “gory stories”.

I will propose that we must teach, preach, and evangelize by using the Bible’s gory stories—for they are historic, narrative on-ramps to God’s own gory and glory Story—culminating with the good news, the gospel of peace in Jesus Christ.

Christian leaders of all kinds need to re-acquaint themselves with the bloody, gory, “adult content” of the Bible—and be willing to teach it and preach it.

The Bible’s numerous, dramatic stories of violence are there for a reason. That reason is to connect—to resonate, to speak with Christ-centered hope to a world awash in violence. For the Word of God pierces “to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow” (Heb 4:12).

We must recover the truth that the entire Bible is useful for evangelism, not merely a set of a few verses or biblical presuppositions. The entire Bible, even the gory stories can be an essential, exciting part of making disciples of all nations—so that King Jesus is known and worshiped among all the peoples of the earth.

Could it be that the peoples of the earth are actually longing to hear this gospel which speaks with blood-earnest, street-level authenticity to our worlds of violence?

2 thoughts on “Why so much honor-based violence in the Bible? Part 1

  1. haakcj48 Reply

    Yes, Werner, much of violence done by men. But WHY should God use violence i.e. to order to kill whole tribes and all citizens of cities?

  2. Werner Mischke Reply

    Thank you for your question, Dr. Haak. Here are two websites I found which address this question:

    1) http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2010/04/drunk-with-blood-gods-killings-in-bible.html. This website has a chart listing all of the instances of the Bible where “God kills people”. It is a sobering list, indeed. It represents what is considered offensive about the God of the Bible. This is the perspective of many who reject Christianity.

    Interestingly, the writer never considers from whence came his own worldview of justice / fairness / compassion. He is also surely writing from a Western perspective in which individual rights trump group identity. He would not appreciate collective identity and collective “bloodguilt” resulting from humanity’s sin (see 2 Sam. 21:1). I think many in the Majority World, having a much greater appreciation for group identity, are not as offended as Westerners over God’s judgment collectively against humans.

    2) http://christianthinktank.com/qamorite.html. This website examines several major occurrences in the Bible in which the judgment of God results in death of large numbers of people. The writer examines whether the “violence” of God in judgment of large numbers of people is justified.

    I am sure there are other resources on this matter.

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