Christian writers of a certain stripe seem to be queueing up to say pretty much the same thing: the Old Testament contains texts that have repeatedly been used to legitimate violence in the form of colonialism, abuse of women, and genocide. We should not ignore these texts, nor yet try to justify them. We should see, rather, how they have been thoroughly subverted by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
One such writer is Eric Seibert, in The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy.
I think that Paul Copan’s comments on this book are helpful. Here’s some of what Copan has to say:-
1. Seibert is right to challenge us to take these texts seriously. Scholars such as Christopher Wright, Gordon Wenham, David Lamb, and John Goldingay have done just that, although reaching rather different conclusions to those of Seibert. Moreover, we should, with Seibert, question the abuse of Scripture by professing Christians. But, then again, ‘despite “Christian” distortions of Scripture across the centuries, let’s not forget about the numerous moral gains brought about by, yes, Bible-reading Christians in Western civilization—democracy, human rights, women’s rights, civil rights, abolition, and much more.’
2. Seibert is critical of the church’s ‘grand claim’ that Scripture is ‘the word of God.’ Trouble is, if we are to accept the ‘Jesus hermeneutic’, as Seibert urges, then we will have to agree that Jesus made pretty much the same ‘grand claim’ himself (see, for example, Matthew 5:18; John 10:35).
3. Seibert’s appeal to Christ’s authority is selective. As Copan says:-
4. What about the rest of the New Testament?:-
The truth is, that Jesus and the apostles simply do not read the Old Testament the was Seibert thinks they should. It is only by ignoring, glossing over, or even denying the authenticity of certain sayings or the historicity of certain events that he can even begin to mount his case. The ‘Jesus hermeneutic’, in Seibert’s hands, becomes a hermeneutical straightjacket. It becomes, not a lens through which we read Scripture, but rather a sieve through which we force Scripture to pass, allowing some texts through and blocking others. As it was in the days of Marcion (around AD155), so it is today: the price to be paid for side-stepping the violence of Scripture is violence to Scripture.