Cut Violent Passages Out of the Scriptures?
Rarely does the magazine Nature write articles about the Bible. Heidi Ledford’s article titled “Scriptural Violence Can Foster Aggression” is an exception. In the article, Ledford cites studies that suggest that the violent passages in the Bible could lead readers to act more aggressively if the readers believe that God sanctioned the violence exhibited in the passages. Ledford quotes from various theologians, sociologists, and psychologists in an attempt to confirm the idea that “when scriptural violence is used to promote hostility, it is extremely effective” (2007, 446:115).
In the concluding paragraphs of the article, Ledford quotes from Hector Avalos, a theologian from Iowa State University in Ames. Avalos’ solution to the problem is simple—“cut the violent passages out of the scripture” (Ledford, 446:115). Avalos admits that such is a wildly controversial suggestion, but he says it ought not to be. Practically speaking, religious leaders generally avoid reading the passages that contain violence such as genocide anyway. So, according to Avalos, these passages should simply be removed from the text.
Several points need to be made concerning Ledford’s article. First, Nature is infamous for its support of Darwinian evolution. According to evolution, the sole purpose of an organism is to pass on its genes to the next generation. Who cares if it does this in a violent or passive way? Even the most cursory look into the natural verifies the fact that many animals are extremely violent. Furthermore, since humans are nothing more than higher forms of animals, and their purpose is to pass on their genes as well, why would aggression or violence be a negative characteristic? Why not glorify the violence as an adaptive trait that helps the fittest humans survive?
Second, even though some leaders might attempt to use the Bible to support modern-day violent acts of genocide or murder, such would be a heinous misinterpretation of the biblical message. This type of loose and improper handling of the Scripture fails to acknowledge that the crucial message of the Bible which is applicable today is summed up in such passages as Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Any person can misinterpret any literary text and misapply their self-imposed message.
Finally, attempts to destroy the Word of God by removing those parts that contradict a person’s chosen worldview have been legion throughout human history. During the life of Jeremiah the prophet, Jehoiakim reigned as king in Judah. Due to Jehoiakim’s sinful activities, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to produce a scroll containing the judgment that would come upon Judah and her wicked king. One of the king’s servants read the scroll and its divine judgments in the presence of Jehoiakim. Upon hearing the message, the evil king took a scribe’s knife, slashed the scroll to pieces, and tossed it into the fire burning in the hearth (Jeremiah 36:11-26). In a literal or figurative sense, humans have consistently attempted to do away with parts of God’s Word that they reject.
Instead of attempting to destroy the parts of God’s Word, we should be trying our best to rightly divide the Word of truth, since God’s Word will judge all people on the Day of Judgment (John 12:48). We should take heed to the inspired principle spoken by John pertaining to the book of Revelation:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19, emp. added).
Ledford, Heidi (2007), “Scriptural Violence Can Foster Aggression,” Nature,446:114-115, March 8.