Does The God Of The Bible Command To Kill Innocent People? & Does It Justify Qur’anic Violence?
The question came up again during my recent appearance on Patrick Bet-David’s podcast: if God commands killing of entire people, including babies, in the Bible (I Samuel 15:3), how can Christians condemn Allah’s commands to kill unbelievers in the Qur’an (2:191, 4:89, 9:5, 47:4)? Islamic apologists contend that to be consistent, Christians who say that the Qur’an commands evil acts must either acknowledge that God commands the same evil acts in the Bible, and thus cut the ground out from under themselves, or condemn the evil acts, and thereby condemn the word of God and God Himself by saying that He commanded evil. This is, however, a false dilemma.
There has been a great deal of fury and frenzy about this since the Bet-David show. Such shows are not a good setting to explain issues of this complexity, while one is being shouted down and the host is trying to keep things moving. Thus a fuller explanation is in order.
The key to the answer here is that the Islamic apologists who see this as a problem are reading the Bible the way Muslims read the Qur’an: they’re taking everything asserted in it as positive commands that apply to believers today, without regard for the historical context, literary form, and more. This is ironic, since Muslims frequently accuse non-Muslims of taking Qur’an passages out of context, although the Qur’an is actually remarkably devoid of context and is often entirely unclear without the aid of the Hadith.
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But the heart of the matter is: if the God of the Bible at any point and under any circumstances commands people to be killed, can a Christian say that killing people in the name of God is wrong without condemning God Himself of wrongdoing? Although it may appear to be paradoxical and can get lost in the middle of a heated give-and-take, the answer is actually yes.
The commands to kill in the Bible, unlike those in the Qur’an, are directed at specific groups in particular times and circumstances. A call to kill Amalekites, who don’t exist in today’s world, is quite different from a call to kill non-Muslims, who do. These passages are, in contrast to the Qur’an passages, not open-ended commands that any Jew or Christian should regard as marching orders for believers today. What’s more, because Christianity believes that the Old Testament law is fulfilled in Christ, there is no more question of the continuing applicability of passages calling for killing anyone, any more than there is continued applicability of the Mosaic food laws after the declaration that no foods are unclean (Acts 10:10-16).
The same false dilemma can be constructed, in fact, around the food laws: God commanded His people not to eat certain foods. Did He change His mind? Is He inconsistent? When Christians say that all foods are clean, are they saying He was wrong when He said some were unclean? No. The food laws were given for a particular time and circumstance, and are then fulfilled, with the rest of the law, in Christ. Acts 15 depicts the apostles discussing and deciding, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what parts of the Mosaic law were binding upon Gentile Christians.
The Christian view is that Christ came to reconcile humanity with God, as all human beings were subject to His justice because of their sins, from which no one is free. The Mosaic law delineates what one must do in order to be acceptable in the eyes of God; it is, in other words, a revelation of the divine justice. It is impossible for any human being to keep perfectly at all times, and that’s the idea: it brings home to any individual who tries to keep it that he cannot of himself attain the righteousness of God, and thus faces the divine judgment. Then mercy comes in the person of Christ, who takes on the sin of mankind and by His resurrection, conquers death and opens the way to heaven for human beings. But the mercy of God, and mankind’s need for it, would not be comprehensible were it not clear how much human beings had fallen short, that is, without an understanding of what justice actually is.
But what place does ordering the killing of Amalekites have in all this? God is showing that sin leads to death, as Paul says, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He ordered the Israelites to be the executors of His judgment, but only in that time and place. That does not establish a general moral principle that one may kill those perceived to be “enemies of Allah,” for only those whom God has established as executors of His judgment have that right.
The Qur’an claims that Allah appointed Muslims to be executors of His wrath (9:14-15). That claim stands or falls on whether or not Islam is true, which is established or disproven on other grounds. But the claim itself can and does lead to indiscriminate violence; it is part of the reason why there have been over 40,000 jihad attacks worldwide since 9/11. On the other side, Jews and Christians do not believe any group is authorized in an ongoing manner to execute God’s wrath, and wrestle with the reason why God would command such a thing under any circumstances. Some suggest the relevant passages are analogical, meant to say that the believer should strive to eradicate sin entirely; here is one site where several explanations, including that one, are posited and explored.
This is not a new phenomenon. The fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions explains this passage analogically, saying that its lesson is about the necessity for sternness in administration: “Failure to dispense punishment, which is a sacred charge of the magisterial office, has a contaminating effect on those governed.”
The difference lies in the different understandings of divine revelation. In the Qur’anic schema, the Qur’an is the perfect book, valid for all time and in all circumstances. In the Bible, by contrast, contains the record of the people of God coming to an ever-fuller understanding of the nature of God and the world He created; not every aspect of that understanding is equally valid for all time.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in terms that are shared not just among Roman Catholics, but among Christians of other traditions as well:
The Old Law is the first stage of revealed Law. Its moral prescriptions are summed up in the Ten Commandments. The precepts of the Decalogue lay the foundations for the vocation of man fashioned in the image of God; they prohibit what is contrary to the love of God and neighbor and prescribe what is essential to it….According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good, yet still imperfect. Like a tutor it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a “law of concupiscence” in the human heart. However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching which endures for ever, like the Word of God. The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel.…It prophesies and presages the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, “types,” and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit. Finally, the Law is completed by the teaching of the sapiential books and the prophets which set its course toward the New Covenant and the Kingdom of heaven. (1962-1964)
Many people have been equating this idea with modern-day secular liberalism that substitutes today’s societal and cultural fashions for the eternal teachings of revealed scripture. That is a false equation. Contemporary leftist Jews and Christians simply ignore the content of divine revelation and put their whims and proclivities in its place. That is quite different from God Himself leading His people, through new revelations, to a deeper understanding.
Thus the answer to the Islamic apologists’ false dilemma is this: Yes, God commanded the killings in the Old Testament, and no, such killings cannot be considered morally right now, because God is not commanding anyone to carry out such killings today. Did God command evil? No, and no Jews or Christians would say that He did. Nor would they assert that such passages constitute universal commandments. For the believers, God carries out the judgment of every human being one way or another. But it would be evil today for some human being to arrogate to himself the right to administer God’s punishment on a perceived wrongdoer. The difference is the Bible does not authorize believers in general to be the executors of His judgment, and the people of God know, through divine revelation, that for them to claim the authorization to administer God’s judgment is not acceptable.
Article posted with permission from Robert Spencer