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Thomas wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • How does a Catholic respond to the charge that God is guilty of directly murdering people or commanding persons to murder whole groups of people?

For example:

2 Thus saith the Lord of hosts: I have reckoned up all that Amalec hath done to Israel: how he opposed them in the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now therefore go, and smite Amalec, and utterly destroy all that he hath: spare him not, nor covet any thing that is his: but slay both man and woman, child and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

1 Samuel 15: 2-3

7 And Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

1 Samuel 15:7-9

Joshua's Vision

5 13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" 14 And he said, "No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, "What does my lord bid his servant?" 15 And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.

Jericho Taken and Destroyed

6 1 Now Jericho was shut up from within and from without because of the people of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. 3 You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. 4 And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him." 6 So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD." 7 And he said to the people, "Go forward; march around the city, and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the LORD." 8 And as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the LORD went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD following them. 9 And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. 10 But Joshua commanded the people, "You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then you shall shout." 11 So he caused the ark of the LORD to compass the city, going about it once; and they came into the camp, and spent the night in the camp. 12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD passed on, blowing the trumpets continually; and the armed men went before them, and the rear guard came after the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days. 15 On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times: it was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction, and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD." 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21 Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.

Joshua 5:13 — 6:21

Paraphrasing their point: And the Lord tells Joshua to circle Jericho and its wall will collapse so he can attack. Joshua does what he is told, the wall falls and he kills pretty much everyone in the city.


Atheists say quite a lot that in The Old Testament God is cruel, vicious and merciless.

  • How does a Catholic respond?


  { How does a Catholic respond to atheists who attack God based on His Old Testament cruelty? }

John replied:

Hi Thomas,

This one is complex. In the mean time see what Catholic Answers might have on it .

A lot of it has to do with understanding that Scripture records "Salvation History." Within Salvation History we also see some actual history, but it's not always recorded as we would record history today.

So the historical "narratives" are viewed in the light of spiritual truths.

Yes, in the narrative, God tells Israel to wipe out entire cities including the women and children right down to the livestock.

  • Now is that literally what happened?

I don't know. Inspiration is not the same thing as dictation. The Holy Spirit inspired human authors:

  • to write the Scriptures and
  • to convey a Divine truth.

After Israel was taken out of Egypt, they still repeatedly committed the same sins of the Egyptians. The villages and cities that they were about to possess were known for particular sins. Some would argue that God had to wipe these people out because they wouldn't repent and He didn't want them to become like the Egyptians. One thing for certain, is that the spiritual meaning was, Look I brought you out of Egypt and delivered you from both the slavery under the Pharaoh and the slavery of Pharaoh's sins so now that I've brought you in to the promised land you must exterminate these sins.

Now some would argue that the whole thing is a literary construct strictly meant to convey the Divine Revelation. Others, who want to politicize the Bible, would say the Israelites did this on their own and then told themselves, God told us to do it. Personally I think that's a load crap. Others still would say that these events happened and authors of Scripture used these events to illustrate spiritual Truths.

Somewhere in there is the answer. God takes no pleasure in seeing human suffering. He takes no pleasure in seeing anyone choose Hell over Heaven but God does pour out judgment and he uses people and nature to do it. Later we see God using the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires to punish Israel.

So unlike some who take the Historical Critical Method to the nth degree, I'm not willing to completely write off the historicity of these events but if we focus on the literal too much,
we miss the meaning of the text.

The point of the Old Testament is "The wages of sin is death." and you need redemption and salvation. Atheists aren't going to get that, because they don't look at the text with the eyes of faith. They don't understand that while the Bible has many human authors, it's one book with one Divine Author.

  • You can't fully understand the Old Testament without understanding the New Testament.
  • You can't interpret the Gospels, without understanding Paul and the epistles written by other authors.
  • Likewise you can't understand the epistles, without the Gospels.
  • You can't understand Romans if you can't understand James and vice-a-versa.
  • You can't understand the last chapter of Revelation, until you really understand the Covenant and indeed the Incarnational overtones of Genesis Chapter 1.
  • And you can't understand Genesis 1 unless you understand the first chapter of John.

It's a package deal.

So yes, absolutely we need to use the historical critical method to look at these passages, but we also absolutely must use the canonical method. Allow the Canon, in it's entirety, to speak and of course we need the Mind of Christ and the Tradition of the Church.

I'm actually going to include Perry on this because I think he may bring us some insights.

In the Love of Our Lord


A good friend of Mike and John's, Perry Turchi replied:

Hi, Thomas —

Since there is plenty of material written lately on this matter, I thought I'd simply link a few of them below and supply the following [PDF] article. It is an extensive article by biblical scholar, Terrence Fretheim. This is my preferred of the three.

The next link is from philosopher William Lane Craig:

And the following is a singular example of a book that addresses the question from
John J. Collins:

All three authors are Protestant, but nonetheless, I think they treat the question fairly and directly.


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