The Old Testament of the Bible is filled with instances in which the character of God directs his followers to commit genocide, ordering them to slaughter entire cities of men, women, children and babies for the offense of worshipping the wrong deity. Sometimes, especially if some people rub the wrong body parts, God takes care of the genocide himself.
There are a surprising number of Christians who defend the multiple godly genocides of the Old Testament as necessary and just ethnic cleansings. Those Christians who are eager to distance themselves from biblical genocide often try to draw a distinction between the New Testament and the Old Testament:
Jesus formed a new covenant with a new group of people who believed in his identity as the Messiah and that his death was an atonement for sin. So only the parts of the old covenant that are explicitly carried over to the new covenant still apply to our conduct as Christians.
There’s a problem for that line of argument: the New Testament explicitly legitimizes the genocide of the Old Testament, and suggests more genocide to come.
Peter Simpson writes in to Irregular Times with a note on this matter:
St Paul gave favourable support to the idea that the genocides in the old testament were directed by God, in 1 Cor 10 9-11:
“9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”
I wonder what Christians make of that?
Let’s not forget the lead up in Paul’s New Testament letter, 1 Corinthians 10 5-8:
5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
It’s not just Paul who holds the threat of a return to Old Testament genocide over people’s heads. Jesus does the same in Matthew 10 14-15 when he declares “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
The moral problem of righteous genocide can’t be sequestered off to a small tidy corner of Christianity because it runs through the Christian Bible from Alpha to Omega, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. If your morality flows from your Christianity, then the call to genocide is clear and consistent and you’ll have to decide, as countless Christian warriors before you, whether to follow the call. If your moral sense of outrage at genocide is prior to your Christianity, maybe it’s time to wonder whether the “Good Book” is really worthy of your reverence.