Violence in the Bible

Every writer, book-lover, movie-goer, and parent has opinions on what constitutes an appropriate amount of violence and how it’s presented in books and movies. I’m no exception.

The Bible has lots of violence because it’s full of wars. The writing style, however, is not particularly graphic. How can that be? One of my sons-in-law pointed out that the Bible’s violent scenes are succinct and matter of fact.

The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword...
The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…

Excerpt 1: David and Goliath

Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. (1 Samuel 17:4, 48-51 NASB)

Excerpt 2: Jael and Sisera

Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’” But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. (Judges 4:17-22 NASB)

The Takeaway

Violence in the Bible is written like a news report. Short and to the point. We get the who, what, when, where, and how, And the why. I appreciate the spare style of the excerpts. They give us enough to appreciate the drama without all the gory detail.

Despite its spare style, the Bible is the epitome of realism. It was written after all to tell us about reality – the truth about God, ourselves, and community; creation, meaning, and mystery; righteousness and sin; love and hate; life and death and wonder. God wants us to read the Bible to our children, and he wants us to teach our children to read it for themselves.

Generations of families have read the Bible aloud together. Children always miss things the first time the Bible is read to them and absorb more the next time. The same is true for adults. The point is that the spare descriptions of violence undoubtedly make the Bible easier for children to process.

Lastly, I appreciate the Bible’s spare style because it enlists our imaginations.

As writers, we can use the Bible’s example when our stories demand violence.

When a Book Becomes a Movie
Violence in a movie has to look real or we won’t buy into it. My point is the violence can be acted out. That is, an actor who plays a violent character can fake the pushing, hitting, biting, and so on. But it’s different with other bad things: an actor who plays a foul-mouthed thug can’t pretend to swear.

How much influence does the Bible have on your writing style?

For another blogger’s viewpoint on violence, click here.

To read my post on Sex in the Bible, click here.

To read my post on Swearing, click here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Posted on June 9, 2015

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