Christians cannot ignore the intersection of religion and violence, whether contemporary or ancient. In our own Scriptures, war texts that appear to approve of genocidal killings and war rape—forcibly taking female captives for wives—raise hard questions about biblical ethics and the character of God. Have we missed something in our traditional readings?

In Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? William Webb and Gordon Oeste address the ethics of reading biblical war texts today. Theirs is a biblical-theological reading with an eye to hermeneutical, ethical, canonical, and ancient cultural contexts. Identifying a spectrum of views on war texts ranging from "no ethical problems" to "utterly repulsive," the authors pursue a middle path using a hermeneutic of incremental, redemptive-movement ethics.

Instead of trying to force traditional Christian answers to fit contemporary questions, they argue, we must properly connect the traditional answers with the biblical storyline questions that were on the minds of Scripture's original readers. And there are indeed better answers to the ethical problems in the war texts. Woven throughout the Old Testament, a collection of antiwar and subversive war texts suggest that Yahweh's involvement in Israel's warfare required some degree of accommodation to people living in a fallen world. Yet, God's redemptive influence even within the ugliness of ancient warfare shouts loudly about a future hope—a final battle fought with complete and untainted justice by Christ.

"The events of 9/11 brought Christians a new level of concern, even anxiety, about the pervasive divine violence found in the Bible. How can a God of love be involved with and, even worse, bring harm against his human creatures? Webb and Oeste have thought long and hard with great biblical insight about this question. Everyone who struggles with the ethics of divine warfare needs to read Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? in order to gain a biblical perspective on this difficult subject."

Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, author of Confronting Old Testament Controversies

"William Webb and Gordon Oeste have written a courageous book dealing with some of the most challenging ethical questions about war, rape, and violence in the Old Testament. They approach it with ethical sensitivity and a high regard for biblical authority, explaining ancient war practices, and advocating what I regard as a convincing thesis about an incremental redemptive ethic. A landmark publication on a perplexing subject!"

Michael F. Bird, lecturer in theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

"Webb and Oeste have undertaken a daunting task. They have tackled a host of moral and theological questions related to the challenging, emotionally charged topic of Old Testament warfare. They have digested a large and ever-growing literature on the subject as they articulate their redemptive-movement approach. Their book not only offers a comprehensive assessment of the issues. It also adds important layers to the discussion—for example, the contrast between Israel's more humane, far-less cruel warfare practices compared to the rape and dehumanizing atrocities of other ancient Near Eastern nations. And in contrast to the work of some recent 'functional Marcionite' scholars, Webb and Oeste's judicious, nuanced, and insightful treatment of this subject recognizes the inescapable reality of divinely commanded warfare. They are to be congratulated on significantly advancing the discussion."

Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University, author of Is God a Moral Monster?

"The authors provide an important survey of the theological implications of this, the most difficult of biblical and theological issues in our world, and move the question beyond what books such as this often do. Read this work for a better understanding of the different views. Read it even more to benefit from the fruitful connections between the God of reluctant violence in the Old Testament and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the New Testament."

Richard S. Hess, distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

"Reading the Bible well involves asking questions of the text. In probing some of the ethically troubling passages of the Old Testament, Oeste and Webb show that we not only need good questions, we must also learn to ask the right questions. Doing this helps us to place the text more carefully in its own time, while also helping us to understand more clearly how it speaks to ours. Anyone who has struggled with the issue of violence in the Bible will therefore find this volume to be a helpful and constructive guide that shows how to ask the right questions and so understand the Bible better."

David G. Firth, Old Testament tutor, Trinity College Bristol

"First you have to face and admit there's a moral problem in the Bible about God's relationship to war and violence. Then you have to believe in the Bible enough to think the Bible ought somehow to provide light at the end of this moral problem's tunnel. But how does one resolve some of those violence texts? This problem is for me a career-long vexation, and among the many studies that have brought me at least some relief, this new book by William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste is one of the finest because it cares about the Bible and method and results. Webb is well-known for his redemptive movement hermeneutic, and he applies it in this book with finesse and sensitivity and provides, at least for me, more relief than I've felt in a long time."

Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary


Preface: Story Behind the Book
Introduction: Rethinking Holy War Texts

Part I: Hard Questions: Genocide and War Rape
1. Slaughtering Children? Grabbing Virgins?

Part II: Traditional Answers: Good Answers for Big-Picture, Storyline Questions
2. Where Traditional Answers Do Not Work
3. Where Traditional Answers Do Work

Part III: Better Answers: Better for Questions About Genocide and War Rape
4. Reading the Bible Redemptively
5. War Rape, Part I: The Ugly Side
6. War Rape, Part II: The Redemptive Side
7. War Rape Meets Genocide
8. Total-Kill Hyperbole, Part I: ANE Warfare
9. Total-Kill Hyperbole, Part II: Joshua and Judges
10. Arguments against Hyperbole
11. 1 Samuel 15: Hyperbole Thesis Undone?
12. Drive Out: An Equivalent Alternative
13. Ancient War Atrocities
14. Yahweh as Reluctant War God: The Subversive War Texts
15. Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension: The Battle is Already Won
16. Jesus as Apocalyptic Warrior: One Word Will Fell Them
Conclusion: The Unfinished Justice Story

List of Online Appendixes
Author Index
Scripture Index


Gordon K. Oeste is adjunct professor of Old Testament at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and teaching pastor at Cedar Creek Community Church, Cambridge, Ontario. He is the author of Legitimacy, Illegitimacy, and the Right to Rule.

Recommendations For You

Purchased With