God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament

God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament

Author : Helen Paynter
£9.99

Gain confidence in the Bible and the God it portrays

Do you find the violence in the Old Testament a problem?

Does it get in the way of reading the Bible – and of faith itself?

While acknowledging that there are no easy answers, in God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today?, Helen Paynter faces the tough questions head-on and offers a fresh, accessible approach to a significant issue. For all those seeking to engage with the Bible and gain confidence in the God it portrays, she provides tools for reading and interpreting biblical texts, and points to ways of dealing with the overall trajectories of violence.


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Title God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament
Author Helen Paynter
Description

Do you find the violence in the Old Testament a problem?

Does it get in the way of reading the Bible – and of faith itself?

While acknowledging that there are no easy answers, in God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today?, Helen Paynter faces the tough questions head-on and offers a fresh, accessible approach to a significant issue. For all those seeking to engage with the Bible and gain confidence in the God it portrays, she provides tools for reading and interpreting biblical texts, and points to ways of dealing with the overall trajectories of violence.

Details
  • Product code: 9780857466396
  • Published: 24 May 2019
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 176
  • Dimensions: 130mm wide and 198mm high

Do you find the violence in the Old Testament a problem?

Does it get in the way of reading the Bible – and of faith itself?

While acknowledging that there are no easy answers, in God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today?, Helen Paynter faces the tough questions head-on and offers a fresh, accessible approach to a significant issue. For all those seeking to engage with the Bible and gain confidence in the God it portrays, she provides tools for reading and interpreting biblical texts, and points to ways of dealing with the overall trajectories of violence.

Following a first career in medicine, Helen Paynter is now a Baptist minister, Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College, and Editor of BRF’s Guidelines Bible reading notes. Helen is passionate about helping people to get to grips with the Bible because she has seen its power to transform lives. She loves to study it, preach it, teach it, and encourage others to study and understand it.

 

In God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Honestly wrestling with the Old Testament, Helen Paynter tackles problematic texts of violence in the Old Testament. The questions Paynter asks are pressing ones today, and she sketches out the complex issues clearly but without undue oversimplification. Outlining valuable principles of interpretation and applying them in worked examples, the author’s candor and pastoral attentiveness invite readers into the conversation. The volume models Christian engagement with the biblical text and shows the value of honest wrestling within the text’s own vision of shalom. Providing tools to think not only about specific texts of violence, but the biblical text more broadly, it is a welcome and compact initial resource for Christian laypeople troubled by biblical texts of violence.

The Rev'd Dr. Lissa M. Wray Beal, Professor of Old Testament, Chair, Seminary Bible and Theology Department, Providence University College and Theological Seminary

 

In lucid prose Helen Paynter argues that violence featured in the biblical canon should not be ignored or denied but acknowledged and faced honestly. While history is played out in a broken and often violent world the author shows how the movement of scripture is toward God’s creative intention for healing and wholeness. Without providing final answers Paynter offers ways of interpreting even the most violent passages so that we may hear God’s word for today.

John Meredith Editor of Word & Worship, the publication of the NZ Lay Preachers Association

Review by David Mitchell, Pastor, Woodlands Church, Bristol. May 2019

Helen has written a book on one of the most difficult questions Christians face. In it she has managed to be both accessible, compassionate and scholarly as she navigates the tension between a high view of scripture and yet its depiction of God’s apparent actions and decrees in ways which offend our most basic instincts of what is good and loving.

She begins with a really helpful guide to reading the bible well whatever (and wherever) the biblical text is addressing, which I would commend to any serious reader of the bible, especially those coming to it fresh.  She goes on to deal specifically with the issues of violence, not just to people; animals are included. She gives really helpful cultural context to hard passages without ducking some of the difficulties and ambiguities that remain even for her.

She invites us foundationally to see Jesus as God’s last word on the issue of violence and to read the Old Testament not just as a foundation for the revelation of Jesus but as sacred texts which He provides the ultimate guide to understanding.

 

Review by Andy Goodliff, May 2019

Helen Paynter is a Baptist minister and Old Testament scholar based at Bristol Baptist College. This is her second book. Her first, a version of her PhD, was Reduced Laughter, looking at how to read the books of 1 & 2 Kings. This second book, written for a broad audience, engages with the thorn of subjects violence in the Old Testament. It arrives at the same time as the work of the Centre for the Study of the Bible and Violence (CSBV) begins, of which Paynter is the Director. The book comes in two parts. The first establishes some 'foundations' — reading the Bible as God's word, how to read the Bible well and what is meant or encompassed by the word 'violence.' The chapter in reading the Bible well is especially helpful in offering some important lessons. The second half of the book seeks through 5 chapters to engage with the most serious of questions around the Old Testament and violence. 

These 5 chapters make a series of important points. When violence is described, it is not always (often?) being endorsed. An example is given in the story of Samson. Paynter provides a different way of reading the book of Judges that pays attention to how the book is narrated. When violence is implored, as is the case of a good number of Psalms, there is a cry for justice and handing over of that desire for vengeance to God. Violence against animals is not as wanton as might be supposed. Paynter offers some helpful readings of the story of the flood in Genesis 6-9 and the place of sacrifices within Israel's worship. The fourth and fifth chapters explore violence as divine judgement and violence as commanded (e.g. the herem passages in Joshua). These questions are more difficult to address, and Paynter acknowledges, that this is not her last word on them, but almost a first foray into these questions, in conversation with wider scholarship. She takes us carefully through the importance of justice, the meaning of the law of talion (eye for an eye), a reading of the death of Uzzah (2 Sam 6) and in the latter chapter the meaning of the word herem

A final chapter suggests that God's great plan in the Old Testament is shalom (peace) and we read it with trajectory in mind. 

This is an excellent book, which wears its scholarship lightly. Paynter has a great way of explaining and the book is an easy read, although exploring difficult questions. The book seeks as its subtitle suggests to 'wrestle honestly' with the violence found in the Old Testament. It doesn't have, and doesn't promise, a magic solution, but does show that a surface level reading will miss or overlook at more subtle ways the Bible describes and responds to violence. I look forward to future explorations that I'm sure will be forthcoming from Paynter and the CSBV that will continue to reach a broad audience.

Review by Andy Goodliff. Click here for blog.

 

Review by Peter King, Diocese of Chichester

Over the past few years I have become increasingly troubled by the violence in the Bible. Although this is a subject we don’t often talk about in our churches, I know from a number of informal conversations that many churchgoers (and others) have questions they would like to explore on these issues.

Published to coincide with June’s inaugural events of Bristol College’s Centre for the Study of Bible & Violence, Helen Paynter’s new book offers a rigorous yet accessible exploration of Old Testament violence ideal for individuals or groups wishing to engage with these troubling texts and the issues they raise.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part offers valuable groundwork on the nature of the Bible and the nature of violence, and concludes with some very helpful suggestions on 'Reading the Bible well'. It is good to be reminded that the reason that texts of violence disturb us is because of our core belief that God is good. It is important, too, to be made aware that just because the Bible describes violence this does not necessarily mean that it commends it. 

The second part identifies a range of types of violent text, and discusses these in ascending order of importance from what is termed 'Violence described' through 'Violence implored' and 'Violence against animals' (sacrifice) to 'Violence as divine judgement and what is the standout case for most people Violence commanded. I found this a very helpful way of classifying the different examples of violence in the OT. Each chapter concludes with some thoughts on how the type of texts under discussion might be read and used in churches today.  Here I was particularly struck by what the author sees as the pastoral implications of ignoring the texts of 'Violence described'. By ignoring these stories of interpersonal and sexual violence we risk silencing those for whom they are a reality in their lives today. Yes, indeed.

The book concludes with a chapter entitled 'Shalom: God’s great plan', which puts the violent texts in the context of what is arguably an even more significant OT theme.

The author herself acknowledges at the end of the chapter on 'Violence commanded' that 'there might be more to say' on these most troubling of all the texts of violence. Not everyone will agree with the suggested interpretation, but I hope that all will agree on the important suggestions for reading them 'with ethical integrity' both in our churches and beyond. 

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the questions it explores. If you are new to the subject, it offers a comprehensive introduction and the reassurance that you are being guided by a capable and safe pair of hands as you begin to engage with challenging and important issues. If, like me, you are familiar with some of the literature on the subject, reading it will surely bring new insights and ideas.   

Peter King trained at Bristol Baptist College and now works for the Anglican Diocese of Chichester in adult theological education.

 

Word & Worship, journal of the New Zealand Lay Preachers Association, Winter 2019 (June). Review by John Meredith

Helen Paynter addresses the question of biblical violence honestly and without proposing any final answer. She is clear that what is in the scriptures should be neither hidden nor denied and that the Old Testament God of judgement should not be contrasted with the New Testament God of grace.

Paynter recognises that while violence may be deliberately aggressive it may also find expression through oppressive social structures. Colonisation and cultural devaluation are examples of this. Violence may also be associated with polarising rhetoric. We need think only of the ‘war on terror’ against nations defined as evil. We should not think that violence may be consigned to savage antiquity from which we have moved on. It is still possible to think that with bombs, rather than swords, we are doing God’s will.

As we consider episodes of violence in the Bible, Paynter invites readers to reflect on the narrators’ purposes. For example, in Judges 19 we find the gang rape and murder of a concubine. This is deeply shocking, but also draws attention to the appalling consequences for a defenceless woman in a society without law or leadership. Although part of the biblical text, such stories are not usually read in public worship, yet the airing of such stories may allow women who have experienced sexual violence to feel heard and present opportunities for pastoral care.

Biblical writers recognise the reality of emotions such as anger and desire for revenge arising within the human heart. But rather than being encouraged to give reign to free expression of such emotions we are invited to leave vengeance to God who is just and merciful. The concept of ‘an eye for an eye’ should, Paynter believes, be understood as defining the limitation of personal vengeance, a limitation which Jesus extends.

Modern sensitivities may cause us to shudder at the conquest of Canaan recorded in the book of Joshua where slaughter seems to be commanded by God. Rather than a literal record of history Paynter suggests the story may be understood as a type of biblical literature dealing with God bringing order out of chaos and affirming the identity of Israel as God’s covenant people. This does not mean, however, that it can be used to support modern Israel’s actions towards Palestine.

In the Hebrew mind God was awesome in holiness with power to create and to destroy. The stories of creation are placed at the beginning of the Old Testament as affirmation of God’s perfect design and intention for universal shalom/ wholeness. History is played out in a broken and often violent world, but the law and the prophets point to God’s creative intention for healing and wholeness and this is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

It is not for us to edit from the Bible what offends us. We must learn to read with understanding. Helen Paynter writes clearly and makes a major contribution to informed reading so that we may hear and interpret God’s word for today.

John Meredith was ordained in the Methodist Church of New Zealand and has completed post-graduate study at Spurgeon’s College, London. John has served in pastoral roles in New Zealand and Western Australia.  He is currently editor of Word & Worship, the publication of the NZ Lay Preachers Association and reviews books on theological and biblical themes.