Ravi Holy: Bloodthirsty God? The Problem of Divine Violence


[size=150]A Bloodthirsty God? The Problem of Divine Violence in Traditional Atonement Theories and the Search for a Non-violent Alternative[/size]
by Ravi Holy (MA dissertation)

A Bloodthirsty God by Ravi Holy.pdf (399 KB)

Ravi Holy"]Stephen Finlan observes that ‘What is most noticeable about the literature on atonement written in the last 150 years is the intense concern with problems that the authors (and presumably the readers) have with the traditional doctrines of atonement’. Anthony Bartlett agrees, but suggests that the biggest problem for all these writers is ‘the issue of [divine] violence’, the idea that ‘God demanded a bloody victim… to pay for human sin’. This, says J. Denny Weaver (whose work ‘represents the best known rejection of traditional atonement formulae’, according to Bartlett) ‘is the element most offensive to the radical critics of traditional satisfaction atonement’.

As we will see, the ‘problem of divine violence’ is perhaps most acute in the particular form of satisfaction atonement known as ‘penal substitution’ – the idea that Jesus was receiving the punishment due to sinful human beings. However, as both Weaver and Mark Heim say, any theory in which Jesus had to die in order to ‘satisfy’ God – whether satisfying his justice, restoring His honour or placating his wrath – involves us in the problem of ‘divinely sanctioned violence’. Thus, while our discussion will sometimes focus on the penal theory, it should be borne in mind that the problem is ‘substitutionary atonement’ or satisfaction atonement or in general. We begin by looking at ‘the problem’ in more detail.


that cartoon was funny


Haha, that’s what I thought.

Haven’t read it yet, but thanks Alex for passing that along. It’s downloaded and on the to-read list :slight_smile:


just read it. very nicely reasoned. i’ve had issues with the penal substitution model most of my life, it just didn’t seem logical for a variety of reasons.
but, like ECT, it is so in-grained that it is difficult to hear other views unless you’re able to find out about these theologians etc


I just read it too. Very well-reasoned presentation. I really want to know more about the whole subject of divine violence, though, and I wonder (as I’ve read elsewhere) if the sacrificial system Israel had was actually more about sacrificing something of yourself to God (as represented by an animal or other offering), rather than sacrificing an animal to God to appease his wrath. I guess what I’m saying is maybe there’s a better way to understand the sacrificial system even if God did institute it and desire it for his people.

As I think about violence attributed to God in Scripture, I immediately think about stuff like the flood Noah and his family were saved from. That just seems inexcusable. Destroying all of humanity save 8? It’s certainly troubling. That kind of God actually does seem like the kind of God who would roast people alive forever or kill an innocent (Jesus) to appease his wrath.



So I found out where I heard about the sacrificial system being not about appeasing God but about pledging ourselves to God. It was from Derek Flood over at his Rebel God blog: therebelgod.com/. He has a set of articles on Christus Victor vs. Penal Substitution (you can find them in the right-hand sidebar). Is anyone familiar with his perspective? Care to comment?



Yes, Noah came up yesterday in a slightly crazy debate in the comments of a YouTube clip. I had a few initial thoughts…

I’ve decided it’s probably not a good idea to base the scope of God’s plans of salvation on Noah. Otherwise, it implies God only plans to save less than 0.000000001% of humanity :open_mouth: , which seems contrary to even a Calvinist reading of the rest of Scripture. For most of my Christian life I’ve thought Noah was a theological story, rather than a historical account of a global flood (there was probably a large local flood - I’ve heard it suggested that it could’ve been the filling of the Mediterranean, or Persian Gulf, or Black Sea). Even if it was entirely historical, the death of most people isn’t the end of their story. I think it actually highlights that God only saves the man of faith - the “new” man within us (as Paul puts it).

He’s a member here too, although he only occasionally posts. Yes, I put his article on my to-read list after a few people here read it and raved about it :slight_smile:


Thanks for your thoughts, Alex. It’s hard for me to explain why, but it seems to me that if we say the destruction of those in Noah’s day was not the end of their story, we’re almost dismissing the violence. It’s a complicated issue to say the least. It’s hard to imagine that the same God who told Israel to destroy their enemies down to the infants was also the Jesus who said to love your enemies. It’s just hard to explain to my mind. Obviously I think there’s some way to explain it, I’m just not sure how yet.

One comforting passage is 1 Peter 3:19. Apparently Jesus went and proclaimed his gospel to the “spirits in prison” after his death? It even says “to those who were disobedient”. And he’s specifically talking about those people destroyed in the flood as far as I can tell. Why would Jesus go and proclaim anything to them unless there was hope for them?



To me, Rob Bell explains what the purpose of sacrificial system was in the most succinct and compelling way in his video “The Gods aren’t angry”. Here’s part 8 from it (you watch the whole thing on YouTube),



Just finished reading this. Very well-written and thought-provoking. :slight_smile: This really helps me to rethink the whole purpose of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, which I admittedly hadn’t given much thought to along with my embracing of UR.
I guess I have to reexamine a lot of things…

I will say, just to throw this out there and give some food for thought, that I believe one of the reasons Jesus went willingly to His death was to show all of us in a historical moment that could be remembered and passed down from generation to generation that God really does share in our pain and suffering, and is in fact in the middle of it with us. :slight_smile:

Keep in mind that Jesus was crucified in between two criminals, one of whom accepted Him and one of whom rejected Him.
You could say that symbolically this shows that God shares in the suffering (both in life and in death) of all people, no matter how close to or how far away they may be from Him, and whether they believe in Him or not, and that His will is to redeem all people, both those who accept Him in this life, and those who don’t (though by His grace, I believe, they will in due time, in ages to come).
And just the symbolic posture of His arms being open in the crucifixion is a way of saying that ‘God’s arms are always open’.
I know that this is more of a poetic way of looking at things, but I think it’s something to think about.
I think most of us, if not all of us here, would agree that there was a multi-layered purpose in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and, like Ravi mentioned in passing in his paper, there will always be for us some measure of mystery to it all.
Whatever the case, this is good stuff. :slight_smile:
Thanks for posting this, Alex. :slight_smile:

Blessings :slight_smile:


P.S. Josh: I know where you’re coming from, bro. I’ve struggled with these things too… just keep going, and don’t give up.
I believe that God is okay with our questions. I’ve asked millions, and He hasn’t struck me down with lightning yet. :wink:


Matt: I agree with everything you said there.

Josh: I did a talk called the Dark Side of the Bible which is my take on the whole how to reconcile ‘the violent God of the OT [and NT!]’ with Jesus. I’m going to send it to Alex in the hope he’ll post it in the appropriate place.


Ravi: awesome, can’t wait to hear it!

awakeningaletheia: That Rob Bell video was good and is very similar to what Derek Flood was saying in his Christus Victor vs. Penal Substitution series. It makes a lot more sense in light of the Scriptures saying things like “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”



Yes please :smiley:


Well, since the sins of all nations was laid on Christ we should expect the punishment to be so severe. Especially since it lasted for only a few hours. I trust that the punishment was in direct proportion to the crimes.