8 Horror Tropes from the New Testament

I’ve already looked at 7 horror tropes from the Old Testament. Now it’s time to turn to the New Testament.

Would Hurt a Child

Those who would hurt a child have committed a horror of the worst sort in the thinking of most people. Even villains that otherwise have no problem committing outrageous acts of terror and bloodshed would halt here and make it a matter of honour not to go that far. But King Herod the Great committed an act known as the Slaughter of the Innocents in an attempt to kill the young Jesus (Matthew 2). Some of the art depicting this incident is truly graphic.

This is part of the backstory horror of Christ’s birth. But, as an adult, Jesus counteracts this horror with some horror of his own. If you hurt any of his little children, said Jesus, it would be better for you that a large weight was hung around your neck and you were thrown into the deepest ocean. Better than what? The implication is – Better in comparison to what he’ll do to them when he gets his hands on them at the Day of Judgement. This verse is quoted in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 18:6 / Mark 9:42 / Luke 17:2).

Off With His Head

John the Baptist, the older cousin of Jesus, was beheaded after Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) agreed to do it in a fit of drunken lust and hubris. The daughter of his brother’s ex-wife Herodias got her daughter (elsewhere identified as Salome) to dance for him on his birthday. Herod was so pleased by it he said she could have anything she wanted. Prompted by her mother, she said of John, Off with his head! And that was that.

The Legions of Hell

The Legions of Hell trope takes its very name from the New Testament. In one of the most powerful and pitiful exorcism stories in the Gospels, Jesus confronts a man who is possessed. When Jesus asks the devils their name, they give the terrifying reply, “Our name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9, 15). Then they beg Jesus not to hurt them or cast them out into the Abyss. Instead, he sends them to possess a heard of pigs, all of which immediately fall over a cliff and get drowned in the sea. The terror of this event makes locals beg Jesus to leave their land.

Devil in Disguise

The Devil pops up in all sorts of unexpected places in the New Testament. Just before Judas betrayed Jesus, we are told that that Satan himself entered the heart of that disciple (Luke 22:3). Everyone seemed surprised except Jesus, who said from the start that he had chosen all twelve of them, but one was a devil (John 6:70). But it’s not just Judas who plays the devil in disguise. Peter himself gets called Satan at one point (Matthew 16:23)! Paul said this shouldn’t surprise us, since Satan often disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Cold Blooded Torture

There are lots of theological ways to interpret the death of Christ – as a ransom, a substitution, an atonement, an example, a victory etc. But at its basic, factual level the crucifixion was nothing less than cold blooded torture. The whipping, the beating, the piercing, the stabbing, are all disturbing enough in themselves. But remember that this cruelty was deliberately intended to cause pain and suffering, and wasn’t a by-product of some other purpose on the part of those who did it. It was torture, pure and simple, all the worse for happening in full public view, with family and friends watching!

Surprisingly Sudden Death

Jesus died quickly enough to surprise Pilate (Mark 15:44). But there are instances of quicker deaths. After accepting some blasphemous praise, Herod got eaten by worms (Acts 12:20-2). But the best examples of a surprisingly sudden death goes to Ananias and Saphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit and when confronted immediate dropped dead (Acts 5:1-10).

Unseen Evil

Sometimes Satan comes out into the open, like he did during Christ’s temptations. But mostly he works in the background, using people like pawns in his great war against heaven. What was an unseen evil to others, Jesus saw. Once, when he sent out seventy-two disciples to preach his message and heal the sick, and they came back with stories of success, Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning!” (Luke 10:18). Jesus and his followers were persecuted by Jew and Romans, but Paul made the true nature of this conflict clear.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

Horrifying the Horror

I’ve asked the questions many times in this blog: Who frighteners the frighteners and terrifies the terrors? The New Testament makes it clear that while demons might scare us, God absolutely terrifies them. James makes it clear that the devils are not atheists. They believe there is one God – and it makes them tremble with fear (James 2:19). We have an example of this horrifying the horror at the start of the ministry of Jesus, when he confronted these unclean spirits and they cried out in dread.

“Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

Mark 1:24

Photo by Alex Noriega on Unsplash

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