This entry is part [part not set] of 8 in the series Christians and Violence

I’m going to begin a series on the relationship between Christians and violence, which, as you might already know, can be a pretty heated discussion. Here’s a few questions related to the topic:

Should Christians participate in national war?
Should Christians ever think positively about the use of violence to accomplish justice?
Should Christians support a national war?
Can a Christian use violence on an individual level?

We’ll wrestle with these questions over the next few posts. But first, a brief summary of my journey.

I grew up, like most Evangelicals, loving war and violence. I played with toy tanks and soldiers, loved watching old war films, and rooted with all my might when America fought against the Iraqis in Desert Storm (1991). My favorite movies growing up were Rocky III, Top Gun, and Gladiator. Throughout high-school and college, I hunted, fished, chewed tobacco, and voted Republican no matter the candidate. I had an NRA sticker, even though I never paid my membership dues. I pretty much was the dude on the cover of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album. The idea that someone could be a Christian and be a pacifist was weird and confusing. Could someone actually read the Bible and still be a pacifist? They must be biblically illiterate or anti-American, is what I thought.

When I got saved at 19, none of this changed. (Gladiator came out when I was 24 and I was first in line!) It wasn’t until I taught a class on Ethics at Cedarville University (Ohio) in Spring of 2008 that I began to wrestle with the issues, and for the first time I was forced to consider what the Bible actually said about violence. I was quickly shocked at how many passages in the New Testament discuss  violence and how few of them (if any) support the use of violence by a Christian (the Old Testament is a different story). My worldview was sent into a tailspin as I searched long and hard to find New Testament support for the so-called “Just War” position (we’ll discuss this anon). I didn’t find any.

And so by Fall of 2009, I became—and in many ways still am—a pacifist. In short: I don’t believe that the Bible endorses the use of violence by the church or by individual Christians, except in extraordinary circumstances. Violence, along with lying and intoxication, is not the normal behavior that befits the church.

Let me go a bit further and stick my neck out: I think that of all issues, the relationship between Christians and violence/warfare is largely cluttered by a worldview that’s shaped by our American culture more than the Bible. I really think, and will seek to show, that pacifism has by far much more biblical support than any other view on violence held by Christians, and it’s ironic and sad that so few Bible-believing Evangelical Christians are pacifists. It’s even more depressing that many Evangelicals think—as I used to think—that pacifists are weird, limp-wristed, or non-biblical. The apparent “weirdness” of the pacifistic position only reveals how culturally conditioned we are.

Fighten words, I know (pun intended). But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I hope that I will be able to defend pacifism biblically over the next few posts. In order to get the ball rolling, let me lay out four different Christian positions on violence and warfare. (I’m using the two terms “violence” and “warfare” somewhat interchangeably for now).

View 1: Pacifism (non-resistance). This view says that Christians should not kill people, but they can join the military (or police force, etc.) as long as they serve as non-combatants (psychologist, medical doctor, etc.)

View 2: Pacifism (total non-participation). Christians should not join the military or any other institution that endorses and participates in violence.

View 3: Just War. Christians can participate in a war that is waged on a “just” basis. The seven-fold criteria for a “just” war include: (1) Just cause, (2) Just intention, (3) Last resort, (4) Formal declaration, (5) Limited objectives, (6) Proportionate means, (7) Noncombatant immunity.

View 4: Self-defense and Justice. This view focuses on the individual’s encounter with evil, as opposed to his/her participation in national warfare. The view says that a Christian may use violence when defending oneself against evil (i.e. being attacked in a dark alley, etc.) or to achieve justice for someone being oppressed (e.g., executing Hitler).

By the way, I sort of made the forth view up. I’ve never seen it called this, but many people describe their view in such a way that I thought it deserves a place at the table.

In the following posts, I will defend view 1 while allowing for view 4 in some extreme cases and with qualification. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, or pushbacks.

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  1. So glad you’re doing a series on this, Preston! I don’t think we can avoid participation without comprising the Christian mission–namely, the advancement of the gospel–so point two is out in my mind (I’ll forego explaining this for the sake of space. Besides, I imagine you will give a better explanation than I can). I don’t think there is such a thing as “just war” in point three (none of those criteria have ever been met completely). So that leaves points one and four, which I have wrestled with for this past year or so.

    I lean heavily toward point one, but more recently I changed my stance to allow for point four. (So maybe we are in complete agreement? We’ll see, I guess.) Obviously the NT speaks clearly about the role of the government in restraining wickedness and executing God’s wrath (Romans 13:1-7). Now, because in our country the government has authorized the individual use of self-defense in the case of intrusion/attack, I take this to be a form of the government bearing the sword through its individual citizens. Does that make sense? I’ll give a brief scenario to illustrate and then be done.

    If someone breaks into my home and says he is going to kill my wife and kids and then heads toward them with a knife, I think it is justifiable to restrain him and, if absolutely necessary, use deadly force to do so. To me, this would be permissible because the government has bestowed on me the authority/right to defend myself and my family from those who mean to do us harm. In that sense, the government (through me) is bearing the sword, which is what God has authorized it to do.

    *I’m not going to stand and die on this hill and I am totally open to changing my stance. For the sake of time and space I neglected to biblically develop certain assumptions. Looking forward to hearing what others have to say!*

    • Hey Lance. These are all very good thoughts and it’s clear that you have thought deeply about the issue. And yes, the hypothetical person breaking into your house with a knife is usually the first argument that folks will use to support violence/war–sometimes the argument is thrown out there before any biblical texts are, which is telling. The rest of your thoughts are very good and I hope to address them in future posts.

  2. Oh, this should be good… Looking forward to your other posts on this. I, as you, grew up in the mindset of position 3, now I would consider myself in the position 4 spot, although I am open to position 1 after reading Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution”. I can’t wait to read more.

  3. I also have contemplated this topic myself. It was about a year ago when I was working with someone and we were talking theology and our personal beliefs. My partner(we worked together on an ambulance) told me he was a Mennonite. When I asked him what their beliefs were he told me they were extreme pacifists. They are view 2 out of the 4 you listed. They have a few colonies of Mennonites still within some of the south american countries. I know that some of those colonies have made an agreement with the government, that if that country was on the brink of War they would not have to participate while still being faithful to their beliefs. I just that was an interesting group of Christian pacifists.

  4. Two people come to mind on this topic but aren’t adherently wrong in their actions ie., Bonhoeffer and the Machine Gun Preacher. Both of whom thought they were enacting justice on behalf of God but unlike them most of us take a sidelined view to this dilemma in our church meaning we criticize from afar rather than engage headlong. We are captivated by violence so much so in our culture that most movies have it and most books write about it ie., The Hunger Games, etc.. However I think of Hezekiah whom slaughtered the priest of Baal and cleansed Israel from idol worship and is praised by the author of 2 Chronicles.
    We have contrary the teachings of Jesus whom says to turn the other cheeks and Ghandi whom also perpetrated a message of nonviolence. It will be interesting to read the rest of the posts.

  5. But I need to remember and it might be good to mention in war there is always two sides. The sides in the war between the kingdom of the Beloved Son and the dominion of darkness(col 1:13) are obviously undermentioned. It will e good to wrestle through this with you Preston.

  6. I am excited to read this series of posts. I have held to what I believe scripture teaches about this topic, but its been challenging because very few people i’ve met think that way. Thank you for taking the time to work through this!

  7. Well, you have not actually made any biblical argument yet, so there is not too much to respond to other than to state one’s own position. I believe that a Christian can participate in any violence that is Biblically just, which would include serving as a government employee. And the government “bears the sword” (Rom 13:1-7).

    • Hey Brian, thanks for weighing in and getting the ball rolling in the Romans 13 direction. We’ll look at the passage on Wed (I think). For now, you said: “I believe that a Christian can participate in any violence that is Biblically just.” The question, of course, is: Where does the Bible justifies violence (Jesus never did)? As you note, Romans 13 does say that God is so sovereign that he can work through a greedy, sexually immoral, unjust government like Rome to accomplish his will and that the church should not revolt against it but submit to it, which is probably why the Roman Christians who were burned alived by Rome in A.D. 64 didn’t resist. We’ll discuss all of this in future posts, but I’ll say up front that Romans 13 does not directly permit the use of violence by the church/Christians. There’s no evidence that any member of the network of household churches in Rome worked for the government.

      • Preston,
        So, so far you are using an argument from silence. “Jesus didn’t specifically justify violence” and “no evidence that Christians worked for the government.” Silence can be deafening in both ways. :)I’ll read the following posts and try to interact. Thanks!

        • Brian,

          Argument from silence? Matthew 5, Romans 12, 1 Peter 2, and the whole posture of Jesus and the first-century church were not silent about how they felt about violence by the hands of Christians. It’s not that Jesus “didn’t specifically justify violence”–he condemned it on many levels. The argument from silence comes when we ask the question about the killer breaking into our home, etc. etc. But it is interesting–if not counter intuitive–that whenever the NT talks about situations that would come close to “self-defense,” it seems that they would argue for non-retaliation (again, Matt 5, Rom 12, 1 Pet 2). I can probably wiggle out an argument from silence for justifying violence towards a killer, but I don’t have any explicit biblical text (that I can think of) on my side.

          But ya, the whole government question is silent in the NT. The NT simply does not give us any examples of Christians working for the government. This isn’t an argument that they shouldn’t, it’s just an observation.

  8. Hey, Preston! Definitely a heavy and controversial subject. I personally believe that the Bible does not teach pacifism. Often I find that many Christians are influenced by a dualistic way of viewing God – the God of the Old Testament was violent and vindictive, while the God of the New found in Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leviticus clearly forbids hatred in the heart and taking revenge against other (Lev 19). I also believe that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount cannot be used to support pacifism. He was talking about neighborly disputes and how to live if wronged by your neighbor – like being backhanded with a shameful slap (on your right cheek). I believe that Matt 5:39 is better translated “compete” and not “resist” – Jesus was alluding to Prov 24:19 and Ps 37:1,7. Competing with your neighbor is taking revenge. Jesus’ Bible which he used to support all his teachings was the Hebrew Bible after all. Having said that, I do believe many American Christians seem pro-war and we shouldn’t be. But as for self-defence or fighting in a just war (like WWII) I believe strongly that Christians should act.

    • Adam,

      As always, very good thoughts! Couple quick things (we’ll dig into some of these issues in future posts). First, while it’s obviously true that the God of the OT is the same God of the NT, this doesn’t mean that the ethics of the Old are the same as the New. They simply aren’t. Not being circumcised in the Old (or eating pork, or collecting sticks on the Sabbath, or not showing equal love to all of your wives; Deut 21), could get you killed in the OT, but none of these are binding in the same way in the NT. In the same way, I can give my 9 year old a certain command now (e.g. don’t drive my car), which may change when she’s 16. So there’s a big difference in saying that the God of the old is a God of violence, while the God of the new is a God of peace; rather, I’d say that the same God allowed–even commanded–violence in the old but this doesn’t in itself mean that it was either ideal or part of a messianic ethic. And, of course, I think Jesus clearly confirmed this in several passages discussed in the next blog. But I’ll discuss violence in the OT in a future post.

      Really quick, WWII was not a Just War by the position’s own criteria of what constitutes a Just War (see the blog). Non-Combatant immunity was violated on a nuclear level, as America incinerated over 250,000 Japanese non-combatants at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many of these were Christians (Nagasaki had a growing Christian population, which was annihilated by Americans by a nuclear bomb, which stunted the growth of the gospel in a largely anti-Christian country.) So it’s very hard for me to applaud, or even call this “Just,” through the lens of the gospel. I don’t think Jesus would have dropped the bomb on his own people, nor do I think his followers should have as well.

      Regarding “do not resist” (me anistemi). I’m not sure how you can translate this word “compete.” Of course, “compete” could have different connotations, but whichever you choose, it seems clear that the word here means “resist, stand against, oppose,” as is traditionally translated. This seems to be the clear meaning with its usage elsewhere (Luke 12:11; Acts 6:10), especially in context where it’s use of “resisting” the devil (Eph 6:13; James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9).

      You make a great observation (as you did in community group a few weeks ago!), that the slap on the right check is a back handed slap of shame (if the slapper is right handed), though the parallel in Luke 6:29 doesn’t have “right” check. But I don’t think this nullifies the point of the passage, but intensifies it: Jesus prohibits retaliation even for shameful, physical attack. And even if Jesus is speaking of neighborly disputes (which is not clear in the context), I still think this supports the pacifistic position. Would Jesus have one ethic for neighborly disputes (i.e. don’t retaliate when violently attacked), and another for non-neighborly disputes? And the context of 5:43ff seems to expand the principle into not just non-retaliation, but an active, self-giving love toward your enemy–whether he lives in your neighborhood or not.

      Like you, I could be wrong! Much more study to be done! These are my thoughts thus far.


      • Thanks Preston. You make some great points. I’ll try to be brief because I know you’ll have many people to respond to! Here’s some more of my initial thoughts.

        1. I find that the overarching presupposition about Jesus when interpreting his teachings is whether he retained his Judaism or not. I believe that Jesus affirmed his Hebrew Bible with his life and teachings and never contradicted Moses or what God had previously revealed. He observed the Sabbath and kept kashrut, and so did his Jewish followers. What I find very interesting, is that so much of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mt can be found in the “Old Testament” and rabbinic writings. Even verses about loving your enemy and seeking revenge. So if we are to affirm his teachings regarding loving our enemies, let’s also affirm his attitude toward his Bible in Matt 28:18-20, connecting this also with the great commission – “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. Jesus did not abolish his Bible which affirms the use of violence when life is in danger. Ex 22;2 – “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.”

        2. Let me just clarify what I meant regarding “compete”. Scholars like Brad Young, David Bivin, and others have written some really great material connecting our Greek textof Jesus’ words back to their Hebrew equivalent. I don’t feel it is enough to end at the Greek text since Jesus did not teach in Greek. So what I find interesting is not only what Hebrew equivalents he used but also what passages from his Bible he used to support his teachings. In this example, passages like Psalms 37 which talk about not taking revenge are just too similar to be overlooked:

        “Do not compete (lit: burn) with evildoers” (PS 37:1) – context: not taking revenge against enemy
        “Do not ‘anthistemi’ the evildoer” (Matt 5:17) – context: not taking revenge against enemy

        The Greek word “anthistemi” can mean “be in opposition to, set oneself against, oppose”. Any one of these definitions is better that simply “resist”. So I believe there is more room within the meaning to support a translation that connects it closer to what we see in Psalm 37 and Prov 24:19 which describes someone opposed to another in burning in anger … essentially attacking back in retaliation. Jesus, like other rabbis, taught that one must walk the higher road and seek to turn an enemy into a friend.

        3. A humiliating backhanded slap would be a terrible thing to do in a culture oriented around shame and honor. I believe this “right cheek” information actually strengths the anti-pacifist view because it affirms that Jesus was not talking about a lethal blow or attack. Neither was he talking about defending your wife. In my opinion, to suggest, therefore, that one should never fight for any reason is ripping this section out of context.

        4. Jesus affirmed the prevalent view of Judaism at that time – the preservation of life governs all (Lk 6:9) … the very reason why the Maccabbees would break the Sabbath if they had to defend themselves against an attack.

        5. Teaching men not to protect their families has terrible consequences. I feel it’s like castrating a man. A man has an innate desire to protect his household. This is God-given. Jesus even refers to this in Matt 24:43 – “If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” In other words, he would’ve opposed him with force to protect his wife, children, and goods.

        For reasons like those mentioned above, I’m just not convinced that pacifism is Biblical.

        • I also forgot to mention that the Bible strongly affirms that Jesus will return as a warrior king who will use violence to purge the earth of evil. He came first as the suffering servant, but we should be careful not to omit war from the messianic agenda. He shall return to establish his kingdom in justice as the victorious Son of David, like Psalm 2 declares.

          • Yes, certainly, but Jesus’ “violent” return is not mediated through human agents. So I don’t think his return can be used to support violence in the church’s mission.

        • Tons of good stuff here, Adam. I’m not sure I can respond to all of this, but here’s some brief thoughts regarding each of your points:

          1. This, of course, is a major debate that we’re not going to solve here, and I think we my slightly disagree. But maybe not, I’m not sure. You said: “I find that the overarching presupposition about Jesus when interpreting his teachings is whether he retained his Judaism or not. I believe that Jesus affirmed his Hebrew Bible with his life and teachings and never contradicted Moses or what God had previously revealed. He observed the Sabbath and kept kashrut, and so did his Jewish followers.”

          I’d want some clarification on a few things here. I take Jesus’ words in Matt 5:17 to mean something like “bring to its intended goal” or “fulfill the law’s intended meaning.” I don’t think Jesus was saying that he came to reinforce Mosaic Law in all its literalness, but to reveal the ultimate goal of the Law. The Law, as Paul says in Gal 3:16-22, was given for a period of time but wasn’t intended to bear the same authority over God’s people after the coming of Christ (3:23-26; Rom 10:4). I know, I know, reading Paul back into Jesus! I’m really not trying to mimic Luther here; I do think, though, that Paul and Jesus are barking up the same tree.

          As far as Jesus contradicting Moses: didn’t Jesus violate the purity laws (Matt 8:3 // Lev 11; Luke 8:42-48 // Lev 15)? Perhaps violate is too strong. Maybe: bring to its intended goal, or reveal the true intention of the law.

          Just some (genuine) questions and thoughts. Again, this is a major issue that I don’t have time to dig into. In any case, I don’t think that anything in your first point convincingly counters pacifism.

          2. Jesus spoke Hebrew? You mean Aramaic, right? Or does Young argue for Hebrew? In any case, I’m a little leery of reading behind the Greek text to suggest Aramaic (or Hebrew) equivalents. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but must be done with extreme caution since there’s a lot of speculation involved. And at the end of the day, God chose to preserve Jesus’ words in Greek, not Heb/Ara, so I would say that the meaning of the Greek words takes priority. Those are what’s been inspired and preserve for Christians.

          3. Ok, so the blow is not lethal, but it’s still physical abuse (as Luke 6 draws out more clearly). And certainly, “Neither was he talking about defending your wife.” I’ll get to that later. But again, I think someone can be restrained physically without such restraint being “violent” or “vindictive.” I still need to pursuing loving my wife and my enemy.

          4. True, and we’ll get to that. But I don’t think Jesus would have joined the Hasmonean revolt (speculation, of course).

          5. “Teaching men not to protect their families has terrible consequences.” I haven’t said that. And “protection” comes in many forms, only some of which include “violence.” Even so, my main concern is that Jesus’ cruciform life of self-sacrifice and love of one’s enemies must dictate my response to evil, not fear of being seen as less of a man.

          Not sure about your use of Matt 24:43, but I’ll let the rest of the readers chime in if they want.

          Ok, gotta git back to work! Man, what did I start with this blog!?


          • Haha … it’s gonna keep you busy for sure! Just to clarify. Yes, I agree that Jesus’ “violent” return is not mediated through human agents or his church. I’m merely making the point that if Jesus was promoting pacifism, then he should return a pacifist. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, right?

            Regarding the first point, I think that it makes sense because how could Jesus support pacifism (in a general sense) from his Bible as mandated by God? It actually goes against what Moses taught. Also, regarding Matt 5, verse 19 is always ignored – “anyone who disregards the least of the commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” He affirms Moses with the strongest language possible … and certainly not “Moses said this, but I tell you this instead”. No, he was bringing out the true heart of the Law – which taught that one should not have hatred in his heart, nor seek revenge (Lev 19). However, the OT also affirms that “there is a time to kill”. So I don’t believe Jesus ever violated or contradicted what God had previously revealed through the prophets. Otherwise, Mormons are justified for believing in Joseph Smith who changed what God revealed.

            On the language tangent, I believe Jesus taught in Hebrew and not Aramaic. The NIV changes the text by writing “Aramaic” when the Greek says “Hebrew”. I personally believe the Aramaic view is inaccurate and outdated. But I do believe Jesus spoke Mishnaic Hebrew that had many loan words from Aramaic. Modern Hebrew is the same today. It had loads of borrowed English words like “telephone”, but it is still “Hebrew” and not English at the end of the day. That’s where the confusion lies. I believe it’s important because knowing the underlying Hebrew words and phrases gives more understanding. I am not saying that an underlying Hebrew word changes the Greek meaning, but rather helps bring clarity, especially when there can be more translation of one Greek word. The opposite is also true. On the Mt of transfiguration, the Father says “my beloved” in one gospel and “my chosen” in another. Which one is true? Knowing that this is a reference to Isaiah 42 – “behiri” which can be translated as “my chosen, my beloved” certainly gives clarity – both are true.

            Stop writing these posts – i need to work too! Haha.

        • Hey Preston,

          I just found discovered something yesterday when reading Lev 19. I think it ties in with Jesus’ statement about not “resisting” the evil doer. Previously, I mentioned the similarity between these two passages:

          “Do not “burn” with evildoers” (PS 37:1) – context: not taking revenge against enemy
          “Do not “stand against” the evildoer” (Matt 5:17) – context: not taking revenge against enemy

          These are literal translations. Now “burn” here in Ps 37, can simply mean to burn in anger, but it can also imply acting out that anger. In that sense of the word it is translated “compete” in certain texts.

          What I just noticed is Lev 19:16 –
          “Do not stand against the blood of your neighbor” (literal translation)

          This is often translated “don’t seek to to take your neighbor’s life”, “cause harm” to them, or “endanger” them etc. Obviously here, this neighbor is someone you despise, an enemy.

          Therefore, is it possible that Jesus dovetails Lev 19:16 & Ps 37:1 together – a practice very common in Judaism? We see many examples of Jesus & others doing this in the NT. So what I am getting at is that “resist” just isn’t the best translation here. It’s a strong meaning – essentially lashing out or striking back. I would say the context demands this as well. If I could summarize Jesus like a Eugene Peterson – You’ve heard it explained that you can take revenge on your enemies because it says “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. But I would say God wants you not to strike back at the person who shames you and insults you. Whatever they do to you, win them over by showing them the love of the Father”.

          This isn’t changing anything drastic, but simply stating that “resist” is probably not the best word to translate the greek used in Matt 5:17.

          • Adam…dang, that was good stuff! Thanks for looking into that, and ya, I really like Peterson’s translation (ummm…interpretation) here. (BTW, yes, weaving two texts together was very common in Judaism at this time, and you see if all over the place in the NT; e.g. Mark 1:2-3.)

            So if I’m hearing you, you’re saying that if someone is punching you in the nose, the point is not that you sit there and “not resist” in the same of not doing anything to prevent it, but to “not compete” (still not sure if I like this as an English translation, but…) in the same of don’t retaliate, don’t take vengeance, don’t try to shame the one that has shamed you, etc.

            If this is true, then I think you raise a good point. I still wonder why Jesus said to turn the other check to him as well. An obvious hyperbole, but still points to something. What would you say?


          • That was my own “Peterson” interpretation 🙂 The Message is way too opinionated for my liking! That Mark 1:2-3 passage is an awesome example and really drives home the messianic importance of ‘The Way” but that’s another blog! Yeah, I agree that “compete” is probably not the best word because we usually envision sports. Maybe “retaliate” carries the meaning the best?

            Turning the other cheek could refer to Lam 3:30 where Jeremiah tells Israel – “Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with shame.” The context is a bit different of course, however, Israel receiving a slap of shame (right cheek) and not retaliating is a sign of walking in repentance and *humility*. So I think what we find here is another example of Jesus’ genius teaching ability, stringing verses together from Moses and the prophets to make a point.

            I’ve also thought that turning your face toward someone is a sign of favor & blessing which also fits the context … although Jesus doesn’t say ‘face’, so I feel that the Lam 3:30 is the best answer.

          • Yeah, I feel that not resisting = not doing anything to prevent it. Couldn’t have said it better!

          • This supports pacifism, no? Even at the individual level let alone the international level, right?

      • 1. WW II may not have been a Just War by your interpretation, but the clergy who labored over it at the time, disagree. There is a thin book that you should read written by the clergy at the time which discussed why Hitler had to be stopped. There is a copy at the Compton Library. You will have to look it up in the subject index because I can’t remember the title.

        2. “Jesus would not have dropped the bomb on Nagasaki.” What a statement! Jesus is the God of Creation and of Revelation. He will wipe evil from the earth, and that, perhaps, with nuclear fire. Jesus would have known the thoughts of the Japanese government officials when we thought they were dismissing the ‘unconditional surrender’ terms. Jesus would have known the weather on that day. Jesus may have picked a different set of cities as targets. Do you see how strange this thinking becomes? While I believe God abhors war, just like all the other complications of being in an evil world, He has yet to put an end to all the evil. We human beings deal with what we see and understand. I think Harry Truman did the best job possible. I recommend that you read “The Manhattan Project,” ed. by Cynthia Kelly, before you judge too quickly. I abhor the counter-value strategy, but I think it is what was required as the lesser of two evils. It is pretty balanced being an anthology of many papers and articles. By the way, I would say we have a moral alternative to the nuclear counter-value strategy called MAD [Mutual Assured Destruction] and that is Nuclear Missile Defense. I have poured my life into that alternative as well as protecting your right to disagree and have the religious freedom you enjoy.

  9. I know that many have strong convictions on either side of the debate. From my perspective it is a matter of a clear conscience which is not dictated by someone else’s opinion. Living by Christ’s life, His Spirit, we will love, even our enemies. But this expression is a process learned together as we hear Him and follow Him. Jesus’ life is other, not of this world. Too often, brothers and sisters judge each other based on worldly opinions, and if those opinions do not align with their own then they break fellowship or worse call them unChristian, totally contrary to the life of Christ. I used to be one who labeled Christians into different camps based on what they believed and only fellowshipped with those who believed like I did. Over the years I have realized that each member has a measure of faith and gift of Christ to the building up of the body in faith and love. When we label others, such as which view is right or wrong we move in the direction of labeling, often leading to heated disputes which is not loving and not of Christ. Don’t get me wrong I believe we should ask questions, but when it comes to questions of whether Christians should be in politics, the military, etc, then we move into an area based on opinions.

    • Good thoughts on not labeling. I hate labels. But if Jesus has clear commands for or against certain actions, then we also should embrace and promote these commands. When Jesus says “don’t fornicate,” then it’s not my mere opinion which says that we shouldn’t fornicate. When Jesus says “don’t lust,” it’s not my mere opinion or some label I’m promoting. And when Jesus say don’t retaliate violence with violence, I don’t think I’m just promoting a “position” or “label” by pointing people to what Jesus said.

      • Along that line of thinking Jesus also said, “Don’t judge.” Pardon Brown’s paraphrase here, stated thus to be consistent with your statements. But, in Matthew 7 that statement is the opening of a discourse that includes not throwing pearls to swine, in verse 6. Since, that language is figurative, one has to judge, some would say discern, who the swine are and what the pearls are, in order to apply the teaching of the previous verses.

  10. Governments have the right and functional necessity to bear the sword to punish evil. If it’s a necessity, on what basis should a Christian refuse to take part in it? It’s not an ideal situation, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

    What would happen if there was no police and no armed forces?

    • David,

      This is so funny! I addressed this issue in passing in the next blog and I promise you I didn’t read your response beforehand! So I think I started to address this in blog 2, and will continue to address it (to some extent) in blog 3. In any case, I really think that this question needs to be wrestled with AFTER all the passages are dealt with where Jesus (and Paul, and Peter) prohibit the use of violence by Christians. People often race to logical deduction as you state here without dealing with what Jesus actually said.

  11. “… the hypothetical person breaking into your house with a knife is usually the first argument that folks will use to support violence/war…” from Preston’s first comment.

    Yes, the hypothetical is often used as a smokescreen which obscures actual wars. This is probably the biggest roadblock to honest discussion.

  12. Preston,

    Typically, when Jesus saw someone in sin, He is some way pointed it out to them, such as with the woman caught in adultery in John 8. If your view is correct, why then did Jesus not once, in all of HIs encounters with Centurions, ever do anything to point out to them that they were in sin for doing what they were doing?

    Also, since government is given the power of the sword to suppress evil (Rom. 13), how can it possibly be wrong for a Christian to be part of a government force (whether police or army) which is doing that?

    Lastly, don’t you see something commendable & Christlike in men & women who would, out of love for the Lord & their fellow man, be willing to risk & lay down their lives in the service of their country?

    Rob Orr

    • Hello Rob,

      Thanks for dropping in–even if it is a bit late! You raise three very good questions, which I’ll do my best to address, albeit briefly. But I would first encourage you to read the rest of the blog series,
      since some of these questions are addressed head on in the posts.

      And let me just say, Rob, that I respect you a ton and invite critical dialogue on this very important issue. My grandfather was a Marine and my father (and uncle) are both Marines. My father also served in the the LAPD for 17 years (including the Watts riots), so I have no inherent disdain for those serving in these areas, nor do I claim that there is an easy answer to the many practical questions that arise from this topic. Quite the opposite. Moreover, I’m wanting first and foremost to understand what the Bible says about warfare and violence; my allegiance is to the Word of my King. So if I’m off on any interpretation or whatever, I invite critique and correction, for the glory of Christ.

      First, regarding Jesus and soldiers. This is a common critique against “non-violence” (for what it’s worth, I don’t like the term pacifism and I therefore no longer call myself one), especially as it pertains to Luke 3:10-14 (and of course Matt 8; cf. Acts 16). But the argument is driven by silence. The fact that Jesus doesn’t address violence when He (or John) encounters military personnel doesn’t mean he therefore approves of it. For instance, Roman military service would have necessitated many various idolatrous practices as well, such as emperor worship, worship of pagan gods, and many other sinful practices. But John (in Luke 3) doesn’t address these either. He only tells the soldiers not to extort money. Does this mean that John approves of their paganism? Of course not.

      All in all, the fact that Jesus and John doesn’t address the issue of violence when they encounter military men doesn’t mean that they thereby approve of it. Certainly Jesus wouldn’t have made an exception for military personnel when He gave the commands in Matt 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36.

      Second, Romans 13. This is the main text that people go to. But Romans 13 only says that God uses secular governments (in this case Rome) to carry out vengeance and wrath. God also did this through Assyria, Babylon, and Persia in the OT. The idea is the same. (Persia, Isa 44-45; Babylon, Jer 27:6; 43:10;
      Assyria, Isa. 10:5 “club of my wrath…rod of my anger”). So Romans 13 does not command the church to commend nor participate in the practices of Rome; it only tells the church to submit to the government and not revolt against it. In fact, if you look at Rom 12:19 and compare it with 13:4 (esp. in the Greek), Paul seems to rule out a Christians participation in “bearing the sword.” Rom 12 tells the church to NOT execute vengeance and wrath, but let God do this. And Rom 13 says that one way God executes vengeance and wrath is through governments–the vengeance and wrath that Paul forbids Christians to partake in (Rom 12:19).

      Now, please don’t hear me saying that Christians shouldn’t be part of the government nor part of the military! I just don’t think that Rom 13 can be taken to support a Christians participation in either. In fact, in light of Rom 12, it seems to discourage it. Christian Just War theorists need to find another text to support their position.

      Third, you asked the question: “don’t you see something commendable & Christlike in men & women
      who would, out of love for the Lord & their fellow man, be willing
      to risk & lay down their lives in the service of their country?”

      There are many things we would need to figure out before we answer this question. First, we’d need to ask the question whether or not those who “risk & lay down their lives” are obeying or disobeying Jesus in the process. If, for instance, Christians are “returning evil for evil” or not “loving their enemy,” in their service to their country–China, Iraq, America, Mexico, or whichever country such Christians are living in (most Christians don’t live in America)–then I probably wouldn’t say that such a thing is noble–not according to Christ’s definition of noble. But if we can show from Scripture that killing is commended by Jesus and the New Testament in some cases, and if those serving their country are killing people within the realm of what Christ would commend, then yes, in theory I would certainly follow Jesus in commending such people. And it seems that the phrase “out of service to their…fellow man” you mean those living in America. Because innocent many fellow men are killed by Americans serving their country, including so-called just wars like WWII, where 24 million non-combatants were killed (not all by Americans, but many were). However you slice it, war is messy.

      In short, we need to define what is moral and immoral behavior according to Scripture before I commend someone’s service to their country.

      As a footnote, I think we also must consider how such service to one’s country affects our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. Sometimes American Christians, in particular, miss that. Our allegiance is first and foremost to Jesus and His bride–which is dispersed around the globe. So if we are serving our country and such service, while “protecting” American Christians, is harming Christians (and thus the kingdom of God) around the globe, then I would need to be convinced how this is noble and worthy of my commendation.

      And unfortunately, history has shown that American military endeavors have done both. Sometimes they open up doors for the gospel (I’m thinking of the Korean war), but sometimes they harm the global church. For instance, many Iraqi Christians have been killed or exile as a result of America’s invasion in 2003. So while American Christians protected their freedom (I would actually question that whole logic), Iraqi Christians lost theirs. And this, I dare say, is not commendable.

      We also need to raise the question whether or not God needs human militaries to protect his people. Closed countries like China have seen the Church grow from 1 million to over 100 million in 50 years–all without the “protection” of a military. Religious freedom is protected by America, but I would only ask: So how’s that going for the American Church? Again, we need to at least raise the question (not condemn it, but just raise the question) whether or not having a military-defended freedom (possibly at the expense of other Christians around the globe) is the best way to advance God’s kingdom.

      If you have read this, Rob, I truly would love for you to push back and criticize any points where you think I am wrong. Again, I don’t want to be “right;” I want to be biblical in all things. Especially this topic.

      Thanks for taking the time to raise some very good questions!

  13. Dr. Sprinkle, I am responding actually to your post on Twitter “Old Testament, Militarism, and Idolatry” which as one would expect had 30 plus responses. I did not wish to continue that long string of responses. I come from a very different background religiously and traditionally as yourself but over time have come to many of the same conclusions after having served in the military as well as enjoyed many of the cinematic presentations of such. I have been influenced greatly by W. Brueggemann’s work in the O.T., ie. “David’s Truth”, his work in I & II Kings with Solomon and this move toward unbridled power and violence masked in nationalistic zeal. Wanted to get your feedback on the story of Elijah. I have always been a little disappointed with some of the usual interpretations on his encounter with the prophets of Baal at Carmel and Jezebel’s response soon after. In 1 Kings 19, Jezebel’s response to Elijah is that she will “make your (Elijah) life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Most folk insist that Jezebel seeks to kill Elijah. But the use of “life” instead of death is repetitive and curious. Elijah has no problem later with death, so I am not convinced that he is in fear of death. He gets up and “flees for his life.” It is “life” that is at stake is it not? A certain kind of life and living. I am also curious because I am convinced the brutality that Elijah unleashes on the prophets of Baal by shedding their blood actually makes him akin to Jezebel, he is much like her in his responses, and she shrewdly understands that after she hears what he has done. I see nowhere in the text that Yahweh calls him to such a response. In the end Elijah shows himself, at his core, just as violent. He recognizes this, maybe for the first time, and it causes what many describe as depression. He literally runs from “himself.” He like Jezebel will do anything to achieve his ends. I suggest this reading because Yahweh is looking for those who don’t resort to such violence. It is also interesting that the so called “still small voice” tells Elijah to look for his replacement. Hmmm? Elijah is finished because his responses move too quickly to the sword. He and Jezebel are more alike than not. Thanks.