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

As we wrestle with the issue of Christians and violence, it’s interesting to note that prior to Constantine (4th Cent. A.D.), Christians were basically pacifists. Few Christians ever joined the military and rarely would a believer pursue a vocation where killing someone else would expected. (There’s no evidence of a Christian serving as a soldier of Rome until A.D. 174.) If you did happen to kill someone—say, you were already a soldier and got converted—it was viewed as a sin that required tearful confession and repentance, rather than celebration. Violence for the early Church was viewed as contrary to the cross of Christ, and there really wasn’t much of a debate about it.

This, of course, isn’t a biblical argument for pacifism, though it should cause us to question our assumptions as we approach the text. For pre-Constantine Christianity, non-violence was a fundamental Christian ethic. For post-Constantine Christianity, or more specifically in American Christianity where warfare is what brought us our religious freedom purchased by the blood of Native Americans, violence is rarely questioned except when embedded in a rated-R movie. (The contradiction between some Christians’ support for war and yet disdain for violent rated-R movies is ironic, to say the least.) All in all, we absolutely need to stick close to the biblical text in order to think Christianly through the issue of violence.

In the last post, I mentioned three passages that often head the list of biblical support for the so-called Just War position, or violence by individual Christians when it’s appropriate: Luke 22, Romans 13, and the temple cleansing (John 2, among others).

Luke 22:35-38 says:

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

So, Jesus tells them to go buy a sword, and low and behold, two of them (Peter and probably Simon the Zealot) already had a sword. “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” The question is: What did Jesus mean by the last phrase “It is enough?” Two swords are enough for what?

I don’t think this text can be used to support Jesus’ (new) allowance for violence. First, a few verses later Peter will wield his sword, cutting off a dude’s ear, and Jesus rebukes him: “No more of this!” (22:51). Obviously Peter (along with many later interpreters) misunderstood Jesus’ previous command to go buy a sword. The swords weren’t meant to be used for violence by Jesus’ followers. Second, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 53:12, that he would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37) reveals the point of the two swords: Jesus had to be viewed by the Roman authorities as a threat—a potential revolutionary—in order for Rome to have legal grounds to crucify him. When Jesus hung on the cross, he was placed between an insurrectionist (Barabbas) and another criminal; he was numbered among other revolutionary transgressors and was therefore crucified. Understanding Luke 22 in this way makes much better sense both of the quotation of Isaiah 53 and the flow of Jesus’ ethical teaching, which has consistently discouraged violence up until this point.

Let’s go to Romans 13:1-5:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

This passage is often used to advocate for the use of violence by Christians. Now again, the passage isn’t a command or even a direct allowance for violence by the church, but a command that the church submit to its—can I say—evil, corrupt, anti-Christian, and immoral governing authorities. Paul is not praising the government. He’s not saying to love the government. He’s not saying that the government is inherently good. In fact, at the time of writing, Caesar Nero was on Rome’s throne and he was a pedophilic maniac who thought he was divine! In A.D. 64, the same “governing authorities,” whom God commands the church to submit to, will end up dipping Christians in tar and setting them on fire to illuminate Nero’s garden at night. So Paul isn’t saying that Nero’s Rome is on our side, so to speak.

So what is Paul saying? In the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, Paul is saying that God is the ultimate authority and He is so sovereign that He can even work through evil earthly authorities to carry out his will. We see this in Daniel (5:1-31). We see it in Isaiah (44:24-45:7). We see it in Zechariah (1:15-21). We see it all throughout the Old Testament: God works through the evil institutions on earth to carry out his will, and God’s people shouldn’t resist or revolt against those institutions that God has placed over his people. God is ultimately in charge.

But this doesn’t mean that the evil institution is morally good or “on God’s side.” God uses earthly authorities, but He will ultimately judge them. Again, we see this throughout the prophets, where God will judge the very governing institutions that he uses. And we see this in Revelation 17-18—follow me here—where God ruthlessly condemns and pronounced judgment upon the same Roman Government that he told the church to submit to in Romans 13. The apostle John would be quite shocked, I think, at the contemporary Church’s affectionate love for and unconditional allegiance to the Babylons of their day. The question of a Christian’s participation in Babylon’s governance is simply not in view in Romans 13.

I’ve got to cut this short, so for the sake of space let me just say that in all the accounts of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-19; John 2:13-22; and others), never does the text say that he physically harmed the people he was rebuking. Yes, he made a whip and drove them out (John 2:15), but it doesn’t say that he was lacerating people with it. The temple cleansing demonstrates Jesus’ non-violent righteous indignation toward greed and corruption, and ultimately foreshadows the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but it doesn’t show that Jesus reversed his non-violent posture by snapping a few money changes in the butt.

For the next post, we’ll dig into violence in the Old Testament.

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  1. “American Christianity where warfare is what brought us our religious freedom purchased by the blood of Native Americans.”
    This is an over-simplification to the extreme, at worst, and impossible to understand, at best. Perhaps, you mean “at the expense of Native Americans,” but still it is not true in the general sense. While Native Americans were mistreated, it is hard to believe they were the ones who stood in the way, or fought for, our religious freedom. BTW, I do admire the 5 Civilized Tribes, who sought resolution through the courts. They erred on the side of “turning the other cheek.” But, some of the results included losing their families in the “Trail of Tears.”

      • Tim and Lyndell,

        Ya, you got me. The phrase was intended to be provocative. Oversimplified? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean that it’s therefore not true. Many statements like “Jesus is God” are also oversimplified (what about the Trinity? Monotheism? The Son’s dependence on the Father? His humanity?…etc.) but that doesn’t make them untrue.

        Now, is it unfounded? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, or you’re misunderstanding me, but I can’t imagine a convincing historical argument that would show that Native Americans WERE NOT unjustly killed as Europeans settled in “America.” The native population of the Americas went from about 12 million in the 15th century to under 300 thousand by the 19th century (nearly at 95% decrease). We got religious freedom. They spilled a ton of blood. Is there really no connection?

        • There is much debate about the true Native American population at the time of European expansion in the Americas. The number was once thought to be a bit over 1 million, but over time that estimation continued to increase (some say 18 million). Not unlike how scientists keep increasing the age of the Earth to accommodate the Theory of Evolution, anthropologists have been accused of inflating the Native American population estimations to promote the idea of genocide. Regardless of the size of the population, it’s widely held that disease was the biggest killer of Native Americans; they simply didn’t have the immune systems for these foreign diseases (smallpox, measels, flu, cholera, etc.). The consensus is that 75-90% of Native American deaths were the result of disease. This hardly give evidence to a genocide at the hands of Christians. To be sure, there was war and conflict between the settlers and the Native Americans, but some of this aggression was done by war-like tribes, and some by colonists. Until much later, when most of the Native American population had already succumbed to death from disease, there is no evidence of an organized effort to go to war with Native Americans for the benefit of pilgrims seeking religious freedom. Many of the more heinous examples of abuses had nothing to do with gaining religious freedom, and had more to do with politics, money, and expansion.

          Again, I don’t think you can substantiate your claim that American Christianity was founded upon warfare with Native Americans. The connection between ‘religious freedom’ in America and the death of probably millions of Native Americans is much flimsier than you suggest.

          • Tim,

            You raise some excellent points and I’ll now be more cautious in making sweeping statements.

            I think my heart behind it was to cause us to think a bit more about how others perceive the American narrative. Like the fish who can’t explain what water feels like, sometimes people (American Christians) can be so caught up in an American retelling of the story that we become blinded to the wider picture. I felt this for the first time back in 2004 when I was living in the UK and I ask my English friend if he had any plans for the fourth (of July)? My ignorance for asking the question, and his shocking response, put by own biases on bold display. And it seems wherever I go (Israel, Egypt, Russia, Australia, Germany, France), the view of America is much different that what I hear back home.

            So that’s all that was behind the comment. I think we sometimes glorify the founding of America, when it was much more complicated that what we often hear. And when people slap a religious label on the whole story…well, I just think the story becomes very jaded, if not mythical.

            In any case, I learned something new through this dialogue, so thanks for dropping in, Tim.

          • Preston, I did really appreciate the whole series of blog posts. I don’t want to seem like I just singled out one sentence and focused just on that. I was blessed by the thought you put into this series and appreciate you challenging our limited worldview by bringing it back to the Bible.

          • Thanks Tim. I wasn’t turned off by your comment at all; it was a good push back / clarification. I made an off-handed comment that was more rhetorical and it came back to bite me 🙂

        • Thanks for the response. I appreciate your honesty and I was hoping you would say that. I will have to get back to you on some of this. But, “Jesus is God” is a simple statement and true. It is not oversimplified. Reconciling the whole Bible and human experience with the concept “Jesus is God” is complicated, but the concept remains quite simple. Those of us schooled in Physics would say, “Light is a particle,” and, later, “Light is a wave.” Both are simple concepts until you try to figure out how, in human understanding, that they both can be true. That is similar to interpreting God. Human thought processes, which physicists and theologians engage in continually, will never do justice to the greatness of God or His Creation. Ooops! But, I am ‘reaching to the choir,’ again, am I not?

  2. I find that I agree with most of what you say from the text, but then I see interpretations and statements like “it doesn’t say.” Do you have proof that Roman soldiers quit their posts when they became Christians? Because the obvious extension of that is that all your Christian brothers and sisters, today, who have served in the US military protecting your country and thus, your freedom, don’t belong in the body of Christ. “It doesn’t say” that Christ rebuked the Centurion, but rather that he had not found faith like his in all Israel, right?

    • Lyndell,

      I’m not sure I’m following your pushback here. What’s the problem with my phrase “it does not say?” Am I making an inaccurate observation?

      As far as Christian soldiers, we’ll discuss that in a future post. As far as having historical evidence of a Christian soldier leaving his post, I don’t know of any evidence that there were Christian soldiers until, again, A.D. 174. Even then, I’m not sure if he was converted as a soldier, or signed up for the military after being converted. But all this beside the point really. All I was saying was that the pacifism was by far the dominate, most widely accepted and assumed, position regarding violence by Christians in the pre-Constatine church. That’s all. It was a simple historical observation, and if it’s wrong, then I’d love to see some evidence proving otherwise and I would gladly retract it.

      Regarding Christians serving in the military (whether it’s Iraq’s military, German’s military, or America’s military), this is something we’ll discuss in future posts. But for now, we need to focus on what the Bible actually says and the example that Christ left us with before we wrestle with these issues. I never said, nor do I think my words can imply, that those serving in the military are no longer part of the body of Christ. That’s quite a leap beyond what I said.

      As far as your statement about those who “have served in the US military protecting your country and thus, your freedom,” my citizenship is in heaven not on earth, and my freedom was purchased by Christ. My allegiance is to Jesus and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world (Afghani believers, Palestinian Christ-followers, Chinese brothers and sisters). I submit to my government and pray for it (not as much as I should), and so do (I hope) all of the other citizens of heaven who have been dispersed among the nations.

      • Ya got me! I also oversimplified for effect. But, this is the way your posts will be taken by those who served. Seriously, don’t you think that you have a dual citizenship and that, as such, you are called to be salt and light, especially in a Democratic/Republican form of government. I know you do. My citizenship is in heaven, too. But, I am proud of a country,that notwithstanding many short comings is still a great place to be a Christian, because we don’t use violence on those who profess Christ. I would say that that is a little [understatement, of course] different than a few chapters of the Roman Empire.

        • Ya, I think I can sign off on the dual citizenship thing, as long as we define it. And even so, the only time the NT talks about our earthly citizenship, it subtly critiques it (Phil 1:27; 3:20, where Paul is playing off on the Philippians’ Roman citizenship; cf. the book of Revelation).

          Just curious, would you use the same dual citizenship statement for Afghani, Chinese, or Pakistani believers, or is it something that would only apply to American Christians?

          • I would assume that other nations peoples are, in general, citizens at birth. In two of the nations, they are born Muslims. If they accept Christ, AND are not asked to renounce their citizenship OR are not killed for their faith, then they would be citizens of their country and of heaven. Note: Paul seemed to be citizens of three political entities. Then, we have the balance between two concepts at play: 1) to obey the authorities, or, if it comes down to it; 2) to obey God rather than men. In the US, that has been pretty easy to do so far. I was an officer in the Air Force at a better time, however. But, I did sign a statement that I would obey a legal order to dispatch nuclear weapons. I had faith that if the order was given it would be legal and, if not, I would refuse to turn my key, as in “War Games,” the movie, and thus, would be shot on the spot. Not in a movie, but real life. BUT…While you can deny it, and many do, this nation derived it’s laws from Judeo-Christian thought, even though our thinking is quite ‘Greek’ in many other ways. I can guarantee you that I have considered Jesus’ words long and hard. Before you pass that off, consider the fact that I lived through it. It was very real to me, with serious consequences. What you are saying has very serious consequences, too. If not for you, for someone you influence. But, I am perfectly happy with chaplains being consciencious objectors. I am a consciencious participant. I was influenced by literature at my church when I first made that decision. The author seemed to know the Bible and made consistent arguments. The other author was Amish or a Mennonite. But, my memory is fuzzy because I was still in high school at the time and had no plans of joining the military voluntarily.

            Your argument on Luke 22 is weak. Just because the quote from Isaiah establishes a prophetic understanding in the context of transgressors, it is not clear, at all, that swords were required in their possession. When Judas kissed Jesus, they were going to take him anyway. His trial was a farce and, therefore, proving he was a transgressor was not even needed. Even though the fullfillment of prophecy was. Secondly, too much emphasis on that thought destroys the parallelism of the first part, emphasizing different missions and conditions that Jesus used as the introduction to the topic. It seems clear to me that he was mainly preparing his disciples for His departure.

  3. Nice interpretations Preston. Thank you for going through this topic patiently. Re the whip Jesus made (something that supports your reading): John is the only evangelist who gives us the detail of the whip and he is also the only one to specify that the Jesus drove out *livestock* (sheep and oxen). Mark and Matthew only mention doves. Luke doesn’t mention any animals (not even doves!). Those observations lead me to conclude that the whip was for the *livestock* not the people. This is made explicit grammatically as πάντας (“all”) refers to the “sheep and the oxen.” The NASB says, “and drove *them* all out of the temple, *with* the sheep and the oxen” which makes it seem like “them” refers to (or includes) the “money changers” in verse 14. However, “them” and “with” are not in the Greek (which is why I emphasized them). Therefore, it should read, “and drove all out of the temple, not only the sheep but also the oxen” (the τε also makes this grammatically certain–I think 🙂 ). Again, “all” refers to the livestock, not the people; and the whip was made for the purpose of driving out the livestock, not the people. When there are no livestock mentioned, then there is no need to include the detail that Jesus made a whip. After all, the synoptic evangelists didn’t want people going around 2000 yrs later thinking Jesus was violent :).

  4. Great Stuff, Preston.

    I wanted to add to the Romans 13 discussion.

    I think Romans 12:14-21 also reinforces your interpretation of 13:1-7. For instance, in 12:17-21, Paul tells the Roman church to never repay evil for evil, and overcome evil with good; but, he also says to “never AVENGE yourself, but leave it to the WRATH of God.” Then, just verses later in 13:4, Paul defines who is able to AVENGE and what the WRATH of God is. He continues to say the government is the “servant of God, an AVENGER who carries out God’s WRATH on the wrongdoer.” He repeats the exact words! I think Paul makes his point extremely clear. Don’t avenge yourself, leave it to God’s sovereign providence in the government, which is, in a very mysterious way, God’s wrath. That those in the church would not be in a violent government position/role is almost taken for granted in Romans 12-13.

      • Adam,

        We’ll get to all of that either Friday or Saturday. Sorry for the delay!

        No, I’ve never said they can’t be part of the military, president, or police force, though some versions of pacifism (see my first post) would say, no they shouldn’t. No all positions in the military require you to act violently (many actually), and as far as the president goes, I would LOVE it if a Christian president took Matt 5 and Rom 12 seriously and tried to instil Jesus’ supreme ethic as part of national policy! Non-violence as a means of accomplishing justice worked for King, it worked for Gandhi. I wonder if more justice could be accomplished by pursuing it non-violently. Just a thought. But then again, all the ethical commands are for the church, not for governments. So any member of the church who is in the government will be faced with all sorts of tough decisions, where evil or a lesser evil are the only two choices.

        The police force is a tough one. God uses Rome to punish evil doers, but the question of a Christian’s participation in Rome (or America, or China, or wherever) can only be reasoned by logical implication and not by the direct meaning of the text. This very issue, I think (and many pacifists admit) is the most difficult question that pacifism has no solid answer.

        • I have nothing but utmost respect for men like Martin Luther King and Gandi. I do believe their cause was noble and that they acted righteously. They were rebelling against authority after all, so it would’ve been hard to justify more cruelty and violence. Will it work in all situations? I am doubtful. Perhaps the only reason why they were able to succeed was due to the fact that they were protesting against a Western nation greatly influenced by the teachings of Christ. They were, after all, rebuking Christians for not living like Jesus. Would Gandi had been victorious if India was oppressed by say Muslim Pakistan or China? I don’t know.

          • Regarding the question, “Will it work in all situations?” I understand your question and it means you realize the scandal of the cross–it’s was a defeat and a failure! Your question needs to be asked, but only in order to discover that it’s not the right kind of question to dwell on (for Christians). What I mean is that we should be asking, “Will this be consistent with faithful discipleship of the Crucified King?” Questions of social efficacy aren’t the best questions. Rather, questions of faithful obedient discipleship on the terms of the Master are the more appropriate ones (we don’t want to be like the would-be disciples in Luke 9:57-62 and create the terms of discipleship that makes the most “sense” to us or are most “convenient”). Further, there are many forms of pacifism with each having their own goals and justifications (reasons). *Christian* non-violence isn’t a strategy to either rid the world of war or to get what we want by other means; rather, precisely in a world of war and violence, faithful discipleship can’t be anything other than non-violent.

            Here are some quotes to stir thought and discussion relevant to this issue from John Yoder’s book, The Politics of Jesus:

            “The key to the ultimate relevance and to the triumph of the good is not any calculation at all, paradoxical or otherwise, of efficacy, but rather simple obedience. Obedience means not keeping verbally enshrined rules but reflecting the character of the love of God. The cross is not a recipe for resurrection. Suffering is not a tool to make people come around, nor a good in itself. But the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept evident defeat rather than complicity with evil is, by virtue of its conformity with what happens to God when he works among us, aligned with the ultimate triumph of the Lamb. This vision of ultimate good being determined by faithfulness and not by results is the point where we moderns get off.” (237-238)

            “‘Christian pacifism’ is most adequately understood not on the level of means alone, as if the pacifist were making the claim that he can achieve what war promises to achieve, but do it just as well or even better without violence. This is one kind of pacifism, which in some contexts may be clearly able to prove its point, but not necessarily always. That Christian pacifism which has a theological basis in the character of God and the work of Jesus Christ is one in which the calculating link between our obedience and ultimate efficacy has been broken, since the triumph of God comes through resurrection and not through effective sovereignty or assured survival.” (239)

            “Perhaps this will prepare us to see how inappropriate and preposterous was the prevailing assumption, from the time of Constantine until yesterday, that the fundamental responsibility of the church for society is to manage it. And might it be, if we could be freed from the compulsiveness of the vision of ourselves as the guardians of history, that we could receive again the gift of being able to see ourselves as participants in the loving nature of God as revealed in Christ?” (240)

            “Then to follow Jesus does not mean renouncing effectiveness. It does not mean sacrificing concern for liberation within the social process in favor of delayed gratification in heaven, or abandoning efficacy in favor of purity. It means that in Jesus we have a clue to which kinds of causation, which kinds of community-building, which kinds of conflict management, go with the grain of the cosmos, of which we know, as Caesar does not, that Jesus is both the Word (the inner logic of things) and the Lord (“sitting at the right hand”). (246)

          • Hi Andrew,

            I understand your argument here, but I think you’re taking my comments a little too far. Regarding your question – “Will this be consistent with faithful discipleship of the Crucified King?” I believe the answer depends on the circumstance. I just haven’t seen any good solid arguments thus far to convince me that pacifism is the truth when it comes to defending my family, friends, town, or country. It’s honestly got nothing to do with what makes sense to me or what is convenient. It’s what the BIble *in its entirety* has to say.

  5. Preston, thanks for taking this topic on. Could you please elaborate on the Luke 22 passage? I guess I don’t really follow how Jesus’s comment to the disciples about swords connects to him (Jesus) being an insurrectionist. So…

    1) Was the commandment to get swords given to the disciples with the intent of making Jesus look like an insurrectionist?
    2) If so, should we take Jesus’s comment, “It is enough.” (verse 38) to mean that there aren’t any more swords needed–not just at the time of the incident, but for now as well?

    • Ya, both 1 and 2 are what I’d say (there’s 3-4 different interpretations of the passage that all carry a bit of weight). But I would limit the “it is enough” concerning the two swords to the time of the incident. In any case, I think the quotation of Isa 53 is the key. Clearly, the incident is explicitly connected to fulfilling that text.

  6. I may not believe the general pacifist position, but thanks for writing these posts Preston – always very thought-provoking and challenge me to get back into the Word.

    Regarding Peter drawing his sword.

    I think we need some more clarity regarding this event. First of all, Jesus was being arrested by the authorities. It’s not as though Jesus and his disciples were jumped by a bunch of renegades on the road to Jericho. Jesus had already admonished his followers to live in submission to the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they sat in “Moses’ seat” (Matt 23:2). How much more then would he rebuke a disciple for attacking the chief representative of the High Priest ? Even Paul knew not to speak disrespectfully when he was on trial.

    Secondly, there is good reason to believe that Peter was not trying to make this servant shorter, but purposefully sliced his ear. There was apparently a terrible practice off removing a man’s ear lobe at that time in order to remove him from temple worship (no mutilated priest could serve – Lev 21). Rival priests performed this act to disqualify the other from office (this happened to Hyrcanus II as recorded by Josephus; Mishnah also mentions this practice).

    So the way I view this event is that Jesus was not being attacked, but arrested. Rebelling against authority, Peter savagely mutilated the representative of the high priest and was rebuked by Jesus for “living by the sword”. Just like if the police came to arrest me, I would be sinning by attacking them. It would only promote violence and anarchy.

    • Great thoughts, Adam! I didn’t know all that stuff. It wasn’t the priest’s ear that he cut off, but the servant’s, so how does this affect the high priest and his temple worship (via Lev 21)? Or were you just implying that the servant wouldn’t be able to go to temple?

      Also, what about Jesus’ own explanation of his rebuke: “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Is he only talking in terms of defiling a priest so that he can’t worship at the temple? It seems to be a broader statement regarding the counter-productivity of violence. Just thinking out loud…

      Thanks for the interesting take on this incident! I always love to hear stuff about the Jewish background to give us 3D lenses for the incident. (The point still stands, right? that Jesus rebuked Peter for acting violently? Or would you say that the only problem Jesus had was Peter’s insubordination against government?)

      • I think it’s an interesting take on the whole ear thing. Perhaps Peter was more skilled with the sword than we realize. It wasn’t the High Priest but it would’ve prevented his right hand man from assisting him in temple worship, essentially with the servant losing his job and high status. It was a terrible, barbaric thing to do. That’s why Jesus rebukes Peter with “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” It was unnecessary violence that he instigated. If you live a violent life, you will reap what you sow.

        Yes, the point still stands – that Jesus was against violence … but I wouldn’t say a passage like this supports the notion that he was against ALL violence, like that used in self defense or protecting one’s family. This is not a story of self defense – Peter was on the offense. And again, it was against a government official, not some robber or rapist. That’s basically all I’m saying 🙂

        • Good and interesting thoughts Adam F. Keep in mind though that the purpose of discussing the Luke 22:35-38 passage wasn’t necessarily to say that it *supports* pacifism, but that it can’t be employed as support *against* pacifism. The episode with Peter after the two swords only serves to underwrite the claim that Luke 22 isn’t an endorsement of either *preventative* violence or being *proactively* armed in case a situation should arise where using the weapon would be necessary and nor can it be used to breakdown the pacifist position. I don’t think Preston intends to say that a “passage like this supports the notion that he was against ALL violence;” again, it just can’t be used to support either arguments *against* pacifism or arguments that justify employing violence in self-defense situations given the fact that “this is not a story of self defense.” Basically, in order to argue against pacifism Scripturally, the discussion needs to be directed elsewhere and in order to argue for the biblical justification of violence in self-defense the discussion needs to be directed elsewhere.

          • Ya, that’s basically what I was getting at. (Said it better than I could have said it myself.) My list of passages in the 2nd blog were intended to be cumulative evidence for the claim that Jesus never acted violently and discouraged the use of violence by his followers whenever the issue arose. Each passages, however, in itself would not prove a particular view.

          • Thanks Andrew. Actually, I wasn’t referring to Luke 22:35-38. I was just elaborating on the point Preston made about Peter wielding the sword and wanted to discuss it further. Just processing things out loud, not necessarily countering anything Preston wrote above.

          • I feel ya. I knew you were discussing Peter. I was trying to bring the discussion full-circle to say that neither Jesus’ talk about swords, nor the point that Peter’s act was aggressive (as opposed to self-defensive) serves to undermine the pacifist position. These passages actually *support* the pacifist position, but they definitely don’t *prove* the position.

  7. The early church argument I’m sure you realize is not decisive since just about every heresy was practiced then. However, it is interesting that you offer no citations that would support your position. Such a position would need to be documented by citations. You may find that such citations do not exist.

    In fact, some would say that the early Christian Fathers never uttered one word of condemnation of war per se, and the majority of the Fathers had no problems with Christians participating in just wars or capital punishment. Have you overstated your case?

    Your introductory comments are sweeping generalizations and ad hominem arguments. The colonization of America is much more complicated than warfare buying religious freedom on the blood of Native Americans. I don’t find that we have a culture of violence because of our history. Again to say that “violence is rarely questioned except when embedded in a rated-R movie” is a sweeping generalization. This is also mixing apples and oranges. The American history issue might include just war arguments and atrocities, while the movie argument might be over gratuitous violence.

    You say about Peter’s sword incident: “Obviously Peter (along with many later interpreters) misunderstood Jesus’ previous command to go buy a sword. The swords weren’t meant to be used for violence by Jesus’ followers.”

    It is not “obvious” that Peter misunderstood. It is only obvious that Jesus did not want him to use the sword in this instance. Jesus may have been protecting Peter from being killed by the larger force that he didn’t stand a chance against. Also, obviously, Jesus was ready to go to the cross.

    Your arguments that Jesus wanted to be thought of as a revolutionary, and that he wanted people to “think” that he might hit them with a lash, but that his disciples were not to use their swords and he would not really hit people, strike me as very odd (pun intended). Your argument is that it is wrong to use violence, but it is okay to make people think you will?

    Also, for Jesus to be numbered with the transgressors does not mean that there had to be any seeming credibility to the charges. Pilate says that he finds no fault in him.

    In your discussion of Romans 13, I don’t think any war advocates are going to argue that the government is necessarily good or on our side, etc. That whole paragraph of your argumentation about government is pointless for the discussion. Again, the idea that perhaps some Christians have “affectionate love for and unconditional allegiance to the Babylons of their day” is ad hominem. I don’t even know who you are talking about.

    Regardless, I agree with your contentions of God’s sovereignty worked out through government and that God will judge them. And the main point of Romans 13 is to submit.

    However, there is much much more to Romans 13. It states that God established governing authorities. Thus, while corrupt governing officials may corrupt and abuse the institution, the institution itself is good. It is also supposed to give praise for good behavior and cause fear for bad behavior. It is intended to be a minister for good. It is supposed to be an avenger that brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Paul’s view of government assumes that there is a history of government and that there are standards to evaluate whether it is doing good or not. It seems safe to assume that he is building on the OT, as you say, but more than just the sovereignty and submission aspects. He also assumes the OT good and evil standards, as well as capitol punishment. So, without any abrogation of OT government principles one would assume that they are in effect. Also, while the passage does not speak to the issue of believers being involved in government there is nothing to suggest that they should not be. And the history of OT involvement of followers of Yahweh in government would seem to substantiate its legitimacy without any stated NT abrogation.

    Grace and peace,


    Also, with the temple cleansing you use an argument from silence. While it does not say whether he connected or not with people’s flesh, you can’t say he didn’t. It is funny to me that you think it is okay to make people think you will do violence, but you just can’t actually do it.

    • It’s not ad hominem to point out violence in the history of a culture that rarely questions violence. It would be ad hominem to say that their viewpoint is invalid because they are a bad person, or something along those lines. He is merely pointing to some of the actions that come out of rarely questioning violence.

      Surely it’s not ad hominem to say that some Christians love Babylon. If so, a horrific amount of Jesus’ preaching was ad hominem. Saying negative things about someone is only a logical fallacy if you say that the point they are trying to make is invalid because they did something bad.

      And my last quibble about logical fallacies, his point was not to argue that these passages support pacifism, but to argue that they do not necessarily support the use of violence. He was arguing as you do, that to suggest from the Temple narrative that Jesus used, or threatened, violence, is an argument from silence. Since this passage is used to support the use of violence, the burden of proof is on those who want to use it in that way, and they argue from silence.

      • Luke, ad hominem can have wider usage than you allow. This would be ad hominem circumstantial, in my opinion. And regarding the Rom 13 passage, I do not think it is silent about violence. It says that the gov bears the sword and punishes the evil doer. And one would have to have a reason to exclude believers from government to say that they are not allowed to do so.

    • Brian,

      Thanks again for dropping in and offering some pushback. And again, there are too many things to respond to here, so I’ll have to just focus on a couple. On the whole, your responses seem to be nit picking various phrases within my argument, rather than overturning the argument as a whole, nor do you offer a more convincing argument or alternative interpretation. Luke 22 is case in point. The interpretation I’m taking is probably one of the more popular views (not just by pacifists) regarding a tough passage, yet you seem to not see it as a legitimate view. If you don’t take this view, then please do offer a better one. Why the two swords? How does the scene relate to Isa 53? And what does the phrase “it is enough” mean?

      But I’ll let our readers determine whether all your critiques overturn my position.

      Let me just address one of your critiques. You said:

      “The early church argument I’m sure you realize is not decisive since just about every heresy was practiced then.”

      First, it wasn’t an argument, just an observation. Second, it wasn’t intended to be decisive. And third, “…since just about every heresy was practiced then”…really? It’s ironic that you desire to point out my logical fallacies and then use this logic to prove your point. Kind of sweeping, don’t you think? And does the presence of doctrinal heresy in the early (and medieval, and protestant, and American, and…) church nullify the basic point I was making? Rarely did any Christian serve in Rome’s military before Constantine.

      But you go on to say:

      “However, it is interesting that you offer no citations that would support your position. Such a position would need to be documented by citations. You may find that such citations do not exist.”

      It’s a blog, bro, not a dissertation. I made a passing observation about something that is historically well established. But since you asked:

      The comment about no evidence that a Christian served as a soldier until A.D. 174 comes from Peter Craigie’s book, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, p. 50. The point is also more or less confirmed by several other scholars who have researched the question, including E. Stanley Jones (Mastery, p. 309) and Cadoux (Early Christian Attitude to War, passim).

      You go on to say:

      “In fact, some would say that the early Christian Fathers never uttered one word of condemnation of war per se, and the majority of the Fathers had no problems with Christians participating in just wars or capital punishment. Have you overstated your case?”

      (Again, the irony of you saying “some” here without documentation, and then later identifying a logical fallacy when I use the same phrase “some” without letting you know “who I’m talking about” is apparent.)

      But have I overstated the case? I’m not sure where you’re getting your research from. Here’s some quotes from folks who have looked into the question:

      C. Cadoux, in his book, Early Christian Attitude to War, concludes his study:
      “The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They strongly identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved; they appropriated to themselves of Old Testament prophecy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture; they declared that it was their policy to return good for evil and to conquer evil with good…With one or two possible exceptions, no soldier joined the Church and remained a soldier until the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.). Even then, refusal to serve was known to be the normal policy of the Christians-as the reproaches of Celsus testify (177-180 A.D.). In the time of Tertullianus (200-210 A.D.), many soldiers had left the army on their conversion…While a general distrust of ambition and a horror of contamination by idolatry entered largely into the Christians aversion of military service, the sense of the utter contradiction between the work of imprisoning, torturing, wounding, and killing, on the one hand and the master’s teaching on the other, constituted an equally fatal and conclusive objections.” (Cadoux, Early Christian Attitude to War, p. 245 ).

      A much older author, J. Dymond, in his book, An Inquiry into the Accordance of War with the Principles of Christianity, concludes:

      “It is therefore, indisputable, that the Christians who lived nearest to the time of our Savior, believed , with undoubting confidence, the He had unequivocally forbidden war-that they openly avowed this belief , and that, in support of it, they were willing to sacrifice, and did sacrifice, their fortunes and their lives.” (Dymond An Inquiry into the Accordance of War with the Principles of Christianity, pp. 86-87.)

      And Leo Tolstoy says that:

      “The declaration made before the military judges by conscientious objectors are only repetitions of what has been said since the appearance of the Christian doctrine. The most ardent and sincere fathers of the Church declared the teachings of Christ to be incompatible with… armed force; in other words, a Christian must not be a soldier, prepared to kill every one that he is ordered to do.” (Tolstoy, The Law of Love and the Law of Violence, p.60 )”

      The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics says:

      “The view was widely prevalent in the early Church that war is an organized iniquity with which the Church and the followers of Christ can have nothing to do. This sentiment was expressed, though with varying degrees of lucidity and emphasis, by Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origenes, Athanasius, Cyprian, and Lactantius.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, p. 678)

      Now, I know that these are all secondary sources and not primary citations. But hopefully this is enough to suggest that my passing comment carries more weight than you allow, and, perhaps that you should not be listening too seriously to those “some” (whomever they are) who disagree.

      I’ll close with the words of Tertullian

      “(The question) also concerning military service, which is concerned both with rank and power, might seem (to have been) definitely settled in that (last) chapter. But now the question is asked on what (very point), whether a believer may turn to military service, and whether the military-at least the rank and file, or (say) all the inferior (grades), who are under no necessity of (offering) sacrifices or (padding) capital sentences-may be admitted to the faith. There is no congruity between the divine and human ‘sacramentum,’ the sign of Christ and the sign of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness: one soul cannot be owed to two, God and Caesar. And (yet, some Christians say), Moses carried a rod, and Aaron (wore) a buckle, and John was girt with a leather belt (the allusions are to various items in the Roman soldier’s equipment), and Joshua…led a line of march, and the people waged war-if it is your pleasure to sport (with the subject). But how will (a Christian) make war-nay, how will he serve as a soldier in peace (time) -without the sword which the Lord has taken away? For, although soldiers had come to John and received the form of a rule, although also a centurion had believed, (yet) the Lord afterwards, in disarming Peter, ungirded every soldier. No dress is lawful among us which is assigned to an unlawful action”

      As per Luke’s comment above, you see here in Tertullian a blend of both allegiance to Caesar and the sin of violence as reasons for not joining the military (not just the former).

  8. Preston, I’ve really enjoyed this series and your treatment of the topic.

    I wanted to mention something about your first point regarding pacifism in the church prior to Constantine. I’ve heard the same facts mentioned about Christians not serving in the Roman military, but it was attributed to something other than pacifism.

    Roman culture, military included, was entirely pagan at the time and to be a soldier meant that you would participate in pagan rituals along with the rest of the legion. Especially when those rituals were seen as an integral part of success on the battlefield, you can see why a Christian in the army who would not participate in such rituals would cause quite a problem.

    I don’t think this negates your point necessarily. Both motives could certainly have been in play to prevent Christians from joining the Army. However, just because history shows that they were not in the military, it does not necessarily mean that it was because they were committed to pacifism. I tend to think that they were, but it may not have been the only motivating factor.