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Violence in the Bible

Violence in the Bible – What about Warfare?
In a sense, war began in the Garden of Eden. There, Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan and defied God’s clear commands (Genesis chapter 3). Later, Eve’s first son murdered his younger brother, and humanity has been fighting ever since. Many Old Testament believers in God, both kings and prophets, took part in war. At best, war is a necessity due to the presence of evil. As the Bible says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: …a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8).

When evil people hurt the innocent, they should be stopped. Sometimes God Himself does so, as He did via the ancient flood (Genesis chapters 6-8) and with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis chapters 18-19). At other times, He expects people to step in. When and how that should happen is not always easy to say.

In Old Testament times, the kingdom of Israel was to be a theocracy—a people ruled by God Himself. He wanted them to purge the great evil out of the land they were to inhabit, and that initially meant war. But war was not supposed to be a continual practice. Once the cleansing of the land was completed, fighting was to diminish or end. Later, Israel turned from God and wanted a mere human king to rule them. Those kings sometimes fought as God had commanded, but more often than not they were simply motivated by foolish thinking.

Violence in the Bible – Did Jesus Condone Violence?
When Jesus came, He used a whip to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem. But beyond that, He rejected aggressive warfare and violence. The following occurred just before He was killed.

    “… men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’” (Matthew 26:50-54).
A few hours later, when standing before the Roman judge who finally condemned Him to death, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

John the Baptist did not condemn soldiers for their work (Luke 3:14), and neither did Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13). The great apostle Paul told followers of Jesus to obey their rulers, part of a government’s responsibility being to “bear the sword” (Romans 13:1-7). On the other hand, there is no teaching in the New Testament about pursuing violence to advance the kingdom of God. The sword may bring subjection but not sincerity.

Nevertheless, some followers of Jesus have misapplied His teachings and wrongly gone out to war. Throughout history, people of all faiths have believed that God called them to advance His purposes by violence. We should not be surprised. All political systems have also been responsible for war, death, and destruction. And some of the world’s most violent offenders have been atheists. It is the morally corrupt state of humanity, not “religion,” and certainly not Jesus, which is responsible for murder and mayhem. Jesus allows for none of it, and His followers who have done otherwise, including many during the time of the Crusades, were confused, misled, and wrong.

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Compliments of Scott Munger, PhD, Biblica, All rights reserved in the original.

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