Is It Biblical To Go To War?

by Jack Wellman on February 6, 2012 · Print Print · Email Email

Didn’t Jesus say that we are to turn the other cheek if someone strikes us?  Isn’t it written that we are to love our neighbor as our self?  How can Christians justify going to war when we are told to love even our enemies? Is it biblical to go to war?

Turn the Other Cheek

When Jesus said that we are to turn the other cheek, did He mean that we should never harm another human being?  What is the context of this verse?  Does this mean that we should not defend ourselves?  In Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  This verse is frequently taken out of context as a license to let anyone harm us and not defend ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.  This was part of the Sermon on the Mount and in these Beatitudes, Jesus was teaching that we should not strike back when we are persecuted.  In verses 11-12, we see that Jesus is talking about when we are persecuted, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Is it biblical to go to war
Should Christians support war?

Notice in verses 43-48 of Matthew 5 that is says, You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Every time that Jesus says “You have heard that it was said” He is pointing back to the Old Testament laws and when He says, “But I tell you”, He is showing a better and more precious, permanent covenant.  The New Covenant is superior to the Old in that Jesus fulfills the Law (Matt 5:17).  He is superior to the Old Covenant because the time of the New Covenant came with better promises…like that of eternal life.  In the Old Covenant, Israel was told to hate their enemy because they would corrupt the nation, but this “turn the other cheek” teaching is given in the face of persecution.  When we are being persecuted and insulted, we are to turn the other cheek because even the unconverted love their own (Matt 5:46).  This “turn the other cheek” had nothing to do with defending oneself over a matter of life or death because Jesus said that we must “take up your sword and follow me” (Luke 22:36).  The reading of Luke 22:36-38 says, But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.”   The implication is that a sword would be needed in this world because Jesus was giving the disciples instructions as they were heading out into the world to evangelize.  The thought is that they might have to defend themselves from robbers because they took a purse with them (with money).

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

We are also told to love our neighbor.  Just who is the Christian’s neighbor?  It is anyone that they come across in this world.  The parable of the Good Samaritan shows that we are to love our enemies too, even if our neighbor is our enemy, but if your neighbors try to harm your family, then we are to defend them.  King David, Joshua, and many of ancient Israel’s commanders, leaders, and kings were commanded to go to war because these other nations were not honoring God.  They frequently had many false, pagan gods, which were not gods at all and God Almighty commanded that these nations be destroyed because they would corrupt the Israelites who would incorporate these false gods into their national worship – as they often did.  When they did, God used other nation’s swords to punish Israel for their idolatry.

Loving your neighbor is in keeping with the Old and New Testament but God’s holiness must be protected, even at the expense of slaying them with the sword.  If ungodly nations were able to take over vast regions of the earth then God could not be properly worshiped and the invading nations would install their own gods and demand that they be worshiped.  God hates idolatry and punishes nations for this.  Even today, there are many nations that worship false gods.  Some worship Buddha and some Allah, while others worship their ancestors.  None of these are the One, True God and God is a jealous God that visits them with discipline who are worshiping false gods.

Conscientious Objectors

There is nothing wrong with a Christian, in all good conscious, to reject going into the military to kill someone else.  Many Christian’s have refused to fight in the past and do not sin by resisting orders to take up arms and kill another, however killing someone is not the same thing as murdering someone.  Murder is premeditated and unjustified while killing may be defending oneself or defending one’s nation, as happened during the Revolutionary War.  Almost 98% of American citizens were Christian at the founding of this nation and they saw no conflict at all with defending their freedom.  A vast portion of the freedom that they were fighting for was religious freedom because there were primarily state-ran religions in Europe and many of these religions were institutionalized and were practicing unbiblical doctrines.

Take up the Sword

In Roman’s 13, God is shown to be sovereign over all the nations and over all the nation’s institutions, including those who had authority over the citizens.  Part of the commands in this chapter dealt with submitting to the national and local authorities (Rom 13:2).  If you read Romans 13:1-5, you can see that sometimes these authorities must wield the sword:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Let’s break down these verses one by one to see if it is biblical to go to war.  In verse 1 of Romans 13:  “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  These authorities are God’s authority, not really man’s.  No authority exists except by God’s sovereignty and in reality, He has established them, not man.

Verse 2:  “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  Here we see that if a sovereign nation is invaded by another sovereign nation, like the U.S., they bring “judgment on themselves” because they are “rebels against the authority” and they are “rebelling against what God has instituted”.

Verse 3: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” Rulers hold terror for whom?  For “those who do wrong!”  It is wrong to invade another nation.  James (4:1-3) asked, “From where come wars and fighting’s among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James clearly tells us that wars come from those who want to take invading those who have, so that they might have.  Most wars come from wanting to take something that another nation has, even if it is just land. That is why they kill.  To take what they don’t have and when they don’t have it, they kill to get it (v 2).

Back to Romans 13, Verse 4 “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  The one who has authority, like national governments, are God’s servants and they are for our good.  They don’t “bear the sword for no reason.”  They are God’s servants and “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” whether it is a single criminal or an invading army.

Verse 5 “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”  We are told to submit to the authorities and sometimes those authorities (as sovereign nations) have had to issue military draft orders (like many nations have had to do) and those who refused where imprisoned (unless they could show good cause in being a conscientious objector).

Conclusion

We can see that sometimes war is necessary and when a burglar breaks into our homes and threatens our family’s lives, we have every right to defend ourselves.  Going to war to defend a nation is no different.  There are presently many thousands of Christians who are engaged in war, and countless millions have been throughout this nation’s history.  They are not breaking any laws in the Bible.  In fact, they are taking up their sword and defending their sovereign nation to preserve our freedoms and one of those precious freedoms that many nations do not have even today is that of religious freedom.  Untold millions have died to preserve this freedom and these heroes and heroines are the reason today that we have freedom of worship and freedom not to worship – but only because God’s servants are able to brandish the sword to protect freedom of religion and to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Check out this other article that might interest you:

Bible Verses For Soldiers: 20 Great Scripture Quotes

Sources:

www.youtube.com “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

New International Version, The Holy Bible
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa February 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

Jack,
This was a great article and I enjoyed the information in it. The military does go to great lengths to protect us and our freedom. My little brother just today is on his way back from his second tour in Kuwait. Please pray for his safe return and the days and months that lie ahead of him as it is a hard transition for a soldier and their families to reconnect. God bless all the soldiers that fight for Him. Have a great day!

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Jack February 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Amen Lisa….we will be praying for your brother and all the military men and women who serve their country and are our heroes and heroines and true patriots. And yes, God bless all of our armed forces. Thank you too for your comment and visiting our website.

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Wesley Springfield September 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Do the thousands of women and children killed by “our” soldiers in our imperial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan mean anything to God? Are American lives more important to God than those who live in other countries? Do you truly believe that American forces aer “fighting for Him?” Are they not in reality fighting for the right of American oil companies and Wall street to maximize profit all over the globe? This article is one of the most depressing I’ve read in quite some time.

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Jack Wellman September 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Thank you Mr. Springfield. No where in this article have I endorsed the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. This article pertains only to defending one’s nation and I was not saying anything about killing thousands of women & children in this article for oil. I am sorry this article depressed you sir but show me where in this article that is expressly wrong in the Scriptures that I quoted. This is strictly a biblical article on the theological reasons to go to war if need be, not to kill innocent people for oil. I am not sure where you came up with this idea sir.

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Michael January 31, 2013 at 12:48 am

Your article on Christians going to war I felt was incomplete. I felt like you basically did what most people do when the bible has a hard teaching, and that is fit to word the around what it is you think. In the article you neglected to say that up until the third century Christians did not go to war. In fact it wasn’t until Constantin came along and either misunderstood the sign God was giving him, or just flat out lied that Christians went to war. I noticed how you used a verse like “take up your sword and follow me” to mean the physical sword instead of saying what it really means which is the word of God. You also neglected to tell people how Jesus told Peter to put away your sword those who live by the sword shall die it. Jesus also, commented that he could have called on 12 legions of angels if he wanted to he certainly did not need someone to defend him with a sword. There’s much more I could say this subject and do not come from a lack of experience. I spent 17 years in the army not as a cook or a mechanic but as an infantryman, and after really reading The Word and not listening to preachers who because of their own lack of faith in this area tell everybody that it is okay to go to war I got out of the army. Rather it’s okay to be fearful it’s a normal reaction to violets, however just because we can’t imagine jesus defending us does not mean we should leave everyone else on stray. I would love to hear back from you on this. Love your Brother

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Steve May 18, 2013 at 6:32 am

I disagree. The “swords” Jesus talked about to His disciples was a metaphor for the word of God. In other words, it is “the word of God” that is “enough”. And it parallels the several times in the new testament that the “word of God” is compared to a “2-edged sword”.

You also leave out peace and anti-war related verses such as the prophecy of Zecharia “The warriors bow shall be banished, and and he shall proclaim peace to the nations”. Zecharia 9:10

I will admit to being confused by what appears to be a paradox between end of Romans Ch. 12 and then chapter 13. The end of 12 is the famous passage that tells us to leave all vengeance to God. And not to return any evil with evil. By returning evil, I believe they clearly meant the use of any violent means. As you point out, 13 then mentions authorities use of the sword.

However, even Revelations indicates that God allows evil to exist, and we are not to raise a hand to stop it. And if we are “Destined for captivity or the sword…such is the faithful endurance of the holy ones” Rev. 13, then so be the will of God. We are not obligated (and I think actually prohibited) from using violence to even defend our’s or others lives. We are only obligated to never deny the lord’s name, and use his “words” as our “sword”.

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Carolann March 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Jesus was not telling his disciples to purchase a sword (a piece of steel to kill with) but ‘the written words of scripture’. Christ never spoke of killing in the NT. The OT had been fulfilled by Christ. If we are true Christians we know Christ’s words were always about our sacrifice to Him in keeping His commandments and the eternal life will be our reward. Therefore, what life on earth holds for us is not important. It is about our spirit and our faith and trust in awaiting His return to be resurrected to eternal life with Him. If the ‘sword’ is the translation as a piece of steel to kill with, then in all the centuries that have followed since that time, things have only gotten enormously worse.

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