What Does The Bible Say About War?

by Daryl Evans · Print Print · Email Email

Every day that we turn on any news program it won’t be very long until the news telecast will turn to show some unrest in the forms of wars or suicide bombers all over the world.  Jesus even forewarned that the end times will show not only wars but ongoing rumors of wars so we should not be surprised by the current state of affairs around the world today.  But what does the Bible say about war and what should be our response to war?

This is a tough topic to approach on many fronts but I want to try to show some passages in Scripture that talk about war and then try to bring some Biblical conclusions too.  This topic is often a powder keg that brings out many emotions and even as I prepare to write this I am almost expecting many comments on both sides of this topic and discussion.  My thoughts here are not to stir the pot of emotions (so to speak) but rather help you come to your own conclusions about what the Bible says about war.

To start with a basic truth that should overshadow this entire discussion is this…Clearly, all followers of Jesus should want and desire a total elimination of war and brotherly love amongst our neighbors. We should not desire war just for the sake of war or even to impose our will and way on others.  We should want peace in our soul and in our physical life too.  However, we live in a sinful world that does not often desire peace and prosperity for all but rather strife and turmoil that often escalates into wars of many kinds.

I want to quote some Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments on war.

Old Testament Passages on War

Exodus 17:16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD!  The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

Numbers 31:1   The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,   “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”  So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.

1 Samuel 4:3  And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”

1 Samuel 15:1-3  And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD.  Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.   Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

New Testament Passages on War

Matthew 5:38-45  You have heard that it was said,  ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said,  ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 8:5-10 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him,  “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”  And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.   For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,  ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel  have I found such faith.

Mark 13:7-8 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus  had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people,  “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Acts 10:1-6  At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort,  a devout man  who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.  About the ninth hour of the day   he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.”  And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended  as a memorial before God.  And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.  He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

Romans 12:17-21  Repay no one evil for evil, but  give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it  to the wrath of God, for it is written,  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”   To the contrary,  “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”   Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These passages vary in the thoughts and even the topics that could be discussed.  And there are many more passages that I could have included but my hope for this article is to just scratch the surface a little on this topic.  Many separate articles could be written including some of these topics…

  • Should we be Christian Pacifists?
  • How does the topic of Romans 13 fit into our view of war?
  • Are murder and killing the same thing?  (some would argue yes, and others would argue no)
  • Should our country join others in wars outside of our own borders?
  • Should a Christian join the military?
  • How can the God of the Old Testament (where there are many wars and commands of God to kill and eliminate people/countries) be the same God that we see in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament?
  • What about using nuclear power?
  • Did God tell Israel to go to war?
  • Should a country that disagrees with a evil dictator go to war to remove that dictator?
  • And many, many more…

One area that I have done some reading and listening about that I think is helpful in this topic of war and the Christians response is in the topic often called a “Just War.”

Should a Christian join the military?

Should a Christian join the military?

Christian theologians St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) are primarily responsible for formulating the theory of the Just War, which has remained the majority Christian approach to war to this day.  The writings of these two men have often been referred to in helping people understand and grasp this hard topic.  The basic premise of this theory is that in order for a country to go to war, there must be a “just cause or reason” to go to war.  Or in other words, there must be a significant reason that we cannot just stand back and say, “it isn’t in our country so I am not worried about it.”  The “just war” theory says that as believers we must get involved when our “Christian conscience” cannot allow us to just sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

Here are some summary thoughts on the Just War Theory.

Principles of the Just War

  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us “blessed are the peacemakers” (5:9). Elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount he tells us “if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (5:39). From such verses some have concluded that if we are Christians we should be a pacifist and should never resort to violence in any manner.

However, we have to read scripture with scripture. We cannot just pull out one text and omit others that disagree with our point.  We must remember that the same Jesus who spoke in the Sermon on the Mount elsewhere acknowledges the legitimate use of force, telling the apostles, “let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” (Luke 22:36). How are these passages to be reconciled?

In broad terms, Christians must promote peace and not love violence whenever possible. We must promote and embrace peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of force. Evil is a hard thing in this world and we cannot simply stand back and let evil run rampant or to remain unopposed.  It is a hard thing but I believe a Godly response is that we must not be afraid to get involved in wars and do so when it is called for. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked.  This opinion that I am drawing I believe comes from reading the totality of Scripture and not just one or two passages.

Conclusion

The Catholic Church has often been a leading developer in this hard topic and has helped form opinions of many evangelical scholars and writers down through the centuries.  As the Second Vatican Council noted, “insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes 78). The danger of war will never be completely removed prior to the return of Jesus Christ one day.  I believe Christians must be involved in this topic especially when it is called for.  I remember shortly after the horrific terrosist attacks on 9/11, there were many discussions both inside and outside the church about what should be our response, not only as Americans but as Christians too.  I remember hearing a sermon series at that time that used some of the thoughts about the Just War to talk about what our role might be as believers.  I know that some will disagree with me on this and I encourage you to put comments in for us all to grow and learn together as believers.

I look forward to the day when wars will be gone…when all strife will go away…when there will be no more sickness or death…but until that day we live in a fallen world.  May our voices be heard as we (as Christians) should always see and understand the bigger picture of Jesus and the ultimate rescue for the lost that He desires.

More reading: Is it Biblical to Go to War?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

DocReits April 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Daryl,

That was, IMO, a well balanced response to the issue of the Christian and war. I agree. I have a patient(a Lutheran minister, and street preacher) who actually was a soldier in Hitler’s army at age 17. He suffered through the bombing of Dresden during which the entire city was destroyed with approximately 75-100,000 deaths.

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/bombing_of_dresden.htm

He just completed a 3,000 page tome on pacifism and often tries to persuade me to join his ranks. His argument is sound in that he does not want to kill anyone who is considered an enemy as they might be unsaved and their death, at your hands, is damning them to hell. OTOH, if they kill a Christian, it is of little eternal consequence, as we go directly to God.

I asked him what he would do if a home intruder threatened his daughters, or a foreign army was landing on our shores. His answer was the same…”Let them”. His response is extreme, IMO, but gave me pause to examine and respect his opinion, even though I cannot agree.

I told him it is a good thing he has people like me in his life as I would be the first one at his door, prepared if necessary, to send the intruder to meet His God. He gasped in disbelief and asked me, “Doctor, are you not a Christian?”. My reply was, “Are you not a father?”.

My son signed up for the Marines years ago. I asked this peaceful boy if he thought he would be able to look down the barrel of a rifle and end another’s life. He did not enlist. I have the utmost respect for the Marines but one must have those questions answered before enlisting.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and was weaned on St. Augustine, so I am biased in my opinion. My personal belief is that the Scriptures quoted in your article about turning the other cheek are concerning those challenging our faith. It is for personal insults to the cause of Christ where we are meek as we attempt to win souls by being as harmless as doves.

If foreign armies are marching upon my home I will pick up the sword, as those in authority order. Just my opinion. Thank you for embracing a very controversial topic.

Blessings,

DocReits

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