The Civil War, World War I & II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the war in Iraq and the like, have acted as catalysts to encourage people to debate the subject of war. When people argue the validity of subjects such as a “just war,” self-defense, non-violence and non-resistance, numerous Bible passages and ethical arguments are presented.
Some Christian organizations promoting non-resistance use passages such as Matthew 5:39, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 26:52-53 and Luke 6:27-28 as proofs of the Bible’s opposition to war and resistance to evil.
— Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
— Matthew 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
— Matthew 26:52-53 “But Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'”
— Luke 6:27-28 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”
Some organizations use these passages to establish the belief that all war, for any reason, is an act of sin. To prove the depth of their resolve, in 1934, one denomination passed a resolution stating in every instance, without exception, “all war is sin.”
As we contemplate some organization’s strong stance against war and self-defense, the pivotal question we must weigh is, how does the unified Bible view war and self-defense? Those who believe all war is sin do well in pointing out passages that establish important aspects of personal Christian behavior. The question is, do such passages, in and of themselves, accurately represent the full teaching of Scripture regarding war and self-defense, or do they merely establish specific elements of the Christian walk.
The most direct path to settling this question is to focus on how God Himself has responded to war in times past.
In Exodus 15:1-5, Moses says, “I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! 2 The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. 3 The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name. 4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom like a stone.”
In Exodus 15:3, the Bible says, “The LORD is a man of war.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says the Hebrew word used in this passage, “Milchamah”, is translated as “war; battle; skirmish; combat.” Vine’s stresses the term in verse 3, “represents the art of soldiering or ‘combat’.”
In Exodus 17:15-16, it says, “And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; 16 for he said, ‘Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.'”
Moses had a deeply personal relationship with the God of the Bible. Thus, his representation of God ought not to be taken lightly. The Bible says, in Exodus 15:3, “The LORD is a man of war.” and in Exodus 17:16, “the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” If all war is sin, Scripture shames God when it reveals His clear support and personal engagement in it. If this indeed is the case, both Old and New Testament believers are without hope, for God Himself has failed to maintain the minimal standards of holiness and purity. Remove these standards and the Bible itself is just another remnant from history past.
Clearly, Scripture portrays God as one who is willing to confront forces of darkness on a spiritual and human plain, even if it meant war and the taking of life.
In Exodus, we see clear statements indicating God aligns Himself and uses war to fulfill His will. The next question we must consider is how does He view man’s participation in war? Is it a sin for man to participate in war, or acts of self-defense?
As clear as Scripture is about God’s involvement in war, it is equally clear as it relates to man.
In 1 Samuel 11:1-15, we see an example in which the Ammonites sought to repress and disgrace an Israelite, named Jabesh Gilead. The Ammonites encamped near Jabesh and his people in order to harm them. When confronted with the option of fighting or peace, Jabesh sought peace.
Jabesh desired peace so much that he and his people offered to serve the Ammonites if they would agree to peace. Nahash, the leader of the Ammonites, would agree to peace only if the Israelites would allow him to remove their right eyes.
Finding this unacceptable, Jabesh, the man of peace, concluded their only option was to seek military aid from his fellow Israelites. As a result, Jabesh sent messengers throughout Israel seeking military deliverance.
When Saul, the future king of Israel heard of the Ammonites plan, Scripture says, “the Spirit of God came upon him and his anger was greatly aroused.” Saul, thereby, challenged all Israel to go to war against the Ammonites in order to deliver their countrymen from the enemy.
Upon hearing Saul’s message, the Bible says, in 1 Samuel 11:7, the “fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.” This resulted in the Israelites killing “Ammonites until the heat of the day.” (1 Samuel 11:11) The Israelites defeated the Ammonites in battle, with God’s blessing.
Incidents like this are not limited to a single account. We see, in 1 Samuel 15:2-3, the prophet Samuel informing Saul saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel — Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.” Here we see God using one nation to punish another by means of war. When God says, “do not spare them,” it is difficult to believe He considered all acts of national combat as sin.
In 2 Samuel 5, prior to going to war with the Philistines, verse 19 says, David “inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?’ And the Lord said to David, ‘Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.'”
Here, a willing, David makes it a point to ask God for counsel regarding war. If ever God had the opportunity to clarify His stance, it was here. God could have told David, “you must not go to war. I will defend you. Refrain from war, for it is sinful for man to fight under any circumstance.” God did not say this. Rather, He encouraged David to fight and guaranteed victory.
How is it God could have blessed and encouraged leaders such as Saul and David, if all war is sinful? Simply put, He could not!
The fact is, long before war existed here on earth, it was present in Heaven. In Revelation 12:7-8, it says, “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.”
The term translated “war” in verse 7 is “polemeo – to fight, to make war, etc.” The term is used literally and indicates God saw nothing noble regarding peace at all cost. When His Kingdom was threatened, His followers fought, overcame and drove out the enemy.
Again, if all war and self-defense are acts of sin, God repeatedly upholds and engages in it.
Those who claim the Bible teaches all war is sinful can only make a case:
1. If they recreate God by ignoring key aspects of God as revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture, then their argument stands firm.
Some “Christians” may not like what they see when they view God as He is portrayed in the Bible. Those who embrace the God of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness, while rejecting His right to exercise judgment, wrath and even war to fulfill His divine purpose, sever God in half. God demands we accept Him for who He is, not for who we want Him to be.
We must remember, the God of the Bible is Lord, creator of man. We are beholden to Him. We owe our existence to Him. We have no right to judge, look down on, ignore or rationalize who or what the Superior being is. When we fail to accept God for who He is, we place ourselves in opposition to Him.
2. If they place the Word of God in a preformatted theological box.
When we recognize some Scripture, while ignoring others, the end result is a false theology. This sort of theology is man-centered not God-centered. It is a theology that weakens the Church, rather than strengthens it. Why? Because it represents only a portion of the Bible, not the whole. The Bible is best understood when viewed as a unified whole.
If all war and acts of self-defense are not sinful, how does one deal with passages such as Matthew 5:39, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 26:52-53 and Luke 6:27-28?
First, we must make certain we humble ourselves to God and His Word, and be cautious not to humble God and His Word to our limited frame of reference.
Simply put, we must never place God in a preformatted theological box, created just for Him. God is too complex to reside in any box created by man. When striving to formulate a theology, we must strive to consider Scripture in light of Scripture, not in spite of it. We must, likewise, strive to interpret Scripture within its natural context and refuse to take it out of context. When our opinion or theology conflict with the full teaching of Scripture, as Christians we are called to submit our will to God’s.
How do we deal with passages such as Matthew 5:39, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 26:52-53 and Luke 6:27-28? We strive to find balance between the two teachings. We resist creating absolutes where they may not exist. We remind ourselves that as much as God is a God of love, peace and mercy, He is just, righteous and will one day exercise unyielding wrath upon a sinful world.
How do we deal with passages such as Matthew 5:39, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 26:52-53, and Luke 6:27-28? We meditate upon the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which says, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to gain, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.”
Is all war sin? Not according to the book of wisdom. From God’s perspective, for the moment, there is a place and purpose within this sin-stained world for war and peace.
Please note: This article should not be taken as an endorsement for war in general. By virtue of the fact that people’s lives are lost in war, it should be entered into with caution, and reasonable alternatives must be exercised when possible. The goal of the article is to help people understand from God’s perspective, that all war is not sinful, and on some occasions, war is His means of confronting evil.
The article should not be taken as an attack on those who truly believe all war is sin. Rather, it was written to encourage others to dig deeper into the Word of God and establish their beliefs based on the entire Word of God.