Looking At War From A Biblical Perspective
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
The Definition of War
My dictionary says, war is open armed conflict between countries or between factions within the same country.
A pacifist believes that war is never right. Their reasoning is that there is nothing important enough to go to war over. All national and international disputes should be settled by peaceful means rather than by force. They are opposed to all military ideals, preparedness, war, etc. Further, many believe it is never right to kill anyone and they would not believe in capital punishment for that reason. There are those who label themselves as Christian pacifists, such as Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites. However, they vary in the application of the principle. In general they believe Christ’s teaching, such as that in Matthew 5:38-48, forbids believers from becoming involved in any form of violence, killing or warfare, even for the protection of their own property and country. One of the verses they use to support this position is Exodus 20:13 - "Thou shalt not kill." This is a clear misunderstanding of the commandment. The Hebrew word translated "kill" in Exodus 20:13, ratsach, which is translated "murder" 14 times (Nu. 35:16, 17,18,19,21,30,31; 1 Ki. 6:32; Job 24:14; Ps. 94:6; Is. 1:21; Je. 7:9; Ho. 6:9) and "slayer" 17 times (Nu. 35:11,25,26, 27,28; De. 4:42; 19:3,4,6; Jos. 20:3,5,6; 21:13,21, 27,32,38). As Clark says, this "commandment, which is general, prohibits murder of every kind." However, as Gill says, "killing of men in lawful war, or in defense of a man’s self, when his own life is in danger, or the execution of malefactors by the hands or order of the civil magistrate (capital punishment) , and killing a man at unawares (by accident), without any design, are not to be reckoned breaches of this law." This commandment has in view the taking away the life of another through private malice and revenge; cold blooded murder. There are at least four cases in the Bible when killing is not murder.
Accidental Death -- It is not murder to kill someone accidentally (Numbers 35:20-23).
Self Defense -- It is not murder to defend oneself or your loved ones and property (Exodus 22:2-3). In fact, our Lord instructed his disciples to buy a sword, no doubt for defensive purposes (Luke 22:36).
Capital punishment -- It is not murder to put criminals to death for heinous crimes. The Bible plainly says that the man who takes a life is to forfeit his own life (Genesis 9:6). The Law of Moses called for capital punishment in the case of murder (Leviticus 24:17; Deuteronomy 19:11-13), idolatry (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 17:2-7), witchcraft (Le. 20:27), adultery (Le. 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21,22), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), bestiality (Leviticus 20:15,16), rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), incest (Leviticus 20:17), and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:11-16,23). The avenger of death in Old Testament times was a relative or friend who put the murderer to death (Deuteronomy 19:11-13). God allowed for this, and made provision for cities of refuge for those who had killed someone accidentally. In this dispensation, God has given civil government the authority to put offenders to death. In Romans 13 we see that God has given nations the authority to "bear the sword" against evil. This obviously refers to capital punishment.
Military service and Law enforcement -- It is not murder to kill a person in the line of duty in law enforcement and in the military (Romans 13:1-4). It is clear. God is not a pacifist. Turn to Exodus 15:3 which says, "The LORD is a man of war…"
Let’s move on the second view of war…
An activist, in this case, believes war is always right. Their reasoning is that war is a fact of life! It is always right to participate in a war that is called for by the government, because man owes absolute obedience to government because the government knows what is best for the people. However, there is a MAJOR problem with this view. The problem with this view is that total submission to the government would be a form of idolatry, because our first allegiance it to God. My German-American friend Dr. Manfred Kober put it this way: "Activism ignores the fact that while the government is divinely ordained, its commandments may not be divinely sanctioned." To illustrate his position he pointed to Adolf Hitler. Unlimited submission led to mind boggling atrocities against humanity. Millions of Jews were exterminated under Hitler’s plan.
Our first line of obedience is to the Lord. The words of Acts 5:29 should ring in out ears – "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
Pacifism is a flawed position. Activism is a flawed position. Let’s consider a third position on war…
Those who hold the position of selectivism believe that war is sometimes right. Selectivism repudiates some wars as UNJUST and yet holds that some wars are JUST. Unjust wars would be genocidal wars (like killing all the Jews), predatory wars, or wars for the purpose of expansion. But, wars would be for self-defense, war on behalf of the helpless, war to inflict punishment for evil, and to secure reparations are among those wars that are deemed just.
There are two verses that are considered key in this view of war. The first is Romans 13:4 "For he (governmental leaders) is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."
Government is charged with the responsibility…
Protecting Her Citizens
Punishing Evil and
Promoting Order (1 Timothy 2:2).
Tertullian (155-230 A.D.) one of the early Christian theologians wrote, "We pray for all the emperors, that God may grant them long life, a secure government, a prosperous family, vigorous troops, a faithful senate, an obedient people; that the whole world may be in peace; and that God may grant, both to Caesar and to every man, the accomplishment of their just desires."
The second passage that comes into play here is John 15:13 "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." To be sure this passage is not in war context, the principle is clear. Laying down you life for the benefit of others is an act of love.
I hold to the selectivism position relating to war. I would concur with
Martin Luther who said, "War for the sake of war is sin, but war for the
sake of defense is duty. The power of temporal rulers is to be turned only
against the wicked, to hold them in check and keep them at peace, and to
protect and save the righteous."