The Question: How come the New Testament part of the Bible teaches against fighting and violence yet the Old Testament is full of wars? The ‘Old Testament’ God seems to be bloodthirsty and violent but the ‘New Testament’ God is all about peace and love… It doesn’t make sense.
Well I think we need to clarify what ‘fighting’ or ‘violence’ refer to in Biblical context.
Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 3:31 and 1 Timothy 3:3 tell followers of Christ not to be violent, and throughout the Bible gentleness, patience and kindness are attributes that are associated with following God and being a Christian. However, the Greek words used for violence in the Bible do not mean our standard definition of violence (physical force intended to harm something) which would imply Christians should be pacifists. Rather the Greek words mean malicious, wrong, quarrelsome, etc. They are used to describe individuals who are frequent brawlers, who seek and instigate confrontation, who seek arguments, etc.
When the Bible talks about fighting in wars it doesn’t (to my knowledge) use those terms for ‘violence’ we see it warning against in other areas. So there is a differentiation between soldiers fighting in wars, and ‘violence’.
On that topic, does the Bible speak against being a soldier or fighting in war as part of the military or defending oneself against violence?
I don’t believe it does. One commonly quoted (and seemingly misunderstood) scripture is the ‘turn the other cheek’ verse (Matthew 5:39). Some people (Christian included) think this means if someone physically attacks you, that you shouldn’t resist them and should just let them assault you and believe this verse implies Christians should be pacifists.
If you read further in Matthew 3:40-42 it explains Jesus is talking about non-retaliation to personal affronts to our dignity and lawsuits surrounding possessions and personal rights, he is not talking about criminal acts or military war.
‘Turning the other cheek’ means (at least from what I can see and understand) not to insult others when they insult you, and to respond to hatred with love and compassion. It means to surrender personal rights, pride and possessions in favor of God’s love just as Jesus surrendered those things for each of us.
Now the argument can be made that God calls us to love everyone, even our enemies. How could you say fighting in war is loving those you are fighting against? You cannot fight against someone you love… Right?
Well I can certainly see what you are saying but I don’t think it’s true. For example, if my brother was about to murder someone, I could still physically fight against him in an effort to stop him regardless of whether I love him or not. What I’m saying is that I can oppose (verbally, physically, mentally and/or spiritually) people who I believe are doing wrong things while still loving them.
Love is not tolerance. This is something I think people are really confused with in our modern society. The general approach seems to be if you don’t accept someone’s actions or ideas that means you hate them… I think part of loving someone is trying to help them when they are in need, even if they don’t believe they need it.
Lets look at substance addiction. Is it love to just accept my ‘friend’ who is addicted to something and not try and help him/her out of a situation I see is damaging them? I’d say the opposite. I’d say I do in fact not love that person if I don’t try to do anything to help them regardless of how uncomfortable it may make me or if I might lose their friendship.
Okay we are getting a bit off topic though. So back to the argument, can you fight in war if you are called to love others, even your enemies. I believe that the answer is dependent on circumstances.
If our government decided to invade another nation without cause, I would be very hesitant to fight if I was a soldier, even though I would be disobeying orders and essentially committing treason. If, on the other hand our nation was being invaded without cause I wouldn’t have an issue fighting against the invaders…
Would I still try to be kind and merciful and loving towards the enemy I fought against when the opportunity presented itself? Of course, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fight.
There is no shortage of war in the Old Testament, and the Jewish nation was even ordered by God to wipe out entire civilizations on several occasions. Many ‘righteous’ and ‘holy’ men mentioned in the Bible were great warriors (David and Joshua for example), but they were not ‘violent’ men. There were also centurions in the Roman army that are touted as ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ men in the Bible (Matthew 8:10, Acts 10:22), these were professional soldiers who would have waged war on behalf of the Roman empire, the empire that the Jewish people were enslaved too. So I think it’s obvious God doesn’t condemn being a soldier or fighting in war.
I think as Christians we are called to seek peace wherever possible, to be calm and rational and not provoke others, to ignore insults and provocation by others and treat people with respect and kindness. I do not believe we are called to be pacifists or to submit to violent crimes committed against us, nor do I believe part of loving someone means accepting or tolerating their actions and beliefs without question.
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