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            There is a "time for war and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastics 3:8). War is one of the horrible experiences for those who suffered from it. However, every nation is spending billions on its defense forces. In fact, in the year 2005-06, India has budgeted $ 120 billions (Rs. 26,000 crores), whereas the US has planned for $ 450 billions towards their defense requirements,[1] while one child dies in every two seconds in starvation and malnutrition.[2] Naturally, God is not excited about war. He does not enjoy the bloodshed and vengeance. However, He is dealing with a world of people who have a fallen nature—sinful, wicked and vile. 

            With that in mind, this paper attempts to argue and explain the ethical perspective of war from the biblical understanding. The primary purpose of this paper is to explain Christian understanding of war from the biblical and historical perspective and to argue and apply the just war doctrine to the contemporary world issues, with the Bible as the final authority. The researcher also endeavors to provide the history of wars and the Christian attitudes towards wars over the centuries. Then the paper explains two major traditions of Christian thinking on war and puts up the arguments of both traditions. Later, with an eye to defend the view of just war doctrine, this paper deals with the present day issue of terrorism and the ongoing war on terrorism.


            In Old Testament, the term War (Heb. milhama), is most frequently translated as “fight,” “battle” (e.g., Genesis 14:2). This word occurs over 300 times in the Hebrew OT. But the New Testament renders the Greek noun polemos as war. This term applies both to armed conflicts and to interpersonal quarrels and strife.[3]


Biblical Wars

            The Old Testament testifies many war eras of Israel, the chosen one of God. It was the holy war[4], conceived of Jahweh[5], who is called as a God of war, the Lord of hosts (military). The commands to Israel to wage war on Canaan were specifically ordered by God.[6] Under Joshua, the Israelites fought with Canaanites and others and slaughtered them all.[7] The victories over the conquest of the land of were not due to the numbers and skill of the Israel but by the fighting God, Jahweh. Even in the monarchial reign of Israel, there were civil wars (2 Samuel 2:8-5:5), defensive wars (2 Samuel 5:17-25; I Chronicles 18:1; 2 Samuel 21:15-22) and conquest wars((2 Samuel 8:1-15; 12:26-31). The kings Saul, David and others fought regularly against the countries under the guidance of God Almighty. In the mean time, God also raised up many gentile nations through war. Then at last in the second century B.C. the Maccabeans led a holy war against the Hellenistic atrocities towards Jews.

            As a matter of fact, in Old Testament, God has used the war as a toll of judgment against both on the nations (Gentiles) and the Jews.[8] Whenever He wanted to punish a particular people, for their wickedness, He specially enabled some nation to wage war against them.

Secular Wars

Wars up to AD 1900: The killing and violence started right from the beginning of the world (fall of man) and is been existing till today. After the period of Christ, Christianity began to grow like a forest fire among the European nations. Roman empire tried to spread Christianity with spear and sword. Following the Roman empire, there were plenty of civil wars between different people groups. Not only in Europe, in whole world there was no kingdom without war. Many empires sprouted and rooted through war. Millions and millions died in these wars. However, because of the lack of modern weapons, the death rate was comparatively lower.

Wars after AD 1900: Twentieth century is well known for its two great world wars and these wars are primarily caused by tyrannical rulers of certain region. The first World War began in June 28, 1914 and prolonged more than four years. The expense was, 39 million lives (30 million were civilians) and $196.5 billion. The World War II, sparked out on September 1, 1939 and existed for six years which costed, 51 million lives (34 million were civilians) and $ 2091.3 billion.[9] The whole world torn out after the second World War, so the United Nations Organization (UNO) was formed, to secure peace in the world. Inspite of UNO, still countries often fight each other.


Destruction and Starvation

            According to the Time magazine's statistics, in the last thirty five centuries of recorded history, only one year out of fifteen has been without war.[10] In the 5560 years of recorded human history there have been 14, 531 wars, or 2.6 per year. Of 185 generations only ten have known unsullied peace. And it is getting worse: “since 1900 almost 100 million men have died in 100 wars—compared with 3,845,000 in the 19th century.[11] Apart from these, the civil wars in the underdeveloped countries led to a starvation holocaust of millions and millions.

Triumph and Justice

            In the past world history, many a times dictators sprouted up with their notorious visions, principles and motives. Those power thirst tyrannies tried to get the whole world under their feet and they killed and oppressed millions of lives in and around their countries. In those times, the responsible world countries gathered together, rose up and fought against them and thrown away their kingdoms. So in a way, through war and fighting the people got liberated from the oppressions of the autocratics like Joseph Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and many others.


The First Three Centuries

            The Church from the second century till the time of Constantine was uniformly non-military.[12] Christians were not to serve in the Roman army. From the apostolic era, until AD 170 there is no record of one doing so. Justin Martyr, the early Church saint has written (in about 150-155) that “We who formerly murdered one another not only do not make war on our enemies, but that we may... gladly die confessing Christ.”[13] About AD 170 there is clear evidence that Christians were in the army even though some theologians were condemning such service.[14] It seems that there was a changing attitude among Christians towards the empire.          

Christianity under Constantine

            The enthronement of Constantine to the imperium marks a significant change in Christian attitude towards war.[15] The first holy war was probably in October 312 AD when Constantine saw a vision of the cross in the sky with this inscription "in hoc signo vinces" (in this sign you will win).[16] Constantine created a religious nature for war and it was widely accepted by the Christians of that age. “Constantine was lauded in the most extravagant terms by Christian spokesmen.”[17] Constantine waged the Holy War against all God's enemies (non-Christians and heretics) to make the millennium an empirical reality.[18] By this time the holy war was also called as the just war. Under Constantine, the just war was used to spread Catholic Christian faith to the pagans. The great series of western holy wars were the Crusades, which lasted from 1095 until 1291 AD. The aim was to capture the sacred places in the Holy Land from the Muslims who lived there.[19]

Augustine, Aquinas and Just War Tradition

            Following Constantine (fourth century), the Church embraced the just war doctrine. At that time Augustine, a true Christian and the greatest teacher of the ancient Church who lived in Algeria and Italy,[20] gave a classical formulation to the just war doctrine.[21] He provided a theory of just war doctrine with rules and regulations. He said, “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”[22] Then St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74) significantly contributed to the development of just war theory in his Summa Theologica in the 13th century. Aquinas concluded that it is not always sinful to wage war.[23] Primarily, he emphasized St. Augustine's statements about war and added a little to them.

Protestants and War

            Following these, even after the separation of Church, the Catholic and the mainline Protestant Churches similarly held to some form of the “just war” position until this century. Luther stated that “without armaments peace cannot be kept; wars are waged not only to rebel injustice but also to establish firm peace.”[24] Luther felt that, wars are inevitable in certain cases to preserve the life and health of the innocent people in the same way that a doctor some time finds it necessary to amputate a leg or arm to preserve the life and such a work could be a work of love.[25]

            However, in the sixteenth century AD, Some elements of pacifism were reborn during and soon after the Reformation. Erasmus (1469-1536)[26], a humanist and a great scholar and few others came up with the humanist pacifism, which condemned many of his contemporary European wars. Accepting the inevitability of wars, Erasmus called for the complete immunity of non-combatants.[27] Later, Anabaptists and their continental descendants—the Mennonites, the Amish, the Hutterites, the Swiss Brethren[28] and the Quakers (1660) seek to hold to the primitive position of the Church on nonresistance,[29] regarded killing and violence as wrong basically because it confronted with the teaching and life of Christ. Thus, even today the Christians are divided in the approach towards a war.


            The Christian world, from the second century has held different views in regard to war and retaliation. Geisler in his book segments the different views into three categories of Christian thinking—Activism, Pacifism and Selectivism.[30]

Activism: Activism is that attitude which always tend to support war and violence, no matter what the result is. This theory believes that the secular government is made up of God, to rule over. Hence, whatever the government does is of God's perfect will.

Pacifism: Pacifism is that kind of attitude that never ever supports violence against any human being. Pacifists tend to follow the teachings of Christ, so literally. Even though someone who tries to fight and genocide the whole nation, pacifists would try to peace with him because retribution and killing are absolutely prohibited.

Selectivism: The next kind is the selectivists, who are neither that extreme not this extreme, they strike a balance in the middle. If there is an emergency need to wage war, to defend the nation form enemies, the selectivists will agree for war on some conditions. Accepting the worse impacts of war, the selectivists selectively support few wars, with an eye to resist a greater evil (i.e., terrorist) with the lesser evil (i.e., military). Selectivism is the Geisler's term for the just war, which has been practiced by the Christian empires over the centuries.


            As we see, among these three kinds of views two are commonly found among the Christians. Just like Professor Peter Pothan felt, I believe that no Christian would embrace the activistic view, which blindly supports all sorts of war.[31] So, as the researcher, I am interested to look into the pacifistic and the just war view in detail.


Definition and Meaning

            Pacifism is a term, derived from the Latin word for peacemaking, that has been applied to a spectrum of positions covering nearly all attitudes toward war.[32]

A pacifist is someone who denunciates the use of force and coercion in all forms and hence they argue that all forms of violence, war, and/or killing are unconditionally wrong.

            The examples of Jesus and of the early Church also support Christian pacifism. The biblical teaching of imitating Christ and obeying his command follow me, demands pacifism from those who are understood as Christians. Following includes specifically the idea that with Jesus they will endure suffering for the kingdom of God without violent resistance. Beginning with the generation that experienced Jesus' personal headship, the Church of the first century exemplifies obedience to the pacifist example of Jesus.

Biblical argument for Pacifism

       The pacifist argues that originally and historically Christianity was a pacifist religion. A Dunker tract from about 1900, outlines a biblical basis for the position: Christ is the prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), His servants don't fight (John 18:36), The weapons of our warfare are not worldly (2 Corinthians10:4), We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), We are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), We are to pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).[33] Follow the example of Christ who submitted to injustice rather than resort to force (1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 John 2:6). Christ never taught war and revenge but perseverance of persecution and long suffering.

       The pacifists base their argument mostly in a certain understanding of the Sermon on the Mount.[34] Blessed are the peace makers (Matthew 5:9), Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39), love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you(Matthew 5:44) are the favorite verses of pacifism. “Pacifists believe that Christ's teaching, “resist not him that is evil,” applies to nations as well as to individuals.”[35]

       Jesus asked Peter to put his sword back in its place... for all who draw sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). So we, Christians are not permitted to take weapons against anybody.

      War is the result of the evil desires of heart of the crooked man (James 4:1-2).

       Pacifists argue that the wars of the Old Testament were not God's perfect will but only his permissive will. Some Christian pacifists recognize the fact that the people of God engaged in warfare in the Old Testament. But for them, this could be seen as a concession to hardness of heart, after the analogy with God's permission of divorce.[36] Some even think that “God could have been accomplished his purposes in Israel and Cannon without war, if they had been more obedient to him.”[37]

      However, the pacifist theologian Hoyt indicates some key passages like, Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:19-21; 13:8; 1Peter 2:18-24 and says, “while lex talionis (law of retribution) was the rule in the OT (Exodus 21:23-25), it is ruled out by NT teaching.”[38]

      Christian should to retaliate or pay back evil with evil, for vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35).

      The man can not kill any one at any cause because man is forbid to kill anyone (Exodus 20:13) and the right to take a life belongs to the Author of life Himself (Job 1:21). Even in humanist perspective, “all human beings have a right to life, and killing them denies them that right... this denial of their right makes war immoral.”[39]

Critique on Pacifism

Too Literal Interpretation: The pacifist tradition is largely based on a word by word interpretation of the sayings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. “Such a hermeneutical approach is difficult to maintain consistently, since it over looks the hyperbolic mode of speech deliberately used in order to arrest the listener's attention and lodge the saying in the memory.”[40] If we literally interpret the whole Bible, then how many times we should have gouged out our eyes? How many times we should have cut off our right hand? (Matthew 5:29,30). Are we really hating our father, mother, wife and children to be a disciple of Christ? (Luke 14:26).

Personal Duties and Public Duties: The interesting question is whether Jesus' command not to resist evil was an absolute interdiction of any use of force by any Christian authority or a general principle limited to physical resistance in private interpersonal relationships.[41] Feinberg says, “Texts that pacifists typically cite for nonresistance are verses that have to do with private or personal duties, not public duties.”[42] At times, when we keep non-resistance in public duties, we are really neglecting the responsibility which is given to us. When we are in a guardianship to third parties, as a police men, a solider, a parent, or a husband, the responsibilities of Christian love comes out in different application. Davis explains this in his words very openly, saying, “Love of my neighbor does not mean standing idly by when my wife is being brutally raped; it means using whatever force is necessary to protect her life and safety.”[43]

Christ is not a Pacifist: “Christ did not remain passive in the face of evil; he acted forcibly to remove evil from his presence (John 2:13-22).”[44] In John 18:22,23 When he was arrested, Jesus was struck by one of the high priest's officers. Instead of literally turning the other cheek, Jesus challenged the injustice of the act: “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” In a parallel situation the apostle Paul, standing trial before the Sanhedrin, was struck by one of the high priest's attendants. Like Jesus, Paul did not literally turn the other cheek, but resisted the injustice of the action.[45]

Significance of Self-Defense: Some liberal Protestants become ardent pacifists, not from the force of Biblical teaching, but from an optimistic view of the goodness of man and the perfectibility of the society.[46] Jesus forbade his disciples to use sword to spread the gospel (Matthew 26:52). But we mostly overlook the command of Jesus to buy a sword (Luke 22:36). It is obviously for their own self-protection. In fact the disciples brought two literal swords in response to Jesus' command (Luke 22:38). Jesus agreed to them saying “That's enough.” Geisler observes, “While Jesus condemned the aggressive use of the sword, he commended its defensive use.”[47] W.P. Paterson prudently advices the pacifist Christian thinkers that they need to “take their orders from the whole Christ and not a fragmentary Christ—from the Christ who is in the expression of the complete moral purpose of God, the revelation of justice and love as well as meekness.”[48]

Jesus, a Warrior and King: In Jesus' short parable about counting the cost of discipleship, the example of a king going to battle was used (exceedingly strange, if warfare was an absolute evil) (Luke 14:31-33). Then Jesus, the Messiah, will come again in great power as an all-conquering warrior. He Himself taught this on several occasions in Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64. For those accustomed to view Jesus as a calm, meek and mild shepherd who carries a lamb in his arm, the posture of His return will come as quite a shock: "... in righteousness He judges and wages war and the armies which are in heaven... were following Him... And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations... and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-21).[49]

New Testament is not the Book of Pacifism: Pacifists would say that Jesus formed the New Testament Church as pacifist community. But if we see in the New Testament, there are plenty of verses speak the terms of warfare. Some of the more notable examples are, II Corinthians 10:3-4 (weapons of our warfare), Ephesians 6:10-17 (Put on the full armor of God), I Timothy 1:18 (Fight the good fight), and II Timothy 2:3-4 (...a good soldier of Jesus Christ).[50] Again, it makes no sense to use such terminology if such things are absolute evils. The very existence of such metaphors is inexplicable if the New Testament teaches total pacifism.

OT and NT are Similar and Same forever: Holms denies the pacifist's point of argument that there are different ethical principles prevail in the two testaments—justice in the Old Testament and love in the New Testament. In fact both justice and love together operate in both testaments. Justice is not superseded by love.[51] There is no double standard because there is no double God. “Retributive justice gives society a way to maintain a just and peaceful order and to punish those who disrupt that order. Both testaments permit retributive justice. That is why the state is granted the power of the sword (Roman 13:1-7).”[52] To be honest, throughout the Old and New Testaments, God ordained war as an instrument of justice.

War and Sovereignty of God: Because of man's sin, human history includes evil and war (Matthew 24:6,7; John 16:33; 2 Thessanians 2:3-7; 2 Timothy 3:1-9). Pacifists try to bring down the kingdom of God by their pacifism but ironically, mere human effort does not bring in God's kingdom. “God's ideal will be realized through his intervention into human history at the second coming of Jesus Christ to this earth to set up his kingdom and establish peace, righteousness and justice”[53] (Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:7; 11:3-9; Revelation 21: 1-22:5).


Definition and Meaning

            We should not be silent with a naively passive, pacifist attitude that would permit a Hitler to attempt genocide without without lifting a gun in resistance. War is destructive and evil, but still it is a necessary evil in order to tackle the problem of violence and oppression. Davis puts it succinctly, “Just war tradition, then, attempts to place the emphasis where Scripture itself does: when the values of justice and nonviolence conflict in a fallen world, the vindication of divine standards of justice takes precedence.”[54]


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