War is horrible; war is immensely impactful. War is a constant reality in our world. Upon the fall of humanity in the garden, perfect peace was replaced with sin and imperfection. Peace and war sit as opposites on the spectrum, and for that reason, many believe that war must always be wrong and a sin. Peace is associated with good, war with evil. Jesus is described as the “prince of peace”; war by definition leads to death and destruction. Does Jesus’ affiliation with peace and actions on this earth identify him and his followers as pacifists?
Pacifism has to do with the belief that war and violence is unjustifiable. Do Jesus and his disciples demonstrate this in their words and actions? It is hard to say exactly. Upon encountering centurions, Jesus/his followers did not rebuke nor commend them for their role as a soldier. In Luke 3:14, some soldiers asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” This would be a perfect opportunity for John to give insight on their occupation. Instead, he simply replies “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
An interesting scene to look at when analyzing Jesus’ view on violence is right before he is arrested to be crucified. In Luke 22:36-38 Jesus says to the disciples,“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.”
Later, Luke 22:49-53 says, “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”
Matthew 26:52-53 provides Jesus’ direction to Peter, saying, “Put your sword back in its place… for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?”
So the question is- what is with the swords? There are different interpretations (as there are with many scriptural passages) but a few things are certainly clear. First of all, the swords were not meant for Jesus’ self defense. Jesus could have called legions of angels to come to his rescue, and he makes it clear to his captors that he was not leading a rebellion. Jesus also berated Peter’s action of attempted defense. One possible reason of Jesus’ instruction for them to get swords was for their own defense, but looking at the context of scripture, that seems unlikely. Never again are the disciples mentioned carrying weapons, and when most of them are martyred, none of them respond with violence. Another possible interpretation is that Jesus told them to get the swords as a further fulfillment of prophesies. I encourage you to do your own research, but it does not appear to me that Jesus encourages violence at all. Whether or not he stands in the belief that it is unjustifiable is a matter of opinion, I believe.
If Jesus does not approve of Peter’s attempt at defending a friend with violence, are we to do so in our lives? Boyd thinks not- he said that “When an “evil person” uses violence against us or our loved ones, we may certainly do all we can to stop him, except use violence.” Personally, I find this very hard to accept. If a criminal was holding a gun to the head of a person I cared about, and I could save them by knocking the criminal out (using violence!) there is no doubt in my mind that I would do it. So is that wrong?
Shifting focus a bit- I hold to the belief that human war can never be holy, and therefore I object to things like the Crusades and those who go to war dedicating it to God for a religious purpose. But holiness and justness are very different things- so can a war be just? Justness has to do with being morally right and fair.
I made the distinction earlier between war and peace- and while they are opposites, war can be declared with the goal of peace. Augustine said, “”We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.” While a quote by Augustine holds nowhere near the same merit as a quote from the Bible, it is interesting to think of the connection between the two. Is war just if the result of war is peace? “Just war” comes into this, with motivations playing a major part. What I will say about “just war” is that although we have these guidelines put in place, human justification will always be flawed and can never be ensured- with our limited knowledge of situations and others motives, it is impossible to guarantee that a war fits those guidelines.