Subscribe to our Compelling Mail Newsletter:

Does the Bible say anything about war?

Subscribe to our Compelling Mail Newsletter:

The writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is: "A time for war and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

Normally when a person asks what the Bible says concerning war, the questioner typically wants to know whether it is right to participate in war. There are basically three views constructed in an attempt to answer the question:

1. Activism – Christians should participate in all wars entered into by their government
2. Pacifism – Christians should not participate in war because it involves the killing of people
3. Selectivism – Christians should participate in "just wars"

The activist view says that government has been ordained by God and to disobey one's government (and its command to go to war), is disobeying God. The standard set of verses cited to support this view is: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (Romans 13:1–2).

Yet, Scripture appears to reject the concept of total activism. There are numerous Biblical cases of believers disobeying government when its commands are contrary to God's moral laws (e.g. Daniel, Peter, John, etc.) Further, the case of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 shows that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent even if the government commands it.

History also appears to demonstrate the rejection of activism. For example, the Nuremberg trials showcased that blindly obeying the government is no excuse for taking the lives of innocents.

The pacifist position generally puts forth three arguments. First, they wrongly quote the eighth commandment as "you shall not kill," when the actual verse says "you shall not murder," which is different.

Next, the pacifist quotes one of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount statements: "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). In doing this, the pacifist fails to realize: (1) the slap on the face in the first century was an insult and not a threat of bodily harm, death, or confiscation of freedom or personal goods, and (2) it is a command directed to individuals and not nations.

Lastly, the pacifist says that war is always based on greed, in one form or another. But history shows this to be false. As an example, the United States did not enter World War II because of greed, but because the country was attacked and because its allies were being threatened with loss of life, freedom, and property from several dictators.

The selectivism stance says that Christians should participate in what is called a "just war". There is no single verse in Scripture that defines a "just war," however an attempt at a definition would be a war that:

• Is fought in the defense of the innocent
• Is fought to execute justice
• Is fought by a just government
• Is fought in a just manner (e.g. no children strapped with bombs)

There are a number of Biblical examples that appear to support the just war concept. For example, Abraham's battle against the kings of Genesis 14 (and his blessing by Melchizedek) lends support to the conclusion that unjust national aggressors should be resisted and fought.

Moreover, the Old Testament contains many examples of God using armies and war as His tool for justice against evil nations.

Lastly, as to a just government and manner approach, many times God told the Israelites to offer a peace treaty first to a targeted nation, but if they refused peace, then war was granted ("When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it" – Deuteronomy 20:10).

Of the various positions put forward as to what the biblical model of war is, the selectivism stance that leans on the just war model appears to be the most sound.

Related Truth:

Should a Christian join the military?

What does the Bible say about civil disobedience?

Does religion cause most wars?

Spiritual warfare - What does the Bible say?

What is the full armor of God?

Return to:
Truth about Everything Else

Compelling Truth HOME