Guns and Bibles! Welcome to conservative America. Spike’s Tactical in Florida is selling a $1,400 assault rifle called the Crusader. On the side of the gun is printed Psalm 144:1.
“Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”
While I personally do not view Christianity as a violent religion because of the teachings of Jesus, it would be unfair to say that the Bible as a whole is anti-war/guns/etc. In fact, using the Old Testament as a guide one could create quite a case for war and earthly dominion. Manifest destiny! I am sure that’s what Jesus wanted.
Why exactly do such polarizing views exist within Christianity? Is one group just ignorant? Are both groups ignorant? Is the Bible just confusing? Perhaps its the combination of Christian’s being largely uneducated in the Bible and that the Bible is actually a rather complex text that takes more than a fleeting glance to understand.
Q. Is the Bible pro violence or anti violence?
Confusing right? Let us examine the evidence.
When Abram returned from battle, Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, attributed Abram’s victory to God.
“Blessed be God Most High,” he says, “who delivered your enemies into your hand” (Genesis 14:19).
We also know that Abraham’s decedents were at one time commanded to make war with those currently living in Canaan.
16However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lordyour God has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 20:16-17 NIV)
The same is true about 400 years later. This time the Israelites were firmly planted in the Promised Land and had their first king on the throne.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (1 Samuel 15:2-3)
To make things even more interesting, lets take a look at some of the events in the book of Judges. This might be the most bloody and strange books in the Bible. In one story, Samson is empowered by the Holy Spirit to murder 30 of his new in-laws for cheating on a riddle.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home. (Judges 14:19 NIV)
It certainly makes one wonder if that “thou shalt not kill” command was serious. To be fair, the Hebrew text says to not “murder.” The only translation that says “kill” rather then “murder” is the KJV. For those who have read much my entries, you know how I feel about the KJV.
What is the difference between murder and kill? Unfortunately, that is difficult to answer. Hebrew has a lot go different ways to express killing!
רָצַח (rāṣaḥ) – To murder, slay, or kill. Used for premeditated killing. (Thou shalt not murder)
הָרַג (hārag) – To kill, or slay. Used often when speaking of war.
נָכָה (nākâ) – To smite, kill, wipe out.
מוּת (mût) – To die, kill, or execute.
קָטַל (qāṭal) – To Kill, slay.
In Hebrew, the command used in the 6th commandment is really referring to a premeditated killing or slaying. The text does not really indicate whether or not murder is worse than a run-of-the-mill killing. The idea of murder usually indicates an unwarranted killing. We could have a very in depth study of the word but I fear it might not advance the discussion much.
So…. God is cool with violence?
This is where I will basically try to explain some very gray territory. To be fair, God only commanded killing when two things were true. 1) The person(s) being killed were rebelling against the Lord or causing problems for His chosen people. 2) The person(s) doing the killing were commanded to by God. So, essentially, its ok to kill if God told you to. Maybe that is why so many murderers claim “God told me to do it.”
I would also like to point out that I believe God’s first choice is always peace. Killing seems to be a result that stems from rebellion and lack of peace. Noah is one of the first stories where we see God talk very seriously about violence.
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5-6)
In addition, it seems that God’s plan all along for his chosen people was to live in peace without violence. Many of the Old Testament prophecies directed at the nation of Israel echo the words of Isaiah.
Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:18)
Likewise, the Psalmist writes of the Lord:
The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5)
In addition, the Proverbs also issue a peace affirming piece of wisdom.
Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways. (Proverbs 3:31)
What about Jesus an Paul?
Here, it is important to point out the glaring difference between the Old and New Testaments on this topic. I realize that most people tend to read the NT or the OT but not always both of them. So, it might be apparent that they have some slight disagreement on this topic. Some of the early Christians actually thought that the God of the NT was not the same God as the God of the OT. Now that I have sufficiently made this discussion complicated, lets look at what Paul and Jesus said about violence.
Jesus said to Peter during His arrest:
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52 NIV)
Jesus also said during his sermon on the mount that even sinners hate their enemies. Christians should love their enemies.
43You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)
Of course we all know the classic Jesus saying about turning the other cheek.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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 5:38 NIV)
From Paul we get more of the same. Paul does not speak directly to violence but to the underlying spirit behind it.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
More could be pulled from the NT but I think the foundation is laid.
Which one is right?
This is not really the right question. Maybe the better question is why such a stark difference? At first look it might be irreconcilable. However, one can glean a bit from pointing out some other differences from two testaments.
First, the OT is not very forgiving. People screw up and they get punished quickly. However, the prophets foretold of a time when God would introduce another law. A law that would be written on the hearts of men. A law that would replace our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh.
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
Ezekiel and Jeremiah, (as with the other prophets) told of a time coming where the Lord will bring peace and not war.
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. (Ezekiel 37:26)
The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent. (Jeremiah 28:9 NASB)
It would appear that the attitude presented by Jesus is what would be expected of the new covenant era. God does not change but his desire all along has always been for peace and love. Even when he commanded his chosen people to take over the promised land it was always concluded with the idea that they would eventually be a light to all the other nations and they would live in the presence of God as His people. I believe god’s desire is always bent towards peace but he is dealing with wicked and selfish people.
What does that mean for us today? I think I will leave it to the reader to decide on what they believe about violence. I personally think that we glorify violence too much here in the USA. I think on matters of self defense and protecting the helpless each person will have their own conclusion. I really have not even made up my own mind on where the line is drawn. But the bottom line for me is that I would consider violence as as the very worst case scenario, if any scenario at all.
If we truly believe that we are going to die and spend eternity in heaven then maybe a pacifist position makes sense.