4. The Bible

ScriptureDon’t believe what anybody (including me) tells you…just read your Bible.

People who use the New Testament to support the use of violence generally do two things when quoting it:
(1) manipulate the interpretation to say what they want it to say.
(2) take one line or verse out of context to avoid having to deal with the real meaning of the passage.

There are seven New Testament scripture quotes listed below that some Christians would say support the use of violence. These aren’t seven out of many….these are the ONLY verses non-peaceful Christians can come up with! Compare these to the many verses in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that document Jesus’ peace teaching, and I think you’ll agree that all they prove is how willing some Christians are to grasp at straws if they can’t find anything in scripture that actually supports their agenda.

Even if there was a line in the new testament, in the very words of Jesus, that said something like “God and I are totally fine with you killing people whenever you feel like it”, we should be discerning enough to realize that its validity should be questioned because it’s the complete opposite of everything else that’s taught in the New Testament. Why would we choose to live according to anything that’s so inconsistent with the rest of New Testament scripture? It would be ridiculous, but some Christians do it all the time!

NOTE: To find out how violence in the Old Testament relates to the teachings of Jesus, go back to Section #4 titled “Assumptions” – Assumption #1: “If it says it in the Bible, it must be okay.”

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Scripture #1 – James 1:27 – Look After Orphans and Widows

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The words “look after” are typically misquoted as “protect” by people wanting to use this verse to support war because it makes it sound more like you can use weapons to do the will of God. Some translations use the words “visit” or “sustain” but never “protect”. Looking after them might mean feeding them, hiding them from persecution or even laying down your own life to save them from harm, but it doesn’t mean attacking anyone.

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Scripture #2 – Matthew 10:34 – I Did Not Come to Bring Peace

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

On the surface it seems pretty obvious that Jesus is advocating war, not peace. This is an amazing example of how you can make the bible support anything you want if you take things out of context. Read the next few lines in the chapter (verses 35-39) and see if your opinion of what this means changes.

“For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Wow! What this actually means is following Jesus may make your life less “peaceful”. Other people, even your own family, may turn against you and you could even lose your life.

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Scripture #3 – Luke 4:18-19 – Releasing the Oppressed

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The words that non-peaceful Christians focus on here are “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “release the oppressed”. Sounds like they’re getting the green light to roll out the tanks but it’s a blatant case of ignoring the principle of a verse in order to do whatever you want. Since it’s Jesus who’s speaking here, it’s Jesus who will proclaim freedom for the prisoners and release the oppressed – not you or me! He’s also “proclaiming”, not taking military action.

There are a couple of possible meanings for what Jesus is saying – neither of which involve war:
(1) They’re metaphors for what following Jesus will be like – like a prisoner being freed; like a blind person being able to see; or like someone who is oppressed being released.
(2) Through Christ’s salvation their afflictions won’t exist in heaven.

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Scripture #4 – Romans 13 – Submitting to Authority

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

This is used to support going to war when your government tells you to go. It’s written by Paul, who spent many years in jail, so he obviously wasn’t very good at complying with the wishes of the governing authorities. Jesus never suggested trying to overthrow the Roman government, but he does advocate being a good citizen as long as it doesn’t conflict with how God wants us to live. A perfect example is when the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking him whether or not it’s right to pay taxes to Caesar, and he replies: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
It’s also fascinating that in the verses leading up to Romans 13, Paul says to “bless those who persecute you” and “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. Read the verses immediately preceding Romans 13 (Romans 12:14-21) and I think you’ll agree that war just doesn’t make any sense in light of what Paul is teaching…

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Scripture #5 – Matthew 8:5-13 – The Centurion

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

What’s suggested here by some non-peaceful Christians is that because Jesus doesn’t rebuke the centurion for serving in the military, he must approve of him killing people. This argument is so lame that it’s hardly even worth commenting on, but it is one of the seven scriptures used to defend the use of violence, so here’s why it makes no sense at all. Not rebuking someone does not mean you approve of what they do, and as I’ve mentioned before there are very fine people serving in the military – in Jesus’ time as well as the present day. The second really obvious flaw here is that Jesus regularly spent time with prostitutes but that doesn’t mean he approves of prostitution. For Jesus, a person’s heart is far more important than what they do for a living.

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Scripture #6 – John 2:15 – Overturning the Tables

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

This is one of the most misunderstood passages in the entire New Testament and is frequently used as an excuse for being violent. The argument goes something like this:
If Jesus can get really angry, then righteous anger must be okay for us too.
Here are the reasons why we can’t use this as an excuse to be violent.

(1) Jesus drives out the sacrificial animals being sold in the temple. (Some translations imply that he also drove the people out but there’s no agreement on this.)
(2) He turns over the money changer’s tables because they’ve set up a religious system in the temple. (Note that he doesn’t break off a table leg and beat them with it.)
(3) Jesus isn’t judging the morality of the people working in the temple here, but even if he was, he knows people’s hearts and can be judgmental – we can’t, and it’s not our job to decide who’s righteous and who isn’t.

This is an incredible example of what Jesus is all about…raging against the machine by shutting down the religious system. It’s also a foreshadowing of what will happen to the temple at the moment of his death on the cross.

Jesus doesn’t “cleanse” the temple, he symbolically destroys it!

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Scripture #7 – Luke 22: 35-38 – Buy a Sword

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”, “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “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 is enough,” he replied.

This is the final piece of scripture that’s twisted around to support the use of weapons. First Jesus points out that when they had nothing, they lacked nothing. He then asks them to buy swords so that the old testament prophesy that he will be “numbered with the transgressors” will be fulfilled (meaning he wants it to appear as though his followers are armed) The first thing to note is that there are twelve of them but only two swords, which means he didn’t want them all to be armed. The second is that we could mistakenly think that they would have used violence to protect him if only they would have had some weapons. Having power, but not using it inappropriately, is a perfect example of what Jesus stood for.

You’ll see the huge flaw in the logic of this argument after reading verses 49-51 when Jesus is arrested.

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.

If we’re being honest with ourselves when we read these passages, all they actually say is:

You and your friends can buy two swords (only if you sell your cloaks to buy them) but you can’t use them.


 

To learn more, click on “What’s Next?” at the top of the page.

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