The Bible’s Message on War: From Old Testament Battles to New Testament Peace

People often question the Christian faith because they find a contrast between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In the Old Testament, we read about figures like Gideon, David, and Joshua, who conquered and fought wars in the name of God. It can make Israel seem like a violent nation, and God may appear a ruthless warmonger.

This contrast raises some important questions: Why does the Old Testament talk so much about war and violence? And why does the New Testament, primarily through the teachings of Jesus, emphasize peace and love instead?

In this post, we will explore the Bible’s teachings to understand why war is mentioned and what messages of peace it conveys, especially in the New Testament.

The Old Testament Perspectives

One of the most foundational moral principles in the Bible is the commandment, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). While this commandment is often cited in discussions about war, it is essential to understand its original Hebrew context.

In this context, the term “kill” more accurately translates to “murder.” The Bible distinguishes between killing in warfare or self-defense and committing murder. This suggests that there is a place for justifiable violence in specific circumstances.

The Old Testament also contains instances of wars commanded by God, such as the conquest of Canaan (Deuteronomy 20). These passages have led to the development of the “Just War Theory,” a framework within Christian theology that seeks to justify war under certain conditions. 

According to this theory, war can be morally justifiable if it meets specific criteria, including a just cause, proper authority, proportionality, and a reasonable chance of success.

We also encounter instances where God seemingly commands the Israelites to engage in warfare. These passages have sparked considerable debate and raised questions about the nature of God’s involvement in conflict. One such example can be found in Numbers 31:2, where God instructs the Israelites to “take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.”

Another instance in 1 Samuel 15:18 emphasizes the divine command to wage war. Here, God’s directive is explicit, and it appears God sanctions warfare against certain wicked groups.

However, it’s important to note that these passages represent a particular historical and cultural context. In these times, nations often engaged in warfare to survive, expand, or assert dominance. 

Furthermore, the idea that God is not against all forms of war is evident in the Old Testament. Jesus, in his teachings, is considered to be in perfect harmony with God the Father (John 10:30).

This bible verse implies that the Old Testament’s depiction of God’s involvement in warfare cannot be entirely dismissed, as it is consistent with God’s character throughout history. The biblical assertion that God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) underscores this continuity in God’s nature and purpose.

The New Testament Perspectives

In contrast to some Old Testament passages, the New Testament, particularly the teachings of Jesus, emphasizes peace and nonviolence. In Matthew 5:38-44, Jesus instructs his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.” These teachings encourage believers to seek reconciliation and avoid violence whenever possible.

The Apostle Paul also promotes peace and non-retaliation in his epistles. He advises the Romans to “live at peace with everyone” and states that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 12:18, Romans 13:10). While Paul does not explicitly condemn war, his emphasis on love and peaceful living suggests a preference for nonviolent solutions.

Christ’s mission on Earth was not to engage in physical warfare against external enemies but to confront and conquer the most formidable adversary of all—sin. When Christ healed the paralytic in Matthew 9:2, he began by declaring, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Here, the healing of the soul took precedence over any physical ailment, emphasizing the importance of addressing internal struggles.

In Ephesians 6, Christians are encouraged to put on the “Armor of God,” signifying their readiness to engage in spiritual warfare. This armor includes the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” highlighting the essential role of spiritual truth in battling internal and external temptations.

Bottom Line

Appreciating context is crucial to understanding the Bible’s stance on war. Each passage must be examined within its broader historical and cultural framework to decipher its intended message.

Over the centuries, the Bible’s teachings have evolved, shaped by their time’s theological and societal developments. As a result, the Old and New Testaments offer distinct perspectives on the matter.

The Bible presents us with a comprehensive view of war and peace. It challenges us to navigate the complexities of these themes while emphasizing the transformative power of love, reconciliation, and the pursuit of peace, as exemplified in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As a community pastor, I want to emphasize that our understanding of war and peace should be tempered by the principles of love, compassion, and reconciliation, seeking peaceful resolutions whenever possible. In doing so, we recognize the intricate biblical knowledge that challenges us to deal with the moral complexity of our world.

Pastor Christopher Turk
Pastor Christopher Turk

Christopher was the lead elder/pastor of the local Christian church in Penticton, British Columbia but he was forced to close his church due to a COVID-19 impact. He has a dedication to serving his Lord's church and a pulpit competence that honors the legacy of his predecessor. Christopher is a passionate visionary for the Lord and His Kingdom! His church ministry background spans over 30 years of full-time service. Support Christian by buying him a coffee.

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