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What Does The Bible Say About War?
Was Jesus a Nonviolent Pacifist?
Justice (Just War Theory) and Asymmetric Warfare
[For those who don’t know, Asymmetric Warfare refers to states of war between militarily unmatched enemies. The most relevant example exists today in the overt and covert war which many Islamic leaders (both in political and religious states of power) have declared on the U.S., despite their being vastly outgunned by the U.S.]
“One of the most profound misconceptions about [Christianity] is that… of a religion whose founder preached meekness, love of enemies, and nonresistance… [But] on the matter of violence Christ was not as clear as pacifists like to think. He praised the faith of the Roman centurion but did not condemn his profession. At the Last Supper he told his disciples, ‘Let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one‘… St. Paul said of secular authorities, ‘He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer‘… For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it… [T]he concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.”
Pacifism, Matthew 5:38-39 and “Turning the other cheek”
Many people, [some] Christians included, assume that Christ taught pacifism. They cite Matthew 5:38-39 for their ‘proof’… The Sermon on the Mount from which this passage is taken deals with righteous personal [as opposed to civil, or governmental] conduct. In [this] passage, Christ is clearing up a confusion that had led people to think that conduct proper for the civil government — that is, taking vengeance — was also proper for an individual… Christ was correcting the religious leaders on their teaching that ‘an eye for an eye‘ applies to private revenge… The reference to ‘an eye for an eye‘ was taken from Exodus 21:24-25 which deals with how the [civil] magistrate must deal with a crime. Namely, the punishment must fit the crime. The religious leaders of Christ’s day had twisted a passage that applied to the government and misused it as a principle of personal revenge… Christ was not teaching something different about self defense than is taught elsewhere in the Bible. Otherwise, He would be contradicting Himself… The Bible distinguishes clearly between the duties of the civil magistrate (the government) and the duties of an individual. Namely, God has delegated to the civil magistrate the administration of justice. Individuals have the responsibility of protecting their lives from attackers. Christ was referring to this distinction in the Matthew 5 passage… ”
[Further exposition on how and where the Bible — in both Testaments — teaches personal self defense, see this page .]
“The oriental [i.e. middle easterner] guards with jealous care his cheek from touch or defilement, therefore a stroke on the cheek was, and is to this day, regarded as an act of extreme rudeness of behavior, a deadly affront. Our Saviour, however, teaches us in Matt. 5:39 and Luke 6:29 that even this insult is to be ignored and pardoned.“
—The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Electronic Edition), Definition: Cheek.
“To smite someone on the cheek was a serious insult… Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek when struck is an important statement of how those who follow Him are to respond to insult.
—Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Definition: Cheek
“[Matthew 5:39] supplies another example of the need for ascertaining the scope of a passage before attempting to explain it. Through failure to do so many have quite missed the force of this contrast. It has been supposed that our Lord was here enjoining a more merciful code of conduct than that which was exacted under the Mosaic economy; yet if the reader turns to ‘Deuteronomy 19:17-21’, he will find that those verses gave instruction to Israel’s ‘judges’:that they were not to be governed by sentiment, but to administer strict justice to the evildoer- ‘eye for eye,’ etc. But this statute, which pertains only to the magistrate enforcing judicial retribution, had been perverted by the Pharisees, giving it a general application,thereby teaching that each man was warranted in taking the law into his own hands. Our Lord here forbade the inflicting of private revenge, and in so doing maintained the clear teaching of the Old Testament (see Exod. 23:4, 5; Lev. 19:18; Prov. 24:29; 25:21, 22, which expressly forbade the exercise of personal malice and retaliation).“
–Arthur W. Pink, Interpretation of the Scriptures (Electronic Edition), Chapter 6 [excerpt]
“Jesus specifically mentions the right here, even though a blow from a right-handed person would normally fall on the left cheek. This probably means that the blow is delivered with the back of the hand, since then it would indeed fall on the right cheek. We know for certain that such a blow was considered particularly insulting. The injustice that is willingly accepted here is therefore not so much a matter of body injury as of shame.“
— H.N. Ridderbos, Matthew: Bible Students Commentary, p. 113
“A backhanded blow to the right cheek did not imply shattered teeth…; it was an insult, the severest public affront to a person’s dignity… this was more an affront to honor, a challenge, than a physical injury.“
— Joachim Jeramias, The Parables of Jesus, p. 28.