The Bible and the War. From Genesis through Revelation, there are several references to God’s favor in warfare. However, the Bible also seems to condemn warfare on various occasions.
Because the Bible is easy to change and misunderstand, people who want to understand the morality of war often have trouble with its unclear passages and wrong interpretations.
It is a complex topic, and many Christians are uncertain about God’s genuine plan.
- 1 War is a tragedy
- 2 Conflict must be avoided at all costs
- 3 The Bible and Pacifism
- 4 What does Scripture say about warfare?
- 5 But didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
- 6 Jesus Christ and War
- 7 War in the Old Testament
- 8 What does “just war” mean?
- 9 Are preemptive strikes permissible?
- 10 War should only be used as a last resort
- 11 God provides victory in just conflicts
- 12 The Christian Perspective on War
- 13 Conclusion
War is a tragedy
War is the biggest tragedy. The Bible depicts war as a terrible waste of human life, and a waste of the potential that God has endowed man with. War destroys both the world in which people live and the lives of those forced into fighting.
According to the Bible, exacting vengeance on another person is not the appropriate response to a situation. We should instead give God vengeance (Romans 12:19).
Sadly, many folks prefer their own egotistical objectives above God’s plan. Many people give in to their sinful natures and don’t follow the command to love each other as much as God loves us (John 13:34).
War is tragically caused by sin, wrath, selfishness, and our detachment from God’s love.
The greatest vehicle for expressing God’s love is the gift of life. How can we be considered God’s children if we are willing to murder one another?
If truth and justice are important to us, we should have trust that God’s unchanging love may transform strangers into friends (Psalm 32:5).
Conflict must be avoided at all costs
There are over 400 occurrences of the phrase “war” in the Bible, yet it is difficult to choose a few passages to dispute whether war is good or bad. On the other hand, to fully understand what the Bible is saying about war, you need to study its whole language and historical context.
According to the Bible, sin is a basic trait of humans, and as a consequence, we are always at war with one another. So long as there is sin in this world, conflict will persist.
Even though there have been wars throughout human history and even before (like the fight between Lucifer and God in heaven; see Revelation 12:7), it is important to remember that war is a result of man’s fallen nature.
Rev.12:7-9 – Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels went forth to battle with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought. But they were defeated, and there was no room found for them in heaven any longer. And the huge dragon was cast down and out–that age-old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, he who is the seducer (deceiver) of all humanity the world over; he was forced out and down to the earth, and his angels were flung out along with him.
Because God desires peace for His people, the Bible tells us to seek peace wherever possible and avoid confrontation under all circumstances (Romans 12:18).
Even though many people throughout history have praised violence, we should strive to be peacemakers rather than warriors, since God did not come to earth with weapons to fight the Roman Empire. Instead, He took on the human form, died on the cross, and rose again to conquer death and provide us everlasting life.
The Bible and Pacifism
You may have been exposed to the following argument:
“The Bible does not address the conflict. The Bible advocates for peace. Jesus espoused pacifism. Christians must also be pacifists.”
Regarding the definition,
This argument employs the “either-or” fallacy, often known as the false dilemma fallacy. It assumes there are only two possible outcomes:
- Or we must admit that no one ever justifies war,
- maybe we assume that going to war is always a sensible option.
However, alternate possibilities do exist. If you perceive the Bible to be silent on the subject of war, you may want to re-examine it. The Bible has a lot to say about “good” and “evil” conflicts, but it’s not always as clear-cut as we’d like.
In the Old Testament, war is typically portrayed as a necessary evil. One of the primary aims of the invasion of Canaan was the annihilation of the wicked tribes that practiced child sacrifice. The conflict was between right and wrong.
Regardless of how military or pacifist the Bible’s depictions of battle are, they always reflect God’s purposes and nature. When the Bible uses military imagery to mention spiritual things, like in the book of Revelation, it always shows that good wins over evil and that peace follows.
What does Scripture say about warfare?
The following Bible verses can help us understand the situation better if we keep them in mind.
Several Bible verses that reveal God’s attitude to war and peace
1Pet.2:17 Show respect for all men [treat them honorably]. Love the brotherhood (the Christian fraternity of which Christ is the Head). Reverence God. Honor the emperor.
Rom.13:1-4 LET EVERY person be loyally subject to the governing (civil) authorities. For there is no authority except from God [by His permission, His sanction], and those that exist do so by God’s appointment.
Therefore he who resists and sets himself up against the authorities resists what God has appointed and arranged [in divine order]. And those who resist will bring down judgment upon themselves [receiving the penalty due them].
For civil authorities are not a terror to [people of] good conduct, but to [those of] bad behavior. Would you have no dread of him who is in authority? Then do what is right and you will receive his approval and commendation.
For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, [you should dread him and] be afraid, for he does not bear and wear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant to execute His wrath (punishment, vengeance) on the wrongdoer.
Exodus.23:21-23 Give heed to Him, listen to and obey His voice; be not rebellious before Him or provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgression; for My Name is in Him.
But if you will indeed listen to and obey His voice and all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
When My Angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I reject them and blot them out.
The next line indicates that God has a plan if conflict breaks out:
Deut.20:1-20 WHEN YOU go forth to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you.
And when you come near to the battle, the priest shall approach and speak to the men,
And shall say to them, Hear, O Israel, you draw near this day to battle against your enemies. Let not your [minds and] hearts faint; fear not, and do not tremble or be terrified [and in dread] because of them.
For the Lord your God is He Who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you.
And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.
And what man has planted a vineyard and has not used the fruit of it? Let him also return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man use the fruit of it.
And what man has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.
And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, What man is fearful and fainthearted? Let him return to his house, lest [because of him] his brethren’s [minds and] hearts faint as does his own.
And when the officers finish speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders at the head of the people.
When you draw near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace to it.
And if that city makes an answer of peace to you and opens to you, then all the people found in it shall be tributary to you and they shall serve you.
But if it refuses to make peace with you and fights against you, then you shall besiege it.
And when the Lord your God has given it into your hands, you shall smite every male there with the edge of the sword.
But the women, the little ones, the beasts, and all that is in the city, all the spoil in it, you shall take for yourselves; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you.
So shall you treat all the cities that are very far off from you, that do not belong to the cities of these nations.
But in the cities of these people which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes.
But you shall utterly exterminate them, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded you,
So that they may not teach you all the abominable practices they have carried on for their gods, and so cause you to sin against the Lord your God.
When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by using an ax on them, for you can eat their fruit; you must not cut them down, for is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?
Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siege works against the city that makes war with you until it falls.
Prov.24:6 For by wise counsel you can wage your war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory and safety.
Every conflict has an objective.
- A fair war seeks to terminate conflicts, protect innocent civilians, and maintain justice.
Thus, war is not necessarily negative. It may be “evil” to do good: to defend what is right, to prevent damage to others, and to establish peace where there has been conflict or injustice.
- Some bad ways to use it are for power, money, or getting even.
The Bible does not always prohibit fighting
Careful biblical study is required to identify the answer. Throughout the Old Testament, there are several examples of God giving His people victory in battle.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-2, for instance, God tells Israel to exterminate their enemies because they would act as a trap for them.
God granted Israel victory over their adversaries in the Promised Land:
There will be too many wild creatures for you to control quickly; so, the LORD your God will cleanse these lands for you piecemeal (Deuteronomy 7:22).
The Israelites issued destruction orders to many of these nations (Deuteronomy 20:17).
According to Joshua, “the Lord enabled [Israel] to kill [them] without pity… as Moses had commanded” (Joshua 11:20). This is only one example of how God uses conflict to further His purposes.
In the Bible, God gave Israel victory against the Midianites (Judges 6–8) and the Canaanite kings (Joshua 10), as well as on over thirty additional occasions.
When David counted his soldiers and saw that he didn’t have enough, God was angry and struck Israel (2 Samuel 24:1).
When Syria besieged King Joash, he prayed to God to “hear and open the eyes [of heaven] to see” beyond the enemy armies to the Jerusalem temple’s treasury, where funds were available to construct walls against future Syrian attacks. Even though Joash was a profoundly cruel king who killed his own slaves, God carried out this deed.
The Bible is full of stories about how God used war to help his people, especially to get back at people who did wrong and punish bad people (Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 50:15).
Is.1:17 Learn to do right! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, and correct the oppressor. Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Prov.24:10-11 If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Deliver those who are drawn away to death, and those who totter to the slaughter, hold them back [from their doom]. If you [profess ignorance and] say, Behold, we did not know this, does not He Who weighs and ponders the heart perceive and consider it? And He Who guards your life, does not He know it? And shall not He render to [you and] every man according to his works?
Here are several examples:
- the abolition of slavery (Exodus 14:14, 14:30).
- to punish the wrongdoing of the country (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).
- to seek vengeance against the nations that have afflicted Israel (2 Samuel 10:6, 1 Kings 11:14–15, 11:23–26, 2 Chronicles 20:1-3).
- to chastise nations that refused to adapt (Jeremiah 34:20-22; 46:13; Jeremiah 47; 48). (Jeremiah 34:20-22; 46:13; Jeremiah 47; 48).
- to punish the nations that violated their divine covenants (Jeremiah 34:17; II Kings 21:1).
Why did God prohibit some conflicts in the Bible?
Let’s discuss why God may have also forbidden war.
- When the fight for God’s justice was not waged. Israel fought in battle to further its own objectives, not to wreak God’s vengeance on the bad bordering nations (2 Chronicles 12:1-8, 2 Chronicles 21:1-20).
- When he didn’t have good intentions, King Saul’s main goal in fighting the Amalekites wasn’t to serve God, but to make a name for himself and become famous (1 Samuel 15).
- When the war began on erroneous grounds. The conflict’s goal was to instill fear in people. Some of Judah’s kings relied on their military might as a kind of self-defense, rather than on God alone (Isaiah 31:1-3). The result? Because they lacked faith that God would protect and fight for them, they were conquered by other nations (Psalm 20:7, Psalm 33:16-17, Psalm 144:1-2).
- When the nation’s borders are extended as a result of conflict. Israel sought kingdoms and opponents over whom they had no claim or divine mandates (Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19, Judges 11:12–27).
But didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered several beatitudes, including “Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). This poem is often referenced to support pacifism. However, Jesus differentiated between “peacemaking” and “pacifism.”
Jesus was not a pacifist, but He did strive for peace. The fact that He expelled the moneylenders from the temple demonstrates that He was not always against violence (John 2:15).
Even though Romans 12:18 says we should always try to find peace, there are times when conflict is necessary and legal to protect human life and stop evil.
Rev.19:11-21 After that I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse [appeared]! The One Who was riding it is called Faithful (Trustworthy, Loyal, Incorruptible, Steady) and True, and He passes judgment and wages war in righteousness (holiness, justice, and uprightness).
His eyes [blaze] like a flame of fire, and on His head are many kingly crowns (diadems); and He has a title (name) inscribed which He alone knows or can understand.
He is dressed in a robe dyed by dipping in blood, and the title by which He is called is The Word of God.
And the troops of heaven, clothed in fine linen, dazzling and clean, followed Him on white horses.
From His mouth goes forth a sharp sword with which He can smite (afflict, strike) the nations; and He will shepherd and control them with a staff (scepter, rod) of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath and indignation of God the All-Ruler (the Almighty, the Omnipotent).
And on His garment (robe) and on His thigh He has a name (title) inscribed, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Then I saw a single angel stationed in the sun’s light, and with a mighty voice he shouted to all the birds that fly across the sky, Come, gather yourselves together for the great supper of God,
That you may feast on the flesh of rulers, the flesh of generals and captains, the flesh of powerful and mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all humanity, both free and slave, both small and great!
Then I saw the beast and the rulers and leaders of the earth with their troops mustered to go into battle and make war against Him Who is mounted on the horse and against His troops.
And the beast was seized and overpowered, and with him the false prophet who in his presence had worked wonders and performed miracles by which he led astray those who had accepted or permitted to be placed upon them the stamp (mark) of the beast and those who paid homage and gave divine honors to his statue. Both of them were hurled alive into the fiery lake that burns and blazes with brimstone.
And the rest were killed with the sword that issues from the mouth of Him Who is mounted on the horse, and all the birds fed ravenously and glutted themselves with their flesh.
Jesus Christ and War
In addition, we are aware of Jesus’ proclamation, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:35). Again, “Do you think I’ve come to build peace on earth?” No, I can guarantee you; there is, in fact, a division. (Luke 12:51).
Some may question how Jesus could be a man of peace if He came with a weapon. However, permit me to expand.
Jesus is not only a man; he is also God in human form and our Savior. As a consequence, He has both divine and human natures in one person. Therefore, He is from both heaven and earth, and the two realms are against one another.
God controls over all created things; the lower world is evil and wicked, but the skies above are flawless and holy (except sin, which does not exist there). As a consequence, when Jesus entered the earth via His incarnation in Bethlehem, the conflict between good (God) and evil (Satan/the devil) started instantly. Herod intended to assassinate Him by murdering all infants less than two years of age.
A Man of Peace
In addition, there is no evidence that Jesus engaged in any type of warfare against the Roman Empire or the religious leaders of His day. Instead, He responded to a question with another inquiry. This shows that He believed our struggle should be handled mostly via reason and diplomacy, rather than force (Matt. 21:23-27).
Jesus was killed by the authorities for being a rebel. He never lifted his hand in defense against the authorities who arrested Him or those who ultimately crucified Him (Luke 23:34).
Days before Jesus’ crucifixion, the apostle Peter engaged in a violent conflict with those who were planning to seize Him (John 18:10). When Jesus rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of one of his captives, He cured the attacker’s wound (Matt. 26:52).
Jesus was a man who led via example instead of coercion. In reality, there is no mention of Christ forcing anybody to follow Him in the Bible; it was always a loving invitation.
Jesus Christ was a man of peace. Thus states the Bible, and we know it to be true, since Jesus never committed an offense.
War in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, there are several accounts of battle. Some of these wars, such as the deluge and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, were begun by God. He periodically commanded His people to go to battle, as when He commissioned Joshua to lead Israel into Canaan.
He scolded His people for engaging in combat without first seeking His will, as when they conquered Jericho.
Nevertheless, God was involved in each of these events in separate ways, and we must not confuse what God did with what we should do.
When deciding whether to get involved in a conflict, it is important to look at all the facts.
- You may question if this conflict is justifiable.
- What does God need from me? Another question you may like to ask yourself.
- It is essential to ask oneself, “Does this desire arise from my own selfishness or from a desire to please and serve God?”
You may have heard that the God of the Old Testament is a violent deity, but the God of the New Testament is a peacemaker. This idea is intended to divide the two covenants. According to some, because Jesus came into the world, everything in the Old Testament is no longer valid.
This argument tries to show that lines or passages that no longer apply to modern life are not essential.
The Old Testament and New Testament are tightly intertwined, a fact that is very varied. They are not completely separate; what happens in one has an effect on what occurs in the other.
God is the same throughout the Old and New Testaments, since He does not change.
Numb.23:19 God is not a man, that He should tell or act a lie, neither the son of man, that He should feel repentance or compunction [for what He has promised]. Has He said and shall He not do it? Or has He spoken and shall He not make it good?
Hebr.13:8 Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is [always] the same, yesterday, today, [yes] and forever (to the ages).
What does “just war” mean?
In light of the above, a biblical definition of “just war” is possible. The Bible describes a just war as one that:
(1) fought for a good cause;
(2) fought as a last resort following the failure of previous peace efforts; and
(3) fought by legal authorities.
World War II is an example of a just war that happened in the modern era. It was waged by a legal government and sanctioned by Allied leaders who represented the countries that Germany had invaded. It fought a brutal enemy who had already done a lot of damage, but it didn’t start until Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party stopped trying to stop violence without violence.
The government cannot act at its own discretion. In reality, a Christian who enlists in the military pledges to “uphold and defend” the Constitution and no other country. The soldier’s pledge does not include a promise to follow illegal orders from superiors or to support immoral leaders at a certain time in history.
Are preemptive strikes permissible?
The Old Testament is not a pagan text, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it agrees with preemptive attacks.
- The Bible said that the Israelites could take back their land without being provoked, and it also said that they could attack the seven Canaanite nations first.
- The book of Deuteronomy says that Israeli territory can’t be attacked and that foreign communities can be attacked first.
- In 1 Samuel 23:1–5 and 30:8, God authorizes David to attack a city that his enemies had chosen to use as a base of operations. David was not the first assaulted by the city.
The Bible does not prohibit preventive measures. The fact that even the Old Testament does not condemn them may seem odd. According to the Book of Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 20:10), a nation cannot invade another nation unless the latter first starts an attack.
In Numbers 31, Moses, on the other hand, tells Israel to go to war with the Midianites, kill them all, and take their women as a way of getting back at them for getting Israel to worship the pagan god Baal-Peor.
This was definitely a preemptive strike since the Midianites weren’t attacking Israel when Moses issued the order to invade and kill them. In fact, churches no longer read or preach about this narrative because it is so revolting.
This event, however, illustrates that preemptive attacks are consistent with biblical justice.
War should only be used as a last resort
Combat is a last resort. This means that all other options have been used up before force is used against another country or group.
Even though it might not seem so presently, peace is always preferable. Even if diplomatic solutions seem hopeless at first, they should be looked at carefully as a possible solution.
During an armed conflict, civilians shouldn’t be hurt unless they are a direct threat, like children or people who can’t fight back.
God provides victory in just conflicts
Even while the Bible states that God generally abhors violence, it also states that He will back those who fight for Him when absolutely required.
Please review 2 Chronicles 20:15-17: The Lord instructs you not to be frightened or disappointed by this massive army. It is because God, not you, is the one battling. You may face them the next day. Maintain your determination and observe as the Lord brings you deliverance. Avoid being discouraged and do not be afraid. Tomorrow, confront them; the Lord will be with you.
If we accept God’s laws and put our confidence in Him throughout warfare, we may be certain that He will fulfill His promise to wonderfully reward us.
The Christian Perspective on War
War is never a cause for celebration. We must always pray for peace and never want bloodshed. If war is necessary, it must be waged according to God’s rules, just like every other part of life.
According to the Bible, God abhors war because it is the outcome of human sin and disobedience toward Him. It is sometimes necessary to wage war to confront evil and protect the lives of the innocent.
Eccl.3:3-8 A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to get and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away,
A time to rend and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
If you love God, you will want what He desires and abhor what He abhors (Psalm 97:10). So, if you hate bad things, you can’t help but hate war and all the death, pain, and destruction it brings.
Still, if it is sometimes necessary to go to war to stop something worse from happening or to protect innocent people from harm, a Christian must accept this as a terrible result of people’s sin and rebellion against God.
A believer is only allowed to kill if they do it regretfully and sadly and follow the rules of their country. They are not allowed to kill out of anger, greed, cruelty, or deceit (Romans 13:1).
The Bible does not condemn warfare. When fighting to protect innocent people, war may be the right thing to do when things are bad.
The Bible says that fighting is appropriate and allowed when it comes to self-defense, protecting innocent people, and protecting society from evil.
War is never an ideal solution, but it is sometimes the only option for protecting the public and eradicating evil forces from the planet. Would we allow it to continue if we knew our enemy was approaching to ravage and pillage our people? Clearly not! We would have had no choice but to respond forcefully; we would have had no other choice.
The Bible does not specifically ban warfare. According to this scripture, God may use war to punish evil nations or to rescue righteous nations from their enemies.
War is not caused by natural disasters, but by human sin and failure. There are a thousand fathers in battle, but no mothers. Because of this, we must fight for peace.