Posted by: JohnO | October 14, 2008

War’s Wisdom

From Ben Witherington, please read the whole thing. Some salient points:

…Somewhere there is an endgame
Without the sound of taps
A plan to play a different role
Blessed peacemakers perhaps.

Yes, I am well aware of Romans 13, which suggests that governments have the right to bear some kinds of arms for some sorts of defensive purposes. I do not dispute this, but what I do dispute is that Christians have any obligation to serve their country in capacities that involve violence. This means for me, that I could never be any kind of soldier, except of course the Christian sort spoken of in the familiar hymn or in Ephesians 5. I suppose it also means I could never be some kinds of law enforcement officers either.

I think it is high time for all Christians, perhaps especially American ones, to have a more adequate theology of peacemaking, rather than seeking justification for participating in more wars. I may be wrong about this, but if so, I want to err on the side that I see the Savior, took for he is the one who believed that there were many things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for. Indeed, he believed that killing violated the values that were worth dying for.

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Responses

  1. Romans 13 does not obligate a citizen to participate in war any more than the command to obey your parents says says that you must steal or kill if they tell you to.

    It does say that there should be some order to society, and that order would naturally would come from a government, and Christians should participate in it. Of course, the Romans would understand and expect this rather than social order to come from religion.

    Moreover, this passage of Paul’s does not provide for support for war. The purpose of the Roman military in Jesus’ day was twofold, the first was military conquering support for the emperor–aggressive war we would think of today, and the other is they were the POLICE of the day, keeping order for society, but not necessarily expanding it. In the Roman days, society had not developed to the point that they recognized a difference.

    We would expect that police were needed for a society, but the violent nature of the military turned off early Christians, and there reports of them believing that a Christian could not be a soldier. There are no records early Christians in the military until 185AD, and when a soldier converted, he gave up his post and was usually martyred for the desertion.

  2. Actually, Romans 13 doesn’t talk about war (the “sword” mentioned there (Greek: machaira) wasn’t used in war, it was a short dagger used when Roman soldiers accompanied tax collectors, the symbol of local policing) but it is a text that shows that we shall “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) even when it is the state that is evil. Rom. 13 is a text where Paul tries to stop Christians who want to overthrow the government! Christians are never supposed to use violence, not even in revolutions against Caesar. Instead, we shall submit to the authorities (which isn’t the same as obey, for Christians should not sacrifice to the emperor and kill Jews in concentration camps) and spread the Jesus-revolution inside peoples’ hearts. There are two types of peace: the negative peace when people cannot fight, although they want to, because a foreign military or a strong police force is hindering them and the positive peace when people do not fight because they do not want to. It is the second peace that we must search.

  3. Thanks, Micael. I have a very vague memory of hearing much the same thing when I was in High School, but you have the more specific, significant facts.

    I wonder if this was the same type of sword Jesus recommended the apostles trade their coats for and buy in Luke 22:36? A good, sturdy knife would be a useful tool for a wide variety of tasks in their new, more independent life.

    Also, you’d think that carrying a big, clunky sword would give the first impression of wary suspicion, rather than a greeting of peace like Jesus would recommend. The Romans policing Jerusalem probably wouldn’t want to have a group of strange “rebels” carrying a sword, either.

    (Ref– post on “Why did Jesus tell his disciple to buy a sword”)


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