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THE SCRIPTURAL PERSPECTIVE ON WAR: PART THREE

 PRESENTED ON  07-30-11

 

       Today is the third and final sermon in a series of sermons dealing with the issue of how we as Christians are to view war.  Last week we looked at war in the Hebrew Scriptures and saw how God directed and sanctioned warfare by the nation of Israel.  Not only did God sanction war for Israel, He actually established rules of warfare that governed both defensive wars and wars of aggression.  We saw that while the shedding of human blood brought on by such human emotions as anger and jealously was punishable by death, the shedding of human blood in warfare was acceptable.  Therefore, we saw that the sixth Commandment against killing is not to be viewed as all inclusive.  Killing in warfare and the administration of Capitol Punishment was clearly seen as necessary and acceptable in order to do away with evil and facilitate peace for Israel.  We saw that the law of love and going to war are not mutually exclusive under the Old Covenant (OC).  

       Today, we want to look at the New Covenant (NC) and the teachings of the New Testament relative to the issue of war.  Is the law of love and taking the life of a fellow human mutually exclusive under the NC?  Is the Golden Rule and the taking of human life under any circumstances mutually exclusive?

       Sanctioning of war and Capitol Punishment are clearly dynamics of behavior established under the OC.  We no longer are under the OC.  Some believe the NC, which reflects the teachings of Jesus, prohibits engaging in warfare and administrating Capitol Punishment. There are Christian pacifists who believe Christians should not engage in warfare and Capitol Punishment should not occur.  It is believed Jesus introduced and established a new and higher ethic of human behavior, an ethic that does not allow for the killing of humans under any circumstances.  Is this the case?  Did Jesus teach total pacifism? 

       There are degrees of pacifism within Christianity. While many Christian pacifists believe all warfare to be wrong, some Christians pacifists support a nation’s right to protect its citizens against aggression and the state's right to execute criminals.  However, those who take this position often believe Christians should not participate in such efforts.  There is reasonable evidence that the early Church Fathers of the second and third centuries were pacifists. That seems to be the testimony that comes down to us from the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Fathers. Why did they take such a position?

       As pointed out last week, Israel was instructed to exercise love in their relations with fellow Israelites and with non-Israelite's who lived among them.  Such exercise of love, however, did not include tolerance for sin.  The breaking of OC regulations, including the Ten Commandments, was not tolerated and in a number of cases was punishable by death.  As to the Non-Israelite nations who occupied the Promised Land, Israel was instructed to completely destroy them.  These nations were seen as steeped in idolatry and all kinds of sinful behavior.  They were to be completely destroyed so they would not contaminate the Covenant people of God. 

       Under the NC, we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves.  In that famous parable of the Good Samaritan, ones neighbor is shown to be not only those of your particular ethnic group, community or social order, but any and all other human beings.  Some have interpreted this parable to mean we are to be tolerant of the behaviors of others even if such behavior doesn’t reflect what we believe to be right.  Those Christians who take this approach believe love of neighbor is defined as toleration of our neighbor’s behavior regardless of what that behavior may be. 

       It must be understood, however, that the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about tolerating sin and evil.  It is all about helping someone in need regardless of who they are or what their social status is or what their religious or political position may be.  There is a vast difference between helping someone in need and condoning their sinful behavior.   

       There is no question Jesus taught His disciples to love each other.  We know from other Scriptures that to love is to fulfill the law.  To love another human is to relate to that human within the context of the basic behavioral laws that have been extant from the time of Adam and Eve.  We saw these laws were to be practiced by Israel.  A major tenet of the moral law was to not shed the blood of another human being.  The sixth commandment clearly said killing was wrong.  Yet we see by OT example that not all killing was wrong.  In the NT We see Jesus telling His disciples that He is giving them a new command to love each other as He has loved them. 

       John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

       What was new about this command?  Israel was told to love each other and yet also told to administer Capitol Punishment where warranted which showed that such punishment was not incompatible with loving.  Was Jesus introducing a newer version of the love command?  Was Jesusprohibiting Capitol Punishment or going to war?  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

       Matthew 5:21-22: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. 

       Some ancient manuscripts have Jesus saying, "angry without cause," instead of simply "angry." This textual variation may be an editorial gloss that reflects a copyist's understanding of the passage.  Most manuscripts do not contain “angry without cause” and it is not rendered in this manner in most modern translations.        

       The sixth commandment, as found in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, says “Do not kill.”  The Hebrew word translated “kill” literally means to dash in pieces.  It is used throughout the OT to describe the putting to death of another human.  Most modern translations render this Hebrew word as murder rather than kill.  Murder appears to involve the intentional killing of another human being.

       Numbers 35:16-21; "`If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.

       In this passage of scripture, the same Hebrew word that is used in the sixth commandment to prohibit murder is used here to identify someone who has murdered another human being.  By context it can be seen that to murder someone is to with malice of forethought intentionally cause the death of another human.

       It must be noted, however, that the person who committed the murder must be put to death.  A distinction is made between the act of committing murder and being put to death for committing murder.  Putting a murderer to death is not seen in the same light as the act of murder.  Murder is not being committed in the act of putting a murderer to death. 

       We see in Numbers 35 that it is malice and hostility that leads to murder.  Accidental killing was not considered murder. 

       Numbers 35:22-25: But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil. 

       This brings us back to the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reminds His audience about the ancient law that prohibits murder and what the consequences are for breaking that law. “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

       Notice that Jesus does not say the consequences for murder have been annulled.  He instead raises the bar relative to murder.  He says to be angry with your brother will make you subject to judgement. 

       Jesus gets to the crux of the problem with murder.  He shows that the real problem is one of attitude.  If you are going to be angry with your brother you are just an event or two away from the possibility of killing your brother.  Here is where the spirit of the law comes into play. Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught the spirit of the law.  Jesus addressed what goes on in the heart.  Under the teaching of Jesus, it was not enough to simply avoid the physical act of murder.  It was what led to such an act that was of paramount importance.  Jesus was a master teacher of what it took to have peaceful human relations.  In the Beatitudes Jesus said "Blessed are the peace makers."   Being angry with your brother is not the pathway to peaceful relationships.  Apostle Paul, at one point in his ministry instructed not to let the sun go down on your anger. 

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was giving a dissertation on how we are to behave as human Beings.  Jesus began with the beatitudes which provided general principles and then moved to specific areas of human behavior that are real problems for all of us from time to time.  We all get angry.  The problem is that angry can be like a festering sore that if left untreated can lead to serious problems.  A sore left untreated can lead to infection and infection can lead to death.  Anger left unresolved is a precursor to hatred and hatred is a precursor to violence which can lead to murder.  Apostle John virtually equated hating your brother with murdering him.

       1 John 3:15: Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

       In Matthew 5, Jesus does not define what kind of judgement one will be subject to for being angry with a brother or who will administer such judgement.  Christ did say that anyone who says to his brother “raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  “Raca” is a word of Aramaic origin and means a senseless, empty headed man.  It was a term of reproach used among the Jews in the time of Christ.  The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish judicial, ecclesiastical, and administrative council in Jerusalem before A.D. 70.  It consisted of 71 members from the nobility and was presided over by the high priest. 

       Here we see Jesus placing what he was saying into a first century contemporary context by referring to a governing Jewish body.  Jesus goes on to say that if anyone says, “You fool,” they will be in danger of the fire of hell which is the Greek Gahanna and was a reference to the ever burning garbage dump on the southeast side of Jerusalem.  The Greek word for fool is moros from where we get our English word moron.  

       It should be understood that Jesus is not saying that to be angry with your brother, to view him as empty headed or a fool is the same as murder.  Jesus is dealing with dynamics that if allowed to fester, can lead to judgement of various sorts and if left unchecked can lead to murder.  Jesus is not saying that one can never be angry with a brother, or for that matter draw certain conclusions about a brother’s mental capacity at times.  Remember that Paul said don’t let the sun set on your anger.  Don’t let anger fester to the point that it eats away at you and puts you in danger of behaving in a way that brings judgement on yourself.      

       It must be understood that Jesus was not establishing ironclad rules of behavior that pertain to every conceivable situation.  He was simply showing what our overall approach should be to our fellow man if we expect to have peaceful relationships.  Jesus came to facilitate reconciliation between man and God.  He also taught reconciliation between humans.  Jesus knew the pathway to human reconciliation was to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness.  If we weren’t able to be reconciled to our brother, how are we going to have a viable relationship with God? 

       Matthew 5:23-26: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.   "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.  

       Jesus is saying, “Don’t come before God in worship bringing God gifts while you have an unresolved issue with your brother.  How can you expect to have a relationship with God and get along with God while all the while you have a thing going on with your brother?  Reconcile with your brother and then come before God.  Then there can be a relationship.  Jesus continues to pound home the theme of reconciliation by giving advice on how to settle matters as quickly as possible with an adversary.  Jesus is simply advising that if you are in the wrong and if you don’t settle the matter you are going to have to pay a price.

       All of Christ’s teachings here are about human relationships.  It is all about being a peace maker.  Apostle Paul said in one of his letters that as much as it is possible, live in peace with all men. And this brings us to a related teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       Matthew 5:43-46:  "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  

      Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were instructed to love their neighbor. There neighbor was apparently defined as those in there own group.  Leviticus 18:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”   In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that ones neighbor is not just those in your own group but anyone that has a need, even a perceived enemy.  In first century Palestine, Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other.  They were mutual enemies.  A Jew would not lift a finger to help a Samaritan and vice versa.  In the Good Samaritan story the Samaritan helps a Jew in need.  This Jews own country men passed on the other side of the street rather than offer a helping hand.  Jesus, in pointing our that God provides for the righteous and the unrighteous, is simply saying that we are to treat all humans with respect and strive to meet their needs regardless of what they may think of us or how they may treat us.  He follows this instruction by saying we are to be perfect as God is perfect. 

       If we read this statement in the context wherein we find it, Jesus is simply saying we are to love people as God loves people.  God loves people by providing for their needs.  Here is where we need to take a realistic and practical look at the entire teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  By being a peace maker, by being humble and not self centered, by avoiding being angry with our brother, by seeking to treat all humans with respect and doing our best to meet their needs, Jesus is teaching the foundational moral ethic that that we are to love each other which means we are to have genuine concern for the welfare of others and do our best to facilitate such concern by how we behave toward others.

       This being said, we need to take cognizance of what Jesus isn’t teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus isn’t teaching that we should accommodate evil by failing to deal with it. Jesus isn’t teaching that we are not to defend ourselves and our families against criminal activity.  Jesus isn’t teaching that a criminal shouldn’t be punished for his crimes even up to and including the death penalty.  Jesus isn’t teaching pacifism. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist.  When Jesus entered the temple on one occasion and found the merchants selling their stuff and the money changers doing their thing, Jesus became angry, made a whip and attacked these folks and forcefully drove them out of the temple.  Jesus became angry at the religious leaders of His day on a number of occasions and called them a variety of not so polite names.  He likened them to tombs of dead mans bones and repeatedly called them hypocrites.  Apostle Paul referred to the persecuting Jews as dogs, not exactly a complementary term. 

       Neither Jesus nor Paul teaches we can never be angry or never use violence if warranted.  Scripture shows that Jesus became very angry with the religious leaders of His day.  He actually called them fools.

       Matthew 23:16-17:  "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, `If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! (Greek: moros) Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

       Was Jesus putting Himself in danger of Gahanna fire by called the religious leaders of His day fools as he speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount?

       When reading the scriptures, we must balance what Jesus taught with examples of how He conducted Himself in various situations.  Jesus clearly taught us to pursue peace and live in a harmonious relationship with each other and with God.  When we fail to do this, there is a price to be paid.  Often that price is simple the negative effects of ours or somebody else’s less than perfect behavior.  It takes two to facilitate a peaceful relationship.  Paul wrote we are to strive to live in peace with everyone.  He didn’t say we will always be able to live in peace with everyone.  Sometimes, in order to establish peace, civil government must act in certain ways that involves punishment of those that disturb the peace.  Sometimes facilitating peace involves defending ourselves through violent means and even being the aggressor in war to facilitate the protection of basic human dignity.  The teaching of Jesus and the apostles provides us with guidelines for facilitating the law of love.  Such teaching does not prohibit proper and just response to human failure to facilitate the law of love. 

       God has given us humans the powerful human attribute of choice.  God has given us the choice of living the law of love and reaping the benefits associated with that law or choosing to live contrary to the law of love and reap the negative consequences.  While war with its associated violence is to be avoided, it is not to be avoided at the cost of tolerating evil and the consequences such evil brings. What about the instruction in the NT Scripture to not repay evil for evil and to walk away from potential conflict and violence? 

       Romans 12:17-21:  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.

       We must be cognizant of what is and what is not being said here. Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Sometimes it simply isn’t possible to live in peace if the opposing party refuses to do so.  When Paul speaks of God being the avenger he is quoting from Deuteronomy 32 where God is speaking to Israel just before they entered the Promised Land.  We know God used Israel as His arm of vengeance in wiping out nations that occupied the Promised Land and later used other nations to bring judgement upon Israel.  While doing good to your enemy may change his attitude and facilitate peace, it may not, and there may be a need to take other action.    

         Romans 13:1-4: 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. 

       When you look at the whole of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, it becomes plain that we are to practice righteousness in dealing with one another but when such righteousness does not exist on the part of all parties involved there will be a need to deal with the consequences of unrighteousness which at times will involve war.  Therefore war is not incompatible with the Christian ethic of pursuing peace. 

       This concludes this series on "The Scriptural Perspective on War."

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