Is it permissible for a Christian to kill his enemies? What about the enemies of their loved ones and homeland? Is it a sin for a soldier to kill in war? What about crippling someone in a war? What if a police officer kills someone? What if an ordinary citizen does it?
Jesus Christ on the protection of life, homeland, and loved ones
Let’s figure this out. The saviour of human souls – where and when did he allow for the killing and crippling of people? And what (and whom) do we destroy by doing so: body or soul, someone else’s or our own?
Let’s consider the most controversial passages from the Gospel, cited by proponents of violence in arguments for the use of force in resolving conflicts.
- He made a whip and drove the merchants from the temple
- Give unto Caesar Caesar’s
- Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends
- Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword
- Sell your clothes and buy a sword. Now here are two swords. Enough.
- Those who take the sword will perish by the sword
- There’s no explicit prohibition of military affairs and murder. If He really did not want violence he would have said so directly.
- Christ and the Roman centurion: “I have not found such great faith even in Israel”. He did not ask the centurion to forego his ‘craft’. Nor did he order the servants to be released.
- Blessed are the peacemakers
- Warriors: Go and do not wrong anyone
- All authority is from God. He does not wear the sword in vain: for he is a servant of God, an avenger of wrath to him who does evil. For this reason you also pay taxes.
- This is a special path to the Son of God – not for us sinners
- ▌He made a whip and drove the merchants from the temple.
- Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, [also] the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
Now we’ll ask a simple question. Who here was maimed, wounded, crippled, or killed?
Not a single person is mentioned, not a living soul – even the animals. The Gospel does not specify whether or not Christ used violence (either struck someone or threatened to do so) or whether his anger alone struck the fear of God into people’s hearts and awakened their conscience and fear of God. It also does not specify for what purposes the whip was used – to drive away people or animals by blows or cracks of the whip (oxen and sheep are controlled in this manner unless, of course, the driver aims to injure the owner’s cattle). But it highlights that Christ never treated anyone, even the most wicked of people, like cattle. Moreover, discrepancies with the word ‘also’ make the idea of threats and violence against people even less reliable.
- ▌Give unto Caesar Caesar’s.
- Matthew 22:21 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
Mark 12:17 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
Luke 20:25 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
A clear and verbatim instruction to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. There’s even less reason to interpret it differently if we look closely at what happened a little earlier:When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
Firstly, Christ himself paid the temple tax and not army tax. This means that an immediate end can be put to this issue.
However, secondly, He mentioned his reasoning: lest we offend them. Do not offend them and do not seduce them. Do not entice the collectors to condemn you for not wanting to give them money. Whose money? Roman – Caesar, Jewish – the Jewish King. Caesar/the king established the law: pay your taxes and duties. Well, then give this money to the servants of the king/Caesar and do not tempt them by the law (mainly due to their own weakness) to condemn you or take it by force.
Thirdly, and most importantly, is that which is overlooked most often. To give means to give and not to “take”. Once again, there is instruction from Christ to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But there’s not a single instruction to take what is Caesar’s from Caesar. Not a single instruction to take this money from him and hence involve yourself in the violence that Caesar commits as well as good deeds.
What about living without money? The Gospel is not short on answers to this question. Finding them is not difficult. The thing to do is:
1) God’s law on love
2) God-given gifts
And finally, the last point. Why is there no ambiguity? It’s forbidden to forcibly resist but to submit and pay for force is permissible! In fact, there’s no ambiguity. When Caesar spends his money it is his responsibility and not that of the person who returns it to him. People are responsible when they spend their own money.
- ▌Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
- Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13
Your own life, not someone else’s. Once again, your own soul and life. Only your own, not someone else’s. Not someone else’s soul and life.
- ▌Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
- Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34
With a sword as a weapon it is always injury or death. But did Christ bring death? Or war, terror, or unrest? What about ‘justified’ violence?
No, He bought the good news of eternal life and a new commandment: “love one another”. And in his own life He has demonstrated strength of spirit, meekness, love. He has a completely different ‘sword’ as his weapon – a spiritual sword that separate divine truth from earthly falsities.
- ▌Sell your clothes and buy a sword. Now here are two swords. Enough.
- Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”
Two swords against a crowd of armed soldiers and servants of the high priest. And this was deemed enough. So, what type of swords are we talking about? See the answer above. In addition, it is worth noting the situation that occurred shortly after (from which it is obvious that there was no question of armed resistance):But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.
- ▌Those who take the sword will perish by the sword.
- Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?”
If you take a quote out of context (‘those who take the sword will perish by the sword’) then you can actually read it as a warning to all the unrighteous who raise their swords that they themselves will be overtaken by the sword of the righteous. The existing order of things says: criminal violence must be answered with force.
But if you look at the phrase in its entirety (‘Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels’) then you are met with a completely different meaning. If He wanted protection He would, undoubtedly, receive it from above. But He does not require protection by means of injuring or killing people (‘Put your sword back in its place’) – and He warns against it: ‘those who take the sword will perish by the sword’ – not the righteous, not the unrighteous, but everyone who took the sword. The sword by which they die will not be the sword of their enemy, and not even the sword of the Heavenly Father, but their own sword: when we take it in our hands we cross the line that Christ commanded us not to cross (‘love your enemies’). We are killing our own souls with the sword.
- ▌There’s no explicit prohibition of military affairs and murder. If He really did not want violence he would have said so directly.
- He couldn’t say this for obvious reasons. Jesus preached to the Jewish population during a time when Judea was occupied. Power was in the hands of the governor of the Roman Empire: all warriors, in the traditional sense, were either Roman or mercenaries. Including those who attended the baptism of John the Baptist. At that time the Jewish people had no problems concerning service in the military or police.
It first came about when the first Roman followers of Christ appeared, for whom this service was mandatory. From the surviving texts of the early Roman Christians we can see that their attitude to military service was clear – it was deemed unacceptable.
Another important fact is that Christ did not explicitly forbid any occupation or ‘profession’, be it soldier, tax collector, or prostitute. But! There is also no explicit approval of them. On the contrary, He always went to those people first as they were most in need of God’s word: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” – Matthew 9:12, these words were spoken by Him at a banquet for tax collectors. And He always strongly condemned our fears, weaknesses, and passions that lead to these ‘crafts’ such as the military, tax, and corruption.
- ▌Christ and the Roman centurion: “I have not found such great faith even in Israel”. He did not ask the centurion to forego his ‘craft’. Nor did he order the servants to be released.
- And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”
Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
To begin with, in addition to the centurion and his servants, there is also mention of masters and slaves in the Gospel. For example, in the parable of ‘the master and slave who received five talents’. Will we assume that through this He approved of slavery and servitude?
As a matter of fact, it is actually quite appropriate to quote the answer to that question: He does not explicitly prohibit any occupation or ‘profession’ be it warrior, tax collector, or prostitute. But there is also no approval of them. On the contrary, He always went to those people first as they were most in need of God’s word: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” – Matthew 9:12, these words were spoken by Him at a banquet for tax collectors. And He always strongly condemned our fears, weaknesses, and passions that lead to these ‘crafts’ such as the military, tax, and corruption.
- ▌Blessed are the peacemakers.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
It is not uncommon to come across interpretations of this passage that cannot help but take ‘peacemaking’ to mean what it does today. Primarily, to establish peace by force. But Christ does not say a single word about this; peacemakers – literally they are people who create peace, resolve conflicts and quarrels, and reconcile opposing parties.
- ▌Warriors: Go and do not wrong anyone.
- Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
These are the words of John the Baptist, a man with Old Testament morals. This announced the coming of Christ, but he did not and could not have known about the New Testament, in which there is neither word nor action from Christ that justifies or encourages armed violence.
- ▌All authority is from God. He does not wear the sword in vain: for he is a servant of God, an avenger of wrath to him who does evil. For this reason you also pay taxes.
- Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
This fragment is not a part of the Gospel; it reflects people’s attempts to live according to Christ’s commandments after his execution. These are the words of the Apostle Paul, a man who, unlike the twelve disciples, did not follow Jesus on his earthly journey. They are the words of a man with a very difficult past (a Pharisee, an active prosecutor of the first Christians), and who is capable of making mistakes, just as every Christ’s follower makes more than a couple of mistakes.
Here, in principle, we could put an end to it.
However, despite the obvious pathos of revenge and retaliation of evil for evil’s sake that Paul left to non-Christians, we can see an attempt to reconcile Christ’s followers with the clear injustice in the world without resorting to resistance. Let’s consider what occurs immediately afterwards:Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:8, 10
Furthermore, we find the same tone with Peter the Apostle:Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.1 Peter 2:13-15, 18-20
And so, do not resist any power – love other and do good in any circumstances, under any authority. Does power defy God’s law? Love others, but do not resist the authorities. Does the government force you to violate the law of love? Love others, but do not resist the authorities.
But how is this possible?
“The chief is God’s servant”. The Lord has both good and careless servants. A good servant does no harm to you, but a careless one – do not resist him. Does a careless boss drive you away because you do not want to do evil? So do not do evil, do not agree with him, but do not resist this power by force and evil. Have they captured and tortured you? Do they force you to kill people or participate in it? Do not do it – do not kill. Love others. And do not resist by force or evil.
Just as Christ did not resist earthly authority.
- ▌This is a special path to the Son of God – not for us sinners
- It is widely believed that Christ’s non-violence is not a guide for everyone, but a special path for the Son of God, that such non-violence is not for us and that we cannot do it. He is Christ and we are sinners. Do not venture down His path.
Well then, the other lessons that He taught are not for us:
- How He did not lie is not for us. Only the Son of God cannot lie.
- How He loved others is not for us. Only the Son of God can love.
- How He tolerated our vices and weaknesses is not for us. Only the Son of God can be patient.
- ▌Have you found another controversial passage in the Gospel?
- Write about it in the message.
For a comprehensive study of the topic I recommend reading (in Russian):
- A unique treatise “The Doctrine of the Christian Non-Resistance to Evil by Violence” (1846) by the American priest Adin Ballou, which was published in Russian more than 100 years ago
- The chapter “An Analysis of the Militaristic Claims in the New Testament” (2018) by Gennady Gololobby