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What the Bible Really Teaches About War, Self-defense, and Pacifism

I am often asked how I can support war when I am a minister. Many misunderstand the Bible's teaching on this vital subject. Some verses are taken out of context or their meaning is distorted. In this article, I would like to take some misunderstood verses and explain the Bible's true meaning.

I. "Turn the other cheek"

Jesus states in Matthew 5:38-39, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Many feel this verse claims that it is unlawful for a Christian to defend himself. Instead, they interpret this as Christ teaching pacifism; however, nothing could be further from the truth.

A blow from a right-handed person normally falls on the left cheek. This probably means that the blow is delivered with the back of the hand, because it would hit the right cheek. Such a blow was considered particularly insulting. The mistreatment to be tolerated is therefore not so much a matter of bodily injury as of shame. This passage deals with how one should respond after being insulted. This phrase has nothing to do with what one must do when they are physically attacked or their life is threatened. Even Jesus protested when smitten on the cheek (John 18:22), so we know this is not an absolute rule.

Should the world have turned the other cheek to Hitler and tried to love him into surrender? When Osama Bin Laden ordered the attack on the World Trade Center, should America have responded by letting him demolish the Sears Tower as well? If we are to carry this pacifist philosophy to its logical conclusion, governments should always turn the other cheek and never resist evil or intruders. We should do away with the military, the police force, and criminal justice system!

II. The Bible's examples of self-defense

Abraham once mustered one of the first armed militias to rescue his kidnapped nephew, Lot (Gen. 14:21). This was not revenge but solely an effort to protect (to rescue) a relative and retrieve private property. This is clearly a biblical example of self-defense.

"If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed" (Ex. 22:2-3).

Protecting your family and possessions by using physical force when an intruder enters your home at night is legitimate. If you end up killing the thief, it is not your fault.

Luke 22:36 says: "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." Our Lord here encourages His disciples to get protection. He was speaking of a literal sword. It is apparent that His disciples understood what He meant by verse 38, where it says they have two real swords with them.

Jesus' rebuke of Peter's use of the sword on another occasion was due to the nature of His mission and not a blanket condemnation of the use of a sword in defense. Jesus came to die for the sins of the world and He did not want Peter to use force to protect Him from being arrested by the soldiers. Jesus' statement that "all who live by the sword shall die by the sword" was not a ban on defending oneself, but rather a condemnation of those who live by violence such as terrorists today.

III. "Don't the 10 commandments say, 'Do not kill'?"

In Exodus 20:13, the word "kill" in Hebrew means cold-blooded, premeditated murder. The accurate English translation would be "You shall not murder." All murders are killings, but not all killings (such as in a just war or self-defense) are murders.

IV. Pacifism and appeasement only buy temporary peace

The false prophets in the Old Testament cried, "Peace, peace when there was no (real) peace." Many engage in wishful thinking, hoping that if America will only be nice and tolerate Saddam Hussein, he won't spread his evil throughout the world through weapons of mass destruction.

It is true that war itself is cruel, but long-term pacifism would result in even more harm to the world because it would give ambitious despots virtually free reign. The amnesiac people of France today would be speaking German!

V. Doesn't Isaiah 2:4 say, "Thou will beat the swords into plowshares..."?

Scripture does say this, but look at the context in verse 2. It describes the "last days" when God will be on the throne with true global peace. The liberal clergyman never quotes Joel 3:9, 10 where it talks about beating plowshares into swords!

VI. Luke 3:14 allows military service

It is significant that John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers to leave the military. Luke 3:14, states, "Then some soldiers asked him, 'And what should we do?'" John the Baptist responds, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely - be content with your pay." This verse encourages soldiers to be good soldiers and not abuse their power.

VII. John 18:36 acknowledges the right of the sword to earthly kingdoms

Jesus says here, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." Jesus implies that it is right for kingdoms of this world to fight when the cause is just.

Romans 13:1-6 clearly supports a government that is tough on crime and punishes evil-doers. It calls good police officers "ministers of God"! 1 Peter 2:13-14 teaches: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority instituted among men: whether to a king as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." Once again, the right of governments to punish criminals is affirmed.

The Bible shows us in both the Old and New Testaments that our God of love is also a God of justice and righteousness. Force is never condemned in the Scriptures-only the misuse of force. Love and force are not incompatible in God's mind. God is not afraid! Modern Americans are so sissified they cry more for the bad thugs than the good guys! Dan Rather is treasonous to allow Saddam Hussein three hours of free time to play on the weak emotions of Americans! Imagine if we had given three hours to Hitler on national TV! We have come a long way!

VIII. Principles of a Just War

From the days of Augustine in 400 A.D., church leaders have taught that a just war with just intent can only be waged as a last resort. Here are the "rules of engagement." Does the war with Iraq meet the requirements?

A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.

A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered rather than being a first strike.

The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace or obtain security from future attacks.

The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war. Effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians.

There is strong evidence (not mentioned by the mainstream media) that Iraq was behind both attacks on the World Trade Center; that terrorists have been trained at Salman Pak, Iraq, and that Iraq has trained thugs to poison or attack Americans with weapons of mass destruction. The number one passion of Hussein is to obtain a nuclear weapon to detonate on US soil. According to his ex-mistress and Iraqi defectors, Hussein gleefully spent hours watching prisoners tortured, babies torched, and eyes gouged out. He is a clear and present danger to not only America and the Middle East, but also the world at large. President Bush should be saluted for having the courage and foresight to stop this madman before another 9/11 hits us.

President Bush deserves our respect. Consider what he knew before you join the chorus of the Marxist-instigated and controlled "peace rallies." For example, what would happen if the president decided to wait and see? He could receive a call from Hussein six months from now telling him there is a nuclear bomb smuggled in to one of our major cities. What would President Bush do? This would be nuclear blackmail. Can we afford this great risk?

Email me at rayk19@yahoo.com if you have a great solution to the above dilemma. Meanwhile, do not be too harsh on our commander-in-chief. He knows a lot more about the Iraq threat than all of us together.

(Rev. Raymond Kwong has been pastor of the Bible Baptist Church in San Francisco, CA for 17 years. He is a popular talk show host and conference speaker.)

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20030301
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jul-Sep 2003. CCMUSA.