Investigating the Bible: What about weapons and waging war?


Oct. 7 last year, Hamas launched a deadly assault on Israel from Gaza, firing thousands of rockets and sending a thousand terrorists across the border by air, pickup trucks, and motorcycles. With machine guns, they went door-to-door to Israeli homes, murdering entire families, including the elderly, children, babies and taking hostages. At an outdoor concert, they killed 260 youth. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We are at war.”

What does the Bible say about war? The sixth commandment from God, “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13, King James Version), has been quoted to oppose wars. The Hebrew verb used in that scripture is the same one used when an Israeli king and his wife Jezebel murdered an innocent man to gain his vineyard. An accurate translation of Exodus 20:13 is: “You shall not murder.” (English Standard Version, used in the following verses).

In the Old Testament, Joshua, Samson, King David, and many more fought wars. The New Testament gives authority for maintaining peace to the government. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad … he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4). Governments bear responsibility for protecting their citizens. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; … a time to kill, and a time to heal; …a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,3,8).

The great challenge is knowing the right and moral action required in our time. The late Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield, a man of Christian faith and a Republican, took a bold stand in 1971 when he wrote regarding Vietnam: “I believe it is morally indefensible to justify our involvement in Southeast Asia on the basis of national pride or to avoid national humiliation.”

The New Testament does allow using appropriate methods to protect others and ourselves from evil. The apostle Paul sought protection when he heard a band of Jews vowed not to eat or drink until they assassinated him. Paul reported this to soldiers who then secretly moved Paul to safety with a large garrison. Later, his appeal to Caesar afforded him safe travel to Rome.

Just before his arrest, Jesus gave new instructions to the disciples. He knew he would not be physically present with them much longer: “…(N)ow let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:35-36). Later that evening, Peter sliced off the ear of a servant of the chief priests during the arrest. Jesus stopped his assault and chastised him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Peter had relied on the sword instead of God.

If a Christian decides to own a weapon, both legal and Biblical cautions must be followed. There is no support for vigilantism or personal revenge. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” Providing care for enemies is the real-life application of Jesus’ command: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). Law enforcement officers model this when they disarm a dangerous person and then immediately administer any necessary first aid.

The challenge from the Bible: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Abraham Lincoln said during the Civil War: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my great concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

David Carlson Pastor (yes, that is his last name but not his profession) is a Polk County resident and graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in Minnesota (M.Div., M.Th.)


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