The Paradox of War and Pacifism
Mark T. Clark
California State University, San Bernardino
5500 University Parkway
San Bernardino, California 92407-2397
From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
47 (December 1995):220-232.
© 1995 American Scientific Affiliation
This article examines the paradox of war and pacifism in the Bible, where paradox means apparent contradiction. The examination includes a review of the major positions Christians have taken on the paradox historically, from that of pacifism, to qualified participation, to the crusade. Borrowing from the natural and social sciences, as well as the science of biblical hermeneutics, a resolution of the paradox is put forth. Essentially, the resolution fits closest with the tradition begun by Augustine of qualified participation, known as the "Just War" doctrine. However, the resolution also offers a unique critique of the "Just War" doctrine, and lays the basis for further study.
One longstanding and troubling debate in the history of Christianity has been the dispute over the paradox of war and pacifism found in the Bible. From the earliest records to the many debates in the 1980s, Christians and non-Christians have debated whether a literal, or even metaphorical, reading of the Bible provides reasons for Christians to support, oppose, or qualify their participation in wars sponsored by the nation. Even today, national leaders, both Christian and non-Christian, publicly justify support for wars in terms familiar to many people that reflect this debate. Wars of defense are labeled "just" wars; wars of aggression are not.1
Given the nature of the positions adopted by different Christians, one would conclude that the Bible is contradictory on the issue of war and pacifism. Some scholars have even argued that the God of the Old Testament is a vengeful God, while the God of the New Testament is a loving God. I believe, however, that a careful reading of the biblical passages which treat the issues of war and pacifism (or nonretaliation, to be more precise), and a comparison of the results of this reading with the positions of many debate participants, reveal the issue to be more of a paradox than a contradiction, where paradox means an apparent contradiction. If so, then, the debate may be amenable to resolution.
I will attempt to bring forth the resolution in the following way. First, the essential positions of the paradox will be developed as fully as can fit in a short article; second, I will examine the historic resolutions that Christians have provided to the problem and offer a critique of each; and third, I will propose a new way to look at the problem which I hope will yield a common ground upon which Christians can unite.
The focus of this paper will be on the position Christians, as part of their larger society, can take. It will not address the specific concerns of Christians that live in a democratic versus a nondemocratic society. For the Christian, different problems emerge in a democratic society that do not appear in a nondemocratic one. The right to participate, the challenge of deciding when, where, and in what form Christian values ought to be made law, and the role of the Christian in a non-Christian government all deserve serious attention, but are not the emphases here. Obviously, such problems are not the lot of Christians in nondemocratic societies, and democracy is still, historically, a novel form of government, so one would expect that specific Christian solutions to these problems are still being worked out. Here, the focus will be narrowed to that which I hope all Christians in all societies can agree.
Pacifism: The principal support for the view that the Bible advocates pacifism comes from Christ's sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:39-44, he states:
But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.2
In addition, in Luke 6:27-35, from Christ's sermon on the plain:
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
This position seems extreme, especially to modern man. Seemingly, for any offense, the Christian is not to respond to even violent behavior directed at himself. If stolen from, the Christian is to offer even more than was taken in the first place. And rather than lend money to someone in need, we are, if called upon, to give it without expectation of return.
There are at least two fundamental assumptions to the pacifist position.3 The first is that killing is always wrong. Murder is murder, whether in one's own society or another's society. If murder cannot be justified at home, then it cannot be justified in another country, whatever the reasons given for it. War ought therefore to be regarded as murder on a mass scale.
A second assumption of the pacifist position is that resisting evil with force is wrong. Evil should never be resisted with physical force, but with the spiritual force of love. The Christian and Old Testament Hebrew is never to retaliate, nor repay evil with evil, for vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35). Paul seems to confirm this in Romans 12:19-21.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Private and public capacities do not alter the command that "Thou shall not kill." What a private citizen cannot do in his neighborhood, he cannot do in another country, simply because he holds political office and responsibility.
War: Support for the position that the individual has a responsibility to fight in wars directed by the leaders of his nation is more complicated. Generally, support is derived from a study of ancient Israel as depicted in the Bible and by New Testament injunctions to obey authority. In examining ancient Israel, we will examine three distinct periods: (1) the pre-Theocratic, (2) the Theocratic, and (3) the Monarchic. We will also consider the legitimacy of Gentile nations in waging war.
The first record of war before Israel was formed is taken from Genesis 14, where Abraham battles four kings for abducting his relative, Lot. In the account, Abraham trained 318 men for battle, defeated the coalition of four kings, retook Lot, and stole all the defeated enemies' goods. Upon his return from battle, he is met by the king of Salem, and priest of God, Melchizedek. Abraham gives the king a tithe of his spoils of war and Melchizedek replies in verses 19-20: " Blessed be Abraham of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand."Here, even before Israel is formed as a nation, God is depicted as not only sanctioning the war, but also as the source of victory for the yet-formed nation.4 Later, in Genesis 15:16-21, God promises Abraham (still Abram) that the promised land will be given to his descendants after 400 (or so) years of slavery in Egypt. Genesis 15:16 says: "Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." The prophecy is that after 400 years, the evil of Canaan would reach a peak, and they would be displaced.
(2) Theocracy of Israel
A theocracy is a unique form of government in which God himself is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, and his laws are taken as the statute book of the kingdom. Israel's theocracy existed from the period of Moses, Joshua, and the twelve judges, as the appointees and agents of Jehovah. Two types of warfare occurred during Israel's theocracy: wars of extermination;4 and limited wars. Wars of extermination are often cited by non-Christians as a reason to reject the Bible. However, the wars of extermination were specific to the period when Israel was a theocracy.
The wars of extermination were also specific to the enemies Israel faced.6 Typically, such a war required that Israel's soldiers put to the sword not only all the able-bodied men under arms, but all the men, both young and old, including the elders, sometimes the women and children, and even at times all the farm and domesticated animals, the crops and material possessions, and even the city itself.
One famous war of this type is the one recounted in the destruction of Jericho. Joshua 6:20-27 says:
So the people shouted, and the priests blew the trumpets, and it came about, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, that the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. And they burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. Then Joshua made them take an oath at that time, saying cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates. So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
In this case, not only was everything except the riches destroyed, but a curse was put on the city so that no one would attempt to rebuild it. Other examples of such wars can be cited:
1. With the Benjamites of Gibeah, Judges 19:22-30.
2. With Jericho and Ai, Joshua 8:18-26.
3. With Makkedah, Joshua 10:28.
4. With Lachish, Joshua 10:32.
5. With Eglon, Joshua 10:35; Debir, verse 39; and all the cities of the Negev and Shephelah, verse 40.
6. In the northern campaign against Hazor, Madon, Shimron, and Achshaph, Joshua 11:11-14.
While these wars of extermination are difficult to come to terms with, they nonetheless were for a purpose. According to one biblical scholar:
In every case the baneful infection of degenerate idolatry and moral depravity had to be removed before Israel could safely settle down in these regions and set up a monotheistic, law-governed commonwealth as a testimony for the one true God. Much as we regret the terrible loss of life, we must remember that far greater mischief would have resulted if they had been permitted to live on in the midst of the Hebrew nation. These incorrigible degenerates of the Canaanite civilization were a sinister threat to the spiritual survival of Abraham's race. The failure to carry through completely the policy of extermination of the heathen in the Land of Promise later led to the moral and religious downfall of the Twelve Tribes in the days of the Judges (Judges 1:1-3, 10-15, 19-23). Not until the time of David, some centuries later, did the Israelites succeed in completing their conquest of all the land that had been promised to the descendants of Abraham (cf. Gen.15:18-21).7
There were, of course, other wars fought during the theocracy of Israel, which did not involve wars of extermination.8
(3) The Monarchic Period
After Israel's rebellion against the theocracy, the nation was given the right to be ruled as a monarchy. The monarchy of Israel was different from other monarchies throughout history, in that God directly appointed Israel's civil rulers (a claim, of course, imitated by other monarchies) and appointed a prophet to keep the king's ambition in check (neither wanted nor allowed in other monarchies).9 Perhaps the monarchy of David best illustrates the type of warfare waged by ancient Israel. Four distinct phases can be detected during David's lifetime:
1. Cave of Adullam (I Samuel 22:1-2). During this period, David was considered an outlaw and hunted by King Saul. Although presented the opportunity several times, David never attempted to take the life of the king.
2. Civil War (2 Samuel 2:8-5:5). After Saul died, the house of David fought the house of Saul for control of the throne.
3. Defensive Wars (2 Samuel 5:17-25; I Chronicles 18:1; 2 Samuel 21:15-22). Because of David's previous successes, the neighboring Philistines attacked Israel to preempt any aggressive moves. David brilliantly defeated them and removed the Philistines as a threat, but did not annihilate them.
4. Empire Building (2 Samuel 8:1-15; 12:26-31). David later conducts a series of aggressive wars by conquering the Moabites, Arameans, Ammonites, Edomites, and Amalekites, but does not eradicate them.
The monarchic period includes civil, defensive, and aggressive wars. Notably absent was a rebellion against the divinely sanctioned authority of King Saul.
Gentile Nations also Raised Up Through War
In a general statement from Nebuchadnezzar's dream, it is revealed that God rules over all nations, not just Israel alone. In Daniel 4:7, it is disclosed that "This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know, that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets it over the lowliest of men." Twelve months later, Nebuchadnezzar's sovereignty is removed from him for a time (Daniel 4:32).
Other passages treat the issue of God raising up Gentile nations through war. In Daniel 1:1-2, God delivers Judah into Babylon's hands:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.
God is also depicted as setting up Cyrus the Great in Isaiah 44:28.
The New Testament confirms the authority given to men to establish and govern their respective societies. In Romans 13:1-2, Paul writes:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authority. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
These periods in the Old Testament reveal that war was waged and the responsibility of citizens was to fight for their nations. Moreover, wars were fought throughout Israel's history, under three separate forms of government, not just when it was a theocratic state. Further, by modern standards some wars were extremely vicious, involving the killing of all the inhabitants and destroying the enemy's possessions. And not only Israel, but even Gentile nations waged war, and God's hand was evident in bringing forth the victory, even against Judah.
Historical Attempts to Resolve the Paradox
Historically, Christians have adopted many positions on war. However, three broad positions encompass the range of choices made over the millennia: (1) pacifism, (2) qualified participation, and (3) the crusade. A brief examination of the three positions is warranted here.
The argument is that historically Christianity was originally pacifist.10 After the closing of the New Testament canon, historians note that there is no evidence that Christians served in the Roman army. Indeed, in 174 A.D. the famous heretic Celsus reproached Christians for their failure to serve in the military and defend the empire.
If all men were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent the king from being left in utter solitude and desertion and the force of the Empire would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians.11
Between 180-313 A.D., both Eastern and Western Christianity repudiated Christians participating in warfare, though some were allowed military service if arms were not taken up. By the time of Constantine's conversion to Christianity (ca. 312-313 A.D.), however, some Christians participated in the army. After Christianity was legalized in 380 A.D., only a small minority of Christians have subsequently refused military service.
Some elements of pacifism were reborn during and soon after the Reformation. Contemporary pacifists account for a small minority of Christians today. They include the Anabaptists and their continental descendants: the Mennonites, the Amish, the Hutterites, the Swiss Brethren and the Quakers. All but the Quakers believe not only in pacifism, but also in complete social and political separation from the society. Although they do not deny the state the right to bear the sword, the separatists believe that Christians ought not to participate in the government at all. The Quakers, on the other hand, believe in participation, but are not allowed to take up arms, lest they resort to a sub-Christian ethic. But by suffering and patience, the Quakers are enjoined to reform the society in which they participate.
There are several reasons and traditions for their pacifism. Some believe that participation in war is completely incompatible with the commands of Christ. Tertullian was noted to have asked, "If we are enjoined to love our enemies, whom are we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate.12 Origen stated another reason. He believed that Christians, by their prayers and disciplined lives, are of more use to kings than are soldiers.13
Early on, there were other reasons to avoid military service. Christians during the early Roman Empire needed little reminder that they suffered persecution at the hands of the Empire. By not serving in the army they avoided additional persecution. Since the army did most of the persecuting of Christians, Christians would naturally be reluctant to enlist. Moreover, many early Christians believed that the coming of the Lord was very near and they did not want to be in the position of defending the very army that Christ would return to destroy. Finally, any government service involved some compromise with idolatry. Indeed, the very reason for much of the persecution of the early church was due to Christians who stubbornly refused to acknowledge Rome's pagan gods.
Modern pacifists tend to follow more closely the first idea, that participation in warfare is incompatible with the commands of Christ. Since official persecution (with minor exceptions) ceased by 380 A.D. there have not been the same historical reasons to justify pacifism. Perhaps the best expression of the sentiment of contemporary pacifism is found in a Dunker tract of about 1900 that notes:
in support of the principles of nonresistance the following scriptural facts: "Christ is the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). "His kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (II Cor. 10:4). "We are to love our enemies" (Matt. 5:43). "We are to overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). "We are to pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us" (Matt. 5:44).14
(2) Qualified Participation (The Just War Doctrine):
The most longstanding and widespread attempt to resolve the paradox follows the tradition of the "Just War" doctrine. The "Just War" doctrine was first developed by Augustine (354-430), who became Bishop of Hippo. Until his conversion to Christianity, Augustine was steeped in pagan philosophy, especially neo-platonism and Manichaeism. Against the attack by pagan philosophers that the sack of Rome was due to the moral corruption of Christianity, Augustine penned his famous defense, The City of God. In it, Augustine was the first to articulate the notion of the type of war Christians can participate in. Essentially, he wrote that for a Christian to participate in a war, that war had to be deemed as just. Perhaps the best summary statement of Augustine's development of the "Just War" principles is the following:
The just war is to be fought under the authority of the state, and is to limit its goals to the restoration of justice or the preservation of peace. Moreover, the just war ... in order to be just ... must be a last resort, entered into only after all methods of solving disputes non-violently have been exhausted. Further, the just war must be fought justly, that is, with special care taken to protect non-combatants, and with the level of violence strictly limited to the minimum necessary to accomplish the goal of justice, that is, the restoration of peace or the preservation of justice.15
With modifications as to intent in war added later by Thomas Aquinas, there are seven generally accepted tenets of the "Just War" doctrine. They are divided into two types of arguments. The first, jus ad bellum, are the principles that establish the justness of the war itself; the second, jus in bello, are the principles that establish just conduct in the war itself:
Jus ad bellum (Justness of War):
(1) Competent authority: A war must be declared by politically responsible authorities and not by private individuals.
(2) Probability of success: A war should not be undertaken if there is no obvious hope for success.
(3) Last Resort: A war must be a last resort after sincere efforts have been made to resolve the controversy peacefully.
(4) Just Intent: The object of a war must be peace and reconciliation and not the unlimited destruction of the enemy state.
(5) Just Cause: The war must be an act of defense in response to armed aggression.
Jus in bello (Justice in war):
(6) Proportionality: The good brought about by a war should outweigh its evils in cost and destruction to both sides and the means used should be proportional to the harm caused.
(7) Discriminate means: Military actions should not be waged that directly intend to take the lives of noncombatants (i.e., civilians or innocents).16
Throughout history, some have sanctioned the "Just War" doctrine, while others have condemned it. Some have used it to support almost every war their country has fought in, and others have used it to oppose every war their country has fought in. From the time of Augustine until approximately 1000 A.D., most Christian soldiers were required to do 40 days of penance for fighting in a war and killing enemy soldiers, however "just" the war was declared. After Thomas Aquinas, a Christian soldier was given the responsibility to not fight in an unjust war.17
Modern day application of the "Just War" doctrine has led to many problems with the advent of nuclear weapons. In 1983 the Catholic Bishops issued a paper that renounced nuclear war, but allowed for the interim acceptability of nuclear deterrence in the pursuit of a better means of preserving the peace.18 In 1986, the Methodist Bishops went further and not only renounced nuclear weapons as well as nuclear deterrence, but also renounced defenses against nuclear weapons, specifically the U. S. Strategic Defense Initiative.
Perhaps the complexity of the problem of reconciling nuclear deterrence and the "Just War" doctrine may be best summed up by a provisional study document of the World Council of Churches, issued in 1958, that stands to this day:
Christians must never consent to [the] use [of nuclear armaments] in all-out war . . . We are agreed on one point: This is that Christians should openly declare that the all out use of these weapons should never be resorted to. Moreover, that Christians must oppose all policies which give evidence of leading to all-out war. Finally, if all-out war should occur, Christians should urge a cease fire, if necessary, on the enemy's terms, and resort to non-violent resistance. We purposely refrain from defining the stage at which all-out war may be reached (emphasis added).19
Such a position is not likely to simplify the problem or help Christians make decisions during a crisis about whether the war is just or not, nor whether to support nuclear deterrence in peacetime or not. Indeed, it is more likely to add to the confusion that already exists.
A third alternative in the resolution of the paradox that Christians have attempted (primarily in the middle ages) has been the crusade. The crusade is fundamentally different from the above two positions. According to one scholar:
A crusade was to be fought under the authority of the church or of a charismatic religious leader, but not by the state itself, although it might potentially be conducted by a theocratic state. The goal of the crusade was not to be limited to restoring peace or preserving justice; the goal instead was to uphold, preserve, or expand the dominion of the church itself against the threats, real or imagined, of its enemies.20
The crusades began first in the late eleventh century at the instigation of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118) in an attempt to regain territory lost to the Seljuk Turks. But Alexius lacked workers. He appealed to Pope Urban II with some arguments for help that remain to this day unknown to historians. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, the Pope gave an eloquent speech in favor of a crusade against the infidels. The reasons were probably twofold: first, because many Christians were irked by Turkish (i.e., Muslim) control over Jerusalem; and second, because Alexius promised to reunite Eastern and Western Christianity under the authority of the Pope.21 This speech gave Europe its first ideology of expansionism.
The appeal was accepted by a wide array of people in Europe. Not only the aristocracy, but also the townspeople and the peasantry accepted the rationale for a crusade for many reasons, not the least of which was the horrible living conditions in Europe at the time. But the crusades had a downside to them; principally, the fact that the character of the armies sent on the crusades were never very "Christian" by any standard. Beginning with the first crusade and throughout subsequent ones, and despite the appeals of priests and the nobility, many in the peasant army sought to purge themselves for this "holy" mission by killing and torturing the Jews of northern Europe as a prelude to waging war on the Muslims.22 Few of the crusaders ever made it to the holy land, and those who did left little by way of improvement either to the situation in Europe or in Jerusalem. The rationale for the crusades was extreme, and the results were too. Today Christians have little tolerance for this form of resolution to the paradox of war and pacifism.23
Resolving the Paradox
Historical attempts at resolving the paradox have taken three forms. However, in practice, contemporary Christians for the most part reject the crusade. Of the two remaining resolutions, pacifism and qualified participation, the vast majority support the latter. One of the problems with the "Just War" doctrine, however, is that it does not seriously address the concerns of the pacifists, especially with respect to Christ's sermon on the mount. One of the principal problems of the pacifist position is that it fails to address the concerns of the "Just War" adherents that Christians are to obey authority and participate in the life of the state. The two extreme positions, however, are the pacifist and the crusader. As will be demonstrated below, they are based on similar logical fallacies and abuse of biblical hermeneutics. Once corrected, the paradox can be resolved.
The historical attempts at resolving the paradox of war and pacifism are similar in some respects to how Christians have historically resolved other paradoxes.24 However, borrowing from the tools of good biblical scholarship (hermeneutics) and the methodology of the natural and social sciences, there are certain methodological tools for addressing the problem of paradox resolution. Of the five principles or tools available, two are important here:
1. Establish the true frame of reference, or point of view, of a given passage or passages; and
2. Establish the correct definition of a given system or systems under consideration.25
The first thing to note about all passages that treat the issue of the justifiability of war, do so with regard to the state, not the individual. All passages that treat the principles of nonviolence (nonretaliation) do so with respect to the individual, and not the state. The point of view and the systems under consideration are different in each case. In other words, the biblical principles of warfare are for the state and the biblical principles for nonretaliation are for the individual. In the former, the system in view is the state system, that is, the system of states in the international community and their relations among one another. In the latter, the system in view is the individual within the state and their relations among one another within that system.
The problem one encounters when applying the morality of nonretaliation (the morality given to individuals) to the morality of the state is what is called in political theory the "cross-level" fallacy.26 Just as in the natural sciences, one must regard the paradox of light as both a particle (photon) and energy (wave-electromagnetism), yet not impute the results of one study onto the other, so also it is important to separate the systems under consideration. With two different systems under consideration, we should regard those passages that treat one without application to the other, unless specifically warranted by scriptures - i.e., the morality or right to warfare may be okay for the state against other states, but not for individuals against one another within the state, and the morality of nonretaliation may be okay for the individual within the state, but not for the state itself.
Several theorists have identified that the state system is fundamentally different from the system of individuals within a state, and each has different conditions.27 Within a state, there exists the condition of authority. Among individuals, when confronted by a wrong, the victim can appeal to the governing authorities for a just resolution, so long as the wronged individual's morality is nonretaliation. There is scriptural support for the condition of authority within a state, and the right of the state to execute vengeance on behalf of individuals. According to Paul in Romans 13:1, 3-4:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God... For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.28
Violence as a way of life is abhorred.29 But while the individual should not retaliate, he is allowed to appeal to the authorities for a just settlement. In Acts 25:9-11, Paul uses the appeal process when confronted with an unjust charge against him:
But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?" But Paul said, I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar."
Here, Paul does not deny the state the authority and the right to execute him if he had done evil. But he also avails himself of the governing authorities.
For the international system, there exists no higher human authority than the state itself. In other words, if a state is wronged by another state, there is no higher authority to which it may appeal. Technically, this condition is called anarchy. Anarchy within the system of states compels states to seek self-help methods for redressing grievances, such as diplomatic remonstrances, embargoes, coalitions, alliances, and the ultimate form, war. The history of nations engaging in warfare, empire building, counter-hegemonic coalitions, and even border disputes testifies to the effectiveness of this act in precluding the rise of a universal tyrant. Nationalism today remains the principal force in the fractionalization of international politics. The downfall of the Soviet Union, in addition to the many empires throughout history, is due in no small measure to this phenomenon.
The Bible posits God as the source for the distinct conditions at the level of the state and the international system. As noted above, authority was established within a state to restrain evil, and the individuals within the state were given a morality of nonretaliation and the right of appeal to the governing authorities to execute vengeance. For the international system, Genesis 11 depicts God as dividing people into different nations, tribes, and tongues also for restraining evil, this time as unlimited tyranny. In Daniel 10:20-11:1, God's angels are shown to be engaged in human warfare to prevent the domination of the world by one power. The purpose for such engagement is explained in Zechariah 1, for there is no peace for God's people when the unbelieving nations are at peace with one another. And in Matthew 10:34, Jesus Christ is depicted as coming to bring war, not peace, for war will not cease until unbelief ceases.
Earlier it was shown that the Old Testament supports the right of states to engage in warfare. While the New Testament writings (and the Old) emphasize individual conduct within a state, neither Christ nor any of the apostles repudiated the right of states to engage in war. In Luke 14:31, Christ acknowledges the fact of kings engaging in warfare, without either condoning or condemning it: "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?" Further, Christ predicts the necessity of future wars (again, without either condoning or condemning them) as a natural condition and a prelude to end-times prophecies in Matthew 24:5-7:
For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will mislead many. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.30
A stronger support emerges from John 18:36, where Christ answers Pontius Pilate by saying, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, "My kingdom is not of this realm." Coupled with Matthew 26:53, where Christ claims that he could readily call forth some 12 legions of angels at a moment's notice, the right to fight is not disputed, but the time and place are. According to Zechariah 14, Psalm 149, Joel 2, I Thessalonians 3:13, and Revelation 19, Jesus Christ and all the raptured saints will return to exterminate the reprobates. When his kingdom is of this world, he will fight, but not until that time.
In Matthew 8:10 Christ praises the faith of a non-Jewish believer, who was a centurion in the Roman army. More importantly, Christ did not tell the centurion that a condition of discipleship was that he not engage in military activities (similarly, another centurion, Cornelius of Caesarea received high praise for his faith, in Acts 10). John the Baptist was confronted with a more acute opportunity to inform believers that military service was anathema to discipleship, were that the case, in Luke 3:14:
And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
Rather than explicitly instructing them to get out of military service, or opt for noncombat duty in the service, John instructs them to act justly within their sphere of service, and to not abuse their position of power. Indeed, John's instructions will be considered later as a crucial component of how Christians ought to behave in warfare.
Paul uses military service frequently as an analogy for the Christian way of life. For example, in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, Paul says: "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier." In this case, as in the many others Paul uses, two assumptions emerge: (a) that military service was well known and understood, for the utility of an analogy loses its force if not; and (b) no qualification was given to military service in the analogies. If military service, with the implication of potential for fighting in a war, was objectionable to the Christian way of life, one would expect Paul to qualify the analogy somewhat. Paul, and the many other authors, never used an objectionable analogy. Indeed, when some behavior or action is detestable, the most frequent way to illustrate it is to compare and contrast the godly versus the ungodly behavior. Yet nowhere is military service deemed ungodly in the Bible. Indeed, the role call of honorable godly service is given in Hebrews 11:32-34, where strong, godly believers are intimately associated with distinction in warfare:
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Critique of Positions Held
There are several problems that emerge from the study of the various positions adopted by Christians over the centuries. Each will be taken in turn. The principal problem with the crusade is that the church incorrectly identifies itself with the function of the state, and a theocratic one at that. Under Israel's theocracy, and to a lesser extent with it as a God-directed monarchy, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual health of the people and the physical well-being of the nation. In other words, a proposition and its corollary are warranted for the nation of Israel, particularly as a theocracy: spiritual health equals national health, and its corollary, spiritual warfare equals physical warfare (i.e., combat).
Since the New Testament, however, Christ has declared that his kingdom is not of this world. Unlike Israel, where one nation was called out from among the many nations of the earth to be the caretakers of God's word and to be his missionaries to the world, since then only a small minority of believers are called out from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 5:9; 14:6). There is more focus on the individual rather than on group or national identity (Acts 10:35). Because individuals in this age comprise this "holy" nation (I Peter 2:9), and Christ's kingdom is not of this world, spiritual warfare does not equal physical warfare (see Ephesians 6:12). It is therefore a mistake, and not a benign one, to misidentify the cause of the church31 with that of the state. Crusades cannot be justified by scriptures.32
Pacifism, on the other hand, misidentifies the morality of the individual with the justification for (or morality of) the behavior of the state. It too, though for different and more benign reasons, commits the cross-level fallacy by generalizing from individual to collective morality and violates principles of biblical hermeneutics. And the argument from historical evidence that early Christians were pacifists is weaker upon closer examination than at first glance.
Many non-Jewish believers, one can infer, were in the Roman military, and some were recorded in scriptures, yet no command was given them to leave military service. Neither Christ, nor John the Baptist, nor any of the Apostles, when given the chance, told (or implied to) such believers that military service was incompatible with discipleship or the Christian way of life. Typically such believers were praised for their faith and, in only one case, were enjoined to act justly in their profession and be content with their wages.
As to the historical records for Christians in military service, it is not surprising that no records have been found, for at least two reasons. First, in the early period, most of the Christians lived in the Middle East and not in Rome. Moreover, Christianity was a religion of the minority for some time and records kept from that period are not as likely to remain as those primarily from the majority religion. Second, and more importantly, as Christianity spread to Europe and Asia, the Roman Empire increasingly made persecution official policy under the various Caesars for anyone who would not publicly worship the Roman gods.33 Indeed, so scarce are the historical records that there exists only one recorded statement of official persecution, despite its widespread historicity: Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.34
Political separation, a concomitant proposition of many contemporary pacifists, is a separate problem and will not be treated here. However, there is reason enough for separation or dissension in certain cases, and many early Christians availed themselves of it. The rule seems to be that the Christian has the right, indeed the obligation, to refuse to obey a law that would force him into an ungodly act (for example, as a condition of service in the Roman military, the obligation to worship Roman gods; or in the former Soviet Union, the requirement to sign an oath of atheism). Ungodly laws of compellence, as opposed to laws of allowance (i.e., laws that permit ungodly activity) require the Christian to dissent from obedience.35 To extend this right of dissension to the entire sphere of citizenship, however, seems strange.
There are several problems with the "Just War" doctrine that are not as easily susceptible to resolution, but nonetheless deserve some attention. First, implementing the "Just War" doctrine as it now stands requires superhuman wisdom. No Christian will ever have enough facts, or time, to know all the evidence regarding a country's decision to go to war. At the highest levels, decisions to go to war are shrouded in ambiguity and much more will that be the case in the society at large. Second, the "Just War" doctrine sets a standard that was not always followed by Israel under God's direction, either as a theocracy or as a monarchy. It is difficult to see how it can be applied to any lesser system of government. And third, nothing man can do is fully just, but rather under sin (even the study of theology). Finally, perhaps the most important reason to re-evaluate the "Just War" doctrine, is that to a great extent most nations go to war for reasons other than the justness" of it. If justice were the sole determining criterion, given our limitations, more, not less, wars might be fought.36
Of the principles of jus ad bellum, several are problematic from a scriptural standpoint. The one most supported by scriptures is that the war must be declared and conducted by competent authority. The sweep of scriptures supports the authority of government as an instrument to keep evil in society in check. When authority breaks down, as it has in Lebanon and in Somalia, the resultant anarchy allows for the emergence of all kinds of evil and impairs the function of the Church. Exactly how authority is established and maintained is not discussed and seems, therefore, to be left to individuals in the nation to work out for themselves. The principle of competent authority would rule out Christians serving as mercenaries, and make problematic the fighting of revolutionary wars.37
The other four principles have problems associated with them. The idea of probability of success seems more an idea of prudence than one of "justness." Now, it is claimed by "Just War" theorists that there is a close association since, without prudence, one can involve a nation in a war that leads to excessive misery for its citizens if it cannot be won38 However, the problem can be examined in a different way. Surely, it would make no sense for a small nation to go on the offensive against a much stronger nation. But can it be unjust for that same small nation to take every precaution, and fight if need be, if that larger nation attacks the smaller? As a matter of prudence, it may make sense to find some form of accommodation, but the results cannot always be known beforehand. Indeed, during the winter war between the Soviet Union and Finland, tiny Finland decided to defend itself against a much larger adversary. Who could have known beforehand that a million invading Soviet soldiers would suffer some 200,000 casualties attempting to conquer the little country? In the end, the Soviet Union achieved its stated limited war aims (i.e., territory from Finland north of Leningrad), but what kind of result would have ensued had Finland not fought? From the behavior of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II in Eastern Europe, it can be safely assumed that the arrangement by which Finland was restrained in its foreign policy but allowed domestic sovereignty would not have held for long. Finland's decision to fight, though in many ways not prudent at the time, nonetheless saved its citizens from a worse fate in the future.
War as a last resort is ideal in a perfect world, but would be difficult to determine in some cases. For example, at the outset of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the dawn preemptive strike by the Israeli Air Force on Egypt may not have appeared to citizens as a choice of last resort, but intelligence analysis provided strong evidence that an Arab surprise attack was to be launched just a few hours later. How much more suffering, indeed loss, would the Israelis have sustained had their leadership not authorized a preemptive strike? Surprise attack, in contrast to preemption, is not only militarily sound, but often the surest way to victory39 and is extremely difficult to prepare against. Should the Israelis have waited for their Pearl Harbor in order for the war to be more just?
The last two principles of jus ad bellum are fraught with the same kind of difficulties. How does one judge the just intent of the leadership of one's country? Further, while peace and reconciliation may be appealing goals, the soundest victories have been by the destruction of the system of the enemy state (viz., Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan). There are some governments with whom reconciliation is not only impossible, but perhaps more dangerous to attempt (e.g., Saddam Hussein's regime under which it continues to seek nuclear weapons capability). Just cause has come to mean defensive versus aggressive wars. But like the above, the difficulty is in the details. Did Israel launch an aggressive (unjust) war in 1967 and wage a defensive (just) war in 1973? Which outcome do the Israelis prefer? Which was the least damaging to Israeli society?
As for the principles of jus in bello, there is more scriptural support for them.40 Indeed, from Luke 3:14 it appears that the biblical mandate for "justness" extends to the sphere of responsibility of the individual. As Michael Walzer notes, German General Rommel disobeyed a general order to execute all prisoners of war, and history has praised Rommel's decision:
It would be very odd to praise Rommel for not killing prisoners unless we simultaneously refused to blame him for Hitler's aggressive wars. For otherwise he is simply a criminal and all the fighting he does is murder or attempted murder, whether he aims at soldiers in battle or at prisoners or at civilians Y But we do not view Rommel that way: why not? The reason has to do with the distinction of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. We draw a line between the war itself, for which soldiers are not responsible, and the conduct of the war, for which they are responsible, at least within their own sphere of activity41
Pursuing limited war, using discriminate means, and avoiding unjust acts all conform to the biblical view of war. The only time Israel ever pursued wars of extermination occurred during its theocracy and, according to prophecy, will occur again during the Second Coming. But at no other time were wars of extermination encouraged or advocated. And when it was (and will be) used, it was under God's personal direction.
In the attempt to resolve the paradox of war and pacifism, it seems that several conclusions emerge. First, the two extreme positions, the pacifist and the crusader, commit the cross-level fallacy and violate principles of hermeneutics, however benign the intention. Upon closer examination, there is little support for these positions as fully biblical ones. Each, taken logically to the extreme, distorts the role of the Christian as a member of his society. In the pacifist, it requires him to disengage from the society in which he lives. In the crusader, it requires him to so identify the function of the church with that of the state that he becomes more involved in it than with his call to Christian service (indeed, causes him to confuse the two).
The "Just War" doctrine also has several problems, but is perhaps the closer of the three positions held to that which can be gleaned from scriptures. The principal problem with the doctrine is with the principles of jus ad bellum. Except the stipulation that war must be declared by competent authority, adherence to the other principles, besides the problems noted above, requires the Christian to make a decision that puts him above the authority of the state, yet does not provide him the means (knowledge and wisdom) to make that decision. Further, it goes beyond biblical mandates to not obey authority in very specific and fairly certain cases (viz., ungodly laws of compellence).
On the other hand, the principles of jus in bello (justice in war) seem warranted. Perhaps this is understood by society, for a great many international laws of warfare stem from these ideas.42 And these principles have the virtue of giving the individual both the responsibility and the capability to make informed decisions within his sphere of responsibility.
But what of the tradition of conscientious objection to military service? Would such a reading of scriptures rule out the possibility of avoiding military service for reasons other than to disobey an ungodly law of compellence? I believe it is important to allow for such a possibility, not simply on humanitarian grounds. Comparing the law of liberty (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23; and James 1:25) with the law of love (Rom. 14:1-13), one can reasonably allow for some to not serve in armed combat if such persons' conscience cannot allow them to do so. Furthermore, some ought not to be put in combat situations for psychological reasons. It makes sense to preclude those from military service who have a history of cruelty, or a tendency toward other kinds of evil. Others, who may for other reasons struggle with cowardice, probably ought to be excluded from military service, especially combat, for the sake of morale.43
The problem of the paradox of war and pacifism in the Bible, and its resolution, may lead to a better analysis of the Christian's responsibility to the state. Further, the resolution to the paradox, the separation of systems for consideration in light of scriptural passages that treat each, may also lead to a re-examination and evaluation of the role of the church in society. It is to be hoped that this analysis will, at the very least, provide common ground upon which Christians can unite and renew dialogue on so important a topic.
1The most recent one was found in President George Bush's appeal to support Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. It was widely seen, both at home, and among many members of the United Nations, as a just war of defense.
2New American Standard Bible, reference edition (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973), p. 7. All scriptures cited throughout will follow this translation.
3See, for example, Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1989), pp. 221-225.
4See Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), pp. 90-91.
5I have here labeled these as wars of extermination to distinguish them from genocide (which is the systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group) since they were limited in extent; and from unlimited wars, since the latter term implies no limit in extent, method, or means. Nor do they fit the modern conception of total war, which implies the entire nation working on behalf of the war effort.
6Even so, the extermination was always limited to the extent of reprobation. Sometimes the reprobation extended only to the adults, other times to all human life, and other times to human life and soulish life (birds and mammals) that had significant contact with reprobate humans, and still other times to human life, soulish life, the material possessions and the agricultural land of the reprobates.
7Archer, op. cit., pp. 158-159.
8See Judges 4, 7, 11, and 14, for example.
9Indeed, the priests and prophets of other ancient, as well as more modern, societies served the interest of the state and were frequently paid well for their services, or were fired (or worse) if they failed to support the king.
10While this is the general argument, there is a sizeable body of evidence that demonstrates that many early Christians staked out positions that supported the right of the state to engage in war, and that Christians were obliged to fight in them. See Keith B. Payne and Karl I. Payne, A Just Defense: The Use of Force, Nuclear Weapons, and Our Conscience (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1987), p. 331.
11Cited in Robert Culver, "Between War and Peace: Old Debate in a New Age," Christianity Today, October 24, 1980, p. 30.
12Cited in Ibid., p. 31. The context can be found in Rudolph Arbesmann, Emily Joseph Daly, and Edwin A. Quain, trans., Tertullian: Apologetic Works and Minucius Felix Octavius (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1962), p. 94.
13Paraphrased in Culver, op. cit., p. 31. The context can be found in Henry Chadwick, trans., Origen: Contra Celsum (London: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 509.
14Ibid., p. 34.
15Ronald A. Wells, ed., "Introduction," The Wars of America: Christian Views (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), p. 8.
16For a discussion of these principles, but one critical of just war, see Ronald E. Santoni, The Nurture of War: `Just War' Theory's Contribution," Philosophy Today, Spring 1991, p. 86.
17Paul Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience: How Shall Modern War Be Conducted Justly? (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1961), p. 115.
18For a thorough analysis of this decision, see Judith A. Dwyer, ed., The Catholic Bishops and Nuclear War (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 1984); Michael Novak, Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1983); James E. Dougherty, The Bishops and Nuclear Weapons (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1984); and Francis Schaeffer, Vladimir Bukhovsky, and James Hitchcock, Who Is For Peace? (New York, N.Y.: Thomas Nelson, 1983).
19Ramsey, op. cit., p. 96.
20Wells, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
21Robert S. Hoyt and Stanley Chodorow, Europe in the Middle Ages (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976), pp. 319-320.
221096 is considered the end of the golden age for Jews living in northern Europe.
23Donald Secrest, Gergory G. Brunch, and Howard Tamashiro, "Empirical Investigation of Normative Discourse on War: The Case of the Donagan-Aquinas Thesis," Journal of Peace Research, November 1991, p. 398.
24For example, on the resolution of the paradox of free will and predestination, various denominations will come down on one side or the other; that is, some will emphasize predestination and others will emphasize free will. Other paradoxes have had similar resolutions: heaven and hell; the Trinity; the deity of Jesus Christ, etc. As will be detailed above, there is good reason to keep the tension of the paradox. For example, in free will and predestination, it keeps one from going to the extremes of legalism or antinomianism.
25Hugh Ross, Keys to Analyzing Scriptures (Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 1980), P8001.
26The "cross-level" fallacy comes from the study of "individual" and "ecological" fallacies, applied to the study of the origins of war. In the particular theory called "Realism," several distinct levels of analysis were noted: at the level of the individual; at the level of the state; and at the level of interstate relations. At each level, distinct independent variables were examined for their relation to the causes of war. More importantly, often these distinct variables were found to be mutually exclusive; thus, for the purposes of analysis, the separation. See J. David Singer, International Conflict: "Three Levels of Analysis," World Politics, April 1960, pp. 453-461; Shibley Telhami, Power and Leadership in International Bargaining: The Path to the Camp David Accords (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 18-44.
27Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 3rd edition (New York: Knopf, 1960); See also Kenneth Waltz, Man, State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959); and Telhami, op. cit., passim.
28See also Genesis 9:6 and Acts 25:11.
29See Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 26:52; and John 18:10-11.
30See also Mark 13:7-8.
31The role and mission of the church as a corporate entity of believers is not considered here except as far as its fallacious identification with the state has been used to justify crusading warfare.
32The critical error of the crusaders was the presumption that conversion was through state legislation rather than through personal repentance; similar to the Muslim error that if one lives in an Islamic state, one is therefore a Muslim.
33Eusbius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, G. A. Williamson, trans. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1965).
34Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars, Robert Graves, trans. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1957), p. 221.
35The situation of when and where, and indeed whether, believers may dissent from unjust rulers, though important, will not be considered here. Such a discussion would have to accommodate the recent development of liberation theology as well as many less radical positions.
36Compare the justness of the Persian Gulf war and the justness of intervening in Yugoslavia on behalf of the Bosnians or the Croats. In both cases a weaker nation was/is under attack. Yet, in the former, U.S. interests in precluding a dominant hostile power in the Persian Gulf that would control a sizeable fraction of the world's proven oil reserves made for a more compelling reason to intervene than humanitarian interests alone, as demonstrated by the latter. Were justness a compelling reason to fight wars, then one might expect intervention in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Armenia, and Tibet, to name just a few. In the case of Tibet, all the specific atrocities cited by the Bush Administration regarding Iraq's invasion of Kuwait are present in China's invasion and occupation of Tibet, yet no call to arms has been forthcoming.
37For a discussion on the concerns of Christians in the American Revolution of 1776, see George Marsden, "The American Revolution: Partisanship, `Just Wars,' and Crusades," in Ronald A. Wells, ed., The Wars of America: Christian Views (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), pp. 11-24. The moral struggle was more important to these Christians on the issue of rebellion against established authority than on the issue of legitimate warfare against a hostile nation.
38See Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust War: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977), passim.
39See, for example, the discussion of surprise attacks in Alex Roberto Hybel, The Logic of Surprise in International Conflict (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1986).
40In 1939, C. S. Lewis similarly took issue with theologians on the issue of the just war doctrine, preferring elements of jus in bello. See William Griffin, Clive Staples Lewis: A Dramatic Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 159. I am currently working on further research into the biblical idea of jus in bello and its use by modern nations in their laws relating to military conduct.
41See Walzer, op. cit., pp. 38-39.
42See, for example, Section VI, "Armed Conflicts," in Gerhard von Glahn, Law Among Nations: An Introduction to Public International Law, 5th edition (New York: MacMillan, 1986), pp. 583-794.
43Deuteronomy 20 discusses this and other possible exceptions. Here, I am interested only in those cases where Christians ought to make allowance for other Christians. Whether such exceptions should be made law for the entire society is a different matter.