Was Jesus a Pacifist? Posts on Pacifism and Just War

Jedi JesusFor being the dominant position in the Western theological tradition, finding a good, cleanly argued text for Just War Theory can be pretty difficult. While popular defenses of pacifism abound, now that it’s increasingly in vogue amongst the younger theological set, similarly accessible counterpoints are rarer. Actually, I’d be surprised if most people have encountered Just War reasoning outside of pacifistic refutations of the tradition. That’s why I’ve been pleased to read Andrew Fulford’s multi-post series over at the Calvinist International defending Just War theory entitled “Was Jesus a Pacifist?”

I’d summarize  them myself, but Fulford does it himself in his brief overview of  the project in his 7th post which contains links to the first six:

The argument began with a survey of four aspects of Jesus’ background: natural law, the context of literary conventions, social context, and the Old Testament. These four aspects pointed to the conclusion that Jesus’ teaching was not pacifistic. The second post presented the various kinds of pacifisms, and the reasons offered to support these kinds, to facilitate comparison. That is, once the reasons for non-violence were clear, we could check to see whether the source documents for the Christian religion held those reasons. The third post began by concluding the background for Jesus’ teaching did not consist with pacifism. It continued by surveying the NT documents, written after Jesus’ teaching had first been given. This aimed at discovering if Jesus’ teaching, intervening as it does between OT and NT, produced effects that would suggest he had departed from what his background would lead us to expect. The third post found that all four aspects of his background continued into the age of the New Testament. This made the conclusion that Jesus was not a pacifist even more likely.  The fourth and fifth parts of the series attempted to explain the teachings and actions of Jesus that pacifists claim support their position, and found that none of these teachings or actions do so.  Finally, the sixth post provided some possible explanations as to why the early church misunderstood what those teachings were really about, and turned to embrace pacifism.

After the summary, he concludes the post with a lengthy overview of the relationship between the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms and the Just War tradition.

This is a careful, thoughtful treatment that eschews quick generalizations and snap-readings of passages, engages with scholarly work, but doesn’t get bogged down in endless detail. The articles are not quick skims, but neither are they unapproachable beasts. I’d strongly encourage anybody interested in the question Christians, war, and the state to read these posts carefully and attentively.

Soli Deo Gloria

3 thoughts on “Was Jesus a Pacifist? Posts on Pacifism and Just War

  1. I would appreciate a response to this.

    Jesus said to Peter (Matt 26:52), “Put your sword back into its place[, f]or all who take the sword will perish by the sword” To which Mr Commentator writes: (1) “What [Jesus] really means is something people have truly recognized forever: that unjust aggression provokes vengeance from others.” The problem with this interpretation is that neither the terms”unjust” nor “just” are well defined by Mr Commentator, throughout his 7 part article. Yes, I read the whole thing. God is perfectly just, I will call this God-just. Mr Commentator admits that humans can practice (at best) a limited form/understanding of God-justice at this time. I will refer to this as human-just. Further, Jesus himself does not use the qualification “just” in his words above. So, I disagree with Mr Commentators statement 1 above: I think Jesus words means literally “whomever uses a sword against another human will consequently perish by it.” Put simply, if you dont want to perish by the sword, do not use a sword against another human.
    There are far too many other non-sword options (that are aligned with Jesus teachings, or outlined specifically in scripture) that may be utilzed to resolve conflict, procure reparation/compensation and enact human-justice. Many Just War supporters argue that Just War is to be used as a last resort, though I would argue that in practice this is rarely the case.

    Mr Commentator also writes: “Just War thinking follows certain criteria, including: (a) that a legitimate authority must wage war, (b) that the prospects of success in war must be probable for waging it to be licit, and (c) that acts of war should discriminate between the guilty and the innocent.” This is why Just War (post-Jesus) as enacted by humans is a farce. Even if all three of these attributes and more were accomplished, who but God could declare the war God-just? What nation would presume to be called God-just; the USA, or Russia, or China? I laugh out loud to think how some readers may answer this!

    Another quote from Mr Commentator I struggle with: “God intends [human] violence to bring in imperfect, but valuable and real, justice.” Is he referring to human-justice or God-justice? What if the violence is conducted in heart-sin (or any non-secret-sin) by a Christian; indeed how could one determine it was/wasnt conducted in heart-sin? Further, what scriptures support this statement? These words he uses: imperfect, valuable, real, do they have hebrew equivalents in scripture? Further, is there a distinction between types of violence; Jesus angrily whipping the lash in the temple versus soldiers killing/murder in war time?

    Lastly, I think Mr Commentator over-emphasizes the concept of “natural law” as support for his Just War arguments. I read his article on natural law very carefully. This natural law term/concept is not readily understandable in Scripture, and he did not sufficiently convince me it is either legit nor applicable. What constitutes natural law is very much in controversy today both in and outside the church, one glance at the news on TV confirms this.

  2. Also, I dispute the definition that Mr Commentator uses for “pacifism” since there are multiple distinctions. Firstly, there is biblical-pacifism and secular-pacifism versions. One definition of pacifism is equivalent to non-resistance, another to non-vengence, another to non-violence, another to non-violence only in regards to bodily harm and injury, another to non-killing/murdering, and yet another to anti-state-sanctioned-violence and/or non-war. My interpretation of scripture makes provisions against church and/or christians involvement in state sanctioned killing/murdering and war, in this age. There are other (biblical, Jesus-sanctioned) practices that may be utilized for conflict resolution, compensation and reparation, and human-justice purposes.

    The world will be unjust and commit wickedness, and even Christians will be unjust and commit wickedness, but the King James Bible says; “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

    There is clearly a range (or index rating, if you will) for “wickedness” of human-justice offenses, just as there is an accompanying range of human-just punishments, reparations and compensations to such offensces. Mr Commentator and I disagree on what constitutes human-just, both of us citing scriptural support for our views.

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