Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

62. IS JESUS CHRIST A PACIFIST?

Pacifism covers a spectrum of views including the beliefs that: all institutions of military and war should be abolished, organization of society by governmental force must be rejected, use of physical violence to obtain political, economic or social goals is unacceptable and violence under any circumstances, even defense of self and others, must be prohibited.  Historically, pacifism may achieve peace for a time but ultimately leads to violence and disorder.  Because the Messiah was called the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6), does it follow that the incarnate Jesus Christ was a pacifist?  Did Jesus choose pacifism as the guiding principle for achieving peace?

 

  • Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament and the Old Testament God is definitely not a pacifist. Did the immutable Jesus change his perspective during the incarnation?

 

  • In Mat 10:34-36 Jesus said: Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth: I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  The “sword” might be a prophetic reference to the “Sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17) which is the Word of God.  Also, the indicated confrontations might focus only on issues of faith.  Nevertheless, the level of vitriol in these verses does not have pacifist roots.

 

  • Luke 22:35-38 says: And He said to them: When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you? And they said “No, nothing.”  And He said to them: But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.  For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.  And they said: “Lord, look, here are two swords.”  And He said to them: It is enough. 

The exchange in Luke 22:35-38 is part of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper.  It is doubtful that the disciples followed his reasoning but they thought they understood the point about the sword because they replied, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”  Some say the text in Luke 22:35-38 shows Jesus being sarcastic whereas the disciples completely missed His irony and took Him literally.  Some say this passage is simply a vivid, pictorial way of describing the complete change which had come about in the temper and attitude of the Jewish people since the early days of the disciples’ missions.  But would Jesus have permitted the disciples to completely misunderstand such a serious issue when the true meaning of His comments could easily have been clarified?  Furthermore, one of the two swords was probably the one used a few hours later to cut off an ear of the high priest’s slave (Luke 22:49-51).  The head or torso was the likely target of the sword thrust which means the sword strike was intended to produce serious injury or death.  But Jesus did not stop the attack until after the slave’s ear had been severed.  Are these the actions of a pacifist?

 

  • Is the basic personality of Jesus compatible with that of a pacifist? Would you expect that the incarnate Jesus Christ would personally intervene, using violence, in the following situations which could theoretically have arisen during His three year ministry: (1) the apostle John is about to be murdered for his clothes by bandits who know nothing about Jesus Christ, (2) Mary Magdalene is about to be sexually assaulted by a gang of marauding thugs.  Would Jesus have intervened or simply told John and Mary to submit?

 

  • Finally, we come to Mat 5:38-39: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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.  The ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ portion of this passage was extracted from the Law of Retaliation found in Ex 21:23-25 (see Section 54).  It means that compensations paid were to match damages inflicted.  In other words, Ex 21:23-25 defined a paradigm for compensation. 

Turning the other cheek to ‘him who is evil’ is no more to be taken as a literal instruction than the saying about plucking out one’s eye and throwing it away (Mk 9:47).  The Christian response to “him who is evil’ is given by Paul (Rom 13:1-7).  Paul regards retaliation as part of the duty of a civil authority.  There will be occasions when turning the other cheek is the proper course of action; there will also be occasions when it is not!  If armed thugs enter your Sanctuary during Sunday worship and announce they have come to kill as many Christian children as possible, would Jesus want you to turn the other cheek and tell them to proceed? 

 

There is no compelling evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ is a pacifist.