How Should Christians Respond to Violence?

Jesus’ Arrest

What is the proper response to violence? In an increasingly violent culture, this is a question we must all ask ourselves. And as Christians, we must answer this question in a way that is not only practical but also faithful. It isn’t just a question of what “works” to reduce violent crime; it’s also a question of how God has called his people to live. In what follows, I will offer my own convictions, though I readily admit that fellow Christians will differ in their responses to this sensitive subject.

I can think of no better place to start—for this or any other issue—than with Jesus. So let’s begin by considering what he has to say on the subject.

How to be sons of your heavenly Father

When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Jesus does something radical here. He doesn’t simply list the most important commands—he reframes the entire Law in the light of one basic mandate: love. Love is the reason for every command God has given.

John 15:12–13

This concept is so important that all three Synoptic Gospels include a similar account (see Mark 12:28ff and Luke 10:25ff), and in the Gospel of John, Jesus narrows it down to just the second half. “This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).

Jesus essentially says that love of neighbor (or “one another” or “friends”) is how you show love to God, and he defines that love as sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. This echoes what he said in the parable of the sheep and goats, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And such love of God via love of neighbor fulfils the Law, as Paul and James would later confirm (see Romans 13:8–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8).

But “who is my neighbor?” This question was posed to Jesus in Luke’s account cited above. Jesus responded with a parable. And in this parable—we call it “the good Samaritan”—Jesus cast the most unlikely of characters for the role of neighbor. Jews hated Samaritans. They viewed them as the lowest of the low. Yet this is who Jesus said to love.

But that’s not all Jesus taught. He didn’t merely say, “Love the neighbors you don’t really like.” He also said, “Love your enemies.”

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Matthew 5:48

Jesus taught that love of enemies is so important, it defines us as sons of our heavenly Father. God loves his enemies, and so must we. But who is my enemy? And what does it look like to love them? Let’s jump back a few verses to give context to Jesus’ words:

“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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)

When Jesus spoke of those who force you to go a mile, he was referring to the Roman soldiers occupying Israel. These violent men were known for executing Jews at random, just to show off their power and keep their subjects in line. Yet these are the kinds of people Jesus said we must love—evil people intent on harming us.

In Luke’s parallel account, Jesus further explains how to love our enemies, “. . . do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). And when we do this, “. . . you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36).

Having seen the importance of Jesus’ mandate to love everyone—including those who would do us harm—we’ll now look at how Jesus lived this principle in his own life. John tells us that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). So we must consider how Jesus responded to violence, for we ought to respond in the same way.

To that end, let’s examine the most violent episode in Jesus’ life—his arrest and crucifixion.

Buy a sword . . . but don’t use it

Shortly before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Why did Jesus say this? Was he preparing them to defend themselves? Not quite. Jesus explained, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).

The disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords,” to which Jesus responded, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38). Enough for what? Two swords would hardly have provided sufficient defense against “a great crowd with swords and clubs” (Matthew 26:47), but they were enough to fulfil the Scripture. Alternatively, many translations (CEB, CEV, HCSB, ISV, etc.) suggest that Jesus’ response is better rendered, “Enough of that!”—indicating that the disciples had misunderstood his intent.

When an armed band of soldiers came to arrest Jesus, his disciples asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). Then Peter, failing to wait for Jesus’ response, drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (John 18:10).

Jesus said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54). And he healed the servant’s ear.

To the crowd he said, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:55–56).

Jesus before Pilate

Jesus then allowed himself to be arrested, endured a mock trial by the Sanhedrin, and ultimately came before Pilate, who said, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:35). Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Jesus endured scourging, mocking, humiliation, beating, spitting—all with no attempt at retaliation. He then went to Golgotha, where he allowed himself to be crucified between two criminals. While dying on the cross at the hands of his enemies, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In summary, Jesus prohibited his disciples from using a sword, even in self-defense. He instead entrusted himself to the Father, enduring the suffering that followed. He made it clear that his kingdom does not follow the pattern of this world—his followers do not fight. And as his ultimate response to the violence he had suffered, Jesus forgave those responsible for his persecution.

At this point, an observation should be made. Jesus had a very specific mission to accomplish. He was in the process of fulfilling Scripture and atoning for the sins of mankind. Though we may face violence, we will not do so under these same circumstances. Does this negate the idea that we should follow Jesus’ example, at least in this instance?

Peter—having walked in the Spirit for some time since his incident with the sword—provides us with a definitive answer to this question:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:20–23, emphasis added)

Having now examined both Jesus’ instructions and his example, let’s consider how we can practically live this out.

Nonviolent resistance

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-ViolenceThe first thing to clarify is that Jesus never told us to adopt a position of passivity. He did not mean that we should simply let evil have its way and do nothing to stop it. For this reason, I tend to like the term “nonviolent resistance” better than “pacifism.”

But didn’t Jesus say, “Do not resist the one who is evil”? That is one possible translation, but it isn’t without its difficulties.

Here’s what Preston Sprinkle has to say in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence:

The Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi, and it often (though not always) refers specifically to violent resistance. Throughout the Old Testament, for instance, anthistemi refers to military action: Israel resists its enemy in battle, and the Canaanites weren’t able to resist Israel in the conquest. In the New Testament, other words related to anthistemi refer to violent revolts, insurrections, and war. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, almost always used anthistemi in ways that convey some sort of violent action. So when Jesus tells His followers not to resist evil people, He uses a word that suggests a violent resistance.

N.T. Wright, in Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, translates this phrase as “don’t use violence to resist evil!” Rather than prohibiting resistance, Jesus prescribed a very different kind of resistance. No longer should we respond in kind—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We should instead respond by turning the tables on our aggressors. N.T. Wright explains further:

Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in the Bible was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself. Better an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth than an escalating feud with each side going one worse than the other. But Jesus goes one better still. Better to have no vengeance at all, but rather a creative way forward, reflecting the astonishingly patient love of God himself, who wants Israel to shine his light into the world so that all people will see that he is the one true God, and that his deepest nature is overflowing love. No other god encourages people to behave in a way like this!
Matthew for Everyone, Part 1
So Jesus gives three hints of the sort of thing he has in mind. To be struck on the right cheek, in that world, almost certainly meant being hit with the back of the right hand. That’s not just violence, but an insult: it implies that you’re an inferior, perhaps a slave, a child, or (in that world, and sometimes even today) a woman. What’s the answer? Hitting back only keeps the evil in circulation. Offering the other cheek implies: hit me again if you like, but now as an equal, not an inferior.

Or suppose you’re in a lawcourt where a powerful enemy is suing you (perhaps for non-payment of some huge debt) and wants the shirt off your back. You can’t win; but you can show him what he’s really doing. Give him your cloak as well; and, in a world where most people only wore those two garments, shame him with your impoverished nakedness. This is what the rich, powerful and careless are doing. They are reducing the poor to a state of shame.

The third example clearly reflects the Roman military occupation. Roman soldiers had the right to force civilians to carry their equipment for one mile. But the law was quite strict; it forbade them to make someone go more than that. Turn the tables on them, advises Jesus. Don’t fret and fume and plot revenge. Copy your generous God! Go a second mile, and astonish the soldier (and perhaps alarm him—what if his commanding officer found out?) with the news that there is a different way to be human, a way which doesn’t plot revenge, which doesn’t join the armed resistance movement (that’s what verse 39 means), but which wins God’s kind of victory over violence and injustice.

Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really TriedSuch nonviolent resistance is risky. It makes us vulnerable. But it also exposes our aggressors’ sins for what they are. And if we believe what Jesus said—that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)—then our nonviolent response is actually much safer than carrying a weapon. Wouldn’t you rather entrust yourself to the God who rules the universe than to a piece of steel?

For more specific suggestions on how to respond nonviolently, along with real-life examples, check out Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried by Ron Sider.

But in this violent world, there are no foolproof methods of preventing violence. When we choose to live in nonviolent love, we accept the possibility that we will “share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). When that happens, we have one further response—one more way in which we follow the example Jesus left for us.

Forgiveness

It would be easy for me to speak of forgiveness when I have had no major offenses to forgive. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to close this post by pointing you to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof joined them for an evening Bible study. After initially participating with their study, he pulled out a gun, and he murdered nine people. If there was ever a case for retaliation—for responding to violence with violence—surely this would be it? But that’s not what happened.

This is how the survivors and relatives responded:

“No matter how much hate there is in the world, it’s no match for love” Chis Singleton, son of slain Sharonda Singleton, said. “Love is always stronger than hate.”

And the daughter of Ethel Lance, addressing the killer directly in court, said, “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you.”

She added: “You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you.”

Anthony Thompson, husband of the slain Myra Thompson, echoed Lance’s daughter’s words. “I forgive you, my family forgives you,” he said.

Felecia Sanders, the grandmother who shielded her 5-year-old granddaughter from the gunfire, but lost her son in process, told the killer that the parishioners “welcomed you Wednesday night at our Bible study with open arms.”

She continued, fighting tears: “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know . . . And it will never be the same. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, said: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate . . . everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live on.”

“Hate won’t win,” she concluded firmly.

A relative added, “I am a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry. But we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive.”

Comments

  1. John says

    I think this article oversimplifies a very complex issue. Of course vengeance is prohibited but what about self defense?
    We in America enjoy religious freedom because brave men risked all and fought tyranny. I am not saying these men necessarily represented Christianity but clearly the US has been used greatly by God.

    If someone enters your home and wants to rape and kill do you let them? Passive resistance? You use the tragedy in South Carolina as an example. If someone there had a means to defend themselves and the others would that be ok to resist?

    If someone humiliates you then turn the other cheek. Why did Jesus say right cheek as opposed to any cheek? But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matt. 5:39 Right handed people hit people on their left cheek in violent confrontations. A back hand from a right-handed person would be an insult. And we are supposed to suck up our pride and take that.

    If this applies then why didn’t Jesus tell the Centurion to quit his job? And why did he tell them to buy swords as opposed to selling them or melting them down? Why is violence not a problem with David. Abraham and Joshua?

    Many Christians stood up to the inquisitors. because they didn’t want to watch their children and their wives ravaged and killed. Most of them perished by the sword. I can’t pass judgement on someone that does that. IMO they were just as much a martyr as the man who turned himself in.

    One final note, Jesus doesn’t say you will perish and go to eternal damnation if you pick up the sword, he just states you’ll die by it. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

    This is a specific event where Jesus had a mission. That mission was to die on the cross. Many people joke that if they had a time machine they would go back with a machine gun and save Jesus. That is absurd. He had a job to do and thank God He did it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves.

  2. says

    So how far does this extend? Should I not protect my family? Was the Revolutionary war wrong? What is the support for the "Just War" theory? Should we have "turned the other cheek" when the Japanese bombed Peat Harbor? In my mind this leaves so many unanswered questions. Sorry.

  3. says

    I think this article barely begins, and has a long way to go on the subject of a Christian response to violence. It has little to offer the woman in a violent marriage, or the girl in the midst of a sexual attack, for starters. And I'm not going to passively resist the person attacking my child, I'm afraid. I will pray, but I will then also do what I physically can with my own hands, to protect my own. I suspect it is a subtle attempt to say people shouldn't have guns, which certainly applies, but makes for a weak article when generalized.

  4. says

    Sandra Burgess: There is nothing in this article (or the doctrines of Christ) that says a Christian must simply stand by and watch someone (or themselves) being attacked. The implied prohibition is against violently attacking the violent attacker retributively. And guns are just another tool until they're used against people. So hunting for food is fine; shooting at people to avoid getting hurt is not.

    Russ Sharrock: You should protect your family up to the point of retributive, violent retaliation (see above answer to Sandra). The Christians on both sides of the Revolutionary war were absolutely wrong (read: sinning). Likewise violent, martial retaliation for Pearl harbor by Christians was sinfully wrong. Remember Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

  5. John says

    I do not see the argument against military participation or law enforcement as applying. For that you would have to ignore Romans 13 which gives government the right to use the sword. Long ago I came to terms with my Christian faith and my military career, it is not prohibited in Scripture. Furthermore, it was my mission field and where I could take part in caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves. There is a case against self-defense, but as he said, Christians will differ in their response and I differ to the point of having my concealed carry license.

  6. says

    I believe the issue with Peter was his misuse of the sword when he cut off the ear of Malchus, not his possession of it. I do not believe self-defense is a transgression, which seems to be implied here. Vengeful aggression, however, IS. Just my opinion.

  7. Jeff Houghton says

    I’ll admit I was skeptical before I read this article, but found it to lay out the case clearly. However, I strongly disagree with the conclusions, and with several comments posted.

    Yes, Jesus did allow Himself to have His life taken from Him. But it was at the time of His choosing – He laid down His own life. Several times in the Gospels His enemies attempted to take His life, and each time He eludes them. We aren’t given much insight into how this occurred – perhaps via a miraculous re-positioning? Regardless, the point is that Jesus did NOT just allow evil to destroy His life whenever it wanted to. He chose the time, place, and manner of His death (or I guess more technically God chose those specifics).

    In a similar manner, I might choose to jump on a group of gang thugs to give my friends a chance to escape, or I might choose to fall on a grenade to save my squad. But I do not have to point out where my teenage daughter sleeps when a bad guy breaks into my house at 3:00 a.m.

    Any view of Scripture that takes the ‘I must allow any evil to have its way with me’ view is absolutely ludicrous. Taken to its logical end would mean that we couldn’t defend abortion or euthanasia – which makes absolutely no sense in light of the entirety of Biblical revelation. It would also mean that any job in the military or law enforcement would be a anti-Biblical occupation – similar to say, prostitution.

    I am by no means a Biblical scholar, but I have done a fair amount of research on what the Bible says about personal defense and pacifism. My interpretation of Jesus instruction in Luke 22 is that He was not telling them to defend Him against the crowd (leading up to His crucifixion) because this was His God-appointed time to lay down His life for His friends. This seems fairly obvious since they only had 2 swords.

    Instead, He was telling them that evil would come for them next and that they should be prepared. He started this line of thinking by reminding them that they lacked nothing when He sent them out before, but now they should add a money belt and a bag and a sword. This begs the question ‘Why?’ One reasonable answer to that question is they had been somehow supernaturally provided for and protected, and now – at least to some degree – they would have to provide for and protect themselves.

    Note that I am not saying an individual must always oppose force with force, but that the option exists and it is up to the individual to make a choice (preferably a Spirit-led one). Going back to the Apostles, it appears that they lived out these instructions. Sometimes they vigorously defended themselves, yet many died as martyrs while offering no resistance.

    A quick comment on the Revolutionary War. Were the founders of America correct, that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’??? I certainly believe their words are Biblically sound. If those words are true, then how would it be sinful to physically resist a man-imposed evil that removes, eliminates, or crushes a God-given right? I find such logic to exceed the bounds of credulity.

    Proverbs 8:13 tells us that ‘The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…’ Do we really hate evil? Or do we tolerate it as long as it doesn’t bother us? And what do we do with things we hate? Coddle them? Enable them? NO! From what I see in Scripture, God either destroys evil or contains and removes it. That is also the pattern I see in civilized societies – which makes sense since we bear the Image of God. Of course we implement this imperfectly, but that doesn’t mean we stop doing it – we keep pressing forward and learn from our mistakes.

  8. says

    The question of a Christian response to violence is not easily answered in a short article, but I think your questions are valid. A response to violence which absolutely precludes using violence would also seem to imply that believers cannot be part of a law enforcement or a military response. A more nuanced approach recognises that Scripturally Christians can be part of the appointed role of the state to protect citizens, enforce the law and defend the nation. Similarly, fighting to achieve freedom within the context of the US Revolutionary war may be regarded as a just response to violent oppression rather than being purely retributive.
    In principle, Christians responding to violence should avoid revenge or retributive violence and as far as possible minimise harm to others. However, we live in a world where sometimes violence simply cannot be avoided particularly where self defence of yourself or another person is necessary to avoid serious injury. We do not love others by passively allowing them to seriously injure us or our loved ones. God bless.

  9. says

    As Paul said, your questions are definitely valid, Russ, and I appreciate your asking them. And as Paul also said, I was limited to one short(ish) article. There is certainly much more to say on this topic.

    I would definitely recommend that you check out Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence to further your studies: https://vyrso.com/product/33403/fight-a-christian-case-for-non-violence?utm_source=blog.faithlife.com&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=howshouldchristiansrespond&utm_campaign=promo-faithlifecorp

    Briefly, here are my answers to your questions. Note that these are my own convictions; I'm not trying to force them on you.

    Yes, we should certainly protect our families, but Jesus teaches that violence is not the best way to do so. By taking up the sword to protect my family, I'm actually more likely to get them killed (Matthew 26:52).

    Yes, I do believe the Revolutionary War was wrong on all sides.

    Just War is an interesting theory, and I have mixed feeling about it. On the one hand, I'm not sure that violence is ever justified. But on the other hand, if we actually followed the Just War principles as proposed by Augustine, then none of the major wars the US has been involved with (including the Revolutionary War) would have been considered "just."

    • mary says

      Were we to let the Germans to keep killing Jews? It was fighting soldiers who stopped the killing machine of Nazis. Was it wrong to save those people?

  10. says

    I certainly agree that this is just a beginning, Sandra. I would be hard pressed to cover in a mere 3,000 words a topic that has spanned hundreds of books. I do apologize if anything I wrote came off as a generalization. I only meant this as a starting point.

    I would definitely recommend checking out Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence as the next resource to check out: https://vyrso.com/product/33403/fight-a-christian-case-for-non-violence?utm_source=blog.faithlife.com&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=howshouldchristiansrespond&utm_campaign=promo-faithlifecorp

  11. says

    Methodologically and rhetorically, McKnight has failed to present a convincing argument for the following reasons (whether or not you are for pacificism or against pacificism):

    (1) The author failed to delineate
    (a) violence/non-violence against institutional (and God ordained) authority
    (b) versus violence/non-violence to fulfill prophecy (which would make such
    unique cases and special situations (i.e., exceptions rather than the rule)
    (ci) versus violence against persons/individuals
    (cii) including violence to defend one's life or limb or another's life or limb.

    (2) The author also failed to delineate when violence against institutions is allowed (e.g., Declaration of Independence), that is, are there divine principles to determine when, how, and why individuals can revolt against the Government or its institutions.

    (3) Additionally, all authors must explain the hermeneutics behind Jesus' and the Apostles' use of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible from which they were teaching/preaching. (They weren't teaching from the New Testament.) Consequently, pacificist must explain the how and why of the Biblical (Hebrew Bible) text and the hermenuetical principles which would change the situation for Christ followers:

    (A) God punishes those God loves using both corporal punishment as well as non-corporal punishment. God's love includes grace, mercy, and corporal and non-corporal punishment. What Biblical principles are used to limit humans from imitating/mimicking/following God's behavior and practices and from negating God's direct moral commands?

    (B) If relgious persons are excluded from using violence, why did God allow/command/directe God's priests and Levites to serve in the military (e.g., during the Exodus and in David's Army) and allow his prophets (e.g., Abraham and Elijah) to use violence or military force? Were these special cases and exceptions to the rule?

    (C) Why did God allowed the Levites to be armed temple guards (Old and New Testament periods) when another tribe could have taken up such police function?

    By not asking such questions and addressing such issues, McKnight has wittingly or unwittingly framed his presentation and rhetoric in a less than transparent and open manner. Christian should never hide facts, questions, challenges or difficulties. This is especially true when doing exegesis and discussing their hermenuetical principles and procedures. Christian are to do everything in the light and nothing in the dark.

    Unlike politicians, advertisers, and human relations specialists, our discussions are not about winning arguments, gaining influence, and/or winning converts or followers. Christians should make their discussions transparent and present their positions and the challenges to their positions in their entirity (or a portion of the overall debate in its entirity). They should let the Holy Spirit do the work of conviction and convincing. They should resist the temptation to frame the debate rhetorically and linguistically in a way that unfairly disadvantages the opposition. Consequently, McKnight's technique, logic, rhetoric or motives must be challenged and called into question because (i) of the narrow and opaque framing of the debate and of the lack of full disclosure of all of the facts that have a bearing in this discussion and (ii) of the author's failure to reveal all of the pertainent challenges to the author's own position; in short, his refutation section lacks the appropriate number of relevant answers to above mentioned challenges.

  12. says

    I think the difference in response depends on the situation. Suffering or being attacked for the Gospel's sake is one thing. Being attacked by a common criminal or criminals is another. Look at Nehemiah's preparation when the enemies of Israel were threatening violence. He trusted God AND armed the Israelites. Here is wisdom.

    If I am being attacked because of my faith, my response will be based on the Holy Spirit's guidance and direction. If someone breaks into my house, I am going to be armed and confront that threat, still under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If my family is being attacked, I will defend them to the best of my ability powered by the work of the Holy Spirit.

    I don't see any conflict with being armed and prepared to confront violent men and women. The best response is avoiding such conflict, if at all possible (there were times when Paul fled or was forced to flee). The outcome is truly up to the living God, as my life is in His hands, but that doesn't obviate my responsibility to be as prepared as possible both physically and spiritually.

  13. says

    Steve, your distinctions are not biblical, they're cultural and prideful. You absolutely cannot find justification for killing someone to save someone else or (especially) yourself in the Doctrines of Christ. As for killing someone for breaking into your house or stealing your beloved stuff? Really? Think about it.

  14. says

    Floyd, there are no "divine principles" in the Doctrines of Christ for armed rebellion and violence at any time under any circumstances, never mind against a political entity or institution that you determine to be evil. Your questions are facile and irrelevant. It's very simple, Jesus says "No" to violent counter-attacks on other human beings. All of the martyrs of the early Church had no problem understanding that. Why is it so hard for you to understand?

  15. says

    Jim Kerr Sorry Jim. I obviously did not articulate this well. I could care less about my stuff. It's all going to burn. But I do care about protecting my family and I see no conflict with the teachings of scripture in this regard. Taking a life is an absolute last resort. I've seen the results first hand, so I do not say that lightly.

    Also, how do you deal with those who are in the military and take lives in a war zone? Are we not to serve in the military?

  16. Donald Smith says

    A quick thought.The use of the word ‘violence’ is a problem. Violence is the illegal or inappropriate use of force and as such always has at its base ideas of anger, hatred, greed and so on. There is no place for violence in the life of a Christian. This is pretty straight forward. We are called to love our enemies and any actions motivated by any other attitude are ruled out. Force however is a different concept. When a police officer arrests a criminal, their use of force, even if strong, is not violence per say and is not unloving, even to the criminal. Clearly it is love towards the victim and to the wider community, and it is also love towards the criminal, because in being arrested there is hope for them to be turned around. It is not love to simply let them continue on their way, not to mention other people. If in attempting to arrest them they die, then this is not because anyone wanted them to die necessarily but in fact is their own responsibility and is something which was in fact unavoidable, or at least should have been. Defensive wars are of the same nature. In practice of course there is far from simple and the bottom line is that wars especially are so mixed up with lies and hidden sinful motivations that for the Christian the question of whether they should simply support their nation in its wars becomes a very serious issue which needs to be considered deeply. Our loyalty is first to Christ, not our nation. Nevertheless, in principle Christ’s teaching is not against the use of force, only against violence.

  17. says

    Romans 13:3-4 " 3 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; 4 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."

    I'm not a scholar, but this article leaves me with many questions. Should we get rid of all the ministers of justice who "bear the sword"? Can I as a christian use the law for protection of life and property? What about the Roman Centerion of whom Jesus said "I have not found such great faith in all of Israel"? Was Eisenhower wrong when he wrote in his book that he was leading a crusade against evil or was he a minister of God bringing the wrath of God upon evil?

  18. says

    Interesting read. I agree with much. but also disagree with much. the Challenge as has been noted in other comments essentially that there is a difference between individual/personal and community/governmental when it comes to the law and "violence". Of course the initial challenge even before that is a question that begs to be answered is the definition of "violence".

    I would argue that, given recent current events as example; someone comes into a church/house of worship and at some point decides to be violent (a matter ot the heart) towards the congregation. Then, if someone in the congregation or EVEN the pastor standing in self defence could "stop the threat", even using a handgun, in self defense – would not be considered violent.

  19. Hamilton Ramos says

    God Bless:

    Interesting and complex subject.

    for reference:

    http://www.biblicalselfdefense.com

    I think we should prepare for the worst, but abide in the Holy Spirit, to guide us out of potentially dangerous situations.

    We are still required to have some rough understanding of security awareness and precautions.

    Blessings.

  20. says

    I was forward this article. I believe we should not be venegful and we should forgive. I also believe we can protect our family, property, and serve in military or in law enforecment and remain in a right relationship with Christ. We can use Godlly answers in a sin fallen world. Some will misuse Romans 13. We should obey our government when it does not contradict God. Here are some posts that might be helpful for you.https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/surrender-or-lose-your-head/ https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/bring-your-guns-to-church-it-was-the-law/ https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/stick-to-your-guns-and-your-bibles-its-radical/ https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/video-ditching-your-church/ https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/video-jewish-man-who-fled-nazis-funds-operation-to-rescue-syrian-iraqi-christians-trump-muslim-girl/ https://reclaimourrepublic.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/video-we-the-people-are-the-militia-keep-and-bear-arms-america/

  21. says

    The traditional Anabaptist take on the government's sword (which I personally share) is that it is a secular occupation, which God can use for good, but which Christians are not to take part in. So we submit to the government, and we even call on their police as the state asks us to, but we don't participate in their violence.

    But plenty of Christians disagree with me here, and that's fine.

  22. says

    Jim Kerr You missed principle one: i.e., Jesus and the early church had only one scripture, the Hebrew Bible. Even Jesus had a high view of the Hebrew Bible and said it pointed to him. Using only the New Testament and primarily the New Testament without undertanding how the writers are appealing to the Hebrew Bible and without uncovering the social-cultural context and the pragmatics information that are needed to properly interpret the text of the New Testament is not irrelevant and facile.
    You also missed another important principle: methodology and and methodological, rhtorical, and logical consistency is never irrelevant. This is what first year undergraduates in English and philosophy are taught. Engaging in the exploration of methodology used, of the assumptions made, and of the range and depth of facts presented are never facile and irrelevant. However, your attempt at ad hominen attack are facile and irrelevant. You are better than that. Write to the issue, to methodology, and to questions of consistency and validity of one's arguement. Note: Chuck McKnight's response to my comments. Shalom!

  23. Tudor Lance says

    Chuck, a beautiful explanation of the truth of Jesus teaching of no violent resistance. We as followers are under a new covenant, and it is the covenant established by Jesus. Hebrews suggests the new covenant supersedes the Old, and the kingdom we live under is the kingdom of Jesus and his kingship and authority and how he defined or fulfilled the life of those who live there and here at the same time. I believe your words are of God and led by HIs word. Thank-you. There is a reason why the church in the west is dying, because it makes God in its own image and fails the words of Jesus and only picks and chooses what works. I am grateful for His grace over all of us. Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you.

  24. says

    The truth of the matter is that the early church disagrees with your comments. God can use pagan governments… but percisely because they are pagan and because Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Revelation (when read appropriately) all forbid violence for Christ-followers…. vocations of violence contradict the vocation of discipleship. This isn't a salvation question, to be sure, but Christian soldiers/police are unknowingly (usually) disobeying direct Christian teaching.

  25. Jacqueline Arthurs says

    The Lord knows us all too well. This is why His focus is on the human heart; the center of the soul, the immaterial heart. LOVE, he foreknew would be next to impossible without an regenerated heart of man, in its true sense. Love endures all things and holds no account of wrongs done. He has given us a prescription of healthy Christian living, but the old nature refuses to give up the right on itself – so the battle rages. Where love dwells, there dwells forgiveness, peace and unity. We can then can respond in kindness to all offenses….in the end. May the Lord have mercy on us all in the increasing trying days a head. In Christ’s name, Amen and Amen!

  26. says

    interesting thought and should be used whenever possible. I don't suggest you try this with Jihad Islam unless you have a death wish. Try this on. Is a soldier giving his life for the life of his brothers when he is protecting them from violence(say Hitler as an example)? Shouldn't we stop violence being done to another if at all possible even if it means violence to the peratador? Was Jesus passive because he had a Job To Do(our salvation) and said the things he did so his followers would ot die at the time? Ah, so many questions???????? Isn't this all a challenge?

  27. says

    I appreciate that the article addresses our need to love and forgive our enemies. We need to resist evil as well. However, it depends on the circumstances. The narratives of Jesus in the NT don't address every situtation in which we might find ourselves.

    If a Muslim jihadist was trying to cut off my wife's head, I would shoot him dead. If a criminal invades my home then I might have to shoot the person to protect my family. Self defence is a principle that you can find and validate in the Bible. Consider updating your article with examples from the OT.

    If a Muslim jihadist or criminal kills my family member and is arrested, I hope that I would forgive them and share my faith with them; like the relatives of the people killed in the Charleston shootings.

    There might be a situation where the Holy Spirit wants me to offer up my life in pursuit of his will. But I'm just as convinced that there are situations where the Holy Spirit will help me to kill the giant Goliath or swerve out of the path of a drunk driver.

    Floyd Knight is on the right track! There are different situations and different categories that are in play. One set of Bible verses on the NT does not address them all. In the end we trust the Lord, yield to the Holy Spirit, and do the best in a bad situation.

  28. says

    Bradley M. Wasson do you draw a distinction between self-defense and the defense of others? It would certainly be possible to build a biblical case for defending those who cannot defend themselves, but you would be hard pressed to find instances where God advocates for us to defend ourselves. The examples you gave fall under a consolation Preston Sprinkle makes in his book Fight, wherein choosing violence is the lesser of two evils (i.e. it would've been worse to allow Hitler to continue his massacre). However, it’s also worth considering that violence does not immediately resolve the conflict, and often escalates the situation.

    For me personally, when I read Fight, I really wrestled with the murder of Kevin Sutherland, who was a friend of a friend. He was killed in a crowded metro, surrounded by people who were to afraid to intervene. That, to me, is a terrifying picture of non-violence—but it is not the response to violence that Dr. Sprinkle (or most non-violence advocates) speak of. I think you would still enjoy reading Fight, even if you don't agree with the article: https://vyrso.com/product/33403/fight-a-christian-case-for-non-violence?utm_source=blog.faithlife.com&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=howshouldchristiansrespond&utm_campaign=promo-faithlifecorp

  29. says

    Chuck: Well, this teaches us not to engage a complex subject with only 3,000 words. Further, you have not defined "love", and many of your biblical support verses have been used without any concern for their context being involved with "violence".
    Considering this article with a critical eye, your supporting verses do not support the proposition. I could not join with you in this conclusion, or in many of its applications.
    Here is my opinion: I would meet violence with whatever "violence is necessay to put down the incoming violence". That might well be fatal for the perp. I would not hesitate to use deadly force if necessary. Your attitude appears to encourage more violence. I think our Lord would be displeased with your interpretation. Let the Scripture decide! I could present support, but I'm only voicing an opinion. Very interesting topic though. Thanks. Jim Sullivan

  30. says

    Hey, Jim. 3,000 words is indeed a limitation. The concerns you raise are all legitimate ones, but my article was only intended to be an introduction. Many folks seem to have never even considered this viewpoint, and that's what I'm hoping to fix. If I've made anyone think, or promoted more conversation on this topic, then I'm happy with that.

    For a much more thorough approach to this topic, I would definitely recommend that you check out Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence: https://vyrso.com/product/33403/fight-a-christian-case-for-non-violence?utm_source=blog.faithlife.com&utm_medium=blog&utm_content=howshouldchristiansrespond&utm_campaign=promo-faithlifecorp

  31. says

    Hey Chuck, I have a question. Whenever I look at those scriptures speaking about not resisting and loving enemies, It is always in referrence to the aggravated party (e.g. pray for those who persecute *you*). But what if others are being persecuted? What if you are witnessing someone else (e.g. wife, kids, friend, or neighbor) being aggravated or violently assaulted, do we not attempt to defend them?

    I am not saying that your first impulse should be violence, but is it still Christlike to leave the innocent at the mercy of the aggresor?

  32. Hamilton Ramos says

    God bless:

    One of the posters commented that a calling of arms and / or violence goes against discipleship. Maybe is true, but it made me remember an article I read in Black Belt magazine decades ago:

    The chief of police in Tokyo revealed that he had received ninja training (which may be unholy), but thanks to that he was able to capture the top 10 criminals, without anyone dying.

    In ancient times, Shaolin monks (buddhists) acted at times like secret agents for the emperor, and they were the only ones that could control the pirates attacking the ports.

    I know that children of the world are more sagacious than the children of light, but sometimes is embarrassing how they can handle doing justice without undue killing.

    Are we guilty of neglect of training?

    Just a thought.

    Blessings.

    • Ryan Nelson says

      Great thoughts, Hamilton. I think there are a lot of non-violent advocates that share your perspective here. Many martial arts are designed to use an adversary’s own force against them, or to restrain/prevent further harm without the use of lethal force. It is much easier to make a case for that sort of a response to violence than to justify responding with lethal force. However, knowing when a situation has gone beyond the point of no return, where other means are no longer of use and choosing force could not possibly escalate the situation, would be an art in itself. Just my thoughts. Fight, the book Chuck recommends in the post, does make several consolations where choosing violence could be considered the lesser of two evils, but it is balanced against this question of whether or not violence escalates the situation.

  33. says

    Hey, Jesse. Your desire to defend others is right, and I absolutely would not advocate leaving the innocent at the mercy of the aggressor. But here's the real question. Are violent methods actually the best way to protect the innocent? I would argue that nonviolent methods will ultimately provide better defense. And if we are walking in the Spirit, God can show us how we should react when such a scenario arises.

  34. says

    Chuck McKnight Thank you for your response. One last thought, if you don't mind. Your article is very timely. This has actually been on my mind a lot recently and I havent had the chance to ask someone who has had more time studying this subject.

    Of course you are familiar with Romans 13 and the sword for punishing evil. I really have a hard time balancing that text with a non-violent position. Is there ever a time when responding with a sword is biblical? Is it maybe ok for the government, but not the Christian individual? Or, is it ok for Christians working within the government?

    I know this is a loaded question perhaps a few sentences won't suffice. But putting aside all the implications and nuances aside, if you could bring any insight I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you!

  35. says

    Jesse Rojo The traditional Anabaptist take on the government's sword (which I personally share) is that it is a secular occupation, which God can use for good, but which Christians are not to take part in. So we submit to the government, and we even call on their police as the state asks us to, but we don't participate in their violence.

  36. says

    Chuck McKnight Thank you Chuck! I appreciate your hard work and contribution. Much of this is new to me and you've given me something to chew on for awhile!

  37. Hal Summers says

    I think of the young men who stopped the armed terrorist from shooting up the train. They resorted to violence and did good in doing so. They also possibly saved the man who would’ve shot up the train from certain death. Now, he has a chance to repent if he so chooses.

    Sometimes, violence is the best thing, swift, severe and unflinching violence. Jesus used violence against the money changers. He didn’t try to reason with them; he used his physical power to root them out of the temple. There are times that LOVE has to act in ways that are counter-intuitive and which would in normal circumstances betray our principles. Frederick Buechner said it well when he wrote, “To be a Christian means among other things to be willing if necessary to sacrifice even your highest principles for God’s or your neighbor’s sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick a baseball bat is there’s no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child”.

    Stopping someone from doing evil is often an act of love toward that person but most people would rather not become involved. It’s easier just to turn the other cheek and walk away than expose ourselves to physical risk. The question is not whether you have love in your heart but do you have the courage to put it into action. Perfect love casts out fear so what are you afraid of?

  38. Joe says

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree with Chuck and to be honest i’m sad that are people who take this position and are willing to say that Police Officers and Military are going against the Bible. When Jesus talks about turning the other cheek, it isn’t in regards to someone beating on you but more towards someone insulting you.

    The Pillar Commentary states: Again the emphatic formula is used to introduce striking new teaching. “Do not resist the evil person”143 does not mean that we should let evil triumph throughout our communities. Jesus is referring to private retaliation, not to public order, and he is instructing his followers not to be intent on getting their own back when someone wrongs them. To be the victim of some form of evil does not give us the right to hit back. Jesus proceeds to give an example, and his but is the strong adversative,144 a word that introduces a sharp contrast; he says, whoever145 slaps you, “hits you with the open hand.”146 The traditional understanding is that the slap is on the cheek, and this may well be right, though the word properly means the jawbone.147 The proper conduct in such a case is not retaliation, but readiness to endure a further blow. This contrasts with the teaching of the Mishnah, where we find that “If a man cuffed his fellow he must pay him a sela” (B. Qam. 8:6; the tractate goes on to lay down the penalties for slapping, hitting with the back of the hand, etc.). There will be occasions when protest is in order, as when Jesus himself drew attention to an illegality at his trial (John 18:22–23). But such occasions are never for the purpose of revenge or the like.

    Further, why would Jesus tell his disciples to have weapons and not use them? This makes absolutely no sense as the disciples had swords previously and if they weren’t supposed to then he would have told them earlier.

    ESV Study Bible states: Others take this as a command to have a literal sword for self-defense and protection from robbers. In support of this view: (a) The moneybag and knapsack and cloak in this same verse are literal, and so the sword must be taken literally as well. (b) Jesus’ response that “It is enough” (Luke 22:38) actually approves the swords the disciples have as being enough, and Jesus’ later rebuke in vv. 49–51 only prohibits them from blocking his arrest and suffering (cf. John 18:11), that is, from seeking to advance the kingdom of God by force. (c) The very fact that the disciples possess swords (Luke 22:38) suggests that Jesus has not prohibited them from carrying swords up to this point (cf. John 18:10–11), and Jesus never prohibited self-defense. Earlier it relates on Matt: Do not resist the one who is evil. Jesus is not prohibiting the use of force by governments, police, or soldiers when combating evil (see notes on Luke 3:12–14; Rom. 13:1–4; 1 Pet. 2:13–14). Rather, Jesus’ focus here is on individual conduct, as indicated by the contrast with Matt. 5:38, which shows that he is prohibiting the universal human tendency to seek personal revenge (see note on Rom. 12:19). If anyone slaps you on the right cheek pictures a backhanded slap given as an insult (a right-handed person would use the back of the hand to slap someone on the right cheek; cf. Mishnah, Baba Kamma 8.6). The word “slaps” translates Gk. rhapizō, “to slap, to strike with the open hand.” turn to him the other also. One should not return an insulting slap, which would lead to escalating violence. In the case of a more serious assault, Jesus’ words should not be taken to prohibit self-defense (see Luke 12:11; 22:36–38; Acts 22:1; 24:10) or fleeing from evil (see 1 Sam. 19:10; Luke 4:29–30; John 8:59; 10:39; 2 Cor. 11:32–33), for often a failure to resist a violent attack leads to even more serious abuse. Acting in love toward an attacker (Matt. 5:44; 22:39) will often include taking steps to prevent him from attempting further attacks. Jesus’ teaching must be applied with wisdom in the light of related Scriptures that address similar situations (cf. note on 5:42)

    Jesus doesn’t fight back during his arrest because this is what he came to fulfill. In Matthew 26:53 – Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? What would the angels have done if he did call them? Sit around and drink tea? Yes God should be the ultimate authority in dealing judgment but we as people don’t just sit around all day waiting for that hence why Jesus tells us to respect the government.

    I’m only using NT stuff here, but the OT is full of God ordained violence that was necessary. Are we to ignore the entire old testament?

    When it comes to loving one another, are we to “love our family members” as we watch people beat them to death? Who should we love more, the murder or are friends? I’m not saying killing someone is the answer but you are allowed to defend yourself and others and ONLY use violence as a last resort. The police don’t go around shooting people just because… they are to use force only when necessary.

    Lastly from a pure opinion standpoint, I’d rather have a government run by Christians than by others. Can you imagine a government run by Islamist extremists?

  39. Charles Yap says

    Are you saying that Israel should surrender to the hostilities against her without the proactive approach that becomes an instinct in them for their preservation? We also know that the Almighty is with them in every situation. How do you draw the line of limited retaliation or none to an aggressor ? Contributions please.

  40. Charles Yap says

    Are you saying that a nation should surrender to the hostilities against her without the proactive approach that becomes an instinct within it’s people for self preservation? How do you draw the line of limited retaliation or none to any aggressor that may affect the survivability of yourself or family? Be slapped, raped, destroyed etc??

  41. says

    So my sister just grabbed me by the hair and tried to trail me punching me outta the house – I couldn't stop myself i started punching her back – I am disgusted with myself :( she was expecting me to just take it as I am a Christian, but I just flipped :( x

  42. gary says

    Imagine talking to someone who attempts to justify the horrific crimes against humanity committed by Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. What would you think of such a person? Even if they condemned such behavior today, their justification of brutal crimes committed in the past would not be excusable. You would look upon such a person with disgust and contempt and consider them incredibly immoral.

    So let’s take a look at Christianity. Practically every version of Trinitarian Christianity, from fundamentalist to liberal, sees Jesus as the God of the Old Testament. To deny that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament is to deny the Trinity. If Jesus is the God of the Old Testament he is guilty of some of the most barbaric, horrific acts of infanticide and genocide known to man. Yet Christians of all stripes pray and worship this mass murderer of men, women, and little children.

    Any Christian who refuses to condemn and denounce the God of the Old Testament is immoral.

  43. says

    One thought on the history of non-resistance. But first one prerequisite. For many observers the term non-violence is common. The term non-resistance is not as common and can be interchanged with non-violence. For all christians the term non-hate is obvious as the same as love which cannot be generated by a human spirit. There should be no connection between secular non-violence-non-resistance and the anabaptist view. These forefathers of non-resistance ie. Quakers , Mennonites , and many within the protestant movement , fled persecution. At that time the new world offered refuge for those those who could afford it. Not all were able. Today there is no place to flee to.
    That presents a new situation with this question. Should have those early anabaptists fled at all ?
    If non-resistance is actually seen as a way to reduce violence then why flee from it ? If its strictly a way to respond with no expectation then it was still a luxury for them to flee. So at that time removing oneself from an oppressive violent culture was an alternative which is not in our time. How does that play into the discussion. Many quotes and references are from these forefathers working out their convictions. The grievance of many is that the non-resistant non-violent anabaptist enjoyed the protection of the new world and then with it the price payed for democracy which could skew the arguments for how non-resistance works in our daily life with the enjoyment of legal protection.
    Many christians who live out their faith in the face of persecution today live with the intention of keeping a low profile from government. Something we don't have to do in democracy. In fact we appeal to government to control prostitution, gambeling, violent behavior, etc. which will require them to use force to enforce. This is why original non-resistant believers denied themselves any involvment in democracy so as not to become complicit with forceful laws. It raises many questions and anger from the conversations on how to liveout non-violence non-resistance. Don't forget non-resistance by bibical arguments represents engaging with hate rather than fleeing from it.

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