Does the Bible Support War or Violence?

The world feels like it's on fire. But what does Jesus have to say about war, violence, and retribution? Here are some top Biblical reasons why we should choose life over violence.

Man bending down to show a hat with "Love Your Neighbor" stitched across it.
Photo by Nina Strehl / Unsplash

According to a national survey, the percentage of Americans who believe violence is the answer to political unrest has increased by 8% in the past two years. White evangelical Protestants, to which I belong, are more likely to see violence as a solution — we lead the pack at 31% (that's nearly 1 out of 3!).

Does the Bible really support war and violence? Is retaliation the way of Christ followers? In light of the above statistics, the current crisis in Palestine, and continued gun violence, it's important for us to pause and learn at the feet of Jesus.

1. Jesus Does not Condone nor Bless War

In Christ's famous Sermon on the Mount, He lists a series of blessings for those who love His Kingdom (Matthew 5). Some of these traits include peacemaking, mercy, humility, purity, and a hunger for righteousness. Nowhere in Jesus's teachings can we find room for violence, genocide, warfare, or other hateful actions. Instead, the Lord blesses those who reflect His goodness from a pure heart.

2. Darkness Does not Bring Light

Immediately after Jesus's blessings mentioned above, He explains how His disciples are meant to be "salt" and "light" to the world. When Jesus refers to salt, He probably means its use as a flavor enhancer and preserver of food. In other words, His followers should bring light, revealing God's goodness to others, and bring life-giving qualities like salt does to food.

Decades later, the apostle John wrote several letters to encourage Christian churches. In one of his letters, he addressed the topic of loving others:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
(1 John 2:9-11)

Sadly, many Americans who consider themselves religious have blinded themselves with their own anger. The Bible is clear: Darkness doesn't bring light.

3. God Wants His People to Choose Life

In Moses's farewell speech to Israel, he urges them to "choose life" (Deuteronomy 30). He is referring to a specific choice that God had set before them: to choose to follow God wholeheartedly rather than their own desires.

Although historical context of Moses' speech is not our own, the biblical idea of choosing life and loving God with all your heart is echoed by Christ. When asked about the greatest commandments, Jesus replied with loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:27). Jesus also explains how caring for and serving others is equivalent to serving Him (Matthew 25:31-36).

4. The Bible Embraces Wisdom, not Violence

Let me address a misinterpretation of a famous scripture: "There is a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Regardless of who uses "a time for war" out of context, especially in a political context, it should be a serious red flag for several reasons:

  • No leader should use the Bible as justification for permitting the murder of innocents, even in a military context.
  • The Book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, a leader known for his wisdom and the sins that led to his downfall, including greed and self-glory. The book is an extended reflection on good and evil in the world, not a permission slip for war.
  • More importantly, Ecclesiastes concludes with a reflection on true wisdom:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Wisdom is found in God as the supreme source of righteousness in the world. This means each of us, including political leaders, are and will be completely accountable to God for our actions.

5. Jesus Focused on Reconciliation

Jesus consistently condemned violence and promoted a message of reconciliation. In the Gospel of Matthew, He challenged the culture of retaliation by teaching His followers to respond to hatred with love, mercy, and generosity.

Jesus modeled mercy and reconciliation, even in the face of unjust suffering and death on the cross. Our Prince of Peace knew what was at stake. He chose life instead of violence for the sake of humanity.

6. Love is the Call

The rest of the New Testament elaborates on the teachings of Jesus. Paul exhorted one church with these words:

"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Galatians 5:14)

In a famous hymn exalting Christ, Paul encouraged humility by using Jesus as the supreme example of pouring oneself out for the sake of others (Philippians 2:3-9).

While reflecting on the "Love your neighbor as yourself" commandment, John Piper offered this paraphrase to clarify what Jesus meant: "Make the measure of your your own care as the measure of your care for others."

"Make the measure of your own care as the measure of your care for others."

Choose Life

Choose life as your King did. Remember His final commission to preach the Gospel to all nations. Your neighbor, whether here or abroad, needs the Gospel. But embracing violence means snuffing out that opportunity. Accepting or supprting violence, especially genocide, is fighting on the side of darkness.

Choose the light of Christ. Walk in newness of life so others can benefit from the love of God.

🔥 Bonus Sauce!

Check out John Piper's reflection here:


What about violence in the context of self-defense and defending the lives of the innocent?

Jesus did not teach us when to use violence. Rather, He focused on love and servanthood. Remember when Peter struck a guard's ear with a sword to protect Jesus? That seemed like an appropriate time for violence to Peter. But Jesus replied, "Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword." In other words, violence begets more violence, even in a necessary context like protecting a loved one. Should we protect the innocent and our loved ones? Of course, but violence should always be our last choice (not our default). And if we have to defend ourselves, we need to do it proportionately and with the goal of preserving life.

What about state-sanctioned warfare?

Using the Scriptures above, we can conclude state-sanctioned warfare is not what God has in mind for the world. The prophets alluded to a time when weapons of warfare will be broken into gardening tools, and the end of Revelation describes heaven on earth where there is no more pain or suffering. You may be thinking about WWII as a positive example of warfare. Sure, the nation was forced into a battle to protect a continent. However, calling WWII "good" is like calling an invasive surgery to remove a cancerous tumor good. Necessary, yes. But is it good and what is ideal for the body? Of course not. We also need to remember that God sends rain on both the just and unjust, and that He wants all people to repent and know Him. As Christians, we need to default to Christ-like living rather than retaliation or war. This means we also need to contribute to our society in a way that prevents war and deescalates anger.

What about the wars in the Old Testament?

This is a complex topic. Yes, there are some examples in the Old Testament of God commanding the fledgling nation of Israel to destroy other nations in Canaan. However, we must keep these stories in the context of the whole of Scripture. To isolate these stories and use them as justification for war or genocide is flat out evil. God never prescribed warfare to humanity as our default. If you review the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses, and the Sermon on the Mount, God does not tell us to use violence. Rather, we're commanded to love our neighbor, to choose life, and to heal. God is the ultimate judge, not us. Yes, God did use some extreme methods in the Old Testament to address overflowing sin and evil, but those examples are not our prescribed way of living as Christians. For a helpful reflection on this topic, check out this blog post.