Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jesus Wasn't a Pacifist

Jesus Was[n't] a Pacifist

First Clown : What, art thou a heathen? How dost thou understand the scripture?
--Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1

I've had to do a lot of thinking and reading to come to this, but it always came back to the same conclusion; I hadn't really been paying close attention to the Bible. Had I really been looking closely, I would have understood that while our Saviour taught to always search for a better answer, complete pacifism in place of self protection is unacceptable.

Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"

"Nothing," they answered.

He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords."

"That is enough," he replied.
--Luke 22:36-38

While Jesus armed his disciples, he didn't arm them heavily. Why would a pacifist teacher go about with armed men?

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
-- Matthew 10:34

Not the statement of a pacifist: a true pacifist would never resort to such images.

There are two verses, however, that caused me most of my confusion.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
-- Matthew 5:39

There's an easy way to resolve this, if you truly stop to consider this.

Consider what a strike on the right cheek is. In the Greek, according to Strongs, the word strike here is "rhapizo", which means to slap with the palm of the hand. It's not really an act of hostile aggression in the same sense that a punch to the stomach is, or for that matter, an attack with weapons.

What I believe Jesus is saying is that you should bear insults in the face of the enemy, because that's what a slap is; an insult, at least it was back in the days before we became soft enough to believe that to touch someone was assault. He's not saying you should accept a beating, He's saying that we should not be quick to anger over trivial things. Would that the world had accepted His teachings here!

Then there's the other one :

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."
-- Matthew 26:52

This is also easy to understand when taken in context. Remember Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:47, and John 18:3. It was a multitude, a detachment of soldiers and officers, armed with swords and clubs, that Judas had led to Gethsemane. When Peter drew his sword and cut the ear from Malchius, servant of the high priest, Jesus told him to put the sword in its place, not cast it aside. If the verse meant that the use of a sword meant your death, would He not have told Peter to throw it away? Why would He have asked him to purchase it in the first place?

No, this cannot be the meaning. Remember that armed contingent! Jesus isn't passing along to us a message that violence in all cases is evil, He is warning Peter that this is a foolish battle that Peter cannot hope to win! This fits with Matthew 26:53-54, where He goes on to tell Peter that if it were battle that were needed here, Jesus, as Son of the Father, is well equipped to handle it, but His submission at this moment is required to fulfill scripture.. and to provide us our salvation.

Ever a loving God, Christ heals Malchius before admonishing the contingent, being abandoned by the disciples, and finally bound and dragged to Caiaphus.

I think most of us here in the US wish fervently for peace, but to attempt to disarm ourselves completely is folly. In Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein summed it up quite well when he wrote:

But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we had learned. One girl told him bluntly: “My mother says that violence never settles anything.”

“So?” Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. “I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn’t your mother tell them so? Or why don’t you?”

They had tangled before -- since you couldn’t flunk the course, it wasn’t necessary to keep Mr. Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, “You’re making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!”

“You seemed to be unaware of it,” he said grimly. “Since you do know it, wouldn’t you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea -- a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and thoroughly immoral— doctrine that ‘violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.”

I do not write these words to attempt to justify violence as a primary form of problem solving. I believe Christ teaches us that we should pursue peace as far as our enemies allow us to do so. I believe that Jesus knows that there are limits of endurance, and when those limits are reached, the sword must still be close at hand, honed and sharp.


  1. Well, I wasn't going to comment, since I have nothing to add, but: Well said! You're very good at this "reasoning" stuff.

  2. For those of you who don't geek out w/ Wikipedia, check out for some info about the Battle of Carthage; 2 years of siege warfare deserves remembrance. Talk about not going gently...