Is religion the cause of most wars in the world?

Part 3: The Bible says be nice to each other.

By Maggie Peil

Let's explore (at least in part) what the Bible has to say about war and how we are supposed to treat each other.

OLD TESTAMENT. The Old Testament has a lot of blood and gore in it. God initiates wars, and then takes various sides, sometimes causing victory for the Hebrews and sometimes causing their defeat. The victories occurred when the Hebrews followed God's direction, fighting when and how God told them to. The defeats were caused by the failure of Hebrews to recognize and obey God. Moses and his crew definitely killed a lot of people, including women and children (and even livestock), as they crossed into "The Promised Land". But God also caused the death of a number of Hebrews following Moses through the desert, because they weren't doing what God told them to do. These killings are not in conflict with the commandment prohibiting murder (sometimes translated as "thou shalt not kill"). The Old Testament contains lots of prohibitions against unlawful killing (murder), but it also allows for killing in the context of warfare, capital punishment, and self-defense. The laws in the USA still allow violence in the same three general contexts.

Regarding capital punishment: One theological viewpoint suggests that the extreme punishments and kill-the-whole-village mentality were required as part of God's plan. This was to show that even when Israel eradicated idolatry and those who practiced it, they could never fully 'master' the Law. It wasn't (and still isn't) possible to be perfect. This is why Jesus has to be part of the plan. Some also suggest that things changed once Jesus was resurrected. The harsh sentences within the nation of Israel no longer applied, and though the requirements of law had not changed "one jot or tittle", Christians were saved by grace and no longer subject to the punishments of the Law.

NEW TESTAMENT. The New Testament is comparatively mild (until you get to Revelation…but at that point God appears to be in charge of the smiting directly without involving humans in His army). There are a couple verses in the gospels which, if taken out of context, seem to suggest that Christians are out for blood. Let's look at one of them:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. - Matthew 10:34 (see also vss. 35-36)
This verse occurs in the midst of a list of things Christians should expect as they go "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (starting in Matthew 10:5). The sword of verse 34 was meant metaphorically, not literally. Jesus was describing how differing beliefs will bring division among communities. He was not encouraging Christians to kill their family members. This is consistent with other parts of the Bible calling on Christians to behave peaceably. Romans 12:18 says "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." John 18:10-11 says that when Peter used a sword in the garden, Jesus protested the use of force and then healed the wound Peter had caused. Jesus brought the opportunity for each of us to experience peace. But He knew not everyone would believe in Him or his gift of grace, so the disciples should expect divisions among people. Luke 12:49-53 references this same kind of divisions among families. The possibility of peace brings division among those who disagree about it.

[Note: Luke 22:35-38 references literal swords, but the context is that the apostles will need them in self-defense because the world has convicted Jesus and will convict his followers also.]

I don't expect non-Christians to really care why bloodshed happened in the Bible. It is scary enough for them that Christians believe in a God who sanctions killing in certain contexts. To be fair, I don't want anyone of any religion pointing to their holy books and using them as an excuse for violence. While it's true that the Old Testament does have a lot of God-sanctioned destruction in it, it also includes a lot 'be nice to people' theology. The gospels and letters of the New Testament build on that and strengthen the position of Christians as lovers of God and people. I could not find one New Testament instruction for Christians to be violent. All the God-sanctioned violence in the NT was (or is promised to be) carried out directly by God. Christians were called to be loving and peaceful. Some Christians interpret this to mean complete pacifism.

THE BOTTOM LINE. The Bible has lots and lots of examples of how people are supposed to treat each other. God tells people to:
1. Trust Him, (1)
2. Follow Him and His example, (2)
3. Love Him with our entire being, (3)
4. Love others as much as we love ourselves, (4)
5. Leave revenge to Him, (5)
6. Don't envy or covet, (6)
7. Be content with what we have, (7)
8. Seek justice, help the oppressed, (8)
9. Love mercy, (9)
10. Be humble, patient, kind, caring for others, etc. (10)

These guidelines from the "God of Love" are not the triggers that cause conflict, wars, and controversy. It is when one or more of us fail to follow these guidelines that the problems begin. Even the violence of the Old Testament can be linked to a lack of following these guidelines. Whether we believe in a god or not, we cannot uphold the opinion that religion is the cause of most wars and conflict. In truth, human beings don't need any help from religion to behave badly. The critics have it backwards. Religion doesn't cause violence; human beings impart violence and destruction to religion and every other arena they visit. People are the problem.

Endnotes: (1) 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Psalms 9,18,20,22,37,56, 91 & 118 to name a few, Nahum 1:7, Proverbs 30:5, 2 Samuel 22:31, Isaiah 26:3, 1 Timothy 4:10, etc.
(2) Matthew 16:24, John 8:12, 1 Corinthians 11; 1 John 8:32-32, Ephesians 5;1-2, Luke 6;40, 1 Peter 2:21-22, 1 John 2:4-6, etc.
(3) Proverbs 8:17, John 13:34-35, Mark 12:30, etc.
(4) 1 John 4:7-8, John 13:32-35, 1 Peter 4:8, etc.
(5) Romans 12:19, Matthew 5:38-39, Hebrews 10:30, Ezekiel 25:17, Leviticus 19:18, Revelation 21:8, etc.
(6) Exodus 20:17, 1 Timothy 6:10, Luke 12:15, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 6:19, etc.
(7) Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:6-11, Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:15, 1 Corinthians 7:17, etc.
(8) Amos 5:24, Isaiah 30:18, Isaiah 1, 57, 58 and 61 among others, Micah 6:8, Romans 13:4, Proverbs 24:24-25, etc.
(9) Luke 6:36, James 2:13, Luke 6:37, Zechariah 7:9, Matthew 5:7, 1 John 1:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Matthew 9:13, etc.
(10) 2Chronicles 7:14, Psalms 25:9, Psalms 55:19, 1 Peter 5:5, Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:5-8, Galatians 5:22-23, etc.

Is religion the cause of most wars in the world? The series:
Part 1: Religion isn't the problem
Part 2: People are the problem
Part 3: The Bible says be nice to each other

Image credit: Luv2croon; Some rights reserved

TagsControversial-Issues  |  History-Apologetics  |  Political-Issues  |  Theological-Beliefs

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Published 2-3-14