- Blessed if persecuted for my name: Mt. 5:11
- Do not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek: Matthew 5:38-40
- Love enemies: Mt. 5:43-48
The verses seem fairly straightforward, but non-pacifists argue the level of metaphor intended here. Perhaps being persecuted for Christ is different than just being persecuted or attacked. Maybe we are to relent and comply if our persecution is religious, but not if someone is trying to do us harm during a robbery. Perhaps Christ specifying that we are to turn our other cheek if slapped on the right cheek has some cultural significance we should know about. And maybe when Christ says we are to love our enemies, he means people who call us bad names and not people who seek to do us or others physical harm. Maybe "enemies" really just means "adversaries" or "jerks."
- Don't be overcome by evil, do not repay evil with evil: Romans 12:17-21
- Don't repay evil with evil: I Peter 3:9
Beyond the basic commands to avoid violence and love enemies, we also have Paul and Peter provide us with the idea that we are not to repay evil with evil. Many pacifists take this to mean that even if someone seeks to do harm to you, it does not mean you then have the right, as a Christian, to take on the same evil in response.
- Romans 13 and government submit and let them bear the sword
- I Peter 2 submit in your role and trust God's judgment (vs. 21)
Romans and I Peter give us wonderful insights into God's expectations for us to submit to authorities. What is particularly interesting is that the expectation is not tied at all to moral legitimacy. If a government persecutes you, if your husband isn't a Christian, or if you are human property, you are to submit (more on how that submission to unjust authorities applies here). Paul is not at all propping up evil and saying that slavery or persecuting governments are good. Rather, he's saying that we as Christians have a different means of subverting evil, which is sacrificial love. We can afford to lay down our lives - in fact we are called to lay down our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us, even while we were enemies (or "adversaries" or "jerks" if that's how you define "enemy"). The notion of government in the Bible is probably one of the most controversial when discussing the topic of pacifism, as Romans 13 is often used as a proof text against pacifism. I highly recommend taking a deeper look at these scriptures on government in my counterrebuttal section on the issue here.
Beyond our role of submission from authorities in injustice, the Romans passage here tells us God's expectations for us as citizens, which is to allow the government to bear the sword against evil. This is extremely profound on several levels. First, the Roman government around this time wasn't very favorable to Christians. So God is telling Christians to submit even to an evil government who is killing them. Second, the evil of this government grows when you consider that their rule over Israel came as a result of murderous and warmongering conquest not all that long ago (about 100 years prior to the writing of the New Testament). It would be easy for a Christian living in this region to excuse disobedience to the Roman government because the Roman government was not only evil, but was viewed as illegitimate. Yet God tells the Christian to submit even to this government that was in place. A Christian bearing a sword in Christ's Kingdom, after being explicitly told to allow the government to bear the sword against evil, and after being told to lay down his or her life and show enemy love - seems hard to intellectually accept.
- John 18:36 My Kingdom is not of this world
While all the gospels are fantastic, I love the major theme of Mark in particular, which is Christ's bringing of his Kingdom. John picks up the "Kingdom" language here in chapter 18 when he records Christ as saying that his servants don't fight with swords because his kingdom is not of this world. Christ is certainly speaking about his specific situation and the fact that his servants shouldn't use violence to protect him now. But I think we also have to ask whether 1) Christ's Kingdom has ended, and 2) whether Christ's means of exerting power in his Kingdom have changed for Christians prior to his return for judgment. If Christ is seated at the right hand of God in power now (Ephesians 1), and if he is making his enemies his footstool in his Kingdom through the Spirit, the Word, and the Church, then it seems we do indeed live in the Kingdom Christ established and is now expanding through his church. If we are servants of that Kingdom, it seems his expectations for us to live as such stand.
- Luke 22:49-51 Jesus won't let disciples use swords
I have saved one of the most contentious passages for last. While Jesus did indeed tell his disciples to buy swords before his arrest, he then forbade them from using those swords when the time came for his arrest. There are all sorts of conclusions we could draw. Maybe Christ, in his humanity, wanted to leave the door open for his defense when he told the disciples to buy swords. We know he prayed to the Father to take the cup from him right before his arrest. Perhaps he wanted the disciples to have swords just in case God decided to take the cup from him. We could go down all sorts of rabbit trails of possibilities.
What you need to know here, for the positive case of pacifism, is that Jesus has his disciples put their swords away and makes the familiar quote that "all who live by the sword will die by the sword." Pacifists will argue that it seems Christ is making a sweeping statement here that violence is not a solution. In the context of his "Kingdom" statement in John, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would expect his servants to avoid using a physical means of evil to prop up his Kingdom. This isn't a late interpretation of Christ's words either. In fact, Tertullian, a very famous Ante-Nicene Father, says, "Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." The interpretation is at least not unusual, and in my opinion, was likely the common teaching for the first several hundred years of the church as I explore in section four.
As you can see, there aren't any specific passages that declare pacifism to be true outright. But collectively, there are quite a number of passages and concepts that make violence - even against enemies - difficult to justify. As far as biblical passages used to disprove pacifism, to my knowledge there are only four major New Testament passages that are used - all of which I find extremely weak. Two of the four are so weak that when read in context, they could actually make good arguments for pacifism instead of being used against it. The passages used against pacifism are, ordered in what I believe to be the strongest to weakest are as follows: the first is when Christ overturns the money changers' tables in the temple, the second is when Christ tells the disciples to buy swords, the third is when John the Baptist seems to fail in telling repentant soldiers to leave their occupation, and the final one is where Jesus says that he came to bring a sword and not peace. I will deal with each of these in the "Counterrebuttals" section if you are interested.
2. Biblical Teaching
3. Biblical Examples
4. Early Church Teaching
5. Real Life Examples
6. Pacifism Applied
7. Evaluating the Christian Alternative to Pacifism
8. Pacifism Quotes to Ponder
10. Questions for Just-War Adherents