Just War Theory and Scripture (Part 1)

PMT 2013-005b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Below is a brief study of war and the Bible.

War is necessarily on the minds of all Americans today. Like it or not, we are at war with Islamist terrorists in the Middle East. Questions regarding these particular conflicts in our day encourage us to look deeper into the foundational questions regarding the legitimacy of war.

War and the Prince of Peace

Christians serve the One prophesied to come as the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) who was to effect peace (Isa. 2:4). His birth was announced by the angels of God as seeking to establish peace: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

In keeping with prophetic pronouncement and angelic declaration, His teaching ministry confirms His peaceable intent. We serve a Savior who teaches us that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12).1 He commands in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” He was so insistent upon this that He taught us: “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to Him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).

Some Christians take the Lord’s peaceable teachings to entail pacifist obligations. They believe that faithful Christians could never support war in any context. They often cite Christ’s “turn the other cheek” as “obvious” evidence in this direction. They do not realize that He actually said: “whoever slaps you on your right check, turn to Him the other also.” For someone to “slap” you on the right check would mean that he was giving you a backhanded slap (in that most people are right handed and would slap with their right hand). Christ is speaking of personal confrontations seeking to settle differences with a fight. This personal directive does not speak to conflicts on national level involving security concerns.

Despite widespread and simplistic opinion, Christ’s teaching is much broader than “turn the other cheek.” Indeed, it is all-encompassing, framing in a holistic worldview that provides direction for all areas of life: spiritual and physical, personal and social, economic and educational — and yes, even political and judicial.

Jesus’ his first recorded public discourse opened with a confirmation of the entire Old Testament revelation, including the Mosaic Law (His primary focus): “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-19). Elsewhere He rebukes those who do “not know the Scriptures” and He affirms the Old Testament by other means (Matt. 22:29; cp. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; John 3:10; 10:35). But now then, what does the Old Testament teach us about war?

War and the Old Testament

We know that the Old Testament revelation endorsed at least certain forms of war. In Abram is commended for his war against the evil kings: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (Gen. 14:20). Of Moses we read: “Moses built an altar, and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, ‘The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation’” (Exo. 17:15-16). Even the Psalmist David writes in worship song: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psa. 144:1; cp. 2 Sam. 22:35; Psa. 18:34).2

But God’s Law does not endorse all war. The Scriptures teach principled war, laying down rules for establishing a just war (jus ad bellum). Ironic as it may seem, the Christian view was well stated by the great Christian scholar Augustine in keeping with the overarching peaceable intentions of Christ: “War is waged in order to attain peace.” Because of the sinfulness of man sometimes war is the way to peace.

In a time when our country is at war, we need to reflect upon the principles of just war that have long been a part of the Christian worldview. The average Christian has only a general, foggy notion of the principles of Just War Theory — if any notion at all. In my next email I will summarize the principles of Just War Theory.


  1. We must be careful to interpret Jesus’ teaching from within his God-based worldview. For instance, this directive is not to be used with rapists, sodomites, and sado-masochists.
  2. This psalm was left out of Roman Catholic peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan’s commentary on the Psalms.

Helpful studies

The Civil Magistrate in the Westminster Confession” (4 CDs)
by Kenneth Gentry
For more information or to order: click here

Four sermons on the theonomic understanding of civil government (4 CDs).

1. Godly Pattern for Civil Authority (Deut. 1).
2. Law & Government (Deut. 4).
3. Our Magisterial Paradigm (Deut. 17).
4. Principles of Justice (Deut. 17).

Kids Who Kill: Confronting our Culture of Violence
by Gov. Mike Huckabee
For more information or to order: click here

As parents, we used to feel secure in our children being safely watched over in our nation’s schools. We drop them off in the morning, make sure they have their lunches and homework, kiss them good-bye, and happily go about our day- never even fathoming that we may never again see their smile, hear their giggle, feel their touch, tuck them in at night… But, tragically, the families of the five victims of the Jonesboro shooting now know that pain.

Governor Huckabee uses the pages of this book to explore this crisis looming over our country. As a former pastor and state official, Huckabee has first-hand experience with the demise of our nation. This experience qualifies him to examine the cultural demoralization and the current fascination with anti-heroes. Huckabee pulls everything together and proposes a key to recovery- the return to basic values: faith, family, work, and community.

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