Can a Christian support war?

I am a Christian and this is an issue I am trying to think through. As a Christian, is it OK for me to support war (in specific the war on terror)? Part of me says yes, because the God of today is the same as the God of the old testament. God was with Israel in numerous battles and even instructed them to wipe out a civilization here or there. So part of me (Ok, most of me) says that terror needs to be erradicated at all costs.

Then I flip over to the New Testament and I see the life of Jesus, who’s whole life was about peace and love. Doesn’t war just breed more war? If the message of Jesus is true (Love others as you love yourself), then won’t good win just by virtue of God’s justice? By this I mean, let God deal with the evil-doers. Or are we to be His instrument of justice? I am not sold either way so opinions from all sides would be welcome. Thanks y’all.

Christianity tried to resolve this problem a long time ago by propounding the “just war” doctrine. I was taught the necessary pre-conditions before a war could be deemed just a long time ago, but they have entirely slipped my mind. I’m sure someone will be along to spell them out.

So, the brief answer to your question is: if you accept the just war doctrine, then yes, a Christian can support war, if it is just. The beauty of Christianity, of course, is that you can accept or reject particular doctrines, depending on your sect.


I am not so much interested in what the “church” has to say. I have not agreed with much of anything they have put out. I am inquiring about people’s views of what the bible says. I personally see the bible as the final authority and I don’t care what the Catholic or Protestant church has to say.

Not to turn this onto a sola scriptura debate, but aren’t you foreclosing yourself to some potentially valid perspectives? Speaking for the Catholics, there’s a standing rule that the Church can’t make any proclamations that contradict scripture. Hence, if you flip through, say, The Catechism, you’ll find that everything is either footnoted with supporting scripture, or is supported by something that’s supported itself by scripture.

Or, put it another way: you want to know what people have to say, then consider that churches are made of people. Even if the Bible is the “final authority,” people are going to have to come to a conclusion about what a Biblical passage MEANS.

…I’ll try to track down my notes on Just War Theory later…

I don’t know. This claim is often made, but I’ve never seen it proved.

In some cases, it seems to me that failing to respond to aggression may encourage more aggression.

** ResIpsaLoquitor **

You are right in the fact that I need to be careful not to exclude myself from valid opinons. I will try to be aware of that. My point is that I want to get is an individual’s opinion, not the opinion of the church. Get what I mean?

Well, the fact that the Just War Theory has been adopted by one or more sects of Christianity doesn’t mean that (a) it wasn’t developed by one person, which it was (I really want to say Thomas Aquinas, but I think I’m probably wrong), and (b) it’s not wholly supported by scripture (at least according to its author and its adherents).

And, in point of fact, the lack of discussion of war in the NT is not dispositive. Sure, J.C. didn’t discuss war, but that fact can equally be used to justify as denounce war. It’s an obvious issue to address, and J.C.'s silence can legitimately be taken as a refusal to condemn it in all cases.

More likely, J.C. didn’t discuss it because it wasn’t relevant to his ministry. He focused on the poor and outcast - people who aren’t going to be starting up an army.


Just War Theory. It seems to me there’s just looking for excuses to fight political wars. Jesus doesn’t seem like a warmonger to me, but I don’t consider myself a Christian.

I’d disagree. Simply from what I’ve read in the bible, it seems that Jesus was definitely a peacenik. And don’t forget that the Roman Empire occupied Israel at that time, no doubt a huge issue to everyone, rich and (especially) poor. “Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, render onto God’s what is God’s.” Although he is talking about taxes, I see him as saying 'don’t do anything to incite violence/retribution.

Also, ‘turn the other cheek.’ Taking it to a larger scale, if one is bombed, do not bomb back.
‘Peter, put down your sword.’


sure, he didn’t discuss war, but he often time discussed violence, which he seems to be completely against.

And, to answer the original poster about the Old Testament vs. New Testament: don’t forget that with the coming of Jesus there was a new covenant with God. The Old Testament God’s commandments like putting sheep blood on your doorstep became obsolete with the Messiah. In other words, the vengeful god died, and a new god was born.

I’m not Christian, so I could care less about this question. I have studied religion pretty extensively (was a Theology/Pre-Sem major at one point) however, and do think it is somewhat hypocritical to be in favor of war/violence as a Christian.


OK…once and for all, the Just War Theory. My source is Charles Rice’s “The Winning Side.” (Rice is a jurisprudence professor at Notre Dame law school and relies heavily on Thomistic thought.) Here we go:

The theory of just war, formulated by St. Augustine and developed by St. Thomas Aquinas and others, involves two concepts. First is Just ad Bellum, determining when recourse to war is permissible. Second is Just in Bello, determining the principles governing the conduct of the just war once it has begun.

Jus ad Bellum

“In order for a war to be just,” wrote Aquinas, “three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover, it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime…Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault…Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.” The Catholic bishops of the United States have specified the requirements for going to war:

  1. Just cause
  2. Competent authority
  3. Comparative justice, i.e., “Which side is sufficiently ‘right’ in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war?”
  4. Right intention. War must be intended only for reasons which constitute just cause and it must be waged with the goal of peace and reconciliation, 'including avoiding unnecessarily destructive acts or imposing unreasonable conditions (e.g., unconditional surrender).
  5. War must be the last resort.
  6. There must be a reasonable “probability of success.” The Bishops note that this criterion prevents “irrational resort of force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile. The determination includes a recognition that at times defense of key values, even against great odds, may be a ‘proportionate’ witness.”
  7. Proportionality, i.e., “the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms.”
    These concepts were incorporated into the Catechsim which insists that “legitimate defense by military force” must be in response to grave and lasting damage inflicted by an aggressor, it must be the last resort, with reasonable prospects of success, and it must not cause greater evils than the evil to be eliminated.

Jus in Bello

 The two criteria that govern Jus in Bello, the manner of conducting a war, are "proportionality and discrimination."  Proportionality requires that the war itself must be for a proportionate good, and also that tactics and weapons used in that war must be proportionate to the situation.  Discrimination "prohibits directly intended attacks on noncombatants and nonmilitary targets."  "Every act of war" said the Second Vatican Council, "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."
 Note that the Second Vatican Council condemned acts of war "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants."  Under the principle of double effect, it could be morally justified to attack a military target of sufficient importance even though the attacker knows, but does not intend, that innocent civilians in the vicinity will be killed.  However, at some point one would have to conclude that the unintended loss of civilian lives is so disproportionate that the attack could not be rightly made.  A further consideration is whether the risk of escalation to a nuclear war of total destruction is so great as to preclude any use of nuclear weapons.  The risk of escalation is present in any conflict but would be especially acute if nuclear weapons were used.

As far as turning the other cheek, one should understand that a slap on the cheek is an insult, not an injury. I think Jesus was drawing a distinction between true injury, which the Law has penalties for, & the less than important. If there is serious injury (the condition called for in Exodus) then take eye for eye & tooth for tooth. A slap need not be repaid. The idea that Jesus was contradicting the Law here is, in my opinion, a misinterpretation (though admittedly a very common one).

That’s a pretty daring statement. Not exactly dispensationalist, not quite Marcion, either. And while I see where you’re coming from, the Christian scriptures don’t seem to take that exact tack. If Jesus contradicts the OT, it’s because that part of the OT was false all along.
I don’t have a good answer as to what the true Christianity would be, having given up on the Xtian faith myself, but I Jesus doesn’t seem to have portrayed himself as a killing & replacing the “OT” God. Replacing the corrupt Jewish religion, sure.

OK, enough hijack. Can a Christian engage in violence? Sure, if the alternative is worse for the community. It’s all well & good to be a martyr oneself, but to sacrifice your neighbors or children is another matter. So there are probably acceptable instances of “war” that fall under this category—and then there are acceptable kinds of warfare.
Is it Christian to engage in the sort of worldwide wars, with massive amounts of manpower and machinery, that mark the last century? Many would say that it’s not unChristian, but I think most would agree that it’s more Christian to be something else: Christlike, not hostile to your “enemies,” but unaligned in the wars of Earthly powers. But if it’s a choice of using violence to protect something worth protecting, or doing nothing—well, you figure it out.

Justifications for waging war can be easily found in the Old Testament. Christians who believe that warfare is justifiable under at least some circumstances have historically looked to several passages in the New Testament*:

Matthew 8:5-13 tells of a Roman centurion coming to Jesus asking for his servant to be healed. Jesus praises the soldier’s faith; he does not seem to express any condemnation of the soldier’s profession. There is no “go, and sin [by being a member of the army] no more”. Luke 3:12-14 says that John the Baptist baptized tax collectors and soldiers; when they asked John “Teacher, what should we do?” upon being baptized, he replied only “Don’t collect any more than you are required to” and “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay”, respectively. Acts 10:1-7 also speaks of a Roman soldier who is described as “devout and God-fearing” and generous to the poor; there seems to be no condemnation of his service in the armies of the Roman Empire. Romans 13:1-7, in a discussion of the authority of civil magistrates, speaks of them “bearing the sword” and acting as an instrument of God’s wrath against evildoers. This may be more a reference to law enforcement than to war, but could also be construed as including a proper authority to wage war against external enemies as well.

There is also a somewhat enigmatic passage in Luke 22:36 in which Jesus instructs the disciples to “sell their cloaks” and buy swords if they have none prior to going out to preach the gospel to the world.

*The first four passages cited are the proof texts for the Presbyterian 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith’s assertion that Christian civil magistrates “may lawfully now, under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.” (Chapter XXIII: Of the Civil Magistrate). The 1646 WCF also cites Revelation 17:14-16, which frankly doesn’t strike me as being that convincing as applied to human authorities–it seems more an apocalyptic passage about the end of the world than a description of normal political relations–and doesn’t mention Luke 22:36, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Luke 22:36 cited by conservative Christian gun-ownership advocates.

Are there times, though, when not supporting war would be immoral? For example ( to use a much-overused but very useful example) fighting the fascists in WW2. Could we in good ethics and conscience allow the Japanese and Nazis to continue their horrible conquests and brutal rape of their neighbors? I could not. If it came down to it, I would have flown the planes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki myself.

No, I disagree with that. Here’s what Jesus says:

38 "You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ [7]
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
He was clearly saying that the ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ rules should be abandoned.

I at one time tried to join the military (failed physical 2x), then became a pacifist, (during the Gulf War, I said I would go to jail if drafted), then reverted.

C.S. Lewis pointed out (in “Why I am not a Pacifist”) that virtually
all Xian theologians have agreed that at least some wars can be morally justified.

As far as “turn the other cheek,” it is unlikely that he was proposing this as a universal strategy. I don’t think Jesus would say “if someone is raping your wife, let him rape your daughter, too.” The principle is that insofar as the injury is to you, and you alone, forgive. Do not be quick to claim your “rights.” But that doesn’t mean that if X is injuring Y, you must not try to hinder X; refer to #3 and 4 on Loquitor’s list.

It is important to note that the “Eye for an eye” regulations were intended to set maximum limits for the seeking of reparations or restitution, not as an entitlement or a command.

I have also heard it said that the “Turn the other cheek” command is a way of “fighting back” without violence - a strike on the cheek with an open hand was a small matter (in the courts that is, carrying a small fine), but turning the other cheek would force the striker (if he wanted to carry on hitting) to use the back of his hand, which was another matter entirly and carried heavy connotations of contempt. In the courts this strike would viewed much more seriously, and carry a heavy fine - therefore, turning the other cheek would cause the striker to think more seriously about his/her actions, and perhaps desist.

In the same way, I have heard this interpretation applied to the adjacent “If a man takes your cloak, give him your tunic also” passage. If the tunic were handed over, the giver would be left naked. To be seen naked was of no shame to the naked one, but the shame belonged to the viewer. Again this method of “fighting back” causes the one in the wrong (the cloak taker) to pause and consider what it is that they are doing…

As IANABiblicalScholar I cannot vouch for the truth of these statements, they were presented in a talk that I once heard and have stuck with me…


Just to address the OP, I believe that a Christian can support a war. My only problem is what I see as a twisting of Jesus’ words and intent to fit the worldview that people already have.

Why would it be unlikely that he was proposing this as a universal strategy? He used it himself. He never resisted his crucifixtion. When one of his disciples tried to resist (or X was trying to injure Y (Jesus), and Z (his disciple) pulled a sword and resisted), Jesus reprimanded him for doing so.

Another informative Gospel passage is the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the Temple. This story is included in Matthew, Mark, and John.

Jesus used (in the account from John) a whip He made to drive the animals and humans out of the Temple. Certainly a act of violence, and done because of Jesus’ anger at the misuse to which the Temple had been put (what should have been “a house of prayer” had become “a den of thieves” - money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice traditionally over-charged the religious tourists visiting the Temple who wanted to make a donation for the upkeep of the Temple or sacrifice an animal). So apparently it is justifiable to employ violence in some good cause.

Jesus’ main command was love. So the loving thing to do is the right thing. The loving thing, I would say, for the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. Not always the easiest thing to discover, certainly, and the principle of the just war has been misapplied in the past, but I would say that engaging in a war to defend the innocent or to bring about justice is not simply justifiable but praiseworthy.


look at european history. when did wars ever stop?

onward christian soldiers…

praise the lord and pass the ammunition.

Dal Timgar

Don’t limit yourself so - look at all history.

Onward Christian soldiers - and Buddhist and atheist and Muslim and animist and Confucian and …