Question: I recently received a card from a stranger stating that “war is not good for our country; therefore joining the military is unpatriotic.” Several Scripture references were given in support of this claim. Does the Bible teach that Christians should not join the military because, according to the Bible, all war is wrong?
The unasked for advice this young man got in the mail represents the kind of poor biblical interpretation practices that so often give Christianity a bad name.
The card this young man received contained the following statements which were claimed to be the “Word of God.” However, not one Bible reference is given to show where in Scripture the passage is found. The reader is left to assume the author of the card is accurately representing Scripture—which he is not. Below are the verses, plus my comments:
“Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments, and is found in Exodus 20:13 (cf. Dt. 5:17; Matt. 5:21; Rom. 13:9). It means “Do not murder,” and has nothing to do with war, self-defense or capital punishment.
“Renounce war, proclaim peace” is not found anywhere in Scripture. The phrase “proclaim peace” shows up only once (Dt. 20:10), and even there the reference actually means, “to make an offer of peace” before an attack is begun. It has nothing to do with renouncing war.
“Do not go out to battle save I the Lord command” is not found in Scripture.
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” comes from Romans 12:19, but is also misquoted. The passage itself has nothing whatsoever to do with waging war. And even if it did refer to war, it would only apply if seeking vengeance were the motive for waging war, which is seldom the case.
“Keep my commandments and I the Lord will defend you” is also not found in Scripture.
The Bible and War
War is a reality of the sin-broken world in which we live. It is an unavoidable reality because nations rule by force in the absence of submission to God’s sovereignty over the earth. What is true of individuals is often true of nations—they take by force what they want, forcing those they take from to defend themselves:
James 4:1-2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
The day will come when Jesus Christ returns to earth and establishes His Kingdom and war will cease:
Is. 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Until that day, Christians serving in the military are serving governmental authorities instituted by God Himself to use worldly means for exercising justice and righteousness:
Rom. 13:4 For he [Governing Ruler] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
I would encourage readers of this Biblegems to check out Biblegems #81, “Murder And Self Defense,” for further development of this topic.