God and War: What the Bible Says About the Just War Principle
by Gerald Draayer


Most people would probably agree that war is evil. It's a destroyer of life, families, and in many cases the innocent. War does not just cause physical torment, but much emotional torment, as well.

Root cause of war

Before we go further into this I believe we need to understand the origin of war, the root of the problem. War, according to the Bible, is not caused by God but is rather the result of sin in the world (Genesis 4:5-8, Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21-23, Romans 3:10-18).

Even the book of James clearly reminds us that the ultimate cause of war is lust and desire or sin:

"From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not." (James 4:1-2)

So it seems that since sin is still in the world, open war is probably inevitable and is upon us whether we like it or not. Not all evil can be avoided. Yet the unbeliever probably won’t acknowledge this, (that being sin in the world).

Our attitude toward war

So what should be our attitude toward war? If war is the result of sin, then the obvious thing to do is stop sin (the root of the problem), which will stop war. But how is this possible in a fallen world? For the Christian, war is ultimately a spiritual battle and not carnal as reflected in 2 Corinthians:

 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In a similar vein is the description in Ephesians 6:11-17 of the spiritual armor to be put on by the Christian warrior in the service of God. Ultimately, the Christian is to try to be at peace with all other people (Romans 12:18).

God's view of war

Apparently, God is not too happy about war either. I have heard many people claim that God is simply a warmonger picking fights with those that oppose him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only under extreme conditions was a war ever sanctioned and not after many years of warnings (Jeremiah 26:4-6). In fact, even the mighty King David himself was not allowed to build a temple for God because he was a warrior and had shed blood in wars (1 Chronicles 28:3).

God it seems does not like the death of anyone.

Contrary to popular belief, carnal war it seems is frowned upon by the believer and by God. But this raises a question. We know that war is the result of sin and that it is essentially wrong or evil, but what should be our response when a nation like Germany (in WWII) rapes, pillages, and plunders another nation for profit or genocide? I think that Gleason L. Archer (in the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties) expresses the argument well:

"How could God be called 'good' if He forbade His people to protect their wives from ravishment and strangulation by drunken marauders, or to resist invaders who have come to pick up their children and dash out their brains against the wall? No policy would give freer rein to wickedness and crime than a complete surrender of the right of self-defense on the part of the law-abiding members of society. No more effective way of promoting the cause of Satan and the powers of hell could be devised than depriving law-abiding citizens of all right of self-defense. It is hard to imagine how any deity could be thought 'good' who would ordain such a policy of supine surrender to evil as that advocated by pacifism. All possibility of an ordered society would be removed on the abolition of any sort of police force. No nation could retain its liberty or preserve the lives of its citizens if it were prevented from maintaining any sort of army for its defense. It is therefore incumbent on a 'good God' to include the right of self-defense as the prerogative of His people. He would not be good at all if He were to turn the world over to the horrors of unbridled cruelty perpetrated by violent and bloody criminals or the unchecked aggression of invading armies.

Not only is a proper and responsible policy of self-defense taught by Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, but there were occasions when God even commissioned His people to carry out judgment on corrupt and degenerate heathen nations and the complete extermination of cities like Jericho (cf. the article on "Was Joshua justified in exterminating the population of Jericho?" in connection with Joshua 6:21). The rules of war laid down in Deuteronomy 20 represented a control of justice, fairness, and kindness in the use of the sword, and, as such, they truly did reflect the goodness of God.

Special hardship conditions were defined as a ground for excusing individual soldiers from military duty until those conditions were cleared up (Deuteronomy 20:5-7). Even those who had no such excuse but were simply afraid and reluctant to fight were likewise allowed to go home (Deuteronomy 20:8). Unlike the heathen armies, who might attack a city without giving it an opportunity to surrender on terms (cf. 1 Samuel 11:2-3, 30:1-2), the armies of Israel were required to grant a city an opportunity to surrender without bloodshed and enter into vassalage to the Hebrews before proceeding to a full-scale siege and destruction. Even then, the women and children were to be spared from death and were to be cared for by their captors (Deuteronomy 20:14). Only in the case of the degenerate and depraved inhabitants of the Promised Land of Canaan itself was there to be total destruction; a failure to carry this out would certainly result in the undermining of the moral and spiritual standards of Israelite society, according to Deuteronomy 20:16-18. (This corrupting influence was later apparent in the period of the judges (Judges 2:2-3, 11-15)"1

I think Archer makes some very good points. When we look at war in the Bible, such as the verses in Deuteronomy, they are actually defensive in nature and not offensive. These areas of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites were morally corrupt and would have destroyed the Israelis, if left alive. God did not set the Israelis to conquer other nations this way. If you will notice, He didn't say now after that go into Asia, Europe, and Africa and take those ones out too. There has always been a buffer zone around the country of Israel because this land was promised to them by God. In order to keep the borders clean from attack and moral corruption they had to defend themselves. Hence, the creation of a buffer zone. It should be noted that the Israelis were to make peace before they went into battle, as well (Deuteronomy 20:10).

Lord of war

I believe God is against war, even though he allows war under certain circumstances. We have police officers today who carry guns don't we? Should we say that anyone who wishes to protect the innocent by law shouldn't be allowed to carry weapons? Is it evil for them to use guns against lawbreakers? In some circumstances people get killed by these guns. From this reasoning, that is God's defensive nature, it does appear that God could also be considered a Lord of War:

The just war

The key thing to remember is that the just war theory does not try to justify war, rather it tries to bring war under the control of justice so that, when its consistently practiced by all parties in a dispute, it would eliminate war altogether. With that, I'd like to turn to the book, War: Four Christian Views.

"With these preliminaries completed, we can turn to a fuller statement of the just war view. This can best be given by means of the following rules which spell out the application of justice to war.

  1. Just cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
  2. Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.
  3. Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
  4. Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
  5. Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
  6. Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.
  7. Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POW's and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack."2

Conclusion Top of page

With all this, we also know some day in the future that God will not allow any more wars. Notice in Isaiah that God "will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths." The result of this is that people "shall not learn war any more" (in other words, war is learned by people, not that God wants it).

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:3-4)

Christians should not desire war, but neither are Christians to oppose the government God has placed in authority over them (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:17). The most important thing we can be doing in a time of war is to be praying for godly wisdom for our leaders, praying for the safety of our military, praying for quick resolution to conflicts, and praying for a minimum of casualties among civilians on both sides (Philippians 4:6-7).

This anti war example was fused into Jesus Christ who did not defend himself when questioned by his persecutors (in a court of law), instead he faced them head on, with no weapons, and was turned into a bloody mess.

Although Christians are not to oppose the government and its authority, it doesn't mean that we have to agree with them every time. For example, regarding the Iraq war, Christians ask, "Was this war justified?" In some ways yes, others no, but I'm not willing to say that God had a hand in this decision... We just don't know.

On a final note, it’s interesting to find that unlike other nations and their codes, you won’t find how to make weapons of war in the Bible, you might find a recipe on how to make bread, but not a weapon.

References Top of page

  1. Encyclopedia of Bible DifficultiesGleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 219-220.
  2. War: Four Christian Views - The Just War, pgs. 120-121.

Last Modified October 21, 2009


Rich's Blog