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What Does the Bible Say about Violence?

The words of Jesus went directly to the attitude of our hearts, teaching that murderous anger is equally sinful as the actual physical blow. Such anger can, and will, lead a man to judgment just as quickly as the act itself.

Sep 27, 2022
What Does the Bible Say about Violence?

Violence, it seems, has become a part of everyday life.

In years past, violence dominated our news cycle, even opening our evening news. The justification? Dog bites man means nothing, but man bites dog, now that’s a story! Violence attracts our attention like a train wreck.

It seems nothing has changed and, perhaps, only gotten worse. Violence is in our movies and television shows. We see violence in public protests. Violence in our cities is growing every year — greatly magnified in only the last couple of years.

We see attacks on stores, churches, on pro-life pregnancy centers. We see it in the video games our kids play, perhaps even bringing an amount of callousness and acceptance to our youth.

We live in a world where violence, or the threat of violence, often determines where power is established. We need simply look at the current events in Ukraine.

Violence now has a significant influence on how and where we live our lives.

But for Christians, we are taught to live by the way of the Word, not the way of the world. We are taught to follow the teachings of Jesus.

So, what does the Bible say about violence? What did our Savior teach about violence?

What Is Violence?

Perhaps first, we ought to establish what is meant by the term violence. The Google definition is: “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” In law, that goes to “the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.”

Legally, violence would be using a gun to intimidate, for example. But is all violence evil in the eyes of Scripture?

Exodus 20:13 tells us, “You shall not murder.” The KJV, as well as a few others, uses the word “kill” rather than murder. Are they indeed the same thing? Clearly, murder is killing, but is all killing murder? Both Hebrew and Greek use different words for “murder” and for “killing.”

From a strictly human perspective, murder is the unjustified killing of another human being. Our courts even have different levels of murder to differentiate between killing, which is premeditated, or that which was unplanned or in the heat of a moment.

But from a biblical perspective, murder goes far beyond the actual physical act of killing another. Murder can take place in our hearts and is considered just as evil as the actual deed — taught in both the Old and New Testaments.

The Book of Leviticus teaches us to speak up and rebuke our brothers or sisters so that we do not build up hate and resentment or build up evil in our hearts against them. Such resentment would be equally sinful (Leviticus 19:17-18, ESV).

It should come as no surprise that the words of Jesus went directly to the attitude of our hearts, teaching that murderous anger is equally sinful as the actual physical blow. Such anger can, and will, lead a man to judgment just as quickly as the act itself.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).

Thus, we are taught that violence, murder, is not just physical but stems from our hearts. The violence we exhibit towards others in our hearts will be judged by the Lord.

The question then must be, what is murder in God’s eyes? God’s definition of murder clearly points to any feelings or thoughts of hatred or malice against a brother or sister.

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him (1 John 3:15).

Simply because we have not acted upon our hatred does not make us innocent in God’s eyes. As in so many things, God looks to the condition of our hearts for truth. Simply harboring hatred in our hearts for others, in the judgment of our Father, we have committed the sin of murder (Matthew 15:19).

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

But…does that make all killing wrong? Does the Bible identify all killing as murder?

Is All Killing Murder?

Exodus 20:13 has often been misinterpreted to condemn all killing. And yet, all through the Old Testament, God has allowed for just or “righteous” wars throughout its pages, and often, at God’s direction.

Throughout the history of Israel — from Abraham to Moses, to Joshua to the Judges, on through to David and Solomon and the Kings — the people of God fought as instruments of justice from a righteous and holy God.

Even as we move into what many consider the new teaching, the era of the New Testament, Paul taught that we are to submit to government authorities and that sovereign nations do have a right to defend themselves against enemies, using justified violence as their defense (Romans 13:1-4).

Many interpret this to relate to how a government deals with punishment for murder, meaning capital punishment. Others often use these verses as justification for war against evil from other countries — Hitler and the Nazi genocide of the Jews, as one obvious example.

Hence, perhaps justifying another acceptable form of “killing” is that which is done during times of war, at the commands of one’s government.

The Old Testament, too, clearly identified differences between intentional, premeditated murder and the unintentional, accidental taking of the life of another, creating cities of refuge (Exodus 21:13; Joshua 20.)

Indeed, God does not impose “an eye for an eye” on the taking of every life. It seems it was not his intent to impose a life for a life payment in every instance.

Then again, did Jesus teach differently about violence against others?

Was Jesus a Pacifist?

In general, a pacifist is opposed to all violence for any purpose, but especially war. There are a great many Christian believers who now consider pacifism as the way of Christ.

Thus, they consider themselves pacifists. But is it true that Jesus was a pacifist? There is no doubt that many of the teachings of Christ could certainly lead us toward such a conclusion.

In the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, Jesus quite directly taught against unnecessary violence.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:38-42).

His message to all was clearly and remarkably non-violent.

However, Jesus was far from a pacifist. Jesus quite violently cleared the temple courts, making a whip out of cords and overturning the tables of the money changers (John 2:13-22).

And the Book of Revelation tells us that Jesus will come against the Antichrist in a robe “dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:13).

In Gethsemane, when Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus condemned living by the sword — violence.

Indeed, we are not commanded to be pacifists, as we understand pacifism today. We are commanded to hate what is evil, clinging to what is good (Romans 12:19). We are called to take a stand for good in an evil world.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon taught, “There is a time for everything…a time to kill and a time to heal. …A time to love and a time to hate…A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

As disciples of Christ, we must indeed guard against our own personal wrath and vengeance. We must recognize when our anger is a result of our pride and the result of our own vendetta or retaliation for an insult.

Yet, in this world, we cannot live without conflict and must always be willing and prepared to take a stand against evil, to defend the innocent from evil, even when such a stand requires a violent response.

For further reading:

Did God Condone Violence Found in the Old Testament?

What Does the Bible Say about Killing?

Is God Good All the Time?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kevron2001

SWN authorGreg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected]  and on Facebook

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