Christian justification for war – and arguments for peace

Question 142, from Paul, United Kingdom

How can we tie together the Old Testament God who uses Israel to wipe out other tribes, with the New Testament teachings that seem to suggest Christians should be pacifists? Is it ever okay to use violence?

[Jon’s note: this is a long answer, so be prepared for lots of reading!]

While mainstream Christianity has always claimed that the God ‘revealed’ in the Old Testament is the same God who is incarnate in Christ, there have always been some people who have found the difference too great to reconcile. An example would be Marcion (died c.160AD), who distinguished between Yahweh as a ‘cruel, despotic god’, and Christ as the incarnation of the ‘true god’, and was denounced as a heretic as a result.

However, the issue of whether Christians should be involved in conflict, or use violence, is often precisely an issue because of the difference between the two testaments. There are several viewpoints that justify the use of violence or combat based primarily on the Old Testament, but surprisingly there are also many based on the New Testament too.

Here are some different arguments advanced for Christians being involved in wars or employing violence:

Passover becoming the Lord’s Supper

Question 141, from John, United Kingdom

I was wondering when the churches began to separate the bread and wine out of the context of the Passover Seder, and how the “Bread and wine” became “the Lord’s Supper”. Can you help?

It is generally accepted that the ‘Last Supper’ that Jesus shared with his disciples took place around the time of the Jewish Passover. In the synoptic gospels, the ‘Last Supper’ certainly appears to be during Passover week, but John’s gospel implies it takes place beforehand. In John chapter 13, the Last Supper is set “just before the Passover feast” (verse 1), and the disciples assume Jesus is giving Judas instructions regarding preparations for Passover (verse 29). In addition, none of the gospels mention (more…)